• “Did you hear? Another attack on the main road.” Two men were chatting before a long day of work. “And it’s apparently that same female demon.”
    “Things changed how long ago? Two? Three months? We never dealt with this before.” The second man said gruffly. “Four attacks in the past month, this can’t go on.”
    “If only those hunters weren’t so lazy!” The first man spat out, “One demon isn’t enough to get any competent hunter to deal with it? Sounds like an excuse.” Both men turned their heads when footsteps could be heard next to them.
    “Not sure what I can do. But I can at least look around for you.” A tough yet feminine voice spoke up to the both of them. “But I don’t work for free.”

    It was strange coming back after being gone for so long. He hadn’t been back since he was a nubling. Shrubbery’s feet crushed a few flowers and blades of grass as he walked into the territory of his childhood friend. The forest was lush and green, just like he remembered. The trees grew strong in this area and the sun always shone through the leaves in the best way. There were flowers and such around but for the most part the forest’s floor was grass.
    Shrubbery’s tail swung listlessly against the grass as he stepped through the forest. He wasn’t very tall. As a matter of fact he was actually the most generic type of Volgan, which is the type of demon he is. Actually most demons don’t call themselves demons. To them they were just animals that happen to think more frequently and talk aloud.
    Shrubbery was a little over seven feet tall. His legs are bent back, just like the entirety of his species, with three clawed toes on each foot. His body frame was kind of muscular. He had the odd scar from pervious scuffles with other Volgans that had stolen his territory, thus his current predicament. His face was kind of long and with a few fangs jutting out of the side of his mouth. Two horns stuck out of the top of his head. Both weren’t sharp or anything. They seemed like decorations. His eyes are a little bigger than most. Both of them are a reddish brown color. His arms were where the majority of his scars are, four razor sharpish claws on both hands. Shrubbery only did the bare minimum of hunting, deer and a few other animals, so he kept his claws sharp enough for hunting.
    His tail was as long as all other Volgans, three feet. The spines on his back were the only notable think about him. Volgans normally had sharp jagged spines that led from the top of their head to the end of their tail. But Shrubbery’s spines were rounded out and ended at his back, but they also slit off in three paths from his neck. One set down his back, and the other two across his shoulders stopping just before his shoulder blades. His skin was a dark and grayish sort of leafy green color, thus his name. His spines were a much darker green than his body.
    Shrubbery put a hand on a tree and eyed it carefully. Brushing off some vines, three cut marks revealed themselves to Shrubbery. The sound of three young voices laughing replayed in his mind as he examined it. A sudden noise behind him forced Shrubbery out of his thoughts as he turned, prepared for battle or to, more than likely, flee.
    The voice sounded very familiar, although it had deepened significantly from when he last heard it. “Coal?”
    Shrubbery was suddenly hoisted into the air by the Volgan Coal’s signature bear hug. Coal was just ever so slightly taller than Shrubbery. His muscles were much more defined and like Shrubbery he looked rather plain. His spines were short but sharp and he was a gray and had very dark splotches of very dark gray all over his body. But unlike Shrubbery Coal’s horns looked more like weapons with a bit of very dry blood on them.
    “It’s good to see you Shrub. Next time wait at the edge though, I nearly attacked you!”
    Shrubbery was finally put down after a second of a rather sudden embrace. “Let me guess. You lost your territory?”
    Shrubbery’s happy expression vanished in a second. He looked down and sighed, “You know I’m not a fighter…” Shrubbery had a rather hard time hunting or fighting. He had tried different things, but alone he wasn’t very strong. He did live in a group for a rather long time, so maybe that was what kept him alive so long.
    “I know. I know. Don’t worry I’m glad you showed up out of nowhere actually. I need help and the other territory holders are too afraid to help.” Coal began to lead Shrubbery to the edge of his territory. Before they walked too far Shrubbery looked back at the tree with the three marks in it and a young voice echoed in his head.
    “Come on, catch up!”
    Two nubling Volgans ran through the forest jumping over roots, bushes and smaller animals. Both were no taller than four feet, both had drastically smaller spines. Their horns were more like small numbs on their heads. Their claws just sharp enough to cut into a deer’s hide. Their features were more rounded and they both had much lighter colored skin.
    “Come on Shrub, you can run faster than that, can’t you?”
    “You’re not being fair! You started running ahead of me!” Young Shrubbery yelled ahead at the young Coal. “Where are we even going?”
    “Keep up and you’ll find out!” Coal jumped into a tree and began jumping from one to the next, shouting and hollering the whole way through. “Come on, hurry up Shrub!”
    Shrubbery struggled to keep up but he suddenly lost track of Coal. “Coal?” He slowed down and kept walking until he reached a clearing. “Wow!” The young Shrubbery was staring at a crystal clear lake that was reflecting the sun’s shine off of it. “How did you find this place?”
    “I found it when I was hunting. Pretty cool huh?” Coal gave Shrubbery a big toothy grin and jumped into the lake without warning. Shrubbery couldn’t help but smile and jumped in after him. The two nublings wrestled and swam for the better part of the day. After spending their energy they crawled out of the lake and walk to a nearby tree. Shrubbery climbed up the tree and tossed Coal a fruit.
    “How much longer will you be around?” Coal called out to Shrubbery as he took a large bite of the juicy fruit.
    “Next winter I think.” Shrubbery’s left leg hung from the branch he sat on. He used his young but sharp claws to peel the fruit. “I was told to go and look for my own territory.” His voice began to lose volume as he spoke. Coal’s tail knocked against the tree and Shrubbery looked down.
    “Don’t worry you’ll be fine.” Coal said looking up at him, “You maybe be afraid of anything with four legs and mouth.” Shrubbery threw the core of his eaten fruit at Coal, hitting him in the head. “Heh, but you’re smart. Really smart, plus you’ve got instinct. I’m sure you’ll be alright.”
    “Maybe…could I come back if something happens?” Shrubbery dropped off the tree and stood next to Coal, “Like if I get kicked out or something?”
    Coal stood up and smiled, “I’ll guard this place with my life.” He and Shrubbery hooked their left arms together and gave each other toothy grins.
    A sudden noise from the tree beside them caught them off guard. Shrubbery back away from the noise coming from the forest and Coal bore his fangs and stepped in front of Shrubbery. “Come out or I’ll rip you’re throat out!”
    “Coal!” Shrubbery whined at him, getting a shrug from Coal.
    “Its intimidation.”
    The noise started again and Coal quickly turned his attention to it, “Shrub you circle around that way.” Coal led Shrubbery’s eyes towards the right with his hand. “And I’ll go the other way. Then we pounce.”
    “Y-you want me to fight?” Shrubbery recoiled in fear.
    “No. Nothing like that. Just help me scared whatever’s over there.” Coal patted his friend on the arm and quickly snaked his way through the forestation. Shrubbery just let out a heavy sigh and followed Coal’s plan.
    Shrubbery and Coal both took their positions and quickly understood that something was strange. A small creature sat against a tree making a sobbing noise. It was wearing a bunch of what looked and smelled like leather and hard very short golden brown hair. Shrubbery stared at the little sobbing figure for a moment more and stood up. He saw Coal signal for him to hide himself again, but he didn’t listen. He knew what crying was.
    “A-are you okay?” Shrubbery spoke up to the figure. It jumped and stared at Shrubbery in a mix between fear and amazement. But instead of run the creature just blinked. “…can you understand me?”
    The creature blinked again and Shrubbery thought for a moment. Then it came to him, he’d found some old books when a human caravan collapsed on the main road. He still remembered the scolding he got for being so close to them. He remembered some words and hoped it would understand them. He began to draw in the ground with his claw.
    The creature stared at the ground with shining sky-blue eyes, “Are…you…sad…”
    Shrubbery’s ear perked up, he looked at the creature. He could understand it but not the other way around? Weird…
    “I-I’m fine…I just had a fight with my papa…I ran away.” Shrubbery drew on the ground again, “Why? Well…he’s going to leave home again. My papa is a…um…huntsman I think…it’s a dangerous job and he said he might not come home…so…I-I…”
    The creature began to sob again and Shrubbery began to panic. Coal sighed heavily and jumped on Shrubbery, earning a gasp from the creature. He grabbed Shrubbery’s mouth and forced him to smile, he looked at the creature and gave a smile of his own.
    The creature quickly began to giggle, “You’re both so silly…I’m sorry for being in your forest.”
    Coal let go of Shrubbery and they both shook their heads and smiled. The creature smiled back and Shrubbery lent out his hand. Being mindful of his claws. The creature took it and stood up and they all began walking back to the main road.
    Along the way the creature spoke again, “Thank you for cheering me up, I wish I could come see you again…oh!” The creature ran over to an old tree and pulled out a small object and began picking at the tree until a claw-like mark appear. “Come here and make a mark here too!”
    Coal and Shrubbery shrugged and walked over, both followed after the creature’s example. “Now I won’t get lost, one day I’ll come back and wait by this tree! I hope I can see you both then!”
    Shrubbery smiled bashfully and Coal rubbed his snout. They led the creature back to the road and said their good-byes. Their first and final good-byes.
    A sudden crunching noise snapped Shrubbery back to his current surroundings. Coal had stopped beside him and was looking ahead into the trees ahead of them. Shrubbery took this as they had reached the edge of his territory. Demons of all shapes and sizes have territories, some are shared, but normally demons tend to live alone. All territories are fought over, and if the winner chooses they could kill the previous owner, but most just scare them off. Shrubbery knew that Coal was pretty strong, and plenty smart. He had guarded his territory for fifteen years. So if he had at problem with another territory holder, it was probably a more violent Volgan.
    Shrubbery could smell the faint scent of blood. This Volgan was a violent for sure. “What happened?”
    “A very violent Volgan decided to move in and killed my old neighbor. Poor guy. But now she’s trying to take over my part of the forest.” Coal gave Shrubbery a toothy smile, “Care to get a new home?”
    “You want me to fight?” Shrubbery recoiled in horror.
    “No. No. Nothing like that you hatchling.” Coal snickered, “I need you to back me up a bit. You see the Volganess knows I’m here alone so she’s been pretty violent in attacking me. But if she sees another with me, she’d be more careful and I could drive her off.”
    Shrubbery thought it over carefully, “F-fine. All I have to do is make her think I’m attacking right?” Coal patted his back and gave him a large toothy smirk.
    “Let’s go Shrub.” Coal snaked his way into the Volganess’s space and Shrubbery followed in suit but in the other direction.
    In moments Shrubbery was deeply regretting his hasty acceptance. This wasn’t just any female Volgan, she looked deadly! Shrubbery’s skin began to crawl as he gazed at the ferocious looking she-beast. Shrubbery snapped out of his thoughts and saw Coal a distance away. He approached the female and they spat words back and forth. And suddenly the fight was on!
    The female jumped at Coal but he moved out of the way quickly. He roared at the female and Shrubbery jumped out his hiding spot and bared his fangs as viciously as he could. Coal looked calm and ready to fight, the female had begun to back off a bit. But that didn’t stop him from shaking. Unfortunately the female quickly caught on and charged at Shrubbery.
    Coal closed the distance between himself and his friend and they both prepared for a fight.

    The forest was pretty calm for that time of day, although previously a lot of noise could be heard in the forest earlier. This made the forest’s visitor rather anxious. A human huntress, though huntress is a term used loosely, she was more of a guard-for-hire if anything, stepped into the forest carefully. Her clothes were made from a very strong but flexible cloth. She left no gaps on her body. She had a crossbow attached to her side with a short sword tied to the back of her waist. She had used both to cut down lesser demons in a pinch.
    She carefully remembered her current job; she was looking into the violent attacks on travelers by a female demon. She was told to just check up on it and see if there were any more with it. This was the kind of job she was best at. She was very quiet and didn’t have a very strong presence so she could sneak around easily. Any rookie would bring a band of hunters with them. While a good idea in some cases, scouting quietly would be near impossible.
    She snaked her way into the forest and saw no signs of the female demon, but she did see the aftermath of what looked like a fight. A faint trail of blood, claw marks in the trees and ground and crushed roots and bushes. “What happened here?” She checked around and stood up unsure whether she should stay or leave.

    She’s so pretty. That was the dominant thought, the only thing he could hold onto before he fell off the world. Shrubbery had seen humans before, but he never really paid them any mind. This human woman however, she was different, but he couldn’t explain how. She was covered in clothing but he could make out that she seemed to have a slim build, she also seem about to be an entire foot shorter than him, maybe more. He took in every single feature-her lightly tanned skin, and her short river of golden brown hair.
    “Be careful of the roads Shrub.” Coal’s voice echoed in his head. A short while earlier Coal and Shrubbery were licking their wounds. Shrubbery looked up at Coal with a questioning glance. “Nearby here is a town where a lot of humans live. Their packs are rather large but they don’t bother the forest. But it doesn’t hurt to be careful.”
    Shrubbery hummed softly, “So there are humans living nearby?”
    “Don’t even think about it. The humans want to be left alone, so leave em’ be.” Coal stood up from his sitting positon and popped a few kinks out of his back. “Anyway, welcome home old friend. It’s a pretty good guess that we want to share the land so I’ll see you tomorrow, I’m gonna burrow up for the night.” Coal patted Shrubbery on the shoulder and walked away. Shrubbery smiled to himself. Coal was one heck of a sleeper, even if he was a better hunter and fighter. He was lazy.
    But Coal’s warnings slowly faded from Shrubbery’s mind as he gazed upon the being before him. Dangers be damned. He wanted to know more about her.

    The huntress sighed a bit before turning slowly, catching in her sight a person in the distance looking at her. She tensed up quickly. No not a person, a demon. She immediately pulled out her crossbow and aimed it at the demon. She was ready to fight. She could take one demon…if he would move that is.
    For some reason the demon only looked at her. She took a moment and looked at the demon more closely. It didn’t seem like a violent type. Not a sharp edge to its body. She kept her crossbow aimed at it ready for whatever may come. She could have made her way to the main road, but something was bugging her. This demon that was still looking at her. Not coming closer, not attacking and not running, just…looking. There was…something about it that made her feel just a little bit calm. She took a small breath and lowered her crossbow slightly. Wondering if the demon would run after she did.
    It didn’t move at all.

    She’s one of the hunting humans? Shrubbery’s thoughts finally came back to him as he looked at the human. She seemed very wary and he couldn’t blame her. Demons, as they called them, and humans didn’t get along at all. Humans used a language most sentient demons could understand. Even if humans didn’t understand their own language, so there could be communication.
    But it never happened.
    Demons were animals and most carnivores by nature, unfortunately humans had meat. But against what humans thought, they weren’t very high on the menu at all. Humans didn’t taste good. Shrubbery had heard this from his previous pack. He’d rather each deer or bear meat anyway. But that didn’t stop some demons from killing humans for sport.
    Shrubbery finally stopped thinking and came back to the huntress, who was now looking at him. He blinked and decided to take a chance.

    The huntress held her crossbow at the ready. The demon started to move closer. She thought it might just leave if she waited, but now it was moving towards her. She didn’t know what it was planning but she was going to be ready.
    Shrubbery stopped about five feet from her.
    They got very good looks at each other. The huntress blinked in confusion as the demon looked at her. It seemed to be…observing her. Shrubbery thought the huntress was loosening up so he tilted his head to look at her more.
    “What do you want demon!”
    Shrubbery took a step back when the huntress spoke to him. She talked to him, actual words. This took up a bit of processing power on his part.
    He wanted to answer her. Had to answer her. This was his chance to talk to a human! So he opened his mouth. “Swofn uai za tipw bal sodnefr sa ty.”
    The huntress blinked. “You’re…thanking me?”
    She understood him! This was incredible! Shrubbery’s happiness was like a nubling getting an after dinner snack. He just figured humans couldn’t understand their language. But he seemed to be happily mistaken. But he had to be sure, so he tried again, “Uyz, E'jy fyjyl tys o witof oz hlyssu oz uai.”
    Sure it was a little forward, but he wanted to make sure.
    The huntress was officially confused. She took another step back and kept her aim. “Never met a human? And…did you just call me pretty?”
    Shrubbery nearly jumped for joy. Instead his tail wagged side to side quickly. He had just met this human woman and he was in a trance because of her. And now he was holding a conversation with her. Could this day get better?
    “Okay look…” She sighed and mumbled, “I must be going crazy. What do you want?” This wasn’t the first time she’d spoken to a demon; she good friends with a man who was married to an herbivorous demon. To each his own. So she knew some words from the demon language. Clearly this demon didn’t want hurt her. In fact it, or rather he from what she could tell, was acting more like a person who hadn’t talked to another living being in years.
    Shrubbery sat down in front of her. His tail was still wagging the whole while. He wanted to keep talking so he decided to make it really clear. It was simply a miracle that he had this chance after all. “E't zallu eb E zpolyk uai. E mizs qofsyk sa sodn sa uai. E'jy fyjyl lyoddu sodnyk sa ofaswyl witof xybaly. Qydd E fyjyl polyk sa, xis uail kebbylyfpy. E qofs sa nfaq oxais uai.”
    “Hold on slow down.” The huntress dropped her arm wielding the crossbow to her side and went back over what he said. “You’re sorry you scared me. Don’t worry you’re not scary. You want to talk and you’re saying I’m different?”
    Shrubbery nodded.
    “You…want to know about me? Why?”
    “Uai'ly xyoisebid.” He huffed air from his snout.
    “Because I’m beautiful?” The huntress raised an eyebrow and thought for a moment, “Is that all?”
    Shrubbery looked down and stayed quiet. Clearly his intention was to talk but he was initially drawn in by her beauty. And a small tick in the back of his mind.
    “…okay I get it, you’re different that’s for sure, why do you find me beautiful?” She wasn’t sure why but this demon seemed to be growing on her. Or maybe she was going crazy. She’d always wanted to talk to a demon before so maybe it was that.
    Shrubbery looked up at the huntress again and spoke. “Uai kaf's mizs daan hlyssu, xis uai wojy swez zslofry oel olaifk uai. Deny o faxdy. Uai pollu uailzydb qesw zslyfrsw.”
    The huntress felt her face redden just bit. “Air of a noble? Strength in my movements? Just how long were you watching me…”
    Shrubbery gave her a nervously toothy grin.
    “You’re weird…” The huntress found herself oddly at ease. This demon didn’t have any sort of bloodlust or viciousness about him. He seemed completely docile. She knew demons could think so she didn’t judge him all that heavily. But why did this strangely childish demon seem so…interesting…so familiar.
    “What’s your name?” If she dove in this far, might as well swim the whole way down.
    “Grass?” He shook his head no. “Bush?” Another shake. “Leafy?” He gave a visible sigh, “Hey I don’t know that word off the top of my head, cut me some…” Suddenly it came to her like a cold wind passing through her, “Shrubbery?”
    Shrubbery looked up at her and nodded quickly.
    She lost her breathe for a moment. “That’s…odd, because…my name is-,”
    A vicious and blood hungry roar echoed throughout that part of the forest. Shrubbery quickly came to his feet. The huntress also turned towards the roar, but Shrubbery was already on the move. Shrubbery ran past the huntress, towards the roar. The huntress stood still for a while but followed after him.
    Shrubbery stopped for a moment until he smelled the scent of fresh blood. He followed the smell until he came across the source of the roar. It was the same female Volgan that he had fought with Coal. In her teeth was a dead bear, its neck eaten open. The blood from the bear was still dripping from her sharp fans. Any other day this would have terrified Shrubbery.
    But he had no time to be scared. This demon wanted the territory back, but Shrubbery wasn’t done talking to the human woman. He bared his fangs and tensed up his claws, forcing them to sharpen. It was strange. He had never felt this prepared for battle before. He’d normally be running or trying to think of a way to get away. That idea went up in smoke as Shrubbery crouched down on all fours and lunged at the female Volgan.
    The female Volgan had a moment to be visibly shocked. The last time she saw Shrubbery was a while ago when he ambushed her with Coal. And he was acting like a completely different person. He seemed terrified of her before, hiding behind that b*****d of a Volgan that had been trying to drive her out for months. But now? He was vicious, violent and reeked of murderous rage.
    She couldn’t react before Shrubbery was in front of her. His claw dug into her chest creating three large gashes. The female roared out in pain and swatted Shrubbery away with the back of her claw. He hit the ground hard but quickly spun around to a crawling position. The female ran at him and tried to claw at him. Shrubbery moved out of the way and only got nicked here and there. He moved out of the way of a lunging attack and viciously bit down on his opponent’s tail, causing her to yell in pain. He violently tugged at her tail causing her to fall and threw her at a tree. Within seconds he was on her again.
    His vision suddenly got blurred when he felt a pain in his chest. The female had jammed a claw into his side and was drawing blood. He reached to pull the claw out before he was thrown to the side. The female Volgan jumped on him and bit into his neck hard. Shrubbery roared in pain. He had never felt so much pain at once. He really wasn’t a fighter after all. The pain in his neck stopped when he heard the female demon yell in pain. He looked up to see an arrow sticking out of where an eye should be.

    The huntress could only watch as the two demons started fighting. She assumed that the female was trying to take control of the territory. She continued to find herself looking at Shrubbery as he fought. She had thought him completely docile. But then again, a demon is a demon. She took the whole scene in-Shrubbery with blood on his claws, the female demon’s wounds, and the way Shrubbery moved. She had watched demons fight, she’d fought a few, but as she watched the fight unknown to her, an urge to help Shrubbery began to build.
    When the claw found its way into Shrubbery’s side she bit down on her lip and internally cheered him on. But the moment he was pinned down and the female demon bit into his neck, she grabbed her crossbow immediately. She had no idea what she was doing but she had to do it. Shrubbery was too interesting to let be killed here. She aimed her crossbow and shot an arrow straight at the female demon.

    The female demon screamed in pain and clawed at her face in an effort to remove the arrow. Her pain turned into visible rage as she turned to see the huntress standing a few twenty feet away. The female roared and ran at the huntress, prepared to cut her to pieces. But before she got too far into her run a claw grabbed her leg and forced her to the ground. Shrubbery was back up. He was panting and bleeding but refused to give up. The female hit him hard with her tail and refocused on the huntress. She got up and ran towards her.
    The huntress moved out of the way just in time to dodge the female’s claws. She readied her crossbow and shot another arrow into the female’s arm. The female grunted in pain and turned slamming her fists down at the huntress. She moved just in time to not get hit, but her crossbow became splinters, providing the huntress with an image of what would happen if she got caught. But she was in this fight, whether she liked it or not.
    The huntress wasn’t cornered for long. Shrubbery had swung his fist into the female’s side. An audible crack could be heard as the female let out another roar of pain. The huntress saw this as the perfect moment. She pulled out her short sword and jumped up and thrust the sword up the jaw of the female. Blood trailed down the short sword and the huntress hand as she held it in place. The female shook for a while trying to reach for the huntress, but her movements stopped and her body fell limp.
    She was dead.
    Shrubbery dropped the corpse and fell to his rump. He took slow breathes, like any one of them would be his last. The adrenaline running through him coming to a halt. The huntress took a seat next to him. The border between them seemed thinner than air now. The next movement, the next word would be what made everything it needed to be-
    Shrubbery abruptly moved and nuzzled the side of the huntress face. Her face flushed red and she slowly placed a hand on his snout, the female demon’s blood making a hand print. She looked at Shrubbery as he nuzzled the side of his face against hers. “I forgot to tell you name huh?”
    Shrubbery nodded and continued to nuzzle his new friend.
    “It was funny really, because my name is Fern.” A child’s voice echoed in his head as he watched Fern’s feature return from a child’s to the woman before him. Shrubbery blinked at her and he watched himself through her sky-blue eyes, he had noticed them before. A small, tired smile grew on his face. And against Fern’s better judgement, she looked into his own reddish-brown eyes, ones she hadn’t gotten a good look at before. And watched as one grew on her face as well.