I knocked on the farmer’s door at 9 a.m. sharp, yawning as I waited for the sound of thick boots approaching the door. It was earlier than I was used to getting up on a Saturday morning, but I did enjoy the feeling of a full day ahead. I gazed over at the fields of green flourishing from every corner to the next. Marveling over the incredible progress in just a few years.
Before Atlas had arrived the place was overrun by rampant wild grass that threatened to swallow up what was left of the old farm after Atlas’s grandfather had died. It was a shame. Even though I didn’t have many memories of the old man who kept to himself in his last golden years, I do remember him as being very kind. His red wrinkly face was always smiling as he let the rest of us kids play with some of his animals if we came around or showed off something cool he had found in the mines. He rivaled Evelyn as the treat giver of the town.
But Atlas truly was his granddaughter. I didn’t think much of the women when she first came to Pop’s shop covered from head to toe in all shades of dirt. Exhaustion clearly etched in their face, curly blue hair clinging to a sweaty forehead and their arms practically shaking as they hauled the bags of seeds back to the Monalo farm. She cut through all of nature’s wild knots and bought the farm back to its former glory. Well, almost. I’m still waiting on those treats.
Speaking of the devil. Thudding footsteps quickly led to the farmer greeting me with a smile at the door. “Hey! Thanks for coming, hope I didn't make you wait too long.” She shrugged a large bag onto her dark shoulders.
“I was just about to curl up here and fall asleep.” I gave one last audible yawn then brought my hands together in a loud clap, wringing them excitedly. “Alright! I’m ready- let's get to those mines!”
Atlas gave me a quizzical look. “You sure you don't need anything? You’re packed kinda light.”
Aside from my usual sleeveless long coat, black leggings and light shirt, I had my short sword strapped to my hip with a thick leather belt that also held a pack on the opposite side containing much needed snacks and a bottle of water. “Yea? I try to travel light if I can help it. It shouldn't be a few hours right?”
Atlas nodded. “We should be back after lunch. I already have a part of the mine mapped out. The creatures shouldn’t be anything worse than a few slime blobs and some bats. Think you can handle them?”
I blew out a raspberry. “Bats and slimes? Please, I’ve been whacking those things before you were born kid.”
Atlas wrinkled their nose. “I’m older than you.”
I laughed giving them a pat on the shoulder. “I know Atlas, it was a joke. Lets get those mines!”
The mines were a known well kept secret in the Valley. It is advertised as an old landmark used by the villagers of days past when the Valley heavily relied on coal as a source of power. But it has long since been abandoned since the first lightbulb was introduced. Thanks to general warnings of possible mine related dangers and the few mine carts around town being inoperational, no one really went near them.
Except of course a couple of kids egging each other on in the traditional ways of the rite of passage. Its warnings and vague knowledge of what was actually in it made it the prime source for rumors. Stories of lost treasures, monsters, and even dead bodies surrounded the mines.
Cue pre-teen Sam, Sebastion and yours truly daring one another to step foot in the mine one summer.
We stood at the entrance of the cave, Sebastian gave Sam a shove to get him closer. Sam shrieked and instantly hopped back as if his foot touched metal. We laughed as his face grew pink behind locks of hair that went past his shoulder. He grabbed Seb’s arm and tried to pick him up to carry him over, but Seb just elbowed him in the chest knocking both of them to the ground in writhing hip.
Rolling my eyes I called them a bunch of babies and skipped merrily along into the mines not even giving them a backwards glance when they called indignantly to me.
I’ve always wanted to explore the mines. The possibility of adventure instantly lured me in since I first heard the stories. Of course, the mines being as dark and unknown still made them frightening. At least too frightening for me to start on my own, but when I called Sam and Seb’s courage into question I had unintentionally had mine put to the test. Since I couldn’t not go in after that I quickly ran in using the need to prove myself and the burning desire to explore to launch myself and push any doubt in my mind to the back burner.
I remember the odd way the light from outside stopped barely a foot in. The little plastic flashlight in my hand barely lit the area around me. What it showed did little to help me navigate; it was just endless dirt and rock stacked on each other, save for the light from the only entrance and exit. Without that I could have convinced myself I was trapped in a rocky box.
I heard Sam call out to me. I called back and told them come in, “Unless you guys are really big scaredy babies?” I laughed as I heard the two of them squabbling.
When my foot caught on something I screamed, arms flailing as I went down hard.
“Abby!? Are you ok?!”
I felt something cold and metal underneath me. When I looked up desperate to find my flashlight, I came face to face with two small golden orbs.
And everything went black a second time.
When I woke up another pair of eyes to greet me.
Well, an eye. The other was covered by an eye-patch. They were attached to a weathered wrinkly face with grey hair. Instead of the usual critical or disappointed look I was used to in adults, this one regarded me with not only concern but genuine curiosity. It kinda felt like they were sizing me up.
“Holy shit Abby! You’re ok!” Sam’s voice erupted over my head. I turned to see Sam ( who looked like he was actually about to cry) and Sebastian looking pale with an equally scared but relieved look on their faces.
“W-what happened?,” I tried to bolt up but a firm hand held me in place and another to my back. “Easy now girly”, said the old man (hey, every adult is an old. Especially when you’re a kid) as he slowly eased me to a sitting position. “You’re doing fine as I can tell. Just suffered a little fainting spell it seems. You’re friends over here came banging on my door nearly breaking it down to get me down here.” His face turned disapproving then. “That was very reckless you three! Don't you know it's dangerous to go in there alone- especially for children! There’s monsters in there!”
Despite the usual annoyance I felt when being scolded, his words made my eyes light up. “Monsters?,” I all but gasped.
“You mean those stories are true?,” Sebastian asked with equal parts of awe and fear.
The old man nodded. “Yes. They are indeed. I’ve fought countless of them.” His one grey eye glimmered in reminiscence. “ Monsters of all kinds of tales, foes of great might and many battles worthy of song.”
I got a good look at the old man then. He wore a leather vest over a thick green wool shirt. A red cape adorning his shoulders began to sway with the breeze. The steel sword strapped to his hip wrapping up the image that would stay in my mind for years to come had made my mouth drop. Even without his confirmation I knew what I was looking at.
A monster slayer.
He walked us all back home to make sure we were safe. Warning us against exploring the mines- until we were much much older and then came to him first. I had never asked someone so many questions in my life. My dad and teachers would have been shocked. As I did so, Marlon the adventurer gave me that curious look again. He asked, “You know, I sense a lot of potential in you child. Tell me. Would you like to be an apprentice of mine when you become of age?”
What would any kid in their right mind say?
Mom and Dad put an end to that dream real quick. The second Marlon told them where I was they were already ushering him out the door. When they heard him try to bring up an “apprenticeship,” they turned hostile. With the way they acted they pretty much blamed Marlon for what happened to me (nothing even happened!). They warned him they’d have him punished if he came near me again and forbade me from ever crossing the bridge to the mines again. It sucked ass.
And away I stayed. For a whole decade I did until the sound of a supposed broken minecart came crashing out of the bushes near the buss stop and scared the absolute crap out of me until I saw a familiar blue haired farmer come tumbling out of it.
Exhaustion and dirt was quickly becoming their trademark.
The small boulder quivered and then was lifted up by six spindly orange legs. It swayed as it got its bearing, then slowly began to creep towards the back of a crouching figure. The figure lifted up their head and they quickly looked over their shoulder.
Rock and… more rock.
They went back to whatever they were examining under the lights of the torches they had constructed.
The rock shook and cropped up again. It moved till it was about a foot from the human. Then it lifted its front legs up, its tips poised and point, and its back legs bent as it wound itself up for the attack.
The moment it released the build up of power its front legs were slashed so hard the force pushed it on its back. Its remaining legs kicking fiercely enough to spin it around on its back until the shining edge of a blade was brought down the center of its body with a hard crunch!
“Phew!,” I wiped some sweat off my brow. I placed my boot on top of the dead rock-crab and grunted as I pushed it off the end of my blade. “That one almost got you Atlas! You shouldn't let your back be this exposed. Rookie mistakes my friend.” I gave her a disapproving click of my tongue as I shook my head.
Atlas didn’t react to playful taunt. “I knew you had my back,” she said as she casually got to their feet. “And I knew the thing was behind me. I was gonna move if it got too close.”
I rolled my eyes. “Sure you did.” I laid the flat of my blade on my shoulder gesturing to their hands. “Find what you’re looking for?”
They sighed. “No good. Just some generic grey quartz.”
“Mmm. Yummy.” She gave me a grossed out look. “What? It’s an excellent source of minerals!” I laughed at my own joke. Atlas just shook her head, “I can’t tell if you're serious or not.”
“Ah well,” I shrugged and placed my sword against a wall. I went to fix up my ponytail which had come loose from the last few fights. Atlas was right, the worse I got to go up against were a few cat sized maggots that turned into the most annoying cat sized buzzers if you left them alone for too long. Then they become annoying on top of a huge plate of ass sucking. “Where to next boss?”
“I wanna go one more floor down. I’ve got a good feeling about the next one.” They winked and tilted their blue officer’s hat up a little.
That's what you’ve been saying the last three floors. “Alright, but it’s already past noon. Don't want to push our luck and have you lose your nerve along with the time.” I chuckled as Atlas tripped over a very clear and very flat surface.
“I-I’m keeping track of the time,” their voice was too controlled. When they get flustered or embarrassed their voice tends to increase unintentionally, and mostly without their knowing until someone points it out. They knew this and tried their best to catch it, but that just made it a game for some of us to see the best ways to get them to slip.
“You always say that. Then its ‘I dunno what happened! The time just slipped from me! I swear I wasn’t that tired Harvey!’ Or Ma and Pa find you passed out in front of our store again, or you’re fist fighting with another Jojo employee trying to haul you off and take your money as payment.”
“Hey that’s basically stealing!” They gave me a pointed finger, voice adamant. “And the store thing happened one time..” She pulled down her hat and looked away grumbling.
“Once is too much man! But it's fine now. It’s why you got your best partner in crime with you, right?” I wrapped an arm around their neck and gave them a big old side hug.
Atlas smirked. “Actually, that's Seb. But he’s out of town today.”
I was dumbstruck. “Sebastian?? He can’t even swing a sword properly! He runs out of breath after like one swing. No Seb, just because you made it past Bario’s Secret Awakening on master mode doesn't mean you know how to fight monsters!” I was throwing my hands up at this point making a spectacle while Atlas clutched their stomach laughing. “You’re one to talk Abby! You’re first pitch for coming with me was about how you memorized all the monster stats from the Mini-Monsters game!”
“There are ten-thousand monsters! AND I knew how to use a sword!”
“From watching I-tube videos!”
“That’s still leagues better than what Seb can do!” I brandished my sword menacingly, the torch light shining the monster guts that still clung to it.
Atlas held their hands out in a warding apology. “You’re right, you’re right! I was just teasing.”
I stabbed the sword in the ground to lean on it. “You better!”
Their smiling face turned curious as their eyes landed on something behind me. “Hold on. Was that path always there?”
I turned to follow them towards a darker section of the cavern. She grabbed a torch on the way and the blackness receded to reveal more dirt road ahead that veered off into a sharp corner.
“Woah, good eyes Atlas.” The path splintered off into a few other paths. We chose some until it began to open up wider into an area littered with all kinds of stones.
All kinds of very colorful stones.
“Jack-pot!” I exclaimed. I rubbed my palms as I took in the sight of all the tasty stones before me.
“Pick out whichever ones you want Abby. Whatever you can carry and we’ll have them cracked once we have time,” said Atlas. They pulled out their golden pickaxe and began swinging.
I immediately began picking up all of the closest stones around me, but that was quickly becoming too much for me to carry. I had to place them down and take some serious consideration to what I could take.
As I walked around the various stones, each one as great as the last I stumbled upon another human sized opening. I squinted to try and see if my eyes could adjust to the dark, but I was met with only the sound of a distant wind howling. Well, whatever it is it leads somewhere. I was about to grab a flashlight I kept on hand just in case we ran out of torches when I heard it.
Buzzing. Like a fly times twenty.
I yelped and fell back as a blur of sickly blue-green went whizzing towards my face before shooting up and brushing my forehead with fuzzy stick legs.
I heard the clatter of a falling pickaxe as Atlas called out to see if I was alright.
“Yea! I'm good,” I gave my rump a good rub because of course I had to fall on a very bumpy rock. Ugh. That's totally gonna bruise later.
The sound of buzzing over my head brought my attention back to focus. I looked up towards the dark hole that the dull light from the strung bulbs couldn't reach. Guess it’s also deeper than we thought.
We stood still, listening to the reverberating buzz flit this way and that. I drew my sword, holding it like a bat as I got ready for the swing.
I saw a flash of movement shoot out of the dark and zip to the corner of my eye. I swung the moment I detected movement and felt the connection hard and thick ring from my sword all the way down to my arms. The buzzer made a wet smack as it collided with the wall, its twiggly legs twitching as it slid down leaving a streak of dark gore on the wall.
“Yea! Home run!,” I whooped and jumped in the air as I gave it a hearty fist bump. “That was amazing Abigail!” I turned and bowed to a clapping Atlas who rushed over to congratulate me.
“Thank you! Thank you!” I blew back a loose lock of purple hair that came loose in the fight. Maybe I should cut it? It gets in the way of combat sometimes, and the short hair does look sick on Atlas. “I was just doing my job.”
I went over to the remains of the very dead buzzer. Sometimes these little buggers drop some cool items. Just small stuff they could swallow, but now again they drop pieces of metal or a really pretty gem. Atlas gets grossed out everytime I show one off without bothering to wipe off the guts.
“ I bring wipes for a reason Abby!”
My smile quickly disappeared as I looked at the buzzer’s body. Its crushed, dark pink body. My stomach sank.
“Ahhh, Atlas? This wasn’t the buzzer that came out of the wall.”
“What was that-” their voice was drowned out by the sudden eruption of beating insect wings coming from the dark ceiling above. It was still impossible to gauge how it was, but judging by the deafening beat of what had to be hundreds of wings, it had to be very very deep.
And very, very occupied.
“We have to go!” I had to shout near the top of my lungs for Atlas to hear me. They dropped to the ground scrambling to grab something, but we had no time to waste. I ran to grab them by the arm and haul them up, “Come on! We gotta go now!”
They slipped the first steps as they tried to get their footing, but when she did she started sprinting (their time on the farm really did wonders for their endurance). The loud wave of buzzing didn’t let up behind us. I made the mistake of looking back and my eyes bulged wide as I saw a swarm of big ass buzzers filling every space from wall to wall. It was a miracle they kept moving as they did, otherwise they’d surely be cramped stuck from the traffic. Just our luck, of course.
“I hope you know where you’re going!” I called out between huffs of breath. I’m not gonna lie, I’ve been to keyed up on panic and survival mode to really do anything aside from running, the site of Atlas’s back being my guide.
“Yea! Just follow me!” She took a sharp turn then and I had to skid to halt to turn back around to follow since I missed it my run- as -fast-as-you-can- straight-a head mentality. We did a couple of turns after a hundred or so feet of running, and it did help not only slow down the herd but cut their numbers down in chunks. There were still too many for us to handle though, at least the last group that I saw disappearing behind a couple of turns. But as I looked back hearing but not seeing the winged bastards I began to let myself feel relieved.
Until Atlas yelled and went sailing to the ground in a painful skidding bundle. I fell to their side checking to see if they were alright. She groaned, rolled over and looked down at her pant legs. “Ugh! Stupid slime!,” They gave their leg a hard thrust and scraped it against the ground trying to get the thick cast of green goo off their leg.
“Shit.” I looked up to see the left over swarm rounding the corner. There were at least a dozen that I could see immediately. I felt Atlas begin to panic beside me. “Abby you gotta go! There’s no time!” But I shook my head, ready to shout that they were being stupid. Partner’s don't leave each other behind! Besides, I wasn’t gonna make it even if I had left then. I was going to go for my sword when I felt something dig into my hip. My leather bag.
A memory clicked into my head. “Atlas, get as much of that goo off as you can and start running!” I got up before Atlas could try to tell me to go back, hands digging into my pocket to pull out my secret weapon as I went towards the hoard. I got to like five feet when I looked back. I could only hope I looked as cool as I felt when I gave them a wicked smile holding up a softball sized bomb in my hand and a lighter in the other. I almost laughed as I watched utter horror dawn on their face.
“Abby! What the f-!”
“Get ready to run!”
The relief that flooded through me when that old lighter actually lit was indescribable. The fuse fizzed and a golden spark began to slide down immediately. I held it behind my head, gave Yoba and whatever Gods were listening to a quick prayer, then shouted “BOMBS AWAY!” as I let that bad boy go.
The second it left my hand I immediately spun and sprinted with all I had left almost passing Atlas who threw themselves from the ground with their limbs like a dog then pushing themselves upward with their arms as they hit the ground running.
In my defense, bombs really aren’t my expertise. Just looking at it made it seem like the blast wouldn’t be that powerful. I still think it’s pretty subjective given the job.
When the bomb went off an ear piercing explosion came behind and a terrible rumbling from all around that made me feel like the broken pieces of chips at the bottom of a pringle can. The cave lit up a blinding red-orange, the heat burning our backs as the force of the blast lifted us off our feet and lurched us forward.
Now, if this was a movie this would be the part where the two heroes are slowly flying through the air. The camera focuses on their faces as they don’t look back on the cool ass explosion blowing up behind them, because cooler guys don't look back on cool explosions.
Course what the movies fail to show are the less than glamorous landings they make and how much they hurt like hell. Thankfully I knew enough to cover the important part of my head with my arms. It saved me from a broken neck at least as the air was knocked straight out of my lungs when my body slammed than bounced off rocky ground. For a few seconds it was just being tossed around like a rag doll in one giant drying machine until after one final hard thump I stopped moving.
I groaned as the last of the cavern shakes finally settled and the world finally stilled. Blissfully stilled. I still kept my eyes shut and my head tucked, unsure whether to trust it. When I unfurled my eyes adjusting to the settling dust and rubble they fell on an unmoving lump next to me.
“H-hey!,” I coughed and heaved, my throat terribly dry. “Atlas! Atlas can you hear me!?”
I turned her over and was answered with a dry heaving cough that sent dirt and spit flying from their scraped up mouth.
“Ew- I mean oh thank Yoba! I thought you were dead!”
They groaned. “Augh. I feel dead…” I gave them a hug but pulled away immediately when they groaned louder in pain. “Oh shit dude, my bad! Are you good? Anything is broken.” I helped them to a sitting position as they tested out their arms and legs. Luckily it looked like the worse we got were a few cuts that’ll fade to scars in a few weeks. Bruises for days for sure.
“Abby… where the hell did you get that bomb!?” At least their energy wasn’t totally exhausted. I blinked.
“The bomb? Got it off one of the buzzer slugs a few floors above. Remember, the one we thought was pregnant? Turned out it was-”
“You could have killed us Abby!,” she snapped. I gaped at them.
“I just saved our lives!? Did you want to get eaten by a bunch of buzzers? And then what, leave me to explain to the whole town how I left you behind to die??” My voice rose with my anger. “Besides, you’re the one who wanted to come down here! If you had come alone you'd be dead!”
We glared at each other for a few seconds, until they yielded with a shaky sigh. “You’re right, Abby. That was still some risky shit you pulled there, but I guess there wasn’t a lot of time for many choices. Still,” they gestured at the path we came to that was now closed off by the collapsed tunnel. “That was some - and I can't emphasize this enough- batshit insane move you did there.”
I smiled, proud. “Well, duh, it’s what adventurers do!” I puffed out my chest boasting. “Use death defying tricks to save the day!” We both laughed at that. “Did you get what you wanted by the way?” Atlas nodded. “Sorry you weren’t able to grab your stuff Abby.”
I shrugged and got up to dust myself off. “I’m just glad I still have all my arms and legs. Come on lets get out of here,” I lifted them up.
“Fair. Want to meet at the Stardrop Saloon later? I owe you a meal at least.”
“Sounds like a deal!” I frowned as I looked at the state I was in. “ Shoot, can I actually stop by your place first? I really don't want a lecture from Mom or Dad about what happened for a while.”
“Sure. Stay as long as you like. They know you’re an adult now, right? With your own private adult bombing life?”
I huffed. “I wish. If they only saw me for the grown demolitionist I am and not the little firecracker they want to remember, things would be a lot less of a drag.”
We laughed again. Leaning against one another as we doubled in a vicious cycle of pain brought on from the ache all over our bodies and trying hard not to laugh, which only made us laugh harder till we got to the elevator.