"No one plans to take the path that leads you lower." -Jerry Cantrell
I will indeed be re-writing this. The whole thing. "Tears for the Fallen Remastered" is happening. I.e: Tears for the Fallen Remastered
The story of the hunter Talos and his apprentice, a young girl named Azuriade. Together they will learn about each others pasts, their guilts, their secrets, and their sadness. And perhaps, through Azuriades' love, Talos will learn how to forgive himself.
Main Theme - The Unforgiven III - Metallica
Talos's Theme - The Unforgiven II - Metallica
Talos's Nightmare - Black Gives Way To Blue - Alice In Chains
All rights to the music featured here go to their respective owners.
The Terracertas- This is an entire new family of monsters, signified by a quadrapedal stance and a lizard-like body. They do not possess wings. In fact, they look relatively similar to Jinouga. However, they do not have fur or a wolf-like structure. Members of this species are: Gendrokk, Carchakk, Rivakk, Venorakk, and Cryakk. They often possess a breath attack, such as Gendrokks sand spit or Carchakks flamethrower-esque attack. New members of the species are being discovered at a quick pace.
- Gendrokk: The desert-faring species of the Terracerta family. The Gendrokk is quite large, often measuring over 20 feet long and 7 feet at the shoulder. The Gendrokk is often seen as the most basic of the Terracertas, possessing all the features that define the group and nothing more. The tail is long and powerful, and its arms and legs are well muscled and strong. Possess a breath attack in the form of a sand spray, which stuns prey.
- Carchakk: Also known as "Carchaktor, these are the volcanic species of the Terracerta family. Known as the most violent and brutal members of the family, Carchakks are notorious for completely leveling villages in fits of destructive rage. Carchakks are a blackish-red in color, and are more ornamented then their desert cousins. Along with this, they are much larger, the biggest specimens being over 12 feet at the shoulder and almost 40 feet long. Following with the family features, the Carchakk can exhale a sort of flamethrower, like the Teostra, with maximum range exceeding 15 feet.
- Venorakk: One of the smallest members of the Terracerta family, Venorakk dwell in the dense swamps of the region. Hardly ever exceeding 18 feet long and 5 at the shoulder, Venorakk still pack a punch. They prefer darkness to ambush their prey with cunning and can unleash a stream of acidic fluid, which poisons their prey and makes for an easy takedown.
- Cryakk: A tundra and mountainous species of the Terracerta, the Cryakk are the very largest of the Terracertas, with some specimens reaching lengths of over 50 feet, and almost 20 feet at the shoulder. Their large spines contribute to the size of the beast, making it seem much more threatening. The Cryakk are very adept climbers, and have even been seen leaping great heights. Their crests are not quite as pronounced as other Terracertas, however, it's nasal cavity has been found to be much larger then other members of the species. Its breath attack consists of releasing a powerful icy blast, which begins as a thin beam and ends in a huge freezing explosion.
- Rivakk: The most recent discovery in the Terracerta family, the Rivakk is also the most intriguing. It is a nocturnal hunter, appearing only at night. So far the only environment it has been sighted in is the desert cliffsides. The Rivakk has deep black hide and golden eys, which glow at night. The monsters snout is much stouter then the other members of its family. Also, its tail ends in a heavy mace-like appendage, different from the normally straight, powerful tails of other Terracertas. However, the Rivakk still possess a breath attack, in the form of a sweeping stream of the dragon element, similar to the move preformed by the Deviljho while in rage.
Check out my User Page for drawings of these monsters and more of my creations! Some others are featured in my fanfic too, so look for those too.
Chapter 1–New Beginnings
I stood at the front door of the guild hall. I was pretty sure I had heard my name. Turning around, I began to walk forward, straight into a young girl. She was a head under me, with long, strikingly blue hair and soft features. She wore light clothes and brown boots.
“Pardon me” I said.
“Ohhhh…your..your..Talos?” stammered the girl.
“Yes, that’s me. And you might be..?”
“Oh…uh…my name is Azuriade…” she sputtered. “Your the legendary hunter, Talos! I knew it was you, no other hunter has armor as beautiful and awesome as your Rathalos Soul Z! I had heard you were coming…and I was hoping to, well, meet you.”
“Well, it seems you have gotten your wish. You want me to sign your bla…? I noticed she wasn’t carrying a weapon.
“Errr…well, I was hoping you could…like…”
“Spit it out.”
“Well, I was hoping you could…teach me about hunting?”
I considered this for a second. Many people had requested my training, some of them not as sincere as others. She seemed sincere, but still…
“Hmmm. Have you any formal training?” I queried.
“Well…I had to kill a Giaprey once because it was scaring our Popos.” She replied.
“No training then. The art of hunting is more then just hitting things until they die. It requires skill. And skill is hard to teach.”
“Well, I guess I could attempt to teach you.”
At this she started screaming with delight, jumping all over the place, attracting the attention of almost the whole town.
“Pipe down, little girl!” I hissed. “I don’t need this much attention!”
She quickly calmed herself.
“To even begin hunting, you need a weapon. A Gravios will not die from you punching it.” I informed her.
“Have you ever tried???” she asked.
“No. But that’s beside the point. You need to choose a weapon. There are 11 weapon types: Greatsword, Longsword, Sword and Shield, Dual Blades, Hammer, Hunting Horn, Lance, Gunlance, Bow, Light Bowgun, and the Heavy Bowgun. They all have different styles of fighting, and their appearance hints at this.”
Azuriade pondered over the large selection. Frequently, she asked me about a weapons abilities and power. Soon her selection was clear. Lifting up a large iron hammer, she swung it around, nearly taking out a door.
“Careful.” I muttered.
I took her hammer and replaced it with one of mine, the Iron Devil. It was much better then her choice, a lowly War Hammer.
“Thanks soooo much!” she grinned. “Can we go fight something now???”
“Sure, my disciple.” At this her eyes lit up.
“Disciple?? Whoa…this is AWESOME!”
“I know. Now, our first enemy shall be, lets see here…Ahh.” I perused the requests.
“What is it!!!” She was almost bursting with excitement.
“Someone is having a little trouble with a Rathalos.” I told her. “Should be no problem for us.”
“Rathalos! That’s the fire wyvern, right?”
“For sure. Ready?”
We set off for the forested hillside to meet with our client, a shop owner. I had forgotten that this was Azuriade’s first air balloon ride. She was jumping around, leaning over the edges and staring up into the flames that drove the balloon. Any longer and she would be jumping out.
“OMG OMG OMG OMG!!! THIS IS AMAZING! My friends are gonna be sooooooooo jealous!” She danced around the balloon.
“Calm down, unless you want to be outside this balloon.” I remarked. “You have to be prepared for the oncoming battle.”
“But I’ve got everything I need in my bag!” She pulled out a sack the size of her. “Potions, steaks, antidotes, fish, traps, bombs, paintballs, more potions, farcasters, pyschoserums, whetstones, even MORE potions, herbs, honey, Book of Combos…”
All the while, as she was listing these items, she was taking them out of the pack and placing them behind her. Too bad the basket ended right behind her. There was quite a large BOOM as the Large Barrel Bombs hit the ground. She noticed this just after she had tossed out the last steak.
“No worry. I have everything we need in my pack.” I assured her.
After about an hour, the balloon let us down onto a slight ridge, overlooking a river. Aptonoth roamed below us.
“You ready?” I asked.
“Dude, I was born ready…I think”
Chapter Two–King of the Skies
We began the long trek into the heart of the forest after eating a little. The sunlight dappled through the leaves, creating beautiful patterns in the dirt below. Entering a thin tunnel of trees, I motioned for her to get down. Rathalos stood, in all his grandeur, at the end of the tunnel. She darted behind a thick root, while I hugged the wall next to the trunk of a grand tree. Eventually, the great wyvern turned and began lumbering down the pathway. Soon he would smell us, and the hunt would be on. My hands went to the Greatsword strapped to my back. This was my prized Greatsword, fashioned out of the claw of a Terra Shogun Ceanataur, after I slayed the menace. I had struck down countless a monster with this blade.
Rathalos had almost reached our hiding spots. Soon he would pass by me, and I would signal to Azuriade to commence the attack. Any moment now…
Then, his head popped into view. I pressed myself tighter against the wall, hoping to avoid attention. My bright blue armor wasn’t helping. Rathalos cocked his head to the side and noticed the abnormality in color. Oops… I thought. He raised his head and let out a deafening roar. Good thing I had Earplugs. Azuriade leapt up and smashed her hammer into the wyverns foot. Aggravated, Rathalos launched a volley of fireballs in her direction. She rolled just under them.
I pulled out my sword and let his head have it. Dazed by the blow, Rathalos snapped at me. I quickly slid past his mouth and swung my sword over my head and into his jaw. The loud crunch made me grin. Not Rathalos. He unleashed another roar, stunning Azuriade. I darted just in front of her and blocked the incoming charge. Bouncing back, I grabbed her by the waist with my free arm and pulled her with me.
“Thanks.” She gasped.
“All in a days work. Now, back to the fight?” I replied.
Rathalos was just recovering from his charge, and turned to us.
“Duck!” I cried, as he took off and flew at us, hoping to grab someone with his claws. He just passed over us, and landed about 10 feet away. Quickly, I unsheathed my blade, and with one fluid movement, charged forward and removed the wyverns tail.
Rathalos screamed out in pain, and I saw that he had entered rage. Black smoke erupted from his jaws, and his crest had extended. The wyvern pivoted and launched a huge blast of fire. I dove out of the way, and noticed Azuriade rushing behind the wyvern. Quickly, she pulled back her weapon and swung it into Rathalos’s leg. The great beast tripped forward, and I could hear the crunching of bone. Grinning, I ran forward and nestled my sword on my shoulder, charging it. At the final second, I let go, and slammed the sword into the wyverns head. It screamed in agony and turned around, thoroughly pissed off. Deciding that I was the more deadly threat, it rushed at me, giving me no time to lift my blade. I would have to time this roll. Just as he was about to crush me, I rolled in between the great beasts legs, and out to safety. But Rathalos wasn’t done yet. He lifted off into the sky, preparing for an aerial assault.
Hovering, Rathalos eyed me, and prepared to rip me to shreds. He quickly swooped down, his huge claws tearing at me. One claw slammed me, slicing into my chestplate like butter. The venom coated talon had sunken deep into my chest. I took a deep breath, then gripped the foot that held me down and pushed off. The talon slid out with a grinding noise, but I was still pinned.
Azuriade came to my rescue, lifting up her huge iron hammer and giving Rathalos a good whack on the head. He was dizzied by the strength of the blow. The wyvern tumbled off me and onto his side. I could see the stars in his eyes. I rolled over and hopped to my feet. Taking my sword, I raised it up and plunged it into Rathalos’s skull. He screeched, then went limp. I stood over his corpse. Even in death the King of the Skies was magnificent.
“Wow…That was amazing…” breathed Azuriade.
“Beautifully executed.” I said.
“Talos, your injured!” She spoke softly. I looked at my chestplate. Blood and poison oozed from the hole in the armor. I fell to my knees and clutched at my chest. The poison had to begun to burn.
“Antidote..In my bag…” I hacked. Azuriade quickly rummaged through my items and pulled out a blue liquid in a jar. I pulled off my helm and drank the whole jar. Wiping my mouth, I thanked her and secured my helmet.
“Wow! You look really different without your helm!” She said.
“Thank you…I guess.” I mumbled “We should call in the airship and get back to the village.”
“Ok! I’ll get the flare.” She pulled a small, cylindrical object out of my pack and lit it. It sailed far up into the air and flashed. About 10 minutes later and we were boarding the hot air balloon.
An hour later, we had been dropped off at the Guild Hall. With all the materials from Rathalos, we decided to visit the armor smiths and fashion Azuriade some real armor. The blacksmith saw us coming and raised his hand in greeting.
“Hello, Azuriade! I see you have some fire wyvern materials. Didn’t know you were in the hunting business.” He chuckled.
“I am now, thanks to my new mentor!” she exclaimed.
“And who might this be?” the man said. I was standing off to the side, arms crossed, back turned, hoping to avoid attention. When people notice me, it gets ugly.
“Oh he’s over there. His name is Talos, you might know him.”
“TALOS! The Talos???? Talos, the greatest hunter in Minegarde!!!”
“Yea! He’s teaching me!”
“Girl, you’ve finally gone insane.”
“No…I believe I am the Talos. One look should tell you.” I said calmly.
The old man gasped as he looked me over. My armor was my trademark, armor as dark blue as twilight, beautiful as a starry night.
“Talos…coming to this lowly town. I would have thought…you would go to place of better reputation, like Loc Lac, or…” he mumbled.
“Yes, many would think that. But, enough talk my friend. My young companion needs some armor.”
“Sorry, one full set of Rathalos coming up.”
He walked out with a jumble of red armor after a half hour. Looking tired and sweaty, he placed the armor out on the table.
“Hmm….let me see here…need some zenny…” Azuriade fumbled with her money pouch.
“No matter.” I said “I’ll pay.” Quickly I dished out the 25,000z needed. The old man mumbled something incoherent and left.
“Well, go try it on!” I urged.
She came back after a few minutes, looking like a real hunter, in ferocious red armor and carrying a huge maul.
“How do I look?” She queried.
“Not bad. Like a true Huntress…” I replied.
She exploded again. More attention for me, I suppose.
Chapter 3- A Darker Side
(This is from Azuriade’s point of view)
I sat on the bed, tears streaming down my cheeks. The book sat open on my bedside table. The book was one of the few memento’s of my dead family. The only other items were a shattered sword and a damaged helmet. My whole family was dead, from my parents to my brother. All the men in my family had been great hunters, with my brother being one of the best. I was the only surviving member, as of now.
The book was my brother’s hunting record and journal. Inside were all his awards and prizes, as well as the sizes of monsters he had battled. I wondered what Talos’s would look like. Probably filled with amazing awards and a great number of monster kills.
At the Hunters name, I burst into a fresh bout of sobbing. He face was just like Kyros’s, the same eyes, nose, mouth. Even his hair was the same color, a color black as midnight. The only difference was the shell of armor surrounding him. My brother always wore his prized Akantor set, armor with a captivating black sheen.
I searched through my brothers hunting journal, examining his awards and titles. Then I hit the back of the small book. Written in ink was a small message:
“Ever proud of you!”- F. and M.
It was written by my Mother and Father, dead for many years. My brother had been a great hunter, who took care of me once our parents died. He was a legend in the village, saving it many times. But one day, he accepted a quest into the Mountains and never returned. I was 14.
That day was the worst day of my life. I remembered locking the house doors and not coming out for 2 days. The whole time I sat in his room and cried on his bed. No one could make me leave. I held onto my brother’s belongings, and refsed to believe he was actually dead. However, on the third day, my mind was dealt a crippling blow. Someone was knocking on the door and wouldn’t leave, so I decided to yell at them. When I answered, a man handed me the shattered hilt of my brothers Longsword, Shadow of the Moon, and his Akantor helm. The side was gashed and crumpled. I took them and slammed the door on the man, running back to my room. I cried for 2 more days. Only the elder could convince me to come out.
I wanted to dearly avenge my brother, to destroy every monster who ever darkened the land and ravaged the towns. But I couldn’t. Everything seemed so…out of place. It felt like everyone was a stranger. I even shunned Malak, my secret crush. I didn’t speak for 5 months.
Tears slid down my face and onto the book, staining my brothers Silver medal for completion of all special trainings. I got up and placed the book under my pillow. My eyes were red and blurry.
A knock sounded on the door.
“Hello?” I croaked.
“Azuriade? You in here?” said Talos’s voice. Even his voice was similar to Kyros’s, deep and powerful.
“Y-y-yes…’ I stammered.
“You ok? I thought I heard crying.”
“No…I’m fine. You can come in, it’s not locked.”
He entered, wearing his Rathalos armor, dark as the night sky. A silver blade was strapped to his back.
“You don’t look fine. Your eyes are all red.”
“Just some minor dust allergies”
“Ok. Are you good for a hunt?”
“Yea, just let me get some armor on.”
“Yea…right.” he sounded a little embarrassed. I was only wearing a shirt along with my underclothes. He left rather hastily.
I strapped on my new armor. It was a shiny crimson, and fit like a glove. I would have to thank Talos later. Wiping my eyes, I donned the helm and strapped Iron Devil onto my back. The weight felt reassuring. I was avenging my brother, and no monster would stand in my way.
I stood next to Talos in the hot air ballon. He was a head over me, and he seemed taller thanks to his heavy armor.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Well, there have been disturbances in the Desert, although I am not certain what the cause is. Some have told me a Tigrex is ravaging the oasis towns…”
A Tigrex, I thought. That monster put my dad into retirement. It clawed him straight through his armor, rendering his left arm useless. He retired on the spot after slaying it.
I felt a nudge on my arm. Talos was poking me.
“What?” I cried
“Sorry, to interrupt, but we are arriving at the desert guild station. Soon we should find out the problem.” he said
I stared at the vast sea of sand below. Its span was breathtaking. However, almost no life could be seen on it’s surface.
“Are you sure anything lives here?” I asked.
“Don’t worry. There are monsters. Lots of very temperamental monsters, that is.” Talos said.
I can’t wait.
Chapter 4- Ocean of Sand
We stepped out of the balloon and onto to launch pad. The head of the desert guild was there to greet us. He was a young man, very tan and strong-looking. He wore armor that seemed to be some sort of fur.
“My armor, young hunter? It’s made of Copper Blangonga pelts.” He answered my mental question.
“Copper…Blangonga? I thought they were only in th…” I stuttered.
“The Snowy Mountains? Yes, the Copper Blangonga is a rare desert faring subspecies of the normal Blangonga. Their fur makes strong armor.”
“Oh. That’s cool! What other subspecies are there?” I asked
“Later.” Talos interrupted. “Xavier, what did you call us down here for?”
“Ah, yes” said Xavier, the guild leader. “The town of Hikari, deep in the desert, has been set upon by a rather large and angry Tigrex. Casualties have already be reported.”
“Hmm…a Tigrex. I hate Tigrex.” Talos muttered. “How big we talking?”
“Supposedly, this is the biggest reported Tigrex in at least a decade. One hunter said it to be at least a gold crown hunt.”
“What’s a gold crown hunt?” I cut in.
“Sometimes, larger-than-normal monsters are reported. The Guild recognizes these large monsters as “gold crown hunts”. Special notice is given to those who can best a gold crown monster.” answered Xavier.
“Have you ever gotten any gold crowns, Talos?” I asked.
“Hmmm…I did slay a gold crown Rathalos once. In fact, I’m wearing that Rathalos right now.” He chuckled. “Now, a gold crown Tiggy…”
“You think you can take it on?” questioned Xavier.
“We’ll do the best we can.” said Talos firmly.
The balloon couldn’t take us over the harsh desert, so we were forced to ride some desert Aptonoth. Desert Aptonoth are leaner, faster and more resistant to the heat of the desert. Hikari was a long way, and the trip was going to take the whole day.
“The sun is setting. You will need some warmth.” said one of the guides.
Talos handed me a bottle of liquid. He took another out of his pack and gulped it down. I followed suit. The liquid was hot and filled me with warmness.
Soon, it had grown cold, and I saw what the guide had meant. Without a hot drink you would be freezing. I was hoping we would set up camp, but our group carried on.
“Less chance of Tigrex smelling our animals.” said another guide.
We arrived at Hikari in the early morning. Nothing seemed amiss at first, but as we entered I could see the fear in peoples eyes. It was sad.
“We will begin our hunt soon.” whispered Talos. “I hope you are prepared.”
“Don’t worry. I’m definitely ready.” I responded.
We were given a small, one room dorm. I changed into my armor, and Talos suited up. His weapon, a long, thin blade, gleaming in the bright sun.
“What is that weapon?” I asked.
“It’s a Longsword, my weapon of choice. This one is a personal favorite, Wailing Cleaver. Tiggy just hates it.” Talos replied.
“Well, it’s imbued with the Thunder element. It gets that from Khezu extract and Thunderbug jelly. Tigrex has a natural weakness to Thunder.”
“You can imbue elements into weapons? Thats amazing!”
“I know. Quite the technological advancement.”
“Are you ready?”
We left after dark, to avoid attention. We would return with the Tigrex in the morning, as a surprise. Drinking a hot beverage, I crept behind Talos, out of the desert town.
The night air was refreshing and cool. Wisps of cold air floated over the white dunes. Shooting stars blazed over our heads in the night sky. But I knew these dunes would be the site of bloodshed.
“Shhhh!’ Talos whispered.
“Huh?” I nearly said out loud.
“The Tigrex is flying in.”
Sure enough, when I looked up I could see the black shape of a wyvern. It descended quickly, almost falling to the ground. After its landing, the monster stood up on its hind legs and began walking across the dunes.
“Wait until it stops moving.” Talos muttered.
The beast slowly inched forward, then stopped, putting its paws on the ground. Wings extended from Tigrex’s arm, rather then being attached to it back. It cocked its head up and sniffed the air. Suddenly, Tigrex swiveled its head towards out hiding place.
“Now!” Talos cried, as the monster let out a deafening roar. The hunter jumped out from behind our rock, and rolled forward. I followed suit, as Tigrex was watching us. Quickly, Talos closed the distance between the great beast and himself.
Tigrex had decided this was enough play. It raised its front foot and rushed at Talos. He quickly dived out of the way, and rolled towards The monsters tail. He drew Wailing Cleaver with astonishing speed, with one fluid movement Talos had severed Tigrex’s tail. It flopped to the ground, as the monster screamed in agony.
I broke out of my spell, and rushed the monster, now feet from me. Lifting Iron Devil, I smacked the spiked end into Tigrex’s foot. The creature turned to face me, and reared its head.
“Azure! Duck!” Talos cried, and I just barely ducked under Tiggy’s huge maw as he tried to bit me.
“Phew.” I breathed.
But Tigrex wasn’t finished. He pulled his body back and spun on the sand, sending me flying. The pain ran up my chest and immobilized me. The beast turned, and without warning started to charge directly at me. With death at hand, I received a boost of adrenaline. Side-stepping, I risked a swing at Tigrex’s leg. I nailed it with full force.
Talos jumped from nowhere, landing on the monsters back. He drew a thin knife, dripping with some yellow liquid, and thrust it into the monsters spine. The beast stopped moving, paralyzed. I raised my maul and gave the monsters leg another smack. Bone crunched, and blood began to ooze.
Talos, meanwhile, had run off the monsters back and was now in front of it. He swiped his sword at the Tigrex’s face. This broke the paralysis, and the monster recoiled in pain. I could see a long jagged cut across the monsters face.
This was more then enough for the beast. It leaped backwards, and in the moment I could see its eyes flash red. Blood vessels stood up on the monsters arms. It roared once more, the cry echoing across the desert night.
“Careful now. Don’t rush. We have all night, and we cannot afford to lose.” said Talos.
Tigrex, however, had other plans. It drew back its paw, and forced a boulder at us. Talos dived at me, pushing me down and out of harms way. But Tigrex wasn’t done. He rushed at us, closing distance rapidly. With perfect timing, Talos pushed us over the sand and just under Tigrex’s arm. The beast slammed a paw into the ground, and swung back around. Talos jumped just out of the way, and I narrowly rolled past its other paw.
We were on either side of the beast, and had confused it. Tigrex looked at each of us, back and forth. Suddenly, he twisted his body at me, biting down hard. I had no time to react, and its jaws clamped around my body, squeezing the air from my lungs. Fangs cut through my armor, piercing my skin. I cried out in pain, and Tigrex began biting harder. I screamed even louder, as I began seeing stars.
Out of the blue, the creature released me, rolling to the side as I flew from its maw. Talos darted after it, a blood red sheen surrounding him. His longsword was gleaming crimson, looking bloodstained and gory. He yelled in rage and he swung his blade over his head, slicing deep into the creatures gut.
Tigrex, yelping in pain, began limping away from the hunter. Blood poured from the beasts stomach, staining the sand. But Talos wasn’t done. He rushed forward, dragging his bloody blade with him. Leaping almost super humanly high, he landed on the monsters back. Tigrex buckled under the extra weight. Quick as a Vespoid, Talos stabbed his blade into the beast head. It died instantly. Talos had thrust the longsword so hard that it had went straight through Tigrex’s skull.
I limped over. Blood gushed over my armor, adding to the crimson. My chest was burning, and I could hardly speak. Blood dripped from my mouth.
“Nice…” I stammered, hardly able to stand. Trying to speak, my vision grew dark. I could see Talos speaking, but could not hear him. Sand brushed my face, as a sandstorm brewed. Then all was black.
Chapter 5- A Light in the Dark
(Back to Talos)
I couldn’t feel my legs. My fingers were burning with pain. But I walked on, carrying Azuriade in my arms. Her heart beat faintly, and her breathing was shallow. Hikari was miles away, and the cold was beginning to take a toll. I trudged on, relentless.
But I couldn’t stop the elements. My legs buckled from under me, and I sprawled on the sand. Azuriade rolled from my grasp and landed ahead of me. I crawled towards her, barely being able to feel my hands. Reaching her, I draped my arm over her shoulder and collapsed, head resting near her heart. The beating was ever fainter. Then, I was out.
All I saw was white. Blinding, bright white. Am I dead?, I thought. It would seem that way. We had been stranded in the freezing desert night, miles from the town with no supplies. The odds had been against us.
But my vision cleared. I could make out the top of a tarp, and intense heat hitting me. Someone stood over me, wrapping something around my hand.
“Ah. You wake. You were almost dead when you were discovered. The both of you are very lucky.” a soothing voice said.
I was in the town, most likely a medical tent or guild hospital.
“Urrr…” I couldn’t form words.
“Sleep, Hunter. You have been through much. Just rest.” and as she said this I began to doze off.
I must have slept for hours. But I woke up, sweating and shaking in my bed. My sleep had been interrupted by a dreadful nightmare. In my dream, Azuriade was standing in a raging sandstorm, walking away from me. She slowly faded into darkness, and as I tried to follow, ice froze my legs and rapidly encased me. I was helpless, defeated.
“Calm yourself, hunter. Your friend is fine. You may visit her, now that your legs have healed.” said a nurse. She gave me a wheelchair and took me to a second room. Azuriade laid in the bed, breathing slowly.
I wheeled myself next to her bed, and put my hand on her wrist, checking her pulse. It was just about normal, perhaps a little fast. Azuriade stirred in her sleep.
“Kyros…?” she questioned, then her eyes flew open. “Talos! I thought…”
“Well, I’m still alive, as you are. No worries. How do you feel?”
“My chest hurts, and my left arm was almost consumed by frostbite. They had to wrap the whole thing.”
“How’s the wound?” I asked.
She lifted the sheet just enough for me to see her midriff. Bandages wrapped around her stomach, and a few were reddening.
“Still bleeding, huh?” I said.
“Yea. It hurts. But I’m alive, thanks to you.” she leaned over, wincing more then once, and kissed me on the cheek. “Thanks.”
I couldn’t say much. Azuriade reclined, then closed her eyes. A smirk was on her lips. Soon she was out.
I left the room, emotions churning. You know you love her, my mind said. She’s a friend, as comrade, I retorted. No, said my mind, more then that. She’s special to you, and you know it.
I knew that was right. But I refused. Shut up, I thought. You wouldn’t know, you’re not my brain or anyth….wait, dammit. I didn’t have a comeback. My mind was right.
Azuride was out of bed the next day, but needed a wheelchair. I could stand, however, and helped her out. Her injuries were severe, and would take more then a day to heal. Some of the cuts were more then 2 inches deep. Any deeper, and she would have died.
The villagers had sent out parties looking for us, and one had found the Tigrex’s corpse. I was allowed to view it, and was surprised to see it mostly in one piece, but the head was gone. Xavier waited there for me. He held something in his hand.
“Talos, Azuriade. I’m glad to see your recovery, and sorry for your pain. I have something that I hope will make up for it.” he said.
To Azuriade, he handed a huge, sharp fang on a piece of twine.
“This was found embedded in your armor. We to the time to make you a necklace.”
He excused himself, then went to the back. Returning, I saw what had become of the beasts head. The guild master lugged out the heavy skull of the Tigrex, and put it in my arms.
“We give you the most valuable piece of the monster, it’s skull. Only the bravest, most willing Hunters can carry such a relic.”
I placed the skull on the table, and looked at it intensely. The monsters ferocity still resided in death, and any lesser man would be frightened in its presence.
“Well Xavier, I wonder how I’m going to get a skull as big as me on that balloon of yours.” I chuckled.
“I’ll see to it.” He laughed with me.
We had fully recovered the next day. Azuriade was glad to be out and about, so I gave her a day to herself. She wandered off, looking for the nearest shop.
I, on the other hand, had some business to attend to. After slaying the Tigrex, I had remembered something odd. As the beast landed, I could see a person in the far cave. The man seemed to be looking for something, but was scared by the Tigrex. I went to Xavier’s tent, looking for answers.
“Hey, Talos. How have you been?” He greeted me.
“Fine. My wounds are healed, for the most part, and Azuriade is almost fully healed too. But I have a question.” I said.
“Ask away, my friend.”
“Well, near the beginning of that Tigrex fight, I noticed a hunter near the underwater cavern entrance. You know anything about those desert missions?”
“Ah…that hunting party. A few veterans, but they took in a rookie or two. Got a communication from the Pokke elder, she told me a few hunters were coming. Why didn’t she know of you two?”
“I work only for the guild. Local issues do not concern me, they have more then enough hunters. But, I need to know of these hunters. Have they returned?”
“Unfortunately, no. They have not reported in. Are you concerned?”
“Perhaps. After all, it has been a few days. They may be out of food.”
“Well, if you want to go out, you can. I give this your jurisdiction.”
“Thanks. Tell Azuriade I’ll be gone for a while.”
I departed later on, dual blades in hand. They were my favorite set, Chameleos Dual Blades. Deep purple and red, dripping with poison. I needed to be quick.
Dashing across the desert, I recalled the location of the hunter. That underwater cavern was cold, and a favorable place for water wvyerns. Plesioth came to mind.
And then there was Navaloth, freezing scourge. A giant white aquatic serpent, with translucent wings and no legs. Navaloth was normally sighted in the mountains when tides were high, then the caves flooded. But the cold caves of the desert made equally good habitats.
My train of thought was interrupted by a slight gust of cold. The cave entrance was just ahead of me, and chilly air leaked from it. But the entrance was covered by a large, sand encrusted rock. Something had lodged it there, most likely a Copper Blangonga. But I couldn’t go out on a hunt now. I would have to break the rock myself.
Luckily for me, the sides of the boulder were merely sand, held in place by the freezing air. I stabbed one blade through, then slowly worked my way downwards. Soon, a hole had been made, just big enough for me. I slid my way through, and looked around.
Bones sat in the corner, and by the looks of the skull, they were the remains of a Gendrome. Burnt wood and bones sat in the middle of the cave floor. The hunter had definitely been here. But he wasn’t here now. I pondered the possibilities. The other end was sealed, that much I could see. There was only one way out. Underwater.
I strolled over to the waters edge, and after removing my gauntlet, dipped a finger in.
“Whoa.” I recoiled from the cold water. My fingertip was white. The water was overly cold, like some freezing entity had jumped in. Something cold…crap.
Navaloth gave off a cold aura, which lowered water temperatures to a suitable level. This was definitely its handiwork. I wondered what had become of the hunter. Perhaps he was eaten by a rouge Navaloth. But something told me otherwise.
Dusty footprints could be seen on the waters edge. They weren’t more then a day old, by the looks of it. And there were more then one set of them. Multiple people had been here. And they had gone swimming. Only one thing left for me to do. I dove in.
The freezing liquid hit me like a stone block. My nerves froze up, and I realized that nothing less then a hot drink was required. Struggling against the cold, I reached for one of my hot drinks. I could feel my fingers freezing. Just in time, I got one and drank it in on gulp. My limbs loosened up, and I began the descent.
I had learned to conserve oxygen during a Harvest Tour in Moga Village, out near Loc Lac. Swimming was a way of life in the small towns, and I had picked it up rather quickly. Hopefully at least of of the hunters had been out to the sea country.
However, underwater was much darker then I had expected. Shadows flitted about, and I couldn’t see my way. So I dove deeper, trying to find a cave or exit. Any way that those hunters had gone.
Suddenly, a flash of white. Hunters? No, there was no light source underwater. Then what?
Navaloth were said to glow underwater, and illuminate dark caves. And my assumptions had been correct. I turned, and saw a huge leviathan slowly floating above me. Luckily for me, Navaloth had bad vision, and mostly relied on sound and smell. I just had to stop moving for a little bit. A little challenging underwater.
The glowing beast undulated above me, slowly inching its way towards shore. It held its thin wings close to its body. Navaloth couldn’t fly, but their wings had tough claws that could rip through solid ice. Many a hunter had been mauled by the strong claws.
Soon I couldn’t stay still any longer. I swam downwards, as fast as I could. The creature didn’t notice me, so I dove to the bottom. The monster slowly moved into a tunnel near shore. That was probably where the hunters had gone.
I resurfaced, filling my lungs with oxygen, then dove back down, heading for the tunnel. I hoped that the hunters had gotten through, or they would be in for a nasty surprise.
Chapter 6- Other Troubles
I walked through the market, feeling the slight breeze rush through my hair and cool my skin. It might have been the desert, but I would take this place over Pokke any day. The shops were huge and there were so many of them. I stopped at one particularly interesting one.
On pads of velvet sat jeweled daggers with glinting steel blades and gold accented handles. A few had blades made of some sort of gem, and others had rubies inlaid in their hilts. One of them caught my eye, as thin blade with round sapphires inlaid in the dagger itself.
“Hello miss, taking an interest in my selection?” said a voice. I jumped slightly and looked up. A thin man had walked out, and it was he who had asked me the question. He was tall and had a slight beard. His skin was dark and he spoke with a distinct accent. I couldn’t place it, though Talos probably could.
“Finest daggers from Loc Lac, my fine madam. But say, you look a little young to be playing with knifes.” He smiled.
“Er, well, I’m a hunter, you see..” I stuttered.
“Ah! Then of course you make look to your liking. Hunters always need a knife, right?”
“Well, I guess. I already have one though. Sorry…”
“Fine, fine. Move along then, I need space for buyers, missy.”
I walked away, not disappointed in the least. Talos had plucked the biggest fang from the skull he had gotten, a good 7 inches long. He attached a wooden hilt, wrapped in leather, and handed it to me, saying:
“Tigrex has some sharp fangs. They make great daggers, and they stay sharp forever.”
I had thanked him profusely, but he nodded it off. I hung the dagger on my belt, wrapped in another layer of leather as not to cut me.
I passed by a few more shops, clothes, jewelery, hunting needs, medicine. Not much I needed. But I had 25,000z to spend. Talos had seen fit to place a stack of zenny on my night table before he disappeared. So far I had only spent a few hundred on clothes and jewelery. I would probably need some more supplies for our next hunt, so I decided to stop at one of the Hunting Outposts. They sold tons of hunting goods here, like potions, whetstones, gunpowder, herbs, and other good stuff.
After some decision, I bought a few more potions, 20 whetstones, a gunpowder horn, a few Monster Info books I had never seen, as well as a package of Cool/Hot drinks and small container of Pyschoserum. The total was around 600z, and after paying, I left, eager to drop off my heavy load back at our dorm. We still slept in a one room dorm, even though Xavier had offered a larger one. I had opted for the one room, and our discussion had trailed away rather embarrassingly. I remembered it clearly. Talos had been quite red in the face:
“Well Talos, you have recovered well, the both of you. But are you sure you still want that one room dorm?” the Guild manager had asked. “I could offer you separate rooms if you want.”
Before Talos could speak, I had cut in. “Oh no, we’re fine.”
“Well…you two up to something, Talos? A little too close?”
“Xavier! What would make you think that! She’s only 16, I mean, I’m nearly 10 years older then her!” Talos seemed pretty angry, but near the end of his outburst he started to laugh. Xavier started to laugh with him.
“Er, yea, I think were a fine with the one room.” He had said.
“I dunno buddy, you’re looking a bit red around the cheeks…” chuckled Xavier.
“Shut up!” Talos had cried.
Now that I look back on it, it was kind of funny. At the time though, I must have been blushing like mad. The thought of me…oh no, lets not even go there. Talos was, well, charismatic, I could say. I couldn’t help but like him. His charm and overall handsomeness helped a little too.
But, if what he said had been right, he was at least 25. I was way too young for him, even if he did take interest in me. It would look ridiculous.
My train of thought was interrupted by a sudden voice.
“Hello.” said a smooth voice.
“Huh? Who said that?” I asked.
“Me.” said a young man as he stepped out from the side of a building. He couldn’t have been more than 2 year older then me, with black, spiked hair and dark black eyes. He was kinda creepy looking in a stalker/rapist kinda way. He wore a black jacket of sorts, with thin black leggings.
“I’m Kyeden. And you might be…?” he asked.
“Uhh..yea, I’m Azuriade.”
“Nice name, especially for a pretty girl. Need help with those bags? I can help take them to your house, if you want.”
“Er…, they’re not that heavy, I can manage. Thanks for your offer though.” I departed swiftly. Why do I always meet the creepy guys? I wish I could meet a hot guy for onc…oh.
I had turned a corner, and lo and behold, a hot guy was just standing there. He took one look at me, got up, and walked over.
“Hey. Those look heavy. Need help?” He asked.
“Uh..no, I mean, yes.” I stuttered. Damn he was cute.
“No problem. By the way, I’m Rafael. And you?”
“Azuriade.” Wow. This was like a repeat of the earlier encounter. Only with a sexy guy. We walked back to my dorm, talking most of the way. He wasn’t a hunter, but was working on it, he said. I though he was quite engaging.
We reached the dorm after a brisk walk. He opened the door and let me inside.
“This is it? I though a girl like you would like in a nicer place.” He said this as he closed the door.
“Ah, well, me and a friend are just visiting.” I told him. He started moving over the threshold.
“Who’s your friend?” he asked
“No one important.” I didn’t want this guy to be allover me about Talos too.
“Oh…” he said. “Now that that is settled…”
“Wait, what is settled?”
“Just making sure no one will come to help.” He grinned, then pushed me over the table, holding down my shoulder.
“What the fuck!” I cried. “Get off me!”
“Uh, no. Now lets see, how do these unbutton?” he gripped my shorts.
I struggled to pull my arm free. He gripped my shoulder, with the other hand around my leg. Fortunately, my arm was free enough to move to my waist, where the Tigrex fang dangled. This guy may have been crafty, but he wasn’t a genius.
Or so I thought. My hand reached down and I grabbed…air?
“Looking for this, my dear?” Rafael held up my knife. “Boy will this be fun…”
He had gotten my leggings undone and was pulling them off. I started screaming, but he clamped a hand around my mouth. Oh god, is this actually happening? I was being raped, not by creeper Kyeden, but by this trustworthy hot guy?
All of the sudden, however, the door flew open. Talos? No. Kyeden barreled through and knocked Rafael over. I was released and quickly darted for my knife, which Rafael had dropped. I drew it and slashed at his leg.
“You get out of here now, god dammit!” I cried. Bleeding from the calf, Rafael staggered to his feet and darted out the door. I stood there, panting. Kyeden looked at me funny.
“What are you looking at!” I yelled.
“You’ve got no pants on.” He replied.
“Oh…this is embarrassing.”
I slipped a pair of shorts on, then gave Kyeden half my money, a cool 12,000z.
“You deserve it.” I said, as he stared at all the coins in his hands. “But, how did you know what was going on?”
“I knew that Rafael was bad news, so I tried to help.”
“But how did you know that I had gone with him?”
“Er, I sorta followed you.”
“So, you are a creeper?”
“No! No! I followed you because you dropped this.”
He handed me a chain made of silver. A medallion hung from it, and in the center was a large red gem.
“You dropped it when you ran off.” He said “Thank you.”
“No, thank you.” I said as he walked out the door.
What a day.
Chapter 7- Black Waters
I swam through the dark tunnel, focused on the bright illumination from the Navaloths tail. It swam sluggishly onward, through what seemed to be a never-ending tunnel. I couldn’t hold my breath much longer. Fortunately, the villagers at Moga had taught me of underwater air pockets, signified by bubbles rising from the floor. I spotted on a few meters ahead and rushed to it. Inhaling quickly, I felt the air rush through my lungs. I turned quickly and swam towards the Navaloth once more. The tunnel finally opened out into a large cavern. It extended both downward and upward, with seemingly no bottom. The Navaloth turned down and started swimming into the abyss.
Looking up, I noticed the water was discolored about 30 meters above me. I swam to the discoloration and realized that this was an underground grotto. I broke the surface and took a great gasp of air. It was damp and cold. I looked up and saw great icicles hanging from the cavernous ceiling. Ice coated the walls, creating eerie shapes and strange light patterns. Looking down I could still see the glowing form of the Navaloth.
“HEY!” shouted a voice. It reverberated around the icy cavern. “HEY, YOU THERE!”
I swam to shore and found the source of the yelling. A group of hunters sat in the cold, the one who had been yelling standing near the edge of the water. He seemed to be the leader. I surveyed the group. There was a girl in Kirin armor, a boy in Mafumofu, and two other men, both in Garuga armor. One held a Shogun Ceanataur Greatsword; the other was a gunner. Behind them sat two more men, one of them wearing Giaprey armor, the other in Gypceros. They all stared at me. I stared back. The man who had been yelling, one of the Garuga twins, extended his hand.
“My name is Xviver, nice to see a fellow hunter.” He said.
“Nice to see one too.” I said, “The name’s Talos.”
“I’ve heard that name before…” he said, “But no matter, let me introduce our group.” The girl was named Kyoki, and was a Dual Sword user. The young man in Mafumofu was named Ethanus (“the noob” according to Xviver), while the gunner was named Keaden. The two men sitting slightly away from the others were named Quinn (the one in Gypceros), and Xander (The one in Giaprey). They had been picked up from the first cave, according to Xviver.
“So, what Hunter Rank would you be, Talos?” Keaden asked.
“I’m sure you are higher then me, after all, you managed to reach this cavern without any trouble.” I said, not wanting to reveal my status.
“No, no. Please, go ahead.” said Quinn.
“I’m Hunter Rank 9, if you really wanted to know.” I said in a quiet voice.
“What!” exclaimed Xander. Ethanus had wide eyes, and Kyoki was staring in astonishment.
“Surprise, surprise” I said, “But if you had paid attention to my armor you would have noticed the trademark coloration of the Z series.”
“What’s “Z” series?” queried Ethanus.
Before anyone else could try to explain, I cut in.
“The X/Z armor series is a line of armors exclusive to G-rank. Each X/Z armor set can have certain areas on the armor color changed. For instance, my armor, Rathalos Soul Z, is colored black in certain parts.”
“Whoa…” murmured Ethanus.
“So, have you hunted an Akantor?” asked Kyoki.
“Yes, indeed I have. But enough admiration; you all looked starved.”
As if on cue, someone’s stomach rumbled.
“I’ll take that as a yes. Good thing I brought rations.” I gave out the small amounts of food. Even though the rations weren’t the best meal, the group wolfed them down. Soon they were standing, having consumed hot drinks and eaten what they could.
“I’m not going back in that water,” Xander said, “so we need to find a way out.”
“I don’t see much in the way of escape…” muttered Kyoki.
“Well, you just need to try harder.” I said. I walked towards the wall and drew my Dual Blades.
“What are you doing?” asked Xviver, puzzled.
“Searching for a weak spot. After all, this wall is just ice.”
I rapped the hilt of one of my blades against the cold wall. It made a slight “tink” noise, but no reverb. I did this across the whole left side of the wall, to no avail.
“Let me try the other side.” I said.
The small frozen island was separated by an icy ridge, which I hopped over after some climbing. The ridge was steep on this side, so I had trouble getting down. After much sliding, I reached ground. Here the ice was thicker, and the walls did not look promising. But I had to try anyway.
I placed my head against the ice and concentrated, scanning for the sound of air. A pocket of air meant a hollow space, which may lead to the outside. Of course, it could just be a hollow space. But I was hoping for the former.
A few minutes in and I had nothing. But I hadn’t searched the entire wall. Near the edge of the water, the ice on the walls was thinner. I hurried over and placed my head to the wall. A faint rushing noise filled my ears.
“Ah-ha!” I whispered.
I drew my blades once more and rapped the wall. Hollow, just what I needed. Quickly, I stabbed into the ice. There was a grating noise as my weapon struggled against the hard pack; but soon the blade had slid through the ice and I had broken the seal. Air rushed out of the newly created hole. I couldn’t tell if it was cold desert air or just plain cold air. Quickly as I could I chipped away at the ice until there was a small hole, just wide enough for me. The others all had a smaller body build then me, so they should fit through with ease, I thought.
“Talos?” came the voice of Xander, “You there?”
“Just fine.” I replied, “I’ve got a good-sized hole here for us. You just need to climb the ridge.” I heard shuffling noises as the group got to its feet. Voices drifted across, though I couldn’t make them out that well. Crunching noises as they began the climb. A few curses, some struggles. Then Ethanus’s head peered over the top of the ridge.
“Oh hey Talos!” he shouted.
‘Hello.” I said.
“Come newbie!” shouted someone.
“Fine, fine.” Ethanus muttered.
He tumbled down the slippery slope. The others followed suit. Soon the entire party had made the descent and stood around me.
“So, where’s the hole?” Xviver asked.
“Right by the water.” I motioned to it. “Just don’t fall in.”
“Very funny,” said Kyoki, “Who is going first?”
“I will” offered Ethanus. It was obvious he was trying to impress the girl.
“Not today, son.” I stopped him, “I’ll lead.” It wouldn’t be optimal if the kid got hurt. At least I had real armor on. I approached the hole, and peered in. It was dark. I reached into it, feeling for a stopping point or obstruction. I felt nothing. Either the pocket was deep or it was truly a tunnel.
“Are you gonna go?” said Quinn impatiently. "Just calm down, I’m checking it out.” I replied. I got down on my knees and headed into the crevice. It got cold rather quickly. I stuck my head out and motioned for the next person. Soon the entire group was behind me. They murmured and mumbled and complained about the cold. No helping that, I thought. Ethanus wasn’t complaining, however. Must have been his Mafumofu set. Cold Cancel would have been nice right about now. The tunnel continued on and on. A good sign that we were reaching the surface. Of course, I had no idea how deep we were underground. So we pressed on, having not the slightest clue whether we were going up or down. The complaints had ceased. We crawled in grim silence. And then, the tunnel abruptly stopped. I halted, and the rest of the group did the same.
“What now?” grumbled Quinn.
“Tunnel stopped.” I replied.
“Great. Just great.” muttered Keaden.
“Don’t give up just yet,” I reassured him, “Look below.” I heard the sound of their heads turning down. I did the same. As we had crawled upwards, I had noticed the ice taking on a clearer tint. It was also getting thinner. Thin enough to see the water below.
“So…we’re above a giant pool of water?” asked Kyoki.
“Exactly.” I replied.
“So, what are you planning exactly?” queried Xander.
“You guys up for a swim?” I grinned evilly behind my helm.
“Oh god…” groaned Xviver.
I chipped away at the thin ice slowly and methodically. The others sat behind me, perhaps preparing for their dive into the cold. I scraped away, watching the ice shatter and fly off. Soon I would break through. Hopefully the water pressure was not too great; or else the tunnel would flood with water, rushing towards my unprepared companions.
CRACK! The sound of the final layer of ice shattering reverberated through the tunnel.
“You got it?” asked Kyoki.
“Yup. Time to increase the diameter. Then we take a dive.” I answered her. At the sound of dive Xviver shuddered. I quickly carved out a hole large enough for me to fit in. After this, I passed around hot drinks.
“You’ll definitely need these. That water is going to be freezing. “ I said as the group took swigs of the beverage. I dove in first. The hot drink numbed the cold slightly, but it still assaulted me with its stinging presence. I stuck my head out of the diving hole.
“Water feels great!” I exclaimed.
“Yea, right.” muttered Keaden. Regardless, he dove in. I saw his reaction to the icy water, a sort of slight twitch. Ethanus dove in next, showing almost no reactionto the cold. Then came Xviver and Quinn. Xander soon followed. I was worried for Kyoki, after all, Kirin armor doesn’t provide much warmth. But she displayed no signs of pain. Good for her.
“Everyone ok?” I asked.
“If freezing our fingers off is ok, then yes.” Xvivier said. Some of the group chuckled.
“Ummm…guys…” stammered Ethanus. He was pointing past me. I turned, and a bright light flooded into my eyes.
“Wha…” I murmured.
Then it hit me. Navaloth.
“Everyone, MOVE!” I shouted. The group darted off to each side, momentarily confusing the leviathan. It shook its head and let out a low bellow. Quickly the beast turned its head towards Xvivier, who had drawn his Greatsword. It opened its maw and let out a pulse of freezing liquid, which quickly solidified into a mass of ice. The ice beam slammed into Xvivers weapon and shattered, but not without pushing him back. Without a second thought it turned towards Kyoki, who was slashing its wing region, and brushed her away with a flick of its claw. Ethanus swam towards her. I could tell the others were disorientated by the prospect of fighting underwater, but it came almost natural to me, having spent months on the deserted islands off Mogas’ coast.
I drew my dual swords and launched myself towards the Navaloth. It was busy attacking Quinn, so I took the distraction to grapple onto its back and make a few quick cuts. The venom from my blades began to seep into the monsters wounds, and in no time it was poisoned. The creature twisted around and shook me off. Then it pulled its head back and let loose an icy beam, which nailed me in the chest. The cold wrapped around me, freezing my chest and right arm. I struggled to paddle out of the monsters way. The ice was tough, and I had trouble chipping it off quickly.
Meanwhile, Ethanus had found himself targeted by the beast. It rushed towards him and slashed at his weak armor with its claws. The razor sharp talons sheared off some of the tough cloth, but he escaped unscathed. For now, that is. Who knew how long this giant beast could hold up a fight?
Keaden had taken a position near a ledge and was firing upon the leviathan. At first the creature had shaken off the shells, but Keaden soon turned to his Crag shots, which exploded with ferocity on the beasts wing. The Navaloth turned to face the gunner, and with a quick flick of its tail sent Keaden hurtling through the water. He came to a stop near the edge of the ledge and regained his balance.
I finally freed myself, and returned to the fray. Kyoki had drawn her duals as well, a pair of Rathalos blades. I darted in front of the monster, swinging my blades into its claws, trying to remove the dangerous talons. One of my swords got lodged in the heavy claw, and I was pulled around as the beast swiveled and twisted, fighting off the attackers. I was swung full around, stars filling my vision. Without warning, I was flung from the claw, my grip loosened. My left hand blade was still lodged in the large claw. Great, I thought, another hassle. One half of a set of Dual Blades wasn’t much, so I would have to risk retrieval.
I noticed Quinn swimming in from the left, his large iron maul trailing behind him. Xander had his Longsword drawn; unfortunately, he was being attacked. I once again made a quick dash towards the wing, my hand outstretched to grab the blade. Poison seeped from it, coloring part of the claw and the surrounding water a slight purple. Without further pause, I gripped the hilt of the embedded weapon and pulled back. A slight grating met my ears; the blade was stuck fast. I placed my feet on the large claw and pushed backwards, pulling on the hilt of the blade. No movement, not even in the slightest. The beast must have felt my struggles, for it began to shake its wing in attempt to remove the annoyance. I wrapped my arms around the claw and held tight. With luck the sharp claw wouldn’t pierce my armor.
While struggling with the claw, I realized I had totally forgotten to tell the group where to find air. Surfacing took too long and left you vulnerable. No time for that now, however. I was being shook around violently; the Navaloth unrelenting. I was almost seeing stars again.
But without warning, the beast ceased its shaking. I looked around, expecting a great shard of ice to impale me. Rather, I saw yellow shocks passing though the creatures body; it was paralyzed. I let go of the claw and began tugging on the hilt. Again, stuck fast.
But if it was that deep, couldn’t I just cut the claw? I forced my weight onto the blade, pushing the steel deeper into the tough claw. A cracking noise echoed through the water as the claw splintered under my strength. I forced the blade deeper, and without warning the claw snapped off. I lost my balance and did a cartwheel, water rushing around me. The Navaloth screamed in agony and thrashed its body in anger. I looked up, disoriented, to see Quinn releasing his hammer in a powerful upswing, nailing the Navaloth under the chin. The blow must have been strong, as it caused the leviathan to twist over, stars in its eyes. It writhed while floating, confused and disoriented.
I took this time to focus on the beasts’ fragile wings. I sliced quickly at the thin membrane, which was thick with blood vessels. My poison would seep into the veins and slowly defeat the creature. As long as I kept poisoning it, that is.
The Navaloth eventually regained its senses and readied once more for the attack. Its eyes, normally a dull grayish-white, had changed a bright red, the blood flow increased as the beast entered rage. The red was laced with a faint purple, the effects of my deadly blades. Icy tendrils floated near its face, emanating from its jaws.
“Watch out now guys!” I said, air bubbles rising from my mouth. “It gets even deadlier now.”
“Even more deadly!!” cried Ethanus, obviously distressed.
“Just watch your back, new-” muttered Xviver. The Navaloth came rushing at him, forcing him to evade and cutting off his sentence. The beast roared with rage and lifted its head, drawing water into its maw.
“Get outta the way!” I shouted. The monster exhaled its icy breath, and then rushed into it, coating its body in ice. It shot like a missile towards the group, the coating of ice glinting with a dangerous light. Most of the group had moved, but Ethanus floated there, paralyzed by fear. I had no other choice; kicking my legs, I dashed into the path of the freezing rush attack, and rammed into his chest. He tumbled backward through the icy water, and I took the crushing blow.
It felt like a giant bowgun shell made of ice had slammed into my chest. The powerful attack pushed me down to the darker waters, my chest nearly encased with ice. I could feel the dented armor poking my chest. The pain ran up through my chest, immobilizing my arms and legs. My brain screamed in agony. The Navaloth shattered the icy coat around it and swam backwards, eying me. I felt limp, the searing heat and freezing cold of pain rushing through my body. The monster reared its head and opened its jaws wide. Great, I thought, so this is how it ends. Eaten by a giant, pale water worm. It lunged, snapping my up in its jaws.
But I still felt the ice covering my chest, the pain running up my body, my blades heavy in my hands. The ice that had spread across my body had prevented the teeth of the leviathan from piercing my armor and snapping my spine. It shook its head from side to side, trying to chip away at the ice. I was dizzied once more. The pressure grew on my chest, squeezing air from my lungs. My vision started to go black.
And then the pressure was gone. The ice cracked and shattered around me as I floated limply out of the monsters jaws. I saw a small burst of flame behind the beasts’ head; Keaden had shot a Crag into the Navaloths neck, forcing it to release me. I looked at the chestplate of my armor; it had been dented and mauled by the attack I had just taken. Luckily the hit had not torn the armor or my flesh.
My relieved thoughts were cut short by a horrible shrieking cry. The Navaloth had taken enough of a beating and dove deeper down into the water, blood trailing from its left wing and back. Most of the group was left clutching their ears, the powerful roar piercing their eardrums. Once the glow of the Navaloth had receded and peace came to the cavern, I realized how badly I needed air. With only seconds to spare, I rushed to the surface and took a deep breath. The cool air filled my lungs, and I let out a relieved breath. The others quickly followed, taking great gulps of air and splashing around. Most of their injuries were minor, a few scrapes, cuts, freezer burn. I, on the other hand, would have a nice-sized bruise on my chest the next morning, along with a broken rib or two. I clutched my side, feeling the burning cold pain racing up my left side. Make that three broken ribs, I though, grimacing.
“What in Minegarde was that!” exclaimed Xander.
“A highly specialized piscine. It is called Navaloth, and is very rarely seen.” I explained.
“So that thing is related to Plesioth and the like?” Kyoki asked.
“What’s a Plesioth?” pondered Ethanus.
“Another water-dwelling monster.” replied Xviver.
“Enough of water monsters.” complained Kyoki, “Can we just get out of here?”
“Fine, fine. We’ll be going under for a while, so conserve your breath and look out for air bubbles.” I told them. With that, we dove into the water in search of a way out. The abyss welcomed us.
Chapter 8- Shifting Sands
Talos had not returned from his trip. It had been over a day since he had set off across the desert, searching for the missing hunters. Search parties had not been sent out for fear of losing them too. I didn’t want to think the worst, but anything was possible. The very thought of losing another person in my life was sickening. I sighed and sat down on my bed. No one to talk to, I thought miserably.
“Ugh…” I said out loud. Not surprisingly, no one answered.
I walked out of the dorm and looked around, covering my eyes from the bright sun. People milled around in the market that surrounded our dorm. Fruit sellers announced their wares, metal cookware clanged together, all sorts of food were being prepared and placed on large platters. I walked around, sampling the dishes one by one.
Savoring grilled Apceros in a tropical fruit dressing, a deep rumbling horn startled me, perhaps the one fashioned from a huge Jhen tusk, which was at the front gate. The crowd milled around in slight confusion; was there an attack of some sort?
Moments later, a messenger came rushing through the crowd.
“Gendrokk! A Gendrokk has been sighted! We need hunters to slay the beast!” the thin boy shouted as he dashed through the crowd.
“All hunters up for the challenge; follow me!” he said as he raced along.
“What’s a Gendrokk?” I asked a young woman standing next to me.
“You aren’t from around here, I guess.” she said, “Gendrokk are fierce monsters of the desert; some say they rival the Diablos in power.”
“Are they some sort of wyvern?”
“No, no. Gendrokk are a species of newly discovered monster; they walk on all fours and have no wings. Don’t you hunter types know of this? Where exactly are you from?”
“I’m from the mountains.” I explained, “Up there I don’t think there are any of those kind of monsters.”
But I had my doubts. Perhaps one of these undocumented monsters had been the slayer of my brother?
“Hey! You’re a hunter; get out there!” shouted a tall, red-faced man.
“Which way did the messenger go?” I asked. The man pointed towards the city center and I was on my way.
I made it to the city square to find a small group of hunters in a circle around the guild master, Xavier. He noticed me and parted through the group.
“Ah, Azuraide!” he shouted. “You’re looking rather formidable in that armor of yours.”
“Thanks.” I laughed. “What’s going on?”
“A dangerous Gendrokk has been sighted out on the dunes. Little is known of these dangerous, quadrupedal behemoths; until now they have been outside guild territory. They have just been recognized as a formal monster species.”
“Do you have any idea of which habitats they might happen to reside in? Besides the desert, I mean.”
“I’ve heard these particular creatures prefer hotter climes; there have been sightings of a volcanic species, and with no doubt there is a species in the Great Forest.”
There went my great idea.
“But enough. This is quite an urgent matter.” Xavier continued. “Gendrokk are rather large desert-species; some can be even bigger then Tigrex.”
“Not gold-crown Tigrex though, right?” I asked, a little concerned.
“No, no, not that big.” he chuckled.
“Good.” I muttered.
“You’re the huntress who almost died fighting that Tigrex! With the great hunter, Talos, right?” a young man in Shogun Ceanataur armor blurted out.
“Yes, that was I…” I said.
“Hey, don’t sweat it,” said another, a girl in what looked to be Blangonga S armor. “Curt here wouldn’t be able to take a monster like that. It was amazing that you even survived!”
The hunter named Curt crossed his arms in a huff.
“I could have taken it!” he shouted.
“Doubtful.” said another hunter in Red Khezu armor.
“Enough bickering. Azuriade survived and that is the good thing.” interrupted Xavier. “I’m sure some of you know each other, but for the sake of the hunt, introduce yourselves.”
The girl in the Blangonga S was named Nishira, and her partner was Curt, the man in Shogun Ceanataur. Nishira had a hefty lance strapped to her back, while Curt had a longsword. The man in the Red Khezu armor was Ryork, and strapped to his back was a bow. There were two others, one in Tigrex armor named Marcus, the other wearing an odd blue armor I had never seen. His name was Shigutso, and on his back was a Sword and Shield. Marcus wielded a greatsword.
I looked at Shigutso. “What kind of monster is that armor made of? I’ve never seen it before.”
“This armor is crafted of the legendary sea dragon of Moga, the Lagiacrus,” he pronounced proudly.
Talos had mentioned Moga village as a place he had traveled to in order to learn the underwater tactics of the natives. Many sea creatures lived along the coastal town, which was quite a distance from the other towns of Minegarde. Loc Lac City was near it.
“So you come from Moga Village? My friend went there a while ago.” I said.
“By “your friend”, do you mean the hunter called “Talos”?” he questioned.
“Yes! How’d you know?”
“Very few foreigners come to Moga, as it is quite a distance. Talos was an exceptional hunter, I do say so myself. How is he now?”
“Talos is fine. In fact, he’s in the area right now,” cut in Xavier. “But you really must be off, who knows how close the Gendrokk has gotten?”
“Of course.” said Ryork gruffly. “Lets head out people.”
The gates opened and we strode out into the desert. There were a great many boulders piled around the gate, smoothed out by erosion and covered with sand. The rock below us soon gave way to tough sand, which then turned to the generic soft, silty sand of the desert. The wind was harsh, kicking up sand and swirling it up into little dust devils. The sun stood like a blinding sentinel in the sky, watching our progress. The heat bore down on us, trying to melt us to the core, but our cool drinks nullified its attempts.
“Where did Xavier tell us to head to?” I asked.
“I believe the last sighting was near the lower cave system, out by the Felyne campsite,” answered Marcus.
“Which was is that, approximately?” queried Curt.
“A mile or two south.” pointed Ryork. We altered at direction and set off across the dunes.
We quickly fell into silence. Even with the cooling beverages I was sweating in my armor. Luckily no sand had entered my helmet. I couldn’t help but feel bad for those in the group without visors.
Finally, after what seemed to be an endless trudge up and down mountains of sand, we hit a large expanse of flat sand. I could make out some cliffs across the plain. We started forward, armor clanging.
“Shh!” whispered Ryork.
“Huh?” I said as I stopped.
“Look up.” pointed Shigutso.
I turned my head to the sky and saw a black shape descending. It looked like a giant hawk, but had a distinct beak and long, wyvern like legs.
The beast landed and folded in its wings. Without the glare in my eyes, I could see the monster more clearly. It was a dark brown with light tan and yellow feathers gracing its body. The tail, in particular, was heavily feathered, almost in a fan shape. Its beak had an odd shape; the top was rather thick and blade-like, the bottom jaw thin and curved downward near the front. Its legs were long and it had small talons. The monster was also quite thin, and had a lengthy neck. Feathers splayed from the shoulders in a fanciful design.
It turned and began walking, its back turned to us. The monster walked in typical wyvern fashion, its tail swinging back and forth ever so slightly, head low.
“I didn’t know there was a desert-faring species of bird wyvern.” I said, mystified.
“Yes, in the sandy plains near Moga, a bird wyvern named Qurupeco makes its home.” said Shigutso, “But I know not of this creature.”
“That’s a Griferox. They are one of the toughest bird wyverns, after the Garuga.” explained Marcus.
“Wait, what’s that?” asked Nishira, pointing to something running in the direction of the Griferox.
“It’s the Gendrokk!” gasped Curt.
The thing rushing towards our bird wyvern could not have been anything else. It was sleek and brown, like the color of the cliffs. It was shaped like a cat, in a way, with hunched shoulders and a lean form. Its tail was long and whip like. I would have taken it for a big cat if not for the head. The creatures’ head was like a giant lizards head, which was basically what the monster was. It bore sharp fangs and pointed ridges above its eyes. Spines jutted from its shoulders and hips.
The Griferox cocked its head in the Gendrokks direction. It spread its wings and feathers rose from its back, legs and tail. It shook its head and made a sharp cry. The Gendrokk stopped just in front of the Griferox and let out a deep hiss. It bore its fangs and snapped its tail against the sand. The Griferox dipped its head towards the ground, scraping its bottom jaw through the sand.
“What’s it doing?” I asked.
“Watch.” whispered Marcus.
The bird wyvern lifted its beak from the sand and reared its head. The Gendrokk tensed, watching intently. Then, without warning, snapped its neck forward and sprayed a great amount of sand into the Gendrokks eyes. The four-legged beast had no time to react, and sand shot into its eyes and surrounded its face. The Griferox took a step backwards and forcefully flicked its tail downward, creating a blast of wind and sending sand up into the air. The cloud surrounded the two and we could see nothing of the monsters.
Then, the bird wyvern erupted from the cloud, rising into the sky. It hovered in the air for a few seconds before altering its course and gliding away, past the cliffs.
“And so the deceiver lives another day, and the hunter misses his meal.” said Shigutso.
“That was amazing!” exclaimed Nishira.
“Hold up guys,” I said, “No time to celebrate.
The Gendrokk, having lost its meal, turned and surveyed the plain. We obviously stood out, for its head swiveled to our position and the beast rose up.
“Don’t move.” I said. The beast watched us intently. We stared back. Then Marcus shook his had and started rubbing his eyes. The Gendrokk noticed this and fully rose up.
“Ahh, sand…” Marcus complained.
“Marcus!” Curt roared.
The monster cocked its head and snapped its jaws. The, with a snap of its tail, it lifted its legs and started to dash at us.
“Quickly, move!” shouted Ryork.
I dashed to the side, while Shigutso drew his weapon and Nishira assumed the block position. Ryork quickly loaded his bow and rolled to one side. The Gendrokk began to curve towards Nishira, the only one who wasn’t moving. The lancer pulled her weapon back, holding the shield before her in preparation for a counter-thrust. Sand swirled around my feet as I drew my hammer.
The Gendrokk has closed the distance quickly. Ryork was pulling an arrow taught, preparing to fire poisoned arrows into the beast. His bow was of curious make, I noticed. It did not fold, and was completely made of wood. Around the arrow notch was a sort of halo of wood, with spines of the material sticking out like the suns rays. A thin green string was the drawstring.
I would have to ask him later, however, now was the time for fighting. Nishira had released her counter as the monster hit her; the Gendrokk reeled back as the cold steel struck it. Ryork has fired his shot; 5 arrows scattered from his bow and impaled themselves in the monsters side. Poison oozed from their blades. The Gendrokk roared in agony.
I drew my hammer into the charging position and rushed towards the Gendrokk. It swiped at Shigutso while Marcus swung his blade at the monsters side. Its edge could not quite pierce the monsters thick hide, however. I closed the distance and let the creature have it. My hammer crashed down towards the monsters leg, nailing it…and bouncing off. This things hide was tough!
The others were facing the same difficulty. Even on the Gendrokks stomach the hide made my weapon bounce.
“What should we do?” shouted Nishira over the din.
“I don’t know!” I yelled, dodging a particularly strong tail swipe.
Arrows flew from Ryorks bow, nailing it in quick succession on its flank. The creature planted its front legs on the ground and breathed in deeply. Then it exhaled a thin beam of sand, which struck Ryork in the chest. He was sent sprawling across the sand. I unleashed a quick upswing while the monster was recovering; it hit the beast squarely on the chin without bouncing. The monster flinched and hissed at me, its head hovering a foot above me.
Sweat dripped down my face underneath my helm. My legs ached from the walk, and my arms felt like lead weights carrying more lead weights. The Gendrokk raised its head and snapped its large jaws at me. Arrows flew in from the sides, and I could here the shouts and grunts of my teammates as they battled the monster. I looked up into its eyes and it stared back. I felt a bead of perspiration run off a strand of my hair and into my eye. I blinked and shook my head; my hair was slick with sweat. The spell was broken and the beast raised its claw in preparation to strike. I felt immobilized.
Then, while I was frozen, Nishira slide into me, pushing me out of the way and glancing the hit off her shield. I was knocked out of my daze and rolled forward to avoid any other attack. The fight must commence, I thought. With quick grace I darted forward and slammed another hit into the monsters chin, making it howl with pain.
The Gendrokk leaped backward and landed with its head bowed and front legs splayed. It raised its head, chin bleeding, and let out a roar of rage. A faint wave of red seemed to pass over its skin as it did this, and the hide seemed to have been tinted a slight crimson. It growled and lunged towards us, eyes changing from yellow to red.
I shook the sweat from my eyes and drew my hammer back. Curt slashed in a wide arc over his head, catching the beast on the foot. The metal blade cut smoothly, without bouncing. None of the others were having that problem any more; it seemed like the monsters hide softened it rage. I ran forward, hefting my heavy maul. Reaching the beast, I let go, but it hopped to on side, swinging its tail wildly.
The Gendrokk slashed its claws in a wide arc, trying to clear its area. Nishira blocked it, but Curt was sent flying from the blow, the claws ripping into his armor. Ryork launched a volley of arrows; they struck the monster and dripped with yellow liquid. The Gendrokk hunched its body as yellow shocks passed through it. Nishira fell back, assisting Curt. I pulled my hammer back once more and raced across the sand towards the monster. I launched a blow into the monsters snout, sending it reeling back, dazed. Marcus rolled past me; he reached the monsters tail and swung his blade towards the ground. The force of the swing propelled him to his feet, where he quickly unleashed a heavy chop onto the monsters tail, hoping to cut it off.
However, the strong attack only went a quarter ways into the monsters tail; the blade stopped short. Marcus grunted and shook his head in frustration, then nestled the blade in hi shoulder for a charge. The Gendrokk, however, had recovered and felt the pain in its tail. It jumped forward, hit the ground, and spun, facing where it had just been standing. The monster hissed and lunged at Marcus, who was immobile for the moment. It rammed into him and he flew backwards, rolling across the sand. Meanwhile, Curt had recovered; his armor, however, had a few nasty gashes in it. The sharp blades of the Ceanataur armor had not deterred the Gendrokk. He staggered to his feet and sheathed his weapon. Shigutso darted in from the side and hacked at the monsters leg; finishing with a circling slash, he made it fall onto its side.
Unfortunately the monsters flailing claws made an attack on the stomach dangerous, so we assaulted the spiny ridges on its back. Even with the softening of the monsters skin our weapons barely cut through. Our weapons clashed against the tough spines in our effort to cut them. The monster thumped its tail into the ground and jumped back up, while the wind made by its tail pushed us back.
The Gendrokk, now on its feet, decided to up the fight. It slammed its tail into the ground, gnashed its teeth and howled. Suddenly, it jumped forward and did a backflip, smashing its heavy tail into the ground in front of it. The shockwave sent most of us flying, but the whip-like tail snapped down on Marcus’s leg, making an awful cracking noise.
“AUUGGGH!” he screamed, clutching his leg.
“Marcus!” shouted Nishira.
“Go get him.” I panted, “We’ll take this.”
The monster had not taken much damage through our struggles, however I could tell it was losing strength. Blood oozed from an assortment of cuts across its hide. It huffed and panted.
“Lets finish this!” I shouted. We rushed at the monster, weapons drawn.
Chapter 9- In the Grip of Fear
I turned and looked at the group. They sat huddled in the small alcove; clothes dripping, teeth chattering. We had just escaped from the dark grotto; a thin, damp tunnel a near the bottom of the abyss had led us to another cavern. Here we discovered a crack in the wall; behind it was a wide cave, which led to the surface.
Unfortunately, I had no idea where we were. The entire trip from the first icy cave to the final, sand filled hollow could have been up to a mile long. We were stuck in some warped zone of cliffs and hollows; twisted stone rose up randomly from the ground and sudden drop offs were common. The walls were an odd mix of colors, in layers of orange, red and brown.
“I’m freezing,” muttered Keaden.
“Shut up.” I said gruffly.
“Where are we?” asked Ethanus.
“I don’t know, for the umpteenth time!” I said through gritted teeth. The groups’ impatience was starting to get on my nerves. Azuraide wouldn’t be like this, I thought. I wondered how she was doing.
“Enough,” growled Xviver, “Let Talos make up his mind.”
“Thank you, Xviver.”
“Ever grateful for the help.”
“Enough sentiments guys,” said Kyoki “We have to get out of here.”
“Working on it.” I muttered.
I peeked around the corner and nearly lost my balance on the thin edge I came to. Small rocks cracked from under my feet and tumbled down to the bottom of the ravine. Luckily, I could catch a good glimpse of the sky. It was a blood red, the color of a desert sunset. The night was coming already; I had been out here for a good two days now, this group even longer.
I turned back around the corner and walked to the group. They sat under the alcove, faces grim.
“Sun’s setting.” I said, crouching next to Quinn.
“Great. It’ll be dark soon and we have no idea where we are!” uttered Xander.
“At least we’re not still in that ice cave,” grimaced Keaden.
“True that,” grumbled Quinn.
“Is there any way around this rock?” Kyoki said, pointing to the large obstruction that was the cause of all this dissent.
“That way is a sheer drop.” I motioned to the way I had just come from.
“What about that way?” pointed Xander. I followed his finger to a thin pass on the right side of the rock.
“We could try, but it’s a thin cliff. I’m not sure if we could make it.” I said. The area he was motioning to was a thin ridge of rock sticking out from the huge twisted stone on the right side. To go through it we would have to press against the wall and carefully inch our way across.
“Only chance we got,” said Quinn.
“Fine. I’ll go first.” I growled.
I walked over to the thin stretch of rock and peered down. The cliff was short, but still high enough that a drop would be fatal. We wouldn’t be able to get down there to save the person anyway.
The rock felt solid to my probing foot. My heavy armor clanked and I wondered whether the large ridges on my shoulders would fit against the wall. I pressed myself against the cliff face and slid my foot forward. Rocks tumbled down the cliff as my foot shifted their positions, their center of gravity tipping them off the precipice. The ridges on my shoulders folded back, allowing me to hug the wall better. I shouted for the next person as I slid along the cliff.
The height, while not sky high, felt dizzying as I pushed against the wall, tips of my feet hanging off the cliff. The fading light accentuated the fear of the sudden drop, the falling death. I could hear the heavy breathing of Xviver as he slid onto the edge. I shouted for the rest to come, then pressed harder against the wall and kept moving.
The ridge thinned until just the heels of my feet were on it. I shifted my feet until they were sideways, pointing out. I peered around the edge, looking for an end to the nightmarish ridge. It continued on as far as I could see.
“It keeps going.” I grunted.
“Great,” gasped Xander.
We kept inching on as the sun lowered, cloaking the land in darkness. Every nook and cranny was smothered by the dark blanket of the night. I could hardly see my feet, or the bottom of the ravine, for that matter. We shuffled along the dark ledge, ever slower as not to fall off. I could hear the rocks crumbling and falling around us, but could not see them. I heard the shuffling of the others; their near-frantic breathing was loud to my ears. I crept along, body pressed to the wall. The long plume from my helm swayed behind me. I felt the cold stone through my padded gauntlets. My feet steadily tested the ground ahead of me; my eyes were rendered useless by the choking darkness. The rock ledge went on and on, it felt as if there was no end.
Soon enough the fear would get one of us, catching in someones throat and sending them into a panic, I though. They would plummet into the darkness, taking whomever they may have grabbed with them, their screams echoing across the deathly ravines walls.
I shook the morbid thoughts from my head. Just the dark getting to you, I thought. At least there were no monsters; fighting and evading would have been impossible on this thin ledge. I glanced up at the dark sky for reassurance; no dark shadows there.
I edged along the precipice; quiet save for the sound of my shuffling feet. The night was still and cold; the others were quiet too. This edge seemed to go on forever, we kept moving forward yet it seemed like we were making no progress at all. We grimly crawled forward, aware of the ever-present shadow of death.
Just then, I heard a crack, louder then any other yet. It resonated from the bottom of the ravine. I heard the group freeze; I stopped too. I gazed down, nothing but pure blackness greeted me. I looker hard, searching for the slightest movement, but saw nothing.
“What was that?” whispered Keaden.
“No idea,” I said.
“Lets just keep going; was probably just larger rock,” muttered Xviver.
Just as he said that, I heard another low rumble followed by a hissing. It sounded like gas was escaping from a crack in the ground. But I knew better. That was a monster hissing; in particular a certain family of monster, the Tetracerta family. A relatively new family of monster, the Tetracerta family is still being accepted into the hunter society. Only a few had been discovered as of now. This monster could possibly be a new species; getting a glimpse could help.
I peered down and saw two shining gold lights. They hovered for a second, and then began advancing. I stared at them as they crept ever closer.
Then out of the gloom came a black shape, darker then the night. It was hunched like a great cat, with a long tail and raised shoulders. Its hide was jet black; spines rose from its shoulders, making it look much larger. Its head was remarkable, however; it was compact and short, with little ornamentation. A great number of spines rose from its lower jaw, giving it the impression of an under bite, which was still intimidating.
The beast was clawing its way up the ridge. I noticed its front claws were highly developed; they looked quite flexible, almost human. Its limbs were quite long and thin. But the most intriguing thing was how utterly dark it was. Its hide seemed to suck in the light; it was darker then the bottom of the ravine. Only its eyes betrayed any light; they glinted a bright yellow.
I broke my mystification and realized how much danger we were in. A simple flick of the claw from this huge beast could send us tumbling.
“Go, go, go!” I shouted, motioning for the group to speed up.
I drew my dual blades and jumped up, slamming my blades into the rock above us. The rest of the group passed under me. I tore my blade from the stone and drove it into the rock besides me. Soon I was pulling myself across the rock face, drawing the monster away from my helpless comrades.
The monster turned its gaze to me, the center of most of the movement. It had almost reached the small ledge we had been crawling on. I took a deep breath and tore both blades from the rock, then pushed up. I rocketed upward, and then stabbed my blades into the rock face. My legs swayed, and my arms burned with pain; my armors weight was a lot to bear.
The monster had finally clawed its way over the ledge and was quickly gaining speed. I drew my feet up and launched myself once more, pulling my blades from the rock and pushing my body into the air.
I jabbed my blades back into the stone as my body came to rest. I had put a good 5 feet between me and the beast. Unfortunately, the monster clawed forward and closed the short distance. I felt its hot breath rushing up towards me, and then pulling on me, as if it was breathing in. It was sniffing me, I realized.
Then the breathing abruptly stopped. I turned my head and saw Ethanus balancing on the ledge, slicing at the monsters tail. Oh god, not the kid, I thought. The monster turned downwards and hissed, before shifting its body and homing down towards the kid.
Ethanus looked up to see the monster clawing its way back down towards him. His face lit up with fear and he began shuffling back across the ledge, but the monster out ran him. With a quick bat of he claw he sent Ethanus hurtling down the cliff.
“NO!” I screamed.
I tensed with anger and decided upon my action. Without further pause I leapt from the cliff, dual blades in hand, and pounced on the monsters back. I tightened my legs around the monsters flank and held on. It hissed and arched its spine, hoping to throw me off. I tried to stab my blades into its back in hopes of staying on, but my weapons could hardly pierce the monsters black hide. I grunted in frustration.
The monster continued to try and shake me off, but I held on tight. It roared and hissed as it clambered on the rock, aggravated by its unwanted rider. I leaned down and grabbed onto the monster with my arms too.
Realizing that what it was doing wasn’t helping, the monster decided to bring me down to ground level and shake me off there. It raced down the cliff side, sending rocks tumbling and destroying a portion of the ledge we had been on. There was no turning back now, I thought grimly.
The monster reached the bottom of the ravine and abruptly stopped. The sudden stop loosened my grip and sent me tumbling off the beast. I braced for an impact into the hard stone, but all I felt was a soft padding of some sort. I got up and peered through the darkness at the floor. It was covered in what looked like the dried stalks of some desert plant. This must be its nest, I thought.
No time for thinking though. The monster growled and slammed one giant claw down, pinning me around the waist. Pain rocketed up me as the pressure hit my broken ribs. The monster reared its head, preparing to take a bite out of me. Then, from the darkness, came Ethanus. He rushed out and slashed the monsters claw with his blade. Electricity rushed from the metal, causing the beast to reel back. Freed, I rose to my feet and drew my blades.
“Thanks.” I gasped, “How was the fall?”
“Hurt a little,” he said. “I fell down onto this stuff.”
“Good for you. Let us battle.”
The monster had recovered from the attack and faced us. I could hardly see its shape, just the two glowing eyes and a faint outline. It would be tough to battle in this environment.
The monster lunged forward and swiped its claws at us. I rolled into Ethanus and pushed us out of the way. The beast landed a few feet from us and turned, hissing. I rushed at it, blades at my sides. It swiped and I rolled under its claw, slicing upward. My blades barely made scratches, even though they possessed white level sharpness. Its hide was extremely tough; fighting this beast would be a challenge.
Especially for Ethanus, his Kirin Bolt Indora had only green level sharpness; and when white wasn’t adequate, green wouldn’t do squat. I kept this to myself, however.
The monster looked down at me and growled before jumping back and inhaling deeply. I rolled out of the way and motioned for Ethanus to do the same.
I couldn’t have done it sooner. The beast lowered its head and let out a great stream of black thunder; it crackled across the floor as the monster swept its head around. I recognized the elemental breath as that of the dragon element; when released in a perceivable form the dragon element had a tendency to look like a blackish-red thunder.
The stream petered off and the monster took in a heavy breath. Steam rose from its jaws; it panted and flicked its tail. Then it jumped at us, claws raised, teeth snapping. I dove out of the way, Ethanus held up his shield to block the incoming attack.
The impact flung him back a few feet; the monster landed behind us. I rolled forward, closing the distance quickly. The monster turned and thumped its tail against the ground, hissing. Ethanus came in from the other side, sword drawn. I ducked under a swipe of the claw and stabbed at the outstretched arm, embedding the tip of my blade into the monsters forelimb. Poison dripped from my sword; the monster reeled back, pulling its arm from my blade. A small amount of blood coated the tip of my weapon. The monster had not been poisoned, I knew, the attack had not cut deep enough.
It hissed at me and flicked its claw at me; it nailed me in the chest and sent me sprawling. I looked up to see it clawing at Ethanus, who has his shield raised above him. I lifted myself from the ground and picked up my swords, which I had dropped. The monster continued battering Ethanus’s shield, which I doubted would hold up much longer. He was being pushed back against the wall, I realized; this monster was a far more intelligent individual then any other member of the Tetracerta family. I darted towards the monsters leg, hoping to draw it away from Ethanus. Reaching its leg, I began hacking, despite my blows hardly making a mark.
The monster turned towards the source of the annoyance, hissing and slapping its tail into the ground. The shockwave pushed Ethanus back, it felt it through my boots. The beast slammed its claws down at me; I rolled past the first one and the second missed. I turned to see the monsters claw coming down at me once more. With no time to dodge I had only one choice; it would be a battle of strength.
The claw came down on me, but I held it back with my hands, pushing up on it. Sweat dripped from my nose as I held my hands above my head, holding back the monster. It hissed and peered down at me, surprised, perhaps. I grunted as the monster increased the pressure, trying to crush me.
I turned my head to look at the monster; it stared back intently. The light was dim, but I could see the monsters face clearly. It was a cruel, hardened expression, that of a hunter. Not unlike the stoic expressions of us human hunters. In a way, we were alike.
In the midst of my thoughts, I heard Ethanus shouting:
“Talos! Watch out!” he shouted.
I turned my head to see the monster raising its other claw, preparing to sweep me from under its right claw and throw me into the rock. I took one of my hands away from the claw I was holding up; the pressure doubled, the pain was immense. My chest burned. The monster swiped at me with its second claw; it stuck out my hand and caught it. It was like some devilish form of arm wrestling, with my life at stake. The beast increased the pressure, bearing down on me with its powerful arms.
I struggled against the powerful beast, my strength against its strength. My limbs burned with pain; my chest felt like icy fire. I grunted and pushed up, trying to relieve some of the pressure. The monster barely budged, staring down at me. It growled and exerted more pressure, causing me to slide back. The monster was reared up now, its tail against the ground, body arched over me.
Once again I heard Ethanus; he was running at the monster, sword drawn. He was brave, this kid, but foolish. A quick blow from the monsters tail would most definitely kill him. I tried to tell him to get out of the way, but the monster pushed down harder and my limbs screamed with pain.
Ethanus lifted his blade in preparation to strike, but the monster caught his scent. It turned it head in his direction and let out a bolt of energy; the black thunder struck him in the side and sent him sliding across the floor. He lay there without a sound.
I wanted to help him, but my attention was on other matters. The beast increased the weight even more; my arms felt like molten lead. My chest was screaming in pure agony, white pain rushed to my head. I let out a wheezing breath; this couldn’t last much longer. I would soon be overpowered and crushed. The monster grunted and pushed down even harder, my legs buckled and I was forced down. I still held up its claws, but only for so long.
My very being had become pain; it coursed through me and weakened me. My arms bent down, letting the monsters claws to come ever closer. The metal hilts of my blades pressed into my hands, biting into my skin. I spread my knees out and braced my arms to help support my pain-racked frame. The monster had noticed my weakness; it somehow increased the already extreme pressure. I struggled to push my hands above my head. The beast growled and stared down at me, angered at my resistance.
Then, without warning, all the pressure was released from my arms. I fell to the ground, utterly powerless. My arms throbbed and I felt numb. I couldn’t even look up to see what the cause of my release was. I heard the grunts and hisses of the monster, and someone shouting. My vision grew white, then an all-engulfing blackness took hold, and I was out.
A great blinding light filled my eyes. No, you’re not dead, I thought. I shook my head and everything came into view. My vision was slightly blurred; still, I could see the anxious faces of the group over me.
“What?” I snapped.
“The cynic awakens,” muttered Keaden.
“Are you alright?” asked Kyoki, obviously distressed.
“I’m fi-“ I said this as I was getting up; when my arms moved a blistering pain ran up them.
“Ah…” I mumbled.
“Obviously not,” said Xviver.
“I’ll be fine,” I growled. I struggled to stand against my pain.
“You don’t look so good,” worried Quinn.
“I’m fine!” I roared, “What happened to the monster?”
“It ran off when we appeared,” said Xander. He looked slightly scared by my outburst.
“How’d you get down?” I asked.
“Well, when you told us to get moving, we headed across the ridge. We found the end of it and there was a thin passage to the bottom of the ravine. We came down to find you struggling with the beast. The monster lifted its claws off you and bounded at us,” explained Xviver.
“What the hell was that, anyhow?” asked Keaden.
“Member of the Tetracerta family, a new monster family. I’ve never seen that kind before; must be a new species.” I said.
“So there are more kinds?” asked Kyoki.
“Yes, there is a second desert one, named the Gendrokk, a volcanic one named Carchakk, which is also know as Carchaktor, a tropical one named Venorakk, and now this.” I answered.
“So we discovered a new species?” queried Xviver.
“Indeed. I’ll have to name it…” I said, drifting off into possibilities.
Scavakk came to mind, “Scav” being an ancient prefix for shadow, “akk” being the suffix for the Tetracerta family. The beast was a nocturnal hunter, for sure, but I wasn’t quite sure about Scavakk. I deepened my thoughts: what else could be suitable?
“What’s up, Talos?” asked Ethanus, interrupting my thoughts.
“Huh?” I said, shaken from my mind.
“You were awfully quiet there for a second,” he explained.
“Oh, nothing. By the way, you did well down there, kid. A little foolish perhaps, but the help was welcome.”
“Ah, thanks,” he said, looking prideful. He glanced at Kyoki, but she was focused on me.
“So, you got a name?” asked Quinn.
“I was thinking of Scavakk…but it doesn’t seem right,” I replied.
“Hmmm. You thought of the prefix “Riv”? It’s “dark” in a native desert tongue,” mentioned Xviver.
“Ah. Good to know somebody has good vocabulary,” I said, “Rivakk it is. You’ll get credit, don’t worry Xviver.”
“Good,” he chuckled.
“Very funny guys. But how are we gonna get out of here?” asked Kyoki.
“By the way you came, of course.” I told her. I turned and headed in the way of the slope.
It was still dark; thus our vision was still impaired. Fortunately, I could still make out the cliff and climbed to the top without much hassle. The others followed, panting. They were obviously tired; the cliff side had been harrowing. I was in even worse shape. My chest throbbed with a dull pain, my arms felt like lead weights. More and more these days, I thought, I’m getting beaten and battered.
The cliff ended on what seemed to be a small plateau. Turning, I could see the small ledge we had slid across, what seemed like hours ago. I turned and looked over the group. They looked awful, with dark circles around their eyes and cuts on any exposed skin.
“Lets go,” I said, with some measure of relief.
Chapter 10- Bittersweet
Sand blew through my hair, tossed up by a cold wind. Darkness was falling across the land, but all I could think about was the darkness in my heart. Tears dried on my face.
I had nearly cost the team their lives. The rush had ended quickly, the beast blinding us before striking. Their wounds were severe. We had fought till the last breath; the monster lay dead, but at what cost?
Curt’s arm was crushed, the bone fractured in so many places, it didn’t look like an arm anymore. Marcus’s leg was snapped, the bone sticking out from his knee. I had trouble holding back the contents of my stomach. Ryork had suffered the least, being a gunner he had been behind us; Nishira had also avoided damage. Shigutso had taken a slashing blow to the chest, three giant cuts marked his chest, and he spat blood.
I had been lucky. The monster had hit Shigutso, pinned Curt, and slapped me away with its tail. At worse, a few of my ribs were broken. The blow had flung off my helmet; most of the group’s armor was in ruins. I felt especially bad for Shigutso; his armor was a mark of pride, slashed open without much effort by the monster.
We lay in the sand, broken, beat, and bloodied. I sat hunched on my knees, holding my head. My long blue hair cascaded across my face, splaying out on the reddened sand. I glanced at the corpse of the Gendrokk; Ryork had ended our nightmare with a piercing shot into the monsters skull. Nishira stood over Curt, affixing bandages to his mutilated arm. The monsters heavy claw had crushed it.
I had no idea how we were to get back. Most of the group couldn’t stand, let alone walk. I struggled to my feet; pain shot up my side. I had broken bones before, but never on this scale. I doubled over in pain, tears in my eyes. I felt a hand on my shoulder; Ryork was standing over me. I looked up at him; he had his hand extended. I took it and he helped me up, draping one of my arms over his shoulder.
“How are you?” he asked.
“Been better.” I mumbled. My chest ached with pain.
“Where’s you helmet?”
“Over there.” I pointed at a sliver of shining red poking out from the sand.
He walked me over to it, and I picked it up and held it in my hand. Then he led me back to the group, still in a circle around the Gendrokk. Marcus sat propped on a rock, his leg tied in tight cloth to make it straight. Shigutso was wrapping bandages around his bare chest; his ruined chestplate lay behind him. His hands were slick with blood, his expression pained. I heard Curt screaming in agony as Nishira tied his arm; I couldn’t look at him, however.
His arm had been completely demolished; decimated by the monsters powerful claw. It was a ruined mess, and would most likely have to be amputated. I felt awful; this was my entire fault. The guilt took hold in my stomach, I felt queasy. Doubling over, I threw up.
“Azuriade! Are you all right?” asked Ryork, who had let go of me.
“Fine, fine.” I coughed. Vomit stained the sand. I wiped my lips.
“You sure?” questioned Nishira. Her tanned face looked worried.
“I’m good. You need to tend to Curt.” I motioned for her to leave.
Ryork helped me up as Nishira walked away. He looked at me, then bent down and picked up my helmet, which I had dropped while retching.
“It’s not your fault you know,” he said kindly.
“I was the one who got us to charge, sent us into danger.” I said miserably, “I almost got us killed.”
“Anyone would have done that. You didn’t want them to get hurt. You were just doing what all of us do. Hunt.”
His kind words were of some consolation for me. I looked at him with grateful eyes. He looked back; I couldn’t quite tell what his expression was. Then, he looked away and shook his head.
“Let’s check on Marcus,” he said.
We walked over to the fallen hunter. His helmet was sitting beside him; his face was grim. Marcus had black hair and a sharp face. His eyes were a deep black as well; his skin, however, was pale. Dirt and grim was streaked on his face. His leg had been tied; the bone wasn’t visible, but the cloth was a blood red.
“How are you?” I asked tentatively.
“Not so good anymore,” he grunted, “The bone is completely snapped.”
“Does it hurt?”
“Of course it does, haven’t you broken a bone before?” he growled.
“Of course. My ribs are broken right now, you know,” as I said that, the pain seemed to double. I had held it in for a while now, but my concentration was slipping.
“Ah. Sorry for my rudeness. Will you be alright?”
“I suppose. Do you need anything?”
“Water would be nice. I’m parched.”
I pulled a small hide canteen from my pouch and handed it to him. He turned the vessel upside down and guzzled the contents. Water poured down from his mouth and dripped onto his armor. It glinted in the sun and ran down his chestplate. While drinking, he asked about Curt.
“He’s not doing so well; his arm was completely crushed. At least your wound will heal. He’s gonna have to lose the arm.”
“That’s awful. Is it really that bad?”
“You want to take a look?”
“Ah, no thank you.”
Curts screams of agony restarted; Nishira was probably binding it again.
“I suppose I must check on him as well. Sorry about the leg.” I said.
“It’s fine. I’ve lived through worse. Or close to worse,” he feebly joked.
The sand around Curt was a bloody mess. His arm was covered in swathes of bandages, all deep red in color. It had been tied and knotted many times over, in order to stop the bleeding and help preserve the shape of the bone. I shuddered when I thought about the mutilated skin, the shattered bone under those wrappings. His eye were watery, his face abnormally pale.
“I rubbed some healing herbs on it, to help prevent infection,” said Nishira when I walked up.
“Very thoughtful. Good thing we have a medic on the team.” I replied.
“Thank you, but I cannot do much more for him. The pain caused by working the wound is immense for him; any further attempts to help it could cause him to faint, or perhaps enter a coma. If I had my hunting horn….”
“Don’t worry. Once we get back to Hikari he’ll be given good care.”
“That’s reassuring. Were you injured?”
Even as she said this; I was worrying. The trek back to Hikari might be impossible, given the injuries of the group.
“I think a few of my ribs are cracked; I have pains in my side and my chest hurts pretty bad.” I said after thinking.
“It’s amazing that you are holding in that pain, but we should wrap it to keep them from getting any worse,” she said.
“That’s gonna involve me undressing, correct?” I said a little uneasily.
“Well, yes, you’re going to have to remove your top undergarments.”
I looked around at the group. I didn’t want any of them to see my nude chest, but there wasn’t much cover around. Awkward, I thought.
“Is there anywhere we could do this that’s a little more, err, private?”
She laughed. “Unless you can produce some sort of wall, then no.”
“Great…” I said.
“Well, I could lie you down behind the monster and wrap you up there,” she suggested.
As weird and slightly nasty as that sounded, it was the only way to protect my modesty. I didn’t mind Nishira seeing me. Girl to girl, right? She led me behind the monsters body; lying on its side it gave me about 4 feet of protection.
I unlatched my Rathalos chestplate and stripped off my undershirt. Then I sat down, waiting for Nishira to pull out some herbs and the wrappings.
While she was doing this, I studied my chest, where the Gendrokks tail had struck me. I had a nasty black and blue bruise just under my right breast, and a tinge of red where the cracked ribs were. I tried not to touch, but human nature snuck in and I gingerly poked the red area.
Pain shot up my side in a flash. I fell back into the sand, feeling the slight heat on my back. It was still warm from the sunlight of day. I then realized how chilly I was; being shirtless in the cold desert night wasn’t quite optimal. Nishira noticed this and hurried her efforts to mix some kind of soothing agent.
“You’re a pretty girl, you know. And I’m not just saying that because you’re topless right now,” she said, laughing at the end.
“Thanks, same to you. Except the topless part; that would be awkward.” I said, laughing with her.
“Uhh, what are you do-whoa!” I heard Ryorks surprised voice from afar. My hands went to my chest.
“Awkward,” whistled Nishira. I couldn’t help but laugh.
“Er…I’m gonna go,” said Ryork as he scratched the back of his head anxiously.
“Well then…” I said.
“I wonder how he feels about that image,” chuckled Nishira, “Ok, let me see your wound.”
I showed her the huge bruise, which she looked at with sympathy. The she rubbed the paste on it; it felt cool to my exposed skin. Finally, she tightly wrapped the cloth around my midriff; the paste numbed the pain.
“Thanks. You don’t know how lucky we are to have you.” I said while suiting up.
“Oh, it’s nothing. I learned most of it from my mother,” she said, “Are you gonna talk to Ryork?”
I must have blushed a little, because she laughed.
“Whatever,” I said testily. She giggled some more.
I walked out from behind the Gendrokk. I placed my hand on its back as I walked by; it was stone cold. Ryork sat on a small rock back turned to me. I decided not to talk to him for the moment.
Instead, I sat down next to Shigutso. He was completely bandaged; they had become a deep red by now. He sighed and touched his decimated chestplate.
“I’m sorry about your armor,” I said.
“No, no. It’s fine. I have enough materials to repair it,” he said.
“But you shouldn’t have to repair it. This is my fault; I’ll pay for the repairs.”
“That is kind, miss. But this is not your fault; this will happen again and again, not matter what. Such is the job of a hunter. You cannot take all the blame for something that you cannot stop from happening. Carrying such burdens is not a good thing.”
I felt compelled to hug him. He was more mature then me, I thought, knew more about the hardships of being a hunter, seeing your comrades’ fall. I leaned over and gave him a kiss on the cheek; he turned to look at me, surprised.
“And that was for?” he said, confused.
“You made me feel better,” I said, laughing a little. “I was gonna hug you, but your chest and all…”
He laughed with me. “You sure are the affectionate type.”
“You could say that.”
It looked like Curt had finally gotten the strength to stand; for he shuffled over and propped himself on a rock next to Shigutso.
“Hello,” he croaked.
“Feeling all right?” I asked.
“I can’t even feel my arm anymore,” he groaned, “I’m gonna have to have it amputated, right?
“Most likely,” said Shigutso, with a hint of sympathy in his voice.
Curt looked at his bandaged arm sadly. Then he looked at me.
“I don’t blame you, don’t feel bad. This is my fault; a decision I’ll have to live with for the rest of my life,” he sighed again. His hurt look sparked compassion in me; I leaned over Shigutso and gave him a kiss on the cheek. He looked at me and smiled sadly. His expression was bittersweet; his faint smile was betrayed by a slight darkness in his eyes.
I also realized that this was the first time I had seen either Curts’ or Shigutsos’ faces. Curt had dark brown hair with brown eyes. His face was kind but hardened by battle. Shigutso had an eastern look to him; his hair and eyes were black.
I heard a shuffling next to me; Ryork was settling down next to me. He had taken off his helm too; I studied his face for a second. He had reddish hair and almost golden eyes. His mouth was a thin line; his face round, but thin. He looked down at me, and then looked away. His cheeks looked red.
“Hey.” I said.
“Mphm,” he mumbled.
“Nothing,” he said quietly.
“Don’t feel awkward or anything, I mean, you had no idea that I was…you know.”
He laughed quietly. “Don’t you feel, like, weird?”
I could tell he had trouble with girls. “You mean embarrassed? No, I don’t feel like that. But I hope you don’t feel that way.”
“I kinda do.”
“Well, er, don’t. I mean, I don’t want you to like, envision me in you mind, but don’t feel bad.”
“Hm. So you’re ok with it?”
I heard snores from my right. Shigutso had fallen asleep; Curt was playing with sand. I turned back to Ryork; he was looking out across the vast sea of sand.
“It’s really quite pretty, you know,” he said, contemplating the view.
“Beautiful, but deadly.” I said, “How are we going to get back?”
“Good question. Walking is out of the picture; Curt and Marcus won’t last a day. I don’t think Hikari will be able to see our emergency flares. Basically, we’re stuck.”
“Great, that lifted my spirits. We do have enough food to stay here, though.”
“Yes, but then what happens when the body of the Gendrokk attracts a Tigrex, or a Diablos surfaces to grab a bite to eat? He motioned to the cacti behind us. “We can’t fight in this state.”
He had a point, no matter how depressing it was. We couldn’t stay, but we couldn’t go. It seemed like we were trapped in a desert in a nightmare, one that we couldn’t wake up from. I sighed and placed my head in my hands.
“This is the second time I’ve been stuck in the desert in two weeks…” I said. “First time I nearly died; Talos saved me. Now he’s not here, and I’m scared.”
“Hey, don’t worry,” he said, wrapping his arm around my waist. “We’ll be fine.”
I lay my head on his chest and he moved his arm up to my shoulder. I closed my eyes and thought of what Talos was doing right now. He was on some secret mission, somewhere out here. I was thinking of my Apceros meal, the last meal I had before setting out, when I finally fell into sleep. I dreamed of rest.
Chapter 11- Double-Edged
I crouched on the end of the cliff, watching the group below. The hunters sat near the body of a Gendrokk, most likely sleeping. A cold wind blew from behind me; I ignored the chill. My attention turned to a disruption in the sand, a good distance from the sleeping hunters.
It was difficult to see in the dim light; so I pulled out my pair of binoculars. Zooming in, I caught my breath. Racing towards the group, under the sand, was a Cephadrome. I could see its large fin poking out from the ground. A few Cephalos followed; the dead Gendrokk had obviously attracted them.
I turned and faced my group. They sat a little behind me; they had been there since I had spotted the hunters from the top of the cliff. We had hiked up another ridge after escaping the ravine; after several twists and turns we had ended up here, on this high ridge. It must have been at least 300 feet up.
“What is it?” asked Kyoki.
“Group of hunters down there, looks like they slayed a Gendrokk. They might be stranded, however.” I said
“How will we get down? I mean; that’s a sheer drop,” worried Keaden.
I had thought this out. “We won’t be going down. I will. I’ve got a feeling about something.”
“What do you mean?” asked Xviver.
“It’s nothing important.” In fact, my feeling was that Azuriade was down there, maybe injured. Getting back to her was important.
“But, wait. How will you get down?” asked Ethanus.
I walked to the edge, and the group followed close behind. I put one foot forward, halfway off the edge. Wind buffeted me and my helmets plume flew behind me. I stared down the cliff, the height was dizzying. I inched my foot further and tensed my body. This was probably the most daring thing I had done in my long career as an extraordinary hunter. Then, I took a breath and jumped.
It was terrifying. The wind rushed at me as I fell at high speed. My arms, outstretched, were pulled back. I nearly lost hold on my blades. This wasn’t such a good idea, I thought.
Turning my body, I could make out the others. They looked highly distressed, and no wonder. My jump had been unannounced, my plan undisclosed.
Enough thinking, time for action, I thought. My plan involved hitting the rock face and embedding my blades in it. I worried that they would snap when hitting the hard rock, but no time for that now. I angled my body towards the looming rock face; looking down I could see the ground creeping ever closer.
I couldn’t wait much longer; I was painstakingly close to the rock now, close enough to reach out and touch it. Or stab it. I twisted in midair until my legs were under me; my speed increased two fold. Without further pause, I struck forward with my blades. They cut into the rock without snapping or cracking; it was like a knife through butter.
I slid down the wall, my legs slapped against the rock again and again, but I didn’t feel it. Adrenaline still coursed through my body; so the pain was numbed. My weapons gouged the rock; they left long cuts as I slid. I braced my arms as the inevitable pain ran through them.
I grimaced as the pain traveled to my chest; my broken ribs still ached. I concentrated on the center of my pain and held it in. This was a method I had taught Azuriade; it allowed you to ignore the pain, no matter how severe. My pain contained, I continued sliding. My speed had dropped as friction took over; soon I could place my feet on the wall to slow my descent even further. They ached too, but I ignored it.
I had only a few dozen feet to slide down now. I had left great gashes in the rock a good 100 feet long, and my blades were sparking. But I couldn’t let go now; I was still too high up, a fall from this height could still kill or seriously injure me.
My blades were sparking heavily now; great cascades of golden sparks rained down in front of my helm. I slid further down the cliff, my blades making awful grating noises. With only about 50 feet to go, I prayed my blades would hold up just a little longer.
Fortunately, they managed to stay intact until I was about 20 feet from the ground. I tore them from the wall and landed on the ground, on all fours. My limbs ached again; it had been a while since I had exerted so much energy.
I waved this off and turned to the desert. A cold wind blew across the white dunes; it passed through my armor and chilled me to the bone. I looked across the expanse of sand and searched for my target, the Cephadrome. Luckily I had prepared for a situation involving these desert piscine’s; within my pouch sat a few sonic bombs, perfect for disrupting the sand-dwellers sensitive hearing.
I spotted the large fin erupting from the sand a few meters ahead of me. It was making a beeline for the Gendrokk; presumably to scavenge. Upon seeing the sleeping hunters, however, it would probably become territorial and attack them. A few Cephalos swam on either side of it.
The monster was quick; unfortunately I didn’t have enough energy to pursue it at those speeds. If I could get its attention, however, I might be able to change its course. So I ran ahead, pulling a sonic bomb from my pouch. The monster sped just ahead of me, oblivious to my presence, for now.
I darted forward, pushing my waning strength to the limits. The sonic bomb felt heavy in my hand. The group was probably watching me, amazed by my survival, perhaps. I chuckled at the thought of their astonished faces.
Without further pause, I wheeled my arm forward and let the hand bomb fly. It missed, but that was my point. The earsplitting shriek of the bomb echoed across the dunes. The Cephadrome paused mid-swim; it sat motionless for a second before turning towards the source of the disturbance. I must have gotten close enough, the fin rotated to face me.
I drew my blades, then mentally slapped myself in the face. In my haste I had forgotten to re-sharpen my blades, they were probably at orange level after the grinding they had taken. The damage showed; there were scratched all over the maroon blades, and they were quite dull. I groaned; being the sole target of the Cephadrome and its pack, I had no time to sharpen.
The monster darted forward, its deadly sharp fin the only thing visible. The other Cephalos followed their leader, swimming at me. I rolled past one razor fin and dove over the next. The Cephadromes fin, however, caught me and pulled me down onto the sand. It wasn’t sharp enough to cut my G-ranked armor, but I still felt the blow.
The monster must have felt the toughness of my armor, because I heard it hiss as it turned back to face me. I got to my feet and withdrew another sonic bomb from my pouch. The beast swam after me as I dashed forward, bomb clutched in my hand. I turned and let the sonic bomb fly; the noise rang out across the desert. Its ears being sensitive to sound, the monster crashed out from the sand, along with its minons.
I turned and rolled towards the flailing monster. Its head flopped on the ground weakly. Quickly, I jumped forward and placed my hand on the monsters neck. With the other hand I stabbed my blade through the monsters head, killing it instantly. Its body shuddered slightly, and then went limp.
The other Cephalos recovered shortly; upon seeing their leader dead, they scattered. I stood and strapped my dual blades onto my back. My arms throbbed once more; the Rivakks strength I no longer doubted. The huge Cephadrome lie dead in my wake, the hunters were safe, for the moment. Then, I heard a voice, and it filled me with joy.
“Talos!” came a cry, and I knew it to be Azuriades. I turned to see her faint shape running towards me. A hunter ran behind her.
She reached me and ran into my chest, arms wrapped around me. I gripped her tightly and stroked her hair. Then she looked up.
“Nice to see you too.” I said. She giggled.
“Where…what…?” she was at a loss for words, overjoyed to see me. Instead of letting her continue, I hugged her tighter.
The other hunter finally reached us. He wore Red Khezu gunner armor; helmet in his hand. A Dragon Bow ‘Halo’ was strapped to his back; the quiver was missing. His face was round, but had a certain thinness to it. His eyes were a strange hue, almost gold, and his hair was a crimson-brown.
“Ah, hello,” he said, rather nervously.
“Hi there.” I grinned. “And who may you be?”
“My name is Ryork, Hunter Rank 4, if you wanted to know.”
“He helped us with the Gendrokk,” exclaimed Azuriade.
“Ah, yes, the Gendrokk. Are you hurt?” I asked.
“Well, I think I cracked a rib or two, but I’ll be fine.”
“Using my teachings, eh?”
“They’re quite effective.”
“What do you expect from a hunter of 10 years?”
The whole time Ryork was standing off to the side, not understanding our conversation. I decided to alleviate his loneliness.
“Is anyone else injured?” I asked.
“Unfortunately, yes,” he said.
“Yes,” he said grimly.
“Lets go then. I will see what I can do.”
Azuriade led me to the group, with Ryork following. Ryork had taken out a lightcrystal, which gave out a dim light and help us see the way. A bright torch had been lit at the camp; t acted as our beacon. Within 5 minutes we had reached the camp. Four other hunters sat in the sand; three men were propped against some rocks, all injured. The fourth was a young girl, a native based on her tan skin. Despite that, she wore a full set of Blangonga. She was uninjured.
The girl got to her feet, yawning. I could see a pile of weapons in the dimness behind her; a lance, a greatsword, a longsword, a sword and shield, Azuriades hammer, Ryorks quiver. I glanced to the other side of the “encampment”; the Gendrokks body lay there, intact. I thought to walk over and inspect it, but decided against it. The groups’ wounds came first.
The girl finally spoke: “Who are you?”
“First off, who are you?” I inquired.
“The name is Nishira; I’m a lancer and the groups medic.”
“Ah. My name is Talos. I’m a friend of Azuriade. And how are the others?”
“Not too well,” she sighed. “All three of them are grievously injured.”
“I’m sure you did an excellent job, but let me examine them as well. I’m sure I can help.”
“Why thank you,” she said.
I went to the first man, who wore partial Lagiacrus armor. The other half of the set was lying in the sand behind him. Across his chest was a large amount of bandages, all reddened by blood.
“What happened to him?” I asked.
“Clawed in the chest,” explained Ryork. “He did all the wrapping, so I assume he disinfected it.”
The next one had his arm wrapped tightly, with many layers. Otherwise he seemed fine.
“Arm was completely crushed. Every bone in it was demolished. It’s a wreck; it’s gonna have to get amputated.”
Obviously the last man had a broken leg. Most of his armor was still on, save for his helm and the one leg piece. His leg was wrapped like the others. The wrapping was bloody, like the others.
“I think I can set the leg.” I said. “But I’ll have to wake him.”
“Just be careful, will you?” Nishira said worriedly.
I reached over and shook the man by his shoulders. He mumbled, and then woke with a start. His eyes were alert, his mouth turned in a grimace.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“The name is Talos. I’m gonna fix your leg.”
“What do you mean, fix my leg? I thought we had set it.”
“Problem is, it’s not completely set, by the looks of it. If I don’t fix it up, it could get infected and you may have to get it amputated.”
“I’m going to give you a numbing agent. Without it, the pain would be severe.”
I retrieved a parashroom from my bag and tore it in half, giving one half to Marcus. A thick yellow juice trickled from the torn end. He bit into it and seemed to relax.
“What is this?” he asked, speech slightly slurred.
“Parashroom. It paralyzes you and numbs pain. Trust me, you’ll be glad you have it.”
His wrappings were tight and slick with blood, but I eventually managed to undo them. Azuriade and Ryork had walked away as soon as I had unwrapped them, presumably to escape their squeamishness. I grimaced as I looked upon the leg, which was snapped at the knee. The shattered bone had torn through the skin and protruded from the wound. Congealed blood stuck to the bone and the torn skin around it.
I grimly placed my hand over the wound and tenderly pushed down. Marcus’s eyes watered slightly; if he hadn’t eaten the parashroom he would be in an even worse state. I handed him another part of the mushroom, which he gladly took. I returned to the leg once he was finished.
Now I applied more pressure, trying to shift the cracked bone back into place. Marcus had entered an extremely numb state; he displayed no pain as I pressed on the bone. Blood oozed from the wound and some ran onto my gauntlets. I shifted his leg downward as I prepared to snap the bone into place. Flecks of blood sprayed up from the torn knee.
I managed to push his leg down slightly; enough to let the bone slide in. I pressed down on the leg and felt the grating of bone. Even with the parashroom, Marcus looked pained. I continued applying pressure until I was sure it was set; then I tightly wrapped it in a few layers. I wiped my helm of blood, and then rubbed my hands in the sand. Marcus nodded in thanks before reclining, resting.
“I don’t know if I set it right; it’s dark and I’m exhausted. But hopefully he won’t have to lose the leg now.” I said tiredly
“Well, you helped more then I could,” said Nishira. Best you get some rest now; I can only imagine what you’ve been through.”
“Can’t sleep just yet. Got some business to take care of. You see, I’m with a group, and-“
I was cut off by a loud voice from behind me. Turning, I saw Ethanus running ahead of the rest of the group, shouting my name.
“Talos! You’re okay!” he grinned.
“It’ll take more then jumping off a cliff to do me in.” I replied.
“This is the group, I take it?” asked Nishira.
“The same. I rescued them from the cave system. They’re a little banged up, but nothing you’ll have to worry about. As for me, you might want to take a look at my ribs in the morning. I’m afraid I’ve broken a few.” I explained.
“Ah. Like Azuriade.”
“By the way, what did you mean by “jumping off a cliff”?” Azuriade asked.
“See that cliff over there?” I pointed. “We were up there. To get down I had to jump off; take a look over there in the morning. You’ll see my blade marks. And speaking of cliffs, how’d you guys get down?”
I addressed this last question to my hunting party. They obviously hadn’t jumped; that would have been suicide for them.
“After watching you take the dive, we decided to find a way down. We found a thin passage on the cliff,” explained Xviver.
Works for me, I thought. At least we were all together now, and I didn’t have to leave again. The though of parting with Azuriade this soon was unimaginable. I sighed and turned to face her.
“How long have you been out here?” I asked.
“We left this morning. But our flares aren’t strong enough to alert the city of our situation,” she explained.
“Well then lucky you. I’ve got a few military grade flares on hand, for emergencies like this. If you’re ready I’ll light them.” I told her.
“We are indeed lucky to have you here, Talos,” said Ryork. “Hopefully they will send enough aptonoth and carts. Our wounded won’t be able to ride the aptonoth.”
“Correct. Presumably the intensity of my flare will hint at our predicament.”
I withdrew the large flare from my pouch. It was cylindrical and a bright red, with a fuse sticking out of the side. Large writing was etched on the side, shouting warnings and instructions. I struck a flint together and lit the fuse; then I placed it on the sand and moved back.
The bright flare shot out of the canister, soaring into the air like a sparkling comet. Smoke floated in tiny wisps from the charred canister. The flare reached its maximum height and exploded, sending out a flashing light. It hovered there for a second before petering out. Somewhere in the distant clouds an observation balloon noticed the flare and sent out a messenger pigeon.
“Breathtaking,” muttered Nishira. A thin trail of smoke hung in the air.
“Quite,” I said. “Now lets get some rest.”
I settled down next to Azuriade, who tilted her head and rested it on my shoulders. I took off my helm and fell into sleep, grateful for the chance to rest.
I awoke to the sound of horns. Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I examined the surrounding desert for the source of the noise. I instantly spotted it; a large caravan of carts and aptonoth. Hunters sat on their steeds, blowing into the horns. I stood and shook the sand from my armor. Then I woke Azuriade, Ryork, and we walked towards the approaching group.
They halted a fair distance from us and dismounted. I counted four hunters; they were all wearing Monoblos armor. I lifted a hand in greeting, one lifted his hand back; I assumed he was the leader. Indeed, his armor had larger spines and colored details.
“Good day, fellow hunter,” the man said roughly. His accent was of the native desert tribe; most likely these were a band of guild hunters.
“And to you. I take it the guild saw my flare, else you would not have arrived.” I replied.
“Do not think Xavier would have forgotten you! Planning was in progress to send a party out, but your flare was seen. Xavier recognized it as yours”
“Good point,” I continued. “Say, did you bring a cart? A big cart?”
“Why yes. The very same used for your Tigrex, if I’m not mistaken. Lucky we brought it as a precaution; that Gendrokk is gonna need some serious towing.”
“And a smaller one for our wounded?
“We take pride in being prepared, my friend. Another cart was brought for any injured,” cut in another hunter to the leaders left. By the way, have we not been introduced to your companions?”
“You speak a good point. As you know, I am Talos. This here is Azuriade.” She beamed when I pointed to her.
“And here is Ryork,” he smiled and exchanged greetings. “The rest of the group is nearby. I do hope you have many aptonoth; we’ve got a large amount of people.”
“Ah, yes. The exact number?” asked another hunter, who had introduced himself as Kyro.
“Nine, if you do not count the wounded,” answered Ryork.
“Hmm. You’ll have to double up then, as we only brought five extra mounts,” said the leader, who was named Soran. The other two were named Harper and Riker.
“Fine with me. As long as we get back,” said Azuriade.
“Well, should we begin loading?” asked Riker.
“Soon. I shall have to wake the others. Then, once most of us are up, we can move the Gendrokk onto the cart. Can you move it closer?” I said.
“No problem. Should be quick and easy to move the corpse, given enough man power,” consented Soran.
“Good. I’ll get to waking up the group.”
Azuriade, Ryork and I went back to the sleeping party. Some of them had been stirred by the loud horns, but they were not fully awake. I stood in the middle of the drowsy group and shouted, startling the group out of sleepiness.
Most of them had worn their armor while asleep; exhausted, they had collapsed on the spot. They groaned as they lifted their sore bodies, sand running off their armor in small cascades. I shouted again to rouse the group, and then gathered them around.
“The rescue party is finally here,” cries of joy and excitement filled the air as I said that. “But you’ll need to help me.”
“How?” asked Keaden drearily.
“See the Gendrokk?” I pointed. “We’re gonna have to move that onto the cart for transport. We don’t want Azuriades’ group to have worked for nothing, do we?”
“I suppose not. Let’s get going then,” growled Quinn.
The group struggled to rise and get moving. I understood; I myself was wiped. My arms still ached, and without my earlier adrenaline boost I could not ignore the pain in my legs. I had a slight headache as well; in short, I was a wreck. I probably looked awful too, but that was for later. Out here, looks didn’t matter. We were all pretty ragged and beat.
I strode over to the monsters corpse; the cold night had preserved it well. There were no signs of rot or scavenging; my late night kill of the Cephadrome had probably dissuaded potential predators.
The rest of the group caught up with me and looked over the dead body. Its skin was cold as ice; its eyes had gone blank. From its gaping jaws hung a long, pink tongue. Numerous cuts covered the corpse; the tail was almost severed in one place. An arrow was impaled in the monsters skull. It was embedded almost 8 inches in, which I gauged after pulling it out. Ryorks handiwork, no doubt. His bow had been an important asset in the battle.
“Ho! Watch yourselves!” came the voice of Kyro. I turned to see him riding in a large cart, pulled by three aptonoth. The back of the cart was a large rolling platform, with ropes piled on it.
“Should be big enough, correct?” came the voice of Soran. I turned to see him advancing towards up, holding a bunch of metal clips in his hands.
“Seems big enough to me. Good thing you brought this, but I hope it will hold; Gendrokk are heavy beasts.” I replied.
“Ah, don’t worry. This has been weight tested before. Should hold up just fine,” said Soran, reassuring me.
“Well then that’s settled. Let’s get this thing moving, shall we?” cut in Keaden.
We lined up in front of the corpses back, prepared to push the beast, legs first, onto the cart. I placed my armored gloves onto the monsters thick hide, feeling the coolness of the skin through my leather finger pads. The others began to push on the body, slowly shifting the corpse towards the cart.
I grunted as the pain in my arms returned; the pressure of pushing on the body building in my limbs. The body was heavier then I had expected, but this was no surprise. Gendrokk were tough creatures, with heavy builds and stone-like spikes on their shoulders. I grunted and shoved forward again.
After some struggling, we finally managed to push the corpse onto the cart and tie it down. I wiped my brow of sweat; my helmet still sat in the sand a ways off. The others huffed and panted in exhaustion. I turned to look at Soran.
“We should get going then.” I said.
“Agreed. I’ll get the aptonoth ready. You get everyone together,” he said gruffly.
He walked off in the direction of the carts. I watched him until he stepped behind one of the beasts; then I turned to face the group. I turned directly into a man, who pushed a sharp blade up to my throat.
“Don’t move,” he snarled.
“And you may be?” I asked, calm despite the danger.
“Just shut up,” growled the man. He seemed to like this bestial way of speaking, as far as I was concerned.
I noticed the others were in similar positions; grizzled men in brown robes and tattered pants held various sharp objects up to them, keeping watch. Soran came into view next to me; a bandit stood behind him as well.
“Well Soran, your trick has worked well.” I grunted.
“Not mine. Harpers,” he said through gritted teeth.
“Indeed,” came the deep voice of the hunter in question. “He has nothing to do with this, the trickery is all mine.”
“Well you do certainly sound pleased.” I snapped. “What do you want, then?”
“What do you think I want? The beast, your zenny, perhaps your armor. After all, that Rathalos Soul is quite the treasure. And I’m sure my accomplices here wouldn’t mind the company of the ladies…” he grinned.
“You disgust me. Taking advantage of some stranded hunters? Quite dishonorable.” I grimaced.
Looking around, I saw the fear on my companions’ faces; I couldn’t let them down. But any action on my part would lead to death. Only a major distraction would aid in an escape. As I thought of this, I fingered through my pouch, hoping to find a solution.
My glove wrapped around something round and heavy. Of course, the sonic bombs I had packed. A few still sat in my pouch; I pulled the small hand-bomb from my pouch and palmed it.
“Get over there,” rasped my guard.
I placed my hands over my ears and nodded to the group. Some of them must have gotten it, for they raised their arms in preparation. I stood next to Azuriade, holding the bomb behind my back.
“Get ready.” I whispered. She nodded in reply.
“So, Talos. I may be willing to let you go. We just have to make a deal,” Harper smiled.
“And this deal would entail?” I feigned agreement.
“Like I said before; money, the monster, your belongings. Perhaps the girl.”
“Ah. I’m afraid I cannot agree to those terms; see, I prefer to hang onto my belongings.” I said, with an even tone. “Of course, there are exceptions.”
As I said this, I let the bomb fall with a flick of my wrist. It collided with the tough dirt; the collision jarred the outer shell and ignited the inner gunpowder. The screamer within was ignited, and released an earsplitting sound. None of the bandits had earplugs, nor had they covered their ears, for they doubled over, clutching the sides of their heads. Harper did so as well.
I quickly drew my blades and crashed into the nearest mercenary, sending flying into the ground. He lay there defeated. The rest of my group scattered, rolling out of the way; only a few had not gotten my signal. I pushed them over and made my way to Harper, who lay on the ground.
I stood before his cringing body and planted a heavy kick in his ribs. Even through his armor he must have felt the blow, for he clutched at his chest. I kicked him again in the stomach, then in the leg. He cried out in pain and yelled for me to stop. I relented.
The other bandits had finally recovered and stood, not sure what to do. Quickly, the rest of my group surrounded them, reversing the roles. Now I stood in power, holding captive the captive-takers. And for once, I didn’t know what to do with my power.
I could easily kill Harper now; a sharp blade through his stomach would quickly dispatch of him and his filth. But the nerve to commit such an act; I just didn’t possess it. But I had some nerve. I stood the man up and instructed him to remove his helm. He did so tentatively as if expect a blow. Couldn’t have been more right. I withdrew my hunting knife, a thin steel blade, and whipped it across his cheek. Blood spattered from the cut and sprayed onto my armor and face. I heard muffled gasps from behind me. Harper screamed in agony and clutched his bleeding cheek. A red river spilled down his face and ran through his fingers, dripping onto the sand.
“Bastard. Take a cloth.” I thrust a spool of cotton wrappings at him, which he gratefully took and began blotting over the wound.
“Should be deep enough to scar.” I continued. “A reminder. You don’t mess with Talos.”
Chapter 12- Bring Down the Sky
The trip back to Hikari took less then two hours. We arrived with the Gendrokk in tow around noon, to the cheering of the townsfolk. I had dispersed the bandit group rather easily, and Harper had scrambled away with them.
Upon entering the town through the front gate, I dismounted and walked up to Xavier, who stood at the head of the crowd. He raised his hand in greeting as I approached.
“Looks like nothing can do you in,” he exclaimed as I greeted him. I took off my helmet to properly address him.
You don’t even know the half of it,” I grinned. “I’ll tell you the whole story later. But I think it’s Azuriades turn in the spotlight.”
I strolled back to the aptonoth and helped Azuriade dismount. She greeted Xavier and removed her helm as well. I took it from her.
“Azuriade! I’m quite glad to see you.” Xavier said. “And to top if off you’re the heroine of our town.”
She blushed. “I didn’t kill it, Ryork struck the final blow.”
“Yes, but you were the bravest one out there, if what I’m told is correct. You deserve the honor. Hell, all of you deserve an honor!”
“Indeed. They all did well. But hold the honors; we’ve got a few wounded.” I said.
“With every battle comes sorrow,” Xavier said solemnly. “I shall have them treated. Then they will be honored. But you are not injured, so why not celebrate?”
“Agreed. But the heroine deserves the greatest honor of all; a weapon made from her kill.” I nodded to Azuriade, who grinned.
“We’ll have the best hammer possible made from that carcass. The wounded surely deserve the same; we shall make them a weapon of their choice.”
“And Ryork?” Azuriade cut in.
“I’m fine. The joy of the kill is enough for me; the weapon I hold is one I will not put down,” came Ryork, striding up behind us.
“Very well. For now, go have fun. You deserve it, after all that you have been through,” pronounced Xavier.
Azuriade waltzed off, Ryork beside her. I watched them go, then turned to my friend.
“I can’t celebrate now, old pal. I’ve got some business to discuss with you.” I said to him.
“Always the stoic type, aren’t you. Why don’t you go have some fun?” he grinned.
“I’m not always that serious, am I?” I chuckled. “But this is pressing.”
“Well then, come to my office. We can discuss it there."
He led me through the throng of people, who shouted my name or tried to touch my armor. I shrugged this off as we twisted through the crowd, en route to Xavier’s office.
Soon we had reached a large guildhall, which was filled with hunters of all sorts. Many wore armor native to the area; Tigrex, Daimyo, Monoblos, Diablos, the occasional Gendrokk. A few wore more exotic armors, like Teostra or Copper Blangonga. Xavier himself wore the armor of the desert pelagus, albeit without the helm. His hair was sand colored and his skin well tanned.
We walked past some guild girls and a few hunters and entered a room off to the side. It wasn’t too extravagant, but above his chair, attached to the wall was a giant Diablos horn. I remembered that horn fondly; it was from the devil Diablos itself, a hulking beast with immense power. It had taken Xavier and I three days to slay the beast, going at it each day and night for what seemed like an eternity. It was that kill that promoted Xavier to guild headmaster.
“Remember that fight, Talos?" Xavier asked, noticing me staring at the horn.
“In fact, I was just remembering.” I grinned. “That was a long time ago, my friend.”
“Indeed. But no time to dwell on the past, no matter how grand it was. What exactly do you want to discuss with me?”
“Ah, yes. Quite a few, ah, interesting, things happened out there. First of all, I actually fought a Navaloth, deep inside the underwater caves.”
“Interesting. And what did you find?”
“Well it seems to be able to utilize an icy breath, and can coat itself in an icy shell and launch itself at enemies. Broke a few ribs from that move.”
“So you are injured? Sure you don’t need medical assistance? I don’t want a friend of mine, especially not a friend like you, to be in pain.”
“I’m fine. I’m using an old wyvernian technique to contain it. Along with the Navaloth, I discovered a new Tetracerta.”
“Interesting. On a side note, we’ve renamed the family to Terracerta, for your further studies. But please, go on about your discovery.”
“Hmm, Terracerta. Works for me, I suppose. The thing I discovered is nocturnal; it also possesses the dragon element. It can release it in the form of a stream and a bolt. I’ve named it Rivakk.”
“Very intriguing. I’ll have to investigate myself. Anything else you want to report? And what does the beast look like?”
“Well, the Rivakk, in comparison to the other members of the family, has a rather shorter snout, as well as a mace-like object at the end of the tail. I also noticed its claws were highly developed, with gripping fingers and a stronger hand structure. Its arms were not quite as thick as other Terracertas, and its eyes glowed yellow. Most interestingly, its hide, which is black, appears to suck in light. Otherwise it retains all the traits of its family.”
“Again, very intriguing. I look forward to seeing this beast, if one is ever slain or caught. And you spotted this when?”
“We were crossing a ridge when it climbed the cliff face and attacked. The others got away, save for Ethanus, who was cast into the ravine. I climbed the side of the wall, then jumped on the monster. It brought me to the bottom, which was its nest. Ethanus had survived, luckily. We fought it until it trapped me under its claw, which I held up with my arms. Eventually we were pushing against each other on our arms.”
“So you basically went hand to hand with a monster? You never cease to amazing me, buddy.”
I grinned. “Indeed. It escaped, however. I didn’t get a sample or anything, unfortunately.”
“Unfortunate is correct. Hopefully we will find another specimen. The beast sounds fascinating. How was the search party? I noticed that Harper was not present?”
“Ah, yes. As it turns out, Harper was a mercenary in disguise. He ambushed us as we prepared to leave. Luckily I had a sonic bomb with me; I disoriented the bandits and managed to escape. Harper escaped as well, but you should be able to recognize him. He’s got a rather large scar across his cheek now.” I grinned.
“Oh, don’t tell me. Either way, I’m terribly sorry about that. We had recently contracted the leader, Soran, about a rescue we needed. He told us he would try and round up some men, so we didn’t have any way to get a background check. Truly, I’m sorry for putting you in danger.”
“Oh, don’t sweat it. I could have handled it either way. I don’t think a bandit could stand in the way of a hunter like me.”
“True that,” he chuckled. “I’m glad to hear of your news. The Rivakk, in particular, should be an interesting topic for the E.D.O. And speaking of…”
“I’ve got reports of an unknown wyvern wreaking havoc out in the jungles near Kokoto. A few witnesses have spoken of a wind wyvern, one with power resembling the elder dragon Kushala Daora. The E.D.O has declared an emergency state for that region, and is attempting to find a hunter good enough to investigate. Most have been scared off by the tales told by survivors, so I was hoping you could help.”
“So, the Observatory finally requires my assistance. Should be no problem. Only thing is, I’m short a few members; remember our old elder dragon hunts? I know you’re too busy, which is unfortunate.”
“I’m sure there are a menagerie of hunters willing to help. What of the hunters you assisted in the desert?”
“True. I shall see what I can do and get back to you when I can.”
“Thanks, old pal. I know I can always count on you.”
“See you soon.” I laughed.
I didn’t have too much trouble finding Azuriade and Ryork; the gunners bow stood out like a flagpole. I caught up to them and placed myself besides Azuriade.
“Hey! What’s going on?” she asked cheerily.
“Nothing much. Got an assignment from the E.D.O.” I responded.
“The E.D.O?” questioned Azuriade.
“Elder Dragon Observatory,” explained Ryork.
“Oh. What is the mission?”
“Some mysterious wyvern out in the Jungle. Bunch of stories about it and such.” I said.
“So we’re going?” asked Azuriade.
“As long as you’re okay with it. And Ryork, I have a proposal for you.”
“Yes?” answered the gunner.
“I’m a little short on hunters. This monster potentially has power equal to an elder dragon; to be safe I would like to have more teammates. Would you join me?”
“Talos, it would be an honor to battle alongside you and Azuriade. She has shown her potential, and I do not doubt your skill. I would gladly join your hunting party.”
“Excellent. We’ll still need another hunter or two. Anyone else you can thing of, Azuriade?”
“Hmm. I’m glad to have Ryork on our team, in any case. But finding a worthy teammate out here; that’s gonna be difficult. Though Marcus was rather skilled, I must say,” she answered.
“Indeed. Unfortunately, his leg is broken, limiting his usefulness,” said Ryork.
“True.” I thought deeply. Who else could accompany us?
“What about you’re the group you saved? Anyone there that could help?” asked Ryork.
“Hmm. All of them are HR 3 and below, they wouldn’t be optimal on the battlefield.”
“Agreed,” said Ryork.
“Azuriade, do you know anyone?” I queried,
“Not really. I’m sure there is someone we know who can help. What about Xavier? Wasn’t he your old hunting buddy?” she replied.
“He’s the head of the guild here; far too busy to help us. What do you think of asking one of those rescue party men? Soran looked experienced, at least.” I said.
“I don’t quite trust any of them yet; I’ve never hunted with them. This is becoming quite the predicament,” chuckled Ryork.
“Not something to laugh at, my friend. A fourth hunter might even the odds.”
“Indeed. But who to ask?”
“Ho! Azuriade, heroine of the desert! Your weapon is ready!” came a deep, rumbling voice.
“Huh?” she turned to face the speaker. He was a heavyset man, with a thick beard and dark skin. His hands and face were covered in soot and ash.
“Your weapon is complete; a fine hammer of Gendrokk materials. We have brought it to you,” the man turned and let another man forward.
He was thin and tall, almost the opposite of the blacksmith. In his hands he held up the weapon in question. It was roughly 5 feet long and the hammer portion was split into two separate bludgeons, both edged with spines. Large spikes stuck up from the top. The bludgeon part was a dark brown, with red highlights. Overall it was a beautifully deadly weapon.
Azuriade grinned as she took the weapon. I came up behind her and unclasped the Iron Devil from her back. She looked up at me and smiled, then turned.
“It’s amazing! Thank you so much!!!”
“Anything for you, miss,” grinned the blacksmith. “Anything, anytime.”
They walked away through the large crowd. Some of the throng came and inspected the weapon, running their fingers over the surface of the weapon or talking to Azuriade. I stood off to the side, holding the Iron Devil and conversing with Ryork.
“That bow is quite nice. Took you a while to get it?” I said.
“Yes. It’s very powerful; the paralysis add is quite handy,” he replied.
“I’m sure. I myself am quite fond of paralyzing my prey. It’s quite helpful, as I’m sure you know.”
“I see we have some in common. Do you use the bow?”
“Of course. I don’t want to embarrass you, but I have a large collection of powerful bows.”
“That doesn’t embarrass me; a powerful hunter like yourself should have powerful bows. Tell me, what kind of bows do you possess? Elder Dragon material?”
“Yes, I have the upgrade of your bow, as well as the Kushala Bow and the Teostra Bow. Both are quite powerful.”
“Ah, I see. I’ve been wanting to craft a Lao Shan bow, but I require the horn of one.”
“Ah, the horn of the Lao Shan. Quite difficult to obtain, I do say so myself. Fortunately for you, I managed to salvage a large piece of one from a slain Shen Gaoren. If you want, I’ll let you use it for your bow; a dragon elemental bow will come in handy in the fights ahead.”
“I’m quite honored, Talos. Truly grateful; normally, acquiring such a material takes months.”
“Don’t sweat it. I’m glad to help, if it helps out our hunting effort. I’ll get that horn to you as soon as I can.”
“Thanks again. Look, Azuriades coming.”
Indeed, she was walking back towards us, hammer strapped onto her back. It was a beautiful piece of weaponry. She stopped in front of us and grinned
“This hammer is amazing!” she exclaimed.
“Well, you deserved it.” I replied. “Good job, kid.”
I patted her on the shoulder and stroked her hair. She smiled and then turned to walk next to me.
“So what are we doing about a fourth member?” she asked.
“Still not sure. I’m leaning towards a hunting horn user; buffs will be helpful in our upcoming battles. And I know just the person for the job.” I answered
“He lives here?” asked Ryork.
“Indeed. We’re quite lucky; the hunter in question just relocated out here a few weeks ago. He lived in Minegarde Town for a while, but wanted to leave the bustle of city life. So he moved out here.”
“Doesn’t seem like it would be much of a change,” snorted Ryork.
“Oh trust me, it is. Minegarde can get pretty busy. Especially in the festival months.”
“So who is this hunter?” asked Azuriade.
“The name is Asero. He’s an old accomplice of mine, and quite the horn player, if you know what I mean.”
“Does he live far from here?”
“Eh, not too far from our dorm, in fact. Why don’t we stop by there? I’ll drop you off so you can start packing, then I can go fetch Asero.”
“Sound good to me,” said Ryork.
I led them to the dorm and dropped them off. Then I turned and headed down the thin alleys, twisting and turning as I headed in the direction of Asero’s loft. He was an artist now, I had heard, and had rented a loft in the town. As interesting as this sounded, it was also troublesome; what if he had given up hunting?
But I couldn’t chance it. I reached the large building complex and rung the bell at the front door. A thin, old man greeted me.
“Yes?” he croaked.
“I’m here to see Asero. Tell him it’s an old friend.”
The man turned and shuffled towards the stairs. I looked around at the complex; it seemed livable. The courtyard, which I could see from my vantage point, was nicely kept, with lush plant life and a running fountain. There was sand, of course, but it was minor compared to the places I had seen. Asero wouldn’t have it any less.
“Go ahead up, the room is at the very top,” came the creaky voice of the old man. I thanked him and walked up the flight of stairs.
The building was three stories high; I reached the top of the stairs to find a single door. I walked up to it and knocked on the wood.
“Come in!” came the musical voice, a voice I knew instantly.
“Why thank you.” I replied, letting my voice ring out.
“I know that voice! Is that you, Talos? It’s been forever, hasn’t it?”
“Indeed my friend. It has been a while.” I still had no idea where Asero was. The loft was enormous, with a large glass window encompassing an entire wall. While not high up, the view was still grand.
I heard light footsteps, and then Asero turned a corner and came into view. His face had matured since I had last seen him, over five years ago. He had a light beard, which matched his ruffled brown hair. His eyes were still bright, thick pools of brown. He grinned; flashing white teeth, then reached me and gave me a strong hug, patting his hands on my back.
“Talos! How are you! It’s been ages!”
I removed my helm and shook my hair. “I’ve been fine. I see you’ve worked your way up the social ladder.”
“Look at you! So handsome, so strong! I envy you and your determination, yes I do. Out of our old group, you are the only one who still risks his life everyday, hunting those ferocious beasts, indeed. I miss those days, my friend, the glory of the hunt, the rush of adrenaline!”
“Those were the days, true and true. How are you?”
“I’m great, if you wanted to know. The life of the artist, it is hard, yes. But my years of hunting strengthened me, no doubt. I am very successful, the people, they love my art. Some of my pieces hang outside, for people to enjoy. My creativity, they say, is unsurpassed.”
“What do you paint?”
“Not just paint. Sculpt, metalwork, sketch. I do many things. I sketch the beasts, paint our hunting scenes of old, craft fire wyverns from metal.”
As he said this, he led me through the house. I glanced at a sculpture of a Diablos, rendered with every minute detail. On the walls hung large canvas’s, depicting scenes of battle or abstract waves of color. A large metal sculpture of a Daimyos claw sat in the main room, surrounded by couches.
“This is all rather fancy; a change of pace for you.” I commented.
“With great art comes great money. Of course, I still long for the rough style of our hunting, conserving money, sleeping for short lengths or not at all. Those days I still think of.”
“Well, if you miss hunting; you’re in luck. I’ve been contracted by the E.D.O to deal with a mysterious wyvern. I’ve got two others, but I require another hunter, like yourself.
“Ah, the prospect over joys me! Tell me, who are your companions?”
“Well, the first is a young girl, named Azuriade. I took her on as an apprentice some time ago, and she has much potential. The second is an experienced gunner named Ryork; I met him a day or two ago.”
“Good, good, Experience is important. I will gladly join you; old Lavarus down there will keep watch over my possessions.”
“So you still have your old equipment?”
“Of course! You think I would get rid of my pride and joy? I keep it safely on display in my room, as a reminder. It has been a long time since I donned my armor.”
He led me to his room, where his armor was displayed in a glass case. Kaiser S, I recalled as I looked upon the red armor. It had a fierce but refined appearance, and possessed powerful skills and defense. Asero’s set, in particular, had Reckless Abandon +3, Fatigue Cancel, Melody Up, and Horn Master. The latter two were only useful to a Hunting Horn user; Melody Up boosted the strength of the songs a hunter performed, while Horn Master increased their duration. It came in handy.
Asero had left with his armor to change; he walked out moments later suited up, red helm gleaming ferociously in the light.
“Still fits, I see. You kept in shape.” I said.
“Yes. Even as an artist I train everyday. It’s important to be in shape, especially at short notice, like now.”
“Indeed. Where is your weapon?”
“That I kept too, but more secretly. My weapon is my passion, see, so I hide it well.”
He turned and kneeled down next to his bed. I watched as he pulled back some floorboards and withdrew a huge case of wood. He set it down and opened the casket.
Inside was an elegant weapon, Asero’s prize Hunting Horn, the Gaoren Zhong. It gleamed with a dull gray light; its bronze inlays were polished to perfection. He withdrew it and held it forward, testing the weight.
“Just as I remembered. Fondly, at that,” he grinned.
“I can’t believe it’s still in great shape. Do you polish it everyday or something?” I laughed.
“I might…” he said slyly.
“Well, it gonna be dirty again soon. Lets get going, I’m sure Azuriade and Ryork are waiting for me. I’m glad you decided to join us.”
“Anything to hunt once more!” he exclaimed. Then he strapped the Hunting Horn onto his back and we departed.
Asero had instructed Lavarus to lock up the house and draw all the blinds; he would be gone for an unknown, presumably long time. Then we left, making our way to my dorm. Along the way he asked me questions about what I’d been doing since we had gone our separate ways and about my new teammates.
“And what of the girl? Is she nice, is she pretty?”
“Yes, she’s sweet. Maybe not on the battlefield, but you know what I mean.”
“Yes, I do. Do you have any attachment to her?”
“Always the nosey type, aren’t you, Asero. But, yes, I feel as if I must protect her. She is my responsibility, after all.”
“You know I meant deeper then that, my friend.”
“Ugh.” I knew I could talk about this with him; Asero was an old pal. But for some reason I felt uncomfortable.
“Go on,” he urged.
“Ah, well…I must say I feel attached to her, in a way. Not, like, love or anything, but compassion.”
I lied. I loved her, and that was fact. Her beautiful face, her silky hair, her lovely personality. I couldn’t bear to let her go, and I felt terrible whenever I sent her into danger on one of our missions.
“Hmm. Interesting. Is this your dorm?” he motioned towards what indeed was my dorm. Azuriade stood on the balcony, watching.
She saw me, waved, and ran inside. Moments later she burst through the door and ran outside. She stopped in front of me and gave me a hug. Then she pulled away from my and greeted Asero, who had removed his helm.
“Hi! I’m Azuriade. I take it your Asero?” she beamed.
“That would be me. You’re the girl Talos has taken as an apprentice, correct?”
“Yup. And here comes Ryork.”
True to her word, Ryork walked out of the door and stood next to Azuriade.
“Nice to meet you, Asero. I’m Ryork, the gunner of the team.”
“Nice to meet you as well. I’ve heard Talos speak of you; apparently you are quite experienced?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say quite…” Ryork laughed.
“Very well.” I said. “Azuriade, are we packed?”
“Yup. All of our stuff is wrapped up nice and tight.”
“Even my longsword?”
“In its sheath.”
We gathered our stuff and headed out to meet with Xavier. The guild master stood outside the guildhall, leaning against a pillar of wood. When he saw us, he straightened and walked over.
“Everything ready?” he asked.
“Yup, we’ve got everything right here. How will we be getting to the jungle?” I asked.
“By balloon, or course. It’s not that far of a distance,” he replied. “The balloon is ready to go, if you’re ready.”
“I think we’re set to go. We just ate, so that won’t be a problem.”
“Well then. The airship is out on the landing pad. Just follow me.”
Xavier led us through the crowd and out the airship-landing pad. Dozens of the giant balloons flew over the city and rested on these pads. Ours sat on the final pad, some distance away. We walked over to it.
“So you’re completely prepared?” Xavier asked.
“Yes, yes. We are. Aren’t we, Azuriade?” I laughed.
“Of course!” she said.
“Well, this mission is potentially dangerous; after all, this wyvern is completely a mystery. You must be careful,” he said solemnly.
“I’m always cautious in high-stakes fights like these; don’t you remember our hunts?”
“Indeed. I suppose I should send you off now. Be at peace, my friend.” He said as we entered the balloon.
“And you the same.” I bid him farewell, and the balloon took off. I waved to Xavier, then turned to face my group. Azuriade and Ryork were talking with Asero about his weapon type.
“So you can buff us? What kind of songs can you play?” Azuriade asked curiously.
“I can perform many songs; songs that boost your attack strength, your defense, resistance against roars. It is quite a powerful weapon class.”
“Indeed.” I cut in. “Should be very helpful in the upcoming battle.”
“Very well. How long is the trip?” asked Ryork.
“Should be about an hour or two. The desert turns tropical some miles in,” answered Asero.
We chatted quietly for the rest of the trip. Asero and I discussed our old hunting career, and Azuriade talked with Ryork about weaponry. I nodded my head in agreement to something Asero said, then got up and walked over to the pilot.
“How much longer?” I asked.
“You can see the forest now, farther down, near the water,” he pointed.
I craned my neck and stared out on the vast expanse of desert. Near the edge of the sandy plains some trees sprung up. The sand gave way to rocky cliffs, which dropped off into a huge expanse of water. I could see the misty shores of the jungle peninsula faintly across the water, a good 40 miles away.
“Very well.” I nodded to him.
Sitting down, I sighed and cracked my knuckles. Asero asked about the distance; I told him another half hour or so, given good winds. He nodded, then stood and looked out over the desert.
“I haven’t traveled far in years. My last trip was an eternity ago, yes, almost three years ago,” he contemplated.
“Ah. Must be good to get out then,” commented Azuriade.
“Indeed.” Ryork said.
I reclined and closed my eyes. Resting before a fight was important; it allowed you to conserve your energy and prepare for the upcoming struggle. I quickly feel into sleep.
I did not sleep without dreams. Instead, I found myself back at the dreaded tower, at the top of the world. A great storm was passing; rain poured down like endless tears. Asero stood to one side, letting out a tune to boost our strength. I had my Dragonsword drawn, the edge bloody. Xavier’s gunlance gleamed from the light of a lightning strike. Valkyrie loaded her bowgun. And before us sat the Ancestor.
The dragon let out a screaming cry, which rung out across the tall tower. I dashed forward, swinging my blade above my head. It caught the White Fatalis on the leg, black sparks raining from the metal. Xavier charged at the beast, flame spitting from the tip of the weapon. He impaled the beast in the other leg, unloading the shells into the monster. The dragon staggered forward, lowering its head enough for Asero to slam his weapon into the beasts face. It disoriented the monster, which reeled back.
From behind came bowgun shells, which crashed into the wings of the monster and exploded with ferocity. Valkyrie placed her bowgun down and loaded another shell. I watch her for a second before returning to the fight. The monster dazed, I jumped up and whipped my blade into the dragons’ chest, cutting deeply and letting out a surge of dragon element. It broke out of its dizziness and screamed in pain. Its tail whipped around the air, it raised its head. I jumped back, sliding across the rock. The monster howled, and a great bolt of crimson lightning struck down from the heavens, right onto the monster. The electricity swirled around the beast, burning the air.
The lightning netted its way around the monsters horns, coating them in a static veil. Its chest also was coated in the thunder, and the bleeding wounds accented the ferocity of the monster. It howled again, and the heavens crashed as the power of the dragon overtook them. Lightning struck down from the sky like giant spears, striking the ground with unequaled power. I rolled in between the strike zones, feeling hot air from all the bolts. A smell of burning ozone filled the air.
After some time, the heavy barrage stopped. We had managed to avoid it, for now. The monster growled in rage and pulled its head back, looking at Valkyrie. She cocked a crag shot and pulled up the sights. The monster let loose a huge ball of red thunder, heading right for the gunner. I screamed out to her.
She ignored my cries and fired the shot. It collided with the thunderball and exploded with a deafening blast. Smoke swirled from the explosion and wrapped around the tower. I turned again and again, looking for a sign of the beast. But the grey cloud left me in the shadows.
“Talos?” came a tentative voice; it was Xaviers.
“Here.” I growled. “You seen Asero?”
“I’m fine!” came his singsong voice.
“Valkyrie?” I put forward cautiously. “Valkyrie?”
“Here,” came her voice through the smoke. I heard her cough. Relief flooded through me.
Then came the sound of the monster, a low hissing growl. The growl grew into a roar, and then a red light filled the sky. I felt hollow; a wave of thunder now would surely kill us all. I shouted of the incoming attack and dove to the side.
The monster roared even louder, then a crackling came, signifying the coming of the attack. The first bolt struck to my left, vaporizing the smoke nearby. I rolled forward, dodging another bolt. I heard my teammates doing the same.
Soon the barrage had stopped, and the smoke was cleared. Somehow we had survived, even though rendered blind. The monster was angered by our survival, it seemed, for it stomped its feet and let out another roar. Then it took to the air, wind pushing us back. Its tail hung low, and I leapt onto it. To my surprise, I found Valkyrie above me.
“Hey. What you doing?” she asked.
“Killing this bastard.” I grinned under my helm.
“Sounds fun. Lets go.”
Asero and Xavier looked up, slightly puzzled. Nevertheless, Asero picked up with another song, increasing our strength. I climbed up the monsters thin tail, my wet hands barely having a grip. Rain fell all around us as the monster rose higher and higher. We reached the monsters back; it noticed us and growled. Other then that, however, it ignored us.
I withdrew a small bomb and activated the timer.
“No. I’ve got something else planned.” Valkyrie said. I noticed a note of sadness enter her voice.
“What do you mean?”
“You might want to jump off…”
“Oh, no…don’t. You can’t. Please, Valkyrie, we can do this some other way.” I pleaded.
“But someone’s gonna have to die, Talos. And I don’t want it to be you,” she removed my helm and stroked my hair. Rain poured onto my face, mixing with my tears. I pulled her over and kissed her, a hundred feet in the air. The dragon roared and stopped rising. Valkyrie tore herself from me and put one hand on my cheek. In the other, she propped her bowgun against the monsters back, just above the heart. She took her hand from my cheek and loaded a pitch-black shell in, a shell I recognized as a Dragon Cluster Lv 3.
Again she put her hand on my cheek, ruffling my hair as she did so. I saw tears running down her face in great streams, dripping down onto her armor.
‘I love you, but it’s time to say goodbye,” she whispered.
And with that she fired her bowgun, pushing me off the monsters back at the same time. I looked up and saw the black shell pierce through the monsters chest and explode on the other side. I screamed her name, and as I was falling I could hear her call mine.
My name came again, even as my vision faded to blackness.
“Talos!” came the voice, and I noticed now it had changed from Valkyries to Azuriades. I sprung up out of my dream and found myself in the balloon.
“What?” I asked.
“You dozed off. We’re here now,” answered Ryork.
“Ah. Thank you.” I said. I thought back to my dream, a memory of the day my life truly changed. I lost my only love in life; one I never thought she could die. And yet she took her own life to save ours. Years later, Xavier had told me why she had done it.
“Do you remember the White Fatalis, Talos?” he had asked.
Tears had come to my eyes when I thought back to it. “Yes.”
“Valkyrie took her life for you, and you believe that was selfish of her.”
“Yes.” I had said with a measured tone, but inside is was on fire.
“I never told you, did I, that I was injured? And that she was too?”
“Yes. She did not reveal it, but the lightning ball she shot, when it exploded, she was hit in the stomach by debris. I took a heavy blow to the arm; I covered it while you were in the air. Without her sacrifice, both she and I would have died. But enough said, my friend.”
I had sat down and cried.
I shook this from my head and stepped off the balloon. Destruction surrounded us; trees snapped and flung hundreds of feet, deep craters made in the ground. I looked around at the devastation, wondering what kind of power could have caused this.
“Farewell, and good luck,” came the voice of our pilot. He placed our supplies down and walked back to the airship. Soon we were alone.
“What now?” asked Ryork.
“I suppose we look for the beast. Shouldn’t be too hard to find, considering this is what it can do.” I answered.
“Agreed,” said Asero.
We walked along the shore, observing the path of rampant destruction. Occasionally we saw a dead velociprey or hermitaur, but no signs of life. Nobody walked the beach, not a single person aside from us. It was eerily silent as well, but that was expected from a ravaged forest.
And then I heard a quiet howling, like a light breeze. The wind started to blow ever so slightly, kicking up sand and leaves. Then it gusted harder, whipping up around our legs and sending branches into the air. The wind picked up speed, forcing us to brace our feet into the sand to prevent from being blown away. It was like a hurricane now, winds so strong that they picked up small tree trunks and bent the ones that still stood. I gritted my teeth and gripped my dual blades, a pair of Navaloth blades named Hypothermia, after their chilling ice element. With white level sharpness they could cut through almost anything.
All of the sudden, the wind died down. I heard a screech and looked up. Huge wings, bigger then I had ever seen, blotted out the dim sun. I stepped backwards a few feet; the rest of the group followed. The huge pair of wings flapped once, then landed. They folded up and I saw the mystery wyvern I had heard all about.
It was a giant beast, grey-black in color; much larger then any Rathalos or Rathian, which is slightly resembled. Its tail was quite long and ended and a mace-like appendage. Its body was of typical wyvern build, as well as its head. The head itself had a thin crest and spines running up the nose all the back. Its teeth looked jagged and sharp. Its eyes were a bright blue.
The beast noticed us instantly and turned to our position. Rearing back, it let out a deafening roar; fortunately Asero had buffed us with earplugs for a short time. The monster pulled its head back again; we quickly separated to avoid whatever the monster was doing.
It was fortunate that we did so, for moments later the monster lunged forward and let out a streaking breath of wind. The whirlwind tore through the sand, sending trees and chunks of dirt flying. It reminded me of a Kushala.
I drew my blades and dashed forward, slashing upward. I struck nothing; turning, I saw the monster had somehow flown about fifty feet across the beach and hovered there. It turned swiftly in the air and let out another windblast. The blast headed straight for Asero, who was playing a tune on his Hunting Horn. He looked forward, and then dashed his horn into the ground, making him slide to the side and dodging the whirlwind. All the while he kept playing, boosting our attack and preventing wind from affecting us. I mentally thanked him; I knew a hunting horn would come in handy.
The monster landed and rushed at us; the charge looked similar to a Diablos’s, head tucked lower, wings out. I rolled past it and went into demonization. A red sheen formed around me, and I felt invigorated. Quick as lightning, I struck forward, slicing outward to each side. One of my blades caught the beast in the calf, causing it to reel back in pain. Obviously it was weak to ice, which I could now easily exploit.
The beast swung its tail from side to side, catching me in the chest. I was flung across the sand and crashed into the surf. Water lapped around me, chilling my palms through my gauntlets. My chest ached; I hadn’t been given much time to rest. I struggled to my feet to see Azuriade smashing her hammer into the monster head, cracking part of the crest. The beast howled in pain, then fly up into the air, firing a vortex downward. Azuriade just barely evaded it, rolling out of the way of the whirlwind.
The monster hovered in the air, then let out a screaming cry and dove down, wings folded tight to its chest. Asero ducked under it, but was pushed back by the wind. Ryork pulled his bow taught and let loose a volley of arrows, which flew into the monster as it past him. The unexpected hit caused the wyvern to drop to the ground, where it writhed and struggled.
I darted to the vulnerable monster and began unleashing a volley of blows onto its leg. My blades made a dozen cuts, letting out a freezing aura all the while. The monster roared, then sprung back up with a flick of its wing. The wind pushed us all back and stopped the assault.
The monster turned to us and hissed, steam rising from its jaws. Then it did a half turn and swiped its tail at us. I dove over the attack, landed, then rolled. The monster swiped its tail once more; I rolled under it and slashed upward twice, circling with both blades. My weapons cut into the monsters tail, spraying blood and cutting muscle. But the tail was still attached. The beast roared in agony and stomped its feet. The wind picked up once more.
I rolled away from the beast to see Azuriade running towards the monster, the red glow of Asero’s buff surrounding her. She had her hammer pulled back in the charging position. The monster let out a windblast at Ryork, which she ran around. Reaching the monsters head, she unleashed her weapon and sent the maul crashing down on the monsters head. I heard a crack as the bony crest shattered more. The beast toppled over, stunned by the blow. I again took advantage, slashing at its tail.
Without warning, the beast lurched forward, a scream emanating from its jaws. I had severed the mace-like tail, which now lay at my feet, blood oozing. I looked at it for a second, then dashed forward to continue the attack. The monster rose from the ground and let out a bellow. Then it pulled back its head and roared again, this time in rage. Dark red stripes appeared along its grey hide, giving the appearance of blood. It eyes changed to a dark black.
I rolled past the monster and slide forward on the wet sand. Asero dove to the side, escaping to the thicker jungle. Azuriade and Ryork ran behind the monster, Ryork shooting arrows into the beasts’ side.
The monster charged again, narrowly missing me with its sharp wing claw. It slammed its foot into the ground, pivoting its body and turning in for a second charge at me. I growled a curse at the monster, then leapt into the air and just narrowly avoided the beasts’ sharp spines as I somersaulted over the monster. I landed on my feet, arms splayed out like wings. The monster halted its charge and cocked its head at Ryork, who was charging a pierce shot. Then it let out a blast of air, which Ryork narrowly dodged by hitting the ground. Somehow, he still managed to keep his bowstring taught; lying on the ground he released his shot, which sent a bundle of arrows straight at the wyverns face.
I watched as a few of the arrows struck home, stabbing the monster in many different places. The monster hissed as the arrows struck its face, but it seemed unfazed. It turned, and any remaining arrows fell from its flesh, clattering to the ground. It turned again, this time staring at Azuriade, who had been running toward the monsters head. She rolled forward, canceling her charge and avoiding any danger. The monster leapt into the air and came crashing down onto the ground beside Azuriade, sending out a huge shockwave and a shower of dust. I could faintly see Azuriades silhouette being flung to the side by the shockwave. I darted forward through the dust cloud and found her lying on the ground. Helping her up, I checked for any external symbols of injury; she seemed fine.
“Hey. Thanks,” she said.
“No problem. Just saving your life. Now lets get back to fighting.” I smiled.
We separated again, this time flanking the beast. It raised itself from the crater it had made and smashed its tail into the ground, sending out another small shockwave. I rolled past it and flung one arm upward, catching the monster once more with my blades. Icy tendrils shot out from my blade, cutting into the monster once again. Farther away, I could hear Azuriades panting as she ran again at the monster, hammer trailing behind her.
Another low ringing from Asero’s horn rung through the air, and now a red twister formed around my, wrapping its way around my blades and tingeing them crimson. I thrust my blades forward into the monsters leg, and the red current spiraled outward, blasting the creature with additional damage. It tripped forward, and as it fell Azuriade swung her hammer forward, catching the monster in the chin. A rain of arrows flew from above and crashed down towards the beast.
The monster recoved and let out another bellow. Then it thrashed its head and lifted off into the air, firing a huge vortex downward. The wind whipped around the entire area, sending dirt and branches flying. I was lifted off my feet and flung into the air; a few seconds later I came crashing down onto the sand. The others shared my fate. We staggered to our feet, shaking sand from our armor. My blades were impaled in the dirt a few meters from me. I saw Asero lifting up his hunting horn and Ryork pulling a few more arrows taught on his bow. He released them, and they flew into the monsters wings, tearing through portions of the membrane with their sharp edges.
The monster fell back to earth with a scream, crashing into the sand and throwing up another dust cloud. I ran through the haze and thrust my blades forward, into the monsters back. Icy tendrils ran up from my weapons and froze around them. Asero had abandoned his song and was smashing his weapon into the monsters leg. Azuriade was busy charging her hammer for a powerful swing into the monsters chest. The beast rose up, and then was slammed by Azuriades hammer, sending it reeling. I slashed upwards, cutting the monster in the hip. It howled and thrust its wings down hard, pushing us back. The flapping of its wings pushed the monster up; it came down hard on Aseros chest, pinning him. Raising its head, it prepared to bit him.
I jumped up, blades spinning like a cyclone in my hands. They struck the beast multiple times in the chest, tearing through the skin. Blood spattered from the wound as I crashed back down, making a small crater in the sand. The beast screeched and released Asero as it stepped backward; he struggled to his feet and tipped his hand at me. I returned the greeting, then we rolled to the side to dodge an incoming windblast. I grinned under my helmet and rushed at the monster once more.
It turned to Azuriade and lunged forward, snapping its jaws. She slid under it expertly, swinging her hammer up as she did so. The maul caught the monster in the chin, spraying blood and making an awful cracking noise. The monster shrieked in pain and shook its head. White steam rose from its jaws.
I quickly rushed forward, swinging my blades in front of me. The monster stepped back, straight into my slashing frenzy. It howled as I swung my blades into its leg again and again, and eventually the beast toppled over. Blood poured from the leg I had just mutilated. But the beast didn’t stay down long. It rose back up, leaning heavily on its wounded leg. The monster turned and started to limp away, blood spouting from its wounds. It left a bloody trail in its wake.
I ran after the monster, the red sheen of demonization surrounding me. Crimson wisps of energy wrapped around my arms. I growled, mostly to myself, and ran under the beast, dragging my dual blades from side to side. The monster screamed in pain as I slashed away. I was about to reach the monsters neck and slit it with a swift motion, but then Azuriade appeared in front of the beast and thrust an uppercut into the monsters lower jaw. The impact literally lifted the monster up; it was so strong. I rolled past her to avoid being crushed by the falling beast. It crashed down hard, sending up a cloud of dust. It twitched, and then lay still.
Chapter 13- Down with the Ship
The beast lie dead in front of me, killed by my hammer thrust to its head. Talos stood next to me, nodding his head. Ryork and Asero walked over quickly, surrounding the dead beast.
“Nice job. Figures; you deserved a good kill for once.” Talos chuckled.
“Impressive work, my friends,” said Asero.
“Truly. This beast was much tougher then any other wyvern I’ve faced yet,” Ryork said. “It would definitely make great equipment.”
We sat down in the sand and examined the tail of the beast, which Talos had cut off. It ended in a large spike, with multiple spikes pointing downward. Despite its size, it was rather light. I gripped it by one of the spikes, blood still oozing from the sever point. Putting it down. I sighed. Exhaustion had taken over since the adrenaline rush from fighting had worn off. I reclined on my hammer, making sure not to rest on the sharp parts. Asero and Talos sat beside me, once again talking about their old hunting career.
Ryork picked himself up, the deposited himself beside me.
“Does it get boring listening to them talk about old hunts?” he asked.
“No. It’s actually quite interesting.” I responded. “I learn a lot from his stories. For instance, did you know that if you cut off a Kushalas horns, it removes its wind power?”
“Ah. I guess a pro would know such important facts,” he said. “Which is why I’m so glad I’m hunting with him.”
I closed my eyes and sat back, tuning into Talos’s conversation. He and Asero were discussing some battle with a Lavasioth, a volcanic piscine I had never heard of. Supposedly it swam through molten lava like water. Talos nodded his head as Asero recounted how he had knocked out the beast while playing a song. Asero then depicted Talos whaling on the monsters gut with a longsword named “Atlantica”. Xavier was in the story too, wielding a powerful Black Gravios gunlance. Asero started to describe a fourth hunter, a gunner, but Talos tilted his head and clenched his fists. The signal must have meant something to Asero, because he quickly skipped the fourth hunter and continued the tale.
Soon, the red armored hunter finished his recounting and Talos stood.
“Might as well send up a flare; let the local guild know we’re here,” he grunted. Then he removed a flare from his pack and lit it, sending the cylinder skyward. It sparked a hundred feet in the air, and then exploded with a bright flash. The guild would be coming soon.
Talos sat down again and placed his blades in the sand. Asero removed his weapon as well and leaned it against a tree. Ryork got up and pulled a drinking flask from his belt, which he took a sip from. Then he sat back down, forming a circle.
“Good job guys,” he said.
“Indeed. We did very well out there. You and Azuriade are getting good.” Talos agreed.
“What is this monster, anyway?” I asked.
“Not quite sure. It’s a new breed, definitely. I’ve never seen a normal wyvern that can use the power of wind that effectively. Usually it’s limited to wing flaps and the like.” Talos replied.
“Yes, this is a most intriguing beast. Similar to the Kushala, is it not?” Asero chimed in.
“I’ve noted that. Should be interesting to see how the guild handles this.” Talos said.
“Hey! Look, a balloon.” I cried, seeing the familiar shape rise in the distance.
“Ah, they have arrived. What will we be doing with the body?” asked Ryork.
“They will probably have a ground extraction team as well. Something tells me a balloon isn’t normal procedure.” Talos responded.
We waited for the balloon to come in. It hovered high above us for a few minutes, then lowered and released a rope ladder. We climbed up and hopped into the basket. A small old man sat in the observation chair, a young man standing next to the huge telescope array.
“Good day, hunters,” the young man said. “I’m Rex, this here is Ferrus.”
The old man glanced up from his viewing lens and grunted. Papers littered the floor and made slight crunching noises as we filled into the balloon. The basket was large enough to fit all of us comfortably.
“We sent a ground recovery team to fetch the beast; its materials should be at the observatory when we arrive.” Rex continued.
“We’re going to the observatory?” I asked.
“Yes. The trip is not that long, as the observatory is located nearby. I have food, if you would like.”
“Ah, yes.” Ryork grinned.
We ate some small snacks, granola bars and some fruit. Ferrus continued to mumble and shift the instruments, ignoring our presence. He was very small and bald. His ears were pointed (wyvernian, Talos had said), and he had a long white beard.
“What is he doing?” I asked Rex.
“Recording data and researching,” he answered.
“Mostly elder dragons and other rare beasts. After all, it’s what the observatory does.”
“So you work at the observatory?”
“Yes. I’m Ferrus’s apprentice. I’m learning about field work right now; this is my first real test.”
“Doesn’t seem too hard.”
“Yes, but I also have to pilot the balloon and other technical things.”
He laughed, and then turned to the wheel once more. A large cliff loomed before us, and he spun the wheel, making the balloon drift around the cliff. The other side came into view, and its beauty stunned me. From the top of the huge mountain fell a waterfall, which plummeted into a valley over 200 feet down. Birds flew through the valley; great big pink and white ones. A faint rainbow shone through the mist, and giant trees covered the hillside.
Then I looked up at the top of the mountain, and caught sight of another breathtaking view. The Observatory loomed over the edge, a huge complex of glass in the shape of a dome. One side draped over the cliff, and from it sprung a giant array of telescopes and other devices. As I stared, I notice the color of the glass changing, as if by magic. It darkened to blue, tinted itself orange, switched back to clear.
“How does it do that?” I asked, mystified.
“Ah yes, the famous changing glass of the Observatory. Reportedly, a mysterious gem that was recovered a few years ago causes the color change. The gem supposedly exerts a field of some sort onto certain materials that surround it. Glass, in particular, is heavily affected.” Rex explained.
“Have you ever seen the gem?” I queried.
“No, only a few are allowed access to the upper floors, which is where the gem is reportedly stored. No one even knows where it came from.”
“Oh. I suppose that’s cool.”
“Hey, look down. We’re getting pretty close to the landing pad.”
I looked down to see a wide expanse of flat rock, with various balloons perched by the edge of the cliff. The huge glass and metal structure of the Observatory loomed above the flat rock expanse, creating looming shadows. The setting sun accented the vivid colors.
I then noticed a small man, no bigger then Ferrus, with a long white beard. The man held a thin stick, tipped with some glowing red substance, and he was waving it back and forth. Rex spun the wheel and the balloon turned sharply, redirecting towards the landing platforms. We dove down and soon were no more then 20 feet from the ground. Soon we touched ground, skimming by the old man and sliding to a halt. Rex pulled a lever and opened the side door.
I stepped out onto the hard rock and waved Rex goodbye. He waved back, then pulled another lever. Flames sputtered back to life in the engine, and the balloon was off. I watched it for a second, then turned and caught up to the others, who had started walking.
“Pretty amazing, isn’t it?” Talos said, motioning at the huge glass dome of the Observatory. It was a pale shade of green, burning with a deep orange from the sunset.
“I’ve never seen anything like it…” whispered Ryork.
“The Observatory is truly a modern marvel, is it not?” continued Asero. “It took many, many years to build, many, many more to make it livable. The “gem” is rather new, an interesting twist, I dare say.”
“I’m actually quite interested in seeing that gem; though I suppose I wouldn’t be allow to view it.” Talos conceded.
We neared the edge of the landing pads, where the flat rock rose up into a steep cliff. Huge metal bars projected out from the rock face, eventually forming the framework of the Observatory. A huge metal door sat beneath these skeleton-like bars, embedded in the stone. A young-looking girl stood near the huge door. We neared her, and I could make her out clearly.
She was skinny, but not overly so. Her long, brown hair was tied back, and a blue bandanna covered her forehead. Her dress was also blue, and stopped just below her knees. It was tight above her waist, hugging her curves well, and splayed out below her waist, like a big, curved fan. She was very pretty, with big brown eyes and a perfect complexion.
“Hi!” she greeted us cheerily. “Welcome to the Observatory. The beast you slayed shall arrive soon, and we have rooms set up for all of you. Please, follow me inside.”
She turned and pressed a large panel set into the wall. Sparks flew from the doorframe, then spread across as bolts of lightning, coating the entire door. The lightning engulfed the door and struck its center, a lion’s head forged in iron. The thunder lit up the lion’s eyes, and the door slide out of the way.
“Whoa…how did you do that?” I asked, mouth agape in wonder.
“It’s a complicated process, but on a basic level the thunder activates a series of chains inside the door, which are pulled back by rollers,” the girl answers.
“Impressive,’ grunted Ryork.
“Quite.” Talos agreed.
We followed her through the open doorway. I heard the door slam shut as we walked through the dark halls. Torches hung on the walls, giving off faint red light. Finally, the girl opened a door and light flooded into the passage.
We walked up the stairs that were behind the door, and stepped into the lower floor of the Observatory. We were in a large round room, with bookshelves circling the walls. Another row of bookshelves rose up in a circle in the middle of the room, blocking my view of the center.
The girl led us through the shelves and into the center of the room. A huge, shining lamp huge from the ceiling, a giant sphere of light that illuminated the entire room. Underneath this fixture was a round desk, and there sat a tiny, old, bearded man. He turned to see us, made some sort of squawking noise, then hopped down from he seat and disappeared. Then he reappeared to our left, walking on a cane. Perched on his nose was a pair of ancient looking glasses, with huge lenses.
“Welcome!” he said in a creaky voice, looking up at us. “We have your rooms set up, they are down that hall.”
He pointed through a break in the shelves and towards a large wooden door.
“It is getting late, I suppose. Wanna hit the sack?” yawned Ryork.
“Yes, why don’t you do that? By morning we shall have your materials processed and ready for crafting. Then you can make what you choose and study here with Noror,” the girl suggested.
“Sounds alright.” I said, eyes already drooping.
“Let’s go, rest is what I need now,” grumbled Asero.
The girl showed us to our rooms and bid us goodnight. I curled up in my sheets, glad to be able to sleep in a real bed for once. I put my head on the pillow and closed my eyes.
I woke up sometime later, shaken from my sleep somehow. Darkness had engulfed the room, and I could barely see the door. A faint light from the doorframe was all I could make out. I sat up and brushed a few strands of hair from my eyes. My sheets were all rumpled and so were my underclothes. Standing, I fixed my clothes and shook my head. The stone floor was cold, so I slipped some stockings on and opened the door, grabbing a robe from the hook on the door.
I stepped out into the dimly lit hallway. A bright light shone in from the library door, but other then that there was hardly any light in the hall. I walked forward, not entirely sure what I was doing. I passed Asero’s room, then Ryork’s. Talos’s room sat at the end of the hall, a large, dark wood door with a gold metal doorknob. I stood in front of it, still unsure of why I was doing this. Foregoing any thought, I placed my hand on the metal doorknob, which was icy to the touch, and turned it. The door creaked open, swinging in on its hinges. I poked my head inside and looked around.
The room was dark, like mine. However, my eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, and I could make out some of the room. The bed sat in right corner, shrouded in shadow. I could just barely make out Talos, wrapped in sheets. Walking over, I could see that he was oddly tense, as if angry. His fists were clenched, and sweat peppered his brow. I reached over and whispered his name, to no effect. I put my hand tentatively on his brow, and then darkness engulfed me.
I staggered to my feet, completely lost as to what had happened. I was no longer in the bedroom, rather, on a large, circular arena in the sky, of some sort. Rain poured down around me, soaking the ground. Oddly, I was completely dry. I heard a deep grumble, and turned. That’s when I saw it.
The huge white dragon loomed above me, a stunning creature. It beat its heavy wings and roared, long tail whipping around. Thunder crackled in the clouds, huge bolts of lightning. I turned once more and saw Talos, hefting a dangerous-looking blue Longsword, running beside Xavier, who had a giant black Gunlance. Asero stood off to the side, Hunting Horn in hand. Looking around again, I spied another hunter, a girl, loading shots into her bowgun, a large, silver, double-barreled weapon. She fired off a flurry of rounds, which stabbed into the dragon.
The dragon itself was a majestic beast. It had an array of horns decorating its head, and a long white mane flowed down its back. It had both wings and four limbs, marking it as an Elder Dragon. And, by the looks of it, this was the fabled White Fatalis, something I had only heard of in legend. The dragon hissed as Talos slashed its chest, and then roared, head tilted towards the sky. A huge bolt of red thunder struck down from the sky and hit the beast, burning the air around it and sending sparks everywhere. I covered my eyes from the bright flash.
The monster was now angered. Red lightning swirled around its chest and face. Its horns glowed red with static, and its claws crackled with energy. Lightning flew down from the sky, striking the ground.
I heard panting behind me; the gunner had rolled towards my position. I reached out, but she ignored me, not even acknowledging that I was here. I tried to speak, but no words came out. The girl pulled back her helm, and I studied her face. She had big brown eyes and a small nose. Her lips were set in a hard line. Grime coated her face, except around her eyes. In fact, she looked a lot like me, only older. She pulled a pair of goggles back down and loaded in a large shot.
The Fatalis had turned to face us; its lightning attack had dissipated. Thunder crackled in its jaws, and with a screeching noise, it released a blood red thunderball. I faintly heard Talos screaming, but it was drowned out by the loud noise of the bowgun being fired. Black soot shot up from the barrel and frame. The shell rocketed forward, hitting the thunderball and exploding with ferocity. Rock and debris rained up, and I heard the girl grunt as a piece of stone tore past her, hitting her in the stomach. She clutched at it, then got up and shrugged it off.
Talos’s voice came again, through the smoke created by the blast. I heard Xavier call back, then Asero. The girl was tending to her wound, and thus ignored her name as Talos called it. It was Valkyrie. Talos called louder, and she finally replied, shouting “Here”. She coughed as she wrapped her wound. Tears trickled down her eyes as she finished.
Then I heard crackling, and a great red light poured in through the dust and smoke. The burning smell of ozone came, then the thunder. The bolts struck down with ferocity, blackening the ground. I heard the heavy breathing of Valkyrie as she rolled to safety.
Finally the thunder stopped, the smoke was burned away, and Valkyrie was running towards the monster. It beat its wings in preparation to take off. The gunner hopped onto the monsters tail, and Talos followed suit. The dragon rose into the sky, with Talos and Valkyrie climbing its back. It seemingly ignored them.
The beast climbed higher into the sky, then paused. It seemed like it was trying to decide between shaking off the hunters, or attacking those below. I stared intently, just barely being able to make out Talos and Valkyrie through the smoke. It looked like they were arguing. Then, all of the sudden, Valkyrie pushed Talos off the Fatalis, firing a shell at the same time. My mouth gaped as I watched Talos fall. He twisted and sped towards the large ruined wall. An explosion rocked the air; the huge shell Valkyrie had fired had exploded and the Fatalis was crashing down to earth.
Talos hit the wall and thrust his fists forward, creating small craters in the wall. He gripped at a ledge and finally came to a stop, hanging by one hand. The Fatalis hit the ground and sent up a cloud of dust and a resounding BOOM. Talos let go of the ledge and hit the ground heavily, running as soon as he hit the ground. He ran towards the monsters dead body, leapt over it, and then ducked down. I followed, as did Xavier and Asero.
Talos sat on the ground, cradling the body of Valkyrie in his arms. He was panting from his fall, but still he held her, helm off, head buried in her chest. She was not damaged or disfigured in death; the shockwave had killed her. I stared in disbelief at the emotion Talos showed; here I had though he was an unstoppable wall of power, but now he was reduced to helplessness. I felt awful, knowing what he was going through. He had loved her, as I had loved my brother, and her life was cut short, as my brothers had been. I felt tears stinging my eyes.
Xavier bent down and placed a hand on Talos’s shoulder. Asero had turned and sat down, head in his hands. Talos looked up, and then he flickered. I looked around, and the entire tower was quaking, flickering in and out of existence. Then it all went black and I fell into the darkness.
“Azuriade? AZURIADE!” came a powerful voice. I opened my eyes a crack to see Talos standing over me, bare-chested. He had a pair of baggy leggings on.
“Huh…?” I mumbled.
“Wake up. What are you doing on my floor?”
“Oh. One second.” I struggled to my feet and straightened my clothes. My robe was nowhere to be found. It felt rather awkward being only in my nightclothes. I pulled the undershirt down further to hide some of my bare legs. Talos helped me up.
“Again, why are you lying on my floor?”
“Umm, well, you see…” I trailed off, unable to describe why I had entered his room.
“Come on. Tell me.”
“So you were…sleepwalking?”
“No, no, no. I dunno why, I just got up and felt like I had to come to your room.”
“Don’t you think that’s a little odd?”
“Well yea! I don’t just wake up in the middle of the night and go to random peoples rooms very often!”
“And what did you do when you got here? Just sleep on the floor?”
“Uhh, well, not exactly…”
“What do you mean?”
“I kinda…err…went into your dream?”
“Well, I came in and you were all tense so I touched your forehead and “wham” I was in your dream…I think.”
“What was I dreaming about?”
“A Fatalis hunt…and the death of Valkyrie.”
“How the hell do you know about that!” he roared.
“I told you. I entered your dream.”
“How? That’s impossible!”
“Well, there is a library…”
“Fine. Let’s go.”
We left his room, Talos pulling on a shirt. I took another robe from the door hook and pulled it over my arms. The hallway was still dark, but the bright light from the library shone in under the door. Talos reached forward and turned the knob, then pushed the door forward.
The bright light of the library’s huge sphere lamp blinded me for a second. I covered my eyes and walked forward. Talos grunted as the light hit his eyes, but he walked with me.
“Hey! What are you two doing in here?” Norors voice rang out.
“We need some help.” I said, the lamp still too bright for me.
“With…?” Noror queried.
“Well, it’s an odd subject,” said Talos. “Is it possible to enter another persons dream, while they are having it?”
“Ah, you’re thinking of an emotional thought bond. They are very rare, seldom reported. They only occur when the dreamer is undergoing an extreme emotional state, and the potential viewer of the dream is in a dream-like state already. It is very hard to even acquire this state, let alone enter the dream. Why, may I ask, do you want to know this?”
“Err…it’s kind of a private matter.” I stammered.
“Very well, it is not my business to know yours. Say, it is almost sunrise. Would you like some breakfast?”
“Hmm. Food sounds good. Which way is the mess hall?” Talos asked.
Noror aimed us in the direction of the mess hall, then turned back to to his books. We walked down the hallway, which smelled of good food. My mouth began watering, and I realized just how hungry I was. I hadn’t eaten in a good day or so. The delicious smells wafting in from the kitchen accentuated my hunger.
“Anything in particular you want to eat?” Talos asked.
“Let me see what they have.”
We reached the mess hall and I quickly darted to the stands. Roasting pork, frying beans, cracking eggs, everything assaulted me with their grandiose smells and flavors. I quickly settled on a few strips of bacon, served along freshly baked bread and a side of baked potato. I didn’t care if it was just breakfast,; I was starving.
I found Talos sitting at a side table, munching on a large bagel smothered with cream cheese.
“I haven’t had food this good in ages,” he exclaimed as I sat down with my plate.
“It smells delicious. I’ve never had this much food, just for breakfast, before.” I replied
“Well, don’t get used to it. This is only for a day or two. Then we’re off by boat.”
“When did this come up? Where are we going?”
“I’m not quite sure. Xavier just told me to expect some sea travel.”
“Wow. I’ve never been on a boat before.”
“I’ll tell you, they aren’t the greatest way to travel. I much prefer airship.”
“Well, ships are confined, smelly, and they always shake. I’m not very good at holding my stomach back on ships, you could say. Still, at least you can eat, no matter how bad the food. That’s one thing they need to fix about airships.”
“Sounds…interesting, I guess.”
“Speaking of interesting…I suppose you really did enter my dream. How does it feel now that you know my deepest secret?” his voice darkened a bit.
“Err, uh…” I couldn’t think of any words to say. The slightest slip could offend him.
“Valkyrie was the light in my life. She always managed to cheer me up, with her quick wit and bright smile. Then she died, and it was my entire fault. If I had fought harder, fought faster, I could have ended it.”
He had stopped eating and was slouching, hand squeezing his forehead. His eyes were watering.
“She was beautiful, even when covered in grime and suited up in the heaviest armor. She had a cool demeanor on the battlefield, and a powerful presence. Her hair was like silk, her voice as smooth and flowing as water. Valkyrie was what I lived for, and that was taken away from me. Don’t you understand?” his said, his voice growing frantic near the end.
I assumed my most soothing and balanced voice, and then focused my gaze on him.
“Talos, I know how you feel. My brother died 2 years ago; both of my parents are long dead. I’m an orphan, if that’s what you want to call it. You’ve got to get over the loss and forge ahead. I almost lost my way when my brother died. It’s only recently that I’ve got my life back on track.”
He looked at me for a long time; I couldn’t really tell what his expression was. Then he got up, taking with him the remains of his bagel, and strode away. I just sat there, awestruck. I watched him go, then looked down at my food. My hunger returned, and I quickly finished off my meal.
Getting up, I headed in the direction of our rooms. I walked through the large mess hall doors and then through the library. Noror was not at his desk. I ignored this and opened the door that led to our dorms. Walking through, I nearly ran into Ryork. We both reeled back, I stumbling back into the library.
“Oh. Hey…” he said.
“Hey. Have you seen Talos?”
“Nope. Why, did he go somewhere?”
“I dunno. I was talking to him and then all the sudden he stormed off. I don’t know where he went.”
“Perhaps he’s getting stuff organized for the boat trip.”
“Oh yea. When is that again?”
“We’re leaving in 2 days.”
“Wait…do you know where are we going?”
“I’m not sure, but I think we are traveling to the Volcanic Belt. I’ve heard gossip about a strong monster residing there.”
“Whoa…I’ve never been to the Volcano…”
“Speaking of monsters, they brought back that wyvern we slayed. It’s named Caelylroth, or that’s what they say. I’m having them make a new gunner set for me; why don’t you see if they can make you a nice hammer or something?”
“Ok. Sounds good. Where is the crafter?”
“Go out throught the main door of the library and into the lobby. You can’t miss the workshop, it’s the one covered in soot.”
“No problem. Go get yourself something nice.”
I watched him go, then got dressed in my room. I then left my room, walked through the door he had mentioned and stepped into the lobby. Hunters milled around, some in heavy armor, some in casual clothing. A few stood around a large counter, behind which stood several young girls, who handed out the quests.
I turned to the right and spotted the workshop Ryork had been talking about. A bunch of hunters crowded around it, asking for various weapons and armor. I parted through the crowd and asked about the Caelylroth materials. The blacksmith, another Wyvernian, perked up at the monsters name and quickly nodded his head.
“And what would you like? I’ve got enough of that monster left for another weapon or two. Not sure how it’s gonna come out, but should be interesting.”
“Hmm. Can you craft me a hammer? Dunno what it should look like, but make it powerful.”
“Hmm. No problem. I’ll see what I can do.”
The man brushed off the others hunters, whispered something in a working Felyne’s ear, then cracked open a trapdoor and disappeared.
“Your weapon should be ready in a hour or two, nya. Now who else needs help?”
I walked back into the library and decided to do some reading to help alleviate my boredom. Luckily, my brother had taught me to read and write after our parents died, a luxury many people didn’t have. I examined the shelves, running my fingers along the old, cracked spines of the books. Finally I plucked a thin book from the rest, one describing elder dragons. I opened it and sat down on the floor.
I had opened to a large illustration depicting a fiery dragon, one with curled horns and a flowing mane. A flaming aura surrounded it. The title above said, in large, curled letters, “Teostra”. I stared at the monster, which had a flat, brutish face. Fangs stuck up from its lower jaw, giving ut the appearance of a terrible boar of some sort.
I flipped the crinkled, yellowed parchment to find a detailed description of the dragon. The dark ink flowed down the page, describing various traits of the beast. Supposedly, the creature created a fire aura, which burned anything that approached it. It also had a female counterpart, the Lunastra.
I turned the page to find another page-straddling illustration, this one of a blue fire dragon, the Lunastra. It looks similar to the Teostra, but it had its differences. Instead of long, twisted horns, the Lunastra had a strange shell-like structure adorning its head. It had less fur around its head, and a slightly more refined shape. I found it amazing that there was such a huge difference between male and female with these monsters.
I turned the page again an read about the Lunastra. I picked through the words more carefully, discovering more interesting and amazing facts about these powerful beasts.
Eventually I went onto the next page, and a striking image of a silver dragon opened up before my eyes. Swirls of wind wrapped around the beast, and its wings stretched all the way down to the beginning of its tail. It was labeled “Kushala Daora”. I remembered Talos making a comparison to this dragon with the Caelylroth, something about control over wind. I read the information on the next page and learned of the wind barrier the Kushala possessed, and about the odd weather phenomenon that preceded it.
The next page depicted the oddest monster I had ever seen. It was labeled “Chameleos”, and had such strange features; at first I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. Its eyes titled in different directions, giving it an unfocused look, and jutting from where its nose should have been was a huge spike. Its wings looked too small to support it in flight, and its tail was a huge dome shape, with small bell-like objects hanging from it. The head was oversized and its body was compact and seemed to be squished up.
Reading, I discovered even stranger and otherworldy attributes of the creature; it could become practically invisible, whip up poison from its tail, spit acidic stomach fluids and spray noxious gases. Also, it had a huge tongue, which was used to steal items right off of hunters. I became more and more bewildered as I read.
I was knocked out of my confused thoughts by a shuffle and a cough. I looked up and saw Talos sitting down next to me. He craned his neck and peered at my book, nodding his head.
“Hey,” he said, a little tentatively.
“Hi.” I responded.
“Listen, I’m sorry for rushing out like that. What you said back there…”
“It’s nothing important right now. We should be relaxing; I mean, when is the next time we’re gonna get a break like this?”
“Haha, good point. Whatcha reading?”
“A book I found about Elder Dragons. Chameleos is really weird.”
“Yea, they’re an odd species. But their materials make some great stuff.”
“Really? Like what?”
“Well, the Chameleos longsword turns invisible when powered up, and the Gunlance releases a poison mist while sharpening. Quite interesting.”
“Really? That’s amazing!”
“Indeed. Why don’t you turn the page, should be something interesting.”
I did as he said and caught my breath. A stunning image of a huge black dragon covered both pages. The dragon stood amongs a ruined castle, with blood red skys above and blackened ground below.
“That’s Fatalis. But you knew that already, right?”
“Yea. It looks pretty scary.”
“Ha. Good thing they are pretty rare.”
“Wait…what’s the background supposed to be?”
“Ah, yes. That is Castle Schrade, a dark place. Very few ever go to the place, seeing as Fatalis makes its home there.”
“Why is it abandoned?”
“Well, that’s a long story. Would you like me to tell it?”
“Alright. The Schrade region was first occupied by a band of settlers over 400 years ago, who built up a small trading post. After a few years the post evolved into a fortress, and slowy expanded into a small village. Soon it was the largest settlement in the land. The people eventually called it the Schrade region, and set up a monarchy. The first rulers of the Schrade region were benevolent people, who led the land to prosperity and wealth. For nearly two centuries the region was the epicenter of trade, as it passed from king to king. Over the years, the fortress grew and became an opulent castle, which reportedly stretched 4 miles from the east wall to the west wall. A great arena/courtyard was established in the front of the castle, where powerful hunters would combat large beasts. It was a time of wealth and good living. However, when King Raktun died and the crown passed to Prince Devarus, things started to fall apart. The newly crowned king slowly went mad with power, first with little things, then quickly “upping the ante”, as you could say. He burned parts of the city, massacred huge groups people whom he deemed as spies, destroyed the economy, hoarded the kingdoms riches, and pitting single hunters against terrible odds in the arenas (On a side note, those arduous battles are where the modern arena epic hunts come from, though they are regulated). This oppression eventually caused the people of the city to revolt. They took the castle by force and slaughtered the royal family, destroying the family bloodline. All the guards and other castle denizens were killed as well. It was one of the bloodiest days ever recorded. Over 2,000 people were killed, their bodies tossed into the arena for the monsters to eat. It has become known as “The Day the Rivers ran Red”, for reportedly, the blood from the killed seeped into the rivers surrounding the city and colored the water red for days. After the slaughter, the remaining people of the city tried to regain political and economic control, but for many years disease, poverty and hunger ran rampant. This turmoil and chaos has been said to foreshadow the coming of Fatalis. Reportedly, the dragon eventually arrived in the region nearly 200 years ago, 20 years after “The Day the Rivers ran Red”. No one is sure why the Fatalis chose Castle Schrade as its home, but we do know that it made its way to the castle some 40 years after the coup. The city was completely destroyed. Almost every single person still living in that god-forsaken place was slaughtered, some 4,000 individuals. The Fatalis wreaked complete havoc, raining down fireballs, which eventually set half the city ablaze, and ravaging the palace. Only the ancient arena was spared; the Fatalis eventually made its home there. Over the next 160 years, it slowly destroyed the rest of the remaining city. To this day, nothing is left standing but the old palace tower and the arena. No one is certain how the Fatalis breeds, or if it even breeds at all, but even if one is slain, another sighting is reported. The place has been deemed a no-fly zone, as well as a disaster zone, by the Guild, and is known as cursed to most people these days. Even mentioning Castle Schrade brings about shudders and dark looks, which is why the Guild only gives out Fatalis quests secretly.”
I found that my jaw was gaping in astonisment, and I had dropped the book. I stuttered, trying to say something, then stopped. Then I regained my voice and asked:
“Who told you that?”
“My father told me the story when I was young. Many legends abound, although my father learned the “true” history from an ancient Wyvernian, whom he said was over 500 years old. I never doubted him.”
Until recently I hadn’t thought of Talos as a person who had a family, who had been a child. The stories about him had made up this image of a destructive being, someone who was unstoppable. A person above humanity and without emotions, almost like a force of nature.
“Yes, my father. He was a successful trader; we lived just outside of Kokoto.”
“Were you rich?”
“My father may have been; I don’t know. We lived in a cabin in the woods, though I’m not sure where my parents lived before they had me.”
“What was you mother like?”
“She was a woman my father met while trading in the volcanic belt. Though she was kind, I never felt as connected to her as I did to my father.”
“You didn’t love your own mother?”
“Of course I loved her! But I did not see her often, as my father would take me on his trading missions and such.”
“How did I go from a traders son to a lone hunter? Simple. My father was killed.”
“It doesn’t end there. My mother then left me, since I had failed to catch the killer. An insane man, no doubt, but too fast for me.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say. I was being assaulted by this terrible knowledge and it left me stunned. Talos continued.
“The cabin burned down the next year. I was 13 by then. So I went to live in the woods. That was where I had my first hunt.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the cabin burned down, right? Fire wyvern work. I discovered one nesting in the area and killed it.”
“My bare hands.”
“What! And you said you couldn’t kill a Gravios by punching it!”
“I strangled it. Jumped onto its neck and pulled back.”
“And how old were you?”
“Maybe 14, 15.”
“I can’t believe this...”
“No one does. But I swear, I did it.”
“And after that? You can’t have lived in the wild forever.”
“I went to Kokoto. There was no other place to go. Fortunately, an old man by the name of Jaheed took me in.”
“What was he like?”
“Ah, Jaheed and I became close friends. He was more of a mentor then a guardian, really. See, Jaheed was actually a very successful hunter, though not many knew it. He taught me much about hunting. I make it a point to visit him once in a while.”
“He still lives in Kokoto?”
“Well, lives isn’t quite the right term…”
“Oh. Ok then. Any other deaths your care to tell me about?”
“Don’t be so snide with me. I’m pouring out my heart and soul to you, you know why?”
“Because you’re trying to get it off your chest?”
“No. I’ll never get all this off my chest. I’m telling you this because I trust you, Azuriade. You’re the only one I can tell.”
I looked at him, and for a second I couldn’t comprehend what he had said. Then it hit me, and it hit me hard. The meaning of his words struck like a bolt from the blue, stunning me.
“Azuriade?” he asked.
I didn’t say anything. Instead, I reached over the dusty book and embraced him. He seemed surprised for a second, but then returned the embrace. I felt something wet touch my shoulder: a single tear.
We decided to head to the weapon smith after some time, to pick up my hammer. Talos told me he had a longsword waiting as well. Leaving the library, we headed for the crafter. A felyne with heavy gloves was sitting on the counter. He noticed us and jumped up, gauntlets clanking.
“Ah, hello, nya. Your weapons are ready!” he said.
“Well, let’s see them then. I’m quite excited to see how they turned out.” answered Talos.
“The hunters are here, nya. Hunter Talos and Huntress Azuriade, nya!” the felyne shouted into an open trapdoor. I heard grunts and the voice of an old man.
“Your weapons will be up shortly, nya. Please, sit down.”
We sat in the bench the felyne had motioned to and waited. The felyne jumped off the counter and disappeared. I yawned; my night hadn’t been exactly long, or dreamless, per se.
“Hrm, what’s this about Talos and Azuriade? I don’t see them.” came a gruff and crotchety voice.
Then an old man popped into view, the crafter. His face was covered in soot and a large hammer was propped on his shoulder. We both stood up; the man was standing on a footstool.
“Oh, there you are. Hiding from me, eh? Don’t you want your weapons?” he laughed.
Talos chuckled. “Of course we want them. Why wouldn’t I want a fine piece of weaponry from the guilds best crafter?”
“Don’t flatter me, young man. Actually…yes, flatter me. And your weapons…here they are. The hammer, please?”
Two felynes carried the weapon in, nearly staggering under the weight. The crafter took it in one hand and placed it on the counter. I gaped in astonishment; the weapon was brutally beautiful, yet simple. The main part of the hammer was a huge iron ball, held in place by a surrounding of Caelyroth materials. Rough bumps covered its surface, and the monster hide had red accents. A simple handle protruded from just behind the iron ball. Spines jutted from the back end.
I lifted it and nearly dropped it; surprised at the weight of the weapon. It felt like the crafter had compressed 50 iron ingots into one iron ball.
“Heavy, ain’t it? You wanted a strong hammer, you got one.” chortled the crafter.
“Well I think you got that part down…” I said, putting the hammer on the table.
“And as you requested, Talos, a longsword suitable for Elder Dragon slaying. May this blade tear your enemies to shreds."
The felynes came again, this time holding the weapon under a white cloth. The crafter took it with care and removed the cloth. Both Talos and I gasped.
The blade was the most vicious thing I had ever seen, surpassing even the Fatalis in the sheer terror it inflicted. Jagged teeth ran along the entire blade, giving it the appearance of huge saw. The hilt protected by large curving blades, the largest of which also had fangs running along it. A dark red stripe ran from the front of the blade to its middle.
“Oh my…” breathed Talos.
“Do you like it? Crafted especially to tear through dragon scales.”
“Of course I like it! It’s just so…brutal looking.”
“Is that a problem?”
“Oh, no. It’s fine. A little surprising, but fine.”
“Well then, you’re welcome. Would you tell your gunner friend his armor is ready?”
“Will do. And thank you.”
We left the crafter and headed back to the library. I examined my weapon along the way. It still felt heavy, but I would probably get used to it. The iron was high grade, Talos told me, which was why it was so heavy. I traced my finger along the ball and felt the rough bumps. The monster hide was smooth and tough, resisting my attempts to cut it with my nail. I turned my head up and looked at Talos’s weapon, the brutal longsword.
“Rather nasty looking, don’t you think?” he asked.
“Very. I wouldn’t want to be in your way.” I laughed.
“Ha. But I did ask for a dangerous weapon, as Elder Dragons aren’t the easiest nuts to crack.”
“To tell the truth, I’m a little anxious. I’ve never even seen an Elder Dragon before.”
“Oh, don’t worry. With Asero, Ryork and me at your side, nothing can happen.”
Talos went off to find Ryork, so I headed to the training grounds. In order to actually use my new hammer, I would have to work out a little.
To get there, Talos had told me, I had to leave through the back of the observatory. I threaded my way through the crowded halls and entered the back hall. It was quiet, save for the few hunters who came in and out. The back door to the observatory was a huge wooden one, intricately carved and plated with bronze. I walked out and gazed upon the training grounds.
It was like looking at a huge bowl. Towers for ranged practice sprung up between huge arenas of stone. One side of the mountain had been appropriated for climbing and other vertical ventures, the other side doused by a giant waterfall. Stone steps led down to the main gate.
I headed down these and nodded to the gatekeeper. He put a hand up in greeting as I passed. All sorts of hunters milled about the dusty main road, buying things at shops and eating. The path split up into many directions, some veering off to the side, others continuing forward. I decided on heading to the main arena, where I could practice with the hammer.
The path twisted through the thick trees, eventually depositing me in front of the arena. The large gates were open, and various hunters went in and out. I headed through the entrance and came out on the other side.
The floor of the arena was hard packed sand, and felt like stone beneath my feet. Hunters ran around the track, training their speed or endurance; other practiced weaponry in the center. I didn’t see a space quite large enough for me, however. I headed over to a large, official looking man and asked where I could practice hammer skills.
“Hm, well you can’t practice here, might smash somebody. I would recommend the arena to our east, where you can face small monsters and such.” he replied.
“Hm. Thank you.” I said.
I left the stadium and followed the man’s directions, taking the east path. Another large arena opened up before me, this time with fewer hunters, however. The gates were closed, but a man stood in front of them, letting small groups of hunters in. I approached him.
“May I enter?” I asked.
“Of course, but first you gotta get some armor. Take this leather cuirass.” the man handed me a chest plate made of leather. I pulled it over my head, placing my hammer on the ground.
“And these gauntlets and greaves.”
The man handed me the other pieces of the armor, which I put on. Then he hoisted a rope, which lifted the gate and allowed me entry. I thanked him, picked up my hammer, and entered.
The arena was divided into sections, so that hunters wouldn’t be swinging at each other. I went through an iron door, which put me in a mid-sized area. Three velociprey suddenly appeared from a trapdoor in the ground; moments later the trapdoor was sealed, and it was just the monsters and I.
Two of the raptors hissed and jumped back; the third growled and lunged at me. I sidestepped and swung my hammer into the creature’s leg, which buckled forward. I, however, was pulled by the force of the hammer and ended up on my face. The velociprey I had hit lay bleeding on the ground, but I could hear the other two coming towards me.
Quickly, I pushed myself to my feet and hefted the hammer with both hands. The two velociprey drew nearer, and I pulled the hammer behind me. Once they were within striking distance, I let loose, spinning on the tips of my toes. The hammer crashed into the velociprey, snapping both of their spines instantly. I continued spinning, finally slowing to a stop after a few revolutions. Stars danced around my eyes.
I swung the hammer a few more times, trying to get used to the weight. While extremely heavy, this thing would sure hurt when it hit, I thought. I practiced for a little longer, feeling more accustomed to the weight as I went on. Eventually I could swing it without losing my balance, and I called it a day. I rang the bell next to the door and left. A man with a wheelbarrow sidled past me, heading for the space I had just left.
At the entrance, the man requested the armor he had given to me. I removed it and handed back, and was on my way. The sun was lower in the sky now, but I still had time to do what I want. I decided to go for a quick meal.
The mess hall was packed as usual, but I managed to grab a good spot in line. I picked up a few slices of aptonoth with a side of vegetables, then sat down on a bench and quickly wolfed my meal. Training had made me hungrier then I had expected, and soon my plate was empty. I left the mess and went back into the library, to dig around for more books.
Time passed, and eventually I got tired. I put the book I had been reading back on the shelf and went back into my room. Pulling off my pants, I yawned, then settled into my bed and fell into sleep.
The next morning came bright and early. Light flooded in through the open window. I rubbed my eyes and let out a yawn, stretching.
I got up and quickly dressed. Washing my hair and brushing my teeth, I looked into the mirror above the basin. I was a bit taken back by my appearance. My hair had grown long, down to my shoulders. The blue shade had darkened as well, making my hair seem almost black.
But what most surprised me were my eyes. They had a gaunt, tired look about them, and had also darkened to deep blue. I noticed that I looked more guant and pale, as if the change in my eye color had changed something in me. Shaking my head, I forced the thoughts out of my mind.
Leaving my room, I headed to the library. I could hear Ryorks snores, but there was no sense waking him. My stomach growled and I wanted to grab a bite before we left. The mess wasn’t packed, like it usually was, so I got right in line and was soon munching on some toast, with a side of scrambled herbivore eggs.
I heard a shuffle, and the clattering of utensils. Looking up, I saw Talos grabbing a chair.
“Hey.” I said.
“Hello. We’ll be leaving in a few hours or so. Hope you’re ready.” he replied.
“Did you send my message to Xavier?”
“About the hammer? Yup. He should be sending someone to pick it up at anytime. Of course, we won’t see them, but hey, what are you gonna do?”
I laughed. “Nothing, I guess.”
“So how are you feeling about the trip?”
“I dunno. A little antsy, I guess. I’ve never been on a boat before, much less seen an Elder Dragon.”
“Eh. You’ll be fine. Like I said, with us by your side, nothing will happen.”
We boarded the ship around 1pm, weapons strapped to our back, suited up in our armor. Talos looked especially fierce, since his armor had been refurbished and Marrow Cutter (the name he had given to his new Longsword) was slung on his back. I felt slightly weighed down by my hammer, but I could manage. Talos had gotten Ryork’s new bow commissioned, the Dragon Bow ‘Destruction’, from the Lao Shan Horn the Pokke Elder had sent, and the gunners new armor shone in the sunlight. Asero was content with his existing armor and weapons.
Several more hunters boarded before the gangway was removed and the anchor pulled from the depths. The Observatory docks were down near the shore, jutting out from a rocky outcropping. A series of tunnels and stairs within the Observatory had led to the base of the cliff.
The last two hunters that had climbed aboard Ryork must have known, because he lift his visor and walked over to them. I heard laughter and conversation between the three.
While Ryork was talking, I examined the two hunters. One was a huge man, decked out in what looked to be Gravios Armor, Gunlance strapped to his back. The other was a lithe woman, who wore a tight suit of some sort of green material. Sharp fangs adorned parts of the armor, and a strange weapon that looked like some sort of mechanical contraption was on her back.
Ryork turned his head and pointed to us, then turned full and led the two hunters to us. I heard something about exciting hunts, and then he reached us.
“Hey Ryork. Who are these two?” asked Talos.
“Ah, these are two of my old hunting buddies. They’ve been around Loc Lac for a while, and just came back. The big guy is Igard, Gunlace specialist, as you can see. He says they don’t have gunlances out there!” Ryork replied.
“Tis true.” the man said, in a deep, throaty voice.
“I would know. Xavier had a big fuss over that when we visited.” Talos agreed. “And the fine lady?”
“I’m Ursula.” the woman said, before Ryork had a chance to introduce her. “Switch Axe expert. Nice to see someone who’s been to the country.”
“I share the sentiment. So how does a Switch Axe handle? I never got the chance to try one while I was out there. Too busy taking in the sights, you know?” chuckled Talos.
“They’re quite hard to master, if I do say so myself. And who’s this little woman here? She looks a bit young.”
I had taken off my helm, as had the rest of the group. Now I blushed a little, as Ursula addressed me.
“That’s Azuriade, Talos’s apprentice. She may be young, but she’s a hell of a fighter!”
“Haha…thanks. Nice to meet another woman in the field.” I said, looking at Ursula.
“Yea, we woman hunters aren’t all too common.” Ursula replied, a smirk on her lips.
“Not common enough.” chortled Igard.
“Hey, I’ve returned, and I….who might these fellows be? More hunters ready for the rush of combat, I presume!” Asero interrupted, having returned from stowing his Horn notes.
“Yup. These are two of my old hunting buddies, Ursula and Igard. You two, this is Asero, our musician, per se.” Ryork explained.
“Glorious! Two new hunters to enter the ranks!” Asero shouted loudly.
Ursula leaned in close to me, her eyebrows raised.
“He’s a loud one, eh?” she whispered.
“You have no idea.” muttered Talos, who had obviously heard her.
Soon after, we scattered about the ship. Talos stayed above deck, overseeing the sailors and acting as the captain. Asero and Igard headed down below deck, presumably to eat. Ryork followed soon after, and I was left with Ursula. Her weapon interested me, so I asked about it.
“Oh, this? It’s an experimental weapon type. It’s really only common around the Moga Coast, seeing as that’s where Wyvervian traders most often land.” she answered.
“So then, what does it do?”
“I could explain it better by showing you.” she smirked, getting up.
With one quick motion, she drew the weapon from her back. Steam hissed from the weapon as it unfolded, transforming into a wicked looking black axe. Razor sharp blades sprung from the weapon.
Steam hissed again, as Ursula pulled the weapon back, close to her. The front blade slide down, and a hidden blade flipped out into the front, giving the weapon the appearance of a hefty greatsword. Another set of blades extended while the first retracted, amplifying the weapons already deadly look.
“Whoa…that’s amazing!” I marveled.
“Takes a bit of skill to use, being an experimental weapon, you know?” Ursula said as she sheathed the weapon. She sat back down next to me and took in a deep breath.
“Looks pretty dangerous.”
“Don’t all weapons?”
We laughed. This woman was pretty cool, I thought. Having her on the team would be nice.
“So, how is the coast? Talos has told me a bit about it.”
“Moga is beautiful. The sights you see there...and the monsters. Never seen anything like them. For instance, there’s this one bird wyvern that can mimic monster calls, bringing them to your location. It’s amazing, the things you see out there.”
“Sounds awesome! I really want to go…”
“If you have the chance, go. You won’t regret it. That is, unless a monster eats you or something.”
Just then, the ship shook, and I nearly fell over. Ursula caught me by the hand and pulled me back up. I heard shouting and the ruffling of sails.
“We must be setting off, then.” said Ursula. “Good, as I was wondering when we would get going.”
“I could have done with some warning.” I muttered.
“First boat trip?”
“How can you tell?”
“You’re as green as a Rathian.”
“And I feel as prickly as one, too.”
“Come on, let’s go to the top deck.”
We walked up the stairs and onto the stern deck. Talos stood next to the wheel, talking with the navigator, a tall, thin man with guild knight armor on. He noticed us, nodded his head to the navigator, and strode over.
“Hey. The launch jar you?” he chuckled.
“I bit more then I expected…” I pouted.
“Hey, hey, don’t get all pouty on me here.”
“No, it’s alright. I’m fine.”
“Ok, enough banter.” Ursula cut in. “We can talk later, but now we need to plan. Where is Ryork? And Asero and Igard, for that matter?”
“I think all three of them went below deck…maybe to eat?” Talos replied.
“We’re right here!” came Ryorks voice.
I turned to see Ryork, Igard and Asero climbing the stairs. Quickly they joined the group. Ursula nodded and asked about the plan again.
“Er, well, I was gonna kinda make it up as I went along…” mumbled Talos.
“What? So you’re saying you want to go into battle without a proper plan?” asked Ursula.
“Yea, pretty much.” Talos replied.
“Well, if we aren’t going to set up a plan, I’ll be heading back below deck.” yawned Igard. He turned and left.
“Same here.” said Ryork, following Igard.
“Fine. But when something goes wrong, don’t come crying to me.” Ursula snorted, walking away. I thought I could see a bit of a smirk on her lips.
“Well it’s certain that she’s gonna need a but of adapting for this team.” Talos laughed.
The ship sailed on, hour after hour. Clouds passed overhead, and water rushed alongside the boat. Sometimes a bit of spray would catch me as I leaned over the side, making me giggle.
The crew came and went, going below deck, coming up, yelling to each other and whatnot. I wandered around on deck, overhearing the less audible conversations, some about our group, others about monsters. I was sitting under the mast when the call came out.
“Storm approaching!” shouted a voice.
I stood up and craned my neck, but didn’t see anything from my vantage point. Quickly I hurried up the stairs to the top deck and saw it, a mass of clouds far to the west. They were deep gray, and approached fast.
“Materials below deck! Pull down the sails, make ready the oars!” came another voice.
There was much hustle as the crew scurried to prepare. The sails were drawn and things were rushed below deck. The wind picked up a little, and the waves looked choppy. I turned to see Talos walking up the stairs, helmet in the crook of his arm.
“What’s the big deal? Storm?” he asked.
“Indeed.” answered the navigator, “I would recommend going below deck for your safety.”
“I think I’d rather stay up above. Being in the belly of a rocking ship, no matter a storm, is not my thing. Azuriade, will you be going below?”
“Nope. Everyone else will be above, right?”
“Alright then. I’ll stay above.”
“Well just be careful then.”
The wind grew stronger, and soon the clouds were near. The waves were very rough, and I could see the gray curtain on rain approaching. I took a deep breath and put on my helmet.
The rain hit us like a cold wave. Within minutes both the deck and we were soaked. The floor was slick, and waves sloshed around the sides. The boat rocked and lurched as the wind grew stronger. I grabbed a railing and held on as tight as I could. The wind was now a gale, a hurricane force blast that made the mast groan.
It felt like the ocean itself was consuming the ship, as the rain pelted down in an unending torrent. The rain trickling down my visor obscured my vision, and I had trouble moving without slipping. Thunder roared, and I could see the blurred flashes of lightning.
I stumbled around the on deck, hearing the loud shouts of the crewman still on deck and the even louder voice of Talos. He was almost as deafening as the thunder that crashed in the distance.
A sharp turning of the ship flung me from my rail and sent me skidding across the deck. I could faintly see the other end of the ship, and the water whirling just below it. I realized then that the ship had not only turned, but was nearly sideways, one end almost sinking into the ocean. Men screamed out orders as the ship keeled even further, threatening to capsize. I was rushing ever faster towards the water when a hand caught me. We skidded down the deck and landed on the side rail.
“Don’t fall into the ocean on me, now.” came Talos’s voice. I nearly laughed, the adrenaline rushing through my veins.
“Thanks.” I said, heart pounding.
The ship turned once more and straightened. I clambered back onto the deck and fell to the floor. The rain still pounded around me and the lightning was blinding, but for now I was safe. I could see Talos’s boots as he ran off, going to the helm of the ship. I struggled to stand and nearly slipped again as I got up.
A strong gust of wind battered the ship, forcing the rain down like tiny bullets. Thunder roared loud enough to shake the ship. I scrambled to find something to hold onto, in case the ship lurched again. But then the rain stopped. I looked up in surprise, only to see small rays of sunlight poking through the clouds. Within minutes the entire storm system was behind us. I lifted my visor and looked around.
The deck was in shambles. Anything that hadn’t been pulled below deck was smashed, soaked or overboard. The crew looked sad and pitiful, rain dripping from their clothes, shoulders hunched, heads drooping. But with the appearance of the sun, everyone suddenly jumped to life. In no time the captain was shaking the water off his hat and ordering the crew out of the hull. The deck was soon crowded again.
“Hey. What did ya think of the storm?” Ursula said, walking over to me. Her hair was drenched and dripped all over he armor. Small drops of water ran down her face.
“I’ve seen worse.” she continued, “but that was a doozy. I haven’t seen a ship go vertical in ages.”
“You sound like you were having fun that whole time.” I said, grinning.
We both laughed, as the ship cut through the glistening water towards the volcano.
The next few hours eventually descended into boredom. Ursula and I chatted for a while, before she had to go help Talos with battle plans. I ended up helping some sailors with minor tasks, like rigging the ship, moving crates, other things. They were nice for the most part, but being hard at work they had little time to talk.
I eventually tired of the work and went above deck. Climbing out of the hatch, I nearly knocked a man over.
“Oh! Sorry!’ I said apologetically, flustered.
“No problem, it’s fine. Say, aren’t you from Talos’s group?” he replied
“Well, yes, but why do you want to know?”
“Why do I want to know? Ha! Talos is a famous hunter, don’t you know that! Being part of his group would be like a dream come true, for some hunters!”
I studied his face while he was saying this. His face was covered in scars and he had a hint of grey in his hair. Despite this, he talked and looked on the young side. He was wearing what looked to be Diablos armor, the helmet in the crook of his arm. A sword was strapped to his back and a shield to his arm.
“Well if you want to be part of the team, why don’t you ask him? I mean we do need more people in the group.”
“Really? You sure you have room for an old, grizzled hunter like me?”
“Why not? The older you are, the more experience you have.”
“Talos ain’t that old.”
“True…but you know what I mean. Come talk to him with me. Oh, and what’s your name?”
“The name’s Duke. You’re Azuriade, right?”
“That’s me. Come on!”
I walked Duke over to the stern deck and signaled for Talos to come over. He walked over, looking over Duke as he came.
“Who’s this, Azuriade?” he asked.
“This is Duke.” I said, “he was wondering if he could join the team.”
“Let me ask you something, Duke.” Talos said.
“Yes?” responded Duke.
“Where’d you get those scars? I mean, only if you’re comfortable telling.”
“Oh, I don’t mind. Got these pushing a Naruga off a friend o’ mine. Got slashed up in the process, but hey, a friend’s a friend.”
“You’re in. I look for that quality in someone, a willingness to risk injury to help a friend in need.” Talos seemed happy as he was saying this, but there was a strain in his voice.
“Hey, it’s nothing. Grateful for the invite, though.” Duke laughed.
“No problem. Now we have eight.” Talos said.
“I thought this would be seven?” I asked, confused.
“Well, actually, I also got another recruit, a guy by the name of Narad. He’s a Dual Sword user, like me.”
“You’ve got quite the team, it seems.” Duke chuckled, “so what will we be hunting?”
“Well, I’ve explained our directives to Narad, and he was a bit surprised. One question before I start, Duke. Have you ever hunted an Elder Dragon?”
“Of course! When you get to my age, it’s expected! Took down a Kushala or two, as well as a Teostra back in my volcano days.”
“Alright, good. You’ve got experience. Our team has been assigned by the Guild to be an “Elder Dragon Elimination” team. Basically, we’re goning to be assigned to various secret and dangerous missions with some powerful Elder Dragons as our targets. You can back out now, if you want.”
“Back out of a deal like this? Ha! I’m no coward. If I ain’t gonna live much longer, better have fun while I can!” Duke laughed.
“Well then welcome to the team. I’m sure you’ll make a great addition to the group.” Talos said, laughing along with Duke.
“Thanks again. You have no idea how great it is to be hunting with you guys.”
After getting Duke into the group, I left the guys to their own devices and tried to find Ursula. Eventually I found her curled up behind some crates, sleeping. Deciding it would be hazardous to my health to wake her, I went back above deck to sit on the helm of the ship.
Talos was again talking with the navigator, and Duke was chatting with Asero and Igard. I said hello to Talos and went to the prow of the ship. Its figurehead, a stylized tusked serpent head, gleamed in the sun. The endless ocean looked beautiful, with the sun reflecting off it. I perched myself on a rail and swung my legs, watching the water rush by.
I sat there for at least an hour, just watching the water. I didn’t care what Talos said; a boat ride was fun. I would have been content to sit there for another hour if something hadn’t crossed my mind: where was my helmet?
For a second, I was afraid it had fallen into the ocean. But then I remembered that I hadn’t even brought it with me onto them main deck. I jumped off the rail and started running across the deck.
“Looking for this?” a voice stopped me.
I turned and nearly laughed. Talos stood, leaning on a mast and grinning. My helmet was twirling on his finger. I walked over and he gave it to me.
“Thanks!” I grinned.
“They really need a clip or something on armor sets to hold these.” Talos smirked.
“Yea, really. I’m going to lose this helmet for real some day.”
“I hope not. Anyway, we should be arriving within the hour. Land should be visible relatively soon, as well.”
“Awesome! I can’t wait!”
“Well you’ll have to wait a bit more, and…oh, the navigator needs me again. Well, go have fun or something. Just don’t fall overboard or anything.”
“Alright. See ya later.”
I walked back onto the lower deck and found Ursula. Her hair was ruffled and she looked sleepy. Her facemask hung around her neck. I sat down next to her.
“Hey.” she yawned.
“You tired?” I asked.
“Yup. Sea travel gets a little boring after a while.”
“A little. Too bad there aren’t any storms to leaven the bored, eh?” I asked jokingly.
“I could do with a nice downpour.” she chuckled.
Just then a shout came from the upper deck.
The crew cheered and scrambled around. Ursula and I got up and walked over to the stern deck. The man who had shouted noticed us and pointed past the bow. I craned my neck and saw the faint plumes of smoke, telltale of a volcano, and the tiny dots the represented islands underneath.
“Ugh. That’s still so far away.” Ursula yawned.
“I know,” said Talos, who was just behind us.”But at least we can see them.”
“Isn’t that smoke a little thick? I asked. “I mean, we’re pretty far.”
“That’s not just smoke. Those are storm clouds.” growled the navigator.
“Great….another storm.” I groaned.
We approached the storm front quickly. The islands became bigger and bigger under the hazy, black sky. Soon I could see their flaming tops, thin points reaching to the sky. The storm would soon be above us. The wind picked up first, sending ash and smoke from the volcanoes across the deck. I shielded my eyes and coughed back the smoke. Then the rain came, a cold shower that chilled to the bone. The wind whirled around us, whipping at anything that stood above deck. I quickly put my helmet on and steeled myself. The waves roared all around us, whipped up by the wind. I could see the prow turning, the navigator yelling as the ship turned off course.
Just then, a bolt of lightning illuminated the darkened sea. Rocks cropped up all around us, and in the brief flash, I saw something… A horrible shrieking sound rent the air around us. Another bolt of lightning, another glimpse of something, slipping under the waves. I rushed to the stern deck, slipping along the wet floor. Rain hammered down, the howling wind forcing it down like bullets. I clambered up the stairs and screamed to Talos.
“I think there’s something in the water!” I cried over the crash of the waves.
“Something in the….oh god! EVERYBODY, READY FOR IMPACT!” he screamed. I closed the distance between us.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Leviathan.” he replied gravely. Then he slid his visor over his eyes and drew Marrow Cutter, looking warily around.
For a few seconds there was just the sound of hammering rain, the howling wind. Thunder rumbled in the distance. We waited in silence.
Then, a splash of water, and a cracking of wood on the far side of the deck. I spun wildly, looking for the source. A roar, a scream, shouts. Then I saw it, a huge claw gripping the deck, a shadowy head in the dark. I stared in horror as another claw scraped onto the deck. That’s when the real carnage began.
The claws tore into the deck, gouging out wood and leaving gaping holes in its place. The head move forward, jaws snapping, to reveal a terrifying array of teeth. Men screamed and ran as lightning flashed, giving me horrifying shadow portraits of the monster. A thick tail smashed the other side of the deck, nearly hitting Duke. He reeled back, drawing his Sword and Shield, an odd metal contraption. I turned to see Talos leaping from the stern deck, Marrow Cutter in hand. Grabbing my hammer, which I had yet to name, I ran down the stairs. Almost as soon as a reached the deck, the coils of the leviathan crushed the staircase. I took in a deep breath and ran.
The next few moments were a blur. I heard wood cracking, metal screeching, mean shouting. Waves and raindrops poured down from all sides. My heart beat frantically as I dodged squeezing coils and gnashing teeth. The ship rocked violently and I thought I heard the mast cracking. Or it might have been the entire ship.
I couldn’t see 5 feet in front of me. Men ran around me, water sloshed, and the rain pelted down. The ship tilted this way and that. And then I looked up. The giant serpent, for that’s what it was, bared its fangs and bellowed. I found myself under its claw, feeling its hot breath above me. I screamed.
Just then, a shout came to my ears. A mans face appeared above mine:
“Azuriade? I’m Narad. Nice meeting you.” he panted.
Quickly he slashed the claw that held me, and the beast released me, screaming. I staggered to my feet and coughed, feeling the sweet air in my lungs.
“Thanks.” I coughed.
I looked into his eyes. He was old, like Duke, but had an odd expression, a sort of resignation.
“So you’re Narad?”
“That I am. Nice knowning you.”
“Huh? Wait, no…”
“Hey, I’ve lived my life. You guys have a better chance to save the ship if this damned beast is wounded.”
“But, you don’t…”
“Just live with it kid. I’ve seen Talos’s looks. If you died, he would snap….but I’m an old man. And I’ll go down fighting.”
Then he jumped, gauntlets digging into the monsters’ hide. His dual swords hung in his hands. I didn’t want to watch, but I was transfixed. Here was a man who was willing to sacrifice his life to save others…something Valkyrie did. And it was then that Narads’ words hit me. Like a rock wall.
My shocked thoughts were cut short by a shriek. I looked up to see Narad tearing one of his sabers out of the serpents’ eyes, spraying blood everywhere. The beast flailed its head and went to dive under the water, Narad still on its back. Deftly, he lept from its back and rolled onto the deck, panting. Blood dripped from his hands.
“Looks like I still got some fight in me.” he growled, before running off again.
Another crash, and the beast resurfaced on the other side of the ship, again wrapping its coils around the deck. Wood splintered and I heard mens screams as the coils slammed into them. The creature bellowed in rage and loosed a beam of water sideways across the deck. It tore into the wood, ripping apart anything in the way. I turned to look away as a man was thrust into it. Blood was spattered all over the deck when I turned back.
Narads’ cries came again, and I saw him again jumping onto the beast. The monster roared and twisted forward, snapping its jaws around him. He screamed, blades swinging as he tried to break free. I ran up to the beast, only to be narrowly missed by a sweeping claw. It instead hit the man ahead of me, shredding him. I fell to the deck, stomach rising, fumbling my visor. My visor released just in time, and I vomited over the deck. Blood oozed from behind me.
I found myself sliding across the rain and blood spattered deck. Huge holes appeared in the wood, and the railings were all but gone. I struggled to get up, my feet slipping out from under me. My legs felt wobbly, and my stomach threatned to rise again. I fought it back and pushed myself up.
Then a dense cracking noise, as the beast tightened its coils. A huge split appeared in the middle of the deck. Sailors and hunters alike scrambled across the deck, tripping over holes in the wood and being swept over board. All I could see was wood splintering, coils tighting, and men dying around me. A body landed next to me; it was Narads. But then he coughed, blood sputtering from his mouth. He was alive!
“Auggh….go on…get off the ship.” he groaned.
“Not without you!” I shouted.
And then the deck split, and I was under the waves. Faintly I could hear a man shouting:
“WE’RE GOING DOWN!”
And then all was black.
Chapter 14-Eye of the Storm
When I awoke, it was dark. I struggled to lift myself, but the instant I moved my arms, pain shot through them. I laid them back down and tilted my head back. The stars above looked brighter and larger then I had ever seen them. And then I remembered what had happened.
Ignoring the awful pain that racked my entire body, I stood, looking around. Marrow Cutter lay in the sand not too far from me, blood still staining its blade. Fragments of what had happened on the ship came back to me. Screaming, death, and then going down, below the waves. I had fought the current for as long as I could, searching for Azuriade, but was eventually swept away. After that was a blur.
I pulled my helm off and shook my hair. One of my gauntlets was missing. I felt my hair with my open hand; it felt of dry, coarse seaweed. I sat my helm down on a rock and went searching for my gauntlet.
Eventually I found it, halfway buried in the sand, a little ways away from where I had woken up. I shook the sand from it and placed it near my helm. Soon the rest of my armor was in a pile. I stretched and pulled on a pair of sackcloth pants that were left in my pack. I had taken off my filthy undershirt, but there was no other shirt to be found.
I went to the surf to wash my armor. Dried blood and sand coated most of it. After washing, it still was dirty, but looked better then before. I placed it on some grass to dry, and sat down again. A slight breeze chilled the water on my chest, giving me shivers. I got up, grabbed Marrow Cutter and swung it around, regaining my feel for the blade. It whistled as the sharp fangs shredded the air.
After getting used to the weight, I went to work, slicing down some thin trees. Soon I had a small pile of wood, but I knew better then to make a fire right away.
Sitting back down, I yawned. Already I was tired, the storm having sapped all my energy. I lay back and closed my eyes. Sleep came quickly, but it was not peaceful. No, not at all.
I was back on the ship, but not everything was as I remembered. The sky was red, as was the water. Almost like a sea of blood. I heard a screech and whirled around to see the great serpent baring its fangs, spittle flicking from its tongue. But the creature was not blue and white, as I remembered it, but a deep, light swallowing black. I reeled as the beasts’ growls turned into the screams and wails of dying men, echoing around the ship as if I was in a small room. The bloody waves splashed onto the ship, coating the deck in its crimson hue.
The monster continued to wail with the voice of men, blood now replacing its saliva. Soon it was gushing blood from its mouth, slowly filling the deck and spilling off the sides. I was ankle deep in it, and I no longer doubted that it was blood, not tinted water. I slipped and the ship tipped as well. The monster opened its blood soaked maw as I slid further down the deck, towards my doom. Voices filled my head, the screams and cries of my friends. Hands grabbed all around me, and then I was in the beasts’ mouth.
I awoke panting and covered in sweat, the light from the sun bright in my eyes. The long scars, scars forever burned into my back by the fire kaiser himself, stung as my sweat ran over them. My limbs trembled as I staggered to my feet, and my back was ablaze with pain. I tripped across the sand and crashed into the surf, feeling the icy water rush over my back. I laid there, waves lapping over me, for a long time.
Eventually I could breath without panting, and stood. My limbs still ached, but I could walk. I tumbled into the grass and took a deep breath. My heart was racing and the grass seemed to swirl around me. I felt light headed, but I didn’t dare to shut my eyes, for fear that red would be what I saw.
The sun slowly passed overhead as I lay in the grass, heart still pounding. I couldn’t shake the image from my head, the beasts’ open maw, the bloody sea, and the screams. And that one horrible question, eating up my insides: Where was Azuriade?
I eventually got too tired to think about it and lay down to go to sleep. But the vivid nightmare came back into my mind again and again, and I had to resist closing my eyes. The frothy surf lapped against my bare feet, and chilled my toes. I sunk one of my hands into the sand, extending my fingers through the silky substance.
Suddenly, a sharp pain from my finger; I whipped my hand from beneath the sand and found the source. A small crab clung to my index finger, its claw squeezed tight. I pried the crab off my finger and sat it down in the sand. It stayed there, frightened.
“Go on, little crab.” I said.
It did not move; I did not expect it to. Instead it drew its legs closer to it. I sighed and looked at my finger. The claw had made a small cut, and droplets of blood dripped from it. I sat up and wiped the blood off with the edge of my pant leg. I looked over, and the crab had disappeared, presumably to hid under the sand once more.
I sat on the beach for a time, before getting up to prepare a small shelter. I didn’t want to sleep in the open, considering monsters most likely inhabited this island. I took up Marrow Cutter and began to slice away at the small trees that lined the edge of the forest. Sweat ran down my back and I could feel the scars heating up. I wondered sometimes if the medics had thoroughly removed all of the fire dragon powder that had been embedded in my back.
Soon I had cut down a number of trees and went to work stripping the bark; I could use it for rope. Within twenty minutes I had a makeshift tent of sorts, with a log floor. I rolled the cloths I wasn’t wearing into a pillow and tossed it into the tent. Then I stood up and headed off for a walk. If I was going to stay here for a while, I might as well scout ahead, I thought.
I walked along the beach, observing the waves and the forest. It offered no clearings or breaks in the foliage to allow me to pass. Not like I wanted to go in there in the first place. I continued along the beachhead, taking in the sights. The ocean continued on until it reached the horizon, not revealing the slightest hint of any other land.
A moan interrupted my thoughts. I readied for a fight. The groan came again. It sounded human. I took a step forward and peered into the jungle. All along the sand there were skid marks, and small blotches of crimson. I followed them, treading gingerly over the sand.
The groan came again, a deep, painful sound. I looked through the darkness of the forest, straining my eyes. A faint human shape showed itself.
“Who’s there…” a voice came. It sounded familiar.
“Narad!” I realized who it was.
“Is that you Talos?” he grunted.
“Yea. You sound hurt...lemme get you out of here.”
I reached out and grabbed the shape under the shoulders. Heaving, I pulled Narad from the forest and out onto the sand. When I looked down at him I was horrified. His armor was crumpled and dry blood stained the entire chestplate. His face was pale and worn.
“God…what happened?” I uttered.
“The...serpent. Tried to protect Azuriade. It bit me.” he gasped.
“Oh god…oh god...don’t die on me!” I began to feel frantic.
“I’ve had my time, Talos.” he put out with considerable effort.”I’ve lived a good life. And to be honest…this...is the way I want to go.”
“But you don’t have to!” I cried.
“No, I do. The wounds are mortal. But it was to…” here he coughed. “…protect Azuriade.”
“Why? Why did you do it?”
“Because. I know…you two. You belong together. After your sorrow…you need her.”
“My sorrow? How….how could you…know? About that?”
“I lived in Kokoto, Talos. I….saw you and….her. I knew her….as well. And I loved...her as well. That is my last message, Talos. You two….Azuriade and you. You belong together. She….needs you…as much as you….need…her.”
He coughed again, and his mouth was red with blood. Before I could respond, he had taken his last breath. I shut his eyes and stood. Down I looked, at Narad. This man, about whom I had known so little, who knew so much about me. I sighed, deeply, and lifted his body. As he gave a gift to me, I would repay him.
I dug the hole with my hands and a rock. I made sure it was deep enough, so that the wild would not ravage his body. Then I placed him in the ground, and began to fill the hole. When this was done, I sat down. Sweat coursed down my body in waves. I felt oddly cold. Narad had lived in Kokoto? Known Valkyrie? Loved her? I could not think of a reason that he would just give her up when I had come along.
I thought about Azuriade. Narad had said I needed her. And I knew it to be true. Azuriade was just like Valkyrie…and I loved her just as much. But Azuriade was a young, lively girl of 16, and I was practically old compared to her. For us to be in a relationship of any kind…that would not do.
But I could not dismiss my feelings for her; they were that great. After 5 years of pain, sorrow and remorse, I had found love again, in her. I felt torn, and cursed my heavy heart for it.
I eventually tore myself from these thoughts and stood. I had no idea of the time, but I suspected that it was going to be dark soon, given the suns’ position. Digging the hole and burying Narad had eaten up a great amount of time. I set off across the sand, following my footprints.
I had walked further then I remembered. The sun began to close on the horizon, and the water reflected a wavering light. I sighed and continued on my way. My small camp should show itself soon, I thought.
And it did. I came around a bend in the beach and the welcoming sight of my tiny shelter met my eyes. I sped up my walk and reached it in a few seconds. Crashing down onto the rough bamboo bed, I sighed. I was trapped on a remote island in the island volcanic belt. The only other human I had met had died. Things weren’t looking up. I turned over and closed my eyes. Maybe some good luck would finally come my way.
I awoke the next morning to a screeching sound. Bolting up and out of my bed, I tensed and positioned myself for a fight. Those were the screams of Velociprey. I had fought monsters bare handed before; hell, I had killed a mature Fire Wyvern with my hands. But I was tired and weak. A pack of raptors could easily finish me off.
The screeching grew louder, and I eyed the forest. There was no other place for them to come from. I could see both sides of the beach and they were empty; the forest was where they would burst out.
Then, without warning, blue shapes erupted from the green of the jungle. There were at least four. I took a few stumbling steps back and my foot hit the surf. There was no room to move now. The monsters had settled and they all eyed me, hungry. I was ankle deep in the water now, having taken another step back.
Suddenly, one jumped. It flew at me, like a screaming shell, a flash of deadly blue. I rolled to the side and the monster crashed into the water. A second one leaped at me; I thrust my hand forward and caught it by the neck and the sudden stop contorted the monsters body. It squealed and thrashed. I quickly tossed it into the water and rushed forward.
They were wary now; I may not have been faster then the monsters, but I was definitely more agile. I neared one of them, and it snapped its jaws forward. Quickly, I leaned back to avoid the sharp fangs, and then clamped a hand around the open mouth. With my second hand I smoothly snapped its neck.
The fourth one hissed and growled, its neck low. I approached it, ready to snuff its life out, when something suddenly crashed into me. The first raptor, which I had dodged, had swum back to land. Now it was standing above me, about to strike.
I swiftly oriented myself to catch the monsters beak, but I never got the chance. A loud blast echoed, and the raptor above me lost its head, literally. An enormous bowgun shell tore through its skull and ripped it to shreds. The second raptor leapt forward, but it too met a similar fate. A second shell pierced its chest and sprayed blood everywhere. I felt the warm liquid splatter across my chest.
With the immediate threat gone, I stood. The other surviving raptor clambered out of the water and fled back to the forest, whimpering. I turned my gaze to the direction from which the shots had come. It was hazy, and I could only make out a shadowy figure. One hand clutched what looked to be a bowgun. The other arm looked very odd, however; it seemed very clunky and thick. It ended in a large hook. Gunner armor, I presumed, but it looked to be on the wrong side.
The figure approached, getting larger and clearer to my eyes. I could make out some color, a dull blue and silver. The hunters’ weapon was indeed a bowgun, but I could not discern the material of which it was made.
Then we were face to face. I stared at the man (for he was a man, given the make of his armor), but I was unsure if he was looking back. His armor was a very odd-looking set of Shogun Gunner, with a mottled black metal hook contraption for the left arm. The entire color scheme was a deeper blue then I remembered the Shogun being.
“Hello.” he said plainly.
“Greetings.” I said, my voice raspy. “And thanks.”
“Don’t mention it, just helping out. Mind if I sit down?”
“Go ahead.” He sat, and I followed suit.
“So, what are you doing out here, if I may ask?” he queried.
“My ship wrecked somewhere out there.” I replied, pointing out across the ocean.
“That’s awful…you the only survivor?”
“I have no idea. I hope not.”
“Someone important to you?”
“Very. Very important.”
“My condolences, friend.”
“Do you mind if I remove my helm?”
“Of course not. Say, want to helm me clean these raptors up?”
He removed his helm to reveal thick brown hair and a thin, but kind face. But in his eyes, however, there was an expression of hurting. He looked weary and in pain.
“You alright?” I asked, concerned.
“Fine. You should be checking on yourself, not me.” he chuckled.
“Very funny.” I let the topic drop and got back to skinning the raptors.
Carnivore meat was very tough and stringy, I knew from my experiences, but it was better then nothing. I was famished, my last meal having been at Observatory.
Soon the raptors were skinned and chopped up into medium-sized chunks. The man sat down and began to remove his armor. The metal hook attachment stayed on, leather straps connecting it to his vest. He wore basic clothing underneath his armor.
“What’s up with the hook?” I asked.
“It’s my arm.” he said flatly.
“Your…oh. I’m sorry for prying.” I went back to picking up driftwood.
“Oh, no, it’s fine. I really don’t mind anymore. I’ve really gotten used to it actually.”
“You’ve had it for a while?”
“Not very long. The accident was only about a month ago.”
“What sort of accident?”
“Monster crushed my arm. Hurt like hell.”
“How’d you guess?”
“Cause I heard about you, Curt.”
Wha…what do you mean?”
“Gendrokk crushed it, right? Yeah. I’m Talos.”
“Talos? Are you…really?”
“What, you think I would lie about that? Of course I’m Talos. Check out my armor.” I pointed to my pile of drying armor.
“Wow…I can’t believe I’m actually face to face with you!”
“That’s what a lot of people say, buddy. Now, what I’d like to know is how that arm of yours works. Is it steam-powered?”
“Uh…oh, yea, no. It’s made of this odd ore they found up in the mountains. Called Sanguilite. Somehow, it reacts to being touched by human skin. It sort of moves a little, and if you put a hinge on it you can make it move kinda like an arm. But a bit slower.”
“Really…that’s fascinating. And you hunt with that?”
“Well, yea. I used to use Longswords before the accident, but I obviously can’t with only one functional arm.”
“So, you bowgun?”
“Yea, I used the hook to load the gun. I get my guns fitted with a special ring for the loading handle, so I can easily pull it back. Other then that I use it like a normal bowgun.”
“That’s not half bad…does it irritate you at all? The cutoff point, I mean.”
“A little. But it got cauterized and is pretty numb for the most part. I lost it just above the elbow. So my they replaced the joint and attached this. It’s better then not having an arm, that’s for sure.”
“I’ll say. Nice armor you got there, too.”
“Thanks. I got my blademaster set modified for gunner use. They also fully upgraded it. Compensation, you know.”
“Ah. Would be great if you didn’t have to lose the arm. We should get compensation for just going out and risking our lives.” I chuckled.
We soon had a fire burning, and it was just starting to get dark. The Velociprey was roasting nicely and I was read to eat. Curt was sitting in the shelter, tuning his bowgun’s precision.
“What sort of benefits that armor has got?
“Well when they converted it that added a bunch of stuff. There’s more space for bullets then average gunner armor, and they added some elemental enhancements. The gun shoots Pierce Shots a lot more forcefully as well; those are also enhancements.”
“Well, sounds like they really compensated you.”
“Pretty much. Say, that meat is looking pretty well done.”
“Good. I’m starved.” I went to pull the meat off the fire.
“How long you been here?”
“Just a day or two.”
“Ah. Say, wasn’t that girl with you? What was her name….Azuriade, was it? Was she on the ship?”
“Yes.” I must have sharpened my tone, for he fell silent for a few minutes. After a while he spoke again.
“I’m sorry.” he murmured.
“Wha…oh. Thanks.” I looked down. “I don’t know where she is. Or the rest of my group, for that matter.”
“God…that must be awful.”
“More then you know.” I growled.
Curt stopped talking again, and turned to eat his meat. I sighed and turned back to him.
“I’m sorry. I’m just…afraid for her.” I said.
“I understand. But I think she’ll be fine. Trust me, I’ve hunted with her; she’s got a tough spirit. An angry Rajang couldn’t stop that girl.” he replied.
I let out a low chuckle and then answered in kind. “Well you seem tough enough; losing an arm didn’t stop you from hunting.”
“Well, what else am I supposed to do? This is my life now.”
“It’s a tough life, understand that. I should know…”
“It’s nothing you’ll care about.”
“I won’t pry then. Let’s finish these up.”
We ate the rest of the raptors and tossed the bones into the ocean. I let the fire burn itself out as we sat on the shelter.
“So, what brings you to this island anyway?” I asked.
“I was hunting a Rathian, but I think it flew off to another island.” Curt replied.
“Ah. And where are you going after this?”
“I’ll stay here with you, of course! I couldn’t just leave you!”
“I think that was implied. But where would we go?”
“There is another island, well, a lot of islands, nearby, with a small town. We can get some search parties organized there and find your team.”
“Hm. Speaking of team, and I realized this is not the best time, but would you like to join us? I’m sure Azuriade and Ryork would like to know how you are.”
“You mean you’re inviting me to hunt with you? Of course I would join! I’d give anything to hunt with you!”
“I get that a lot.”
“And Ryork joined you too? Great! When I hunted with him, he was pretty good.”
“Yes, Ryork is very skilled. And I’m glad to have another member. Of course I’ll have to explain the particulars…”
“Well, you see, my team has been contracted by the Guild for some special missions. We’re essential the high-profile response team. Mostly dealing with Elder Dragons and other things of that nature.”
“Really…you sure you want a handicapped gunner on the team? I mean, I could screw up.”
“Well, you did take the head off a Velociprey in one shot. I’d say you’d be a fine gunner given some training.”
“You think so?”
“Sure. You still want in?”
“Great! Now how are we going to get to that island? I ain’t swimming in my armor.”
“I suppose we could patch a raft together from this shelter; the strait isn’t that wide.”
“I guess that’s fine. Let me suit up, and then we’ll get going.”
I quickly pulled my armor on; it was clean and dry now. Curt was suiting up as well, and despite his metal arm he had no difficulties. I then removed the roof of the shelter and reinforced the bottom to make a raft. Finally, I strapped Marrow Cutter to my back and straightened up.
“That armor makes you look pretty formidable, Talos.” he grinned.
“I thought I was already like that.” I replied.
“True.” he laughed.
We picked up the log raft and began to walk in the direction Curt specified. It was opposite the direction I had found Narad in. We walked for a good time, boots sinking into the sand.
Finally, a speck of land showed itself across the water. We continued to walk, and it slowly came into view. The straight was a good half-mile wide, and looked pretty deep near the middle. Fortunately there was little wind, and the water looked relatively calm.
“You sure this little raft will make it?” I asked Curt.
“I dunno. Hopefully we won’t have to swim more then halfway.” he replied. He was probably grinning under his visor.
We lugged the raft into the water and waded out a bit. It seemed to float, even when I added some weight to it. I climbed onto it, and Curt followed suit. The tiny raft creaked and sunk a little, but otherwise it was fine. I drew Marrow Cutter, to use it as an oar.
The water was as calm as it looked, and we made slow but steady progress. I was wary for a monster attack, but they seemed to be ignoring us. We were almost a quarter of the way there already. The raft held fast.
Suddenly, I heard a low bellow. Curt perked up and scanned the water. I did so as well, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Then a few ripples in the corner of my eye.
The beast exploded from the water like a shell, streaming water behind it. I instantly recognized it as a Terracerta. It had large fins on its arms and back, and huge snapping jaws. Curt was fumbling, trying to get his bowgun out from sitting position. But it was no use. The monster crashed into the water next to our raft, capsizing our tiny raft.
I was underwater for mere seconds. The monster rose beneath me, flinging me up into the air. I came crashing down hard, plummeting to the rocky seafloor. I could see Curt’s faint shadow above me, priming his bowgun. The monster was an enormous shadow, slinking though the depths. My back hurt immensely as I straightened myself. Marrow Cutter lay in the sand; I swam over and scooped it up. Curt was still fending off the beast. I quickly rose towards the surface and took a gasp of air. Curt surfaced as well.
“What the hell is this thing?” he panted.
“Not sure, but it’s the same kind of monster as the Gendrokk.” I said.
“I think if we try, we can get to shore.” I pointed towards the far shore.
“What? We’re barely halfway there! Besides, the beast will catch us!”
“Maybe. But we can fend it off. Let’s go.”
I dove forward and began to swim. I heard a splash as Curt followed. We sped forward, trying not to think about the beast. But then a shadow passed in front of us, forcing me to a halt. Curt whipped out his bowgun.
The monster growled and snapped at us. Curt fired a shot; I dove to the left and swung Marrow Cutter into the beasts’ snout. It snarled and released a powerful jet of water, which just missed my leg. I shot to the side and drove my blade into the monsters’ arm, causing it to bellow once more.
An explosion boiled the water to the right of the monster; Curt was firing Crag shots. The monster reeled back, its right side blackened. It hissed and let loose another stream of water; this narrowly missed Curt. I took advantage of the distraction and released a strong swing into the monsters snout. Blood poured freely now, and the monster was angry. But instead of attacking again, it quickly curled up and darted away through the water.
Within a few seconds it became apparent the monster wasn’t returning. I surfaced, Curt just behind me. We had drifted a little closer to shore.
“Is it gone?” Curt asked.
“I think so.” I replied.
“Well then lets swim for shore then.”
Within a few minutes we had reached the shore, tired and out of breath. I crashed into the sand, my helm tumbling off. Curt was on his hands and knees, panting. I struggled to my feet and picked up my helm.
“Ready to go?” I queried.
“Yeah.” he pulled himself up and took off his helm.
“That way.” he pointed up the beach.
We trudged through the sand, armor dripping. I started to think about the monster. It had the same build as Terracerta, but it was water dwelling. However, it wasn’t a Leviathan either. I would have to talk to Xavier the next time I saw him.
Within twenty minutes the showings of a town revealed themselves on the far end of the beach. I perked up, but did not walk any faster. Curt and I were tired enough already. I turned to look back at him, he nodded his head yes. We walked on in silence.
Soon we found ourselves outside the town gates. Two armed guards stood at either side. I nodded to one and approached him.
“Your business here?” he asked, in a gruff voice.
“I am Talos, the famed hunter. This is Curt, an associate of mine. My ship wrecked somewhere off the coast of these islands. I would like to know if you have a place where we could stay and eat.” I said.
“The ship…hey, Dyrke, didn’t another group come in here with that story?”
The other guard nodded.
“Yeah, we got a few others saying they was wreck out here too. Do you remember wat they looked like, Dyrke?”
“Well…I think the one had a big grey bell of some sort…the other was a young girl. Had a hammer. I think they went to the inn.” the guard named Dyrke answered.
My heart had jumped when the mentioned Azuriade. “May we enter the town?”
“Oh, of course.” the first guard answered, opening the gate. “Go right ahead.”
“Thank you.” I nodded my head.
“Thanks.” said Curt.
The town was small, with thin cobblestone roads and squat buildings. The inn was instantly recognizable; it was well lit and much larger then the average home. Curt and I quickly approached the building. Voices roared out from inside.
I pushed the door open and walked in. Curt closed the door behind him. The bar was a raucous and jumbled place. Men roared with laughter and ale flowed. I peered around the room, ignoring the odd stares and points.
Then I spotted Azuriade. She was sitting in a booth near the back. Two men, both very strong-looking, sat in the same booth. Asero was squeezed between one of these men and the wall, looking very helpless. My blood began to boil as one of the men laughed and touched Azuriades hair.
I strode across the room, people making way for me. In one hand I gripped the hilt of Marrow Cutter. Curt followed just behind me, metal hand drawing some attention.
The men took no notice, and kept talking. I got angrier and angrier as they spoke.
“She’s quite the beauty, Rhine.” one of them men laughed.
“Very!” grinned the man named Rhine. “She must be very good!”
Neither Azuriade nor Asero had noticed me yet. Azuriade had her head down. Her armor was in a pile behind the booth and her clothes were disheveled.
“I wonder what we’ll do…” started the other man. I snarled and drew Marrow Cutter, leveling it on his arm.
“The only thing you two will be doing is getting up and leaving.” I growled.
“Hey…what the fuck is this?” the man said, turning to look at me.
“Who the hell do you think you are?” Rhine spat.
“The name’s Talos, you swine, and you’d best be getting up right now.”
“What did you call me? I’ll snap your petty blade like a twig!”
The man rose up, fists clenched. I stood my ground, prepared to block a swing, but I heard a click behind me. Rhine faltered and looked past me.
Curt had drawn his bowgun and was aiming it directly at Rhines’ chest. Azuriade looked up, eyes wide and teary. Asero was still stuck behind the other man, who wasn’t moving; Marrow Cutter rested lightly on the man’s arm.
“Why you…” Rhine started, but he sat back down. The entire bar was looking at us now.
“Now just leave.” I snapped.
“Who says you have the right to such a pretty girl like this?” Rhine grinned, motioning to Azuriade. “I haven’t seen you around here much.”
“I don’t need a right to her, she’s my friend. As is that man you’re crushing into a wall. Now get up or your friend loses an arm!” I roared.
“Excuse me.” came a soft voice. “I will not allow this in my bar.”
“Stay out of this, whoever you are!” I barked, without looking back.
“I will not tolerate this…” the person started to say again. I nodded to Curt, who fixed his aim. Then I whirled around, eyes flashing.
“Stay out of this!” I snarled, my face inches from theirs.
The person, who was a man, took two steps back and then hurried away. I turned back to the booth. The other man still sat where he had been, but Rhine had gotten up again.
“I don’t normally put up with you bastard hunters, but this time I’ll make an exception.,” he growled. “Let’s take this outside. Vayn, come with me.”
The second man, who’s name I now knew was Vayn, got up. He and Rhine walked around the tables and left through the door. I strapped Marrow Cutter to my back and put my helm back on.
“Curt, get Azuriade and Asero. This shouldn’t take long.” I seethed.
“Talos!” Azuriade started, but I put up my hand.
“Not until I’m done with these scum.”
The two men stood in the center of the street, grinning. I walked out to them and stood there.
“No weapons, hunter.” demanded Rhine. “You get to fight one of us. No armor either.”
I set Marrow Cutter against the wall and quickly unsuited. The sun was hot against my bare chest, and I had already begun to sweat. Both men cracked their knuckles.
“Which one of us will it be?” Vayn asked, chuckling.
Both men were huge, but I had my mind set. “I’ll fight the bastard that offended me first, then the other.”
“You foolish little man. Both of us you say?” sneered Rhine. “ And I guess you mean me first.”
“Yes. Now lets get going so I don’t waste too much time.” I snarled.
Rhine stepped forward, as did I. I heard the door open; looking behind me, I saw Asero, Azuriade and Curt walk out, followed by a number of people. Azuriade looked at me, and I gave her a small smile. Then I turned back to face Rhine.
“Ready?” he grinned.
Rhine came at me like a brick wall. He roared and charged at me, fists clenched. I ducked under his arm and rolled behind him, letting him skid through the dust. Quickly I ran forward and punched him in the back in quick succession; he whirled around, swinging his fist, but I ducked that too.
Rhine spat onto the cobblestone and sent another fist my way. I went to dodge it, but it clipped me on the shoulder. I stumble back, pain running down my back. Rhine thrust his second fist forward in an attempt to knock me down; I grabbed it and twisted his arm. With my hands still wrapped around his wrist, I kicked him in the chest and darted around behind him. He struggled to free his trapped arm, but it was no use.
He then swung backwards with his left arm, hoping to catch me in the stomach, but I leaned back and dodged it. However, he pulled forward, making me lose my balance.
Quickly, I let go of his right arm and planted my feet back on the ground. Rhine turned around and rushed at me once more. I slammed one foot down and shoved both of my hands into his chest. He reeled back, having been both caught by surprise and off balance.
I ran forward and punched him hard in the face; I then planted another fist in his stomach. He keeled over, blood dribbling from his lip. I punched him once more in the cheek and let him crash onto the street, panting.
Then I turned to Vayn, fists still clenched. He backed up a little, a worried look on his face.
“Ok, ok, you’ve proved you point…we’ll leave!” he stuttered.
“Just one second.” I seethed.
He continued to back up until he hit the wall of the inn. Then I closed in fast; quickly I thrust two quick punches into his stomach, leaving him curled up on the street, gasping for breath and clutching his abdomen. I turned around and walked back to the entrance of the inn.
The crowd around the door was staring wide-eyed as I returned to the entrance unscathed. People then started to back up into the bar, as they noticed I was still fuming. I began to collect my armor when I heard a faint voice. It sounded like my name.
I stood up and saw Azuriade standing in front of me. I hardly had time to speak before she embraced me, burying her face in my chest. I could feel her tears running down her face. I put my head on hers and held her tight. Tears started to well up in my eyes.
Azuriade looked up, the lines left by her tears shining dimly. She started to speak, but her voice caught in her throat.
“Hey.” I managed.
“I…I…I thought…” she stammered.
“So did I.”
I then leaned down and kissed her. She held me tighter and we stayed there for what felt like an eternity. Then she let go and I straightened.
“Thanks...for helping me, I mean.” she whispered.
“I was afraid for you.” I whispered back. “And I always will protect you. Don’t forget it.”
She nodded, and I smiled. Then I gathered my blade and strapped my armor on. Curt and Asero walked over, while Azuriade retrieved her armor from the bar.
“Impressive.” Asero grinned. Then, quieter: “You really do love her, hm?”
“Well it’s no secret now, it is?” I said.
“I won’t ask.” chuckled Curt.
“That’s fine.” I grinned.
“Laughing is all good and fine, but would you care to introduce me to this fellow? I only caught his name.” Asero asked, motioning to Curt.
“Well you said you know his name, so I won’t go into that. He’s a gunner, but only due to an accident.” I replied.
“Lost my arm; Gendrokk crushed the bone.” Curt interrupted
“Up in the desert? That’s where Talos picked me up.” Asero said.
“In fact, I was on a mission with Azuriade.”
“Ah, so you two know each other?”
“Yup. Though she probably doesn’t know it’s me.”
“Who don’t I know?” came Azuriades voice. She walked out of the bar, fully armored, with her hammer strapped to her back.
“You remember Curt?” I asked.
“Curt…oh yeah! I feel terrible about that.” she said.
“It’s really not all that bad anymore.” Curt acknowledged.
“Huh? Is that you…Curt?”
“Yup.” he removed his helm as he said this. “Losing an arm didn’t stop me from hunting.”
“Wait, how? What happened to your arm?”
“Metal replacement, you see. It’s made out of a special kind of ore, which reacts to human skin. Check it out.”
I leaned back and grinned while Curt showed the flexibility of his arm. Asero watched with interest as well.
“That’s amazing!” Azuriade exclaimed.
“The marvels of these days…” Asero murmured.
“I realized you’re both excited, and rightfully so.” I cut in. “But you do realize that we are still short three people.”
“Huh…oh! Yes, Ursula, Igard and Ryork. We can only pray they are in good health.” Asero said.
“We can do more then that.” I responded. “I assume that if asked, the leaders of this town may help us search for them. Given that this is a fishing village, perhaps they know the currents well.”
“Well thought. You think anyone will show us how to hold council with them?” Curt asked.
“Again, I would assume so.” I said.
“Well let’s go then. I’m sure a guard will tell us.” Azuriade reasoned.
We left the inn and quickly found a guard, who direct us to the town hall. It was a relatively large, steepled building of brick. The guard opened the door and left us. We entered the building, into a foyer of marble.
Another guard greeted us. I told him our business, and he instructed us to wait. We sat down on the benches provided.
“Seems a bit regal, don’t you think?” asked Curt.
“I’m not surprised. The Guild has got its fingers in all sorts of pies.” I pointed out.
“Hm. I never did understand why Xavier took that silly job.” Asero said, in an almost critical way.
“Well he does get paid a lot more then us…” I grumbled.
Our conversation was cut short by a short cough. I turned to see a tall man leaning on the large table near the back of the room. He wore a short tunic and ankle length leather pants. He had a beard, and his brown hair was neatly cropped.
“May I help you?” he asked, in a deep, commanding voice.
I stood up to address him, taking off my helm. “Why yes, you can. My party and I are part of a larger hunting group; we got separated in a shipwreck. Currently we’re missing three members.”
“And you want us to…”
“Help us, of course. We could use a great deal of help if we are to be searching the islands in the nearby vicinity.”
“Ah. I see. And your name would be?”
“Talos. You may have heard of me?”
“Talos…Talos. Wait…not Talos, as in the Talos from Kokoto? Is…that you, buddy?”
“Buddy? What do you mean?”
“I didn’t think you’d recognize me, looks like I was right. It’s me, Liam!”
“Huh? Liam! Is it really you?”
“Of course! You think I would lie to an old pal like you, Talos?”
“I can’t tell if my days are getting better or worse!” I chuckled, walking over to Liam.
We embraced and he patted the back of my chest plate. The rest of my group looked on in a confused way.
“Still wearing the same armor set, eh?” he asked after releasing me.
“Of course. It’s become a sort of trademark for me. You still rocking the Akantor set?”
“Yup.” he smiled. “So where you been in the last four years?”
“Well it looks like you’ve worked your way up the ranks. Can’t say as much about me…”
“I wouldn’t say that, buddy. You’ve shaped up, just like I said you would, all those years back. No longer do you have that dampening in your voice, and you’ve got a spring in your step. I’d say something good has come into your life.”
“Heh, you’ve got no idea.”
“Still, it’s great to see you, and cheery no less.”
“Agreed. But as I mentioned I have some pressing business.”
“Hrm. Yes, the shipwreck. I’m sorry to hear such a thing would happen to a friend of mine.”
“I’m just glad everyone has turned up so far. But I fear for my missing teammates.”
“As do I. A friend of yours is a friend of mine. I shall assist you.”
“Just you? I was thinking perhaps a party…”
“We shall be fine. I know these islands very well, and we will find your friends.”
“Alright. Do you need time to get ready?”
“Yes. Let me go suit up; I’ll be right out.”
He walked into the back room and I sat back down next to Azuriade. She looked at me odd.
“Who was that?” Asero asked. “You never told us about a Liam.”
“He’s a hunter I met after one year after Valkyrie’s death.” I said. “He helped me out a great deal that year. But then we had to part ways, and I until now I hadn’t seen him since.”
“Ah, I see. You nearly went missing in those years.” Asero half-chuckled.
“You could say that.” I said flatly, but there must have been a hint of a smile on my face, because Asero laughed.
“Wait…who’s Valkyrie?” Curt asked tentatively.
“Oh, don’t worry. With Talos around you’ll get to here the story soon enough.” Azuriade grimaced.
“No need for the hard face, Azuriade.” I retorted. “I’ve…changed, I think. But she is right. Once the group gets back together, I will share my sad tale. For now, we speak no more of it.”
“Fine by me.” Asero replied.
“You guys ready?” came Liam’s voice. He stood next to the desk, fully armored.
His Akantor armor was just as formidable as I remembered. The Dual Blades were strapped to his back, gleaming a dull black. The armor made him seem larger then life.
I got up and picked up my helm, motioning for the others to stand. Liam walked over, removing his helm and shaking his hair.
“So, where to start?” I asked.
“Well, lets head to the eastern isle first, and then circle round.”
“I believe I just came from that isle.” I said. “And I checked out most of the area.”
“Alright then, we’ll go up the western side.”
We left the town hall and mad our way to the west gate. The guards quickly opened the large wooden gates and let us pass. Liam led us across the beach, aiming for a small building some ways away from the town. A dock protruded from the wooden structure.
“Well, we’re going to need a boat, unless you want to swim.” Liam chuckled as he led us to the dock.
A grizzled old man met us near the water. He nodded to Liam and went to untie a large rowboat. It had enough room for about ten people. Liam hopped in after the man had un-tethered it and grabbed an oar. I followed suit and grabbed the other one. The others followed. We pushed off from the dock and started off across the water. The land behind us slowly grew smaller as we headed for the next island. Liam began to speak.
“So, Talos, where have you really been? I mean, after we parted ways, you had to go somewhere, am I right?” he asked.
“Eh, those years passed in a flash. I was so deeply entrenched in my sorrows that I lost track of time. For the most part I stayed in Kokoto.” I replied
“Ah. Well the past is the past. And I would enjoy knowing the names of your companions, if you would feel so inclined.”
“Ah, sure. I’ll let them introduce themselves.” I motioned to Azuriade.
“I’m Azuriade, Talos’s apprentice.” she said in a courteous manner.
“Asero. So I hear met with Talos after the incident?” Asero asked.
“Yessir, and he was a wreck. But really, that was the past. I’d like to know what’s going on in the present!” Liam replied.
“Ah. Well, it's a bit of a hush-hush subject. But I guess I can tell you.” I said. "Hush-hush in what manner?” Liam asked.
“Guild business. More specifically, Elder Dragon interception and study.” I answered.
“Ah, the Guild. I’ll never know if they’re good or bad.” Liam chuckled.” But that does sound interesting. And you’ve gathered up this team to help you?”
“Precisely.” “Sounds like good fun. It wouldn’t be to much to ask if I could join this little group, would it?” he said slyly.
“Of course not!” I laughed.” But aren’t you a councilman of that town?”
“Eh, if I leave they’ll just elect another one. It wasn’t that great anyway.” he shrugged.
“Really? I would think you would get paid quite a good amount.” Asero said.
“You would be surprised.” Liam replied. “I’ll gladly join this expedition!”
“Good to hear! It’s always good to get new members, and seeing you, Liam, is good in itself.” I said. We made our first stop at the isle immediately west of the main island. Leaving the boat far above the water line, we headed across the beach. I suspected that if the three had made it to an island, they would stay out on the beach, much like I had. But ten minutes down the beach and we had nothing but sand. There was no trace of footprints or remnants of fire, anything that would have revealed their presence.
“This section of beach is the only one open to these currents. If your friends had been carries by them, which they must have, they would have been here. Let’s move on to the next island.” Liam said.
“Alright. Let’s go.” I sighed.
We pulled the boat out into the water again and got everyone in. Soon we were rowing out to sea once more. The water was a deep blue gray, seeming to reflect the dark sky above. Choppy waves rocked the small boat ever so slightly. A thin howling wind was present. We sat in silence as Liam and I rowed. The next island loomed in the distance, a high mountain peak gracing its center. Fog shrouded most of the small isle. The beach was small and rocky.
“That’ll mean trouble for the boat.” I said, as we pulled closer to shore.
“Agreed. The four of us will stay back and hold the boat.” Curt said.
“Alright then.” Liam said.
The boat ground to a halt as he and I jumped out. Curt pulled himself out as well, and placed his metal hook over the rim. I nodded to him and headed for shore. The boat quickly faded into the fog as we walked. With no sand or soil, it was hard to tell if anyone had been here. I could hardly see past fifteen feet; the fog was so thick it seemed solid.
“Where the hell did all this fog come from, Liam?” I asked, a little tense.
“The mountain. This island is known as White Isle, for the thick coating of fog that always covers it. No one knows for sure how or where the fog comes from, but they say it’s the mountain.” he replied.
“Hm…seems to be a great place for an ambush…” I said.
“You, afraid of an ambush? Very funny.” he chuckled. “Look at that thing on your back; that sword has more spines then a Gobul, for gods sake.”
“A weapon in hand doesn’t help when you’re struck from behind.”
“Only politicians fear what’s behind their back.”
“Aren’t you a politician?” I grinned under my helm.
“A politician who is also a hunter, my friend.” “So you should be watching your back twice as much?”
We continued on for another ten minutes. Our surroundings drifted by in a veil of mist. Ghostly trees with branches like claws reached out through the fog, accompanied by the low rumble of the ocean. The rocky beach had narrowed to just a sliver, and the seawater lapped against our boots. I had just rounded a tight corner, with Liam just behind, when I heard a crash. The next second an enormous boulder crashed into the rock beside me, shattering and sending sharp slivers of rock ricocheting across my armor. I reeled back, arm instinctively covering my face.
“What the hell was that?” Liam shouted.
“No idea!” I shouted back.
The shattering of the boulder had left dust hanging in the air; combined with the fog in the air, seeing was almost impossible. A bellowing roar came and went from within the mist. I heard shouts and the clashing of weapons. The voices sounded familiar.
“Let’s find out.” I said, and headed into the fog. Liam followed close behind, his Akantor blades drawn and ready. I placed a hand on the hilt of Marrow Cutter, ready to draw. The voices had died down, but I could still hear the bellows and roars of a monster. Then I heard another crash, and a second enormous rock smashed into the ground to out right. I instinctively hit the ground, taking Liam down with me. The rock splintered and sent shards of broken material flying like shrapnel. Several sharp pieces cracked against my armor.
“Whatever it is, it’s helluva big.” Liam said.
“We can take it.” I replied, hopping up to my feet.
We continued on carefully. The noise of battle was continuously loud, but we had yet to encounter anything. I had drawn Marrow Cutter, ready for a fight. My limbs felt tense. We crept along the thin beach, hugging the rock face. Sweat ran down my neck and back. Then we turned another tight corner and I caught my breath. Ryork, Ursula and Igard, whom I recognized immediately, were fighting the biggest Terracerta I had ever laid eyes on. It was the same kind Curt and I had fought, but nearly twice as large. I took a step back and whirled behind the corner.
“What is it?’ Liam asked.
“Terracerta. Biggest one I’ve seen in my life. I assume you know the term Terracerta?” I said.
“I’m familiar with the species.”
“My teammates are fighting it. I’m quite sure they have no idea what they’re up against.”
“Well then let’s assist them; I’m sure we can handle it.”
“Fine by me.”
I rolled out from behind the rock, Liam close behind. I drew Marrow Cutter, having sheathed it before, and dashed forward. The enormous beast was a formidable sight. It was a deep ocean blue, with large fins jutting from its arms and back. These fins were tipped with razor sharp bone. Teeth extended below its lower jaw and were arranged in a jagged way around its chin. It had a thick tail ending in more razor tipped fins. I cried out a warning as I dove into battle. Ryork turned, saw me, and nodded his head in approval before firing another volley of arrows. Ursuala saw us and waved; Igard raised his shield and shouted something I couldn’t hear. The beast turned its head and received a full strength slice to the nose. It reeled back screaming in pain as blood gushed across the rock.
Ursula appeared next to me, out of breath. She pulled down her facemask and wiped her mouth.
“Took you long enough.” She panted.
“Hey, I had to deal with one of these as well!” I half-joked.
“No time for laughs.” she said beast regained its senses.
Stamping one foot into the ground, the monster let out an earsplitting shriek, spit and blood flying. Igard was reloading; Ryork kept a steady flow of arrows coming. The beast, however, seemed to shake off the projectiles as if they were flies. The monster bellowed again and cocked its head back. I knew what was coming and pushed Ursula out of the way, flooring myself at the same time. The beam of water tore through the air above us at an extreme velocity, pounding into a stray boulder and boring into it. Fractures began appearing in the stone surface and within seconds the boulder had a fair sized crack running down it.
“Holy...” Ursula muttered, shaken.
“Just watch out next time.” I growled before sprinting towards the beast.
The monster was snarling, raking its claw over the ground; water seeped from its jaws. Ryork's arrows continued to rain down, but the beast shook them off time and time again. I scowled under my helmet. This was one obnoxious son of a bitch. I grimaced and drew Marrow Cutter back before rushing towards the beast, quickly gaining speed. Sharp rocks pounded into my feet as I let out a snarl and leapt forward, blade above my head. The monster bellowed and started to cock its head back once more. But it was too late. Marrow Cutter sliced into the beasts face with tremendous strength, directly between the eyes. I could hear bone giving way as the blade forced its way into the monsters skull. A shrill scream of pain echoed off the mountains.
Marrow Cutter had sliced deep, too deep, in fact. It was lodged in the creatures head, and I wasn't about to let go. I wrapped my legs around the monsters snout and gripped the swords handle with both hands, pulling with what strength I had left. But the spikes had embedded themselves well and the sword wouldn't budge. Blood flowed freely down the monsters snout and was slick on my legs. Then the beast regained what little sense it had, and quickly snapped its head to the left. I was thrown off the monsters' snout and crashed into the rock wall. A dull numbness shot up my spine; quickly it turned to searing pain. I lay immobilized on the ground, my back throbbing.
“Holy...Talos are you ok?” Igard shouted.
“Get...my sword.” I groaned, struggling to move my arms.
I managed to prop myself up against the wall, but my legs would not move. Still I struggled to stand. I could hear the faint sounds of battle, and my vision was blurred. I leaned forward in an attempt to stand, and a sharp pain ran up my back again. This time, however, I ignored it. I shifted pushed upwards, lifting myself up a few inches, but the pain was too much. I fell back, and then all was black.
Faintly I could hear my name. I cracked my eyes open, but the light was too strong. I closed them again and licked my lips. Salty. I groaned and heard my name again.
"'What?” my voice was scratchy and quiet.
“I think he's coming to.” came the faint reply.
“Talos! Are you alright?” asked a voice. It sounded like Ursulas.
"I feel like shit.” I growled, and I meant it. My spine felt like rusty nails were being driven up it, and my arms were on fire. I couldn't feel my legs, however.
“You took a heavy hit to the spine. You're temporarily paralyzed below the waist.” Ryorks voice was calm.
“Fuck.” I spat. "Where are we?”
“Still on the island. The monster is dead.” Ryork again.
“That sucker deserved it, seeing what he did to ya.” Igards' voice, ending in a laugh.
I opened my eyes again and squinted at the glare. Slowly shapes began to discern themselves. Yes, we were still on the island. Ursula was crouched before me. Igard was standing behind her, and Ryork was sitting on a rock a slight ways away.
“Where's Liam?” I asked.
“You mean the guy in Akantor? He saw you get nailed and ran behind the cliff.” Ryork replied.
“Probably to alert the others.” I said.
“What others?” Ursula asked.
“Azuriade, Asero, and another named Curt. He's a friend.”
“Ah. Another for the team I suppose?” Ryork said.
“Both Liam and Curt are joining.” I nodded.
“Mighty fine.” Igard proclaimed. “And I think I hear them now!”
I strained my ears, and sure enough I could hear voices. It was mostly Liam talking, I deduced. He was a big talker. Suited him in the role of politician. He could get a high rank at the Guild if he wasn't so hot-headed.
The voices grew close, and then they turned the corner. Liam was leading, with Asero right behind him. Azuriade and Curt were talking, but when they saw me their conversation was cut short. Azuriade rushed over and kneeled in front of me.
“Are you alright?” she said, worry in her voice.
“Fine.” I said. “Took a hit to the back. Can't move my legs for a little while.”
It looked like she didn't know what to say, so instead she embraced me. My arms were burning with pain, but I returned the hug anyway.
“That's some awful luck you got there.” Curt said solemnly.
“I'll live.” I half-smiled.
“Sorry I ran off like that.” Liam said. “I figured if you were injured they had better know.”
“Yes. We were in quite a state of worry their, my friend.” Asero chimed in.
“Oh, and of course! It seems they don't know who I am” Liam cried, motioning towards the others.
“Yes, of course.” Ursula said, extending a hand to Liam.
“I'm Ursula, and I take it you're Liam?” Liam took her hand and shook it. “That would be me. And these two?”
“The name's Igard.”
“Ryork.” Ryork and Liam exchanged handshakes, but Igard instead grabbed Liam's hang and pulled him in, giving him a strong pat on the back.
“Great to see a new member of the team!” he exclaimed. “Speaking of, who's our silent one?”
Curt grinned. “The name's Curt. I met Azuriade on a previous hunt.”
“Ah, so you've hunted with them before.” Ursula said, extending her hand again.
“Just Azuriade.” Curt nodded, accepting her handshake.
“The name's Curt? You wouldn't happen to be...from the desert?” Ryork began.
“Oh! You're Ryork, aren't you?” Curt exclaimed.
“Yes. So, what happened with the arm?”
“Metal replacement, some odd ore they found. Reacts to human touch, so you can make joints out of it.”
“If it ain't one thing, it's another.” Igard laughed. “All these new things they're comin' up with.”
“Well at least I can still hunt.” Curt chuckled.
“That's the spirit.” Ursula said.
Chapter 14 is almost complete.