Chimera and the Shrubbery – Part 1 – Chapter 5

Chimera and the Shrubbery

Part 1: Parades of Carbon and Intrinsics

Chapter 5

Everything looked different during the day. Jeremy, with his lost partner Denver, had first approached the dreaded forest from the west whilst lost on patrol. Now Jeremy and his new partner Sasha were approaching from the east, heading directly there in a straight line, awkward terrain not withstanding.

“They didn’t build you for long distance, huh?” Jeremy laughed, leading the way, his head held high.

“Just go easy on me,” muttered Sasha as her heavy feet dragged along the rocky ground. “It is my first day.”

“Don’t worry! You’ve had extensive training!”

“How long until you stop with all the ‘rookie’ jokes, partner?”

“Until I stop finding them funny, I reckon.”

“That long?”

They began ascending towards a rocky outcrop, the baking sun radiating from their plating.

Sasha was spinning her head in a full circle, pointing her visual sensors in every direction. “Do you know this territory, partner?”

“I’ve been here once. Last night.”

“How can you be so brazen, then? This whole land is uncharted. How do know you there’s no Chimera around?”

Jeremy laughed, but suppressed it quickly. He realised that his young partner expected Chimera to be lurking in every bush, or just over the horizon, or up ahead on the path, waiting to ambush them. “When there are Chimera near, you will know,” was all he said.

They reached the top and gazed out. Jeremy had half expected the forest to just have been a dream, a corrupt sector in his memory block. But it was there: a hue of various shades of green stretching out for a mile or so in the valley beneath them. From above, it was almost perfectly round, and the edges turned from foliage to barren brown sharply, as if the whole forest had been scribbled onto the landscape by a hand from above. Somewhere down there was Denver.

“Look how high the trees are.. they reach up to the sky..” Sasha’s white face crinkled as her eyes widened dramatically, staring at the deep texture of the woods. She reached over to Jeremy, and her shiny digits delicately grasped his hand. “Make all the jokes you like, but they really didn’t teach us about anything like this. I had no idea such abundance of life still existed. It’s.. the whole forest is alive.” She thrust her hand forward, nearly taking Jeremy’s arm off with the movement. “Look!”

A flock of birds erupted from the tree tops and made their presence known to all with loud screeches. They circled around, squabbling, and as quickly as they had come they disappeared below the surface of green again, and all was silent.

Sasha was standing poised. She had removed her pistol from her waist and was holding it, unsure if she was ready to shoot or not. Her hands were quivering, and her joints reverberating quietly.

Jeremy regarded her with curiosity. She had had such a strong emotional reaction to seeing the forest. An instant bond had been formed between her and this primitive collection of life forms, stronger perhaps than she had formed to any of her academy friends, or even to him. Different robots responded to different stimuli. You could never predict that kind of thing.

“You can relax,” Jeremy said soothingly. He decided against trying to take her gun from her. Who knew what she’d been trained to do in that scenario.

“Yes,” she replied, and regained her composure. She went to put her gun back in its holster, but paused. “Sir, will there be any hostile elements on this mission?” she asked, her professional training taking hold.

“No,” replied Jeremy. He was not going to explain the situation to her, explain who or what was in that forest. Sasha was only here because she had been assigned to him, something he had no say in. He could do with the backup, maybe, he thought. Then he silently scolded himself. He didn’t need any help. The kid would just be too hard to get rid of. That’s the only reason he’d brought her along.

Sasha’s pistol returned to its holster. “Race you to the bottom?” she asked jovially.

Jeremy moved in quickly and grabbed hold of her arm, not lightly. He stared at her furiously, causing her body to become limp. She gazed down apologetically.

“Sasha,” he said seriously.

“Yes..?”

Three-two-one-go!”

Jeremy launched himself away from her, pushing her backwards in the process, and leapt down the cliff face. Sasha released a garbled explosion of noise in delight, and sped after him. They tumbled down the steep hill, Jeremy frequently slipping and scratching his new paintwork, Sasha nimbly aiming perfect jumps from ledge to ledge without hesitation. Despite Jeremy’s head start, Sasha was still at the bottom first and tapping her foot in faux impatience before he reached her.

He collapsed into a heap, ran a five second diagnostic- nothing was damaged- then jauntily jumped to his feet.

“Just when I was thinking you were no fun!” Sasha giggled.

“I’ll pretend I didn’t hear that.”

They paced along, and the grass quickly became taller, until it reached their knees. Sasha trudged up to the nearest tree, and knocked twice on it. She seemed to enjoy the sound it made. Though it was nothing Jeremy had ever really thought about, he could guess why. A city girl growing up in the steel walls of the academy; she had probably had nearly no access to nature. It was a brand new experience to her.

Nature: it was not the purposely constructed confines of their towns, cities, and buildings, not the jail cells that were their tin bodies. It was purposeless, chaotic and unpredictable. With all of the robots’ colourful insignias, their masks, their vibrant population centres and their fun-based simulations, they tried to copy it. They wanted to be like it. But it was only counterfeit. As Jeremy stared into the infinite complexity of the forest, with tiny red bugs crawling along drooping leaves, with sharp-beaked birds eyeing them menacing, it became all too apparent.

Jeremy searched his memory banks for the time, forty odd years ago, when he had first seen a tree, trying to dredge up memories to see if his own reaction matched Sasha’s now. But the memories had been pushed aside to make room for more pressing matters; compressed, partially deleted. He sighed inwardly, and felt old.

“I have turned on my audio sensors,” said Sasha, with her head up against the hollow tree. “I can hear a hundred tiny creatures! It’s incredible.”

“Good,” said Jeremy, staring defiantly at the living creatures that fluttered and crawled, that would always be something he could never be. “You will need them.”

“Need them?”

“Your audio sensors.”

Something suddenly dawned on Sasha, and her face crumpled like a scrunched up piece of paper. “The satellite link! We’ve lost it. We’re not connected.”

“It’s happening just like before,” said Jeremy, nodding, staring deep into the depths of the verdant woodland.

“Look.” Sasha marched up to him, on edge. “I don’t mind you taking me on unannounced missions, but-”

“But what?” asked Jeremy sternly.

“But- you said it was a rescue mission. It’d be nice to know exactly who we are here rescuing. And why you kept it a secret from Commander Vato.”

Jeremy turned away from her, and softly bent his knees into a crouch. “Use your ears. And your eyes. Be alert. And follow me.” He hunched down and began creeping forward.

“You said there were no hostile elements!”

“I lied.”

Though the two robots tried to sneak along as quietly as they could, their presence was still felt. The birds and other, long-armed furry creatures noticed them right away, and sang at the top of their lungs about their discovery. Soon after there were many species quickly circling, staring with intrepidation at the invaders who had returned again. In daylight they seemed far less frightening, just two shiny skeletons awkwardly stumbling through foreign ground.

The song warning of new invaders rippled outwards, being repeated by all the creatures who heard it. In this manner, it fast reached the wardens of nature..

“Father!” yelled Hilda, pouncing down from the treetops, her spider-like body landing with grace on top of Papa. She scuttled around his trunk until she was face to face with him. “Wake up, and listen!”

Papa groaned and plucked her off with a thick limb and tossed her aside in annoyance. “What are you waking me for, child? We need to rest to gather our strength.”

“Your hearing is going, father!” Hilda found her feet again and glared at him. “Listen: the invaders are back.”

What? Already?” Papa hushed her with an elongated, wiry finger, and listened to the song of the forest. He gasped: his daughter was not wrong. He collapsed down to his knees and sobbed. “They’ve come too soon..”

“Father! It is time to fight! Like our kind fought in ages past!” Hilda was leaping from tree to tree, shaking barrel-loads of leaves from each one she landed upon.

“Yes. You are right.” Papa stopped his crying and drew himself up, but sorrow was still on his face, and tears of sap were in his dark, wrinkled eyes.

Hilda stopped leaping around. Her forehead creased. She regarded the pain and misery on her father’s face, and prayed it wasn’t infectious. “Father?”

“Yes, daughter?”

“How many of you were there when you last fought the invaders?”

Papa winced, as if a old wound had been opened up on his body. “We go to war, today, Hilda.”

“Answer me!” she moaned. Whilst she rarely paid attention to most of the old ways of the Guardians, the nuggets of information that were kept secret from her were constantly alluring. “There used to be more than just the two of us, I know that much. I know that once, I had a mother. I remember her, calming me when I was a seedling. It’s my earliest memory. Tell me, father: did they all die fighting the invaders? Is that why you’re crying?”

Papa sighed, but nodded. “Walk with me, then, Hilda. Let us go and meet our enemies, and on the way I will tell you the rest of what I know.”

“Are you going to tell me of the forbidden place?” Hilda’s eyes lit up with glowing red, and a smile split across her head. Her eyes darted towards the precise centre of the forest, where an ancient, weathered, bulbus tree housed the sole place in the forest that she had sworn a thousand times never to enter.

“Not that place. That’s not for now.”

“Then when?”

“That is for if we lose.”

They began marching towards the invaders, squinting their eyes and looking out for signs of their enemies. The surrounding fauna pointed them in the right direction.

Papa began his story. “You were right, my perceptive young daughter. Some of us were killed by the invaders, last time they came. Killed in such horrible ways that I couldn’t bear describe it to you.”

Hilda gulped, and pictured the flaming explosion that had incinerated a vast area of plants the previous night. She shuddered to think of that happening to her.

“During the battle, the invaders killed eight of us. One of those who died was your beautiful mother.” A fresh wave of tears began dripping down Papa’s coarse face, and he looked away from Hilda, embarrassed. “I loved her then and I love her now. We both of us agreed that protecting the forest was our sacred duty. I know she died for what she believed in, but I still wish.. it hadn’t happened.”

Hilda bobbed along, nodding, listening eagerly.

“Afterwards, twenty-five of us remained. Including me, and you, Hilda.”

“I knew it!” she yelled, and the sound echoed. “I knew I remembered lots more of us. Please, father, tell me what happened to the rest of them? Why are we the only two left?”

Papa’s flapping ears suddenly became rigid, and pricked, stopping him in his tracks. He fast scraped the tears from his face. He silenced her with a stern look, drew back, then leapt forward. He sailed and landed on a rocky mound.

Hilda scrambled up quickly to join him, digging deep handholds as she climbed. He pointed, and she saw it too. The invaders were crawling along in the undergrowth, up to their chins in the sharp grass, but fifty metres away. Hilda and Papa sunk into the ground, keeping eyes on their prey.

“That is the one from last night!” exclaimed Hilda, trying to keep her voice as quiet as she could.

Papa shrugged this off. “They all look the same,” he insisted. “What matters is that there’s only two of them!” He chuckled, and an eager smile crossed his face. “They escaped, but they only brought back two. You know what this means, Hilda?”

Hilda shrugged, unsure as to why he was suddenly so enthusiastic. “We can kill them?”

Exactly!” He laughed hoarsely, watching the metal people move along in the near distance, ineffectively trying to remain concealed. “Now, daughter, let’s see what you have learnt. What are the conditions of combat?”

Hilda bit her tongue in concentration. “Um.. daylight..”

“Daylight. Which means we lose the advantage of stealth.”

“..lose the advantage of stealth,” Hilda said with him.

“So we will lay a trap for them. Lure them into it.”

“What trap, Papa? Tell me!” Hilda’s eye were wide and mad, and she was making guttural sounds of pleasure in her throat.

Papa chuckled, far more mirthful now. He beckoned her in close. “You know every creature who lives here in this forest of ours, correct?”

“Yes, father.”

“Do you have names for them all?”

“Every one of them larger than a vore-rat, father.”

“And what do you call the one who lives underground, with seventy teeth on each of five rows, which can see even though it has no eyes, which hunts once a week only and devours its prey whole, in the dead of night?”

“That one! Who even we can’t tame.. I just call it The Beast.”

Papa nodded, in agreement with the name. “The Beast. That’s where we’re luring the robots to.”

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Chimera and the Shrubbery – Part 1 – Chapter 4

Chimera and the Shrubbery

Part 1: Parades of Carbon and Intrinsics

Chapter 4

Jeremy stood in the steam room and was sprayed with abrasive fumes that disintegrated the grime from his plating whilst leaving his metal parts uncorroded. As he waited for the cleaning process to finish, he pondered. As painful as it was, he kept on dredging up the image of Denver’s removed rabbit head in his memory, and examining it closely. It was slightly blackened in the mud and the grey eyes stared blindly on forever. The head had been torn off violently; something that would require a large amount of brute strength. These living trees, whatever they were, did not mess about.

But other than the break at the neck, the head was not damaged in any other way. It was a clean cut. The forehead was not even scratched. Not an indentation, not a hole. And that was exactly where the central unit was.

He felt his power usage suddenly spike, and his cold blue veins filled with electric energy in excitement. If Denver’s brain was still intact, then there was still hope..

“Oi!” came a hollow voice from the walls. “Your clean finished thirty seconds ago. Stop standing around. We’ve got a line of construction bots out here. Move it!”

Jeremy smiled and waved at the walls as he exited.

Out in the courtyard there was a commotion. Many of the soldiers had abandoned their posts and formed a big circle around something Jeremy couldn’t see. He pushed a few men aside impatiently. In the centre of the group were ten sleek robots performing skilled acrobatics. These were the reinforcements.

Not asked for, Vato had told Jeremy, but certainly very welcome. The United Front’s high council had sent ten of their best models, the absolute cream of the crop, to aid in the war effort.

The new arrivals were showing off, flinging each other into the air, performing a hundred fast spins, then landing on a single toe atop another’s outstretched finger. Next they formed into a large pyramid.. and to impress even further they dismantled it and then formed the same pyramid, this time upside down.

Jeremy rolled his eyes (a process he’d taken a long time to master) and stepped into the middle of the vainglorious acrobats. He reached up and grabbed one by the foot in mid air, bringing him crashing to the ground, and ending their performance unceremoniously. The crowd went quiet.

Jeremy stamped his foot. “If Vato caught you all standing around like this, heads would roll. Literally.”

The gathering quickly dissipated.

Jeremy turned back to the new arrivals to find one of them, hardly distinguishable from any of the others, standing in front of him, chest pointed out proudly. It was an ugly robot, with a head that was a blend of semi-circle and a cube, with stylish smoothed edge and a long thin visor instead of eyes. The body consisted of a tiny torso and overlong arms and legs. Perfect for moving nimbly, Jeremy bet, and the acrobatics would come handy in combat. He didn’t voice these thoughts: the robots seemed to have egos big enough already.

“You’re Jeremy, right?” The robot hunched her shoulders in anticipation, her voice giddy with glee.

“Right.” Jeremy waved vaguely, and turned to leave.

“I’m Sasha!” she squealed, and for a second it looked like she was going to hug him. Instead she extended her hand; an archaic gesture of friendliness. “It’s really such an honour to meet you, partner! I just know I’m gonna learn so much from you. This is so exciting!”

Jeremy stared at her, analysing her speech pattern and posture. From what he could tell, she was not exaggerating for effect; she was actually genuinely this over-the-top. He could guess why Vato had assigned him her as a partner. Another female, supposedly to take his mind off Denver, to suppress any grief he felt. Well, it was stupid to suppose he would find Sasha an adequate replacement: you couldn’t replace friends. Plus, if there was a single thing he could do about it, then he would recover Denver and find her a new body.

He shrugged at Sasha, who was staring at him expectantly, and walked away.

She trotted after him, bouncing from one foot to the other excitedly. “Sorry about the show back there!” she stuttered nervously, awkwardly trying to maintain eye contact whilst walking with him. “We didn’t mean to cause any trouble.”

“It was all very impressive,” replied Jeremy dourly.

“Well, it’s just the way we’re built, partner! Our fibre optics are state of the art – they transfer data at ten million standard packets per second. We can collate environmental data like air pressure, sonic activity, humidity, wind patterns, so that we have a highly increased understanding of our immediate surroundings. We have touch sensitive nerve endings over ninety percent of our bodies, unlike some older models that only have sensors on their hands and feet.” She paused. “No offence meant, partner!”

He grimaced. “None taken.” He looked her up and down. “So how’s your combat performance?” he asked with a sly grin.

“Our reflexes are just perfectly honed. We can react to threats in under a microsecond- not to mention our joints allow for fluidity of movement that-”

Got you!” shouted Jeremy, as he flung a fist with no warning directly into her face, to catch her off guard.

Sasha stood calmly, ready, braced for combat, with his fist caught comfortably in the palm of her hand, five or so inches away from her face. The breeze whistled around them.

He gasped, and Sasha let go, returning to a more social posture. “Got you, actually, partner.”

Jeremy winced and tried to hide his discomfort. He rubbed his wrist gently.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Jeremy: I cheated slightly. Your friend Beetlebum over there warned me that you would try and catch me off guard like that.”

“Oh, him.” Jeremy groaned.

Sasha pointed at Beetlebum, manning the walls. He waved back to them and chuckled. He was Jeremy’s second closest friend here on the base after Denver. Now she was potentially gone, Jeremy felt a pain that he was only left with Beetlebum as his confidant.

He was a lazy, untrustworthy friend who stunk of incompetence, but kept his high rank nonetheless, simply from his years of experience. Sure, he would pull through for Jeremy on a rare occasion, but far more often he would be too worried about keeping his own parts intact. He took next to no care of his body, was combat shy, and kept a secret about as well as a sieve kept water. Somehow over decades, he and Jeremy had grown close, and now they were kind of stuck together.

“To quote him, you are ‘extremely predictable’-”

“Okay, thank you, Sasha-”

“-and you have ‘a lot to prove.’”

“Right. First things first-”

“‘Slow,’ he also said. And ‘thinks he’s a far better fighter than he actually is.’”

Jeremy stopped and glared at her through slit eyes.

“Oh.. but he said lots of nice things about you, too!”

Jeremy waited for a few seconds to ensure she wasn’t going to dig herself into a deeper hole. When she was silent, he said, “Sasha. You’re my protege now. I trust you can follow orders?”

“Of course!” She beamed.

Her combat performance was impressive to say the least, Jeremy admitted to himself. If Vato wasn’t going to supply him with a set of troops, then she would just have to do. “You said you are pleased to be working with me, Sasha?”

“Absolutely, partner!”

“Well, how am I supposed to tell that when your head looks like a breeze block?”

Sasha shrunk back, clasping her head defensively. He’d hurt her more with words than he ever could do in a fight.

“Let’s get you a facemask, to start with,” Jeremy said. “If you’re going to learn from me, then I need to be able to read your expressions.”

Sasha hesitated for a second as Jeremy began walking towards a supply store, but she quickly started following. “Sure thing, partner.”

The doors of the supply store slid open to reveal tightly packed shelves filled with spare parts, some rusted beyond repair, others tragically looking as if their owners only died yesterday. Such was the war.

“Why do you keep calling me ‘partner’?” asked Jeremy, as they stepped inside.

“Because you’re my partner,” Sasha responded.

“Right. Makes sense.”

The bot in charge of the store ambled over to them, walking straight past Jeremy and right up to Sasha. “The faces are right at the back, right side, miss. Call me if you need help.”

“Why, thanks, partner!” Sasha bowed down to him in gratitude.

They walked through the shelves, past chipped circuit boards, lengths of frayed wiring and hollow, heavy feet.

“Well, why did you call him ‘partner’?” Jeremy asked.

“Term of endearment,”

“Right. Makes sense.”

Sasha sat on a stool as Jeremy perused through the various different masks, from kittens to rhinoceroses, from paper bags to phantoms. Each one when worn would plug into its user’s core, and then emotions could transfer themselves into facial expressions.

Jeremy passed Sasha one to try on for fit. “Let’s start with the basics, then. Where are you from? What clan?”

“Me and my brethren were constructed in Town Shou-watch. Clan Dragomir, just like you.” She tapped the insignia on her chest proudly.

“Your body is brand new, I see. Is it your first?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Combat experience?” asked Jeremy hesitantly, watching her attempt to put the face on backwards.

“None, sir. I’m fresh out of academy. We received extensive training, ran countless simulated modules that are indistinguishable from real combat.” She pulled at a wrong wire on the mask and sparks shot out, causing her arm to jerk back. She caressed her thumb gently, letting out a soft whine.

“Never fought? How long since you were built?”

“Thirteen years, mister.”

“Thirteen?” Jeremy threw his hands up in the air. “You’re thirteen? I didn’t even hold a weapon until I was twenty. They really sent you to the frontlines? Come on! Bots as young as you should have to wear a badge, or something.” Jeremy crossed his arms moodily.

“I do wear a badge.” She pointed to her chest.

“Not that, I meant-”

“I wear my badge with great honour. I am of the Dragomir clan of the UFFJAH, and no-one could be more proud of it than me.” Her slender finger underlined the words inscribed on her body: ‘United Front For Justice And Honour’. She got to her feet and threw down the mask. “I may lack combat experience, but I embody the ideals of the United Front in my very core. The very construction of me and my model was rumoured to be commissioned by the High Council themselves.”

“Very well,” replied Jeremy, regretting offending her. “You’ll have plenty of time to prove your metal, like the rest of us. Now calm your circuits and pick a face mask.”

In the end they settled on a fairly blank, loose, white mask, with enough requisite moving parts that Jeremy was satisfied that Sasha would learn to express herself. It had ginger eyebrows, a hole cut for her visor, and an expressive line where her voice modulator was. It wasn’t a bunny; but it would do.

“Why is this so important, anyway? Half the soldiers around here don’t wear faces.”

“Consider this my first lesson to you then.” Jeremy sat down opposite her, and pulled her stool close. He began plugging in the portions of her face to her skin. “Emotions are things that all robots have. We gain them more and more as we grow older. You are young, but if you don’t feel them strongly yet then you will once you get a taste of war.” Her eyebrows, when connected, began to rapidly shoot up and down. “You won’t have been taught about emotions in the academy. Because even today they are a taboo subject. Most soldiers believe them to be unimportant, even derogatory to our profession. But I think they should be embraced.”

“From what I hear, they are just errors in programming that are unavoidable at our level of complexity. They make your body sometimes act against the will of your central unit. You want to do one thing, but your body does another.. how can that possibly be a positive thing?”

“As you mature, you will learn to appreciate the good that comes with them,” Jeremy explained softly, leaning in close to massage the area underneath her eye. “That’s the real reason that me and Den- that I wear this bunny mask. You can learn a lot by studying another bot’s emotions. It will help me get to know you. Understood?”

“I guess..” She nodded.

“I can guarantee you that the High Council who continually send soldiers to fight this war, this great war against the Chimera, do so on an emotional basis. They feel love for their own kind, and hate for the enemy. You can’t fight a war with no emotion. Even the Chimera must feel.. to some extent.” He lost himself in his own thoughts for a moment. Then he pushed a finger into Sasha’s eye.

Ouch!” she squealed.

“Good! If that hurt, then everything is connected up right. How does that feel?”

“Like I’ve just been poked in the eye, to be honest,” she said, pouting. She got to her feet. “So, what’s next?”

“Now,” Jeremy said, taking her hand and leading them back into daylight, “our first mission.”

“I don’t recall seeing anything on the manifest. What kind of mission?”

“A rescue mission.”

FictionPress, why I love it

Ever heard of FictionPress? It’s a website where you can post your writing and people will review it for you. If you are halfway towards being a decent citizen (like me!) then you will also go around reviewing other people’s work.

There’s a hell of a lot of bad stuff, but also a hell of a lot of good stuff. If anyone has a FictionPress account and ten minutes to spare, I would be honoured if you could go on and give my story a review. http://www.fictionpress.com/s/3048737/1/Chimera_and_the_Shrubbery

It is the same story that I am posting here on my blog, word for word, so you don’t need to check it out if you’re already reading the story on here.

Anyway, whilst I keep telling myself the true value of negative feedback- and that’s what FictionPress is about, after all- and how it can help you improve as a writer, I also cannot deny the plethora of good feelings I get inside myself when I get a wholly positive review. I know this is a bit big headed of me, and I really hope you can forgive me, but I wanted to share a very positive review I had from a complete stranger over at FictionPress.

Here it is:

I had to read this after reading the summary! I love epic fantasy.

And I must say the writing doesn’t disappoint, I might be slightly biased in this review, because you’ve pushed all the right buttons to get me interested.

Denver has really distinct characterisation. I think her form and her words speak volumes for themselves. You have some very nice imagery, but what is most impressive about your story are the constant hints that open the reader’s eyes to your creativity. Denver is not ordinary, and neither is Jeremy. In fact, they may be something the fantasy world has never seen before. At the same time, you deliberately tease the reader by not reviewing more of their image than that which comes naturally, and you do the same for the mysterious guardians. Despite the sudden drop into a new world, it is clear that this story has both a past and a future.

You’ve mastered the essentials of imagery, character development and pacing, and this is a very well polished start.

I got a very nice understanding of the father and Hilda relationship, because its very clear how much the father cares about the daughter and the land, and also how much Hilda looks up to her father and depends on him for support. At the same time, the fighting style of the guardians of the forest is truly terrifying, especially when placed in their home element. not least because hilda seems more than a little malicious, and apparently delights in causing fear in her prey. Of course, when the forest burns from the incendiary grenade, she ends up weeping in fear, a sudden childish response which is jarring to the reader, and serves to make the guardians even less human.

One more of the many things I liked about this extract was the similarities in the way the different sides viewed each other. I loved how both the guardians and the machines viewed each other with contempt, and how each of them were proved wrong. ‘Papa’ said the machines were nonliving and unfeeling, yet Jeremy’s actions clearly contradict that. Similarly, Denver believes herself invulnerable to the creatures of the wild, yet she got literally taken apart. You used the change of perspective masterfully in this manner, highlighting the contrasts, the false prejudices and likenesses of the two sides in bold.

Like this story, please write more.

If any of you have a story at FictionPress you’d like me to review, please say so in the comments 🙂

-Vera!

Chimera and the Shrubbery – Part 1 – Chapter 3

Chimera and the Shrubbery

Part 1: Parades of Carbon and Intrinsics

Chapter 3

“You lost her?” spat Commander Vato, his rectangular mouthpiece quivering in anger.

“Yes, commander,” replied Jeremy soberly.

It was the following morning. Gone was the eery forest brimming with life, left behind in the night. Jeremy had diverted every watt of power to fleeing, and by the time he had reached the base his power cells were near depleted. He’d spent the night in the infirmary. Then, first thing, Vata had sent for him. The two of them sat now in Vato’s stark office at the top of the lookout tower. Sunlight streamed in through the windows.

“Well, let’s hear it, then! As quickly as possible, soldier. What happened?”

Before speaking, Jeremy replayed the incident from the previous night to himself, from his memory banks. Even though he was playing back the exact events as seen from his viewpoint, he couldn’t help notice a disparity. Last night the danger had seemed so real. But this morning, the images seemed unclear, fuzzy, dark. There was a lot of movement, but he needed a crystal clear image of the enemies he had fought against if he was going to convince the commander to send troops back to the forest.

“Well? Was it the Chimera?” demanded Vato. The only two movable parts on his oblong head were his two eyebrows above his dull red singular eye. They were all he needed to convey his expression: impatient.

“Not the Chimera, commander.”

“Thank god for that.” He blew a wheeze of steam out from under his chin in relief. “If they were that close already, we’d be in knee deep.” He leant back into his chair. “So, stop stalling. What happened to Denver?”

Hearing Denver’s name roused emotions deep inside Jeremy. “Trees, sir,” he said plainly, aware of hos ridiculous his words sounded. He maintained eye-contact, hoping that it would aid in conveying the seriousness of his recounting. “In the forest, there were two creatures that looked like trees, but they could move- they could talk. Not some babble either, it was our dialect. I spoke to them. They were hostile, commander. They took Denver apart. I believe she’s gone sir. I think she’s dead.” His whiskers twitched and his ears drooped at this last admission.

Vato remained totally unmoving, frozen. Jeremy fidgeted for around ten seconds, before realising that more was probably expected of him.

“I tried to fight them, but the satellite link was down. I didn’t mention that yet. We thought at the time it might be the storm, but I believe it’s clear now that the hostile elements in the forest must have jammed it to trap us there, on purpose. There wasn’t any negotiations, they just attacked-”

“The trees?” Vato spoke, a hint of scorn in his voice.

“Yes.” Jeremy shifted on his seat. “Well, no. They looked like trees. They were made of wood. But they were fast, and fleet, and experienced in combat. No weapons, but they were.. dangerous.” He leaned forward and raised both his hands out. “Commander, we need to go back to the forest,” he implored. He tried to convince himself that his main objective would be to find what was left of Denver, but secretly he kept thinking the same word: revenge.

“You said they had a device that blocked your satellite link?”

“Yes. I believe so. I didn’t see it, but, they must have.”

Vato said nothing for a while, but he rotated his neck around in a way that suggested he was thinking, and expected only silence from Jeremy. Without warning, he rose from his seat.

“Wipe the mud from your arm, Jeremy. What is that symbol there?”

“Why, commander, it’s the symbol for Clan Dragomir-”

“Clan Dragomir.” Vato slammed his elbow onto the desk between them and showed the same symbol on his own bicep plate: a triangle with a moon shape hollowed out from it. “Our clan. And, Jeremy, do you know what separates us from the other two clans?”

“Commander.. we are forward-thinking. Brave. Merciless. Just.”

“You could have stopped at forward-thinking, soldier. For that’s the only thing that truly separates us. Both Clan Dobrosaw and Clan Argus share our numbers, our technology, our faults and our strengths. But we are the clan that is out here pioneering, uncovering new ground, searching for new mineral veins to propagate our species.” Vato paused, and moved over to the nearest window. He gazed with pride at the base, still being built up and secured, but magnificent all the same.

“Clan Dragomir has a long and untarnished reputation,” Vato continued, pacing up and down the long window. “Even now, two centuries- centuries, Jeremy- after the founding of the United Front, the merging of the three clans into a single army, there is still in-fighting. The clans have petty squabbles over territory. Such a petty waste of life, and resources, when you consider that the Chimera is out there, and is the enemy of us all.

“But, my point is, that Dragomir has never backed down from a fight. We have secured our land, and we are now pushing out to expand it, without having to war with anyone. We are progressive-”

“I know that, commander.” Jeremy knew the rudeness of his interruption, but he found being lectured on his own clan’s history frustrating and patronising. He had put in years of fighting. One mishap in the forest didn’t make him deserve to be treated like a child.

“All I’m trying to say, Jeremy,” said Vato, turning back to face him, “is that much of our strength comes from soldiers like you. Loyal, smart, and damned good fighters.” He paused and glanced outside again. “Let’s go for a walk.”

They took the elevator to ground level and emerged from the tower into the orange glow of morning, in the centre of the base. All around them automatons whizzed about, still working around the clock to build up brand new structures. Short silver lawnmowers clattered along the ground, sucking up flowers and grass, making the earth barren of life in preparation for construction. Other diggers explosively blew holes into the ground, so that swiveling buckets could lumber over and fill them with hot cement. Already the perimeter of the base was marked by a tall black wall with towering gun emplacements, spikes covering the outer side, and soldiers patrolling along the top of it, their footsteps as they clanked along the walkway ringing through the open area. A landing pad was prepared for incoming vessels that docked at irregular intervals. What little fuel the United Front had in storage was being fast expended by Vato’s constant call for new supplies.

A shooting range, armoury, guard towers, vehicle factories, barracks, and even the odd play area for rest and relaxation: all built within the past week. They were, indeed, pioneers.

“And old, I might add.” Vato’s hulking legs created clouds of dust with every step, that he wilfully ignored. “You’re a veteran of sixty-five cycles, aren’t you, Jeremy?”

“Sixty years, sir.”

Vato regarded some busy worker robots carefully placing a girder with great pride. “Well, who’s counting? You’re a veteran who all the younger soldiers look up to. And yet, what is this?” Vato reached over and tugged, not softly, on one of Jeremy’s long bunny ears that hung from his head.

“Just a mask, sir..”

“The mask of an animal probably long extinct. You parade around with it on.. why, exactly? A desperate plea for individuality? Or is it just a joke that I don’t get? Don’t answer, Jeremy. I am not going to tell you how to dress. I could, but I won’t. Denver wore one too, didn’t she?”

Jeremy paused. Red flags were appearing in his central unit, signifying a strong emotional response. A response that could drastically alter his actions. He calmly collected himself, then responded. “Yes, she did, sir.”

“You and her were partners for many years. You rubbed off on her, and her on you. To be honest, I don’t know quite how to put it, but there was talk amongst the soldiers here, about the two of you. I don’t think I’ll elaborate too much, but suffice to say people thought you had been partners for too long. Spent too much time together.” Vato stroked his chin absent-mindedly. “It’s odd that that situation has seemed to rectify itself.”

Jeremy felt his hands responding to an order that he didn’t send. They were squeezing themselves into tight fists; so tight that the polished sheen on them was being scraped away as his fingers dug into his palms. “Sir, if I could have just ten troops-

Vato pretended not to hear him. “We have a long future ahead of us, out here!” He waved his hand in the air, and made a fist, as if he owned the blue sky itself. “And I want soldiers exactly like you to be my closest lieutenants, Jeremy. Not these new young things. You.”

“Thank you, sir,” said Jeremy blankly.

“Which is exactly why I’m going to disregard what you said in my office.” He held up a hand to silence Jeremy instantly. “Trees? Coming alive? Look, regardless of what really happened, it will look bad on your record if I just state that you got your partner killed. So I’m not going to state that. I’m going to state she died of.. an unavoidable accident. Nobody’s fault. It’s not as honourable as dying in combat, but hey, it’s a far cry better than the fairytale you told.”

“She did die in combat,” protested Jeremy.

“If you don’t die against the Chimera, then it doesn’t count as dying in combat. That’s the law of the United Front, plain and simple. Now, go and get yourself cleaned up, right away. Scrape the dirt from your knees, get the clumps of grass out of your head. You need to go and meet Sasha.”

“Sasha? Who is that?”

“Didn’t I say?” said Vato. “She’s your new partner.”

As VS And

I am far from an authority on matters of the English language. My highest English qualification is a C at English Lit A-level. But I do a lot of reading of other people’s writing, and some things more than others stick out like a sore thumb to me.

This post is going to be about a certain nitpick that gets on my nerves.

Take a look at these two sentences:

— (1) John put his coffee down as he got up from the table.
— (2) John put his coffee down and got up from the table.

What’s the difference?

I see a lot of writers, usually the newer kind, use ‘as’ in sentences like this. What that is implying is that John put his coffee down at the same time as getting up from the table. In this example it is vaguely possible, but unlikely! If you put your coffee down while getting up, you would spill it. Other examples are far less likely to be occurring at the exact same time.

— ‘John put his coat on as he opened the door to leave.’
— ‘John pulled over in his car as he answered the ringing telephone.’

People tend to use ‘as’ because they think that as a writer they will get bonus points for not using boring, repetitive words like ‘and’. Using ‘as’ makes them think they are making their voice just that bit more unique, and also perhaps making their novel have a faster sense of pace. But they don’t consider the true implications of it. You can’t put your coat on and open a door at the same time. You can’t pull over and answer a phone at the same time. At least, I highly don’t recommend it, and as a reader I generally think “Really? Is the character really doing that?”

There are some cases where ‘as’ can be used just fine.

— ‘John waved to his buddy as he strolled down the road.’

That’s fine of course, because those are two things you actually can do at the same time. Another variant to watch out for is when the word ‘as’ isn’t actually used, but is implied by the verb with ‘ing’ at the end..

— ‘John opened the cupboard door, rifling through his shirts and ties with speed.’

‘As’ implies two thinks happening at the same time. ‘And’ implies one thing happening after the other. Be sure to think which one you mean to use next time you use it!

Did you like this article? Have any thoughts of your own? Please share in the comments section!

-Vera

Chimera and the Shrubbery – Part 1 – Chapter 2

Ok. This is my second chapter this week, and with this I have done my 3000 words per week that I originally planned to do. So, yay me? 🙂

I just hope I can keep this up until the story is finished. Which, if I follow my outline, will be in about 6 months. Is that doable? I hope so! 🙂

All feedback is massively appreciated 🙂

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Chimera and the Shrubbery

Part 1: Parades of Carbon and Intrinsics

Chapter 2

Hilda rushed forward, her splintered teeth bared, her tendrils waving wildly in the air. She darted in and out of the sturdy tree trunks, moving so hastily that as she barged past one tree, it cracked under the strength, and toppled over. She stopped. Even she recognised how careless she had been, without Papa having to tell her. She leapt upwards, taking cover in the mess of branches. A second later the two blaring torch beams were focussed on where she had been.

Jeremy and Denver stared silently at where the sound had come from. A clunk, a slow creak, and a crash.

“I think you’re right, you know, Denver,” said Jeremy loudly. “We aren’t alone. Look, there!” He jerked his head to the right, and they spotted a wolf-like animal, with a long whimpering snout, and yellow teeth. It yelped when caught by the light and scurried away.

Denver broke out into breathless laughter, a tinny sound emanating from her voice modulator, it lighting up with a dull green as she did. “Just a little doggie? Is that all?” She slapped Jeremy on the back and leaned on him, her relief palpable.”

“We aren’t safe here,” said Jeremy bluntly.

“Oh, come on! What do we have to fear in this forest? Look, I was wrong to be so scared before. They are just fleshy creatures. They can’t hurt us.” Denver thumped her breastplate loudly with a bang. “Right?” She gave Jeremy a friendly shove, and shone her light in his face.

Jeremy’s auburn fur had begun to dry out after the rain stopped, and it had become puffy all the way from the top of his head to his neck, where it then disappeared under the glinting metal of his torso. His silver, skeletal hands hovered indecisively at the weapons strapped to his waist. He met her stare directly. His face was capable of a replicating a thousand emotions in a microsecond, but at present he chose for it to just remain blank.

“I’ll get us to the base safely,” he said. “I promise.”

Ten metres away, Papa slithered up the tree trunk next to his daughter, interweaving his long roots amongst hers, holding her still strictly. “Watch.. and wait,” he insisted, whispering into her ear hole.

“I am watching, Papa! The invaders.. they’re.. bunnies?” She pointed a leaf-covered finger to where Jeremy and Denver were trotting along, still searching around for an indication they were headed in the right direction.

“Disguises, young one,” Papa informed her, with a modicum of a smile suggesting he might actually in some small way respect them. “They wear disguises to fool us.. to mock nature! Look at their bodies..”

“Metal through and through,” said Hilda, nodding, staring with a mix of fear and giddy excitement. “They are the metal men.. the ones you always told me about.”

“So you were listening.” Papa released his grip on Hilda and began to slink away. “Go for the small one first. We’ll get them one at a time. Don’t take any risks, and don’t-”

“I’ll be fine, Papa!”

“Their weapons can destroy us. This is what I have been training you for, daughter. Don’t let me down.”

“I won’t.”

“And remember,” he hissed. “They aren’t alive.”

“I know!” shouted Hilda.

The words echoed throughout the surrounding area louder than Hilda had meant them to. The sound bounced off the trees dotted around.

Denver’s ears shot up. “Jeremy..?” She slowly rotated her body around. Part of her brain was repeating to her that there was nothing to be afraid of, reciting to her all the knowledge that made it obvious that there were no animals in this forest that could hurt her. Her body was galvanised steel plating, impenetrable to all but the mightiest of weapons. She had survived earthquakes and skirmishes with Chimera dreadlords. But, another part of her brain insisted that there was something stalking them, something dangerous. The conflicting feelings made her legs and arms start to shake. An outside observer might have called it terror.

Thin tubes started worming their way towards her, slithering through the mud, emerging from the swamp. She leapt backwards, her foot catching on a root and sending her to the ground with a splash. Suddenly there were objects close to her right, flying out from cocoons and bushes, dark brown and green slimy tentacles flooding her field of vision. She stumbled backwards on all fours, trying to turn to run, but they had reached her, wrapping tightly around her legs. She pumped away, telling her circuits to sprint, sprint, but they just whirred intensely to no avail, flailing around the air as she was lifted from the ground.

She found herself hanging upside down. From the dark shadows five fingers emerged, carved in wood, with nails dripping with green moss, the joints creaking as they clamped around her neck. They pulled back roughly, tearing off a part of her neck.

She tried to shout, but it was her voice modulator they had stolen. The green light it emitted when she spoke had drawn them right to it. They weren’t stupid. They had silenced her. Broken tubes ejected gushing liquid, and sparks fizzled from her wound.

The tendrils tightened around her, crushing her torso, picking her apart. She heard quiet, satisfied chuckling as gooey mould sprayed up into her face, into her irises, blinding her..

“Denver, I’ve got it!” yelled Jeremy in triumph. He pumped his first to the air in elation as he spotted the sky again in a clearing up ahead. The storm seemed to have died down completely, and the sky was a bright blue. The trails left by the airships pointed the way home. “We’re almost out of the woods!”

He started to turn back to her, but was interrupted. He had snagged his foot on something. Roots were emerging from the ground, enveloping both his feet.

“Shine your beam over here, Denver. I need your help..”

He watched in fear as suddenly he couldn’t move either of his feet. Tiny browns feelers were working their way up his leg, into his machinery..

He instinctively grabbed for his pistol, aimed and fired.

“Hilda, watch out!” came a deep resonating roar from behind him, followed by booming footsteps, a great force thundering towards him, knocking down trees as it approached.

His laser pistol ignited the roots, vaporizing them, and freeing his foot. He heard a piercing shrill cry of pain when he fired, and quickly spotted its source. Under the light of his beam, he saw one great thin creature, the shape similar to a tree, with a hundred roots and tentacles sprouting out from its wooden body. A crude face was carved in its centre, with two glistening black eyes, and a crooked hooked nose jutting out, shaggy clumps of earth hanging from the nostrils. The protruding brow was creased into a sharp V shape, and misshapen teeth of a variety of sizes were formed into an exasperated frown.

Jeremy raised his pistol in shaking hands, his processing unit unsure whether to shoot or not.

“Daughter, hide!” came the rumbling voice again.

Jeremy watched the tree-like figure leap up with surprising nimbleness, pushing itself off with unseen appendages buried deep beneath the cloud of foliage that surrounded it. He aimed his pistol, but it had disappeared, camouflaged in amongst the trees. He spun around to face the second, ferocious creature running towards him, the one with the deep voice: but that one too had hidden away somewhere. The mud gurgled beneath his feet..

“Denver?! Where are you?” shouted Jeremy, and the words echoed ad infinitum.

“We ate it..” came a mocking whisper from somewhere in the branches above. “We ate the little one.”

Jeremy’s nostrils flared. He couldn’t believe that. She had been behind him just a minute ago. “Where is she? What have you done with her?” he demanded, setting his voice modulator to maximum volume.

“‘She’ is nothing but scrap metal, invader! And soon, you will be too!”

“That’s right, Hilda,” came the elderly voice, from off behind Jeremy’s shoulder. “Use fear against him as a weapon.”

“I can hear you!” yelled Jeremy, spinning around wildly, trying to get a shot at one of the two monsters. “And I’m not afraid of you!” He backed out of the mud until he was on firm ground.

“She was tasty,” taunted Hilda, crawling above Jeremy, waiting patiently to pounce when his back was turned. She saw now the real damage that his weapon could do, and she had several smouldering stumps to testify to that. She was not going to take any risks. But she was going to get him..

“I don’t believe you!” Jeremy’s hands trembled as he scanned the visual spectrum for any sign of movement, whether it be his partner or these devilish enemies. “Denver!?” he yelled, fully expecting a reply from her. He waited still, with every second his hope dwindling. There was nothing but silence. His body became rigid.

A brick-sized object landed with a thump on his head. He spun around and fired off two shots, burning red flares that cut holes through the web of branches and tumbled away into the distance. The monsters were throwing projectiles at him now? He had every inclination to run. The base couldn’t be more than a couple of miles away, and at full speed they surely couldn’t catch him.

But he couldn’t leave without Denver. Not a chance.

Then he noticed what the object was that they had thrown at him. Not just a stone.. it spat out sparks from its frayed hair.. it was Denver’s head. The eyes were grey and soulless now, and wires spilled from the neck. Jeremy locked eyes with the object, and stared, frozen to the spot, unable to process the sight.

Hilda swooped in for the kill, her trap having worked. She pounced down from above, lowering herself on long vines, snapping her claws violently. Papa appeared from the other side, thundering from the trees with the force of a steamroller, his thick arms coiled in, preparing to strike. They landed on either side of Jeremy, surprising him, and cutting off his escape.

Jeremy raised his pistol, but they had preempted him, and bashed it out of his hands. It flew into the swamp and sank, never to be seen again. Papa and Hilda raised their various appendages, flowering out from their center, making them appear huge, dwarfing Jeremy. Jeremy dropped to his knees.

“Why did you take Denver?” he asked, his voice stuttering and distorted.

“We protect the forest,” said Papa, his voice and expression the epitome of sombreness.

“Then, protect it!” screamed Jeremy. In one movement he unlatched a grenade from his belt, armed it, and hurled it into the foliage. It went off seconds later, flooding the forest with flames.

Papa and Hilda let out a pained squeal in unison, shielding their eyes from the carnage. They both wept, and when they turned back to face their metal adversary, he had run, far off to the east. Rather than pursue him, they began heaving water onto the flames, to extinguish them before the whole forest became engulfed.

“It got away, father!” Hilda burst into tears.

“Yes,” replied Papa, his voice steeped in sorrow.

“Will it come back?”

“Yes, it will. With many more, and many more weapons.”

“Will we defeat them all, father?” Hilda’s wide black eyes stared at her father in hope.

“We will try, daughter.” Papa sighed in resignation.

Chimera and the Shrubbery – Part 1 – Chapter 1

Ok. A quick word. As I said in my last post, I am going to try to write a serialised story on this blog. What this means is, if I can sustain it, I will be trying to write about 3000 words per week, to this story. This is the first I have announced of this to anyone.

The story is called Chimera and the Shrubbery (working title). The first chapter is below. All I can say is, I really really do welcome any and all feedback, positive and negative. This is my first venture like this, so please read it, and share any and all of your thoughts.

-Vera!

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Chimera and the Shrubbery

Part 1: Parades of Carbon and Intrinsics

Chapter 1

Underneath a pale moon, a forest at night was seen, and heard. As the leaves swayed back and forth, black against the blue sky, a strong wind made noise, whistling through the undergrowth, tearing apart nests, toppling precarious mounds of earth. A wash of liquid falling from up high blurred the shapes of trees and some tiny creatures (and some large) scurried to their overgrown homes. The thousands of drops caused an orchestra when they landed; some drumming hard and fast against fallen logs, others playing light, whimsical notes against foliage. Rivers cut through the mud now, where hours ago there had only been hard dirt. Long white worms rejoiced in the downpour. Furred animals hid in cubby holes in their hollowed trees. Nature painted the scene.

Above the treetops, but still underneath the moon, most unnatural vehicles flew across the sky. As the behemoths whizzed by with their thunderous engines, coughing clouds of poisonous fumes, they cast black shadows on the forest below them, shadows so harsh that they were darker than the insides of all the animals’ burrows.

The denizens of the forest mostly cowered from this new, alien threat; giant metal pods zooming through the sky without wings. The young ones clung to their parents, who clung to each other.

But a small few of the forest folk- only two, in fact- stood tall and stared up at the rumblings of trouble, unafraid. Worried, but not afraid. For these two had heard the sounds and seen the titans before. Not exactly like these ones, but similar enough. Rain and thunder brought peace -loud peace, but peace still- but these new invaders brought only deathly war.

The duo were the guardians of the forest. Watching the airships, they knew what must be done, and their eyes glowered in the moonlight. Without a word, they reached to each other and held hands. They were ready to fight.

A short while away from them, at the edge of the forest, where the dirt and stone first became grass, two very different entities entered the woods. They were not there with a purpose. They were quite lost.

One of their feet slid deep into the mud. “Jelly beans! I’m stuck!” came the shrill utter.

“Don’t call me that, please, Denver,” came the grumbling reply. “My name is Jeremy. We’re soldiers. No more nicknames.” Jeremy hauled over in the darkness and laid a hand on Denver’s wrist with a clank. With a buzzing sound, his grip tightened until her wrist was almost crumpling under the pressure. Then he pulled her, and her foot came free of the mud with a loud popping sound.

“Jeremy is just a name they assigned to you,” she said, brushing herself off. “I don’t see how it’s any more valid than Jelly Beans.”

“Not now.” An engine coughed way overhead, and Jeremy ducked down in fear. Looking up, he realised what it was. “That’ll be Vato’s supply drops.” The pale blue sky was becoming black. Clouds exhaled a constant downpour. The droplets of rain made a hollow clang against his chest.

“Still nothing from the satellite,” Denver informed him, checking her uplink constantly in case of change. “I’ve never seen it malfunction this badly. We are without map, without topological data, without radio communications, without even a compass, Jelly Beans!” A crash of lightning made her leap backwards with a jolt. She scuttled up to her partner. “What is causing the satellite interference? Do you think its the storm?”

Jeremy watched as the darkness began to envelop them, and truly felt the isolation that came from being disconnected to the satellite network. He laid a hand on Denver’s shaking shoulder, trying to console her. He needed to get them home, and not just for his sake. Denver had always looked up to him. He wasn’t about to let her down now. “It feels funny, doesn’t it?” he said, a thought occurring to him.

“What does?” Denver backed up against him, desperate to maintain physical contact as visibility grew less and less.

“Speaking with our voices, and not our radios. Did you even notice when we switched?”

“I noticed. Now I’ve activated my audio sensors, I can hear a lot more than just your voice. I didn’t know rain could be so loud. It’s just water, after all!”

Jeremy watched the drops trickle over his black fingers and down his breastplate, washing away what could have been months of dirt buildup. “It’s a lot of water,” he said, half to himself. He shot up suddenly to full height, a wave of determination overcoming him. He flicked on the torch mounted to his head, and a beam of solid white burst out. Tiny animals hiding in the trees couldn’t help but gasp in awe at this light that was brighter than the sun. Jeremy pointed it at Denver’s face.

Her fur was soggy, causing it to clump and hang from her chin. Her long bunny ears went bent down, drooping over her face. Her shiny pink nose sniffled in the rain and her oval black eyes met his gaze. As the beam shone upon her she blinked and winced. “Jelly Beans! Watch where you’re pointing that thing!”

“Just adjust your irises for optimal input. Without the satellite, we’ll have to rely on visual data only. And turn your torch on too, Denver.”

“Okay.” Another bright beam came out to play with the first.

“Good. Now, there’s a bunch of guys back at base just waiting for you to turn up and take all their cash at poker. Right?”

“Right..” she said as confidently as she could manage, glancing around the tall shadows, and gulping.

“Then let’s go!”

“But, without a map, how do we know which way?” she said, panicking again.

Jeremy pointed upwards, to where a trail of green gases hung stationary in the air amongst the rainclouds. “We’ll follow the airships. That’ll take us to Vato’s base.”

Denver smiled, and extended her hand with a whir, giving him the thumbs up.

Their legs buzzed fervently as they sprinted through the forest. Twigs and logs were smashed to splinters when their heavy metal boots landed on them, and dens were demolished. They carved a path through the woodland, as the rain increased. Birds and insects fled in fear when they saw the two beams approaching, and they fluttered and skittered to safety.

Following their progress closely, but silently, were the two guardians of the forest, adamant to protect their home from any threat that presented itself..

“Stop,” said Jeremy, and instantly he and Denver both did.

“What’s up?” asked Denver, swinging her furry head in all directions, illuminating endless trees and hills in every direction, the shadows dancing dangerously.

“I can’t see the trail anymore.”

Up above, the branches of the trees had become webbed and interwoven with each other, creating a ceiling so thick that the sky above them could no longer be seen. A puffy feathered ball hooted, and sharp teeth ground together deep in the belly of the forest. Their audio sensors picked up the array of ominous sounds, and Jeremy and Denver took a step closer to each other.

“Have you ever seen trees like that?” whispered Denver. “I mean- ever?

“Never,” admitted Jeremy. They were so tall, creatures unto themselves, great giant monoliths that didn’t need to be built by anyone: they built themselves. “But,” he added, “this is new territory, after all. For all we know, none of our kind has ever set foot here.” He paused, letting the words sink in. “We have no idea what to expect.”

“There’s more than just trees here. There are things living in them, and under the ground. Hundreds of them. I can hear them.” Her tinny voice became hushed. “And I think I can see them.” Her vision darted left and right, trying to confirm that there was something out there that wasn’t just a trick of the light.

Jeremy clunked his boots boorishly through a shallow swamp, his torch beam pointing straight upwards, searching for the trail again.

“You never answered my question,” said Denver, following him cautiously. “About what’s causing the satellite interference.”

“I don’t think it’s the storm.”

Denver stopped dead. Her black pupils grew massive in size. “Then could it be-”

“No.” Jeremy spun back around to face her, a stern expression on his whiskers. “Don’t even say it. Our tribe is the first to come to this new land. We are the ones pushing our front lines forward. They are not here. They aren’t causing this.”

The rain stopped dead.

Tendrils snaked along the ground, and ancient oak groaned. Bows and branches swayed in the gusting wind, and in amongst them the two guardians moved precariously, stepping in and out of the shadows. Carefully, patiently.. this was their home turf.

“Watch them.. Hilda.. watch them and learn from them,” the deep, gruff voice of the elder guardian muttered to his companion.

The younger one brushed through a big bush without making a sound, then shot up some low hanging branches with ease. “I’m always watching, Papa.. but what do we have to learn from them? You said we must kill them. Then, why wait?” Her thin brown brow creased, and her mouth formed a creaking smile, dirt spilling out of it. A snaking green tongue leapt out and wormed around her face. She sniggered.

“Daughter.. Hilda, you listen, but your own thoughts always take priority. That is not the way of the Guardians. We learn from our mistakes, and pass our knowledge down through generations.” Papa stretched his long limbs forward with a creak, and pulled his old, limp body forward through the brush. “Tell me, did you ever fight against any invaders?”

“No, Papa. You know I didn’t. You remember everything.” Hilda crossed her leafy arms.

“You were only a seedling when the last invaders came. They stayed here for days. We watched, and we waited. Then we sprung our trap, and we defeated them.”

“Well, I hate to burst your bubble, Papa, but these two are fast. So fast its hard to keep up. And they are running towards the edge of the forest. Maybe they are just passing through?”

Papa shook his head solemnly. “You saw the metal birds in the sky. They have come again, like before. Not exactly the same, but close enough. They are heralds of destruction.” He tightened his fists as he spat the words. “We will have to kill them. It has always been the only way. The only way to protect the forest.”

“Then let’s get going!” hissed Hilda with a cackle.

“Daughter- wait!”