Coffee with a fantasy author 1/12/2020

Good morning everyone! I want to take this time with my coffee to tell you how my mind works as I try to piece together my fantasy universe that I’ve been building for almost ten years now.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to do was justify to myself putting time towards this endeavor despite the myriad of options I’ve had in life. The truth of that is I cannot see myself successful doing anything else anymore. One of the ideas beaten into my head growing up was to pick a pursuit that going to provide well enough for myself and my family. About a year into college for computer sciences I started to wonder if this was really the path for me.

Among those times I spent a great deal of time around close friends from high school with as much enthusiasm for the other universes out there as me. We played a lot of Dungeons and Dragons and reveled in all things fantasy and sci-fi. I spent a few years as a dungeon master (DM, the storyteller and ‘God’ of the game) which started me on a creative path. As anyone who has played the game before can tell you, the players end up being the driving factor of stories and events in the world. If you don’t want your players doing something, you better have some creative reason for them to not do what they’re trying. Towards the 2 year mark of the game, I was learning the hard way that most of the material I wrote and planned for would not come to fruition because of how they had steered the game’s events. This marked my slow march away from the desire to DM a game.

The shining moment that started this whole ordeal I find myself in now was a smoke induced moment on my friend’s couch in his apartment near my university at the time. There was either an episode of Dr Who or a zombie film on at the time when the first writing prompt I would feel enough to delve into fully crossed my mind.

I want to write a story about a priest slowly turning into a zombie.

With that, a tile, or puzzle piece if you prefer, appeared in my mind. I started to build on that. How is this affliction happening to him? Do I make an antagonist? Is this more magic or science? How does everything in this world work?

Everything in the coming years would be a snowball effect of ideas, characters, events, monsters, demons, magic, technology, Gods, mortal races, and immortal beings.

With every idea, a piece would appear in my mind. My life is now making this pieces and seeing how they all fit together. So many moments play out as movies in my head that there’s almost no room for anything else. That first prompt is still with me as well. I’ve come to discover with all this time that has passed, and all the ideas I’ve had since, that sometimes before you tell one story you must tell hundreds of others.

With each word written, and each moment pieced together, a feeling of elation that no money nor person can bring to me washes over my very being.

I am a fantasy author because I was always meant to be one. It’s a feeling, and I hope you find yours one day.

Pain, Nothing, and Evolution

How do you react to pain that you cannot see?

How can you treat a wound that is only there to you?

What does it take for you to acknowledge a hurt you don’t see?

How long have you carried a pain you do not utter?

When did it start? When does it end?

I chose nothing. I embraced nothing, and held warm in the grasp of past and future concerns. After I time I changed to a new understanding,

If nothing is happening, nothing bad is happening.

A stark comfort to unseen pain. A strange solace. Peace.

Nothing and peace go hand in hand it would seem. It’s not true however.

Nothing is an intoxicant. Too much of it and you may stop forever.

There is no peace in nothing, for all you do is wage war in yourself.

We are energy; we were never meant to stop. To do nothing.

To do nothing is to suffocate your psyche to force a moment of euphoria.

Nothing will drown you in your past and rob you of all choices.

To be free of the burden of choice is akin to a slow death.

Be afraid of nothing because nothing can stop you.

At the same time, nothing can stop you. Keep moving.

Take the pain and understand it, no matter how senseless.

Your pain is real. Your pain is yours. Your pain can be overcome.

Then the real miracle begins.

Pain becomes what you need it to be; transmuted through sheer will.

Pain becomes strength. Pain becomes determination. Pain becomes moral integrity.

As you overcome pain, you evolve into something greater. As we break, we mend back better than we once were.

Even as some choices are taken from us forever, still we grow.

Overcome the nothing stopping you.

Grow. Change. Evolve.

Worlds Beyond

Her finger traced a delicate line in the air leaving a stream of color in its wake. After cycling through all of the imaginable colors, the line settles on the ones most suited to the Painter.

“Ah, now a little brighter here…” the words escaped her lips as her trance carried her through the image stuck in the air.

She pressed her finger in various spots on the floating, intangible canvas causing ripples of color shades to change and settle to the image in her mind.

“And lastly…” she uttered as she floated to the lowest point in the painting and pressed the side of her hand to the ground. She rolled her hand around her wrist leaving a warm glow where her palm traced.

“It’s perfect!” she declared as she stepped back in the dust to admire her work.

A breathtaking sunset landscape sat in the air before her. The colors seemed to dance with one another across the sky. It would joy the Painter to no end to have the scene here in front of her forever, but she knew it was needed somewhere else far more. She clapped her hands together and bowed her head slightly to the scene before it vanished from her world to thank it for the happiness it brought her. Now it would be the source of joy for others in worlds beyond.

Satisfied with her work, she took a stroll through the dust covered plains. The world here seemed so bleak at times, one had to find a way to color their world just to keep going. There were others here like her, but also not very like her at all. Connection to one another were shallow and, more often than not, resulted in the pain of those involved. Such marvels as the ones she created, however, would not be if not for this environment.

After a great deal of nothing passed, she found herself standing over a man sitting next to a large wooden chest throwing cards on the ground. When the cards landed, a small scene of little people made of light would play out enacting some event or encounter before vanishing into the dust.

“How interesting…” she muttered as she leaned over the man’s shoulder for a closer look.

“Really?” the man asked. “I hadn’t thought much about what others would think of these. Some of them manifest while I sleep. Here, this one…”

He threw a card down with the image of a man and a scaled beast dancing against one another. Light gathered above the cards showing a large lizard chasing a man through a dense forest. The man used his wits to outmaneuver the lizard and defeat it with traps.

She clapped her hands together excitedly.

“That’s amazing! Do you have more?” she asked elatedly.

The man’s stoic expression softened a little at the expression.

“More than I can count,” he said as he glanced at the chest beside him.

“The thing is,” he continued, “they’re incomplete as they are.”

“Oh?” she asked.

The man slid one of his arms under the lid of the chest, letting the weight of the lid press into his arm. He was afraid if he moved the lid too much, some of the cards would blow away. His hand returned with a set of cards in its grasp.

“If you put enough of them together in just the right way…” he answered as he threw down the set of cards next to each other one at a time.

A circle of light appeared over the center of the cards and grew quickly to a massive size. As the circle grew, its center lit aglow with people, buildings, landscapes, plants, and wildlife. A vast, miniature-scale scene took hold of the area in front of the man.

“Look there.” he said an pointed into the town that had emerged before them.

One of the people was a different color light, faint red in contrast to yellow.

“That’s where this story begins.” he explained, “Only by putting the right scenes together can you tell a story.”

“You’re a creator too, then.” the Painter proclaimed with a smile.

The man looked perplexed for a moment.

“I only ever consider myself a Teller, but I suppose I am a creator in a way,” he mused.

The Painter walked around the area the story was unfolding in, focusing on the desert landscape.

“Ooooo,” she cooed, “I rather like this part.”

She painted in the air with her hands a perfect copy of the cactus grove hidden in the sand. She made it so the sky changed color to cycle through day, night, and everything between.

She walked back over to the man and presented the scene to him.

The man’s eyes glowed as he saw his work transformed before him. He placed the scene carefully next to his chest of stories.

He extended his arm out to the Painter and asked, “Would you like to be friends?”

The Mire

It’s finally passed.

I find myself standing on solid ground, a feeling I thought I wouldn’t have again. The background is… still very much the same as it’s been the entire time. There is no blue sky anymore, just varying shades of grey. The foliage is murky brown on the trees that actually contain scarce life.

The air is vastly different, however. Each inhale is crisp, and refreshing. The thick miasma that purveyed every corner of my perception has finally lifted. I could see more than what was immediately ahead of me. That took an entire layer of fear from my mind. My paths, which had seemed so limited for as long as I can remember, had suddenly opened up to a free range of choices and directions. I dare not look back, though.

A single gaze would be all that it took to drag me back down to the depths of the Mire.

I don’t remember the first time stumbling into the Mire, nor how long I had been there. That’s what’s so dangerous about it; do you see?

How can you tackle a problem you don’t even know you’re in the middle of?

The first thing it robs from you is your physical strength. Repetitive motion saps more strength than most would assume. When you’re in the Mire, everything is a slowed, repetitive motion. The most mundane tasks will take anywhere between two and ten times the energy or effort to push forward. Your entire existence becomes a slog and you haven’t even noticed yet.

Then the exhaustion hits. You still don’t notice where you are.

Exhaustion in the Mire will have two lasting effects on you. You will always feel like you’re running at half capacity, and you will have less energy at the start of your day. There will even be some days where you simply can’t wake yourself. Still you continue your slog, not even knowing where you are or where you are going anymore. You carry different tonics, and intoxicants to provide you an extra pep on the days you feel you have nothing left.

Then the miasma settles in. Not only do you have no idea where you are, but you’ve also completely lost track of where you’re going.

You are very aware something is wrong at this point, but you are absolutely overwhelmed by how drastically stacked against you your situation is now. Troubles become worries, worries become fears, and fears become dread. You vaguely remember your world had color, but is now replaced by a colorless haze. The air is constantly stifling. Your mouth tastes of ashes and all you smell is stagnant vapor. These are the days joy becomes a rarity, and you learn to spot its every shape and pursue.

If you are fortunate enough to follow the right impressions of joy, you may find islets all around the Mire, from which you can view… absolutely nothing. These are but reprieves from the existence you are now bound in. You can swear the sky has some tinge of color from here, but you must strain your eyes as hard as you can to see.

I found many joys along my roundabout slog. A rabbit, a fox, a wolf… some joys led to vast islets where I could feel the sunshine again. I forgot to mention how cold everything becomes. These were, of course, all temporary.

Before long, my footing was gone, back into the sludge of the Mire. At this point, you might notice your personality slowly changing, if not eroding. I developed a wondrous taste in cynicism and relished in my agony for quite awhile. While some of these developments can help you cope with your route, other don’t quite handle it as well.

If there was one thing that joy taught me in this place, it was that the greatest joy there is comes from helping others. For every person I passed and pulled slightly up from the muck, I could almost feel myself lifted up a bit as well. Whether it was a placebo effect or not, it worked for me. What didn’t work was when others you come to help lash out at you.

This is where you begin to question risk versus reward. Without even realizing it, this place you’re in has just entirely reshaped how you think and deal with your immediate and long term problems. Your mind will start to trick you now. Your everyday problems become monumental tasks, while the problems that are strenuous or overwhelming in normal circumstances become so intimidating that you actually stop noticing them altogether.

When you can no longer see the end to something, it becomes much harder to strive for the end game of finally not being HERE anymore. Sometimes you find a box floating in the muck with a small canopy and a light attached. It’s a nice place to rest, but it won’t move anywhere, it’s affixed to this one point.

Oh, but you’re exhausted, remember? This place to rest looks great. I could probably stay here for a few days, maybe save some real energy for moving on.

So you rest awhile, but you’re still in the same place, in the same stagnant air, doing the exact same thing you did yesterday. That miasma isn’t gone either. You rest as long as you feel you need to, but your energy is never what it was, and you are fully aware of this fact.

What next? I’m not getting any better. The situation is the same as its always been. Its always been like this, right?

It was at that point that I started finding the right kinds of joys. A flaming bird soared across the bleak sky above me. An ember flew off its tail and into my hand. It burned and reminded me what light was like. I could see fire along the paths I trudged now. I met others stuck in the Mire with me, all of us separate, but still going through similar experiences who showed me how to dance with the fire. For a time, I could dance with the fire and push the miasma away.

I don’t know what happened next really. Before long, I was actually drowning in the Mire.

That’s where the real danger lies. You don’t know you’re drowning until it’s happening.

The only way to surface is to figure out what started drowning you in the first place. To my horror, I looked down and saw on separate occasions, a few forms of joy and several other travelers I had befriended along the way. They’ve all blended into one horrible amalgamation at this point. You’ve no idea how many times you’ve been pulled under, it’s just all of the worst experiences of your journey and even some of the best ones, all here to end you.

What can you possibly do at this point? You’re so tired. It took every last bit of energy you’ve had just to make it this far. What do I do? What did I do?

I fought against the pull. As hard as I could, as tired as I was, I fought against that invisible hand dragging me to the dark depths. Every time. In the end, what saved me every time, was the greatest joy of all.

Every time I fought with all my strength to get out from that dark descent, there was a hand ready to pull me back up. Every. Time.

The rest of the journey is far too abstract to go into full detail here, but in the end, I’m standing here, at the end of the Mire. The land outside of it is probably the same as it has always been. My perception of the world was now forever altered. I’m sure the color is there, and I’m sure all the joys and intricacies are there; it just may take me longer to find them again.

So I’ll take this joy I’ve found and pass it along to any of you, should you find yourself stuck in the Mire as I was.

Never forget the greatest joy of all.

The Shrine of the Vanquished

The lobby of the inn was still and quiet aside form the crackling of the fire in the fireplace. A bald man sat behind the counter quietly reading a small book, not paying any mind to the new face that just entered in the middle of the afternoon. The young boy looked around curiously taking in the decor when a poster on the wall caught his eye. His footsteps prompted the man to glance up from his book to observe. The boy glared intensely at the poster and began to sound out what it said.

“New Adventurers visit the Shrine of the Vanquished today!” The boy read aloud and beamed.

The bald man closed his book quietly and asked, “Just learning?”

The boy turned to the innkeeper and cheerfully replied, “Yep. Perks of being an Adventurer.”

“Are you just starting out?” the innkeeper inquired.

“Kind of,” came his aloof answered, “I’ve done some things, but nothing spectacular yet.”

“Do you know anything about that shrine? I can tell you a little.” the innkeeper offered.

“Absolutely!” the boy answered, “I love stories.”

The innkeeper took a deep breath and explained, “You may not like this one as much. It’s fairly sad.”

The boy simply stared at the man with inquisitive eyes. He was hungry for more than adventure.

The man smirked and began the tale,

“The story goes that there was once an Adventurer that chose to work closely with certain groups of Mercenaries. They didn’t mind having an Adventurer along for the most part, as that usually meant more material wealth for them and a strong ally. Unfortunately, greed absorbs the hearts of many people. Mercenaries succumb to this greed more easily than you Adventurers do, see. One day, after successfully plundering a dungeon, the Adventurer and Mercenaries were trying to decide what to do with a relic that they had found. The Adventurer insisted on taking the relic, as it was a weapon of another he had known in days past. Unable to reach an agreement, the Mercenaries murdered the Adventurer in cold blood. The intensity of that Adventurer’s soul, however, would make sure that these Mercenaries would not get away clean. They say that Adventurer turned his body into a relic and petrified. Upon doing so, lights escaped from the Adventurer’s body and struck each of the Mercenaries’ faces leaving a brand consisting of three straight lines forming an odd star shape. Any real Adventurer that sees this brand on someone knows immediately that they have shamelessly taken Adventurer’s lives. From what other Adventurer’s have told me, they have no qualms about killing Mercenaries bearing this brand. Now any Adventurer that goes to visit his petrified remains and pays their respects will receive a blessing that will brand any person that kills them.”

The boy looked at the man with saddened eyes, “How horrible.”

The innkeeper grimaced and said, “Such is the nature of mortals. Not everyone is out for others interests.”

A look of resolution took the boy’s face, “Where is this shrine?”

“Take the roads northwest,” he answered, “After about three days, you should come across the ruins of a town. His remains will be in the only building still standing.”

The boy nodded to him and promptly set out on his next adventure.

The hunter and the hunted

The Axeman sat by his campfire eagerly awaiting his freshly caught rabbit to cook. After traversing open plains all day on alert for monsters, he had worked up an appetite that his catch would probably not satisfy. His bow rest on the ground by his side and his hatchets at his waist should he need them, but with the light of day now disappearing he would probably not be able to use them effectively soon. The copse of trees he crouched in served as enough cover to fool much larger predators, but not all.

The beast followed the smell of fire and freshly cooked meat. Such delicacies were not readily available to creatures stuck on all fours. The spines jutting from its fur swayed slightly in the breeze carrying the smell to it. It could smell a human as well, one of the beast’s favorite foods. A guttural growl escaped from the beast’s jaws along with a drip of saliva. The plains were its feeding ground; its prey would not escape.

The Axeman was wary, but tired from a day of travel. The plains were seemingly endless and offered little cover. This copse of trees was as an oasis in the desert. His eyes were heavy as he watched the meat of the critter brown on the stick leaning over his fire. He merely licked his lips in anticipation and waited.

The beast began dragging its belly on the ground in a low crawl as it crested the hill. The light of the fire was in its sight now, along with the warm outline of foods waiting to be eaten. The beast’s eyes glossed over as it entered its own hunting mode. Its approach was slow, calm, and vigorously calculated by years of harsh survival. It was almost as if nothing was there at all.

The Axeman’s throat suddenly became dry. He felt eyes on him, but could sense absolutely nothing else around him. His years of expertise steadied his hand as reached not for his bow, but for his twin hatchets. Should there be something stalking him, there would be no option to shoot it.

The beast approached with a silence that would rival an intent scholar. It could sense the caution dripping from its prey now, so its assault would have to be swift and deadly.

The Axeman knew the danger he was in now. Whatever was stalking him had hunting experience far surpassing his own. A bead of sweat dropped from his nose as he leaned forward to tilt the rabbit carcass away form the fire. He didn’t want to have to eat burnt rabbit should he survive. His steadiness faded as the moments dragged on. A slight tremor entered his right arm as he kept it ready to draw his hatchet. The only thought on his mind now was, “Oh come on, get on with it already.”

The beast waited for the stress to peak in his prey. A lifetime of hunting had taught the beast to attack when his prey would be most likely to falter in its movements.

The time had come at last.

With a great burst from all its legs, the beast pounced towards the copse. It didn’t have time to register the talons piercing its throat in midair as a great flying bird glided from an unknown height and snatched it from its leap.

The Axeman turned in time to see a black shape sweep to the left in complete silence. He stared into the night a moment before realizing the danger was now gone. His rabbit would taste all the better now.

The next morning, he set out to finish crossing the plains. There would be a dense rain forest at the end where he intended to start his own hunt. Rumors of a terrible creature rampaging through the forest and destroying tree and beast alike spread throughout this area of the world.

The Axeman stared at the leaf brand on his hand. It was a symbol of his Pact with Nature. So long as he knew about a danger to nature or natural life, he was sworn to act. This pact awarded him the Archer class Schneider, the master of throwing weapons. He wasn’t entirely shabby with his bow, either.

By mid-day, he had reached the edge of the rain forest. When he arrived, he took out a small stick and lit the end of it at the base of one of the trees along the edge. It was a special incense, meant to invoke the spirits of the forest. As the wind blew through the leaves of the tree, voices began to manifest among the rustling sounds.

“Schneider… save… forest…” the words formed.

“What plagues you, denizen of the wild?” The Axeman pressed.

“Monster… Shrine…” the last words came as the incense blew out.

“I don’t know where the Shrine is, damnit.” The Axeman cursed. Spirits strain to communicate with the living. It’s difficult to get a straight response from them.

The Axeman treaded carefully into the rain forest thinking the center would be the best place to search for the Shrine. The flora here grew to ridiculous sizes. A good number of the plants were carnivorous as well with few markings or distinctions, so he had to watch his step. With each tree he passed, some manner of large colorful bird or insect would flee its perch in the canopy to rest on a different tree.

After what felt like hours, the Axeman could feel eyes on him once more.  He was being watched from at least two separate places. He could sense curiosity and playfulness in the air. It didn’t seem the Monster was stocking him, but more likely it was that they were also inhabitants of this rain forest. He kept his weapons sheathed, as he felt no bloodlust loose in the air yet.

The Axeman used his zoomed vision to plot a course through the trees to test his tails. He burst into a sprint and darted off trees to gain speed. He felt the presence of those watching giving chase. He would be evenly matched with them in one on one combat if necessary.

The Axeman’s pursuers kept the same distance they had watched him from almost the entire stretch of his mad dash. He contemplated challenging them for the sake of gaining strength, but his attention was drawn ahead of him where he felt an overwhelming presence consume the air with rage and hunger.

The Axeman weighed his odds as he approached the Monster’s habitat. Some trees he had begun passing were frayed stumps. Most of the trees had been felled with blunt force. Others bore massive claw marks, some hung pathetically at an angle. He could feel the tension rising from his pursuers as well. With any luck, maybe they all had the same goal?

The Axeman accepted that wager and pressed straight for the Monster. As the trees thinned to nothing but stumps, the Shrine came into view along with the horrifying sight of a Monster slightly larger than the Shrine itself. He knew what the thing’s size classified it as.

The Axeman had encountered a Boss destroying the forest.

The Boss seemed to be feeding off the anguish of the spirits trapped in the Shrine from its rampage. The Axeman’s rage peaked as he activated Trigger, the skill to control one’s Fight-or-Flight state freely. Such wanton destruction of nature was abhorrent to him.

In more difficult conflicts, victory belongs to the swift. The Axeman charged around until the Boss’s back was exposed to him. He let loose one of his hatchets and shouted,

Crescent Moon!

The hatchet spun through the air until it came close to the Boss. As it struck, a bright visage of a crescent shaped moon appeared over the hatchet and cleaved deep into the back of the Boss’s shoulder muscle.

The Boss produced no sound and simply stood there clutching the Shrine, bleeding black blood from its newly acquired wound. The Axeman closed the distance, holding his other hatchet back in his left hand as he ran. The Boss’s lumbering form stood on short fat muscular legs ending in four toed paws. As the distance closed, he took in as much detain about the Boss as he could. Its upper torso appeared humanoid from the back, akin to a Berserker’s physique.

The Axeman took a long leap towards the Boss, ready for a follow-up technique, when it suddenly threw its head backwards at an angle not possible with a neck bone and stared at him with one massive red eye and an array of smiling thin fangs common to Monsters forming its upside-down grin. The real presence of the Boss overwhelmed the Axeman at that point as he was wracked with hesitation to complete his attack.

The Axeman was saved from his folly when a large black beast pounced onto the Boss’s face. Freed from his hesitation, he leaped towards his embedded hatchet and unleashed his next technique.

Rip the Thorn!” The Axeman bellowed as he grabbed his hatchet and spun through the wound with both axes.

Black blood flew in all directions as the unknown beast and the Axeman tore through the Boss’s flesh. As he landed in front of the Shrine and the Boss, another call came from the direction he had come from.

Gust Razer!” The shout called as a brown circle with saw-like green edges flew through the air and up the Boss’s left arm.

This attack proved too distracting for the Axeman, as the Boss’s right paw swung into his body with full force. He flew through air after some of his bones cracked from the impact. He came to a tumble more than twenty meters away and proceeded to pinball between trees stumps.

The Axeman came to a stop after taking significantly more damage from the landing. He laid out in the soil, wood chips, and scarce grass patches grasping bloodied breaths.

“Oh no you don’t,” called the voice of a woman. “I appeal to the spirits of the wind to heal this man’s broken body.”

The woman standing over the Axeman wore nothing but vines, leaves, and flowers. She shook a branch covered in flowers shaped like bells that resounded a similar sound when shaken.

Healing Breeze.” She calmly uttered as a warm, green wind circled around the Axeman slowly mending his bones and internal bleeds.

As she finished, the circle from earlier flew back into her hand. It was a mass of tree vines, edged with large leaves.

“Hope that isn’t all you got, fathead,” she chided the Axeman.

Feeling no pain any longer, the Axeman spun his legs around to hop upright.

“Them’s fightin’ words, woman,” he snapped back.

With his vigor restored, the Axeman charged to the Boss as it tossed away the attacker on its face. The beast landed gracefully on all fours next to him. It was a large panther. The mighty cat roared as it charged next to its allies towards their foe. The wild woman was hovering close behind the Axeman with her hoop slowly rotating around her waist. It was generating an air current to keep her propelled.

The wild woman had the bell branch in her hand. As she flew on, she waved the branch in an intricate looping pattern. The —gem— embedded in her forehead at the center of an eye-like pattern, began to faintly glow as she chanted unintelligible words not from this plane.

Steel Wind!” The wild woman yelled, finished with her chanting.

The Axeman suddenly felt no wind resistance as he ran. He could actually see the air currents flowing around him as though he was in a bubble.

“Amazing…” he said as they approached the Boss.

The Boss stared at the three attackers as it turned fully towards them. Waves rippled out through the Boss’s flesh emanating from its eye. The waves grew larger as they traveled down its body. As the waves of flesh contacted open wounds, the areas swelled into large bulbous tumors to seal the wounds. As the wave traveled down its split left arm, the arm bulged to five times its size and exploded into two separate ones. The Boss let out a roar to end its transformation, but this slowed it’s attacker none.

“He blew his regen! Tighten up, we’ll kill him!” The Axeman yelled to his new comrades.

The Boss took its two new arms and performed an exaggerated swipe at the ground, propelling chunks of ground and uprooted stumps into the air between the combatants.

The trio plunged into the debris without fear, confident the wild woman’s barriers would hold. The panther was the first one through, but the Boss was ready for it. It had pulled back its right arm to palm strike the first adversary through the wall. It’s right arm shot forward at a speed almost impossible for an object that size. The panther’s shield held, but most of the impact was blunt force, sending the panther flying well back into the forest.

As the Boss tried to ready for another attack, a hatchet flew in towards each side of its head. The debris in the air cleared just enough at the top to reveal the Axeman at the peak of a jump with his bow drawn.

Triple Threat!” He yelled as he let the arrow loose to strike at the same moment as the technique enhanced axes.

The Boss went to catch the three projectiles with its superior speed and number of limbs only to find that its arms wouldn’t lift any longer. Tree vines wrapped around the three arms with bladed leaves embedding into the Boss’s flesh. The rest of the debris cleared the air to reveal the wild woman holding a single vine stretching across the ground to the boss.

Serpent Rose Vine.” she said with a coy smile.

The arrow and axes all made contact with their intended target, increasing the technique’s effectiveness tenfold. The sharp energies embedded in the blades sheared the Boss’s head into countless strips as ghostly crescent shaped wisps exploded from the point of impact.

A stream of black smoke erupted from the open neck of the Boss. The stream listlessly flowed into the pair standing at the base of the carnage. It took several minutes for the blood stream to fully absorb into the winners before the corpse finally caught on fire. The black fire consumed the fallen body of the Boss in seconds, producing a great deal of heat while it happened. Fortunately black fire only burns monster parts.

Once the two Adventurers had settled from their souls growing, an argument broke out.

“Who the hell are you calling fathead?” The Axeman asked the wild woman.

Her face pouted immediately at his question.

“You, you fathead!” she retorted, “What kinda fool runs alone to fight a Boss?”

“Oh so I’m a fool, too?” he asked.

“YES!” the woman went up into his face and blurted. “What, you got a death wish or somethin?”

The Axeman was taken slightly aback by the woman’s up front attitude. He also knew she was right to criticize, but he didn’t want to admit that.

“Maybe? What’s it to ya?” He asked as he backed a few inches back. The wild woman wouldn’t let him increase the distance.

“What’s it to me?” she asked, still in an argumentative tone. “I’m a Shaman, I don’t want to see protectors of nature hurt!” She grabbed his hand and revealed the leaf symbol on it.

“You see this? I fucking love you for this!” she announced with boldness.

“Well, maybe we should stop yelling at each other then!” the Axeman loudly suggested.

“Fine!” she yelled back crossing her arms and turning away form him.

The two stood in silence for a few moments. During their silence, the panther silently limped back towards them. When the silence became unbearable, the two Adventurer’s began chuckling. Their chuckles deepened into deep laughter after another moment.

Once the laughing spell subsided, the wild woman turned back towards the Axeman with a smile to see the panther had come back as well.

“Oh hello again, pretty girl,” she greeted her. She walked over and slid down next to the panther and started stroking the large cats face and ears. Loud purrs escaped from the mighty cat as it shut its eyes.

“Is she yours?” The Axeman asked as he approached.

The Shaman gasped, “Absolutely not! I would never enslave a creature!” her expression softened as she continued, “She’s just a friend who lives in this forest. I came to help her.”

Her expressions seemed all exaggerated. It kept him guessing. The panther opened her eyes when he had gotten closer. She stood up and proceeded to rub her face on him.

“Woah, friendly huh?” The Axeman asked.

“Not usually. I think she likes you.” The Shaman responded with a warm smile.

The Axeman beamed a little as he pet the elegant cat showing affection for him.

“Does she have a name?” he asked?

“She hasn’t told me yet.” The Shaman answered with just a hint of sarcasm.

The Axeman stared into the great cat’s eyes. They were a deep yellow and the subtle markings of her irises reminded him of the pattern on the moon.

“How about Luna?” He suggested openly.

The Shaman shot him an angry scowl until she noticed the panther grow more affectionate after announcing the name. Her scowl became a look of awe and sincerity.

“I guess her name is Luna now.” The Shaman conceded as the pair both pet the giant cat.

A cool breeze blew past the trio causing them to once again notice the devastation to the area around them.

“Horrible…” The Shaman trailed off.

“Whelp,” the Axeman said after standing up and dusting off his camouflaged patterned pants, “best get started now. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

“What are you goin on about meow?” the Shaman asked.

“We’ve got a lot of seeds to harvest from the treetops if we’re gonna replant the forest,” he said matter-of-factly.

The announcement made the Shaman’s eyes water a little as they shot open in surprise.

“You…” she trailed off as she made odd gestures with her arms.

“Later, let’s go.” He said as he started walking. His two new companions, not far behind.