The walk was shorter than Phisto had expected - only an hour of uneventful walking. During this period, Junior filled them in on what, exactly, he wanted them for.
Apparently, his village had held its own even during the fiercest parts of the human-monster war. Even after being destroyed by a malevolent Elder Dragon, the villagers had simply rebuilt and got on with their lives. But now, the war was raging fiercer than ever, and the village, for the first time ever, was struggling to hold on.
Ever since an Agsolestea attack fifteen years ago, Junior said, the entirety of Moga Woods have been out of control. Monsters appeared unexpectedly and randomly, and the villagers were even attacked by monsters not normally found in the area. It seemed as if the monsters were redoubling their efforts to crush the Mogan humans and win the war.
Junior's tale ended just as they walked out from the forest and onto a large, rocky expanse overlooking the ocean. As Phisto, Catry, and Morgana gawked at the view, Junior led them over to a flimsy-looking wooden gate, unlocked it, and led them inside. Phisto assumed that the gate was to keep small children from wandering out into the woods - after all, a good-sized Qurupeco could knock that wall down without breaking a sweat.
It was then that Phisto got his second unexpected surprise, just after they crossed the long wooden bridge out into a small, secluded bay.
Moga Village was tiny.
Seriously, Phisto had never seen such a small settlement in his life. Granted, the only settlement he had seen before was Loc Lac City, but that didn't deny the fact that this village was absolutely miniscule. From what he could see right now, there were about ten or eleven villagers living here. That was it.
Oh, and there was the fact that Moga Village was built completely out of wooden planks resting on top of the surface of the bay. Phisto shook his head, wondering how these people could survive like this. If an Elder Dragon really had destroyed this village, it was probably just by playfully splashing it, Phisto thought to himself.Junior immediately led them to the Chief. He was a wizened old man, as tall as Junior and wearing nothing but a cloak and a loincloth. He constantly smoked a long pipe and had snow-white hair.
"Welcome, welcome to Moga Village!" the Chief cried out heartily, causing several of the villagers to look over curiously. The entire village must have heard him, which wasn't exactly a feat in itself. "From the look of you three kids, you must be hunters, am I right?"
Phisto, Morgana, and Catry all nodded. "I swear, they let 'em join the Guild younger and younger," the Chief muttered, before addressing them again. "I'm rightfully glad and very surprised that Junior" - here said man gave an uncomfortable cough - "found you wanderin' around. I mean, what're the odds three hunters would be roamin' around Moga Woods? Are ya huntin'?"
Morgana and Catry both looked at Phisto and nudged him forward. "Um, no, sir, we're not," Phisto stammered - he had never been much of a speaker. "We were, uh... banished from Loc Lac city six months ago, and we've been trying to reach Yukumo Village as a new base of operations."
The Chief stroked his chin thoughtfully. "Banished, eh?" he asked. "Nasty punishment, that is. But you can stay here instead, if you want. It's calmer and more peaceful than Yukumo, not to mention cozier. And we also have a Guild associate keeping a constant eye on us, so you'll be able to hunt and earn your zenny from here instead of Loc Lac."
Phisto looked at his friends. Morgana nodded, and Catry shrugged. "I guess that's better than nothing," Phisto said to himself, then turned back to the Chief. "We'd be happy to stay with you, sir."
The Chief laughed and slapped Phisto on the back heartily. "That's what I like ta hear!" he guffawed as Phisto shakily regained his balance. "Now," he went on, more seriously, "we've been having quite a bit of trouble these past few years. Monsters we've never seen before have been croppin' up in greater numbers. We're desperately in need of hunters, and I guess you three kids'll have to do."
Junior piped up from the sidelines. "We've been having a lot of trouble finding a hunter willing to help us. I personally think that Loc Lac and Port Tanzia can't be bothered defending a pile of thrown-together planks and boats, but that's just me." Phisto nodded - it was pretty likely, since he hadn't even heard of Moga Village before today.
Suddenly the Chief handed Phisto an official slip of paper. Phisto recognized it well - it was a hunting request, straight from the Guild. "When the Guild heard the three of you were headin' in this direction - from one'a their observation balloons, I bet - they sent a bunch o' these. These new monsters are makin' a reputation of themselves, to tell ya the truth. This one's been causing trouble for an entire fifteen years, and we still haven't brought it down."
Morgana took the paper and looked at it intently. "A Great Jaggi?" she said with mild skepticism. "The Guild can't even bring one of these down?" The Chief shrugged and replied, "Maybe. Or maybe they think it isn't worth the effort, as Junior mentioned. In any case, this bugger's been terrorizin' us for fifteen years straight. Think the three of ya can handle it for us?"
Catry nodded in response. "What are we waiting for?" he demanded to the others. "We've got a monster to kill!" He marched off toward the bridge leading back to Moga Island itself. Morgana was about to follow him when she noticed Phisto hanging back.
"Come on, what are you scared of?" she asked concernedly. "It's only a Great Jaggi - you're wearing armor made from the skin of one." Phisto smiled and shifted nervously. "It's not that," he murmured. "It's just... I just don't have a very good feeling about this."
Morgana frowned. "What do you mean?" she asked, drawing closer to him and leaning in curiously. Phisto answered, "I mean - all of these monsters all of a sudden appearing in the middle of Moga Woods. Wouldn't the Guild have noticed something about this by now? Why hasn't anyone mentioned it before?"
Phisto took a breath and continued. "Think about it. This Jaggi has supposedly been causing trouble for fifteen years. And Junior said that an Agsolestea was spotted around the same time. What's going on? Why haven't we heard of these abnormalities?"
His friend sighed and took his hands in hers encouragingly. "Phisto, I don't know why any of this is happening either. But we have to trust that it's nothing too bad. It's just a freak outbreak of monsters, nothing more. Everything will go back to normal eventually, OK?"
Phisto smiled and nodded. Morgana was such a good friend. "Alright," he amended. "Let's go hunt that Great Jaggi."
Junior told them that the Great Jaggi had a set patrol route around Moga Woods, and thus it would be easy to predict where their quarry would be. At this time of the day, he told them, the boss would be lounging in the Jaggi nest deep in the Moga Woods' cliff network.
But what they hadn't expected to find was thirty or forty Jaggis waiting for them when they got there.
A loud, echoing howl split the air, and they looked up to see the Great Jaggi standing on an elevated platform on the side of the cliff, behind the small army of Bird Wyverns. "I knew there'd be Jaggis protecting the leader, but this is ridiculous," Phisto mumbled, drawing the Bloodbolts and holding them at the ready.The Great Jaggi howled again, and the pack charged.
Catry didn't hesitate, taking out his Lacerator Blade and yelling a battle cry as he fearlessly met the Jaggi pack. "He's going to get himself killed one of these days," Morgana sighed. She readied her shield and followed, running after Catry with Phisto close behind.
The two sides met, and chaos quickly unfolded. Catry swung his blade blindly, killing two or three Jaggis with each slash. Morgana tried to keep up with him, but he was already in the midst of the pack. She lashed out with her shield, mercilessly bashing the Bird Wyverns aside in an effort to get to him. Any Jaggi that got past Morgana's shield was sliced by Phisto's Dual Blades.
Eventually, they managed to clear a path through the wall of snapping jaws and slashing claws and meet up with Catry. With the Great Jaggi perched above, the Jaggi pack fell back and allowed the three to stand together. "What are they doing?" Phisto muttered. "It can't be good," Morgana replied, and motioned for them to form a triangle, standing back to back.
Then the Great Jaggi gave another ear-splitting call, and at least fifty Jaggis poured out of the slots in the cliff to join their comrades. "Oh, come on!" Catry yelled with frustration.
Phisto swallowed thickly even as he tighted his grip on his Dual Blades. How could a mere three hunters ever hope to overcome such a horde? But they had to do it, if Moga Village were to ever become safe again.
At the signal provided by the Great Jaggi, all of the Jaggi fanned out and surrounded the friends. The Great Jaggi barked again, and the swarm charged forwards, shrieking and barking, each eager for a morsel. The three assumed battle-ready poses as they backed up toward each other. Any Jaggi that wanted a piece of them would have to go through their weapons.
Not a single Jaggi made it. Catry smashed the flat of his Lacerator Blade onto a Jaggi, then swung it around and cleaved another two in half. Morgana blocked the alternating bites of her portion of the swarm, then struck out at each of them with her Lance. Even the tiniest of scratches proved fatal to the little Bird Wyverns due to the poison within the weapon. Phisto wildly lashed out with Bloodwing and Deathbolt, and a pile of Jaggi corpses began to build up at his feet.
In their triangle formation, the Jaggis that faced them were dropping like Bnahabra. Phisto's short ranged weapons ensured that the Jaggi facing him alone were doomed, but Catry's Great Sword and Morgana's Lance were able to cover a wide area. This was proven when the edge of Catry's blade nicked a Jaggi on Phisto's side, slicing its arm off and sending it scurrying.
The closest call came after two minutes of the carnage. A hopeful Jaggi actually jumped on top of Catry's Lacerator Blade when he swung it, using the momentary leverage to make another jump. Before anyone could react, the Jaggi had made it over Catry's startled head and was coming in for a landing on top of Phisto's.
He never saw it coming, not until he heard the shriek of the incoming Bird Wyvern. Phisto looked up, and his eyes widened. A second later, a sharp prong appeared out of nowhere and ran the Jaggi through. Phisto turned to meet Morgana's gaze as she smiled at him, sharply snapping her wrist and sending the dead monster flying off of Luinox's point.Within minutes, it was all over. Not a single Jaggi remained alive. Panting, Phisto allowed himself a moment of recovery, as did the others. But just then, the Great Jaggi itself jumped down from its perch, landing solidly on the ground in front of them and roaring in anger. With a mild groan, Phisto raised his swords once more, prepared to do battle.
Although it had been hiding behind a wall of minions, the Great Jaggi proved itself to be an unusually tough fight. As the three teenagers slashed and stabbed and slashed again, it managed to avoid all but the most minor of the blows. Phisto ran at it with Deathbolt ready to strike, it snapped at his arm, forcing him to fall back lest he lose the limb. At the same time, Catry approached from behind with a yell, only to have the Great Jaggi's tail swat him away with a heavy thud.
It was Morgana who managed to get the first opening. When the Great Jaggi looked back in order to aim its tail, she leapt into its blind spot and thrust Luinox at it. The poisonous Lance pierced its flank, causing it to stumble and give a pathetic squeak of pain. Phisto jumped in as well, taking advantage of the momentary distraction to swipe a few times with the Bloodbolts.
The Great Jaggi gave a long, desperate howl, trying to call more Jaggis to defend itself. But just as it was doing so, Catry let out a mighty yell and swung his Lacerator Blade in a huge uppercut. The blow caught the Great Jaggi on the underside, sending it flying over to land painfully next to the cliff wall. Blood poured from its new wound as it gave a single, pitiful cry, its life ebbing away.
Job done, Phisto, Catry, and Morgana put away their weapons and sat down heavily on the ground, trying to get their breath back. It had been an unusually tough fight, especially since they had hunted numerous Great Jaggi before. It was Phisto who first got to his feet and went over to the Great Jaggi corpse, carving off two scales and a claw as his rewards for the hunt.
But just as he put away his carving knife, a huge claw lunged out of the hole in the cliff wall and dragged the Great Jaggi into it. Phisto jumped back in horror, and a loud, rumbling roar emanated from the hole, shaking stones from the cliffs.
Morgana's eyes were wide, never wavering from the hole in which the Great Jaggi had been dragged into. "What was that?" she asked fearfully. Phisto shook his head and began to back away from the cliff. "I don't know," he replied, "but something tells me that it isn't friendly. Let's get out of here before that thing decides to come out for more."
The three hunters then turned around and ran away from the Jaggi nest, eager to put distance between them and the unknown monster that was undoubtedly feasting on the Great Jaggi they had killed. One thing is for certain, thought Phisto, taking a single look back at the now-empty nest that was rapidly drawing farther away. Moga Woods is a lot more dangerous of a hunting ground now.
To be Continued...