Their bags jingled as they marched over the desert plains. The sun was losing its power in the sky, making Poysenberry feel a little uncomfortable since last night’s visitor had tried to eat them.
‘I’ve been racking my brains over the past few days,’ said Shelly, ‘trying to figure something out that doesn’t quite add up.’
Poysenberry side-glanced her. ‘And what’s that exactly?’
‘Well, you’re a strong Plant,’ she said. ‘You’re great at fighting out in the wild. But I can’t understand why you’re traveling with those other two Axies?’
‘That’s an easy one to answer,’ he said. ‘It’s because they’re my friends.’
‘Are they?’ she said, raising an eyebrow. ‘Okay then.’
The two of them continued walking in an awkward silence. Poysenberry now felt a cloud hanging over his head with a murky question that seemed to be left unanswered.
‘Turn left,’ Shelly said. ‘We’re going to take the bridge over the canyon.’
‘You’ve got to be careful crossing it though,’ she said. ‘It’s unstable and missing some sections. But as long as you focus on your footing you’ll be fine.’
He nodded, only half-hearing what she told him. That question was still lingering over his head, bugging him to no end. Were they his friends?
‘When you asked me earlier about Woodman and Nightshade,’ he said. ‘What made you question our friendship?’
They reached the foot of the old ruin bridge. Shelly turned around to look at him before crossing. She seemed to be holding her words back, not wanting to say anything more.
‘Am I not good enough for them?’
Shelly closed her eyes and sighed.
‘You think they look down on me?’
Then she opened them.
Poysenberry felt soft all of a sudden. His legs were filled with jelly and his heart with icy cold liquid.
‘No, Poy,’ she said. ‘Forget I even brought it up.’
‘Wait, hold on a second,’ he said. ‘You must’ve had a reason for thinking that, no?’
She chewed on her upper lip for a moment, searching the empty desert plains.
‘I’m not good enough for them?’ he said. ‘Am I?’
‘That’s not why I asked,’ she said. ‘Actually, I think you’re too good for them, if anything.’
‘But I’m untravelled,’ he said. ‘And I’ve barely seen anything outside my own farm.’
‘You think that’s important to everyone? That all of us Axies want to travel? That we all want to have a trainer boss us around?’
Poysenberry dug his paw in the sands for a moment, then gave her a shrug.
‘This is why I asked,’ she said. ‘They treat you as if you’re dumb. A simpleton. Yet what I see is a powerful Axie who knows how to use his skills and grind like no other Plant I’ve seen before.’
He blushed at her words, feeling shy.
‘My concern was that you don’t truly know what a family is,’ she said. ‘You don’t know what it’s like to live as an equal member in a clan.’
He had no clue how to answer her, because in his heart everything she said rang true. Had he been an equal member back on the farm? Or even now with his two friends?
‘Smalls may seem like a toughie to outsiders,’ she said, ‘but when you become a part of his tribe, you get to see who he really is behind this rough exterior.’
Poysenberry thought for a second about how yesterday, after they had finished grinding in the oasis, both Gill and Hook had walked beside him.
‘Just because you started travelling with them doesn’t mean you have to forever,’ she said.
Poysenberry thought about that one time when Poo-head was picking on him and Woodman “accidentally” knocked Poo-head over, saying he was in his way. Or when Nightshade had brought him into the pure breed’s hut.
‘Either way,’ she said. ‘We should get over this bridge before dark.’
Poysenberry took a quick glance behind to check that there are no chimera around.
‘You have to be careful,’ she said. ‘Or you’ll wind up at the bottom of the canyon with no way out.’
‘I’ll be careful then.’
Shelly started to walk onto the stone bridge, carefully going around the large gaping holes in the structure. Several times, the stones loosened underfoot, wobbling from their place and threatening to fall. As they nearly reached the other end of the bridge, they came to a small narrow path that was wide enough for only one Axie to cross at a time. Shelly paused there. She examined the area, checking it from every angle she could.
‘This used to be bigger,’ she said.
‘Can we cross?’
‘I think so,’ she said. ‘But we need to put as little weight on the stones as we can.’
Shelly removed her satchel from her body and handed it to Poysenberry. He took it but had a confused expression on his face.
‘I’ll go first,’ she said. ‘Then you can toss me the bags and cross next.’
‘Oh all right.’
Shelly started to tip toe across the narrow path. She took each step with caution, slowly moving one paw at a time. When she was close to the end, she stopped and twisted her back paw on a stone. Before Poysenberry could ask her what she was doing, she hopped her last step to the wider section of the bridge and turned to face him.
‘You’re up,’ she said. ‘First, throw me the bags.’
Poysenberry flung her satchel over the hole to her. She caught it and lay it behind herself.
He worked his own satchel off himself and then gave it a strong toss. It landed at the edge, but thankfully Shelly grabbed the strap before it dropped into the canyon.
She laughed then put it beside the other bag.
‘Now you,’ she said.
He nodded as he mustered his courage and took the first step onto the narrow path. The stones held in place under his weight. He peeked down through the giant hole to the floor of the canyon. It wasn’t deep enough to kill him, but it also wasn’t shallow enough for him to climb back out if he were to fall. He took his next step with care. He progressed slowly, keeping his sights on his footing. With fierce concentration, he brought himself closer to the other side.
‘Just a bit further,’ she said. ‘You’ve got this.’
He stepped onto the place where Shelly had paused earlier. He felt unstable for a moment, as if the stones were crumbling beneath him. Poysenberry tried to jump before they fell, but it was too late. Several stones fell, causing him to lose his balance. Shelly yelled while Poysenberry grabbed onto what was left of the walkway, holding part of his body onto the path.
‘Don’t move,’ she said. ‘I’m coming to get you!’
As soon as she stepped onto the thin pathway, another stone broke off and sent Poysenberry flying down into the canyon. He flipped around in the air then slammed hard into the ground. Everything went black before he could even think of how to save himself.
Carrying both satchels, Shelly hurried towards the Fish Farm, listening to the AXS jangle inside the bags. She raced for the back entrance as the sun completely left the sky and the stars began to shine. When she was a couple of metres away from the gates of the Fish Farm, she stopped. She was standing before a large rock that protruded from the earth.
Then she sat down and waited.
In a matter of seconds, two Aquas appeared from the darkness and stood before her.
‘Have they arrived yet?’ she said.
‘Over an hour ago.’
‘Good,’ she said. ‘Then we don’t need to keep them waiting very long?’
‘Nope,’ said the Aqua.
She nodded slowly, still catching her breath. The two Aquas stood in front of her, unmoving in the darkness.
‘I’m ready then,’ she said. ‘Try to make it quick.’
‘Certainly,’ said the other Aqua. ‘No hard feelings, eh?’
The first Aqua used his teeth to bite her, while the second slashed his clamshell onto her face. Shelly grunted at the pain, but allowed them to continue with their blows. Back and forth they took turns whacking her until she lay on the ground bleeding with cuts and bruises all over her body.
To be continued…