"No one plans to take the path that brings you lower."
The tale of the hunter Talos, a man whose life was destroyed, his love taken from him, and his very soul torn apart. Unable to find solace in the hardships of the present or the horrors of the past, he forges on, his mind looking for hope but his heart lacking the conviction. What he truly needs is a helping hand, which he may find in a young huntress by the name of Azuriade...
All rights to the music featured here go to their respective owners.
Hello, and welcome to the new iteration of Tears for the Fallen! As my writing style matured, I felt that I could write the opening chapters much more elaborately and with more detail. Plot issues will be smoothed out and a few might even be changed a bit (I'm not giving away any spoilers so don't ask). I intend to keep the old story up, to let newcomers grasp the main plot and to let old fans have something to read. If you'd like to read the orginal story, go here: http://monsterhunterfanon.wikia.com/wiki/Fanfic:Tears_for_the_Fallen#comm-5764
Chapter 1- New Beginnings
A bitter wind blew as I stood, my hand on the door to the guildhall. I was sure I had heard my name, ghostly through the wind. It sounded familiar, like unbound memories. I gripped the helmet I was holding tighter.
I turned my head and saw a young girl hurrying across the snow. She wore a hooded parka and long, thick pants. Her hood fell from atop her head and revealed long, strikingly blue hair. Her eyes were a clear, watery blue, to match her hair. She had a small, straight nose and her mouth was parted in a half smile. She nearly ran into me, halting to catch her breath.
“Pardon me, young lady.” I said.
“Um, hi.” She said nervously.
“Uh, um…you’re Talos, right?”
“That would be me. Who are you?”
“Oh, well, um, my name is, um, Azuriade. And, and…you, you’re the legendary hunter, Talos!” she sputtered. “No other hunter could have armor as, uh, awesome and beautiful as your Custom Z Rathalos Soul! I uh, heard you were visiting and, well, I wanted to, to, to meet you.”
“Well here I am, right in front of you.” I grinned. Being in the upper echelon of the hunting community had its perks, like fame. “Do you want me to sign you bla…?”
I had realized she wasn’t carrying a weapon. Most of the people who sought to meet me were young hunters who wanted to be elite monster slayers.
“Um, er, yeah I was, well, I was going to ask…maybe, you could well, teach me?” she stammered.
I considered this for a second. With me being a high-ranking guild hunter, not everyone who approached me with a partnership had been sincere. Money, fame, and status had all been things people had wanted in return for being my partner. I could hardly imagine a young girl like this could have plans like that, though…
“Hm. Have you any formal training?” I asked.
“Well, I had to scare some Giaprey away once…” she replied.
“Ah, so no prior experience. Difficult to say then. The art of hunting is more then just hitting a beast until is succumbs. It requires knowledge and skill.”
“Please?” she said, eyes wide.
“Well…maybe.” I sighed.
She was willing, at the very least. In the ten years that had passed since I had begun hunting, the luster of the hunt had lost its pull on the younger generation. This girl, however, seemed to have the spark most other children lacked.
“Really? You’d really do it! I can’t believe this!” she began to almost scream with joy. People looked on in a state of confusion.
“Pipe down, girl, I mean, ah, Azuriade.” I hissed. “I’d rather avoid this kind of attention for now.”
She promptly quieted herself, but still held on to the enormous smile.
I abandoned the guild, taking Azuriade to the weapon’s crafter instead. I asked if I could take a peek at the inventory of each weapon, and for some time alone.
The man quickly supplied the weapons and headed back into the workshop. Each of the weapons was in its base form, mostly made of bone. I half chuckled to myself. What a long way I had come.
“You’re obviously going to need a weapon.” I said dryly. “You won’t be able to kill a Gravios by punching it.”
“Have you tried?” she asked.
“No. But what does that have to do with this?”
“Well you said…”
“Just disregard that. You need to choose a weapon. Could you tell me what each of the different weapons are?”
“Well, ah, this is the Greatsword, and here is the Longsword, and the Sword and Shield, Dual Swords, Hammer, um, the Hunting Horn, the Lance, um, this is that gun thingy…”
“Gunlance.” I supplied.
“Oh yeah, the Gunlance. And then there is the Bow and the two Bowguns.”
“Well at least you’re well versed in weaponry. Just get a feel for a weapon, swing ‘em around if you need to. Just don’t hit me.”
She quickly started to pick up weapons and test them out. The Greatsword gave her some trouble, as did the Lances, but otherwise she seemed strong. It was soon apparent that she preferred the Hammer. Deftly swinging it, she seemed like a natural.
“I like this one a lot.” she grinned.
“I can tell. Let me get you a suitable one.”
I had the armorer take the weapons back and commissioned a specific hammer, the Iron Devil. It was a heavy, spiked monstrosity. She took it with undisguised glee.
“Wow…thanks! This is so cool!”
“Not a problem. If I’m going to be teaching somebody, they’d best have good equipment. Speaking off, let me get you some base armor.”
“Armor! Oh I can’t wait!”
I picked out a set of basic hunting armor, complete with some heavy metal plating on the vital areas. She quickly donned it in the armory and to meet me.
“How is it?” she asked.
“Looking more like a huntress.” I replied.
“Of course. Now you just need to play the part too.”
“A mission now? Already?”
“Not quite. I’m thinking a little warm up in the training fields, and then maybe you can take a swing at something that might actually kill you.”
“Are you sure you have to put it in those terms?”
“Well with me around it would take an Elder Dragon to waste you.”
She giggled a bit, and then we headed for the training fields. Second day in Pokke and I already had an apprentice.
I had decided for a training regime of about a week. We agreed to basic physical exercise by the instructor and weaponry lessons by me. She was already in rather good shape, but a little more would help lessen the rigors of the hunt. And while she had instinctive weapon skills, much of it needed refining.
While Azuriade was getting worked into the dust, I had to take some time to prepare. This apprenticeship was little unexpected, and I had my business to attend to. Pokke wasn’t a prime vacation spot. I had work to do.
Mountains aren’t the ideal peaceful zones. Tigrex, Blangonga, Rajang, Khezu, and the like. And then there’s the occasional Elder Dragon. Like the Kirin, which is what I was up here for. Nasty little thing, in my opinion. I’ve never liked being hit with a few thousand volts. I shivered apprehensively at the thought of anything electric these days, ever since the tower.
Discomfort or not, this had to be wrapped up. I was out of here in another week, this time with an extra person. The guild would not like this. Not when I was supposed to take down that Tigrex without any interruptions…
I shook these thoughts out of my head. No use worrying about a future mission. I instead turned to my current predicament. Another young girl, another loss to be had, I thought. The memories came up in a swell. The dragon, with its red thunder. The explosion. The crash of bodies. My stomach churned, and I quickly opened the door to my room, crashing down onto the bed. The tears came, stinging and running down my cheeks.
Heaving, I sat up. My chest was fluttering. But I was used to it by now. The memories were nothing new. But they hurt every time, no matter how much time had passed.
I shuddered as the cold wind blew through me again. It felt unnatural. Wind didn’t cut into you like this. I smelled ozone, but that didn’t mean the Kirin was close. More like it was causing quite a ruckus at the summit. By instinct, I grabbed the handle of my longsword.
I hurried along, climbing the slight rises and warding off the Vespoids. A cave entrance loomed ahead; air even colder then the current gust seeped from it. I gritted my teeth and walked in.
It was dark, darker then I expected. A sliver of light came from a ways ahead, probably the exit to the outside. This is where the Kirin would be. Can’t summon thunder in caves, right?
The Kirin might not have been lounging in the cave, but other things were. A small pack of Giaprey screeched and menaced me; they were quickly cut down. I heard Vespoids and what might have been the call of a Blango, but I moved on. This had to be done fast. I had only 4 hours to bring this electrically charged horse down.
Exiting the dark cave, I had to shield my eyes against the stark white of the sky and its reflection on the snow. I was completely open now; the Kirin could fry my brains and I wouldn’t even see it. Mercifully the white plain was empty. I blinked a few times and then moved on, the cold biting into me. I fished a small vial from my belt and drank its contents. Warmth spread through my body, and I let out a sigh of relief.
I could feel the crackling energy before I even clambered through the rocky pass. The Kirin was just ahead, at the very tip of the mountain. Best conductivity up there. The ozone smell just grew stronger as I sighed and pushed ahead.
Clambering onto the flat summit, I noticed the Kirin instantly. It was standing motionlessly in the center of the area, lightning crackling around it. There was no sign of any other monsters. I drew my weapon, a thin metal katana. Quietly I crept along the rock face, keeping my back flat against the wall. The monster hadn’t noticed me yet.
But it will now, I thought as I leapt from cover, swinging the blade above my head. I crossed the snow swiftly, and the blade caught the Kirin directly on the horn. Sparks flew as my blade clashed with the tough spike, and I grunted as I hopped back. I had hoped to cut the horn off from the start, in order to lower the potency of the beasts lightning.
The Kirin recovered from the shock of a sword smashing into its face, and let out a burst of lightning all around it. I backed up; in its surprise the Kirin could let all hell loose. Thunder raged in the clouds above, and static filled the air. I could feel it crackling around my armor.
“Better finish this up quickly.” I grunted, and rushed the beast.
The Kirin let out a whinny and blasted lightning in my direction; I rolled under the searing bolt and jabbed forward, in a crouching position. Small flecks of blood flew as my blade dug into the Kirin’s leg. But the wound was minor, as the Kirin backed up swiftly and prepared another blast. Thunder swirled around it’s horn, and for a second it looked red.
I dove to the side, still seeing that flash of red thunder, like a bloody stain. I gritted my teeth and jumped up, avoiding the ensuing bolt of lightning, which was mercifully blue once more, swinging my blade hard into the monsters neck. Blood sprayed across the pure white snow, and a long jagged cut had appeared on the Kirin’s neck.
Now it was angry, sharp bolts of static forming around its mane. The clouds had a ghostly blue look to them, and I could feel the airborne static racing across my body, having penetrated my armor. I shivered as the electricity crawled across my skin.
I didn’t have much time, I thought. Clambering around in that cave and up the slope had taken a while. This Kirin had gonna go down fast, that was a given. I had no time to waste. Just like the tower…I stopped myself. Not now.
The Kirin let out what could pass as a scream of rage and reared back. I knew this trick, and quickly dashed to the side. Seconds later, the Kirin burst towards where I had just been standing, sending electric shocks crisscrossing behind it. A searing blue bolt just barely missed me, shooting off past my face. I stumbled back, dodging a second bolt, which passed by my leg.
Regaining my balance, I looked up to see the Kirin rushing my position. I had barely any time to dodge; its body caught my arm and sent my sword into the air. It fell straight down and stood, impaled in the icy ground.
“Fuck you.” I spat. The Kirin shook its head in annoyance.
I considered trying to get my weapon, but immediately dropped the idea. The monster would fry me before I could wrench it free from the ice. Instead I drew my hunting knife. This was going to have to be done the hard way. I grimaced.
The monster turned and reared back, this time with blue energy swirling around its horn. The sky grumbled and struck out, lashing the summit with heavy bolts of lightning. I rolled deftly to the side, barely avoiding getting struck. As soon as the bolts began to dissipate, I rushed forward and caught the Kirin by the horn. My hand tingled as electricity from the monster began to race up it.
“Fuck you!” I growled and pushed its head back. It struggled against me, whinnying.
My hand was beginning to sting. Static like needles pierced each finger. I drew the knife back; the pain was in my arm now. Screaming with rage, I thrust the knife deep into the wound I had made before. Blood sprayed like a geyser, making my armor slick with its warmth, and I could hear the blade grinding through bone. The Kirin thrashed, and lightning whipped down from the sky like tentacles. Then it was still.
I pushed the body away, letting it tumble into the snow. Blood was running down my armor like a river, and had already condensed into a crimson blotch in the snow. I took my helmet off and spat; the blood was in my mouth too. It tasted extremely metallic. I took a swig of whiskey from my hipflask to wash it out.
With the deed done, I could head back. I didn’t bother to set up a flare; I could carry the Kirin myself. I slung the body over my back, hefting it to one shoulder. Blood oozed from the enormous neck wound. The body was still warm, and I could feel an electric tingle coming off it.
It took me another hour to trek down the mountain and reach the village. The Kirin’s body seemed to grow heavier every other step. I stopped at the lake, marveling at just how much blood a monster could have. There was an enormous red stain running from my neckpiece all the way down to my greaves. Blood had stained my back as well.
I clambered up the last slope and entered the village gate. People flocked around me, awed by the Kirin’s corpse, wrinkling their noses at the overwhelming stench of blood. Hunting isn’t as clean a business as people make it out to be. I headed for the guildhall, where I could have the corpse stripped and hopefully pull some nice materials off it. My Khezu blade needed a re-oiling and a little Kirin hide on the hilt would be nice.
The harvesters took the body, saying it would be processed as quickly as they could. Sure, whatever you say, I thought. I had never liked the Guild, despite being in its upper echelon. Maybe it was because it was their fault that mission had ended so…no, I wouldn’t think about that, not now.
Azuriade was waiting at the training arena, red-faced and sweaty. The trainer had worked her hard, then. The Iron Devil was propped against a tree, and she held her helm in the crook of her arm.
“Hey.” I said.
“Oh, hi!” She exclaimed. “What’s that all over your armor?”
“Haven’t seen blood before?” I said dryly.
“Of course I have! But, that’s a lot of blood…are you hurt or something?!?”
“No, no, I’m fine. Merely a quick hunt. Had to wrap something up.”
“Oh? Was it that Kirin thing…?”
“Yep. Those things bleed like mad, it seems.”
“Are you gonna clean up first?”
“Nah, we need to get training. You’ve only got one week to get into shape.”
“What are we doing after this week?”
“Well, I need to take you on an actual hunt. Then we’re heading for the desert.”
“The desert?! What?”
“I have an assignment there, and I can’t just leave you here. You’ll be coming with me.”
“Really! Oh, wow…my friends are going to be so jealous…”
“I’m sure they will be. Your parents know this apprenticeship, correct?”
“Um, well…my parents, they’re, well…gone.”
“Oh. I’m quite sorry. Truly. Whom would you be living with then?”
“I live by myself.”
“You? You can’t be more then 18.”
“I’m 16. But yes, I live by myself. The elder helps me out sometimes, but for the most part I do can do things myself.”
“Well then, seems like you know a bit of self-sufficiency already. That’s important when you get stranded during a hunt.”
“Stranded…do you think that would actually happen?”
“It’s a possibility. However, if you know how to survive it’s no problem. Well, until we run out of food.”
“Don’t say stuff like that.”
“Only kidding anyway. C’mon, we have to get some training in.”
I stopped by the armory to acquire a hammer, and then we headed for the training arena. Azuriade was looking nervous as she pulled her helm on. I leaned against the handle of my hammer and grinned under my helm.
“Do you even know how to hold it?” I asked.
“Um, sorta. I think.” She said, lifting the hammer up, holding it with the head raised.
“No, no, no. You don’t want to hold it up all the time like that. You’ll kill your arm. Just relax that arm and let the head drag a bit.”
She quickly did this and assumed the usual pose of a hammer user. Fast learner, I thought. I drew my own hammer and prepared myself.
“I haven’t used a hammer in ages, so please excuse me if I’m rusty.” I acknowledged.
‘It’s all right. I don’t even know how to use one yet.”
“Well it’s quite simple.” I said. “We’ll want to start with the basic control necessary to swing the hammer. You’ve got a lot of unbalanced weight on that, and if you don’t control the strength of your swing it might leave you open.”
I drew the hammer back, and then thrust it forward in side swing. I grunted at the exertion it took to keep the head from swinging past my leg. She tried to mimic this motion, but didn’t keep it in line. The weapon swung round her and she tripped.
“Gotta keep it steady. Exert your strength over it; make it like an extension of your body. In that way you can control how strong it is and still hold it steady when you swing.” I said as she got up.
“I know, I know. I’m just not used to it.” She replied, brushing the dust off her armor.
“Nobody ever is when they start off. Plus, you’re starting two or three years late. So when you do get it right, keep that in mind. Would show you’re better then some seasoned hunters.”
For the next two hours I drilled her through the basics. She took a while to get used to the weight of the hammer and how to control its swing. This is why I mastered the longsword, I thought. You don’t have to deal with any weight imbalances.
She finally got the hang of it after some time. I grinned as she performed some basic moves as smoothly as any hammer expert. Of course there were always the advanced techniques, but that was for later on in the week.
“You know about putting a bit more strength in the swing, right?” I asked.
“What?” she said.
“Most hammer users call it a charge attack. I find that name stupid. You’re not really charging anything. But by very nearly exhausting yourself by holding the hammer back, you get that nice boost of adrenaline. It’s a very powerful technique.”
“So…I just hold it back? And that makes it stronger?”
“Well, two things. You have to exert yourself, wear yourself out a bit, move around with it. Also, when you do this technique, forget everything I ever said about hammer control. Just let it all out. Go ahead, try it.”
“Can I see you do it first?”
“I suppose so.” I said, picking up my hammer.
I quickly pulled the hammer back and began sprinting forward. The iron head bounced behind me, trying to pull my arms down. I tightened my grip as my arms began to burn. Right about now, I thought.
I skidded to a stop and pulled the hammer above my head. Then I slammed it down with all my strength, snarling as it hit the ground. Stone and dust flew up around me, and a heavy shockwave rumbled across the ground. I wrenched the hammer free from the ground, lifted my helm, and spat. The hit had left a rather impressive crater in the arena floor.
“That’s how you do it.” I grinned. She looked delighted. “Now go ahead, you try.”
I couldn’t see her face under her helm, but she was probably straining to keep the hammer up as she dashed forward. With a quick grunt, she brought the hammer up, then down. The crater was slight; she hadn’t put all her strength into it.
“Oh. That wasn’t that good.” She mumbled.
“It’s fine, really. No one every gets it on their first time. Your arms have to get used to it, so that they can put up with more abuse. Then you’ll get the full strength out of it.”
“You sure? I dunno if I can do this right...”
“Don’t worry.” I gave her a pat on the back. “You’ve got a full week ahead of you. You’ll have hammering down as good as any expert.”
“Think so? Maybe.”
“Look at it this way. If you don’t, you’ll probably end up dead.”
“Negative reinforcement isn’t preferable to positive reinforcement, now is it?”
“Well you weren’t being very positive. C’mon, the light is fading. Time to get some rest. More work tomorrow.”
This regime would continue for the whole week. Each day I tried to teach her something new while perfecting her style. She picked all of it up quite fast; by the middle of the week the craters she made with the charge rivaled mine. This was good, I thought. A fast learner with a sense of spirit. A person like that was hard to find these days. Maybe she would be one of those select few apprentices who actually grow to my level.
During the hours I had before the hammer training, I chased away boredom by constantly hunting. Azuriade would meet me for the lessons and find me covered in some monsters blood, my blade and my armor nicked and dented. It keeps my mind from becoming lazy. But that wasn’t the only thing I was keeping my mind from. The devil does not leave ones back easily.
It was hard to stave the pain away, even after all these years. I tried again and again, but the remorse and guilt always came back. Nothing could chase it away. Years ago I had accepted the pain in an attempt to lessen it. But even now I felt the pangs of regret, the result of the loss of the only love I ever had.
I tried to distract myself, but the memory was open now. It rushed out in a flood of rage and pain, that dreadful day when it all came crashing down around me. It took only a day to destroy me, to rip out my insides and replace them with sorrow. Good things usually take time to happen; it’s worst of the worst that can happen in mere minutes.
I shuddered as a chill went through me. Water lapped across my boots and brought me back to reality. I was standing on the shore of the mountain lake, staring out across its vastness. Removing my helm, I wiped the tears from my eyes. Then I sat down, still shaking. Small waves brushed in and out, seemingly in an attempt to soothe me. But nothing would work now; I had opened the door to darkness and let it all in.
Trying to shun the memories, I stood up again. Azuriades lesson was in a few minutes, but I didn’t know if I could do it today. Not after succumbing to my misery. I felt awful, depriving her of training. But I couldn’t focus, not when my mind was far off, reliving that distant memory on the very top of that forsaken Tower. The storm of red lightning, the deafening explosion, that feeling of indescribable horror as I watch it all fall away…
“No!” I shouted, the sound echoing across the lake.
My hands were shaking with rage. I had drawn my longsword, and now I thrust it down; it impaled the ground and stood there, wobbling slightly, standing straight up. Not unlike how my blade had looked as I flung it down into the stone of the tower, all those years ago, when everything went black. Stop it, I thought, stop thinking about it. But it would do me no good. I put my helmet on, tore my sword from the earth and headed back to the village, head bowed.
Azuriade was at the tree as usual. She saw me immediately and started forward, but stopped with a puzzled look on her face; obviously noting my depressed appearance. I stopped before her and lifted my head.
“What’s wrong? Bad hunt?” she asked, looking rather worried.
“No, no, I’m fine. But I can’t teach you today.” I sighed.
“What? This is the last day before the mission you promised me! I need some more tips!” she exclaimed.
“I’m sorry Azuriade. I promise we’ll still go on the mission. But I can’t. Not right now.”
“Really? Aw…what am I gonna do then?”
“Ask the Instructor to let you fight some basic monsters. He’ll know what to give you. I’m sorry, I really am, but…I just can’t right now.”
“It’s alright. I hope you feel better, okay?”
“Thank you. I’ll try.”
I walked back to my lodgings, leaving Azuriade behind and feeling horrible about it. I was already feeling terrible in the first place, and this didn’t help. Tomorrow was going to be her first mission and she wouldn’t even have adequate training the day before.
At least she hadn’t questioned me. I couldn’t even begin to explain the horror that my life had become to her. And I wouldn’t be able to. She would have no use for the information. She might even turn away from me, try to find a new mentor, maybe thinking she was giving me time to figure things out. But I had already gotten my time for that, and I had not used it.
Instead I had delved deeper into my sorrow, bringing up all the pain that I had withstood throughout my life, all the anger pent up inside of me. I had gone so far as to be lost in my despair. The only thing that saved me now was the thrill of the hunt. While I battled ferocious monsters, I could forget all the horrors of my life. Thus I had made it my career, and now, I was one of the best of the best.
However, things had begun slowly for me. I grew up in a small cabin just outside Kokoto Village. My father was an exotic goods trader, my mother a dark-skinned women from the desert tribes that my father had taken a liking to. I’m sure that at some point they really did love each other. But distance can hamper even the best relationships, and my father was away all the time.
It didn’t help that he would take me along with him. While these experiences were the best moments of my childhood, they surely soured my mothers’ feelings for her husband. She was the one who always had to stay behind, hardly getting to see her son, having to do all the work. When I reflect upon my father, I realize that he wasn’t the greatest man in the world. I don’t think he had much respect for anyone.
Several paid hunters who accompanied us on dangerous missions introduced me to hunting. Seeing them fight off monsters was often my favorite part of the trading trips. I was determined to become a hunter, I told my father. But he wouldn’t allow it. At the time I was selfish, as all children are, and hated him for this. This was when I was eleven. I would not have to hate him for long.
My father was killed almost a year later. It was not an accident on the trade routes, not a monster. He was murdered; killed in our own home by an insane hunter who my father had hired to protect the caravans. Coming under the guise of collecting his pay, the man murdered my father before our very eyes, before stealing most of our money and dashing off. I managed to protect my mother, and myself, but I could not catch him. His name was Harper. I have not yet forgotten it.
I woke up a few hours later, having drifted off to sleep. The light was growing dim, barely illuminating the room. I groaned and swung my legs over the bed, shaking the sleep from my head. Thin shafts of yellow light revealed hanging dust particles, floating through the musty room. I lit the candle on the bedside table, getting dressed in the flickering light. Before pulling on my shirt, I examined my physique. Ripped, I thought, chuckling to myself.
I lit the other candles in the room and donned my armor. After all these years, I had gotten used to the weight, and the azure armor felt like a second skin now. I grinned as I looked down at the helmet, a ferocious arrangement of blue scales and black spines, a red plume snaking its way down to the floor from the back.
Rathalos armor had always been my preference. I began with the basic set; soon it had been upgraded to S-rank, then X. Eventually, after singlehandedly taking out an enormous Azure Rathalos, I was bequeathed with this beauty of a set, Custom Z. This armor had seen me through thick and thin. It would take an enormous amount of persuasion to make me even consider changing armors now.
I finished strapping everything on and then picked up my longsword from its spot on the wall; Wailing Cleaver ‘Shin’, a finely crafted steel blade imbued with lightning, thanks to Khezu extract. I was hoping to get it re-oiled with some Kirin fat to help project the element better, as well as get some of the hide crafted into the hilt.
The sun was fading as I stepped outside. Azuriade would hopefully be home right now; I didn’t want to see her at the moment. I sighed and walked towards the guildhall, hoping that the harvesters had readied the materials. The glowing lights from the hall windows told me that they were at least still at work. I sighed as I walked down the dusty road, towards the hall. A new beginning for me perhaps, but I was apprehensive yet.
Chapter 2- King of the Skies
The day had come; Azuriades training was complete. It was time for her first real mission. The bitter wind was blowing again as I waited outside of the guildhall, leaning on a wooden post. I had decided upon using a greatsword today, a bladed monstrosity made from Terra Shogun claws. It weighed heavily on my back.
Over the hill, a small figure appeared, a faint gleam coming from its shoulder. I knew it to be her. As she came closer I could make out the large silhouette of the Iron Devil strapped to her back, and the faint blue of her hair flowing from her helm. I wondered how her hair had come to be that color.
She reached me and stood ready, smiling. I took off my helm and strode forward, also smiling slightly.
“Morning.” I said. “Ready for your first mission?”
“I dunno…” she said. “I’m excited though!”
“Good. Just don’t get over excited, because then you won’t be at your best.”
“Hm.” She nodded.
We entered the hall and quickly headed over to the quest counter. I waved to the guild head before requesting the quest listings. A Gravios problem here, Gypceros there; monsters were getting vicious. I removed a Rathalos contract from the pile and nodded to the counter girl before heading for the airship platform door.
“What monster is it?” Azuriade asked excitedly.
“A bit of a Rathalos problem out in the hills. We’ll be taking an airship.”
“An airship? Wow! I’ve never been on one…”
“I thought as much. Trust me, it’s not all that exciting.”
“Well you’ve been riding them for…um…”
“Been hunting for 10 years, my dear. I suppose things do lose their luster. Just don’t get too excited.”
We waited on the airship platform for a little while until the ship came. It was a massive construct of wood, metal and leather, held aloft by the power of flame. Once, 10 years ago, I had marveled the technological prowess of these flying monstrosities, been in total awe of their flight. Now, I didn’t even flinch when they landed in front of me, shaking the ground with their immense weight.
The airship landed a good distance away and slid down the runway, stopping a few feet from where we were standing. The pilot, a young man in standard Guild armor, gave a small salute upon seeing my armor and opened the hatch. I climbed aboard and then pulled Azuriade up. She seemed almost dazed with excitement and awe at the prospect of the airship. I nodded to the pilot, who turned to the engine and made some quick adjustments before grabbing hold of the wheel and flooring the acceleration lever. The engine growled and blasted flame upwards into the balloon, and we were off.
Azuriade was half falling out of the basket as the ground quickly shrunk away, her long hair flying every which way. I grinned under my helm as I leaned back next to her, looking down. The white of the mountaintops slowly turned to the green of the foothills as the airship flew on.
“Excited?” I asked.
“Mhm!” she nodded.
“Try not to fall, okay? I’m not jumping out to catch you.”
“Alright.” she laughed. “How long is the trip gonna be?”
“I thought you were excited to be riding the airship.”
“I am! But nervous too, I mean, we’re going to fight a dragon…”
“Wyvern. And I suppose that’s true. Probably a little while longer, the hills aren’t too far from Pokke.”
“I’m a little scared.”
“That’s natural. This is your first hunt, after all. Don’t worry too much; I’ve got your back. Besides, it’s only a juvenile Rathalos, nothing too major. You should see the elders.”
“I’m not sure I want to…”
The airship let us down near a small outpost, where I grabbed a few supplies. Jamming the last few flares into my belt, I tried to incite some morale into Azuriade. She was standing off to the side, looking rather pale.
“You’ll be fine, don’t worry. You picked up hammering quite quickly. I wouldn’t be so nervous.” I said.
“Are you sure?” she murmured.
“You’ve got this, trust me.”
“Alright.” She still looked a little pale.
Once we were ready, I took the lead and headed across the wide plains of the foothills. Aptonoth lazily grazed in the lush grass around the Kokoto River, which ran steadily south. Follow that river, and I would find myself home again, I thought. But I no long considered Kokoto my home. Home is a place not to be haunted by dark memories.
Azuriade followed closely behind, in awe of her surroundings. I couldn’t blame her; the foothills surrounding Kokoto had always been beautiful. Verdant green hills, thick forests, and the long winding river itself. Waterfalls graced many of the cliffs that stood in the distance. It was a gorgeous presentation in one of the more temperate areas of the land. Just wait until she sees the volcanic belt, I thought.
We passed on through the hills, ending up on the edge of a short cliff. I knew my way around; a short passage led to a densely forested area. Trees grew thick all around, and formed a sort of corridor. I heard heavy footfalls at the end of this corridor; the Rathalos was just ahead.
“Get ready.” I said, hand gripping the hilt of my weapon.
“Oh god.” Azuriade groaned.
“Quickly now. Get down, somewhere hidden.”
She crouched and crawled towards the trunk of an enormous tree, visibly pale. I ran just ahead of her and flattened myself against another tree, keeping myself just out of sight. The footsteps of the Rathalos were getting slightly louder. I slipped my head out to see the great beast slowly advancing. Withdrawing my head, I turned to look at Azuriade and shook my head. Not yet.
My chest grew tense as the seconds ticked by. Stealth attacking always made me nervous; catching a monster by surprise could be fatal if you screwed up. The heavy sound of the monsters breathing made it seem like the beast was right next to me. And then it was. The Rathalos’s head slowly came into view past my hiding place. Then it stopped, eyes searching, sensing a disturbance. I could reach out and touch the monster, if I so felt like it.
Suddenly, the monsters eyes widened; it had seen me. I dashed forward, pushing off of the tree while drawing my sword. It smashed into the Rathalos’s skull, each individual spike on the blade tearing through flesh and grinding into bone. Blood sprayed across my armor as the monster screamed in pain. I had hit just ahead of the eye, smashing part of its jaw and pulverizing flesh. The monster shook its head and I wrenched my blade free, tearing chunks from the wound and causing it to bleed freely.
Azuriade came sprinting now, landing a strong hit to the beasts nose. It recoiled in shock, splattering blood across the trees and moaning in pain. I nodded to Azuriade before hefting my blade and running forward, towards the reeling monster. It howled in anger as it straightened itself, and a faint glow became visible in its mouth. Shit.
I slammed my foot into the ground, turning and running back towards Azuriade. She looked puzzled to see me dashing towards her. I whipped around her, wrapping an arm around her waist, and pulled her behind the protection of my sword. A blast of fire ripped through the trees, heating the air around us and buffeting my weapon. I felt debris smash into the heavy material of my blade and struggled to keep my position. Azuriades face had gone white.
The flames subsided, leaving the smell of burning wood in the air. I tore my sword from the ground and took a breath. Azuriade stumbled forward, doubling over.
“Get up!” I yelled, as the Rathalos eyed us.
“Shit…” she mumbled, pulling herself up.
The Rathalos snarled and drew itself back, preparing to crush us. I grabbed Azuriades hand and swung her behind cover, at the same time sheathing my blade. The Rathalos started to charge, bellowing with rage. I stood my ground as it picked up speed, my body tense.
It was within 10 feet of me before I jumped forward, somersaulting over its head and landing heavily on its back. I grappled wildly for a spike to grab onto; my hand caught the edge of the monsters plate. I pulled up and steadied myself, wrapping my legs around the Rathalos’s body. It stopped moving and screeched, angered by my presence on its body.
“Go for it, now!” I shouted to Azuriade, who was staring wide-eyed at my position.
She darted forward, hammer trailing behind her. The Rathalos was too busy attempting to shake me off to notice her, so the hit came as a surprise. She slammed the maul into the beasts’ head; I could hear the crunching of bone against metal. The monster howled and staggered back, nearly dislodging me. I managed to hold on with one hand, using my other to draw my hunting knife.
Quickly I pulled myself forward, aiming for the tail. The monster was still dazed and stood limp, allowing me to clamber onto its tail. I hung upside-down, knife in my mouth, and grappled my way to the spined tip. Without hesitation I grabbed my knife and drove it through the thin connective flesh, spraying blood and rending tissue. The Rathalos did not react; presumably it was still stunned.
I drove my knife through a second time, and then a third, grinding through bone and staining my gauntlets crimson. On the fourth stab the monster screamed in agony and flicked its tail, sending me crashing downwards. Its tail was a bloody mess, the end of it hanging on by a few meager flaps of skin. I pulled myself up and gripped the tail with my bare hands; with a quick tug I tore through the skin and ripped the end of the tail clean off. The monster jerked forward, roaring in anger and pain.
“Holy shit…” Azuriade gasped as she ran towards me. I looked down at my armor, which was soaked in blood. I could feel the warm liquid running through my visor and over my face.
“This thing won’t last much longer. Let’s ju-“
My words were cut short by a rolling blast of wind, as the Rathalos took to the air. Blood was pouring from the ravaged portion of its face, now nearly unrecognizable. Bone was visible in the ragged stub of its tail. I pulled my visor up and wiped the blood from my eyes.
“Quickly now, be careful. The Rathalos isn’t known as the King of the Skies for nothing.” I said, before drawing my blade.
Azuriade ran back a bit, putting some distance between us. The Rathalos was hovering above us, eyeing me with rage in its one intact eye. I stared back. This was a tense moment; the Rathalos could do anything, at any moment.
And then it struck, and I wasn’t ready. The monster swooped down, slamming a clawed foot into my chest and dragging me across the ground. It stood over me, one talon stabbed into my armor. I could feel the claw slicing into my flesh; feel the poison seeping into my blood.
The monster forced its foot down harder, restricting my breathing. My vision began to grow fuzzy as the combined forces of poison and lack of air took their toll. I was just starting to see black when suddenly the weight was gone, lifted instantaneously. I saw the faint shape of Azuriade stepping over me, and then a shrill scream of agony, the kind an animal makes when its been horribly injured but not yet slain. The scream came again, and then all was silent.
My vision grew clearer and I forced myself up, removing my helm. Azuriade was standing over the corpse of the Rathalos, drenched in blood. The monsters face was completely destroyed, a mass of bone and blood. I staggered forward, the pain in my chest excruciating. Looking down, I could see the tear in my armor, blood pouring out of it like a broken dam. There was a tinge of purple, too.
“Oh god, you’re hurt!” Azuriade was white as a ghost.
“I’m…fine.” I spluttered. “Pull an antidote from your belt.”
She did so and handed it to me. Quickly I swallowed the thick blue liquid, forcing myself to hold it down. Then I unlatched my chest plate and set it down, frowning at the gash in it. Even worse was the tear in my skin, a long, bloody rip down the center of my chest. I procured a length of cloth and began to wrap it, gingerly. It still burned with poison, despite the antidote.
I kept my chest plate off, trying to avoid aggravating the pain any more. It was already bad enough. Still, this wasn’t nearly as bad as other wounds I had received over the course of my career. The worst had been during a Teostra hunt, years ago. The beast had torn through my armor, reducing it to scrap and leaving three horrifically long gashes in my back. I had nearly died as the combustible powder created by the monster burned through my skin, ignited by the dragons’ claws. The scars still felt like they were ablaze sometimes.
“A fine hunt, eh?” I croaked.
“A little…messy.” She replied, looking down at the blood-soaked ground.
“And this isn’t even the worst of it. You sure you’re up for this?”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I feel kinda, shaky, though.”
“That’s the adrenaline runnin’ through you. It’s half the fun of the hunt.”
“Whatever you say…”
I laughed. “You’ll get some fun from it as you get used to the near-death experience.”
“Sounds excellent.” she said sarcastically.
“You’ll see. I’ll set up a flare.”
I drew a standard hunting flare from my belt and lit it with a match. It roared into the air and let out a wickedly bright flash of light. Then I sat down and leaned against a tree trunk. My chest burned slightly; the antidote was taking its time.
“You alright?” Azuriade asked.
“I’ll be fine. Are you?” I replied.
“Yeah, I think so.”
“Alright, good. The recovery team should be here soon.”
She sat down next to me and placed her hammer at her feet. I did a double take before realizing my greatsword was lying on the ground, near the Rathalos. I relaxed again and let out a sigh.
“You know, that was kinda fun.” Azuriade said. I grinned under my helm.
Chapter 3- A Slight Pallor
I sat on my bed, wiping the tears from my eyes. I didn’t know why I kept opening the old wounds, but I did. Looking down, I frowned; one of my tears had splattered onto the open page of the book propped open on my lap. The book was my brothers’ hunting record, a list of all his hunt, titles and awards. It was 100 pages and nearly full.
My brother, Liam, had been a near legendary hunter, a fierce presence on the battlefield. But he was also a kind and loving brother. Now all I had left of him was a hunting record, a shattered sword hilt, and a damaged helmet. He had gone missing, presumed dead, 3 years ago.
My parents had been dead by then; my father, ailing and crippled from a Tigrex hunt, died when I was ten, my mother died a year later. Liam had taken care of me, watched over me, and protected me. But he accepted a mission when I was 13 and never returned.
As I thought about him, I realized how similar he and Talos were. They had the same hard, weathered expression; the same dark look in their eyes. Their voices had the same pitch, and even their gait and frame were similar. If Talos wore Akantor armor, the set my brother prized, I could have mistaken him for Liam.
I quietly stood and placed the book back into its drawer, next to the broken hilt of Shadow of the Moon and the crumpled Akantor Helm. Closing the drawer, I turned around and sat back on my bed, sighing. Three years had passed and it was still tough to think about it. I doubted Talos had any troubles like this. No one successful like him would be so unfortunate.
A small mirror sat on my bedside table; I picked it up and studied my reflection. My hair was a striking blue as usual, a deep hue of cyan that was somehow completely natural. No one could explain the unusual color of my hair, which had grown out from raven black to this sapphire-esque tint by the time I was 4. My eyes matched my hair, a bright crystalline, almost watery, blue. My face was thin, my cheekbones and jawline well defined, my nose small and rounded. Most of the village boys agreed I was the prettiest girl around. I had never been attracted to anyone in particular however; the boys seemed too rowdy and uncaring. Talos was quite handsome, though…
Oh shut up, I told myself, he’s at least ten years older then you. That probably wouldn’t even be legal, I thought. What wouldn’t be legal? I blushed, even though no one was around. My, my, you haven’t even a kissed a boy yet and you’re thinking about that? I reprimanded myself. Luckily, before my thoughts could get any deeper, I was startled by a knock on the door.
I stood up, brushed my hair back and opened the door a crack, peering out. Talos, in full regalia, was standing outside my door, a longsword strapped to his back. He removed his helm after spotting my head poking out from behind the door.
“Hello.” He grinned.
“Hi!” I said, maybe a bit too excited, for he looked a little surprised.
“Having a good day then?” he chuckled.
“Yeah.” I lied.
“Well that’s good. Mind if I come in?”
“Ah, well…I’m not quite fully dressed…”
“Oh,” He blushed “well, I just came to let you know that we’ll be heading out by the end of the day.”
“To the desert, right?” I had leaned further out of the door. He was still blushing.
“Yeah, yeah. There’s not too much of a rush, but just be ready to leave. Who knows the next time you’ll be back.”
“You really think we’ll be away for a while?”
“With the way the Guild works, you might not see this place for another year.”
“Oh, damn. Well, I’ll get ready.”
“Alright. See you at the airship platform, round sunset. Oh, and if you want a new set of armor, head by the blacksmith. He’s prepping a Rathalos set for ya.”
“Yeah. Well, I’ll see you around.”
And with that he was gone. I quickly shut the door and pulled a shirt, then a jacket, on. I was already wearing pants, a pair of Bulldrome leather jeans that were comfortable and warm. My boots were sitting by the fireplace; I quickly strapped them on as well. Then I dashed out the door and headed for the blacksmith, whose glowing forge I could see even from this distance.
I reached the forge and said hello to the Felyne who worked the shop, and adorable cream-colored individual named Telly. He dropped what he was doing and scampered to the smoky forge in the back at the mention of Talos's named. The blacksmith came out a few minutes later, covered in soot and grime.
“The Rathalos set, rig- oh hey Azuriade! Picking up armor for hunters now or something?” he chuckled.
“Nope! That’s my set!” I grinned.
“Hunting now are we? And with Talos? You pullin’ my leg?”
“Not at all. Seriously, I’m his apprentice now.”
“Well then you’re one lucky lady, Azuriade. I’ve heard he’s harsh on his apprentices.”
“Well I’m excited!”
“And you ought to be. We haven’t had a hunter represent Pokke in….in a while.” He paused before finishing, obviously reading my face. “Yeah, well, I think the set is about ready. Lemme finish up the details, and you can try it on.”
He came out after about ten minutes, carrying a vicious-looking red helm in one hand, and a long cuirass in the other. A number of Felynes followed him, carrying the gauntlets, chestplate and leggings. The pieces were all a dark crimson and had sharp spines jutting from them. The craftsmanship was unlike any other Rathalos set I had ever seen.
“They look odd, don’t they? Talos gave me these blueprints for a custom set; he said this was the male Rathalos armor out in the coastal country. He told me he didn’t want you running around in some silly female-tailored armor.” He explained.
“Hey, what’s so bad about female armor?” I said, slightly annoyed.
“To tell the truth, the Guild isn’t so hot on female hunters just yet. The armor specs they send me look more like sex symbols then protection, really. Dunno what the deal is with that, but trust me, choose male armor. Talos can probably pull some strings and get it tailored for ya.”
“Alright, thanks. Where can I try this on?”
“I’ve got an armory room set up right back here. I’ll leave you to your leisure.”
The Felynes helped carry the armor into the armory for me, then shut the door behind them. I stripped down to my underclothes and looked at the pieces of armor in a jumble at my feet. What to start with?
Looking at the armor pieces, it was obvious Talos had consulted the trainer when going for my measurements. The legs and arms looked to be the perfect size, and the helm fit snugly. I looked at the chest piece; its waist was tight and womanly, the bosom slightly flat. I had never had the most substantial breasts, being rather petite in build. I was tall though, a good 5 foot 8 or so. Talos was much taller though; he had to be at least 6 foot.
I eventually began with the leggings, pulling my stockings on before clamping the spiky greaves over my legs. The knee and upper leg pieces went on easily enough as well. I presumed it would be smart to put the actual chestplate on next, which proved slightly difficult. After several snags, I thought to actually tie my hair back and forced my way into the surprisingly light armor. The gauntlets were no challenge, and the helm snapped neatly on. I struggled with the cuirass for a little while before finally strapping it on. It was heavy and felt awkward, but I kept it on anyway. I would probably get used to it and it looked pretty badass as well.
The armor rattled and clanked as I stepped outside; and I couldn’t help fidgeting with the cuirass. But it stayed on and fit comfortably. Talos was waiting for me, unarmored, chatting casually with the blacksmith. When he saw me, he grinned widely and stepped forward.
“Looking like a real huntress now, Azuriade.” He laughed, obviously pleased. “My custom blueprints worked out well.”
“Do I really? Awesome! And I think it’s pretty cool.” I said.
“Yeah, Moga craftsmanship is beautiful. No offense to you, Andre. You were the one who crafted this excellent blade.”
“None taken,” replied the blacksmith. “I intend to take a tour of Moga soon, perhaps I’ll pick up some of their techniques.”
“Bring the switch axe tech to Pokke, eh?” Talos grinned.
“If I can grasp it, of course. I’ve seen examples of such weapons. They look awful complicated.”
“I’m sure you’ll pick it up easily enough, being the best blacksmith in the north.”
“Oh, you flatter me far too much. But I must get back to work; got some rookies coming in who need some weapon work done. I’ll probably see you sometime soon, Talos.” Saying that, the blacksmith departed.
“So, you know him?” I asked.
“Me and Andre go way back. Hell, I got him into the profession. I use to be rather good at forging weapons myself.” he replied
“And so he just ends up here…not in the Guild or something?”
“Andre and I, and a few others, have never been particularly…fond of the Guild. Of course, I work for them, and a good friend of mind is a high-ranking official for them, but we still feel no allegiance to them.”
“Ah. Why is the Guild so distasteful to you?” I said, taking my helm off.
“A lot of reasons, some difficult to explain. Not everything the Guild does is the in best interest of the people…”
“So you don’t like their morals, huh?”
“Not just that. Being associated with the most influential hunting and political organization sometimes gets to your head. Some of the Guild hunters and officials are arrogant little pricks.”
“Oh. Well, at least we’re independent in spirit, right?”
“I guess. Innocence is a lie. But I think you’ll have to experience more to make up your own mind. I have to pack up some weaponry; you should start getting ready yourself.”
With a curt nod, he walked off, jacket billowing in the wind. I stood, slightly puzzled by his words. Innocence is a lie, I thought. What did he mean by that? Maybe he was just bitter about the Guild. I had no experience with it, but from what I had heard it was a fantastic and honorable group. Talos told a different story, though.
“Any form of political power must be somewhat corrupt.” I told myself, before walking back to my house.
I wasn’t particularly sure what to pack, as I stood in the cluttered mess that was my room. I didn’t really have anything a hunter would find useful. Except maybe my brothers room…
Pushing the door to his room open, I held my breath as a torrent of dust rushed out. The air was stale and musty. I hadn’t opened half the rooms in this house for 3 years, especially not my brothers’ room. The wounds were still fresh to me. Nevertheless, I forced the door open and walked into the room.
It may have been 3 years, but I still remembered Liam’s room, down to the carpeting. Liam had been 6 years older then me, but his room was decorated in a similar fashion. Trinkets and little toys were scattered about the messy space, and beautiful weaves and tapestries hung from the walls. The only difference was the numerous hunting trophies and weapons carefully organized throughout the room.
I picked my way through the dusty room, examining the various hunting instruments left behind by Liam. A pair of binoculars, a pile of flash bombs, a spiny looking object that I knew to be a shock trap, and other things. I had picked up a hunting pouch at the general vendor, and began to put stuff in it; paint pellets, a sharpening stone, oil for my armor, and a few vials of medicinal mixtures. The pouch clipped comfortable above my cuirass, and I was satisfied. I gingerly left the room, still not used to the weight of my armor, and closed the door.
Hours later, I stood on the roof of the guildhall, shivering with both cold and apprehension. Rathalos armor wasn’t quite insulated, as I had discovered, and I was also nervous. I was leaving the comfort of my home village for the first time, to a blisteringly hot desert full of monsters. Twas the life of a hunter, I thought.
Talos was still downstairs, arranging the particulars of the mission. Now that I was under his wing, he was obligated to let the Guild know, much to his displeasure. So I stood on the roof, alone in the cold. I probably would not have realized the bitterness of the wind if it were not for my heavy shell of metal armor. Talos had told me that Rathalos armor was good for warding off heat, however.
I heard the heavy sound of boots on wood, and then Talos appeared out of the snow, stepping off the stairs onto the platform. A guild pilot followed, holding his hat down to keep it from flying away in the billowing wind. Wrappings covered most of his face. The airship was at the other end of the platform, it’s balloon drooping and uninflated; the pilot nodded to me and then ran off to get ready. Talos strode over, helmet still on to the cut the wind.
“You alright?” he asked.
“I’m fine. A little chilly, but I’ll be ok.” I replied.
“It’ll get colder once we get into the air, so drink something warm if you need to. The desert is much farther away then the lowlands, so expect quite a long trip.”
“How long do you think?”
“Well, no more then a day, if conditions are good.”
“We’re going to spend a whole day in the air!?”
“We’ll probably stop at the jungle outpost, since the desert begins right across the straight. So about 12 hours in the air before we land the first time, then 12 to Satetsu.”
“That’s the city we’re going to, right?”
“Yeah. My old pal Xavier heads up the Guild branch there, so we’ll probably get special treatment. Just be ready for the heat; even with Rathalos insulation it gets wicked hot there.”
“Okay. So what are we going there for exactly, anyway?”
“Well, to be honest, I’m afraid this mission is a little advanced for a new hunter like you, but I’ve been tasked with taking out a rather vicious Tigrex that’s been ruining trade and has caused a good number of casualties already.”
“Don’t think you’re up for it?”
“No, it’s just that a Tigrex crippled my dad. I don’t even know what one looks like, but I know they’re strong.”
“Ah yes, Tigrex is the bane of many hunters. Their reputation is well deserved; Tigrex are brutally strong and ferocious to a point. And their rage is almost unstoppable.”
“So they need advanced hunters to even attempt to kill one?”
“For the most part, yeah. They’ve called me because this is the biggest Tigrex they’ve seen in years. No one was prepared for a thing this big.”
“Just…how big is it?”
“The reports they sent me say it’s at least 18 feet at the shoulder and 50 feet long. I haven’t even seen a Tigrex anywhere near this big before.”
“Yeah, it’ll be very dangerous. But it’s what has to be done. Hey, the airship is ready. Let’s go.”
He motioned with his hand and started across the roof, the wind whipping around him. I followed in his shadow, using his body as a shield from the wind. Even I didn’t like days like this. The sky was a shadowy grey, darker across the horizon. Pokke was in for a powerful storm.
Talos pulled me into the basket, straining a tiny bit due to my armor, and then nodded to the pilot, who turned to his controls and fired up the engine. The airship creaked forward and then took off, quickly ascending into the colder air above. I sat down to avoid the strong wind; the pilot had wrapped his face and pulled goggles over his eyes. Talos sat next to me.
“Pretty damn cold, huh?” he asked.
“Y-y-yeah.” I shivered.
“Want some of this?” he pulled out a vial of hot liquid, which I gladly drank.
“Much better. Thanks.” I said.
“No problem. Try to find a comfortable position, since you’ll probably want to fall asleep.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll be fine standing; I don’t really mind the cold. Besides, I like to look down upon the vastness of the world and take it all in. Sometimes you can see monsters.”
“What happens if one attacks?”
“All Guild pilots are trained gunners; if something gets too close to the balloon, he can scare it off with some crag shots.”
He stood up and put a hand on the baskets rim, looking out onto the world. I stuck my legs out and rested my head against the wall, already tired. I had been too excited to get much rest last night. The airship flew smoothly on, rarely tilting or creaking, and the hum of the flame slowly lulled me to sleep.
I woke up to Talos shaking my shoulder, telling me to get up. The light was darker, and the air much warmer, almost sticky with humidity. I stood wearily, stretching, and saw that we had arrived at the jungle outpost. Trees surrounded us on all sides, creating a sort of lush green curtain. The pilot was resting in a corner of the basket, snow wrappings lying at his feet, his hat pulled over his eyes. Talos took off his helm and wiped a bit of sweat from his brow.
“I hate humidity.” He said, displeased.
“It doesn’t feel very nice.” I admitted.
“Well we’re only here for an hour or so, so lets head inside and get something to eat. I’m pretty hungry.”
“Did you sleep at all?”
“Nah, but I certainly didn’t stand the whole time.”
“You should sleep this time, if we’re gonna be fighting a Tigrex.”
“Well we won’t be going straight for the Tigrex when we get there, so it’s not as important to rest right now. I’ve always had trouble falling asleep a few miles above the ground, anyway.”
“Whatever you say.” I smiled, and then headed for the stairs
The outpost was a rather large building, not all too different from the guildhall in Pokke. It had a large room with beds and a full-fledged kitchen, however, as well as an armory and forge. Several hunters milled about; some covered in grime and blood, others well kept. They nodded to Talos and I as we passed them, on our way to the kitchen. My gut started to rumble as I caught a whiff of roasting meat.
We chowed down on a quick meal of roast pork and some kind of vegetable before wandering back to the main room and taking a seat at the main table. Talos ordered a glass of whiskey and immediately began chatting with the bartender. I decided to stick with water, not wanting to mess around with alcohol just yet. Beer was never my thing, anyway, and I wasn’t sure I liked how strong that whiskey smelled. Talos was enjoying it, in any case. I wondered about his proclivity to alcohol; he did always carry that hipflask, after all.
Either way, he seemed quite resistant to the effects of the drink, still talking coherently and managing not to fall all over the place. His face was a little ruddy, but that was all. So far, he had downed 3 glasses of the stuff without completely losing himself. Perhaps he was well conditioned after years of drink?
I put this out of my mind and listened in on the conversation. Talos was current engaged in an argument over which monster was the most brutal and difficult to hunt, and was vouching for something called Rajang. I leaned forward to catch the entire conversation.
“Rajang! Bah, you must be kidding me. How can you not have issues when it comes to Tigrex hunts?” a tall hunter wearing Diablos was saying.
“Pfft, Tigrex!” another hunter called out from the side of the bar. “That damned Teostra is a bastard!”
“I’d rather take on a raging Teostra then a Rajang any day.” Talos replied, laughing slightly. “Although I will say that a Teostra got me pretty good once.”
“What, you get a little scratch? Ha!” came another voice.
“On the contrary my friend, I very nearly died! Ever get fire dragon powder in your wounds?” Talos asked.
“Hot damn…no pun intended” the tall hunter laughed.
“If I may bring the discussion back, any of your every defend the fort from a fuckin’ Lao?” said a hunter fitted with some kind of silvery-gray, masked armor.
“Lao isn’t that bad!” cried yet another voice. “It’s that bloody Black Gravios that nearly kills me every time…”
“If we’re talkin’ subspecies, Terra Shogun is a bitch.” chuckled a hunter wearing some kind of brown, spiky armor.
“Hey! Is that some Gendrokk armor you’ve got there?” Talos asked the hunter who had just spoken.
“How’d you know?” the man replied. “Barely anyone knows what the hell it is.”
“You could consider me an expert on that group.” Talos said.
“What group?” called yet another voice, this one female.
“Just a new monster group…” chuckled the man with the Gendrokk armor.
“Just a new monster group! You kiddin’ me? That’s some damn big news!” came the female voice again.
“Yeah, why haven’t I heard about this?” asked the tall hunter.
“Well it is brand new.” Talos replied.
“Still, that should be some serious news to the hunting community.” said the silver clad hunter.
“I think the classification is locked up in the verifying process back at the observatory…” interjected a glasses-wearing hunter near the back.
“Oh, those damn bureaucrats! Always in deadlock about things us hunters should be taking care of!” cried the tall hunter.
“And why haven’t I seen one of these new monsters?” asked the female hunter.
“Apparently they’ve only just started showing up. Maybe from Moga or something…” replied the bespectacled hunter.
“Hey, hey, I’ve been to Moga and they ain’t got anything like these beasts.” Talos said.
“Fair enough.” responded the bespectacled hunter. “Dunno why they’re only just being seen, though.”
“Aye, I’ve been all throughout the hunting world…I would have seen one of these new beasties. Say, what do they look like?” asked the hunter in silver.
“Yeah, c’mon, give us some info!” came another voice.
“Well, let’s see…” Talos began. “They’re a bit like giant lizards. You know, four legs plus a wickedly long tail. And pretty much all the ones I know of have a breath attack of some kind. The desert species is pretty common out there by now; I’m surprised people don’t know about them…”
“Man, we haven’t had a new species since…since my dad was hunting!” said the tall hunter.
“And which one was that?” the silver clad hunter inquired.
“Er, I think it was one of those leviathans. One of their subspecies. That or it was a brute wyvern…”
“Oh, all those damn things from the Moga coast. I’ve never even seen a leviathan!” shouted the female hunter.
“Yeah, how the hell do they fight underwater like that?” asked another voice.
Talos sighed and stood up, sliding some zenny across the counter. He affixed his helmet and nodded to me.
“Let’s go.” he said. “I never liked taking part in discussions like these.”
“Alright.” I replied, getting up. “I thought that was kinda cool. What exactly is a Terracerta?”
“We’ll get to that.” he replied, and started to walk off. I quickly followed.
Despite all the drinks he had ordered, Talos still walked with authority. He didn’t sway or stagger, and his voice remained un-slurred. I had never seen someone who could hold that many drinks in. Still, I was unsure of asking him about it. One of my dads’ hunting friends had been a serious alcoholic, following the death of his wife. I still remember the day he had been drunk on a Khezu hunt…the smell of electrified flesh is something I never want to smell again.
So I let the subject drop from my mind and followed him out the door.
Chapter 4- Tigrex of the Crimson Sand
We had been flying over the expanse of desert for almost an hour before we began to descend. A light wind, carrying small grains of sand, blew lazily by. The sun was harsh on the horizon, a massive golden sphere that blazed with an intensity I had never known. It was far too hot here, I thought.
We had reached the Vodyanoy Strait soon after departing the jungle base camp. Talos had pointed off the edge of the balloon at the desert dunes below. Having never seen such sand before in my life, I was completely taken. The dunes rolled like ocean waves; seeming to move and shift smoother then any snowdrifts I had ever seen. Talos pointed out more obscure views, like tunneling ‘blos wyverns and the deep canyons where even rarer monsters could be found. Eventually, however, my fascination turned to boredom as the sand continued on, endlessly.
“Satetsu’s a pretty deep desert town.” Talos had explained. “Which makes it a bitch to protect. They’re right by a huge underground lake, yeah, but getting supplies to them is one of the most dangerous missions a caravan leader can take. They’re pretty much no off-season for monsters ‘round here. In early spring it’s Rath mating time, and the Rathians come out here in flocks. Summer is Diablos season, with the females gettin’ all pissy and changing color. Fall and winter is pretty much the worst though; not only do the Diablos have to watch their eggs, but that’s Tigrex season, since it starts getting too cold for them in the mountains to stay for extended periods.”
“So why build the town out here then, given all the risk?” I had asked.
“It is right by a lake, after all. When you find water in a desert, you don’t just give that stuff up. It’s a little dangerous there, since Plesioths and Navaloths love the cold air, but it’s still worth it.”
“They’re one of the more interesting piscines. Like big bioluminescent snakes, they are. With wings. They can’t fly, but they’re monstrous swimmers.”
“So you’ve fought one?”
“I shoulda known you were gonna be full of questions, heh. But yeah, I’ve fought a lot of things in my years. The Guild saw me as a prodigy, sent me on dozens of classified hunts. I’ve hunted things no one has even heard of.”
“That sounds awesome! You’re like a secret keeper or something…”
“More like a secret killer, yeah?”
“Hah, I guess so. Still cool though!”
We continued to descend, the shifting dunes growing ever closer. Around us rose dark brown cliffs, looming dangerously near our balloon. We were in a canyon system, just a few minutes from Satetsu. I couldn’t fathom where this city would be, what with the lack of space and all.
The airship cruised lower and lower through the canyon as it began to widen out. Slowly but surely, peculiar scents came to me; smoke, meat, incense and a gritty, metallic smell. The smells of a city? I wouldn’t have known. But what came next was extraordinary.
The balloon rose up a bit and crested a stone wall, revealing precisely what Satetsu was. The enormous crater walls veered up and over like a giant maw, sharp outcroppings of stone looking like teeth. Buildings, some of them massive in size, were chiseled from the rock face itself. Everything was created from dark red stone, from the giant battlements to the fortresses and homes themselves; a massive tower sat in the center of the crater, surrounded by the city. Smoke poured from various smokestacks, and in the background, massive iron gears clanked and ground endlessly.
We alighted onto an airship platform and disembarked, me staring in wonder at the massive city before me. Talos merely stood, his face seemingly carved from stone, like the buildings around us.
“Welcome to Satetsu.” came a smooth, confident voice.
I had nearly jumped in surprised; Talos merely chuckled and turned, walking towards a man in a deep red cloak who leaned against the wall. I inched along at his side, not sure why I felt so jittery.
“Hey, Xavier. I like the cloak.” Talos said, chucking.
“Talos, Talos! It’s been too long…and I like it too, heh. I’ve got the Talos seal of approval, so that’s worth something.” replied the man, Xavier. “And who’s the lucky lady? You never said you were bringing a date!”
“Oh shush Xavier, you must know me by now…women aren’t my thing. She’s my apprentice, the name’s Azuriade.”
“Ah, well hello Azuriade. I see Talos is teaching you the elegantway of the hammer.”
“Um, hi.” I managed to say.
“Nervous in front of me? Talos mustn’t have told you a thing!” Xavier laughed. “I’m just an old hunting buddy, nothing big. Nothing to worry about, ya’ know?”
“Yeah, we’re fine, don’t worry.’ Talos grinned. “Xavier here’s just a bit more happy-go-lucky then me, ya’ know?”
“So then you hunted a lot of stuff too! Is there like, a confidentiality thing of something because of the Guild?” I said, their words having removed my anxiety.
“Of course not, now they the Guild disbanded our regiment. Oh the stories I could tell you…like that time Talos got flattened by a Kut-ku…”
“Oh fuck off, you know that was only because you threw that damn flash bomb…”
“And you didn’t cover your eyes!”
“Not my fault you didn’t let us know!”
“Guys…” I murmured.
“Yeah Talos, quit it man!” Xavier was suppressing giggles, his smile huge and white.
“You haven’t changed at all, have you mate?” Talos was smiling freely too, something I had rarely seen in my week or two with him.
“Course not, and neither have you, it seems. All is well, I take it?”
“Well as it could be.” Talos replied, but I noticed a slight gesture he made with his hands, and a sharpening of his eyes.
“Good, good. I supposed I should bring you and the lady on a tour now, eh?”
I couldn’t help myself at this one; the city had enraptured me.
“Oh yeah, let’s go!” I cried, the excitement getting to me.
“First time in a big city?” Xavier asked, starting to walk forward.
“Oh, uh Xavier, I need to stay back a bit. Gotta pay the pilot and I owe him a drink anyway.” Talos interrupted. “But I’ll be back.”
“Yeah, yeah, go ‘head man, I’ll take her for a spin of the place.”
“A’ight, thanks man. Catchya soon, we’ve got some shit to talk about, ya’know?”
“Yeah, peace out mate.”
Talos strolled off, fishing some zenny out of his hip pack and calling for the pilot. Xavier smiled and then continued walking, his cloak fluttering in the sandy breeze. The sand felt gritty against my skin, not quite as nice as the snow I was used to.
“He’s much looser then usual, don’t you think?” Xavier asked, throwing me off guard.
“Huh?” I faltered.
“Talos, silly. I’ll take it you’ve noticed his more sullen demeanor, no?”
“Um, yeah he is kinda mopey…”
He laughed. “Mopey, eh? That’s a good word for him, hah!”
“Yeah. And I guess you’re right, he seems happier.”
“Indeed. Funny guy, he is. If you can get on his good side. But ah well, what to be done? I have to show you around anyway.”
“Yeah! This place is so cool! I’ve never seen anything at all like it!”
“Satetsu is very unique, it’s true. This whole thing is a volcanic crater; the canyons around here were formed by volcanic activity, earthquakes, the like.”
“It’s dormant I take it?”
“Smart one, you are. And yes, it is, completely dormant. They say fire dragons still come here because the spirit of the volcano lives on, but that’s just a myth, ya’know?”
“Yeah, right. What’s a fire dragon? Don’t you mean Rathalos though?”
“Ehehe, that’s a fire wyvern, my dear. Talos really has to catch up on his teaching. Fire dragons are elder dragons, real nasty ones. Talos nearly got killed by one back in the day.”
“Yeah, I heard about that. That must hurt…”
“Huntin’s not a kind business, sweetie. You’re bound to get hurt, nearly killed, someday.”
By now we had moved away from the airship platform and onto a dark stone road that led to the city. Vendors sat at every corner and Aptonoth carried goods through the streets. There was sand everywhere, in the streets, in shops, coating the windows. I could feel it in my armor and on my skin. Xavier seemed to deal with it, however.
“Sandy, isn’t it?” he said, like he was reading my mind. “We get a lot of sand blown in from above the crater. And since we’re down here, none gets blown out. Apparently, the founders of this place found the crater just full of sand. Took them years to empty the place out, mostly with hard labor.”
“How do you do it now?” I asked.
“Well that’s the cool part about Satetsu; we’ve got something no other city has got. You know those giant gears you saw?”
“Well, underground we operate a second, enormous gear system. The streets we’re walking on are all attached to these huge cast iron gears. There’s a huge natural cave serviced by several rivers down there, where all the sand goes. We just rotate a number of the main streets underground and most of the sand is eliminated. They still cart some out, but very little.”
“No way. That can’t be possible.”
“Took years to finish. Almost two decades. That huge tower in the center? That’s the housing shell for the main axle. It turns, and then in a chain reaction the rest of the gears in the system turn, flipping the streets in an outward spiral. We run it every eight months or so.”
“That’s insane! I’ve never even…”
“Never even thought of it? Haha, well they do call us the Iron Sand for a reason now!”
“And what are all the other gears for?”
“Wheels in the rivers below turn some, generating power; others, run on the power from that as well as steam, run other things, like factory parts. Industrial stuff.”
“Back in Pokke we don’t even have steam power…”
“Ah, Pokke eh? I stayed there for a year or so with the group. A little boring, no offense, of course!”
“Course not, it is a little boring sometimes. And cold for you, I’d imagine.”
“Nah, I grew up in the highlands, so cold is nothing. I’m used to this heat by now though, being the current Guild head.”
“Oh yeah, right. Talos doesn’t really like the Guild…”
“Nothing new to me. Although I can’t really help you about why he hates it so much, it’s complicated. Maybe if you survive, he’ll tell you!” he chuckled.
“Hehe, funny. I kinda want to know though. He’s always so mysterious.”
“Well he was the serious one in our group, even at your age. Aging further can’t have really helped that.”
“What was your group like, anyway? I’ve heard a bit about it.”
“Erm, well, I really shouldn’t talk about. Talos wouldn’t be very happy. But I’ll let you know a tidbit of info, I guess. There were four of us in the group; we were an elite team, prodigies by age 16. Each of us had a special talent, I guess.”
“Well, Talos was just brutal. He could take down a monster with his bare hands if he needed to; I’ve seen him do it. We had a hunting horn guy, Asero. He lives here, we go out for drinks often. He was a musician by nature; could charm the fight right out of a monster. He has this big, mystic bell, blessed by a monk or something, that chimes in tune with his breaths, and man I dunno how he did it, but he could heal wounds, strengthen a hunter, jack up your stamina, with just his music.”
“That’s awesome! I’ve never heard of something like that! Hunting Horns are mostly used as distractions and lifepowder dispersals, right?”
“Yup, but Asero didn’t need anything. It was literally like magic. Me, I’m a gunlance fighter. I was their explosives expert. I was also an expert at both human monster anatomy and physiology by the time I was, say, 15? Other Guild hunters nicknamed me The Surgeon.”
“Awesome! And what about the fourth?”
“Oh, yeah, them. I can’t talk to you about them, sorry. That’s taboo between the three of us. Now let’s get movin’, yeah?”
“Wait, why not? You said nothing’s confidential anymore.”
“Well, I may have lied. You don’t talk about comrades who…who…never mind. You can’t tell Talos you even heard about a fourth, okay? He won’t be pleased.”
“Fine. So, uh, where are we going?”