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,
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.