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The Guardians of Gaia - an Environmentalist Fantasy Adventure


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So I wrote a status post recently about potentially sharing a novel I'm writing and how I'm scared half to death about doing it. I'm still scared half to death about doing it. But I realize that, if it all goes to shit (which it probably won't), I'm on the internet using a moniker that I don't normally use, and I can delete the topic and set sail off the site forever if I need to. But I probably won't need to. But I'm still totally scared that I might have to. And I'm deathly afraid that whatever reaction I get may stop me from writing all together. But I'm gonna do it anyway. Oh jeez.

Important Note (PLEASE read!)

While this isn't exactly a Sonic AU or something, I want to be clear that Sonic was a big inspiration, and I'm not trying to shamelessly copy ideas. I promise that the universe I create here branches off from Sonic quite early on, if you catch my drift. Maybe the main character is a shade of blue, goes fast, and has a bit of cockiness to him - but that's where HUGE similarities end.

And also I am aware my writing isn't the best. I haven't done this before, and starting with an entire novel was an entirely foolish, yet super fun decision. So while criticism is always welcome, I ask you with a ton of humility... try to sugarcoat. It's costing me a lot of willpower to even publish this, so seeing some entirely positive support first before the critique would be nice. I know that sounds hypersensitive and totally lame, but try to empathize with me just a tad! I want criticism, and I am not exempt from it, but this is also such a huge step for me - to show this publicly. Fair warning though; this story is definitely very cheesy and sometimes LIVES in the suspension of disbelief. So try to have fun, first and foremost!

I also implore you; before commenting anything significant, please read at least up til, say, around chapter 9 or 10. I promise chapters are quite short as chapters usually go (until around chapter 13, where they lengthen) and I am much more confident in my later writing than I am of the stuff I did in the first few chapters. Eventually I'll comb that stuff over again, but for now, I would be elated if you could judge my better work as well!

I'll be posting the first 10 chapters and then over time publishing the rest if this gets enough attention. If you want to read ahead, Wattpad will always be fully up-to-date.

Okay, I'll shut up now.

Wattpad Link

Preface

Every so often, some evil arises that threatens to overthrow the spirit of nature: Gaia. When this happens, the spirit chooses three individuals to manifest itself in. These individuals are tasked with protecting nature and whatever great evil wants to destroy it. They are also extremely powerful channelers - beings able to connect themselves with other living things and manipulate them. But it isn't such a fairy tale. Sometimes, the Guardians lose. And when that happens, life barely survives.

In the forests of the Northeast Free Union, three creatures find themselves inexplicably drawn to each other and wind up on a globe-trotting journey to save nature from certain collapse. On their journey, they learn about themselves, each other, the powers they've been granted, and most importantly, what it means to be a Guardian. What evil has nature at gunpoint? How are a few woodland critters going to get around the entire planet? Just what is Gaia?

All questions that will be answered soon in The Guardians of Gaia! Our story begins in the forests of the Northeast Free Union, where a certain little rabbit is just waking up...

CHAPTER 1

Spoiler

Chapter 1: A Morning Hop

On a massive blue planet, on a titanic drifting continent, in a powerful nation, near a bustling city, inside a fragmented forest, down a dainty dirt path, under a forgettable oak tree, in a hidden burrow, under a scratchy carpet of thatch, wearing an old, tattered scarf, there was a rabbit. His name was Bunbo. He was fast asleep, still breathing heavily, giving an occasional kick of the leg or letting out a small twitch of his whiskers. He wasn't going to be here for long; the sun was just below the horizon, and this little guy didn't like wasting time.

Sunlight crept in through a narrow passage, illuminating the burrow. It was full of debris; old, moldy apple cores, dried up grape vines, piles of dirt and leaves, and fuzzy dust bunnies of shed hair. It wasn't very pristine; not much time was spent here.

The sunlight kept filling the burrow, eventually reaching Bunbo's eyes. In a flash, his eyes were wide open, and he hopped up onto his feet.

"Well, that's enough sleep for a week! I think I overslept." he said, as the sun still crept up over the horizon. "Better not waste any time, there's a whole forest out there."

Bunbo sped over to a corner of the burrow, digging through a pile of fruit, buzzing with fruit flies. He found a fresh apple, at least in comparison, near the bottom of the pile.

"Ah, this looks good enough," he said, before wolfing it down. "Let's move!"

Bunbo leaned down and splayed his arms to the side like a track star. He let out a soft breath of air. Tilting his head upwards, he locked his eyes onto the slim hole that served as an entrance to his home. He leaned back on his ankles.

Bunbo rocketed out of his burrow like a firework, barely skimming the entrance hole, even ending in a figurative explosion of a gleeful "WAAHOO!" He hopped at extreme speeds through the forest, weaving in and out of trees, nearly dodging a painful smack in the face with each passing microsecond. The wind rushed through his long, feather-shaped ears, which were flopping behind him like flags in the wind. His scarf trailed behind him, dancing in the air like a long ribbon. His rounded paws thudded loudly against the ground each time he landed, bringing attention to the speeding bullet that he was. His dagger-like whiskers repeatedly slapped against the trees he passed, and his big buck teeth helped form a smug smirk that seemed glued to his muzzle. His big eyes focused on the prize in front of him. That prize, of course, being the horizon; If you hopped as fast as Bunbo, the horizon wouldn't seem so distant anymore.

At his current speed, the forest was whizzing by like a streak of light, but the foliage became less and less dense. He kept hopping and hopping, before skidding to a sudden stop at the base of a steep hill. At the top of the hill, a metal guard rail. He stared silently up at it. His smug face faded slightly, and his eyes had a hint of solemn. His scarf slowly floated down to his side, no longer held up by the wind. There was a passing moment of silence.

"Well... guess I'll head in another direction!"

His smirk returned as if nothing happened. He exploded off into another direction of the forest. There was still much ground to cover! But at this speed, it was hard to see obstacles ahead.

*SMACK*

Bunbo's large head collided with a mass of cold chitin. He landed on the ground in front of the obstacle, facing towards the forest canopy, feeling dizzy and bewildered. He slowly looked up and found himself face to thorax with a towering Jagbug.

Jagbug's were huge towering insects, with the loose appearance of a praying mantis. They had 3 pairs of appendages, the frontmost being two sickle-like arms that ended in sharp points.

"Ohhhh no... Oh no. What have you gotten yourself into this time..." Bunbo muttered to himself, his pupils shrinking.

Bunbo had a run in with a few of these things before. They appeared in his forest around a decade ago. They've mostly been hiding underground, but occasionally come out to stalk the woods.

The Jagbug's long front appendages turned around first, showing off its huge hook-like claws, before the rest of its body turned around to meet them. The bug's giant, beady, lifeless eyes stared straight into Bunbo. It appeared to be angry, yet absent from the situation at the same time. It let out a bloodcurdling chirping noise. It was very, very furious.

"I'm outta here!" Bunbo yelled.

Bunbo leaped up and tried to hop away, but the lightning fast reflex of an insect was able to compete. Its right front appendage swung at Bunbo, luckily hitting him with the flat side of the blade, unluckily smacking him into a nearby tree with such force that a few tree nuts dropped on the ground beneath him. And a couple on his head. Now he was REALLY dizzy.

"Oh... shoot...!" Bunbo began to panic as his vision blurred, only seeing a large, muddled shape of green amongst dark green foliage, and pink clouds of petals above him.

The towering terror shifted in an alien way towards him, dramatically, as if it was saying, "Any last words?" It stopped in front of him and raised one of its hooked arms.

--

"Hey, you!" the approaching voice called out. Bunbo and the Jagbug both turned to find the source of the call. A big, burly buck came barreling out of the trees and leaped into the air. His squared, sturdy antlers rose above his head in an imposing manner. He lowered his head at the apex of his jump and began his descent, aimed directly at the insect's head, with his antlers looking to collide first with the beast. The bug almost raised its arms in retaliation before the stranger's antlers slammed into its forehead, sending it staggering back and shaking its head. The stranger landed in a heroic stance in front of Bunbo.

"Woah! Where'd you come from?!" Bunbo exclaimed.

The stranger turned to look at the scared rabbit, collapsed against the tree, in a state worse for wear. His thick, squared eyebrows showed a look of determination and superiority.

"We can introduce ourselves later! Get up and get out! I'll handle the Jagbug!" the buck exclaimed, before shifting focus to the monster, who was regaining its composure.

"Yeah, yeah, thanks!" Bunbo hopped up and ran to a nearby bush.

The insectoid beast was now back to full awareness, and had its eyes dead set on the buck, who began to stomp his foot and drag it in preparation.

"Come on! Charge me, you freak of nature!" the buck yelled out in a stalwart tone.

"Man," Bunbo whispered to himself from the sidelines, "This guys gonna get himself killed!"

The Jagbug charged, letting out a loud chirping noise, hoping to strike fear into the heart of the horned stranger in front of him. As we will come to know, however, not many things scare the fearless buck. Its arms, hooked and ready to strike, were raised in attack mode. The buck leaned down slighty, then daringly leaped forward right into the beast's area of attack. Narrowly dodging the scythes, he landed a blow with his right hoof right in the middle of the insect's eyes, sending it flying back into the trees. Bunbo looked on in amazement.

The buck landed with a cloud of dust and a thud. He looked on as the bug seemed entangled and lifeless in the trees. The stranger had just fought and seemingly destroyed a creature more than twice his size without as much as a scratch. Bunbo remained behind the bushes, staring on in amazement. The antlered newcomer looked around at the nearby vegetation while dusting off his green bandana that he wore around his neck. His large, stern eyes fixated upon the tree that Bunbo was slammed against. After studying the leaves and branches of this tree for just a moment, his gaze turned to a pile of tree nuts sitting at the base of the trunk. He walked over and picked them up.

"Hey," Bunbo shouted to the stranger, "Thanks for the help, you big burly beast! Don't worry, I mean that in an affectionate way."

"Yeah, yeah. It's nothing. I deal with these freaks all the time," the stranger responded. "Name's Bark."

"Bark." Bunbo pondered the name. "Like tree bark or a dog's bark?" he asked.

Bark looked at Bunbo with questioning eyes for a moment.

"Tree bark, obviously."

He started to walk down a forest path. Bunbo followed behind, hopping at a leisurely pace. Bark seemed a little confused that this little creature was following him. He looked curious, full of wonder, staring up at him from all the way down there.

"What's with the nuts?" Bunbo questioned.

"Uh, these are special nuts. They belong to, uh... " Bark seemed a bit uncertain. "...to the Virida tree, it's endangered. Very rare. We need to save it." Bark finally got the words out.

Bunbo seemed confused. "Save it? I think the trees are doing just fine. Hand a nut over for a hungry bunny, will ya?" He hopped up and reached for a nut.

"Hey! Cut it out! These aren't for eating!" Bark tucked the nuts close to his chest.

"Then what are they for? Hand 'em over, come onnn!" Bunbo persisted in pestering the young buck.

"Enough, you little rat! I gotta protect these, it's my duty. This tree is very important to the forest, because, uh..." Bark scratched his antlers.

"That's what I thought! You're just greedy!" Bunbo retorted. He leaped higher and kept reaching for the stash of nuts.

"No, I'm not! I just can't remember right now, now get lost!! You don't know a thing about this forest, you little brat!" Bark was furious, and had stopped walking.

"Why's a boring ol' tree so important anyway?"

Bunbo was impatient. A good run could starve Bunbo. To him, Bark was just a glutton.

"And quit calling me a rat! You're just an ugly brute!" Bunbo was trying his hardest to match the height of the sizable deer, leaning forwards on the tips of his toes.

This seemed to set Bark off.

"Look, pal, it looks like you don't understand the first thing about this forest. I had to save you from a Jagbug. Those things, while savage, are about as smart as a brick. Have you been living under a rock, or are you just plain stupid?!"

At this point, the two erupted into argument, unaware of their surroundings due to their passionate debate. Unknown to them, however, the Jagbug was recovering from its knockout in the ring with Bark. The loud shaking of foliage didn't distract the two mammals from their heated fighting, giving the insect ample time to get up.

Bark was yelling in a deep, booming voice. "All I'm sayin' is, I better not see you go near this tree again! We don't have to agree. Just leave this tree alone!"

"What's it to you? Are you the special guardian of this enchanted forest, a little fairy, protecting all the 'wonderful plants and animals'?", Bunbo mocked.

"As a matter of fact, y-"

The Jagbug slammed into Bark and sent him flying down the path.

"What?! You again?!" Bunbo yelled in shock.

The Jagbug let out a piercing call before snapping its focus to Bunbo. It raised a scythe and brought it down swiftly. Bunbo narrowly dodged, his scarf trailing behind, being slightly shaved from the swipe. A chunk of fabric of his beloved neckwear floated to the ground slowly. Bunbo stared on as it reached the ground, falling with complete silence.

"No...." Bunbo was defeated. His entire demeanor had changed.

The Jagbug raised its right appendage, ready for another strike, before Bark rose from the ground and knocked it back down the path, only a short distance. The Jagbug once again shifted its focus to Bark.

"It... it tore my scarf...." Bunbo muttered, "My scarf..." Bunbo was lost in a trance.

"Hey! Hey! Rabbit! Snap out of it!" Bark could only yell at Bunbo before the Jagbug returned to fight him.

It swiped at Bark, skimming his antlers, knocking him into a nearby tree. He rose again to continue fighting, but this time was pinned down by a back leg of the insect. Bark struggled and tried to lift it, only bringing it up a few inches before he succumbed to the incredible force of the beast. He continued to struggle as the insect dramatically rose its front arms, hooked at the end, prepared to end the battle.

Bunbo remained in a trance. "My... scarf...."

"Rabbit!!! Help!!!" Bark called out in desperation.

Bunbo awoke a little from his trance, enough to realize just enough of what was going on to return to control. He shook his head and regained composure. Bunbo switched from a melancholy state to blind rage.

"AGH! You won't get away with that, you monster!"

Bunbo was furious. He ran up to the insect and yelled again.

"Over here, big man!" Bunbo mocked. He began hopping up and down impatiently and angrily.

"Oh jeez..." Bark watched on, still pinned to the floor.

The Jagbug lifted off of Bark, freeing him, but kicking him back without even turning towards him. Bark staggered and fell backwards, out of the fight for now. The Jagbug screamed and charged towards Bunbo. Bunbo's angry, contorted face quickly changed to a smug smirk.

Bunbo hopped up over the immense insect just before it swiped at him, missing entirely. He landed on its back. The beast snapped its head backwards, and its pupils shrank in anger and confusion.

"You tore my scarf, freak! Now I'll tear you!"

Bunbo hopped up onto the head of the creature and proceeded to rapidly stomp on its head, with feet alternating back and forth. The insect let out annoyed chirps as it tried to reach Bunbo with its hooked hands, only to find that it couldn't reach up to the bunny, who then hopped off onto the ground in back of the creature.

"Back here you big beast!" Bunbo started to hop around the creature in a sprint pace. The creature turned around hoping to meet its little foe. "Nope, over here now!" Bunbo was moving too fast for the brick-brained insect to keep up. His pace increased further and further, accelerating to extreme speeds, causing a dust devil to form.

Bark looked on from the distance. "What in the..." His head fell back down in exhaustion.

Bunbo kept spinning around the Jagbug. It decided to strike. It raised its arm and focused on the tiny tornado forming around itself, waiting for the perfect moment to swipe to catch the annoying vermin. Bunbo kept at it, noticing the behavior of the insect.

"You just try!" Bunbo taunted.

Bunbo kept hopping. The insect focused intently, now raising its second arm, its pupils shrinking. Bark looked on in panic, powerless.

THUD. The insect slammed its hooks down. Its arms became stuck in the dirt. It let out a confused, shocked chirp. It looked around furiously, only to find Bunbo off to the side, tapping his foot.

"I stopped hoppin' 5 seconds ago. You really are as dumb as a brick!" Bunbo started to laugh.

The creature was fuming. It tried raising its arms again, only to find them dug deep within the dirt. It kept struggling. Bunbo had taken notice, and his laughter elevated. He fell to the floor.

"Hahahaha, Oh man!" Bunbo was rolling around in the dirt. "Looks like you're in a sticky situation, pal!"

Bark was spectating. "What is he doing..."

Bunbo calmed his laughter. He composed himself with a series of deep breaths. He stared up at the struggling insect.

"Alright, I guess I'll have to help you out."

He hopped up onto the back end of the Jagbug.

Bark yelled from afar, "No! No! Don't let it out!"

"Oh, I'll let him out alright," Bunbo responded with a wink, "He'll be far  from stuck in the mud."

The creature looked back at Bunbo, questioning his plans. Bunbo began to hop on the back edge of the insect, seemingly using it as a diving board.

"Up... up..." Bunbo prepared for one last jump.

"No! Stop!" Bark got up and started running.

"And away!!!" Bunbo leaped high into the air, and came rocketing down with extreme force.

His powerful paws slammed into the Jagbug, sending it flipping backwards into the air, far into the forest. It cried out a defeated chirp, which slowly faded into the distance. The distant leaves and branches let out a resounding boom and crack, signifying the Jagbug's unfortunate landing. Bunbo landed on the ground triumphantly.

 

CHAPTER 2

Spoiler

Chapter 2: Welcome to Blossom's Grove

"You were amazing back there! How did you do that? Where did that come from?!" Bark was walking alongside Bunbo, mesmerized by the chaotic display of power that occurred moments ago.

"Oh! Uh, I don't know. I guess I was upset about my scarf." Bunbo was just as surprised at himself as Bark was.

"Whatever that was, I think I can forgive our squabble earlier. You saved my life."

"Well you did too, buckaroo!" Bunbo responded.

"I guess we both owe each other. Can I at least get your name? Never did." Bark said.

"The name's Bunbo! Bunbo, the fastest rabbit in this neck of the woods!" He turned to Bark with a sly smile.

"Well, Bunbo, I think you might be the only rabbit around here. Since the Jagbugs landed, anyway."

Bunbo suddenly looked a little off-put. "Oh, uh, yeah. I guess I am."

Bark noticed the sudden change in demeanor. He decided not to bring it up again for the time being.

They continued walking down the forest path for a minute, processing the events that just took place. They were mostly silent. Bunbo occasionally shot a glance at the tree nuts in Bark's hooves.

"So, where are you headed?" Bark asked.

"Wherever the wind takes me. I rarely have a plan." Bunbo looked off into the horizon.

"Wanna come back to my grove? I'm sure my folks might be surprised to see a rabbit. And to know you kicked a Jagbug's butt with me!" Bark looked excited. He was always looking for a chance to appear better to his family.

"Sounds like a plan. Where is it?" Bunbo looked a little anxious, like he was about to speed off into the distance.

"We just have to follow this path and keep right, we'll end up there in no t-" Bark was cut off by Bunbo speeding down the path, a resounding *THUMP* every time his feet touched the ground.

"Hey, wait up! I can't go that fast!" Bark tried to keep up, galloping at molasses speed compared to the speeding bullet that Bunbo was.

--

Bunbo skidded to a halt in front of a small clearing in the forest, outlined by an orderly circle of trees, which looked old yet mighty. They stretched into the sky and shaded the clearing with their leaves. A few small buildings, some treehouses and burrows, were scattered about. It was busy with animals, mostly deer, going about their lives. A young doe with a pink flower crown frolicked around aimlessly, singing to herself. She occasionally stopped, reached inside a small pouch, and threw seeds around her feet. A strong-looking, near-elderly buck was rolling a log to a pile. His antlers were massive, and hosted multiple spiderwebs and a few small birds looking to rest. He had a scraggly beard and a faded green bandana. A mature doe with a gentle appearance and a green bandana led a group of fawns around, occasionally stopping to lecture about a nearby plant, or even another animal, going about their business. Some fawns looked restless and chose to run off to play. Other animals were present in less abundance, appearing more relaxed rather than busy, taking shelter with the deer. Two fox kits played near a woodworking deer, until they eventually knocked her project over, and ran away in fear. A mole popped it's head up in a random spot around the clearing every minute or so to snatch a bug or worm. A family of mice ran in an orderly fashion between the shacks, cowering at the slightest hint of danger. A large tree with glowing pink blossoms was the centerpiece of the small village, with some villagers stopping to take a look at it as they passed by. Petals danced in the wind and then landed all around the village, carpeting the entire area in a thin pink layer of glimmering plant matter. The sight was peaceful, calming.

Bunbo heard a huffing-puffing noise and the clop-clop of two hooves from behind him.

In between breaths, Bark said, "Can you not do that, *huff, puff*, ever again?"

Bunbo looked on with a smile and laughed. "You're gonna have to learn to keep up, you big brute."

Bark chuckled sarcastically, then collapsed onto the floor, trying to catch his breath. "Welcome to my home. Blossom's Grove.

"So this is the state I find you in, huh, Bark?" A little girl's voice called out. It was the young doe Bunbo spotted earlier.

"Leave it, Flower." Bark already seemed annoyed.

"I'm just teasing you, big bro! Where you been?"

Flower wasn't really Bark's little sister, but effectively had been since he was young. They were cousins.

"That's not a story for a little girl. It's full of big, scary monsters..." Bark got up, and started to inch towards Flower. "...ones with hooks for hands, that make these loud, screaming chirps!" Bark had his hooves outstretched to appear scary. Flower seemed unsettled. "All they ever want is your flesh! And worst of all, they don't just eat you..." Flower was trembling. "They wear your hide as a hat!!!" Bark lunged towards Flower. Flower shrieked and ran off.

"Well, that wasn't very nice." Bunbo laughed.

"She's my annoying little cousin. I never seem to be able to get her off my back. But the scare tactic works like a charm." Bark responded with a smirk.

The boys both took a moment to chuckle, forming a friendship, despite their differences. They were interrupted by a voice calling out from inside a shack.

"Bark! Did you scare Flower again?"

A gentle doe stepped out, the one who was previously teaching the group of fawns. She was holding Flower by the hoof, who appeared sad.

Bark quit laughing quickly and his eyes widened. "Uhh, um... no..."

"I told you to stop that! Flower is too gentle for you to always be scaring her!" She patted Flower on the head, and returned inside.

"Yes, mom..." Bark looked disappointed in himself.

Bunbo was stifling a laugh. Bark knocked Bunbo on the head with his hoof. Bunbo scratched his head where he was hit and quickly stopped laughing.

"And that's my mom. Well, not really. Aunt. But effectively my mom." Bark said.

"An orphan, eh? Well, I guess we got that in common." Bunbo responded solemnly.

"I don't even feel like I am. I never even really know my parents. So, I guess it doesn't bother me much." Bark shrugged it off.

Bunbo looked a little sad.

Bark's aunt stepped out from inside the shack again. "Who's your little buddy, Bark? Come in and introduce us!"

Bunbo was suddenly made aware of the stares and glances being fired at him by nearby villagers. He was a stranger in this town; somehow. For a rabbit that can cross the entire forest, albeit a small one, in just a couple minutes, he was so disconnected from the entire world. His burrow was hidden and he never stopped to take in anything around him. That's why every run felt so new. He wasn't one that liked to dwell or think on his surroundings. He just went wherever his feet lead him. Despite his high energy, he spent years effectively sleeping under a rock.

Bark called back to his Aunt. "Oh! Uh... sure! Be right in!" He looked down at Bunbo who was preoccupied with staring into space. "You don't mind, do you?"

"Oh. Not at all." Bunbo said as he snapped back into reality.

Bark made a slight smile. "Alright then. Come on in."

 

CHAPTER 3

Spoiler

Chapter 3 - The Wardens of the Forest

Bark's home was small. It was a dainty house carved from inside of a big oak tree, and had a floor of padded dirt. Through the entrance was the first room. A wooden table surrounded by shelves and cabinets, filled with books and papers. Sunlight streamed in through open windows, which were simple holes in the bark walls, illuminating the tabletop. A hallway led to three other rooms, presumably small bedrooms. The air was thick and somewhat dusty, and the entire estate felt cramped, yet cozy and homely.

"Well, this here is Bunbo. I met him only just about twenty minutes ago. I don't know him much, but I saved his life, and then he saved mine. So I owe him a bit." Bark calmly explained.

His aunt sat there with a confused, proud, and shocked face, all at the same time. Flower seemed uncaring, choosing to dance around the room as if she hadn't heard.

His aunt finally spoke. "Wait, what? You have to explain more, honey. Don't tell me you got yourself into any danger out there! Was it a Jagbug? Are you hurt at all?"

"I'm fine, mom. He's fine too. Just a bit bruised is all. Maybe a few scratches. But I'll tell you everything in just a second. Oh, Bunbo. That's my aunt and mother, Ivy."

"Hello ma'am! Nice to meet you." Bunbo was trying his hardest to be polite. At least, that's what he thought was polite.

"It's okay honey, just call me Ivy!"

"Darnit," Bunbo thought to himself. He thought he had it in the bag. He didn't remember his manners correctly, it seems.

"Anyways, I found this guy with his back against a tree and a Jagbug up in his face..." Bark explained the story to his Aunt. "...And then when I was just about out for the count, this guy snaps out of it all angry and mean, and sends that thing flying away!"

Ivy's jaw had dropped to the table. Flower had already left halfway through the story, terrified of the descriptions of the Jagbug. She preferred to pick apart the petals of a flower in the corner. Bunbo sat silent, nodding smugly, enjoying the recount of his heroism.

"Honey! Oh, my! You could have died out there! Don't you go running into danger like that again!" Ivy was a mix of disappointed and terrified, as per usual for a mother and her daring son. She ran over to hug him, glad he was sitting here at this moment. Bark appeared as if it wasn't a big deal, but he was just as glad too.

"And you! You saved my boy! You're entirely welcome here in our little slice of the forest, Bunbo! Oh my, oh my..." Ivy couldn't contain herself.

"Okay, mom. Okay. It's alright. Where's dad?" Bark said, trying to distract his mother from her own nerves.

"He's around the village, doing his thing. I oughta bring him in here and tell him all this! Oh, he'd be so proud of his little buck!" Ivy stepped out into the doorway and called out for him. "Vernon! Get your old hooves moving on over here!" Ivy was the only person who could talk to Vernon like that and not receive a soul-stealing stare.

Bunbo was feeling a bit awkward around all these strangers. He was in a strange house in a strange place, and everyone in here was a deer. Although he wasn't usually the polite and well-demeanored kind, it felt too rude to find an excuse to leave. Besides, he hadn't had much else to do. In fact, he didn't have anything to do at all.

Within moments, Vernon was entering the shack. A tall, broad buck ducked under the doorframe. A long, scraggly beard came from his chin and hid a faded, green bandana, similar to Bark's, but with white symbols drawn on it. The symbols showed four petal-like blades in an X shape, with a circle overlaying them. His antlers threatened to lift the very roof upwards, as a spider leapt from its web onto the ceiling. The antlers hosted insects, spider webs, small reptiles, and even a bird's nest, currently unoccupied. His presence was imposing, but also comforting. He had stern eyes that looked just as furious as they were gentle. He was aged, but still was strong and fit. He dusted himself off and took a look around the room, Bunbo catching his eye. He lifted an eyebrow towards him, and returned his gaze to his wife, Ivy.

"Vernon, this is Bunbo. Bunbo, this is Vernon. Honey, Bunbo saved our little guy's life! Only after Bark saved his too! They defeated a Jagbug together!"

Ivy seemed excited, wanting to prop up his son to impress his old man. Bark stared back at this uncle, his father figure, waiting for approval. Bunbo seemed terrified of this guy.

A silence as still as an old tree filled the room. After what felt like an hour, Vernon smiled and chuckled. He patted Bark on the back, who seemed delighted. But Vernon didn't say a word past that.

"Won't he make a fine Warden one day, Vernon? Won't he?" Ivy pestered.

Vernon turned towards her with a blank expression. He gave a nod, but it was obvious he must not have agreed or must not have cared. He walked off into the hallway, disappearing. Bark looked displeased.

"Oh, that Vernon. He's too tough on you, honey. You're a strong one, Bark. And you're still young. You'll be a Warden some day, Bark. Just you wait!"

Even with his aunt's encouragement, Bark felt defeated. He stared longingly at his own bandana, then his aunt's, which was engraved with white symbols forming a leaf in the center and protruding vines. He headed outside with Bunbo in tow, taking a walk around the grove.

"A Warden? What's that?" Bunbo hopped alongside Bark, hoping for answers.

"For a rabbit so out of touch as yourself, I have a lot of explaining to do." Bark took a deep breath.

"A Warden is what my uncle Vernon is, and something I don't think I'll ever be. But to actually answer your question, a Warden is someone with a deep connection to Gaia. Gaia is the spirit of nature. It's an energy, a sort of essence that exists in all living things, and possibly nonliving to an extent. Gaia energy, in short, is the essence of life, of nature. That's what I've been told. And those Virida trees, the one I found you under, they act as gateways or beacons of sorts for Gaia. That's what I was trying to remember back in the forest. We have one right in the middle of the village." Bark pointed to a tree with pink blossoms, almost appearing to glow with the light of the overhead sun.

"Oh yeah. Okay, I'm following." Bunbo rubbed the back of his head where he had been smacked.

Bark continued. "Well, the Wardens, through lots of meditation and training, and the help of the Virida trees, are able to channel this energy. Like, make a flower bloom, or move vines around, or stuff like that."

"What?! Oh, come on. That sounds ridiculous," Bunbo scoffed.

"Don't believe me? Watch this!" Bark ran over to a nearby flower, only budding at the moment.

Bark stood in front of the flower and paused, sighing, closing his eyes, and relaxing his shoulders. As Bunbo looked on, he kneeled down on one knee and stuck his arms out to the side. He slowly rose, moving his arms up to be parallel to his head, mimicking the growth of a plant. He then quickly moved his arms out to the side, as if they were the petals of a blooming flower. After a brief moment, he opened his eyes and looked at the flower, unchanged.

Bunbo was unimpressed. "Wow. That sure was some dance." He tapped his foot on the ground, impatient.

"And this is why I don't think I'm going to be a Warden. I'll spend all day training and meditating under the Virida tree but I can't even make a flower bloom," Bark said in a defeated tone. He clutched his bandana.

Bunbo felt a little awkward at this point. Was Bark just talking nonsense? He decided to change the subject.

"Hey, where'd you get that bandana?" Bunbo questioned.

"Oh, this. My uncle Vernon, my aunt Ivy, and my parents, before they passed of course, belong to a clan called the Wardens of the Forest. This is customary for a Warden in training in this clan. When... If I become a Warden, I'll get to pick some sort of symbol or insignia to have inscribed on this, to show my status as a fully-fledged Warden," Bark said in a melancholy tone.

Bunbo was quiet for a moment. "Well, why do you wanna be a Warden so bad anyway? What do you even do?"

"To be honest, the work of a Warden can sometimes be boring. We... They do a lot of routine checkups around the woods, making sure the ecosystem is doing well. They tend to focus a lot on the Virida trees as they are basically the keystone to life as we know it. Sometimes, if the situation calls for it, they get to use their powers of Gaia channeling to grow some plants or something. Even then, it's a pretty limited power and sometimes even takes a few Wardens to do anything too significant without getting winded. In recent years the Wardens in my clan have taken it upon themselves to fight the Jagbugs, who we assume are an invasive species. And those things have a fixation on the Virida trees, chopping them up whenever they see one. I assume that's why you ran into a Jagbug nearby a Virida tree. I saved that tree as much as I saved you," Bark said, looking over to Bunbo, who seemed fixated on the nearby Virida tree.

"But the real reason I want to be a Warden, is that I feel I have a calling to it. It's a bit hard to explain. Just a gut feeling. Also, maybe it could help me connect to my parents more. They were Wardens too, of course."

Bunbo turned back towards Bark as he finished his explanation. "I understand that gut feeling. I practically operate on it. But I could never see myself waking up everyday with some sort of obligation like that," Bunbo responded, "And I totally think your 'Gaia channeling' stuff is a bunch of baloney!"

"Hey, It's not! Look, I know it's hard to believe, but my uncle Vernon has done some incredible stuff with it. Once he grew a vine and slapped a Jagbug around with it! And another time, Flower got stuck in a tree, and he made the tree branches grow into the shape of a slide, so Flower could slide down them!" Bark retorted excitedly. "I'd ask him to prove it, but he never uses his powers unless he has to. Always saying how sacred they are, and how sparingly they should be used."

"Eh, I'll believe it when I see it," Bunbo shrugged, "What's the plan now?"

"Well, if you'd like to follow me this way, I can show you what I do for fun," Bark said.

"Better be exciting. You've bored me enough with all this magic stuff."

"I promise you, you'll love it! I hope."

CHAPTER 4

Spoiler

Chapter 4 - Bark's Workshop

The two boys entered through a vine curtain into a small clearing, surrounded by makeshift wooden walls. They were a little ways away from the village. Tree branches grew thickly overhead, creating a makeshift roof. The ground lacked much vegetation, and bare earth covered the floor. A few tables were scattered about with messes of wood and stone making alien shapes. Rudimentary tools, like a hammer, an axe, and a primitive wrench, all made from vine, wood, and rock, hung from the walls. A break in the roof let sunlight stream onto a center bench, illuminating a wheel.

"Welcome to my workshop! It's uh, a bit messy in here," Bark said as he tripped over a plank of wood, "but I hope you don't mind."

"Woah, cool!" Bunbo was in awe, and began to speed around the workshop, staring at all of the contraptions and structures on the benches. "Did you make all this? What's this thing do? How did you make this?" Bunbo couldn't focus on just one thing.

"Everything in here is of my design and my craftsmanship. I spend almost all of my time here. Well, the time I don't spend training."

Bunbo was still in awe at the entire place, but stopped for a bit to stare at the large structure in the middle of the workshop. It was a large wooden wheel with stone bolts.

"What's this thing for?" Bunbo said as he walked towards it.

"That's a wheel I'm making. I'm not even sure what for yet."

"You totally got a knack for invention! This place is radical!" Bunbo couldn't contain his excitement.

"I'm glad you like it. I've been doing this stuff for a while. It makes me useful to the village, keeps me busy." Bark tried to sound calm, but inside, he was incredibly happy someone had cared so much.

"Cool! Hey, think you could make something while I watch?" Bunbo said, electrified with the idea.

"I gue--"

A shriek sounded from the village. The boys turned to it in alarm.

Bark seemed immediately worried. "That can't be good."

More screams followed. A bell began to ring.

Bunbo was worried now, too. "That can't be good news either! Let's move!"

The boys quickly left the workshop behind, heading back towards the village, following the sound of screams.

CHAPTER 5

Spoiler

Chapter 5 - Fizzing Wires

Bark and Bunbo arrived in the village to a terrifying sight. A Jagbug, the biggest they've ever seen, was towering over the residents. Many scrambled into their homes, or ran away from the village entirely. Vernon ran to the Virida tree as Ivy ducked into the house with Flower.

"Crap! A Jagbug! In the village!" Bark exclaimed as he ran to meet his uncle.

Bunbo was hopping along. "And a big one at that! Look at the size of that thing!"

The Jagbug was slowly shifting towards the Virida tree in the center of the village, its eyes fixated on nothing else as it crushed small shacks and fences.

"Uncle! We're here to help!" Bark and Bunbo stood beside Vernon, who was positioned in front of the Virida tree, defensively.

Vernon looked to them and nodded, but quickly moved his eyes back to the Jagbug. Ivy appeared alongside them.

"Missus Ivy? You too?" Bunbo asked, shocked.

"This village's got a shortage of bucks, honey," she said as she strapped on a pair of wooden antlers.

Bark nudged Bunbo and pointed towards the antlers. "I made those," he whispered proudly.

The Jagbug got close enough to notice the pint-sized animals standing in its path to the Virida tree. It was without emotion as it raised a hooked appendage towards the group. Vernon held his arm out to the group to tell them to wait, and kneeled down in preparation. Bunbo was frantic, his pupils shifting focus to Vernon, to Bark, to Ivy, to the Virida tree, to the Jagbug, in a loop. Bark tried to appear strong, but his knees shook slightly. Ivy and Vernon appeared determined.

After a moment of tension, the Jagbug swung it's right claw down in a flash. Vernon rose from his kneeling stance and rose his arms to the sky. A thick vine shot up from the ground to meet the claw, trapping it. Green orbs began to dance around and orbit Vernon.

Bunbo's eyes were wide. "Woah! Did that.. what?!"

Vernon looked towards the group. "Now!"

Bark and Ivy ran to the sides of the Jagbug. Bunbo didn't know what to do with himself. It seemed like he missed some sort of plan. Bark and Ivy ran to opposite sides of the Jagbug and began to pummel it with their antlers. The right free claw swung at Ivy, but she sidestepped it and continued. The Jagbug shrieked in frustration and anger as it was jostled from side to side. Bunbo remained motionless, in shock.

Vernon began to prepare another vine to trap the other claw, but before he could, the Jagbug freed itself from the vine, steeping back. It kicked Bark and Ivy away effortlessly, and aimed it's gaze towards Vernon and Bunbo. It charged them, swinging its claws. They dodged the attack. Bunbo hopped over to Bark, who was getting up off the ground.

"You okay big guy? Come on, let's get moving!" Bunbo encouraged.

"Yeah, I'm alright, I'll walk it off. Come on." Bark was back on his feet, as well as Ivy.

Vernon was just barely dodging the creature's vicious rapid attacks, helpless to get any sort of hit in.

"Boys, we gotta let Vernon trap that thing again! Create a distraction!" Ivy commanded.

"A distraction? Right!" Bunbo agreed, and hopped over to the Jagbug.

Vernon was still barely dodging the attacks, and was getting lucky, but suddenly was smacked by the blunt side of a hook and was sent skidding backwards, away from the fight.

Bunbo skidded to a halt in front of the Jagbug. "Hey ya big creep, over here!"

The Jagbug snapped its head towards the little rabbit. Its pupils shrank as it focused in on him. Bunbo hopped up and down, making sure to capture it's attention. The insect wasted no time in trying to attack him. Its claws swung rapidly at Bunbo as if trying to swat a fly. Bunbo dodged the claws with grace. He ran to the backside of the creature and hopped up to kick it's behind.

"Bam! Over here now!" Bunbo circled the creature, hitting it, keeping its attention.

"Bark, I'll go get Vernon! Help Bunbo keep it's attention!" Ivy shouted.

"Okay!" Bark replied, and joined Bunbo, ramming it's legs with his antlers.

The Jagbug stomped its feet around and swung its arms, unable to land a hit on the two boys. It chirped loudly, trying its best to hit something, anything. Villagers looked on from behind the trees and inside their houses.

Bunbo hopped up in front of the Jagbug and kicked it in it's mandibles. "Take that!"

Bark charged its left back leg and slammed into them with his antlers, knocking the Jagbug off balance for a moment. As they pummeled the insect, Ivy was helping Vernon up a distance away.

"You can get back into this sweety. Come on. We need you." Ivy whispered to him.

Ivy was lifting Vernon up by his arms as he exhaled heavily. He had skidded along the forest floor, picking up dirt and twigs in his antlers, and was badly bruised. As he was pulled up, he caught notice of the Virida tree, and shook off his pain.

"I'll need your help, Ivy." Vernon said as he jogged back to the fight.

"Okay!" Ivy ran alongside him, adjusting her antlers.

Both the Jagbug and the boys were tiring at this point, slowing their attacks. Bunbo huffed and puffed as he circled the insect with Bark. Bark stopped to catch his breath whenever he found a sliver of time to do so.

Bunbo called out to Bark. "We... can't do this... forever. What's the plan?!"

"Ivy and Vernon... will figure something out... just a little longer!"

Ivy and Vernon were back at the Jagbug. Ivy turned to Vernon.

"What do we do?" Ivy shouted.

"Trap the arms and back legs with vines." Vernon said as he knelt down, preparing a vine.

"Oh gosh, four vines..." She muttered to herself, worried.

Vernon and Ivy were at the back legs, kneeling down. They rose up and summoned two large vines that wrapped around the legs as green orbs circled them. The Jagbug turned in shock and was trapped for now, giving Bunbo and Bark a moment to catch their breath. Vernon and Ivy already seemed worn out.

"Now the arms!" Vernon shouted to Ivy.

"We can't get close enough to the arms to trap them! I can't channel from too far!" Ivy responded.

"More distraction!" Vernon commanded.

Bunbo and Bark rose to their feet again. They would have to distract the Jagbug right in front of its arms. And they were already worn out.

Bunbo ran to the front of the insect. It swung a hook down, and Bunbo barely dodged, falling to his feet. He quickly got up and kicked the arm back with his legs, and hopped up to kick it in the head. Bunbo swore he saw sparks fly, but there was no time to wonder. Bark rammed the front legs repeatedly, trying to stay out of the line of fire from the hooks.

Vernon and Ivy took opposite sides of the Jagbug and began to summon vines to wrap around the arms. Bunbo and Bark kept at their distraction. The Jagbug wildly swung its huge sickle claws at them. Bunbo was locked in a dance with the Jagbug, rhythmically dodging claws and attacking back. Bark kept the Jagbug off balance by knocking it's legs around. The villagers cheered on, seeing that the battle was almost won. If the claws were trapped, the Jagbug was helpless, and could be knocked away with enough force.

The vines grew quickly. Ivy's vine wrapped around one arm and pulled the Jagbug down. An eruption of applause came from around them. Ivy fell back, exhausted. Vernon was almost able to wrap a vine around a claw when suddenly he collapsed onto the floor.

Ivy noticed. "Vernon!" She ran to help him, but the Jagbug noticed too. It swung its free claw at Ivy, sending her flying into a tree trunk, knocking her out. Vernon lay there, still.

Bark stopped attacking. "No!" he yelled, as he ran towards his uncle.

Bunbo noticed too, and looked back. But in that moment, the Jagbug shook it's arm free from the vine and pinned Bunbo down by his scarf, tearing it. Bunbo became furious, writhing around, kicking his legs, but remaining trapped.

"Bunbo!" Bark yelled. He turned towards the insect with a rage-filled face and charged it, slamming his antlers into it with incredible force. But this one was not like the one they faced in the forest. It was much, much bigger. The Jagbug barely moved. It raised it's other claw towards Bunbo.

"GET. OFF. OF. ME!" Bunbo chaotically thrashed on the ground, thinking without clarity.

"Bunbo, no!" Bark ran towards Bunbo just as the Jagbug's claw was rocketing down towards him. He jumped in front of the speeding claw.

--

Bark had his eyes closed. He noticed that his recklessness hadn't resulted in him being stabbed with a sharp claw. In fact, all seemed quiet. He opened his eyes and saw Bunbo there, looking up in shock. He turned back towards his aunt and uncle, who had the same expression. He slowly turned to the insect and saw that a large tree trunk had pierced it's neck, leaving it motionless.

Bark looked up in astonishment. "Was that... me?"

Bunbo looked up at Bark. "How...? "

The village was completely silent. Bark had just summoned a massive tree from the ground and had instantly killed the Jagbug. Bark hadn't even been able to bloom a flower, but here he was, beneath one of the largest trees he had ever seen in this forest.

Bunbo hopped up onto his feet, keeping his eyes on the tree trunk and the limp Jagbug. "I owe you. Twice."

"Uh huh... Don't mention it..." Bark muttered.

The boys were in a trance at the sight above them. They were both inches from the scythe of death, literally, and had miraculously been saved by one of the most extreme feats of Gaia channeling that either of them had ever seen.

"I didn't believe you. Now look at this..." Bunbo was speechless.

Vernon and Ivy hobbled over to them. Vernon stared at his nephew in amazement, his mouth agape. Ivy touched his shoulder.

"Bark, honey. How did you do that? I thought you couldn't do any sort of channelling yet."

"I don't know, it just... happened." Bark looked down at his hooves.

Before another word could be spoken, an electric pop was heard. They turned towards the Jagbug's head. It creaked, then rolled off it's body onto the ground, exposing wires and metal.

CHAPTER 6

Spoiler

Chapter 6 - Variables

The dim light of the monitors illuminated the metallic floor as a pair of clawed boots tapped against them. He paced back and forth, in and out of the light, lost in thought. The squeak of a swivel chair caught his attention.

"Sir, what I'm about to say is gonna sound crazy, but, a Megasect was just defeated."

"Of course it was. They're disposable. Those little forest gremlins are always knocking them around."

"Yes, but, this time, its exterior was penetrated...", she gulped, "um, as in, the head popped off."

"...What?"

"Just... here's the last few seconds of the video feed."

A monitor lit up and showed a Jagbug, from it's point of view, pinning a rabbit down, about to strike. Seconds before the claw contacted the rabbit, a deer ran into view, and a large tree trunk shot up towards the camera. The head became disjointed and stared off into the nearby woods. A few moments later, it fell to the ground, looking up at its body and a massive tree, before the connection was cut.

The one with the clawed boots was silent.

"...It was trying to cut a Virida tree at this place called Blossom's Grove. The villagers came and stopped it. But did you see that? That tree trunk? I've known about Gaia channeling for a while, but..."

"Yes... this is concerning. It might be what I feared most."

"...Sir? Where do we go from here?"

He stood there, fist to his chin, with a winced face, thinking. Then suddenly, his face was no longer contorted, and he opened his eyes.

"It's fine. The only difference is, from now on, it won't be possible to hide our operation. Besides, the Megasects were too much of a variable anyway..."

"So, time to go overt?"

"Yes. And as the saying goes, if you want something done..."

He slipped two heavy, steel-plated, embroidered gauntlet onto his hands.

"...You'll have to do it yourself."

CHAPTER 7

Spoiler

Chapter 7 - The Smoke Clears

"Those things are robots?!" a villager yelled, breaking the silence.

Within seconds the village was loud and bustling again, the settlers loudly conversing, trying to make sense of the sight in front of them. There the Jagbug was, still standing tall, its forelimbs limp and its head disconnected. A massive tree trunk was sticking out of the ground in front of the neck. It had severed the head of the robot clean. Both the head and neck smoked and popped with electricity. Frayed wires jutted out of exposed metal. The crowd gathered around at a distance. Bunbo stepped forward to take a closer look, speaking loudly, gathering the attention of the crowd.

"Alright Bark, I have many, many questions. So first, you weren't kidding when you were talking about controlling plants. Second, your whole family can control plants. Third, the Jagbugs are robots. And finally, I'm standing in front of a massive tree, which saved my life seconds before certain death, which was summoned, from the ground, by you. Is all that right?"

"Uh... yes. Yeah, you're right," Bark said, half consciously.

"Alright, cool. Well it's been a blast, but I oughta wake up now."

Bunbo squeezed his eyes shut and paused for a moment. The village looked on in confusion. Bunbo sat there, slightly squirming, his eyes shut forcefully. Then he opened them quickly.

"Oh. Okay, jeeze, I guess I'm sleeping heavily." Bunbo said nonchalantly.

Bark stepped closer to him. "Bunbo, stop, this is r-"

Bunbo squeezed his eyes shut again, this time focusing hard and massaging his head. He opened again.

"Bunbo, come on. Quit fooling around." Bark shared the same level of immense confusion and second hand embarrassment as the surrounding crowd.

"So I'm not dreaming." Bunbo said quickly.

"Nope."

"Oh, alright."

Bunbo stared at the dismembered Jagbug and the colossal tree trunk for a moment. Then, he began screaming and running out of the village. The crowd looked on silently. Bark ran after his friend, muttering under his breath as he chased him. The crowd then started up again, chattering loudly in a panic.

Ivy hopped up on top of the Jagbug's head, commanding the attention of the village. She yelled for them to be quiet.

"Okay, people. Listen up. So, yes, the Jagbugs are robots. Uh, we have no idea where they are coming from. Or who is commanding them. Or why they are here. All we know is that they are trying to cut down Virida trees. The wardens already know that much. We will keep protecting the trees - and you - as per usual. Please... business as usual."

The crowd looked on for a moment. One villager said "Yeah, good enough for me." The rest of the crowd agreed and scattered, some stopping to poke and prod at the robot, others returning home. Ivy hopped off of the head and walked over to Vernon, who was consoling Flower outside their tree home.

"Vern, we gotta talk about this. We were completely wrong about these things," she said, taking off her wooden antlers.

Vernon nodded and walked with her back to the robotic corpse.

"So, they're not an invasive species. We thought they just preyed on Virida trees for the heck of it. That was short-sighted. When they came here, ten years ago, we thought it was some sort of messed up migration. But I guess it was a sort of remote assault..." Ivy shook her head.

Ten years ago, the Jagbugs landed in Blossom's Grove. It's not a day many like to remember. On a day like any other, the sun was suddenly blocked by falling insects, and darkness fell upon the forest. They crashed through the trees and, upon landing, with no hesitation, targeted any living thing they could and tried to destroy them by any means necessary. To add insult to injury, a fire had broken out as a result of the vicious attack, and the forest was up in flames for hours.

When the firefighters arrived, the Jagbugs hid underneath the ground to avoid human detection. The fire was quelled. Many were injured, and some didn't make it. For some time, the Jagbugs stayed hidden, but soon began to slowly rise again, and had their eyes set on the Virida trees.

"Yes. Someone is targeting the trees," Vernon said, calmly.

"And I don't think us breaking one of these robots down is gonna go over lightly with whoever is making them," Ivy said, concerned.

"Agreed. But that is the least of our concerns. This could be the beginning of something bigger," Vernon gravely responded.

Ivy paused and stared at him.

"No, you can't mean..."

"Yes. Someone could be trying to overthrow Gaia."

Before Ivy could respond, Bark returned with Bunbo in tow, who looked sheepish. Vernon looked at the both of them and then turned to Ivy, who nodded in agreement to his stare.

"Hey, boys. Great job back there! But we need you to do something for us."

"What's that?" Bunbo asked.

"We need you two to head on over to the ruins. You younglings can move fast. Bark, you still remember where the ruins are, right? Go get Terron and bring him back here."

"Wait, mom, why? What's up?" Bark asked anxiously.

"Just go. We'll explain to you when we have Terron back with us. We need you to do this," Ivy pleaded.

"Alright then. Come on, Bunbo, this way." Bark jogged off into the woods, Bunbo following.

Ivy looked on as they ran off, then turned back to her husband. Flower was playing around the robot with a group of fawns, climbing over it and prodding it.

"Be careful sweetie! Ugh," Ivy said, tired. "So, Vern, if you're right about all this... do you have any idea about the Guardians?"

"No. At least, I hope I don't." he said, turning away and walking inside.

Ivy stared in confusion for a moment before snapping back to the robot.

"Kids! Careful around the wires! Oh brother..."

CHAPTER 8

Spoiler

Chapter 8 - The Hike

"This is not what I expected when I woke up in the morning. Not at all," Bunbo said as he hopped alongside his new friend.

"I can't say I did either. I have a lot to process on this walk," Bark responded.

"Yeah, but you already knew about the, y'know..."

Bunbo waved his hands around and threw them up in the air.

"Channelling?" Bark said, completing his sentence.

"Yeah. That. Channelling."

"Everyone but the humans seem to know about it. It's been around for millennia. I'm surprised you didn't. Heck, you don't seem to know much at all besides how to hop. No offense," said the buck.

"Well, I don't exactly take time to stop and smell the flowers. I just keep on going and going. Not a thought in my mind," Bunbo said, his head turned towards Bark.

"Maybe you should pay more attention."

Bunbo tripped over a fallen tree and landed his face into a pile of leaves. He got up quickly and shook off the plant matter, but twigs and sticks remained tucked into his fur. Bark laughed loudly and Bunbo chuckled in response, a little embarrassed.

"Yeah, maybe I oughta take your advice," Bunbo said sheepishly.

They continued on in silence for a minute.

"Is that any way to live, anyhow? No thoughts? No goal, no dream, no responsibility?" Bark questioned.

"It's the only way I feel comfortable. I don't want my mind to wander. To worry about things, y'know?"

"You seem to worry plenty about that scarf."

Bunbo stopped for a moment, struck by Bark's nonchalant comment. He regained himself and kept walking, then responded.

"Uh, yeah. It's just a nice scarf! I don't want it getting torn," Bunbo said through a fake grin.

"Not what I expected from such an unbothered little rabbit. Worrying about a tear in his scarf. Huh," Bark said, uncertain with the answer he got.

Bunbo worried that he would be investigated more. He stared at Bark anxiously as Bark stared straight ahead. Despite the big mouth, Bunbo wasn't keen on sharing all his secrets. Not that he even knew what that secret was, fully. It was buried in the subconscious, and the only thing he truly knew was that he didn't like it. Bark opened his mouth to talk again.

"You know, Bunbo, I've got a feeling that you aren't-"

He was cut off by a loud twig snapping down the path and in the bushes. Bark and Bunbo snapped their gaze towards the source. The bushes shook and rustled, and then it was silent again. Bark got defensive.

"We best be careful from now on. It's getting late. And bandits love these trails," Bark muttered to Bunbo.

"You took us down a bandit trail? Are you crazy?!" Bunbo whisper-screamed at him.

"Hey. They won't even stand a chance..." Bark flexed.

"Psh. Yeah right." Bunbo punched the buck in the side and laughed.

Bark chuckled and punched Bunbo back, sending him flying into the bushes.

"Oops! Sorry buddy."

--

Bark and Bunbo stopped in front of a large stone cavern, the gaping maw of its entrance draped in vines, glowing green, sprouting pink leaves. A circle of stones with runes etched into them served as the doormat. The view into the cave was blocked by dense shrubbery and rocky outcrops.

"So, is this it? The ruins or whatever?" Bunbo said, squinting his eyes, trying to make out figures in the darkness.

"Yep. Ancient ruins filled with ancient murals depicting ancient people and, err, other ancient stuff," Bark said, unsure.

"Hm. Yep. Okay, so why are we here again?" Bunbo asked, impatient.

"I told you, rabbit, we're here to find this old coot who's friends with my dad or whatever. Terron. I knew him when I was younger."

"Why do we need him?"

"Listen detective, they didn't tell me much. I'm just doing as I was told. And you came because you had nothing better to do."

"Ugh! I barely know you. I could be doing laps around this forest, but instead I'm here looking for some old head in a cave!" Bunbo huffed.

"Hey, look, you can go skedaddle after you help me find this guy, alright? You brought yourself into this after all," Bark said, folding his arms.

"Whatever. Come on, let's just get this over with," Bunbo said, stomping towards the entrance. "And there's just a bunch of stupid bushes in the way! Argh!" Bunbo exclaimed, kicking a shrub.

The ground began to shake beneath him. Then a crack formed in the ground. And the shaking became violent.

"What did I just do...?!" Bunbo panicked.

Bunbo hopped from one foot to the other, trying to keep balance. His whole body vibrated as he waved his arms wildly, trying to keep still. Bark stood off to the side, bewildered.

"Woah! Earthquake!" Bunbo screamed as the earth began to crack.

"Uh, not over here! I'm all good!" Bark yelled, trying to fight the overwhelming sound of the tremor.

Another crack formed, and then another. A rough oval shape was outlined in the dirt. The tremors increased, and a chunk of the earth began to rise from the ground. Bunbo fell but caught a rock and hung from it with one hand. Bark's eyes widened as he came to a realization.

"Oh! It's him! Bunbo, he's right here! Found him!"

"What the heck are you talking abo- woah!"

The earth suddenly turned 90 degrees upwards, causing Bunbo to dangle in the air, 6 feet off the ground. The chunk of earth revealed itself to have a soft, keratinous underside, much like a turtle's, and two thick elephantine legs. Then, suddenly, the tremors stopped, and it was silent. Bunbo still hung there, barely holding onto a rock face. Bark couldn't see him behind the newly revealed creature.

A head popped out from the shell. Two old, slow eyes drifted open and gazed around. The turtle began to speak, deliberate and powerful, yet slow and gentle.

"Who called me old?"

Bunbo lost his grip and landed on the ground behind the turtle, hitting his head. He looked up and chuckled timidly, through a daze.

The old turtle turned towards Bunbo, his long neck reaching him before his body fully turned. He dragged his cane made of gnarled wood and vine to assist his movement.

"It's not nice to disrupt someone's garden," the turtle said, referring to the carpet of foliage and rocks covering his shell. "But, I admit, I am pretty old."

Bunbo looked on, stupefied.

"Terron! That must be you!" Bark said, gaining the turtle's attention.

"Yes, it is me! Not any other geriatric, plant-covered turtle."

"Found him..." Bunbo muttered, dropping his head back to the ground.

Terron turned again to Bunbo, and squinted his eyes, quizzically.

 

CHAPTER 9

Spoiler

Chapter 9 - The Ruins

"So, what requires my attention? I was taking a nap, you know," Terron said, slowly blinking his eyes.

Terron was a large tortoise, elderly in appearance. He had a long, wrinkly neck and thick limbs. His hands ended in long claws, which failed to be menacing. His large round shell hosted a variety of plant life and even some rocks, making the appearance of a small park on his back. He wore a green bandana, as did the members of The Wardens of the Forest, and his was etched similar to Vernon's, with three petal-like protrusions overlayed by a circle. He also possessed a short, scraggly beard.

"Well, my mom and dad wanted you. There's a lot to unpack. We should just head back now," Bark said.

"Oh, don't rush me. I just woke up! I'd love a story." Terron urged.

Bunbo rolled his eyes and sighed upon hearing this. He began to tap his foot impatiently.

Bark began to speak, saying, "Alright. Well, it all started this morning, when I woke up. I was just goin' for a walk, but before that actually, I had to put my bandana on, and-"

Bunbo let out a groan, and hopped in front of the old turtle.

"Big bugs attacked the special tree. Bark used tree magic. The bugs are robots. His parents sent us here to find you," Bunbo blurted out.

"Well, you aren't a very good story-teller. But that sounds quite serious," Terron calmly replied.

"Yeah-huh. Now let's get goi-"

"And Bark! I haven't seen you since you were a fawn. The rabbit seems to imply you can channel now."

"Uh, yeah. I just figured that out today. Twenty minutes ago, actually."

"Show me. I'd love to see how you've progressed."

Bark gulped. Since the incident, he hasn't even tried to channel again. Was it just a fleeting moment of adrenaline that enabled him to summon that tree? Or has the power truly been unlocked? Bunbo didn't seem to care. He was pacing back and forth off to the side, waiting for the conversation to be over, like a kid whose mother met a friend in the grocery store. Bark turned towards a nearby tree and took a deep breath. All he knew was what he was taught, but that never seemed to work. But now that he had summoned that tree...

"Okay, here I go..."

He pushed his arms outward towards the tree, then waved them back towards his chest. He inhaled, closing his eyes.

Terron whispered under his breath, trying not to break Bark's focus, "Yes, yes. Connect yourself."

Bark opened his eyes, exhaling. He once again outstretched his arms towards the tree, more specifically to a long, gnarly branch. He put one knee forward.

Bunbo was zoning out, staring into the cave. He noticed glowing green orbs began to drift out of the entrance, gliding through the air past him. This caught his attention. He followed the orbs with his gaze, which pointed him towards Bark.

Bark slowly yet deliberately made a pulling motion as he pivoted his body to turn away from the tree. He closed his eyes again in focus. The branch began to twist and turn towards him, growing as it did, occasionally sprouting a new leaf. The green orbs from the cave began to spiral around Bark as the branch grew closer to him. Bark had his eyes closed, but opened them for a moment to check his progress. To his surprise, the branch had moved towards him, causing him to gasp. But he quickly regained his focus, containing his excitement.

"Wow..." Bunbo said under his breath.

"Perfect, perfect. Stay focused," Terron whispered.

Bark began to pivot around in a 360-degree circle, causing the branch to spiral around him, as did the mysterious fairy-like orbs. He then pointed his arms into the sky, causing the branch to quickly rise, then bloom with a cluster of leaves at the top. Bark opened his eyes and began to breathe heavily. He was sweating now. The branch had stopped moving, and the green orbs drifted aimlessly around him, before fading out of existence. He looked around at the spiral wooden cage he had made for himself. He couldn't believe his eyes. For years, he had trained, meditated, and studied, but for all his effort, he couldn't even grow a patch of grass. And now here he was, inside his own natural art installation, barely having broke a sweat in the creation of it. It was effortless and natural, like he was made to do it. He felt like he was stuck in a dream, absolutely entranced by the plant matter around him, spinning in circles.

"Hey, Bark! Great job buddy! That was sick!" Bunbo called out from nearby, breaking his focus.

"I... DID IT!!! I mean, I already did it, but now I REALLY did it!!! I did it!! I channelled!" Bark yelled in excitement and began to hop around excitedly.

"Yes, you did. And you were a natural," Terron acknowledged, leaning on his cane.

Bunbo and Terron stood there smiling as Bark danced and hopped.

"I never got your name, rabbit. Would you mind sharing it with me?" Terron said, without averting his gaze from Bark.

"The name's Bunbo. Just tagging along with Bark, only met him this morning."

"Hm..." Terron responded, turning his head towards the bunny, "I sense you aren't merely tagging along. Something is drawing you two together."

Bunbo made a confused face at the turtle, wondering what he meant. "Well, I guess we both kinda saved each other's lives a few times today. Trust me, I never stop moving for long, but I feel like I owe a little time to the guy."

"Ah, yes. But there is something more."

A rustle was heard in the bushes adorning the top of the cave entrance. Bark was oblivious, still dancing. Terron and Bunbo noticed, turning.

"Yes. Something more."

Bunbo raised an eyebrow, completely lost at what Terron was getting at.

"Yeah, that something more is a bandit stalking us for our belongings. Let's get going, old man..."

Bark continued cheering, "Wooo! Yes! Finally! Woo.." his cheers calmed, "Yeah!, Haha, aha..."

He noticed he was still trapped in a wooden cage of his own design.

"Ahem. Uh... little help?"

Terron turned back towards Bark and smacked his cane onto the ground. Pink petals adorning the cane glowed for a moment as the gnarled mess of tree branches surrounding Bark receded quickly, effortlessly.

Bunbo turned towards him with a shocked expression, eyes wide and mouth agape. Bark frowned, being one-upped. Terron chuckled.

Bark took a deep breath and dusted himself off.

"Anyways, we better head back. Ma and Pa are making this situation seem a little urgent. Let's go, guys," Bark urged.

Terron insisted, "Not so fast, young one. Firstly, I'm just waking up. Secondly, I believe the two of you need to see something. Especially you, Bark. These ruins hold ancient and powerful knowledge."

Bunbo protested, "Ugh! Can't we just go? What, are we gonna learn how our ancestors hid in caves and painted walls?"

"Yes. But you'll learn more if you pay attention."

Bark stepped up, "Listen, Terron. I know you aren't the busiest of bees, but I really think-"

"I know, I know. It will only be a moment. Place your trust in me, this knowledge is potentially vital to the three of you."

Bark and Bunbo exchanged a look of confusion and annoyance at each other. Bunbo hopped over to Bark and whispered in his ear.

"Jeez, why do your parents need this guy so bad? He can't even count right."

"On the contrary, I can hear very well, despite my age," Terron smugly remarked.

Bunbo blushed and looked at the ground sheepishly.

"I implore you boys, please. I must show you these ruins." Terron pleaded.

His face now possessed a grim and submissive tone, one unfitting to the wise, elder tortoise. Whatever it was in these ruins that was so important, Terron was practically begging to show the two boys what it was.

Bunbo sighed, "Okay, fine. Let's get this over with. But after this, we take you back, and I head home."

Terron smiled and turned towards the cave entrance. The boys followed.

--

Terron's strong, stumpy legs pounded the stone beneath him, causing thuds that echoed across the cave walls as the three descended into the darkness.

"What is it that you want to show us so bad, Terron? And why can't it wait?" Bark questioned respectfully.

"I feel a grave danger is to beset this forest soon, and forests across the world with it."

Bunbo piped up, "Well, I don't see any danger. In fact, I don't see anything at all."

"Hey, don't rabbits have night vision or something?" Bark questioned.

"Well, not me. I don't have the greatest diet, maybe that's it. Anyways, can we turn on a light or something?"

Terron suddenly slammed his cane into the floor, causing the pink petals on it to bloom with light. It was quiet for a moment, until the rustling sound of plant matter filled the air. Then, hundreds of flowers began to glow with blue, purple, and lime light, as orbs of green energy popped into existence and danced through the air. The cave was swiftly illuminated by bioluminescent plants. The sudden activity gave the cave an active sensation, as if the earth itself was alive. Insects crawled along the walls next to miniature waterfalls. The stony floor beneath them grew a carpet of soft moss before their eyes. The cave now possessed a comfortable and healthy aura that invigorated its inhabitants.

Bunbo and Bark, their mouths agape, started on in awe at the sight before them. There was a powerful, living feeling to this area now, and it possessed a natural beauty to it that even the mightiest oak trees and the most colorful of flower fields couldn't replicate.

A gasp behind them snapped them out of their daze. It seems even a potential follower couldn't help but appreciate the beauty of the cave. Bark snapped back to the source of the sound.

"Hey! Who's there?" Bark shouted.

There was no response.

"Show yourself!" Bunbo pressured.

Still, no response. The boys wondered if their ears had been lying to them. Terron grasped their attention again.

"Do not concern yourself with a potential bandit. We are safe here. A thief would be unwise to confront us in this place." Terron ensured.

"Why's that?" Bunbo asked.

"Look around. Take a deep breath. Feel the energy of life flow through you. This is a major epicenter for Gaia energy. Notice the Virida flowers climbing the walls," Terron waved his hand toward the wall, riddled with pink blossoms on mahogany vines, quite alike the flowers adorning his staff, "The bundles of energy floating through the air," Terron pointed out the green orbs dancing in the space above them, "The many forms of life to connect and channel."

Terron breathed in and relaxed. So did the boys.

"A channeller is at his most powerful in a location like this. A location where we are able to connect so closely to Gaia."

Bunbo rolled his eyes impatiently. Bark, however, was listening intently. Taking his words to heart, Bark began to channel. With a light wave of his arms outward to his sides, the young buck effortlessly caused a ripple of plants around him to rise and fall in sync with his breath. Bark smiled wide at his new found skills. This caught Bunbo's attention.

"Wow, Bark! Man, I wish I had magical powers like you."

Terron chuckled before speaking again.

"Boys, are we not supposed to be in a hurry?" He said, smugly.

The three continued down into the cave, descending down gentle slopes of rock and moss. Further into the cave, colorful glowing crystals adorned the walls, and large mushrooms sprouted from all around them. They occasionally puffed out a large packet of spores which hazed the air. Still, even as they continued their descent, the cave felt active and lively. Orbs of green energy, now revealed to them by Terron to be bundles of Gaia energy itself, seemed to follow them, as if they had a mind of their own.

Turning a corner, the feel of the cave suddenly shifted. A short yet narrow corridor waited in front of the trio. It led into a large atrium that glowed with a green light. Life did not seem as aggressive and pervasive in this area, as if it had been gardened frequently. Yet, the orbs of Gaia seemed to appear more frequently here. Terron took the lead down the hall.

"This is what I needed to show you three."

Bunbo whispered to Bark again. "Still can't count."

They continued down the passage and entered the large chamber. The ceiling stretched high above, obscured by darkness. In front of them was a large stone tablet with runes and symbols etched into every space, colored in greens, blues, and pinks. They dimly gleamed with green light. Vines rose along the sides adorned with pink blossoms; Virida blossoms. The Gaia orbs that seemed to follow them rushed into the chamber above their heads and froliced around the etchings. Bunbo hopped forward gently yet eagerly and stared up in awe.

"Woah, what's up with these symbols?"

Bark stood next to him staring upwards, squinting his eyes at the foreign language written in stone. There were occasional carved images stretching across the canvas, more easily understood than the gibberish runes. One caught his attention, depicting three figures beneath a Virida tree.

Terron stood behind them, letting them read. He looked upon the tablet in respect, clutching his cane, smiling to himself.

"These ancient murals tell tales almost as old as time itself. Tales of heroes and villains. Tales of the preservation of life. A never ending tale of the fight between chaos and order. The tales of the Guardians of Gaia."

--

"What?" Bunbo asked, ruining the dramatic moment.

"I've never heard of these guys," Bark agreed.

"Yeah, I mean, I see the pictures, and all the glowy lines along with 'em," Bunbo remarked irreverently, "But I got no idea what you're talking about, old turtle."

"Tortoise, man," Bark corrected.

"Tortilla. Sorry. Tortoise."

Terron sighed as he leaned on his cane, diminutively sized under the large mass of tortoise above it. Although expecting this reaction, he was still slightly disappointed.

"Ah. I shouldn't have expected such a new generation to be able to read these runes," he said, referring to the so-called 'glowy lines', "as this language is even older than me! Much older, in fact."

Bunbo scoffed. "So, what, like 100 years maybe? That's not that old for a language."

"Six hundred and twelve."

"What?!" Bunbo yelled in response, shocked. Bark just stood to the side, chuckling, remembering a time when he reacted the same way.

"Well, six-twelve and a half. I'm turning six-thirteen this winter!"

Bunbo stood speechless for a moment before Bark explained to him that tortoises can grow quite old, although Terron is a special case. His proficiency in Gaia channelling, high-functioning spirituality, and a sprinkle of luck with genetics made a case for one elderly turtle. Terron waited for the novelty of his age to fade slightly from Bunbo's head before continuing.

"The language that these ruins are written in is called Ogaiam. It is ancient, almost primordial. It was the language used by the first Guardians to pass on their knowledge of themselves, the life around them, and the universe at large."

Ogaiam was present all over the stone tablet. It was etchings of diagonal and straight lines arranged in seemingly random order. Some were written horizontally, some vertically, forming what appeared to be sentences. Some etchings appeared lonely, appearing to be single words.

"Oe-guy-im. Ogaiam..." Bunbo muttered to himself, trying to nail the pronunciation.

"And the Guardians, what are they all about?" Bark questioned.

"Well, young buck, they're a lot like our Wardens today. Like your uncle and aunt, and your late parents. Powerful channellers, focused on preserving life. Only these channellers... they possessed powers greater than one could imagine."

Bark was enthralled. "More powerful than you, Terron?"

"Yes. Far greater..." the words floated out of Terron's mouth with a mystifying light to them, as he observed the two boys in front of him.

Bunbo was never one to be captivated by words. He was content to stare at the murals and Ogaiam on the stone tablet, only half-listening to the conversation behind him. But one mural, depicting three animal-like figures with single Ogaiam etchings above each of them, caught his attention specifically. The animals pictured appeared to be Gaia channeling, something only relatively new to Bunbo's headspace. They were summoning a massive flower from the ground. It dwarfed the creatures and scenery around it as it appeared to glow with a green light. The art itself, in its colors, depicted this glow, but the seemingly living mural glowed with a real light as well. A Gaia orb floated around this artwork, seemingly pleased that Bunbo had his eyes set on it.

"I think I found your powerful channelers."

Terron stepped towards the mural and smiled.

"Yes, that would be them. Three of them there were, and three of them there ever will be. When Gaia is threatened, it gives life to three beings, destined to guard it and prevent a catastrophe from taking place. They reincarnate every time they are needed. There have been many callings of the Guardians in history, but there hasn't been one for quite some time. Although, I sense the Guardians are among us now..." Terron drifted off with a smile.

Bunbo looked closer at the mural, taking note of the differing Ogaiam above each Guardian's head. The rune for the guardian on the far right appeared larger than the rest and glowed with a higher intensity, taking his attention.

"What do the runes above each of these guys say?"

Terron rose his arm up and pointed to the left side of the mural, highlighting the first figure from the left.

"They denote the role of each guardian. From the left, we start with the Sage. They are tasked with guiding the band on their quest, and providing insight and wisdom. They are cunning, witty, and intelligent, with the ability to outsmart and outmaneuver their enemies. The first Sage was also the one to have invented Ogaiam."

"And the next one?" Bark asked.

Terron's shaky finger floated to the center of the mural.

"That would be the Protector. The Protector is tasked with ensuring the safety and well-being of their party. They are beings with an incredible sense of loyalty, friendship, and responsibility, and typically have great physical strength."

Although Bunbo's ears were paying attention, his eyes were not. For the life of him, he couldn't take his eyes off of the figure on the far right.

"What about the one on the right?"

Terron took a deep breath before explaining.

"That would be the Avatar. While all members of the party possess high amounts of Gaia spirit within themselves, the Avatar is an embodiment of that spirit. They are the most powerful channellers in existence. They are beings full of insurmountable quantities of life, vigor, and drive. Those blessed with this boundless energy are tasked with sharing their spirit with those around them. They are Gaia embodied."

There was a moment of silence and reverence in the chamber for some time. Bunbo and Bark were entranced by the tales and descriptions of these heroic figures. They felt small and lesser in the presence of this large tablet, containing the knowledge of beings far greater than them. The only sound was light breathing, distant gusts of wind, and a steady drip-drop of a moist cave ceiling. It was a while before Bunbo broke the silence.

"Sounds like Gaia has a favorite kid. I'd hate to be the middle child."

Terron chuckled, "Perhaps, little rabbit. But each Guardian plays a vital role in protecting and preserving life. If just one is missing, the system collapses into a terrible, negative chaos. They support each other, help each other to grow. Like how a plant cannot subsist on air alone. It needs sun and water to thrive and blossom."

Bark chimed in, "You said earlier that the Guardians are among us now. Who are they? And doesn't that mean something horrible is going to happen to Gaia?"

"All questions answered in due time, Bark."

The three stood staring at the mural for some time before turning around and heading back out of the cave. Bark and Bunbo were silent, recounting what they were told. Bunbo was having a harder time understanding. He only knew about Gaia since about an hour ago or less; it was a lot to take in. Although, it wouldn't matter. After today, Bunbo planned on taking a longer nap than usual; maybe two hours instead of one. Bark on the other hand was giddy with excitement about what would come next. His whole life was surrounded with Gaia energy and channelling. To have this entire history revealed to him was overloading him with enthusiasm. Who were the Guardians, and who are they now? What danger will beset the world? Terron, trusting he delivered this knowledge well, silently led the pack out of the cave.

CHAPTER 10

Spoiler

Chapter 10 - Sunset for the Forest

As they reached the cave entrance, an orange light baked them in warmth. It was just about sunset. Bunbo frowned at the sight; while today may have been exciting for the most part, he barely got to do any hopping. Bunbo hated sunsets; an end to a day, to an era, to a moment in time. Time to sleep and time to stop moving. It was the natural antithesis to himself.

As they walked the trail back to the village, Bark and Bunbo started to converse about what they had learned, entertaining Terron, revealing some of their immaturity.

"Okay! So if you had to be a Guardian, which one would you be?" Bark asked Bunbo eagerly.

"What do you mean which one?"

"Like, a role! Which role? Sage, uh, Protector, Avatar. Yeah, those three."

"Hmm... Avatar! Like, I'm the most powerful, right? Why would I answer anything else?"

"I thought the Sage sounded cool, though! Like you could have mind powers and stuff like that!"

Bunbo pondered Bark's case for a moment.

"Yeah. Yeah! That would be sick! And if you're the Protector, you could like, make big forcefields and stuff, and..."

The boys continued their conversation out loud while Terron smiled on. Finally, they reached Blossom's Grove. The dusk was an interesting time in the grove. Despite the setting sun, it seemed more active than ever. Fawns and other younger animals finishing their dinner rushed out of their homes to play around the Virida tree. Adults, finished with their responsibilities, congregated in small circles to discuss the gossip of the village. Some were still hard at work, like Vernon, who was busy chopping logs for his household's fire pit. Ivy stood to the side, occasionally assisting his work, chattering to passerbys. The smell of roasting vegetables and burnt wood filled the air as families cooked their food. The Virida tree swayed gently in the wind, with an occasional petal drifting off into the current of air, gleaming in the evening light streaming down from the forest canopy. The robotic corpse of the Jagbug was now stashed away behind Bark's residence, now bothering no-one. The tree Bark summoned to defeat it now accompanied the center Virida tree. As for the slight destruction it caused, repairs were already underway. There was an ever calm ambience to the place; it was paradise.

Bark took a deep breath, happy to be home. They started off towards Ivy and Vernon. As they approached, Ivy took notice and smiled, relieved to see the boys back. She took notice of Terron and waved cheerfully at the sight of him. Vernon did too, but gave a gentle nod and smile instead. It was then that the rest of the village took notice of the gargantuan garden-backed tortoise and looked on with gleaming smiles. Some called out his name to alert others of his presence. Terron rarely visited the grove, but it was always a treat when he did. Being an old tortoise meant he brought wisdom and experience to the villagers. He also would perform tricks and entertain the people with his adept channelling, much to the displeasure of Vernon, who believed such powers should not be used lightly. Still, he wouldn't dare to argue heavily with him, as even for the powerful and respected buck Vernon was, he was still inexperienced compared to the grizzled tortoise that stood before him.

As they drew closer, Vernon put down his axe and directed his full attention to Terron. Ivy ran forward slightly to formally greet him.

"Terron! Oh, it's so good to see you. And thank you boys, you're free to go now."

Relieved of their duties, Bunbo and Bark walked off towards the village edge, ignoring the adult's conversation. As teenagers, much more important things were happening in their lives than whatever beset the minds of adults. Even Bark, arguably more mature than his rodent friend, was uninterested in whatever issue his parents needed to talk with Terron about. All that was on his mind was his newfound powers and using them whenever he could. On the contrary, the only thing on Bunbo's mind was a snack and a nap.

"Well Bark, it's been a blast, but I'm pooped. I'm headed home," Bunbo said through a yawn.

"Aw, man. Leaving so soon?" Bark said with disappointment.

"Oh, don't go crying for me. I'll see ya around! This isn't the biggest forest in the world. Besides..." Bunbo sniffed the air, "I'd like whatever's cooking... mmm."

They chuckled, shook hands, and parted ways. Bunbo hopped off down the forest path slowly while Bark returned to the center of the village. He sat down on a tree stump near to his parents, where he began to eavesdrop.

"The rabbit and your son told me what had happened," Terron brooded, "I believe it's a sign that the worst is yet to come."

Ivy fretted, "That's quite blunt. So you really think this is it? We're about to live through a calling of the Guardians?"

"They have already been called. I feel it. Gaia does not act sluggishly."

An uncomfortable silence followed, all three of them possessing grave expressions. Soon the silence was broken by Vernon, asking about the elephant in the room...

"Who are they?"

Bunbo casually hopped down the forest trail before slowing to a walk. Usually he'd be zooming back home, ready to make it to the next sunrise. But as it stands, he was physically and mentally exhausted from the near-death experiences and ancient knowledge he had soaked up today. The sun had almost fully set, casting the forest in a twilight. The spring air was slightly chilly. He began to talk to himself.

"Oh jeez, Bunbo. What did you get yourself into today? Giant robot bugs? Tree magic? Fairy tales? Not what I expected when I woke up-"

Snap. A tree branch had cracked in the canopy above him. It sounded large, like a mammal and not a bird. Adding to the creep factor was that he was in a usually abandoned part of the forest, near to where his burrow was. It was not common for another animal to be in this neck of the woods with him. He remembered how he and Bark and constantly heard noises following them as they journeyed to the ruins.

"Hey! Who's there?" Bunbo said with wavering confidence.

He paused for a moment and stared at the trees. Nothing. The slight rustle of wind, the far-off call of a bird. He must just be on-edge.

"Gosh, who am I kidding. I gotta relax," He muttered to himself before continuing to walk, "Take a nap, have a snack... honestly, a single branch? What does that prove? I'm probably just all nervous from today. I must be going crazy!"

Bunbo was suddenly flung into the air by a rope wrapped around his ankles. He rocketed upwards into the canopy as he screamed in terror. Wind rushed past his long ears, deafening him. The forest was a blur in his eyes. Just as soon as he was caught, he had stopped. Gaining his bearings he noticed he was now around fifteen feet above the forest floor. He was dangling by his ankles, upside down. A smooth, feminine voice called out to him from behind.

"The whole talking to yourself thing? Yep, that's crazy..."

"Huh? Who's that? Where are you?" Bunbo called out in a daze.

"...But I assure you, I am no hallucination."

A dark figure drooped down from a tree branch in front of Bunbo. It was hard to make out in the evening light. He squinted. Suddenly, two eyes drifted open, glowing orange. They were fierce, somewhat catlike, yet rounded, like a raccoon's.

Bunbo was shocked. "Hey, are you the one that's been following me and my friend all day?!"

"That would be me, yes. You are quite observant! Although, I waited until you were away from the tortoise to strike... the deer didn't appear as much of a threat, though."

The figure mocked Bark's flexing. Bunbo became irritated.

"What's the big idea, punk?!"

"The idea is that these forests can get quite cold around the winter time. On the contrary, that scarf of yours..."

The figure swung closer to the helpless rabbit, revealing herself to her prey. Bunbo was face to face with a small, sly raccoon, with a big bushy tail, which she was hanging from.

"...well, it looks quite warm."

"Not for sale," Bunbo blunty declared.

"Oh. I wasn't buying."

The raccoon swung around nimbly in the treetops, circling Bunbo gracefully, putting him at unease.

"If you so much as lay a finger on this scarf, I'm gonna lose it."

"Oh, you'll lose it alright. Yoink!"

The raccoon reached for the scarf, but Bunbo instinctively kicked back, sending her flying into the leaves. She thudded against a tree but quickly regained her balance and composure with ease.

"Well! That is no way to treat a lady!" She said as she walked upside down on the branches above him.

"Look, you've seen what I can do! Let me go, you're not getting this scarf from me alive, thief!"

She swung face to face with him. She was right-side up, he was upside down. She drew a claw from her hand.

"Poor choice of words."

The raccoon slashed the rope from which Bunbo was suspended, causing him to plummet to the hard forest floor as he once again screamed in terror. Before he could crash, he rolled, absorbing the blow. The raccoon landed with less disorder a couple of yards in front of him.

"Ah, we have an acrobat!" She called out to him.

"I could say the same about you."

"I still want that scarf."

"Give it a try."

"Trying implies a chance of failure. That won't be happening."

The raccoon dashed towards Bunbo with impressive speed. She slashed at him with her claws, narrowly missing as he sidestepped out of the way. He charged a powerful kick and sent her flying back. As she flew through the air, she wrapped her tail around a nearby sapling, slowing her down, yet slingshotting her back at her target.

She flew past him, grabbing at his scarf, almost pulling it off. It didn't budge, but it did slam Bunbo's face into the ground. He quickly got up with a rage.

"What did I say about touching the scarf?!"

"You said you'd lose it. Give me another try for that to be true."

Bunbo charged at her with a battle cry, blinded with rage. Whatever it was with that scarf, Bunbo could never bear to lose it. As he charged, the raccoon flashed her claws, prepared to clash. They exchanged kicks and claws, narrowly dodging each other's attacks. They were both extremely nimble creatures, almost evenly matched. But the raccoon was not here for a fight.

Bunbo kicked high, but the raccoon dodged and grabbed his leg, locking him. She smirked with confidence.

"I must admit, you put up a good fight! But I'm not here to trade blows. Or make a trade at all."

The raccoon easily nabbed the scarf off of Bunbo as he stood there, squirming, locked in a kick that she had blocked. She held the scarf in one hand and stared at it.

"I don't usually hunt such rustic treasures, but this does have a subtle charm to it!"

Bunbo, fully losing his scarf, felt naked. He became angrier than he had ever been before. He started to shake and seethe. The raccoon took notice of this, slightly unsettled. She dropped his leg and backed off. Bunbo's hands clenched into fists, and his eyes seemed to lose their life. His whole body trembled with fury.

"NOT. FOR. SALE."

Bunbo grabbed his scarf and began to pull at it, turning in circles. The force of this caused the raccoon to start to fly around in circles around Bunbo. She began to scream. He had turned her into a projectile, as if he was performing a hammer throw at the Olympics. He sped up his spin, causing any amount of arrogance in the raccoon to fade away into shock and fear.

"Hey! Take it easy!!! You can have the scaaarff!" She screamed, her voice fading in the whirlwind.

"BUT YOU CAN'T!" Bunbo said through gritted teeth.

He released his grip from his scarf, sending the raccoon flying into a tree trunk. She was knocked unconscious instantly, slumping over onto the ground. Bunbo angrily stomped over and ripped his scarf out of her hands. He once again wrapped it around himself. This caused him to calm greatly, but he was still angry.

"Think twice about taking my scarf again," Bunbo said with powerful confidence.

The raccoon came to, slowly blinking until she noticed where she was again. She stared up at Bunbo in fear, eyes wide.

"Look, it's fine! I won't bother you again, I swear! Please let me go, have mercy!" She cowered.

"Oh, stop being such a baby. And I'm not letting a thief like you run around these parts again."

"What are you gonna do with me, you crazy beast?"

Bunbo looked at his surroundings and locked his eyes on some human waste, pouring out of a black trash bag.

"I'm gonna make an arrest."

And that's the first ten chapters of my writing project, The Guardians of Gaia! I really hope you enjoyed. Thank you for taking your time to read. Pressing submit topic is gonna be nerve wracking, but I'm gonna do it...

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CrownSlayer’s Shadow
On 8/7/2021 at 9:27 PM, charmsb said:

So I wrote a status post recently about potentially sharing a novel I'm writing and how I'm scared half to death about doing it. I'm still scared half to death about doing it.

Well, you shouldn’t be.

I guarantee most of the people on here can’t even write a decent 10 chapters, let alone a full length novel.

Mind, you I only skimmed the first chapter to see how your writing flowed, so I haven’t exactly read much of it yet. I just wanted to share this bit of encouragement: you shouldn’t be scared to death of something others haven’t even set out to start, much less understand the basics.

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charmsb
8 minutes ago, CrownSlayer’s Shadow said:

Well, you shouldn’t be.

I guarantee most of the people on here can even write a decent 10 chapters, let alone a full length novel.

Mind, you I only skimmed the first chapter to see how your writing flowed, so I haven’t exactly read much of it yet. I just wanted to share this bit of encouragement: you shouldn’t be scared to death of something others haven’t even set out to start, much less understand the basics.

Thanks dude. I know, I really should be more confident. I guess because the nature of the story is so cheesy and open hearted that I almost feel as much embarrassment as I do love for my own work. Though it's something I try to believe already, hearing someone else tell me it makes it all the more powerful.

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Mr. Ion

Read the first chapter, and yo, this is pretty cool so far. I like the idea of an action scene opening the novel, and it does well at getting a general sense for Bunbo and Bark, who I assume will be expanded upon later. So far, Bark seems to be the most interesting, as he seems to be aware that he's a guardian (this is assuming that Bunbo is also one of the three guardians) but he doesn't have a clear understanding of why he has to guard it. Bunbo seems like a fun character with some attitude, but based on his second encounter with the Jagbug he seems to have more strength that previously expected. So far, this seems like good basis for a story, I'll try to get around to the other chapters soon. Also, I think the Sonic influence is subtle enough that it benefits the story without being in-your-face, so I wouldn't really worry about that.

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charmsb
2 hours ago, Mr. Ion said:

Read the first chapter, and yo, this is pretty cool so far. I like the idea of an action scene opening the novel, and it does well at getting a general sense for Bunbo and Bark, who I assume will be expanded upon later. So far, Bark seems to be the most interesting, as he seems to be aware that he's a guardian (this is assuming that Bunbo is also one of the three guardians) but he doesn't have a clear understanding of why he has to guard it. Bunbo seems like a fun character with some attitude, but based on his second encounter with the Jagbug he seems to have more strength that previously expected. So far, this seems like good basis for a story, I'll try to get around to the other chapters soon. Also, I think the Sonic influence is subtle enough that it benefits the story without being in-your-face, so I wouldn't really worry about that.

Wow!!! You have no idea how great it is to hear someone discuss my story like this. Thank you for the kind words!

Not exactly a spoiler, but I see one line might have been interpreted incorrectly (the blame being put on me, though). Bark is not aware - but more so dreams of being something similar and has somewhat internalized it. You'll see soon. Though, that one little line might have to be changed around. It was a remnant from a much different earlier draft, of course.

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Dr. Mechano

Like some of the others, I've only read the first chapter so far, but I intend to look at the rest soon, because chapter 1 was a lot of fun to read!

I think Bunbo and Bark - who I'm assuming will be the two main characters of this story - play off each other really well. And that's what I'm looking forward to the most in the coming chapters: seeing how these characters interact, the sorts of dialogue and situations they can get into together. I'll try to read more soon and offer my comments as I go through your story.

For now, I'm definitely enjoying it!

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charmsb
4 hours ago, Dr. Mechano said:

For now, I'm definitely enjoying it!

Thank you, thank you! It means a ton.

 

I also think now would be a good time to clarify that Wattpad already has up to Chapter 20. I just thought I could retain interest in the forum topic by posting them slowly, but if any of you want to go on ahead, you can do so there.

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Here's chapter 11-13! Spoilers for those who haven't read up to ten -

Spoiler

In this section, the plot finally kicks into gear. The guardians are revealed and the evil threatening nature rears its ugly head. Also, who's that raccoon girl that just attacked our boy? Read and find out!

Remember, the Wattpad is WAY ahead. I'm just drip feeding chapters to keep the thread alive and keep discussion modern. If you want to read ahead, up to Chapter 21 is now available.

These are an important few chapters... so strap in! The story is truly beginning. Also, chapters are lengthening here, so be warned.

CHAPTER 11

Spoiler

Chapter 11 - Fear and Deceit

"Ow. Ow. Ow," The raccoon pouted.

Bunbo was dragging his new prisoner along the ground in a trash bag, slung over his shoulder. The ground was rough and uncomfortable. Bunbo knew. But he didn't care.

"You know, - Ow. - you already beat me up enough. You could at least make the ride a little less bumpy. Ow."

"Oh, like you deserve any better. You're just a no good thief," Bunbo coldly replied.

"Okay, sure, I'm a bit of a brigand, I'll admit. But usually when I nab something from someone, they don't nearly kill me. Usually they cry, or shout, or go report me to the police, like that'll do anything. Sometimes they fight, sure, but they always lose. And to think I threw it all away over a scarf..."

The raccoon rustled around in her trash bag, trying to get comfortable, for just a moment. She thought for a second before speaking again.

"You know, that was some reaction back there. You were practically foaming at the mouth. Never seen that before."

She paused.

"That scarf must be very important to you, huh?"

She was met with silence. Bunbo continued to drag her along.

"Gift from a friend? Loved one? Passed down through generations?" She continued to prod.

More silence.

"Dead parent?"

The bag hit a rough boulder, likely bruising the raccoon inside.

"Yowch! Okay, I struck a nerve! Sorry..."

Yet again, the secret Bunbo kept reared its head. And he still didn't quite know what it was; just that it was painful.

--

Bunbo and his captured crook finally reached Blossom's Grove. It was now nighttime. A spare few fires were lit, but the village was mostly illuminated by an abundance of fireflies and Gaia orbs. It was magical and soothing. A calm spring wind blew through Bunbo's ears as he stepped into the grove. It was quiet. Many were now inside winding down for the night. Some homes glowed with light, some already out for the night. A spare few adult deer still stood outside around fires, chatting with their friends. A group of teenage foxes prowled the area. A bird roosted overhead, quietly cooing to itself.

Under Bark's tree and the Virida tree sat Terron, Ivy, and Vernon, still locked in deep conversation about recent events. Terron first noticed Bunbo and gestured towards the two deer about his arrival. They turned around and quickly drew faces of confusion and concern at the sight of his squirming trash bag. Bark noticed from inside his home, spotting his friend's upright ears through a window. He was the first to call out.

"Bunbo? What are you doing back here?" he called out as he ran outside, his little sister following close with excitement.

Ivy also spoke up, "Bunbo? What's that you got, honey?"

Bunbo swung the bag around as Bark, Flower, Ivy, Vernon, and Terron surrounded him. He plopped it on the ground in front of him and looked up with a smug expression.

"I've got a prisoner."

The bag split open and out plopped a disheveled, bruised raccoon, alien to the elegant rogue Bunbo had fought earlier. She rolled onto her side and looked up at the faces looking down. Vernon's expression turned to a scowl. This was a familiar face.

"Nobble."

"Yep, that's me you old coot." She said, with a cough.

"Odd of you to look so defeated."

Bunbo asked, "You know this gal?"

"She's a common bandit. Always avoids capture. Good job, rabbit."

"I am far from common!"

Bunbo smiled with content. Approval by Vernon felt like an approval by a king. He even got more than three words out of him. Vernon flicked an eyebrow at Ivy before turning back to Terron and dragging him away in conversation. Ivy knew Vernon well enough to understand that this meant she had to handle the situation.

"Alright, boys. Take the brigand 'round back to the prison. That old shanty thing hasn't been used in ages, but it should do the trick for now," Ivy commanded.

Bark was quick to oblige. "Aye aye, madam!"

Bunbo and Bark took Nobble by the arms and carried her away. Flower began to quietly follow them, before Ivy noticed.

"Young lady! Shouldn't you be in bed by now?"

"But mom, I-"

"No buts. Just sleep," she ushered.

Flower groaned and adjusted her flower crown before drudging herself back to her home. Ivy returned to Vernon and entered the adult conversation. But, noticing an opportunity, the young fawn snuck off again.

Terron was deep in discussion with the two wardens.

"If what is happening is truly happening, which I believe it is, then the Guardians won't be far."

Vernon, despite his usual quiet and deliberate speech, seemed eager and panicked in how he talked.

"How can you be so sure? They could be halfway across the planet, for all we know. We need to alert the masters. The ones leading Gaia hotspots. They can keep their eyes peeled. If a guardian is to be born anywhere, it's someplace like there," Vernon said with a sense of urgency.

"Dear Vernon, you worry too much. I ask you to trust me. The guardians are not far. And if they were, they would be drawn to each other, pulled from each end of the earth towards each other's spirits. This is not a process we need to intervene."

Ivy chose to speak next, although she did so with a wavering voice.

"But, before... in history, they..."

Vernon and Terron drew their gaze at Ivy, waiting for her word. She looked up with a grim expression, about to express something they might have all been thinking.

"The guardians... sometimes they lose."

Terron and Vernon visibly reacted to the statement with stress. The conversation went quiet as the three stared into the surrounding void. The only sound was the fire cracking. A grim feeling had blanketed them.

It was unlikely, but in the near-infinite history of the guardians, they have sometimes lost. The warriors of Gaia were not perfect, occasionally succumbing to the threats posed to the spirit of nature. They were mass extinctions and planetary catastrophes, dooming consequences due to the failure of the guardians. Sometimes, overwhelming order prevailed, and what followed nearly choked life out of existence, multiple times.

Ivy broke the silence.

"So... we should still alert the masters. Have them be aware. Gather their armies. Prepare for conflict. I know this is sudden, I mean, all we saw is a robot, but what else could that all mean?"

Terron hummed in agreement.

"It is a great concern. I sense dread, gloom, and doom. It is no overreaction to alert the masters now."

Vernon nodded. There was silence again.

--

Bark and Bunbo were dragging Nobble along. Bunbo whistled as they passed under the corpse of the robot they had fought earlier in the day.

"That thing was huge! Nearly cost us our lives."

Bark agreed, "Yeah! Biggest I've ever seen anyway. Also, they're robots?"

"Yeah, that's odd, isn't it? Who's making them anyway?"

"No idea. But honestly? I couldn't care less. A lot of more important things happened to me today. I met you, nearly died, learned to channel, killed a Jagbug... yeah, Jagbugs being robots isn't all that concerning to me."

Nobble, their prisoner, piped up for a moment.

"You guys didn't know about the robot bugs?"

Bunbo and Bark stared down at their prisoner in tow.

Bark asked, "You knew about the bugs being robots?"

"Who didn't? Their cold, hard shell, the robotic noises they make, how they seem fixated and unnatural..."

Bark and Bunbo looked at each other in disagreement.

"You two don't get out much, do you?"

They continued walking towards the makeshift prison, which was a collection of crudely constructed wooden cells out back of a large tree home which served as a meeting room for Wardens. The lack of light made it hard to see, but a small lantern lit the area dimly.

"All right, Bobble, or whatever your name is...", Bark mocked, "Here's your stay."

Bunbo chimed in, "If ya can't do the time, don't do the crime!"

They not-so-gently pushed her into the cell and threw the door closed. She stood inside for a moment, examining her cage, before she lightly pushed open the door with snark. The door was broken and missing a lock; a mark of a large passage of time. Still, despite her opportunity for escape, she nonchalantly tapped her foot and smiled. Secretly, though, her escape was being blocked by a fear of that rabbit who gave her a stern rebuttal to her theft earlier.

"Door won't shut. How are you gonna keep me prisoner when the door won't shut?"

Bark was quick to react. He breathed in deep and reached towards a nearby shrub.

"Check this out, trash panda."

Bark channeled the shrub to wrap around the door, closing it, then tying itself around the door to the nearby cage frame. Nobble looked annoyed and rolled her eyes. She slumped down onto the hard dirt floor of her cell. The lantern cast square grid shadows onto her as she stared out at her jailers.

"You had to be a channeler, huh?" Nobble said glumly.

Bunbo and Bark high-fived and cheered and walked off together.

Bark asked, "So, is it finally time to head home for you?"

Bunbo responded, "Nah, It's too late. I'll spend the night here somewhere."

"I can offer you a spare bed. Or a sleeping bag. Whatever."

"Thanks for the hospitality, but I'll find a nice spot to cozy on up somewhere around here. Night night, life saver!"

"Goodnight buddy," Bark chuckled.

--

Nobble was all alone in the dim light of the lantern. Imprisoned. But how? She's been in this situation before, but jailed by a rabbit and a deer in some forgettable forest? It was degrading. Still, she always found her way out. She just needed some sort of opportunity to arise.

Flower peeked out from around a nearby tree at the prison cell. Nobble noticed and locked eyes with her, causing her to hide again. Here's her opportunity. Nobble changed her gaze to the wall beside her and tapped on the floor with her claws, appearing oblivious to Flower, making herself more approachable. Sure enough, the young doe took the bait and slowly inched towards the prison. When she was close enough, Nobble acknowledged her presence.

"Hello little girl. I don't suppose you came to bust me out?"

"Hi, I'm Flower...", she said meekly.

"Hi Flower. I'm Nobble. It's nice to meet you!"

"Nice to meet you..."

Flower stood about a yard away from the prison cell, wary to draw closer. Her childlike curiosity led her here, but now her naive trepidation prevented her from coming any closer.

"Your parents know you're back here?"

"No..."

"Don't worry. I won't tell."

Nobble's attempts at politeness weren't working too well on Flower. She was still afraid and unsure. But she kept trying.

"Say Flower, I like the flower crown! Suits you."

"Really?" Flower smiled.

"Yeah! Give me a closer look."

"Oh, okay..."

Flower stepped closer and sat down in front of the cell as she took off her crown of flowers. She offered it closer to Nobble.

"See? It has Virida flowers on it. I love that tree, so I wanna take it with me everywhere I go."

"That's a great idea, Flower. So, what brings you here?"

"Well, I saw you, and you seemed hurt, and even though you might be a bad guy, I wanted to check on you, because that's the right thing to do."

"That's very noble of you. I'm doing fine, I appreciate that!"

"And I wanted to follow my brother and his friend. I don't get to hang out with Bark anymore."

Nobble smiled as she noticed Flower letting her guard down. She thought to herself; That's why she was smiling, right? Not because she was enjoying the conversation? No, Nobble. You're a cunning rogue with a penchant for thievery. Conversations with children were not the treasures you sought. You sought rare artifacts, prized items of the wealthy, pricey human possessions. Not small talk. Right?

"Why's that, Flower?"

"Well, ever since he got older, all he wants to do is meditate and train and do all that Warden stuff. He wants to be just like my dad Vernon. He never has time to play anymore. We used to be best buddies. But now he's got that cute rabbit guy he found today, and they already seem like best friends."

"Yeah... wait. Cute?" Nobble smiled.

Flower giggled and blushed as she played with the dandelions on the ground.

"Well, Flower, if you need a friend so bad, why don't we be friends?"

"Really?" Flower asked as she lit up like a firefly, "You wanna be friends?"

"Sure!"

"Yay! Can I show you a secret?"

Nobble scoffed to herself.

Psh. Kids. Whatever, I just need to keep this act up for another minute before I close the deal and get her to let me out.

"Go ahead. That's what friends are for."

"Okay! Here I go."

Flower breathed deeply and closed her eyes. She opened them, focused on the dandelions she held gently in her hooves, sprouting from the ground. She lifted them slightly and they began to grow. Slowly, they inched upwards, and grew new stalks as they did. Flower let out a sharp breath and lowered her hands. The dandelions remained tall and mighty, pleasing Flower.

"Wow, Flower! That was awesome!"

"Thank you."

"Why are you keeping that a secret? I know your dad, he would be ecstatic to know about your talents!"

"Well, I love my family. And I know Dad would love to hear about this, but I also love Bark. And I know how important this channeling stuff is to him. For a while, he couldn't do it. So I didn't want to make him feel bad that I could. But I go out into the woods everyday to practice. I'm getting really good. Now that Bark can channel, I'm gonna tell my parents soon, and get real training. I think I might wanna be a Warden some day."

"That's very kind of you, Flower." Nobble said.

What a foolish kid. Caring so much about your stupid brother like that. I should raise her as my own. A cold, calculated, channeling machine! Okay, relax. Let's seal the deal.

"Well, I guess it's time to sleep soon. On this hard, dirty floor no less. It's bad enough sleeping here in the first place, but with all these bruises on me? How am I gonna get a single wink of sleep?"

Flower looked sad and fidgeted.

"Oh, I'll be fine. Maybe the beatdown I received today will numb me out."

Flower looked up at Nobble solemnly.

"Well, maybe you can sleep somewhere else?"

Bingo.

"Oh, but I'm stuck in this tiny cell! And your brother locked it shut! No hope for beauty sleep tonight... oh woe is me..."

"I can let you out. But don't tell. And don't run away. You can sleep in the grass nearby. It's soft this time of year."

"Really? You'd do that for me, Flower?"

"That's what friends are for!"

I've got this kid wrapped around my finger.

"Okay, you're gonna need to use your powers to unlock the door though!"

Flower took another deep breath and began to channel the gnarled, twisted shrub that wrapped around the door. Slowly, she untangled it, before stopping suddenly.

"What's up, buttercup?"

Flower hesitated for a moment.

"I can't let you out. I'm sorry. You're a bad guy."

She ran off to the side, going home for the night. Nobble slumped down again. All that swindling for nothing. She was so close! Just a couple more seconds and Nobble would've darted out that door, free once more. And she wouldn't go anywhere near that rabbit again. She'd go far, far away, to greener pastures. Big cities. Ancient ruins. Grand castles. Ugh! But here she was, stuck in a shanty cell in some forgettable forest. What was the world's greatest thief to do in a situation like this?

Nobble examined her surroundings, looking for another opportunity. She found none. Even for this master rogue, nothing beat a well locked cell. There was no picking the lock with a branch covering it all. She was gonna have to sleep the night. For now.

--

Bunbo hopped to the base of the Virida tree, now neighboring Bark's tree. He curled up beneath the two, using his recently acquired trash bag as a sleeping bag, and fell asleep.

CHAPTER 12

Spoiler

Chapter 12 - The Guardians Bloom

Fresh sunlight seeped into the prison cell as the sun rose, waking up Nobble, who surprisingly got some good sleep. With a well rested head, breaking out should be a breeze. But during the daytime? Maybe. She might manage.

She pondered and pondered a way to get out. She could slowly cut through with her claws, but that would not only be loud, but also exhausting. She could try to get Flower to let her out again, but it didn't work so well the first time. She was running out of ideas. But, suddenly, she saw a mound of earth off in the distance. It looked like it was freshly dug. Then, it started to move. The earth travelled in a line towards her. Someone was digging underground.

"Oh, brother..." Nobble said with annoyance.

Out popped a mole, right in front of the cage. He leaned on the surface hole he had made and smirked at Nobble. He looked up and down at her and her cage. He continued that same smirk. And if he weren't smug enough already, then he began to speak.

"Well, well, well. Whut do we 'ave here? Nobble the raccoon, the untouchable rogue, the world's greatest bandit, cooped up in a tiny ol' prison cell in da middle of da woods."

"I don't need your opinion, Shrewd."

Shrewd was a relatively small little mole who lived his life beneath the feet of the forest. His eyes were diminutive, hidden underneath his fur. He got around on smell, touch, and hearing alone. His large, clawed hands rested on the soil in front of him, eager to get digging once again. He had a crafty look to him, and his fur was matted and disheveled. He was always sporting a smirk.

"Sounds like ya do! In fact, sounds like ya need all the help you can get."

"Whatever deal you're gonna strike with me, I'm not buying. I'll get out of this dump eventually, given some more time to think. Which means I need a certain bothersome earth rat to leave me undisturbed."

"Hey Nobs, we know eachotha! We used to best buds. I ain't gotta strike a deal to make bustin' my buddy out worth it! But now thatcha mentions it..."

"Here we go." Nobble sighed.

"Hows about you let me in on the Jungle Heist? I'll take as low as a fifteen percent split. No jokes. Just you, me, and that artifact. And if ya say yes now, I'll bust you out in a second."

It was a tempting deal. Fifteen percent was, by all means, a low cut. That artifact was near priceless. They could auction that off for unheard of amounts of money. Truth be told, though, Nobble wanted it for herself. And she could have it. Because this little mole wasn't very bright.

"Shrewd, I don't trust a word out of your mouth."

"I don't trust a word outta yours."

"Fair. Okay, counter deal. You get ten percent, but you don't have to do anything. I do the heist myself."

"Stealin' it is part of the fun! But you doin' all the work for me and payin' me for it is priceless. Ha! I swindled the swindler." Shrewd laughed.

Nobble chuckled too. She held power over Shrewd. He was fulfilling his end of the deal first; why would Nobble have to uphold hers? He was never the brightest thief around, he was just a pawn for her. The second she busts out, she could say goodbye to Shrewd for the rest of her life. And if he found her again, there's not much a mole could do to hurt her.

What a little shortsighted rat.

"Okay, bust me out, genius."

"You got it, my personal philanthropist!"

Shrewd dug a hole down into the earth and disappeared for a few seconds before once again popping up in Nobble's cell. She attempted to leave through that hole but quickly realized something.

Shrewd was much, much smaller than her.

Tried as she might, she couldn't get through that hole. Not head first, not feet first. She squirmed and squirmed and squirmed, and then gave up.

Shrewd was in tears at the sight. He couldn't help but explode into laughter seeing his contemporary try to squeeze through that hole.

"Hey, Nobs, lose some weight, will ya?! Hahaha!"

"I'll get you, Shrewd!"

"Good luck with that, jailbird! Hahaha!" he mocked.

Shrewd dug back underground and disappeared into the woods. And Nobble was once again trapped. It might look like she's never gonna get out of here. Again, she felt her self worth shattered. Of all the places, of all the situations she has been in, this was the end of her career. And no one wanted to help. She couldn't woo Flower. Shrewd was just in it for the money. She was out of time and out of friends.

The feeling overwhelmed her and tears formed in her eyes. She held them back with a grimace. That sadness turned to frustration, the frustration turned to anger. She got up and faced the cage. Fists formed. Her brow furrowed. Her teeth gritted. In a fit of rage, she slashed the door with her claws. Immediately she passed out.

She woke up only a couple seconds later. Her head hurt from the fall. She forced her eyes open. Her vision was blurry. A green light was floating around her. Her eyes adjusted just as the light faded away. And the door was open.

The door was open.

The door, which was locked tight by shrubbery channeled around it, had swung open after a brief slash. And when she awoke, green light surrounded her. Was this... channeling?

Thinking comes later. Nobble took her opportunity for freedom and dashed out of the cage, into the woods.

--

Earlier that day, in Bark's home, sunlight hadn't even blessed the sky yet. It was barely twilight and not a soul was awake. Except for Vernon, who had special plans for the dozy Bark. He stepped into his bedroom, littered with books on plants, tiny tinkery gadgets he had made for himself, and a few family relics, including a small stuffed deer. It was a mess, but it was organized. Bark was fast asleep under his covers oblivious to his soon to be rude awakening.

"Up! Up! Up! Come on future Warden, the forest awaits!" Vernon shouted as he banged his hoof on the wall, disturbing Bark's slumber.

"Whuh... huh?"

Bark got up, half asleep, his eyes half open and his head still in his dreams.

Vernon was still hollering and banging, way more active and verbal than Bark had ever seen him in his life. It was an odd sight. And it meant something was off.

"Uncle? What... what's going on?"

"A Warden needs to get up at this time of day every day to start his duty. There's a whole forest out there, let's go!"

Bark groggily got up out of bed and slipped on his bandana, eyes still almost closed. He was barely processing what was happening. Vernon took him outside as twilight strengthened, giving them a diminutive amount of light. The cold, spring morning air hit Bark like a truck and woke him up slightly. Suddenly he was aware. He saw Bunbo curled up under the two center trees, a few deer trotting about, and his uncle Vernon, with one of the most active expressions he has ever worn.

"Uncle, what's gotten into you?"

"Nothing. Just excited to teach a future Warden, is all."

Bark knew in his mind that even that wouldn't make Vernon act so giddy, but the words "future Warden" finally processed in his head. Future. Warden. He did it. He finally got that approval from his uncle. He was going to be a Warden.

Bark smiled wide and jumped in excitement, but quickly composed himself and took on a stern and stiff pose, like a soldier in boot camp.

"Now that you can channel, it's only right that the only older buck in this section of the woods start to learn a thing or two about being a Warden. This responsibility, should you choose to accept it, will follow you for the rest of your life. You will become a protector of nature, dutifully guarding it at every step of the way, whatever that entails on whatever day you need to. You will learn advanced channeling, and how to handle even the most extreme techniques. This is not for the faint of heart, the weak of body, the feeble of mind. So, Bark..."

Vernon stretched out his hand towards his surrogate son.

"...Are you ready to become a Warden?"

Bark paused as a smile fought to overtake his face. This was it; this was his life goal, everything he wanted to be and more, since he was just a fawn, sitting right in front of him, accessible by just one handshake. And because he was not a fool, he shook that hand without a second thought. The handshake was firm and professional, but the look that Bark and Vernon exchanged was purely love. They smiled lightly at each other. Vernon was pouring with pride and Bark was ecstatic with approval.

Despite the dramatic speech, Vernon and Bark started light with their formal training. They walked out of the village together, Vernon passing Bark an apple for breakfast. He took Bark into the woods and found a clearing with a tree stump in the middle of it.

Vernon began his instruction, "So, as you may already know, a tree stump is almost just as valuable as the tree itself. This stump is hosting all kinds of fungi and invertebrates that stumbled upon a perfect habitat. But today, we will knowingly sacrifice that knowledge for the sake of training. I want to see you restore this tree."

"Restore this tree? Are you sure I can do that?"

"You probably can't. But it's an easy way for me to see how far along you are, depending on how big you can make the tree."

It was a common test Vernon employed to wardens in training. It was an easy visual measurement to how powerful and adept a channeler was. He wasn't expecting much.

"So, walk me through your movements here."

Bark was excited to show Vernon his skills, but nervous at the same time. It was early, he was tired. Just how well could he do this?

"Okay, so first, I take a deep breath."

Bark took a deep breath and closed his eyes, and slowly opened them again.

"Right. We do that to compose ourselves and fill ourselves with life. Good start."

"Then, I establish the connection..."

Bark outstretched his arms towards the stump and focused intently on it. Vernon was already impressed by how much he knew. But Bark was always doing this. Constantly practicing, day in and day out. It was practically muscle memory.

"And then, visualize what I want to happen..."

Bark closed his eyes deep in thought. He didn't want to screw this up, so he moved very slowly and deliberately. He imagined the tree growing high into the sky, out of the canopy, past the clouds. Okay, scratch that, too tough. He imagined the stump growing in size and splitting into two branches, which fractaled into many smaller branches, then sprouted leaves.

"And then, I imitate nature."

Bark took on a sturdy stance with his knees bent and his arms bent at his side. He was strong and stout like a tree stump. He took his arms from his side and brought them to his chest, pointing upwards at the sky, elbows pointed down at the ground. He slowly rose his arms up, with pressure. And the stump began to grow.

Vernon looked on in silent pride, but he didn't want to say anything. He was doing so well already. No matter how big he made this tree grow, he was already a prodigy.

The stump slowly grew in height, to about the size of a young kid, before it stopped. Bark paused. He was already getting tired. The stump was thick and stubborn. He was restoring years of growth in one motion. But he had to keep going. He angled his arms out from his chest, forming the image of two branches. Usually, you didn't need to be so deliberate with your motions, but for a strong old tree and a want to please, it was necessary.

The stump began to split off into two directions forming the main two branches. They grew about a foot before Bark collapsed. He bent over on his knees and started panting. Vernon was still impressed. That is the farthest a warden in training has ever grown a stump. It wasn't a complex task, but it was exhausting.

Bark said in between breaths, "How... was... that?"

"Incredible. You'll make a fine Warden some day."

Bark never thought he would hear those words from his Uncle. Ever. Still, that excited demeanor, the rushing out of the house, the... being incredibly verbal. Actually talking. Was he upset about something? Maybe he was anxious? All Bark knew was that if something was troubling Vernon this much, it must be a big deal.

--

His eyes hadn't opened yet, but he could smell it. Smoke and ash and coal. One moment to process these senses and then the eyes shot open.

The burrow was hazy. A figure rippled in the smoke as it inched closer to him. It seemed urgent and jittery. And it was wearing a scarf.

"We have to go! Now!"

Bunbo jolted awake and found himself in a much calmer scenario. He was cozy in his trash-sleeping-bag and beneath the shade of two large trees. His mind was frozen in this transition for a moment before he shook it off and got up.

"I better... I better shake that off. Let's get going!"

The grove was just about waking up. Villagers started to leave their tree huts and burrows as they began their new day. They started it off by taking a walk, having a drink, meeting a friend. But Bunbo always started his days with a run.

He shook out of his trash bag and leaned down onto the dirt. Hands splayed to his sides and eyes set on the horizon, it was time for a good old-fashioned hop through the woods. As per usual.

The awakening villagers paid no attention to Bunbo as he rocketed out of the grove in only a second. He was quickly gaining his consciousness as he flew through the morning air. Dodging boulders and tree trunks with split second decisions sharpened his mind and got him out of that dream - or nightmare - he was having earlier. The ground thudded rhythmically everytime he landed - thump, thump, thump. Each hop gave him some air time through which his feather-shaped ears glided.

"This is the life!"

This was Bunbo's life. Get up. Run. Sleep. Repeat. And he had no problem with it. No rules, no occupation, no trauma, just the horizon and a flying scarf.

He kept hopping and hopping as he came out into a clearing. It had large, steep, rolling hills that stretched for a football field in front of him. These steep hills were a favorite of his; at Bunbo's speeds, they weren't hills. They were launchpads.

"Alright, let's do this!"

Hopping faster and faster, he came to the base of a hill, suddenly rolling into a ball and sending himself flying upwards, using the hill as a ramp. He flew several yards into the air as his ears flopped in the wind. He let out a joyful yell as he soared upward. Reaching his apex, he took a look at the world below him. An expansive, free forest. Home. He breathed in happily. And then he looked further. A dirt road. A shack. An apartment. A shopping center. A parking lot. A highway. A traffic jam. The ground.

Wait, the ground?!

Bunbo face planted into the mud. Usually, he would land more elegantly when performing a stunt like this. A slide, a roll, something that would stop him from eating dirt. He pulled his face out of the earth and got up off the ground.

The sights of the developing world were unnerving. It felt like the forest got smaller and smaller everyday. Humans came closer and closer. And sometimes they came too close. Way too close.

But he got up and kept running.

--

Nobble was leisurely walking through the dawn woods. Morning dew coated her feet and birds sang all around her. She was tired. Well, she had gotten sleep. But mentally? The last day had been exhausting. Beaten by a rabbit over a stupid scarf. Why was that so important to him, anyway? Her reputation was scarred. But that's okay. Time to get out of this forest, this town, this country. She had things to steal, debts to pay, debts to give. And, mostly importantly... a newfound power to train. But then she heard a rhythmic thudding down the path.

Thump. Thump. Thump. It was distant. Nobble turned towards the source. She saw nothing so far, but kept looking. Thump. Thump. Thump. It's getting louder, closer. Thump. Thump. Thump.

It was him. That rabbit with a scarf again, of all places. He was coming in hot! Nobble scampered up into a tree and hid. Cowering from a rabbit; she still couldn't get over it. But something about him was different. Powerful.

The rabbit sped past in a flash. Nobble had only just avoided his line of sight. At least, she thought that for a moment, before he came hopping back down the path. He stared up into the trees and found her.

"Nobble, you no good thief! How'd you get outta jail?"

She was frozen in fear.

"Whatever, I'm comin' back up there for you!"

Snap out of it, Nobs!

She regained her composure just as the rabbit hopped up - almost twelve feet in the air - and swung his hand out, hoping to grab her. But she was in her element. She scampered higher up.

"No way I'm spending another night in a cell at some forest shanty town in the middle of nowhere! I deserve better than such dainty furnishings."

"Getting cocky again, eh? Need I remind you what happened last time?"

"Not at all. The difference now is that I know not to engage the rodent ruffian below me."

"The name's Bunbo!" he yelled, offended.

"Bungo, whatever."

Bunbo kept hopping up, reaching out an arm, always missing. Nobble would simply climb higher or climb away.

"Anyways, Bunbie, it's been fun. But a girl's got more important things to do than serve as a cat toy to a little bunny. Enjoy keeping that tattered old scarf of yours."

Nobble started to walk away through the tree branches, balancing on them without the slightest waver or tremble.

"Hey! Come back here, thief!" Bunbo growled.

Bunbo tried and failed to climb into the trees. Unlike Nobble, he lacked sharp enough claws and dexterous enough limbs to scurry up the trees. He would get a few feet off the ground and then slide back down as if the trees were made of ice. Nobble calmly walked away, her back towards him, confident that she was getting away. She wasn't even making a run for it. Bunbo kept struggling but eventually changed his plans.

"I'll get you, you bandit..." Bunbo muttered.

He backed up and bent down, angling himself like the bolt on a ballista. He locked himself onto Nobble, who was almost out of sight behind all the leaves and branches. He bent his ankles back and then released, sending him skyrocketing towards her like a missile. He narrowly skimmed through branches and leaves as he closed in on his target. Nobble turned around and only saw the living project just as he hit her, sending them both tumbling down to the forest floor. They hit branches and twigs and leaves, making cracks and splitting wood as they did. Then, they hit the dirt.

Bunbo got to his feet at the same time Nobble did. They faced each other as twigs and leaves fell to the ground around them. Bunbo wiped his brow.

"Ready for round 2?" Bunbo egged on.

Nobble froze in a battle stance for a moment. Her claws drawn, her face contorted in anger, her tail sticking up in an intimidating pose. She said nothing.

Then she ran.

But Bunbo was faster. Before she could reach another tree trunk, Bunbo caught her by her big, bushy tail and dragged her back.

"Back to the slammer, rogue."

"No!"

Nobble twisted and slashed, her claws whiffing the air. But that wasn't the point. A nearby sapling slapped Bunbo in the face, distracting him. Nobble channeled.

"What?! You too?!"

Nobble ran again, but being a new channeler, even a small feat like that overwhelmed her. She collapsed on the dirt path.

--

It was nearing noon, and Bark and Vernon had finally returned from their excursion. Bark was exhausted. Channeling test after channeling test, boring lecture after boring lecture. The occasional snack on some wild berries. Still, he persisted. He was going to be a Warden, no matter how hard it was.

Bunbo hopped into the village again with Nobble dragging loosely behind him. Her arms were crossed and her eyes were closed. She had just given up at this point. Bark saw them and ran over in a flash.

"Nobble got out?!" Bark exclaimed.

"Sure did. No problem, though. I got her back."

"Well, nice job, sheriff! Let's get her back to the cell."

"...You know, she can channel now, right?" Bunbo said with concern.

Nobble interrupted, "I can, yes. News to me too."

Bark was surprised. "Huh. Uh, okay..."

As Bunbo and Bark were once again dragging Nobble back to her cell, they spotted Vernon in the center of the village, gathering Wardens in training. In this neck of the woods, the only fully fledged wardens were Ivy, Terron, and of course, Vernon. He was talking to a group of them. They were mostly made up of female deer, three of them being a doe, and a fox and an otter composing the last two. Vernon was lining them up and giving them a speech, as if he was a drill sergeant. The trainees looked uncomfortable, off put. Ivy was nearby with Flower, watching over her and keeping an ear on Vernon's speech.

"What's Vernon doing, Bark? I never heard him talk that much." Bunbo questioned.

"I'm not sure. Looks like he's got a bunch of trainees gathered on up. I should be over there. Let's head over for a sec."

The three of them, two walking, one dragging, approached Vernon from behind. Vernon stopped mid sentence to look at them, a look of confusion and shock on his face.

"What are you two doing? Why are you dragging around the thief? Did she escape?" Vernon urgently asked.

Bunbo answered, "She did. I got her back, don't worry. We're gonna be extra secure this time."

Bark asked, "So, what's going on, Uncle?"

Vernon looked back at his trainees. Some were uncomfortably shifting around. Others weren't paying attention at all. He sighed and turned back towards the trio. Ivy came towards them and explained for Vernon, who was obviously quite overwhelmed.

"Kids, we oughta be transparent with you now. The word was gonna get out eventually. Basically...," she paused in hesitation, "...we think that Gaia is going to be seriously threatened soon. And we are gathering our best to search for the Guardians. And to prepare for whatever danger may come."

Bark had a grim look on his face. He knew that one day, he might have to live through an event like this. Human activity had gotten extremely busy recently. Pollution was seeping into the woods at accelerated rates. And it seemed like every day, the forest got a bit smaller.

Bunbo was slightly concerned, but overall too ignorant to understand the peril. What could possibly be going wrong? Everything seemed fine to him. He still paid close attention.

Nobble raised an eyebrow and listened, but did not seem too caught up in it. She could adapt.

Terron arrived shortly and waltzed into the conversation. He saw the trainees gathered and a frantic Vernon. He looked displeased.

"Vernon, what is the meaning of all this commotion?"

Vernon snapped, "What do you mean 'what is the meaning'? The meaning is that Gaia could be seriously threatened any moment now, and I've got to organize some sort of plan here to find the Guardians, alert the masters, and train these students into something formidable. I don't know how long we have. This has to be done now."

"So, how good are your students?" Terron asked, calmly, ignoring Vernon's attitude.

Vernon turned towards the group of five. The deer were talking amongst themselves. The fox chose to sleep standing up. And the otter was picking his nose.

"They need some work. Ugh, forget it. I can't send them out. They are nowhere near ready." Vernon frowned.

"But you are not out of options, dear friend." Terron advised.

"Who, then? You? Terron, forgive me, I do not mean to insult your prowess, but you aren't the fastest-"

Terron cut him off, "No. Not me."

"Who, me? Ivy? We can't leave. We have to be here. See? Out of options."

Vernon was almost childlike now. The anxiety had gotten to him this badly. The once stalwart, quiet buck was now scrambling, spitting out words rapid fire.

"Out of options? Look behind you." Terron affirmed.

Vernon turned towards the trio, who were watching the exchange awkwardly. He turned back towards Terron with confusion.

Terron assured, "Look. Two, young, spry kids, who saved this village only yesterday. One a powerful channeler, the other fast as a speeding arrow."

Bunbo and Bark's faces lit up. Ivy was shocked. Flower wasn't paying attention. Except to Bunbo. And the trainees clocked out five minutes ago.

Vernon denied, "You can't possibly mean you want me to send these two on a quest across the world. Sure, they might be able to hold their own, but they have no idea where they're going. The human world is dangerous, Terron."

Nobble jolted up off the ground. She stepped forward, cowardly, to Vernon.

"If I may speak..."

Vernon's face contorted. But he didn't stop her.

"I've been around the world. Many times. And even if I don't know where I'm going, I know how to find out. Through my travels I've learnt about human technology, their transportation, their security. I know how to navigate it. I can guide your heroes on their quest."

Vernon waited, expecting something.

Ivy chimed in, "And the price, Nobble?"

"...Right. My price is freedom. A permanent pardon from my wrongdoings that I have done in this area."

Ivy predicted, "And when you get out of this village, you'll run off and never be seen again, leaving our boys alone?"

"What do you take me for, a lying cheat?"

Everyone present paused and stared at her.

"Okay, I am. But I have things to do, places to be. And if I have these gentlemen as my hired muscle, it makes it much easier for me to run these errands. Please, I beg you."

A golden opportunity had presented itself to Nobble. She wasn't lying, although the begging was a bit of an act. Using these two buffoons, she could travel unharmed to major communities around the world, and run her roguish errands. Maybe she could even get dropped off at the Jungle Heist. She would uphold her part of the deal. Not much like her, but this time she would. Anything to get that rabbit off her back.

Vernon and Ivy looked at eachother. They whispered, then sighed in unison.

"Alright," Vernon conceded, "You will travel alongside the boys and guide them correctly. If at any point you betray your responsibility, the deal is off."

Nobble smiled.

"And I promise you. If you so much as lay a finger on them, or betray them or this deal, I will make it my personal mission to hunt you down and make sure you never see the light of day again."

Nobble gulped.

Bunbo gleamed, "So that's it? We're going on an adventure? Yay! To where? What are we gonna do? Are we gonna fight monsters? Slay dragons? Rescue princesses?"

Bark smiled from ear to ear and fist pumped the air. Nobble played it cool and leaned against the Virida tree.

Vernon stepped forward and assumed a sturdy stance. Ivy lined up behind him, as did Terron. Flower finally paid attention.

"You three are tasked primarily with finding the Gaia Guardians. You will travel to Gaia hotspots around the world, alerting the masters of the incoming doom, and urging them to sift through their citizens for potential guardians. You will-"

Terron cut him off.

"Vernon. I have been telling you. You need not look far for the Guardians."

Bunbo hopped around excitedly, doing laps around the village, filled with boundless energy.

"Adventure! Adventure!"

Bark flexed, pride pouring out from his soul.

"Where we're going, we'll need some muscle!"

Nobble stood leaning against the Virida tree, sharpening her claws.

"Don't worry, old man. I know what I'm doing."

Terron smiled. Vernon looked at him with confusion.

"Vernon..."

Vernon looked back at the trio. Nobble had reappeared in front of the two old Wardens, waiting intently for instruction. Bark was still caught up in flexing. Bunbo was darting around the village. Vernon looked back at Terron, then at the trio. Back at Terron, then at the trio.

Ivy gasped and covered her mouth with her hand. Vernon's eyes widened extremely. He stood, with mouth agape, staring at the three. It was them.

Terron's finger drifted towards Nobble. She saw it come towards her. It clicked in her mind quickly.

Nobble had read the prophecies, on stolen scrolls, believing them to be fairy tales. Was this really happening? Her mouth drifted open and her brow furrowed in confusion and awe.

"Blessings to you, Guardian. Blessings to the Sage. Lead your party with wisdom and knowledge."

So, was there more to her than just a thief?

Bark stopped flexing. He heard the news about Nobble. He started to predict what was coming next, and shifted towards Terron, a zombified look on his face.

Terron's finger drifted towards Bark.

"Blessings to you, Guardian. Blessings to the Protector. Protect your party as fiercely as you protect Gaia."

Bark clutched his chest and fell to his knees. He stared up at his Uncle and Aunt, who were nearly crying. Flower was staring at him, confused, but aware that something very important was happening. Bark was nothing, and now he was something.

Bunbo saw his two frozen contemporaries seated in front of Terron. By now, the entire village was watching this ceremony occur. They looked at Nobble and Bark, then slowly, all eyes drifted towards Bunbo.

He hopped over slowly.

"Hey, guys. What's up? Why so serious?"

They were silent. And Terron's finger lifted. Terron trembled slightly, and drew a small tear.

"Great blessings to you, Avatar. Great blessings."

Terron kneeled. He waited for this moment his entire life.

"Blessings to the spirit of nature."

Bunbo was utterly shocked. A nobody in this world, this town, this forest. And now he was the most important being alive.

"Blessings to the Guardians of Gaia."

The Virida tree behind them glowed intensely as hundreds of Gaia orbs manifested themselves. They swarmed the trio quickly and surrounded them. Nobble, Bark, and Bunbo exchanged looks of happiness, confusion, and anxiousness. They were lifted into the air by the energy. The whole forest came alive. Wind blew vigorously through the leaves and birds broke out in song across the canopy. Flowers bloomed. Grass carpeted the ground.

Terron finally shed his tears, just for a moment, and leaned on his cane. Ivy was practically sobbing. Vernon had a smile glued to his face. Flower was laughing in joy at the lights flying through the sky in front of her.

The village collectively bowed. On a massive blue planet, on a titanic drifting continent, in a powerful nation, near a bustling city, inside a fragmented forest, down a dainty dirt path, in a small, rustic village, under a magical Virida tree, the three Gaia Guardians were revealed.

Nobble, the Sage. Bark, the Protector. And Bunbo, the Avatar.

CHAPTER 13

Spoiler

Chapter 13 - Order of the Basilisk

The three fell to the ground after a moment, unceremoniously. Nobble landed gracefully. Bark fell on his back and hit his head. Bunbo face planted into the mud, not the first time today. The onlookers snapped up from their reverent kneeling and awaited the trio's next move. They were in the presence of the most powerful beings on Earth. What were they going to do next? Perform a moving speech? Command an order? Perhaps a display of power?

"I think I just accidentally ate a worm," Bunbo groaned.

The crowd was confused.

Bunbo offered a hand to Bark, as Nobble helped to push the large buck back onto the ground. They exchanged pleasantries and dusted themselves off. Then they noticed the dozens of staring eyes. Terron was stunned by the lack of response. He chose to act quickly.

"Behold, the Guardians of Gaia!" Terron rushed out.

The crowd erupted into cheer and ran to the three. They hoisted them up onto their shoulders and paraded them around the village. Jubilation filled the air. Except for a couple of concerned parents.

"Are we sure it's them?" Ivy questioned.

"The tree chose them," Vernon grumbled.

The parade continued. Bunbo, Bark, and Nobble were dazed. Was this a dream? Everything was happening so fast. You don't exactly process being chosen as one of the most important living things ever in just a spare few seconds. Big changes were on the horizon, but they had barely lifted their heads to see it.

Finally the rejoicing calmed enough for the three to be let back onto the ground. Nobble was especially shocked.

"One moment I'm the world's most notorious thief, another the world's savior. They don't prepare you for these things, do they boys?"

Bark and Bunbo barely heard her. Their heads were not as level and needed a spare moment to catch up. In the meantime, Bark's family, with Terron in tow, came to them. The villagers had backed off for now, just staring and pointing from afar, conversing with their friends and family.

"Greetings, new Guardians," Terron said with reverence, still misty eyed.

"We're the Guardians," Bunbo doubted "You sure about that, old man?"

"Well, the Virida tree sure believed so."

"But, I can't even channel. Bark can, and apparently now Nobble can,"

Vernon's face was lit with disbelief at that last statement.

"But not me. Heck, I didn't even know it existed until yesterday! There must be a mistake."

"Little rabbit, it was no mistake. In time, your power will reveal itself. I sense there is something holding you back. Something choking you," Terron mused.

"Thanks, but the scarf is kinda loose on me, actually."

"Hmm. Not really."

Bunbo pulled at his scarf and confirmed his beliefs. Pretty loose. What was this old man talking about? He wasn't wearing the scarf, how does he know? More important than the scarf, does he know for sure that they were the Guardians? And that he was the most vital role; the Avatar? It all seemed too good to be true. There had to be some sort of mistake. Bunbo was a dirty old rabbit who kept to himself in his own neck of the woods. Why him?

That little sister of Bark's was staring up at him and twirling from side to side. Oh great, day one on the hero job and he already had a fangirl. He quickly moved his gaze away.

Ivy ran to Bark and embraced him tightly.

"Oh, Bark! I'm so proud! I knew there was something special about you! Oh, honey..."

She continued on with her maternal gushing, kissing him on the cheek over and over, squeezing the breath out of his lungs.

"Okay, okay, mom. I get it. Okay."

Bark still needed time to process what had happened. He looked at Vernon, who was staring at him with earnest eyes and a genuine smile. He nodded towards him, and Bark returned the favor. It took being the literal chosen one, but it seemed he finally got Vernon's approval. But he had to get it together for just a second. He had to find out just what he needed to do from here. The Protector. What exactly does this mean? Why him? What trials awaited him?

Nobble was off to the side, contemplating to herself. No one was there to congratulate her. Her parade ride had been bumpy. The ones lifting her didn't seem too excited about it. The crowd around them presently pointed and stared with dumb smiles at the rabbit and especially the deer. But to her, she received looks of concern and anxious whispers. The Sage. Surely that couldn't be her. She wasn't made of hero stuff. She wasn't the type to face evil head on. Usually, she was the evil. She knew that much, although she downplayed it. Wait, speaking of...

"So, we're the Guardians now. And from what I remember, the Guardians are only called when trouble arises. Stuff that threatens to destroy nature on a large scale."

Terron turned to meet her.

"Correct, raccoon."

"...So what's the threat?"

Suddenly, the trees began to whip back and forth in an intense gale of wind, as they did earlier. But this time, it wasn't because of the immense natural energy revealing the Guardians. A mechanical whirring quickly faded into the soundscape, intensifying as a large silhouette appeared in front of the sun. The village was alerted and turned towards the object. It began to descend into the village airspace, ducking out of the sunlight, revealing itself. It was a large droneship, almost jet black in color, formed like a long serpentine. Two pairs of rotors attached themselves to the sides and thrusters bursting with purple flames adorned the backside. The front of the ship was reminiscent of a snake's head.

The ship lowered slowly down until it stopped midair and turned to its side, revealing its doors and a large cannon. The once deafening sound of whirring blades and blazing thrusters faded out. The alien vehicle hovered idly for a few moments.

"What the heck is going on?" Bunbo hopped forward, as Bark followed.

"I don't know, but it sure doesn't look welcoming."

Nobble followed at a distance.

"I just had to ask, didn't I?"

Vernon and Ivy stood at a distance. Vernon stood in front of Flower. Terron had a look of contempt at the droneship.

"Terron, what's going on?" Ivy asked in desperation.

"I do not know."

"This thing looks like human crafting." Vernon observed.

The ship still hovered idly, quietly. The air was still. A child ran out from the crowd with a stick, ready to poke the unidentified object, before he was pulled back by his mother.

The side door shot open with the noise of a hiss. The village jumped back in shock. Bark stepped in front of Nobble and Bunbo and moved his arm back in a defensive stance. Fog poured out of the door. A figure appeared in the haze as a metal plank extended from the ship, forming a small platform. Still, the ship was extremely large compared to the size of the animals. It took up a large portion of the village airspace.

"Someone likes their theatrics," Nobble observed.

The figure in the haze began to step forward. Each step produced a metal clang and a sense of dread. Soon it reached the metal plank and could be concealed no longer.

A slender, lean, light brown greyhound revealed himself. The clanging sounds were being produced by a pair of clawed, metal boots. He wore all black, tight-fitting clothes, made of luxurious cotton. His sleeves were long and his collar as well, reaching halfway up his neck. He had a stern and proud look on his long, fierce face, covered in marks, scratches, and scars. If not for the affluent outfit, he would fit in just fine with the crowd. Jagged canines protruded from his lip. His stony gaze focused on no one in particular, but shocked those who dared to look directly back. His arms were folded behind his back as he took steps forward. At one point on his leisurely walk, his head snapped to the side, causing the village to jerk back instinctively. The Jagbug corpse, off to the side, caught his attention. His eyes widened slightly, but he recomposed himself. His robotic gait suddenly finished as he reached the end of the plank. The silence was loud.

Another creature stepped out beside him, each step they took slightly rumbling the ship. A burly lizard revealed herself. Her reptilian exterior was chilling enough, but more so intimidating was the row of spikes adorning her head and back and the metal plate around her right eye, and even more so intimidating; a huge spiky tail, adorned with rows of thorns, resembling a pinecone, dragged behind her. It was bordered at the base by a large metal ring. She stood off to the side and behind the greyhound and smirked at him.

By now, the crowd began to murmur amongst itself. The Guardian trio stared quietly in front of them all. The greyhound stranger flicked a nod at his reptilian follower, who acted quickly. The lizard lifted her tail. The metal border around the base of her tail glowed slightly, as did the metal around her eye. The rows of thorns quickly shaped into a sphere, which itself was covered in stud-like protrusions, forming the shape of a blunt mace. She slammed it down onto the metal plank, rocking the ship slightly, yet neither of the two creatures onboard lost balance. The slam caused a loud metallic ping which quickly recaptured the attention and silence of the crowd. Some gasped. Others looked worried. The Guardian trio and the Wardens behind them looked stern. The greyhound lifted his arms from behind his back, revealing his hands covered in ornate metal gauntlets, and reached to the sky.

"Creatures of Blossom's Grove! It is with great pleasure that I visit your... humble... village. I am Basik Ordemo, leader of the Order of the Basilisk. And I have something important to ask of all of you."

The lizard behind him snorted, puffing air out her nostrils. Ivy looked at Vernon in disbelief. Bunbo stepped up.

"And what's that, tin can?"

The greyhound, Basik, twitched slightly and drew his gaze down to the feeble forest creature. He was annoyed, but drew his feelings back.

"I come to all of you in your time of great need. Look at this place. It may be homely, but it is filled with turmoil. You people struggle to find food and security as you fail to adapt quickly to the incoming new world. Look around you. The forest is closing in on you. The roads tear paths through the trees. Trash pours in like a tidal wave. So much potential in all of you, wasted, as you sit in this future graveyard. I feel for you, I do. I know what it's like to struggle to survive."

A large opossum, ever the gourmand, snacked away on a large stash of berries, uncaring to the speech. Basik noticed, was troubled, but continued on.

"...But it doesn't have to be this way. You do not have to fight a losing battle. To watch your home crumble around you. The truth is, the humans will never stop until the forest is gone. They always want more. And when the time comes when you have nowhere to go, they won't accept you. They won't open their arms to you. They will turn the other cheek, as they have done to many forests like yours around the globe. So, why sit here? Why bother wasting away? Why surrender yourself to the chaotic hands of nature? The elements, the shortage of resources, the increasing spread of humans... Living under these pressures is not an ideal situation for any living thing."

Vernon was getting annoyed with the dog. Causing a commotion, plopping his giant ship in the middle of his village. Insulting, patronizing, mocking their way of life, all while speaking in unnecessary theatrics. He pushed through the crowd and past the Guardians.

"Get on with it." Vernon demanded with a stalwart voice.

"I mean not to waste your time. Yes, what I mean to ask is... well, maybe not so much ask, rather than offer... Offer a new home. A home where humans and animals alike can live and breathe the same air. There is no uncertainty, no chaos, no threat of human development. A city, far from here, where your potential can be unleashed. Food, shelter, security, and most importantly, happiness, all promised to those who stay. I call it the city of New Order."

The crowd began to murmur to itself. The word city troubled them slightly, and many small conversations questioned the establishment. How could they live in a city? The villagers seemed unsure and reluctant, although that did not in any way influence Vernon's next decision.

"Blossom's Grove is closed. You will have to find immigrants somewhere else. Don't make this hard on yourself, look what we've done to your Jagbugs."

The bravery exhibited by the old buck caught Basik's attention. A male deer, brave and defensive, claiming responsibility for the destruction of his Megasect...

"I see you've given the Megasects a common name; and assumed my role in owning them... I implore you to reconsider. Look around. Life dwindles from the forest each day. The humans will not stop their advance, I promise you." Basik said with sincerity.

"As long as the Virida trees are standing, our forest will hold. I am confident."

The village had Vernon's back; for now.

"You'll pay for the Jagbug landing!"

"Vernon, get him!"

"You better watch it, stranger!"

Basik's face gained a hint of anger and impatience.

"Perhaps you need more convincing. I'm sorry it had to come to this."

The lizard snarled happily. Basik raised a hand outward, still wearing a gauntlet. The cannon on the side of the ship mirrored his movement as his gauntlet glowed slightly. He outstretched his arm towards Vernon. The cannon followed.

The village collectively gasped and backed up.

"Hey! Let's calm down here, fellas," Bunbo urged.

"Dad, don't get on this guy's nerves," Bark begged.

Vernon didn't listen to the pleas. He assumed a sturdy stance in front of the Virida tree and positioned his arms down towards the ground. Basik tilted his head to the side.

"You seem adamant. I again apologize for how things turned out today. But I suppose I should have never lied about this being an offer."

"Leave. Now."

Vernon raised his arms up quickly and channeled large, thick roots from the ground, which smacked the ship upwards and caused the lizard and the greyhound to lose balance. The ship took a moment to stabilize.

"You've made your decision, deer."

Ivy yelled, "Vernon, no!"

Basik clutched his hand closed and the cannon fired. A glowing grey beam shot out of the cannon, enveloping Vernon and the trunk of the Virida tree. The beam faded. Vernon was left as a concrete statue, and the base of the Virida tree behind him was turned to stone as well. Basik lowered his hand and appeared disappointed. The cannon lowered and powered down.

"Vernon!" Ivy cried out.

"Dad!" Bark and Flower yelled collectively.

The village again gasped in unison and ran over to the petrified Vernon. It was lifelike in detail. His eyes still open, his brow still furrowed, his stance still sturdy. But he wasn't moving. He had been turned to stone, to concrete. As for the Virida tree, only the trunk and roots had been hit. But the leaves on top had already started to lose their luster. Gaia orbs manifested themselves in a panic but quickly faded out again.

Terron was stupefied. This was the danger the Guardians had to face. And they were not ready for it.

Flower knelt down and started to sob. Ivy knelt down beside her and wept quietly. Bark's jaw was wide and his expression somber. Bunbo followed close behind with a saddened expression. Nobble stood off to the side, her eyes wide with awe at the power of the weapon.

Vernon was petrified trying to protect the Virida tree. But his channeling was simply not powerful enough. He had been frozen in stone. The village crowded the statue. Some were saddened, some were bewildered, all were fearful.

Basik spoke to his contemporary.

"I feel for them. But he was too brave, too careless in the face of certain destruction; although, I admire his courage. Please, gain their attention again, Arma."

The lizard slammed her tail again in a mace formation and the village snapped towards her in fear.

"I express regret at the situation that unfolded here today. But his concrete sculpture should serve as a warning to you all. He serves as a metaphor for your way of life, and how it will suffer and die in the future. Look as your Virida tree already fades with life; need I convince you more? I will return here in a week's time with available transport to the city of New Order. Those who refuse will suffer a similar fate. The others, who accept the offer, will live peacefully in the city, guaranteed a home. I bid farewell to you, creatures of the forest."

Arma, the lizard, snorted to the air again, and turned back towards the doors of the droneship. Basik walked backwards robotically, his boots clacking the metal beneath. They retreated into the doors and they shut quickly. The thrusters powered up and the rotors began to whir quickly. The sound of the drone ship started to deafen the village as it began to take off.

In a fit of rage, Bark rushed forward and channeled a tree branch to hit the ship. He succeeded, causing the ship to tilt to the side slightly, and sparks to fly off of the metal. But the ship continued on, flying away into the sky, disappearing from view.

Inside the ship, Basik and Arma felt the collision, but steadied themselves and ignored it.

"Basik, what was that? Another guardian?"

"No. Unlikely that they have all already met."

"There are still two out there."

"Yes, Arma. But now that one has fallen, the rest are already disadvantaged. They are fighting a losing battle."

"Agreed, sir. Let's find the rest."

 

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Alright, read up to Chapter 5. I like how the action scenes are written, not overly detailed, though the one in Chapter 5 is just a tad bit too long. I do like the new characters, Ivy, Vernon, and Bark's sister/cousin, though the situation over whether his parents are dead or he just doesn't know them is a little unclear at first. Other than that I think these chapters give solid character development and I especially like the inner conflict that Bark has and how he feels like he has to live up to something, but more for the sake of tradition rather than his own personal goals. This also fleshed out Bark and Bunbo's friendship (though Bunbo is obviously not the focus of these few chapters) and I think the setting could be interesting as it goes on. I also hope that Bark's more inventive nature gets something more as the story goes on. All in all these were pretty coo,, I'll get to the rest of the chapters when I get the chance!

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27 minutes ago, Mr. Ion said:

Alright, read up to Chapter 5.

I had a feeling this one was a bit long. And I had no idea that one part was unclear! Just incase you didn't get the answer, Bark's parents are dead. I guess I was a bit afraid to drop the d or k word, if you know what I mean.

I do feel that Bunbo loses focus as a main character here and, honestly, for some time during the story leading up to some recent chapters I wrote. Thats a mistake Ive made which hopefully wont cost me too much. I kinda just honed in on what characters would be reacting extremely to the situation they are in. At your point in the story its pretty much fine, but I can tell I dropped the ball a bit later on. I would love to hear how you view this when you get to chapters like, 14-20.

Bark's inventive nature will definitely get a chance to shine, without spoiling too too much.

I'll add these to a big box of "NEED TA FIX" and get to it at some point. Thanks for the feedback!

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Dr. Mechano

I'm back! And this time, I've read through chapter 2.

I really enjoyed meeting Bark's family. Seeing his friendship with Bunbo develop more was also really nice.

I think the strongest part of this story so far is the dialogue between the two main characters. The banter's really fun, and it flows super well. Definitely looking forward to chapter 3, which I hope to get to soon.

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13 hours ago, Dr. Mechano said:

I'm back! And this time, I've read through chapter 2.

I really enjoyed meeting Bark's family. Seeing his friendship with Bunbo develop more was also really nice.

I think the strongest part of this story so far is the dialogue between the two main characters. The banter's really fun, and it flows super well. Definitely looking forward to chapter 3, which I hope to get to soon.

Thank you! Hope you keep enjoying!

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  • 2 weeks later...
Dr. Mechano

Read chapter 3!

I really enjoyed meeting Ivy and Vernon, and I really enjoyed the character buildup of learning more about Bark's dreams of becoming a warden.

The little moment where he's describing wardens and goes "We... they" is simple, but it's a nice indicator that he already strongly associates being a warden with his identity.

Like, this is just good stuff to establish early on. Clear goals, and the reasons why your characters want those goals. And I think you did it naturally through conversation without it feeling too much like a big exposition dump. Great way to organically explain how things in this world work and flesh out one of the main characters at once.

Really enjoying it so far, and will read more soon!

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7 hours ago, Dr. Mechano said:

Like, this is just good stuff to establish early on. Clear goals, and the reasons why your characters want those goals. And I think you did it naturally through conversation without it feeling too much like a big exposition dump. Great way to organically explain how things in this world work and flesh out one of the main characters at once.

 

Thanks!! I guess I gotta give myself some credit for these earlier chapters I guess, I never held them in high regard. Hopefully I can keep it up as I continue writing (even though I'm at like Chapter 23 or something at this point)

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NOT a chapter update right now (though, again, I am much farther ahead than this topic is, check wattpad if you speed ahead) but I wanted to keep the topic alive by posting this!

This is perhaps just as hard as posting the story itself was; but I can do it again. The Guardians of Gaia was never entirely a world that existed in writing. I've been drawing Bunbo for probably over a year now. I have the original drawings somewhere with dates (because I had a hunch I was about to do something big) but I can't locate them at the moment. Here is one of the most recent iterations of him:

1975217904_Bunbo-min(1)(1)(1).thumb.png.83ffea15940bb1d0dc83d5b69a3dcf48.png

Obligatory "I'm no artist" moment. But I do find it really fun. I know its not very good, but I'd figure it would be neat show you guys what my image of the characters is (I've drawn almost every single one of them at least once), plus some character notes. (The white squares are notes that you shouldn't be seeing just yet)

I took notes from Scorbunny, Sonic, and even Spongebob as I developed this design. Some things are still quite nebulous, like the shape of his hair spikey things and his feet and hands - but overall I think I've reach a nice endpoint in the design. Because I'm not very clean, proportions and some shapes are also ever-changing. 

Hope that was kinda cool!

Also as a side note: I think I'm a bit more ready to be accepting heavier criticism at this point. It was just something I needed to ease in to.

 

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HEY FOLKS! So I wanted to do another chapter update to bump the topic, but I felt like it was kinda cheap to just throw chapters here that already exist. So, instead, I decided to try to include an art piece with each chapter update!

Here's a scene from Chapter 1:

The buck leaned down slightly, then daringly leaped forward right into the beast's area of attack. Narrowly dodging the scythes, he landed a blow with his right hoof right in the middle of the insect's eyes, sending it flying back into the trees. Bunbo looked on in amazement.

Chapter 1, Bark appears

Spoiler

Chapter1compressed.thumb.jpg.387ca17964b2de300c2fe575d3c038e0.jpg

 

This is your first look at the Jagbugs and also Bark! And also the Virida tree, I suppose. This actually features a redesign of Bark, believe it or not. I decided to redesign Bark as I felt his design was getting a bit dated.

Bark's old look

Spoiler

140428801_oldbark-min.thumb.jpg.9210f9012f65bf0bf18a5003e0ab8899.jpg

 

I believe it's still a compelling design, but I took shape theory too literally here and made him far too boxy and simple, which oddly enough made it really hard for me to reproduce and turn in a 3D space. He was definitely the most frustrating character to draw, but now he is a heck of a lot more fun. You know what I kinda might regret, though? Simplifying the antlers. That may have been a bad call. We'll see!

EDIT: Aaaand even in the piece I forgot a new aspect of Bark's design. He has a couple stray hairs on his head that are missing in that. Oops, no big deal.

Anyways, here's the next two chapters!

CHAPTER 14

Spoiler

Chapter 14 - Guardian Bootcamp

Quick note: Chapters get much longer from here on!

Vernon's petrified body still stood there in front of the Virida tree. Behind him, half of the Virida tree's trunk was also petrified. The color of the surviving wood had already slightly faded, and the leaves lost a considerable luster. Gaia orbs still flickered in and out of existence, seeming panicked. The silence was as still as the concrete. Flower broke it.

"So... is Dad gone?"

"No, little one. I can sense he is still living. Not conscious, but there is still life flowing through him," Terron consoled.

But he was still frozen. Another silence followed. A melancholy plagued the population of Blossom's Grove. Ivy touched the statue lightly and bowed her head. Bunbo and Bark's heads were held low. Even Nobble, sworn enemies against the elder buck, expressed sadness. Villagers sulked away to their homes and shut the doors.

"So... what now?" Bunbo lamented.

"Guardians, your mission has begun. It may not be off to the most positive start. But this is what you have been called for. Basik will return in only a week. You must be prepared and out of the village before he does."

"Out of the village?", Bark exclaimed. "Basik's coming back, we have to be here! To protect the village!"

"Bark, he is hunting for the Guardians. I know it. Fortunately, yet unfortunately, he has mistaken Vernon for one of you. You have seen what his weaponry can do. You must leave, start your mission, and face him only when you are all ready."

"But the village; who's going to protect the village?"

"I will be here. No one here is going to that city so long as I remain standing."

"But I want to face Basik now. I want to stop him. I want to make him pay. Pay for Vernon, and for the Jagbugs..." Bark insisted.

Nobble noticed Bark's growing anger and decided to dispense her wisdom.

"Bark, cool it. You saw that cannon. You're angry, anxious, afraid. We all are. Just calm it down," Nobble argued.

"Yeah, man. We'll get him back. We'll get him good!" Bunbo encouraged.

"What do you know, raccoon?! You're just a no good thief. That city of his probably sounds great to you! You're only in this for the pardon. I guess it doesn't matter anymore, huh? Cus' Vernon's gone. Do any of you know how to unfreeze a concrete statue? Huh? No? Then this doesn't make any sense. That stupid raccoon isn't gonna come, Bunbo can't even channel, and I can barely do a thing on my own. So maybe we should all just quit!" Bark raged.

He stormed off towards his workshop.

"Hey, Bark! Buddy!" Bunbo called out, "Come on man, don't be like that!"

He was met with silence. Bunbo sighed. Obviously his uncle's recent demise has gotten to him, but maybe he was somewhat right. Firstly, part of their crew was a thief who had other motivations which were now made moot by Vernon being frozen. And he couldn't even channel; not that he knew of. Bark was the most capable and driven of them, and he can't even keep it together.

Nobble shifted awkwardly. But she hadn't left. Bunbo took note.

"Nobble, you're a part of this trio now. You still in?"

"I couldn't care less for the heroic deeds and all that jazz, rabbit. But I was still planning an expedition around this world, and you two would make a fine couple of body guards. Even with the old antlered guy gone, I can't imagine the uh..."

She paused and looked at Terron, who was staring her down sternly.

"That guy... would be happy if I abandoned you boys. I've seen what he can do," She said, as she averted her eyes from his.

"I guess your reasoning will have to do for now. Just don't go rummaging around in our stuff when we're out there."

"I promise nothing."

--

Hours later, Bark was toiling away in his workshop. He hammered and hammered, chopped and chopped. The sounds of hard work could be heard down the path, which Bunbo was hopping along, Nobble in tow.

"Bark, you in here buddy?"

Bunbo dragged the vine curtain open. Bark was at the far end of the workshop hovered over his work. He turned to notice them, drew a sad expression, and turned back towards the project.

"Antlers, you good?" Nobble poked.

Bark's ears dropped downwards in a saddened expression. He turned slowly towards his new partners.

"Yeah... I'm good. I'm sorry for all that back there, guys. I just-"

"Nah, it's all good, dude," Bunbo quelled, "What you workin' on?"

Bark turned back towards his project and rubbed the back of his head.

"It's uh, it's... something for the journey."

He revealed it to them; a rudimentary shield, shaped like an oval, formed out of wood and vines. Its centerpiece was a small rock covered in moss. Vines draped from the bottom.

"Woah! Check it out!" Bunbo exclaimed.

He ran up to Bark and inspected the shield closely, excitedly hopping from place to place, taking up every nook and cranny of the weapon. It was rustic, yet put together well. Stone bolts kept a few refined wooden planks together, which comprised the main body of the shield. Vines wrapped around the entire thing.

"Glad you like it. Yeah, I figured if I was to be protecting you guys all the time, as the Protector, I could make something like this for myself. In fact, I was thinking of making some other stuff for the occasion..."

"No thanks," Bunbo politely declined, "I fight with my feet."

"I don't suppose a 'no good thief' deserves your craftsmanship?" Nobble sighed.

Bark looked regretful.

"No, I wouldn't do that. Sure, you're a bit of a rogue, but we're in this together..." Bark trailed off as he rummaged through his cabinets.

He pulled out a tattered and worn piece of paper with scribbles covering it.

"I went through the liberty of drafting this for you, uh, figured it might suit you. You can give your input though."

The drawings revealed two bracers with three spikes coming out the ends of them. A small sketch in the corner of the paper showed an example of the spikes retracting. Bark pointed out various parts of the image and explained them. Nobble was staring intently.

"So, what do you think?"

"This looks... perfect," Nobble said without moving her eyes.

Bark smiled and handed the paper to her. She grasped it tightly with her mouth agape.

"Great! I didn't get started on those yet, but I'm just about done the shield, so stay tuned. Oh, and Bunbo, I figured you wouldn't want a weapon, but I did draw up a few concepts for smaller things like bracers and shin guards, stuff like that. We could all use those. I'll keep you posted."

"Sounds good dude! How about that, Nobble?"

Nobble didn't hear him, still obsessing over the blueprints. Before Bunbo could pester her again, a ruffling sound was heard from behind them. They turned to see Terron poking through the vine curtain. His long neck was the only thing coming through, the rest of his body still semi-hidden behind the vines. It was a humorous sight.

"Greetings, Guardians. I see you are preparing yourselves."

"That we are, Terron. Sorry about my explosion back there, by the way..." Bark apologized.

"You are forgiven. It is not easy to lose someone that close. But he is not lost forever. In time, we can save him. I do not know how, but we can. How are you handling this?"

Bark sighed, "Well, still not great, very anxious, but uh, the work helps," he explained as he rested his arm on a workbench.

"I see. I admire you are taking it upon yourself to prepare, but there are other things to worry about for the two smaller ones here."

Bunbo was slightly irked by being called small. But it was the truth. Bark was much taller than him and Nobble, and Terron was towering over them all.

"What do we gotta do? I can't build stuff like Bark can."

"I was planning a nap in the treetops," Nobble groaned.

Terron explained, "I worry not for Bark's channeling prowess, but the two of you have a long way to go. It's best to send you off with some experience. Come with me."

"Nope. A lady needs her beauty sleep. Oh, and nature calls..." Nobble said as she walked away.

"Nature does indeed call. For you to get up off your butt," Terron said with a surprising sass.

He smacked his cane towards the floor and summoned a thin tree trunk in front of the door just as Nobble was about to exit. She ran into the trunk and fell backwards towards the floor. She sighed, got up, and turned towards the turtle, with an expression that said 'alright, what do I need to do to get you off my back?'.

"You are still technically under arrest by the Wardens of the Forest, raccoon. You have not yet been pardoned. So, I'd suggest you do as I say. It will make this much easier, I promise."

Nobble fell to the floor again and sighed.

--

"The first thing you must know about channeling is that you are not simply controlling plants. You are connecting yourself with other living beings, and sharing your soul and intentions with it. Gaia is the spirit of nature itself. It is not just plants, animals, and the like. It is also the earth, the river, the sky. So, you must be in tune with your surroundings..."

Terron lectured the two mammals as they sat meditating on the bare ground. He had brought them to one of the more remote and quiet places of the forest, free from human noise and pollution. They had whacked through dense foliage and clambered up hillsides to get here. The first lesson Terron wanted to instruct was simply for the two to appreciate nature.

"Breathe in, but keep your eyes closed. Feel the grass beneath you. Imagine the forest around you. Think of the smallest beetle and the mightiest oak tree..."

Bunbo and Nobble sat with their legs crossed and their arms comfortably in their laps. They took a deep breath in unison. Nobble was enjoying the relaxation. Bunbo's lip twitched and his eyelids fluttered open on occasion. He fidgeted with his nostrils and readjusted his posture. For a moment, he was silent, but then loudly sighed, much to the annoyance of Nobble.

"Look, Terron, I don't think this is for me. I can barely sit still."

"You are having trouble focusing. Try again. Close your eyes."

He closed them and took a deep breath.

"Now, again. Start small, picture the grass beneath your feet. Remember that it is alive as much as you are..."

He nodded slightly.

"And now think of the worms beneath the soil, the beetles climbing on blades of grass..."

He made a slight disgusted face but kept his composure...

"And think of the-"

"Nope. I can't do it," Bunbo interrupted.

He got to his feet and began to stretch his legs. Nobble opened an eye and glared at him.

"I gotta go for a run, beat up a robot insect again, something like that," Bunbo protested, "Not sit around. I never sit around. Come on, you know me, turtle."

"As the Avatar, you are full of the energy of life. I know this. But you must learn to harness it."

"Alright, okay. One more try."

"Good..."

Bunbo sat back down and crossed his legs. Nobble found peace again and shut her opened eye closed. They were both silent, successfully meditating, breathing slowly and deliberately.

Bunbo blurted, "Yea. Nope. Not working."

He got up and darted off in a flash.

--

Terron had taken the two mammals to a small clearing and faced them in front of two separate flowers. The flowers had not yet fully bloomed, but were close; it was a perfect beginner lesson.

"Now that we have... somewhat... established the foundational part of channeling, we can begin our first real attempts at the practice," Terron taught. "Nobble, I hear you have already accomplished this?"

"Twice, by mere accidents. And I passed out both times, shamefully."

"Do not feel shame. No one starts out as a master. When I was young, I couldn't even channel until I was in my twenties! Of course, with my lifespan, that could be seen as quite young, but..."

"What do you mean by that?" Nobble asked.

"He's six hundred years old," Bunbo chimed in.

"You're quite the comedian, rabbit."

"No, he tells the truth. I'm older than electricity! And flushable toilets. And many other things."

Nobble was taken aback, but decided not to dwell on the subject any longer. She's seen a lot in her time. Sure, supercentenarian tortoise was not one of them, and not exactly expected, but not the most insane thing she's seen. Oh well.

"In any case, let us begin. First, establish your connection to your respective flower. Feel how it is teeming with life, anxious to bloom. We are going to help it."

Bunbo and Nobble outstretched their arms towards the flowers, palms facing upwards, breathing in deeply.

"Good. Now, think about what you want the flower to do. We want to make it bloom. It is easier to impose this will upon it by imitating the motions of nature."

"Like, make a blooming flower with our arms?" Bunbo said, almost breaking focus.

"That is a good start, yes. Now, gently, with fluidity to your motion, and your focus set on the plant, raise your arms up and outwards, as if you, yourself, are blooming."

Nobble began first, closing her eyes and, with grace, imitating the dance of a blooming flower. Her arms floated upwards and danced intricately. Meanwhile, the flower slowly bloomed. By the time she had finished her movements, the flower had fully bloomed. She stood there in her final pose, idly flexing the muscles she had used, holding her position in place, until she released and began to breathe heavily. To her surprise and self-admiration, the flower had stayed bloomed.

"Very good, Sage. How has this impacted you?"

"I'm winded, but I'm doing fine. Wow, that was all me, huh?" Nobble boasted.

"It was, raccoon. Take pride. But you still have much to learn," Terron proclaimed.

Nobble smiled to herself and sat down, catching her breath. It was still a wonder how she got herself caught up in this situation, but for now, she looked on at her work in pride and happiness.

Meanwhile, Bunbo had yet to begin.

"Avatar, let's see your work."

"Okay, here I go..." Bunbo timidly said.

Bunbo took a deep breath and jerked his arms out towards the flower. He tensed his muscles hard and practically threw his arms up towards the sky. He stood there, muscles flexed, holding his breath, and then released and fell to the ground.

Terron and Nobble exchanged looks.

"Try again, Avatar. Do not rush it. Take your time."

"Yeah, yeah, that was just a warmup," Bunbo claimed.

He once again stretched his arms out, slowly this time, shaking. He clumsily adapted Nobble's previous technique, eyes deadset on the flower in front of him. He held his stance.

Nobble and Terron started intently at the flower, waiting for any sign of movement. A gentle breeze twitched the flower slightly. Nobble and Terron jumped and expected more, but soon realized the true cause behind the movement. Bunbo still stood there holding his pose, holding his breath. Running out of breath. Face contorting. Face turning blue.

"Breathe, rabbit!" Terron called.

Bunbo gasped and fell to the ground again. He rolled over on his side, and looked up towards them with glazed eyes.

"How... how was that?" He said in between breaths.

Terron and Nobble stared with concern. As did nearby villagers, eavesdropping...

--

"Good, good! Keep going. Focus on the vine." Terron encouraged.

Nobble was locked in an intricate dance in the center of the village, displaying her newfound powers to onlookers. A small, thin vine twirled around her as she gracefully stepped in a waltz. The Virida tree, despite its weakened state, seemed to produce excited and cheerful Gaia orbs at the sight.

Eventually, Nobble grew tired, and stopped. She landed her hands on her knees and took a moment to catch her breath. The vine, which was extending from a vine growth on a nearby treehouse, retracted quickly. The Gaia orbs flickered out. But Terron was very impressed.

"Fantastic, Sage! Your prowess has grown immensely since you began your training."

Their training had begun three days ago. In that short time, Nobble had grown extremely as a channeler. She was progressing at a rate faster than what Terron had ever seen before, save for Bark, who was doing better by a decent amount.

But despite his pride, his concern grew too; in all this time, as the most powerful Guardian, Bunbo had not progressed at all. He had yet to show channeling powers in the slightest. And the villagers began to take note. Many of them hadn't heard the tales of the Guardians before; they had been educated by Terron over the past few days about the phenomenon. And the one he claimed to be the most connected to the spirit of nature had yet to show his powers. Gossip travelled quickly, especially in a small, dense, forest community. They were unnerved and confused. At the moment, Bunbo was M.I.A.

Nobble received congratulations from Terron and the two parted ways. After that, she slipped out of the village for some alone time. Nobble had been training hard, and she was exhausted. Not to mention being thrown into a new responsibility like this. The Sage? What is she supposed to do as the Sage? What does this mean for her usual life? Can she even return to it? She needed time to ponder, to rest, to-

"What's cookin, Nobs?" Shrewd screamed as he popped out from beneath the ground.

Nobble jumped back and yelped. Oh, it's just Shrewd. Oh. Shrewd.

"Ha! Did I scare ya?" Shrewd chuckled.

"Yes. Evidently."

Nobble stood still for a moment while he laughed. She rushed forward suddenly and put a claw to his neck. He stopped laughing immediately and trembled.

"Oh, did I scare you?" Nobble mocked.

"Yeah... yeah, you sure did..." he said, choking on his words.

She backed up and stared at him. He stood trembling for a moment before he awkwardly laughed and composed himself.

"Ahem... anyway... what's this I hear abouts you bein' a Guardian of something?" Shrewd said, moving on.

Nobble rolled her eyes. "Oh, it's nothing. Just some foolish magic prophecy that I've gotten myself tangled up in."

"Huh! You're a hero now, eh? A do-gooder? A goody two-shoes?" Shrewd derided.

"No, no. I'm... yeah. Okay, for some reason, I was chosen to be a part of this, er, trio, to save nature from this thespian greyhound with a weapon that freezes people into concrete. I'll have to travel the world with these two miserable boys, the other two in the trio, and try to stop that dog before he... well, not so sure yet. Also, I can channel now. I'm rather adept at it, actually. Now I know that all sounds ridiculous, but..."

Shrewd was staring in shock. Not at the channeling, not at her mythical new role, but at...

"A greyhound? A greyhound, right? That's what you said?"

"...Yes. And he wore all black and grey, was accompanied by this lizard with quite the fancy tail, and..."

As Nobble continued to describe the character, Shrewd cringed and slowly backed into his earthen mound.

"And what was his name?" Shrewd groaned, covering his eyes with his hands.

"Basik I believe?"

Shrewd moaned in grief.

"What? What's so frightening, Shrewd?"

"Basik. Basik Ordemo. The greyhound. Leader of the city of New Order and The Order of the Basilisk, correct?"

"Yes, Shrewd. Now tell me what's up." Nobble said with a hint of concern.

"You... do not, and I emphasize, do not, want to mess with that guy. Nobs, you gots yourself in a real doozy, if I says so myself... And now you said he's got this concretifier or something. Nobs, this guy's the real deal!"

"Is he now? He appeared boastful, arrogant, flawed. Like any other elite I've picked the pockets of."

"No, ya don't understand, Nobs. He's ruthless. Keen. Strong. You don't wanna go toe to toe with 'im. If he's not bad enough on his own, he's got an entire military force behind 'im. And a bunch of tech that's basically just the stuff you see in a Sci-Fi movie. And then there's the robots, those bugs... " Shrewd shivered.

"Alright, rat, you're all over the place. I understand, he's tougher than the rest. No match for me, though, in case you were worried."

"Nope, I'm worried he'll choke ya till ya spill the beans and tell him every criminal you know. And then he's after my butt."

"Shrewd, relax," she said with confidence, "I'm sure we'll handle it."

"Whatever, Nobs. Just keep ya mouth shut if he gets a hold of ya."

The two sat in an awkward silence for a moment.

"So... ya gonna save nature or somethin', right?"

"I suppose I'll try. And attend to some personal errands along the way," Nobble shrugged off.

"Well, good. I know the two of us aint the most righteous on the planet, bein' schemers and all, but I don't wanna lose all this nice dirt I'm diggin' around," Shrewd said with a serious tone, "And I'm sure you don't wanna lose all them trees."

"Yes, I know. I'm comfortable in towns, cities, what have you. But I do feel at home in the woods. I'll take care of that dictator dog. And then it's all back to normal. Just me and the world's treasures."

"Alright, Nobble. Good luck. And that Jungle Heist..."

"Yeah, yeah, you still get a cut. Gosh..."

Shrewd quietly dug away.

Nobble took some time to process their conversation. That was the nicest Shrewd has ever been to her. He was concerned for her, or at least pretended not to be.

Whatever, it's just for the cut. He made that clear before he left. That little mole... he couldn't possibly care about me. I don't care for him, at least. Ugh. Doesn't matter. He seemed afraid of Basik, that greyhound that showed up recently. Is he really all Shrewd made him out to be?

She shrugged it off and walked away.

--

Bunbo was far off into the denser parts of the woods. It was trees for as far as the eye could see -- which wasn't very far in an area with such dense foliage -- and not even an echo of a highway or bustling mall could be heard. He was out for a hop, as per usual, trying to get things off his mind. Pressure was mounting on him as the most important Guardian, especially with his current lack of ability, but he decided the best course of action was to run away. For now, atleast.

"Just me, the woods, and a quick run! That's all I ever wanted or needed," Bunbo expressed to himself.

He picked up the pace a bit and began to reach the speeds of a sprint. The trees were condensed heavily here, and other smaller plants covered any sort of path that could be made. But with his quick reactions and superior agility, he weaved through the greenery like a heat seeking missile targeting the horizon. He needed no path, he was making his own. Boosting off of tree trunks and sliding under fallen logs, he was now going as fast as a speeding bullet. His large rounded paws slammed the ground each time he landed, only to send him flying forward with a bend of the ankles. He encountered a stream. Instead of hopping over, he skidded and drifted to the side, lining himself up with it. He hopped along the stream, wondering where it would take him.

The stream eventually led Bunbo to a small pool of water in front of a large cliff with a Virida tree on top of it. The cliff stretched about thirty feet into the air, and the Virida tree about ten. He stopped at this location for a moment. The tree's petals drifted off into the wind and coated the ground beneath the cliff. Flowers were abundant around this pool, as well as aquatic plants like reeds and cattails. Small, round rocks littered the pool and the surrounding area. A fallen log sat at the base of the cliff. The area was tranquil; not another animal in sight. Not even a small bird.

Bunbo took a moment to appreciate the sight; but just a moment. He was about to run off in another direction until a thought stopped him. Maybe this place might be a good spot to try channeling?

"Looks tranquil, sacred... that old turtle would say this place has a nice mumbo jumbo spirit feel to it. Let's just give it a shot."

He hopped over to the cliff and found his target. Opposite to the cliff the pool sat, and in front of the pool a lone cattail plant. It was smaller, less developed than its contemporaries. He'd be doing it a favor, if he could at all.

"Alright. First, connect yourself..."

He closed his eyes, outstretched his arms, and thought of the plant... and what he was going to eat for dinner. And where he would go after this. And what Bark could be up to. And... focus! He thought of the plant again...

"And... imitate nature, and all that..."

He kneeled down and placed his palms on the ground. He rose up slowly while raising his arms, imitating a growing plant. As he did, he made his hands into circular shapes, imitating the oval of the cattail.

"That was great! That had to have worked. I did everything Terron taught," Bunbo boasted to himself.

He opened his eyes to less than stellar results; nothing. The cattail hadn't grown an inch. Maybe it was his trailing thoughts, his jerky movement, his inability to focus. Or...

"Maybe I'm just not the Avatar..." Bunbo sighed.

He drudged back slowly to the fallen log and sat down. The Avatar. And he couldn't make a glorified blade of grass grow an inch. What was wrong with him? Maybe the Virida tree made a mistake, maybe it misjudged-

"The Virida tree did not misjudge you, Avatar," Terron said as he exploded out of the ground.

"Woah! Terron, don't scare me like that!" Bunbo yelled.

The old tortoise laughed and walked over to him.

"I wasn't expecting you. It sounds like you're doubting yourself."

"Well, duh. I can't do anything. Nobble is already so good and she started only a few days ago. Bark, well, I don't think we gotta worry about how well he's doing. But me? The Avatar? No way."

"Yes way, little rabbit. I know things may seem desperate, and in truth I have some concern, but I must remind myself of one thing..." Terron said.

Bunbo said with a hand to his cheek, "Yeah, what's that?"

"Sometimes there are circumstances which set us back from becoming our best selves. They are often out of our control. But it is irrelevant what cards you have been dealt in the past; it is what you do now to move past your grief and experience life in full that is truly important. Do you understand?"

Bunbo was staring with intense, curious eyes.

"...No. Sorry, kinda zoned out."

Terron frowned in annoyance.

"Come. I'll give you an example."

He took him closer to the cliff wall and found a small, delicate flower growing off the side.

"Look at this flower. The seed of this plant fell into an outcrop of tough, hard, barren rock. It's circumstances were horrid. But it still found a way to grow."

"Well, that's neat and all, but I don't see what this has to do with me not being able to channel..."

"Avatar, it seems that something is holding you back. Only when you take time to reflect on yourself and move past your restraint can you see that you can bloom wherever you are planted."

"Nothing's holding me back! Just a bunch of crap luck, or something. I don't know. I don't wanna think about it. Don't wanna talk about it. I'm outta here. I was enjoying a run, you know..."

Bunbo darted off into the woods. Terron shook his head in disappointment.

"In time, Avatar. In time," he reassured himself.

 

CHAPTER 15

Spoiler

Chapter 15 - Fish out of Water

Bark was toiling away in his workshop. He was putting the finishing touches on the pieces of armor he had made, as well as Nobble's claws and his own shield. Today was the day that he and his partners left Blossom's Grove, left the forest, and started their journey. And he was exhausted. At the very least, Terron had spared him a majority of the channeling training as he had been progressing remarkably well. Ever since he first channeled that tree from the ground, his powers had been growing exponentially. Maybe they were catching up for all those years of lost time.

As he hammered and hammered away at his projects, Ivy was sneaking into the workshop. She hadn't been here too often, leaving it to be Bark's personal space. Her adoptive son always appreciated his time alone; as his adoptive mother, she knew this well.

She snuck up behind him as he worked and lunged at him, causing him to throw his tools in the air and let out a squeal.

"Aaah! Who - oh, mom! What'd you do that for?" Bark babbled out.

She laughed and gave him a hug, to which he barely responded.

"Sweety, I've barely seen you these past few days. You've been so busy! Are you doing okay in here? It's a bit of a mess..."

The workshop was much more unorganized than per usual. Spare parts and raw materials covered the ground and botched attempts were piled up on a spare bench. The air was dusty with constant woodworking.

"I'm doing just fine. I need to finish this, can you leave me be?" Bark growled.

"Oh honey, you need to relax. Take a break. Look at your poor hooves! So dirty and calloused. Bark, you've been overworking yourself!" She lamented.

He sighed and put his project down. She was right. He hadn't stopped thinking, moving, or working since the day he, his new friend Bunbo, and that crook Nobble had been chosen to be Guardians. He just wanted everything to go well, for his partners to be safe. And he wanted to make sure he was prepared for when he saw that dog Basik again. He wanted to avenge Vernon, to make it so he hadn't been frozen in vain. Today was the day they left, and he was more stressed than ever.

"You're right. It's just... a lot of pressure, y'know?"

"No, I admit, I don't know. I can't imagine what it's like to be a Guardian. But I don't have to. I still can recognize when my boy is all tuckered out. Here, I prepared this for you."

Ivy dragged around a sack made of tree bark and tied with flexible vines. She loosened the tie and opened the sack, showing its contents.

"I figured I'd take a load off you and pack your belongings! You'll find everything you need in here - a toothbrush, a bunch of rags, a canteen, snacks that you love, your stuffed animal, a comfy pillow..."

"Okay, okay. Thank you. I don't know if all of that is necessary, but I appreciate it."

"You sure you don't want the stuffed animal? I mean, it's your favorite!"

"Mom... was."

"Oh, I know. You're growing up. I'm sorry, honey. I want to make sure you're okay out there. I've barely left the forest myself. You haven't either. It's gonna be a big, tough, alien world out there. Make sure that raccoon girl leads you the right way! If she ever makes you feel uncomfortable or unsafe or what have you, oh I'll give her a piece of my mind..." Ivy trailed off.

"Mom, it's okay. We can handle it," he reassured.

She nodded and they shared a moment of silence.

"So, Bark... how have you been handling... you know?" Ivy concerned.

"You mean Uncle? Dad? Vernon?.... I don't know. I'm just working and working, getting my mind off it. Terron said he's not really gone. I don't know how we're supposed to free him, but I'm just trying not to dwell on it," he explained.

Ivy didn't say anything, just nodded and faced him. She shook slightly and her lip trembled.

"...And how are you doing, mom?"

Ivy began to cry. She fell into her son's arms and wept.

"I just... every day I have to see him. Just sitting there, so close, yet so unreachable. Frozen in the middle of everything, in front of that tree. Gosh, he loved that tree. Flower always goes and touches him, sits with him for a bit, every day. It's breaking my heart. I want him back. He was always so quiet, but now it seems quieter without him," she said through short breaths and tears.

"It's okay mom, it's alright...", he said as he comforted her.

"I know...", she composed herself, "You're right, we just have to hold on out and not dwell on it. We'll figure it out. Right now we just need to make sure you all get out of here safe and sound."

They shared a hug, and Ivy kissed him on the cheek.

"Also, honey. Your bandana! Maybe you haven't become a real Warden yet, but I think a Guardian deserves an engraving," she encouraged.

Bark had also been thinking about this. Part of becoming a Warden is choosing an insignia to represent yourself. Vernon and Bark both wore green bandanas on which their insignias were present; well, at least Vernon's was. Bark had yet to become a Warden, so yet to have an insignia.

"Well, that makes sense. But how about when I come back we do all that?"

"Right, sorry honey. You're leaving today, gosh, I almost forgot! And you'll be gone for so long... months at the most!" She exclaimed in a worry.

Their quest could take quite a long time. There were many Gaia hotspots around the world, and many masters to speak with. The world was big, and without a reliable source of transportation, there was no telling how long it would take to make the trip around the world. They barely had a clue of where to begin.

Bark and Ivy hugged again and parted ways.

Meanwhile, back at the village, Bunbo and Nobble were preparing for their departure. Well, more like milling around; Bark was taking an awful long time in his workshop. Nobble had prepared a small sack of essentials in the trash bag that Bunbo had captured her in. As for Bunbo, he had nothing on him.

Terron stood there with them, leaning on his cane. Even the old tortoise was a bit nervous for them. They were all quite young. Nobble, the eldest of the group, was to lead them across the world. Still, she was crooked. But he still had faith. They all seemed like they had brilliant potential.

"Where's antlers? We've been sitting here for half an hour," Nobble groaned.

"I'm sure he's almost done in there. Hopefully. Almost," Bunbo said, sharing impatience with the raccoon.

A moment later, Bark called out from a far, down the path and behind a tree.

"I'm ready! Take a look!"

He stepped out from behind the tree and revealed the armor he had been working on. On his shins he wore wooden guards, tied with vine, and his forearms were covered by similar pieces. He held his completed shield in hand, made up of refined wood and stone, intertwined with vines. Most strikingly, his face was covered by a wooden mask, with only two holes for eyes. It resembled a welder's mask, only tribal and primitive. On his back was a wheel he had made earlier, strapped to him tightly.

Bunbo's eyes widened as he spoke, "Woah! Cool!"

Nobble chuckled, "Oh look! The trees are alive!"

Bark was immediately discouraged. Although his mask hid the emotions on his face, his body language was slumped and sad. Bunbo took note and gave Nobble a slap.

"Hey! What was that for?" Nobble complained.

Bunbo gave her a stern look and then hopped over to Bark.

"Bark, buddy, don't listen to her! It looks awesome!"

"You really think so?"

"Sure does! Maybe just... don't wear it all the time, though," Bunbo chuckled.

Ivy was impressed as well, but held back from rushing up to hug him. It was his big day, best not embarrass him. Terron smiled at the sight; Bark was a prodigy and was showing his ingenuity. It gave him confidence that the Guardians' quest was in good hands. On the other hand, Flower shared Nobble's opinion; Bark looked like a big dork.

The village was gathered around, ready to give their farewell to the trio. Although, their opinions of them weren't very high. Nobble, the thief. Bark, the gifted kid. And Bunbo, the useless.

"Well, not sure I'm to keen on handin' them over now, but here's my craftsmanship," Bark said as he offered Nobble a pair of bracers.

They were similar to his, but differed in the front ends. From the top side of the bracers, starting at around where the wrist was, three wooden claws stuck out. They were sharp and polished, and bolted to the main body with stone. They looked like they could slash through the toughest oak tree and scratch the hardest rocks. Nobble gazed at the weaponry in front of her.

"Woah... Bark, this is..." Nobble trailed off.

"Amazing? I know. And check this out..."

Bark pushed down on a circular shape in the center which was positioned on the forearm side of the bracers. Quickly the claws retracted into three holes respectively, now barely poking out. Nobble was speechless and wide eyed.

"And, when you need them out again..." Bark instructed, "just flick your wrists."

He held the bracer by the end of it and threw it out to the side. The claws rocketed back out of their holes as a sharp sound pierced the air. He smiled at his work, and gently tossed the bracers into Nobble's hands.

"Bark... I apologize," She paused, "You're a bit of a genius, aren't you?"

Bunbo chimed in, confirming, "A knack for invention."

Nobble stood gawking at her new claws for a while before the trio was called to attention by Terron. It was time to go.

"Gaia guardians! It is time to go. I see you have all prepared quite well. Let me remind you of your quest. As the Guardians of Gaia, you are tasked with protecting nature as we know it. Many may threaten its existence, and in truth that existence lies on the edge of a knife. But that is why you are here. To bring balance to the world and restore the natural order. You are given the blessings of the spirit of nature herself, Gaia. Grow in your abilities, and more importantly, grow together."

The three were lined up. Bunbo and Bark smiled ear to ear from the words Terron spoke. Nobble was impatient.

"But, for a more well defined task, you must call the attention of the Gaia masters around the world; beings of high spirituality that possess great connections to her spirit, those who oversee the numerous hotspots of Gaia energy on the planet. You're looking at one of them! So that's one off the list. But I suggest first heading to the land of Gaela, where you will find Master Corduk. The people of Gaela are quite hospitable, sure to welcome the new guardians with open arms."

Bunbo asked, "So, which way is Gaela?"

The trio stared at Terron in anticipation of their answer.

"I don't know."

The three were taken aback and shifted around in confusion.

"That's for the Sage to find out, of course!" Terron affirmed.

Bark and Bunbo looked at Nobble, expecting direction. She simply shook her head and shrugged her shoulders in an expression that meant 'I don't know. I'll figure it out. Don't worry about it.'

"As for the rest of the masters..."

Terron waltzed over and handed them a parchment. On it were the names and general locations of some of the most important Gaia masters. A crude smiley face was written next to his name and the location of "Northeast Free Union". Expectedly, the next name was Corduk, with the given location of "Middle Gaela". There were others, who they hadn't bothered to inspect just yet. Nobble took the parchment for herself and tucked it away. They nodded in thanks to Terron, who took a step back.

"Guardians of Gaia! Go forth and begin your quest! Exit this forest and scour the many lands of the Earth to find these Masters and alert them of the coming conflict. As you venture, take it to your heart to protect nature and its ideals. Now, blessings to you, and may we cross paths again in a better world."

After an exchange of goodbyes, parting hugs and farewells, the Guardians of Gaia set out on their mission, with Nobble, their navigator, at the helm. But they took note of the worried looks on the villager's faces.

--

The trio were headed down one of the many game trails in the forest. Nobble and Bark walked at a regular pace, as opposed to Bunbo, who rocketed forward and waited for his partners to catch up. They would never run for him, but when they reached him, he would once again speed down the trail.

"Come on guys, pick up the pace! We're going on an adventure!" Bunbo blurted out as he hopped up and down in place.

Bark affirmed, "Bunbo, we're walking. You know we can't keep up. It's best to save our energy."

Nobble agreed, "Yep, we've got a long road ahead of us. Gaela isn't next door."

"Well, how far is it? Bet I could get there in under an hour," Bunbo wagered.

"Well, we all need to be there, rodent. And you've got our sack of food. How far is it anyway, Nobble? A day or so?" Bark asked.

Nobble stopped dead in her tracks and her face contorted in confusion. She gestured for her partners to stop.

"Woah, woah, woah. Now hold on; How far do you brutes think Gaela is?"

Bark shrugged, "I don't know. About a day's trip on foot?"

Bunbo confirmed, "Yep, so about an hour for me."

Nobble slammed her forehead into her palm and rubbed it. She let out a sigh.

"Okay, better question for you dolts, how big do you think the Earth is? Give it a count of miles or the time of a round trip."

Bark and Bunbo exchanged looks. How big is the Earth? What is she getting at? Why have we stopped to ask this question?

Bark once again answered, "Well, talking about a round trip, maybe like a week on foot?"

Nobble slammed her hands against her cheeks and dragged them, letting out a groan. The two boys were so sheltered that they thought you could cross the planet in a week. A week. By plane sure, perhaps by boat, but on foot?

"Boys, maybe you just didn't get out much, but the planet is much, much bigger than you think," She explained as she began walking again, "Like, much bigger. It would take an awfully long time just to reach the other side of this continent on foot. And then heading to another continent, as we are now? You can't walk, you need a boat or a plane..."

Bark and Bunbo were utterly confused and stayed silent.

"So, no. We aren't reaching Gaela in a day. Not in an hour either. And we aren't travelling on foot forever; we simply can't. We need to cross the Atlantic."

"How do you know, smarty?" Bunbo mocked.

"I've been there a few times. And while I admit I don't know exactly how to get there, I do know how to find out. Speaking of, here we are, boys."

They reached a sharp incline. It stretched about twelve feet upwards. At the top, a metal guard rail. Low hums were heard from above. The canopy broke apart here, letting harsh sunlight through.

"You are about to go as far from home as you have ever been. Literally, and metaphorically."

Nobble nimbly scampered up the hill, causing patches of gravel to cascade down as she did. Bark and Bunbo stood staring up at the incline.

"Heh, us Deer were never known for our climbing ability..." Bark laughed nervously as he began to climb.

"Same with rabbits," Bunbo gulped.

With caution, the two slowly inched up the incline. Nobble was at the top already, impatiently pacing back and forth, fidgeting with her gifted clawed bracers.

Bark reached the top first. His mouth fell open and he froze in fear. Nobble chuckled to herself at the sight. Bunbo, however, was still climbing, and he noticed Bark chilled to the bone above him. As he reached the summit, he got curious.

"What's wrong, Bark? What are you staring-"

Bunbo froze too. They were now far from home indeed. As Nobble mockingly smiled at him, Bunbo's gaze fixated on a bustling highway. It stretched for six lanes and was divided by a concrete barrier in the middle. Cars sped past, slapping them with gusts of air, as the sound of their speed pierced their ear drums. They only saw mere flashes of them as they darted past their sight and continued down the road.

"Welcome to the human world, boys!" Nobble guffawed.

The two were still frozen stiff.

"Well, what are you two waiting for? Let's get going, shall we?" Nobble said as she hopped the guard rail and gestured for the two to follow.

Bunbo asked the obvious, "You don't seriously expect us to cross-"

A semi truck zoomed by as it honked its horn, causing Bunbo and Bark to jump back.

"To cross that, do you?"

"Got any better ideas, rodent?"

"Well, we could start by not trying to walk across this death trap. Why are we going this way? Are you trying to get us killed?!" Bark yelled.

"Probably! Leave us for dead, collect our loot, and be off with our spoils..." Bunbo added.

"Ugh! What kind of brigand do you take me for?" Nobble defended.

Bark and Bunbo crossed their arms and gave her a stern look.

"Look, I know. But we're in this together. Maybe not for the same motivations, but together. I know I'm hard to trust, it would be wise of you to think that, but let me explain..." She said, once again gesturing the boys to follow.

They reluctantly walked closer to the edge of the road.

"See down there? The cars have stopped momentarily at what's called a stop light. Usually you don't get them on the highways, but we're right at the beginning of it. As long as we wait for that light to stop them again, we should have a clear path to the median, that barrier ahead. We're safe there. From there it gets a little dicey, since we have no stop light to work with, but traffic is lighter over there, because it's earlier in the morning... I could explain further, but that's all you need to know. And we need to get to the other side of the highway, because right across from here is a turn into a parking lot..."

"Parking lot? Why we goin' for a parking lot?" Bark pestered.

"I told you we cannot travel fast on foot. We must steal a car," Nobble said, nonchalantly.

"Steal a car?! Under no circumstances are we stealing a car, that's an order!" Bark commanded.

Bunbo held back excitement at the prospect, however. Just seconds into the brave new world and he was already going to be breaking a few laws. Nobble was annoyed at Bark's attempt at controlling her, and questioned his authority.

"And who designated you as our team captain? I'm the Sage, correct? I'm guiding you through this world. I'm calling the shots," Nobble explained.

"Yeah, but, as the Protector, I feel I have a duty to ensure the safety of my team. I'm also the best channeler here, by far..." Bark argued.

"And as the Avatar, I'm the most important, so I should be team leader!" Bunbo interjected.

While Bunbo was just having fun with it, Bark and Nobble were butting heads. They snarled at each other and held angry stares that reflected off of the other's face.

"We steal the car. There is no other option. Unless you would like to show up to Gaela five months late, antlers..."

"Why can't we just buy one? That's what humans do normally, right?" Bark countered.

"Okay, Bark, do you possess any amount of money?" Nobble said, sarcastically.

"Well, no... but..." Bark stammered.

Nobble walked close to him and placed her hand on his chin, grabbing it and squeezing his cheeks.

"We steal the car."

She released him and turned back towards the highway. The stoplight had come and gone and come again, and the road once again buzzed with activity. The vehicles came by at such speeds that they were only blurs; but it didn't frighten her. There are plenty of roads to cross in the human world, and this was certainly not her first rodeo.

"Alright, I've got my eye on the stoplight. On my signal, run to that barrier, climb on top, and wait for further instruction. Got it, boys?"

They nodded and prepared to run. The space to the median was not very far. It should be quite easy. Nobble kept her eyes focused on the stoplight down to the left. She waited for an indication that the light had turned red. Sure enough, multiple cars stopped in front of the light for an extended period of time. She gave the signal.

Bark and Bunbo made a mad dash for the median. It was entirely unnecessary, as they had ample time to reach the other side; in fact, it was detrimental. Bunbo tripped to a faulty start to his run and face planted into the concrete of the road. He could have gotten up and started running again were it not for the awkward situation he fell into. The food sack he had been entrusted to carry by his peers had pinned him to the ground. It was heavy and awkward, lumping to one side or the other, making it an arduous task to get it under control and steadily strapped to his back again. He wiggled on the ground as Bark and Nobble reached the median. Bark turned back first and saw Bunbo stuck to the ground.

"Bunbo! Come on, the light's gonna change!" Bark shouted.

Still he lay there, face down, trying to manage the load on his back to free him from the ground. As he did, the light changed. And the cars behind the light wasted no time in dropping the hammer. The roar of engines exploded into the air as Bunbo was still trapped. Bark ran over to help.

"Come on, let's lift this up!" Bark encouraged.

"I'm trying! Why did you make me carry this?!"

Nobble stood there frozen, confused as to what she could do in this situation. Watch the show and get out of this responsibility? Or help?

Well, they probably don't need my help. Either way I should just wait.

"Nobble! A little help!" Bark called out.

Sure enough his awkward carrying supplies had made it difficult for him to get up, too. The wheel was massive and the other bags of supplies did not help. While Bark attempted to help Bunbo, he himself was trapped. And the engines of the cars roared louder and drew nearer.

Oh, of course. These two can't even pick themselves off of the ground. And I'm to treat them like my bodyguards? Not a chance. But I'd rather not deal with that tortoise...

Nobble dashed into the highway and pulled Bunbo off of the ground, who darted to safety immediately. Bark staggered in place. The cars began to honk as they charged at incredible speed, like a soldier letting out a battle cry at the start of a battle.

"Bark! Come on!" Bunbo yelled.

Bark regained his composure and just narrowly dodged a car, managing to shave off just a single hair from his tail. He got to the median safely.

They all stood there panting, hands on their knees. Cars whizzed by like bullets as they honked their horns.

"Halfway there, boys! Hahaha!" Nobble joked.

"You almost had us killed, thief!" Bark shouted, raising a fist.

"Well, she did save us in the end, Bark. She's not all bad," Bunbo pointed out.

"She saved you, not me! How do we know she didn't want to pick us off, one by one?" Bark opposed.

"If I had wanted you dead, you would be dead. Quit your whining and let's cross here. Traffic is light," Nobble grunted, "And thanks for the bracers, again. Jeez."

--

It was only an hour until noon before they reached the parking lot. It was positioned outside of a construction site. The site had a perimeter of chain link fences with barbed wire attached to the top. At multiple points were large gates with small security booths. In the middle of the site was a massive mound of dirt and sand, presumably dug up on location. The ground was barren and dry and the towering, rusting forklifts casted shadows into the lot. Bark gritted his teeth.

"So this is what they've been doing. Just building, building, and building. And chopping, chopping, and chopping..." Bark sighed.

Bunbo was made uncomfortable by the sight. While trees bordered them, the site had carved a chunk of land out of the forest and replaced it with metal and wire. What would be built here? A restaurant? A mall? Was it worth it?

Nobble retorted, "Oh, deal with it. We're on our way to stop something much worse, correct? Follow me. This one looks nice..."

She walked over to a small, rusted car with four doors. It was old, probably from the seventies, and had obvious wear and tear. The owner of this car was probably currently working at the construction site, just a few tens of yards away. But he was working. Not watching his car.

"I really don't know about this, Nobble..." ,Bark insisted, "What if we're caught? What if we get stopped on the road? What are they gonna do when they find out a bunch of animals are drivin'? Do you even know how to get this thing movin'?" Bark panicked.

Bunbo was quick to respond, "Bark, don't sweat it. It's our only option, right? No use worrying about it. Come on, it'll be fun! I've never been in a car before!"

Nobble picked the lock to the driver side door with her nails. The door swung open and she slid into the front seat. She unsheathed a set of claws on her bracers and began to hotwire the car.

"To ease your anxieties, I have been in a car. A couple times. I can drive just fine. Mostly," Nobble comforted.

"That isn't very comforting," Bark said with a sigh.

The car suddenly sputtered to life. It's engine sounded sick and shoddy, but nonetheless the car was online. Nobble had experience in hotwiring cars. They were a quick, easy, and readily available getaway from any serious theft she had committed. If there were no rooftops to climb or trees to scamper about in, a car was the next best option.

"Your chariot awaits, guardians!" Nobble said sarcastically.

Two men stepped into the parking lot. They wore construction hats and high visibility vests. One took off his helmet and began to endlessly talk about a lunch break, ignoring the indifference of his coworker, who just agreed silently and stared into the sky as he sipped a cup of coffee. The talkative one suddenly stopped talking.

"Eddie, you see that?"

"Yes, Rand."

"Eddie, wake up. You see that? A bunch of animals are robbing my car!"

"Yes, Rand," he said, taking another sip of coffee.

"You're useless!"

He started to run towards the car.

Nobble was in the driver seat, trying to get comfortable. She tried stretching her legs down to the pedals, but she couldn't reach. Usually a partner would be there for her to press the pedals as she steered the wheel.

Bark was in the passenger seat, keeping a close eye on Nobble. He constantly adjusted himself, trying to figure out how to sit in this alien tech. His antlers scratched the car roof.

Bunbo was lying along the back seat, occasionally getting up to peer out the window, then back to lying down. On one occasion he looked up and saw a fat man with a bright vest running over to the car.

"Uh, Nobble? Are we gonna get going soon?"

"Just a moment. The owner of this car has much longer legs than I do."

"Well maybe he can help. He's coming this way..."

Bark and Nobble snapped their heads up and saw the man closing in on the car, screaming. The sound was muffled by the closed window.

"Oh dear. Bark, you'll have to drive. Switch seats with me!"

"I don't know how to-"

"Do it! I'll tell you how!"

The two awkwardly shifted spots as Bunbo anxiously paced back and forth in the backseat. Bark landed in the driver's seat and froze up and started stammering. The man was only about thirty feet away now, and moving quickly.

"Bark, hit the gas!" Nobble shouted.

"Wha- gas?! Where?!" Bark panicked.

"Guys, let's get going!" Bunbo urged, hitting the back of Bark's headrest nervously.

Nobble kept yelling at Bark, trying to explain to him what to do, but he was shutting down in panic. As the man drew nearer, Bunbo became increasingly nervous. Bark was still making little progress with the controls of the car. Nobble continued to shout. Now the man was only a foot away from the car. Before he could reach it, Bunbo made a split second decision.

He jumped up in the backseat, using the little space he had, and kicked the back of the car hard, sending the car skidding backwards, away from the man as he screamed in frustration.

Nobble yelled, "Grab the wheel and turn right!"

She jumped below Bark's feet and dropped an elbow onto the gas pedal. Bark grabbed the wheel and yanked it to the right.

The car screeched in place for a moment as it turned to the right, then sped off onto the road. Bunbo yelled from the back window.

"Sorry! We're saving the world!" His voice trailed off.

The man stood there in silence, panting from his mad dash. His coworker walked over to him.

"We'll be taking my car, I guess."

"Shut up."

The car drifted left and right as Bark jolted the wheel around. He gritted his teeth and held on for his deer life. Bunbo flopped around in the backseat trying to keep steady. Nobble kept her foot on the gas and tried to look out the window. Still she was too short. She was going to have to trust Bark to do it.

She yelled over the loud engine as it accelerated, "Bark! Listen close!"

His eyes darted back and forth towards Nobble, who was trying to get his attention, and up through the windshield, at the road filled with cars.

"This one makes you go forward! This one stops!" She said, pointing to the pedals.

"Got it! Got it!" He yelled, slamming both feet onto the pedals at once.

The car suddenly stopped and began to turn in place. Smoke blew from the tires as the car screeched on the concrete road. Vehicles sped past and honked their horns angrily.

"Get off the brake! Just use one foot for both!" Nobble commanded.

Bark lifted his foot off of the brake and the car began to move forward again, incredibly fast. Bunbo was thrown back into the seat from the sudden acceleration.

"Ease off the gas, Bark!" Bunbo and Nobble said in unison.

Bark lifted his foot and only carefully held the pedal down. The car began to slowly decelerate. Sirens erupted nearby. Nobble knew what that meant.

"Bark! Look ahead!" Bunbo instructed.

Bark took his eyes off of his feet. He noticed he was reaching an intersection. There were no cars ahead of him in his lane, but the light had turned red.

"Nobble, the light is red! What does that mean?!" Bark asked in a panic.

She finally scampered up off the floor and quickly scanned the area. Time seemed to slow. They were approaching an intersection. A large truck, perpendicular to them, was headed towards the intersection and wasn't slowing down. The light was green for it. Heavy traffic followed behind the truck. Also, the sirens she heard earlier were, in fact, police, as she suspected. They were behind the car and closing in quickly.

"Nobble! What does red mean?!"

If they kept going, they might just make it.

"It means floor it!" She yelled, hoping not to regret it.

"Wait, wha-?!" Bunbo yelled.

Bark slammed his foot on the gas and Bunbo and Nobble flew back into the backseat, slamming against the cushions. The car flew past the stop lights, past the lining on the intersection, and narrowly dodged the truck as it blasted its horn at them. The cop cars behind them hit the brakes quickly as the traffic flooded into the intersection, blocking them from giving chase.

Bark was frozen stiff on the pedal, his eyes wide open. Bunbo sat there wide eyed as well, panting. Nobble climbed into the passenger seat.

"Alright, that went well. Ease off the gas, Bark." Nobble said, strangely calm.

"Are we dead? Did we just die? Or are we alive?" Bunbo said between short breaths.

"Somehow we are," Bark confirmed.

They were silent.

A small chuckle was heard from Nobble, who hid it quickly and stared out the window with a smile. Bunbo caught the act and chuckled to himself too, but the chuckle became a laugh, and the laugh became a howl. Bark began to laugh too, and Nobble rejoined them in their laughter. The car erupted into hilarity, laughing in the face of death.

They drove off into the horizon on a long stretch of road.

 

 

 

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Haven't caught up with the story for a while (though I will do so soon); though I did take a peek at the illustrations: gotta say, they're pretty good. I think the shape theory is still pretty decent, though it could be tweaked, and I think both characters' designs work well. I also like the idea of illustrations with every release, I look forward to more in the future!

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14 minutes ago, Mr. Ion said:

Haven't caught up with the story for a while (though I will do so soon); though I did take a peek at the illustrations: gotta say, they're pretty good. I think the shape theory is still pretty decent, though it could be tweaked, and I think both characters' designs work well. I also like the idea of illustrations with every release, I look forward to more in the future!

Thank you! Hey any complement is great, I've always doodled and drawn for fun but only recently started to take things a little more serious. If you have any more specific inputs I'd love to hear them. Been reaching out a lot more on the art side and getting some super helpful feedback, so anything is good.

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Spoiler

bunbo.jpg.9408b75039d0306768a066342036a04a.jpg

As far as I know, no one has really read up too far, so throwing a few chapters here isn't necessary. Instead, have a Bunbo!

I feel like I'm improving - somewhat - as an artist. Drawing Bunbo is a good way to touch base. God, I must have redrawn his left hand a million times though.

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  • 4 weeks later...

This project is FAR from dead. I've taken a small writing hiatus recently after feeling a lot of frustration and unsatisfaction towards my writing. As you write more, the project becomes bigger and bigger and it gets harder to keep everything tied together. I needed a big refresher, so I hadn't written for like, a month. I'm sloooowly getting back into it though. I've also just not been using the forums much at all either.

Otherwise, though, I've been progressing a lot in art!

This post, however, will NOT show progression in art.

Quite the opposite.

Spoiler

image0.jpg.48957b79b318bc7d6a5cee16d02eeaa7.jpg

Here is an incredibly scuffed Bunbo I painted on a pumpkin. I thought it was funny, somewhat cute, at least. We got to pick pumpkins at the university's farm (this is primarily an agriculture school, it was literally two minutes away to the pumpkin patch) and my one friend hosted a pumpkin painting event, so there you go!

Hope you're all doing well as the leaves die.

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