Fifteen Years Later
The climate in Loc Lac city was always sweltering during the day, but Phisto Docks found it pleasantly warm that afternoon as he went down to the main tavern to meet with his friends. The city was all a-bustle, with merchants, farmers, and of course hunters going about their daily business in an even more excited state than usual.
Phisto knew it was because of the Tundra King's visit to Loc Lac that was getting them excited. The Tundra King had a stronghold way up north, only a few miles south of that blistering landscape known as the Tundra. And he always visited at this time of year to meet with the Guildmaster of the local Hunter's Guild, staying for a week or two in order to negotiate peace treaties and stuff like that. The Tundra King was rumored to be slightly on the cruel side, but he was extremely wealthy and commanded a large territory, so he demanded a lot of respect.
Of course, the only reason Phisto enjoyed his annual visits was because Morgana often came along. She was a hunter about his age, and he always had a good time when she was around. His best friend was an excellent distraction from the drudgery of daily life in Loc Lac - and in particular, the way the locals treated him.
Phisto was an orphan who had never known his parents. He had been brought up by the Bones family and then turned out as soon as he became of hunting age. Phisto could take care of himself, and he at least had his own house, but it was a lonely lifestyle. At least Catry still treats me like family, he thought.
The tavern came into sight, and as usual it was bursting with hunters grabbing quests from the Guild. The monster-human war was as fierce as it ever was, and neither side ever seemed to gain the upper hand. Phisto himself, as well as Morgana and Catry, were hunters as well - only Low-Rank, but hunters nevertheless.
Phisto found his two friends already chatting at their usual table over their mugs of Popo milk and Aptonoth steaks. Quickly grabbing his own meal from the bar close by, he sat down next to Morgana with a grin on his face. "Long time no see," he greeted her. "Phisto!" she squealed, hugging him. "You look good! Are you still using your Dual Blades?" Phisto just grinned and held up a pair of swords.
Phisto and Morgana loved using Gigginox weapons, just because their abilities were so useful. Phisto himself had once carried two Gigginox Dual Blades, but lost one on a hunt. Morgana had given him a Baleful Gigginox sword to replace it, and from there on out, Phisto had used them on every single hunt. The blades each had names - Bloodwing and Deathbolt. Or for short, Bloodbolt.Morgana liked using her Gigginox Lance, which she called Luinox. Not only that, she wore a full set of Gigginox armor. Phisto himself had a lightweight set of Great Jaggi armor, mostly because he didn't have the physical strength to handle the heavy-duty stuff most other hunters wore.
Catry Bones looked on awkwardly at the two reunited friends. He himself wore Duramboros armor and carried a Great Sword called the Lacerator Blade.
"So how's life in the Tundra?" he asked Morgana. "Cold and boring," she said. "I much prefer spending time with you guys in Loc Lac." She eyed the clear skies and murmured, "No Jhen Mohran approaching this time?" Phisto nodded - normally there would be a vicious sandstorm blasting across the Great Desert due to the approach of the Elder Dragon.
"Oh, that reminds me!" Morgana suddenly exclaimed. "I've got something here for both of you." She pulled out two items from her bag - a small book for Phisto and a carved Barioth for Catry. Phisto immediately opened the book and flipped through it, viewing monsters he had never even heard of before. Morgana explained, "The King's researchers came back a while ago from their expedition to the Nameless Region south of Moga. That's across the Great Desert! And they brought this back!"
Phisto paused at the sight of a ferocious-looking serpentine monster. "Garara Ajara," he read out loud. "Naga truncatis. Lives in the Nameless, prefers ambush attacks, using the plates on its neck and tail to attack with vibrations..." Catry ripped the book out of his hands to take a look at the drawing. "Enough mumbo-jumbo," he said dismissively. "How would you kill it?"
Morgana rolled her eyes amusedly at her two friends - Phisto Docks the scholar and Catry Bones the warrior.
Just then there was a loud murmur from the crowd, and the hunters parted to form a clear path. Phisto ended up right on the edge of said path, and thus was able to clearly see the Tundra King as he passed arrogantly through the tavern. The King had snow-white hair and a beard to match, covered in magnificent fur-lined robes and a bit of jewelry here and there.
His two children followed. There was Aeren, twelve years old and an enthusiastic learner in the sport of hunting. He was always eager to see hunters in action, particularly when they got mauled by their adversaries. And then there was Jadira, the fair raven-haired maiden, only a year older than Phisto and his friends.
Everything went back to normal as the royal family passed through. "There's a rumor flying around the kingdom that the King plans on marrying Jadira off to some noble in Minegarde," Morgana said quietly. "I've also heard that she didn't take it well. Apparently she killed the messenger that brought the news." Phisto whistled and glanced back at Jadira's retreating figure. So much for the phrase "don't kill the messenger", he thought grimly.
"So anyway," Catry piped up. "What hunt are we going to take today? Morgana's only staying a week or two, so we have to make each hunt count!" Phisto and Morgana both nodded. "Another Gigginox?" she suggested, and Catry rolled his eyes. "We've had enough of those to last a lifetime." Morgana protested indignantly, "But it's my favorite monster!"
Phisto raised a hand. "How about a Volvidon?" he suggested. "I just got the approval from the Guildmaster to hunt my first one, so I think it'll be an exciting monster." Catry yawned, "You have to aim higher than that! Your dad was the greatest hunter ever! Legend has it he even took down a Taltaira!"
Phisto snorted. "The God of the Skies doesn't exist," he said. "And I thought we agreed to never talk about my parents." His voice broke on the last word, and Morgana put her arm around him comfortingly. Catry, embarrassed, drummed his fingers on the table. "Lagiacrus, then?" he asked awkwardly.
Suddenly there was a huge commotion from the airship docks. A Guild messenger came running, sweat dripping down his face, heading straight for the table at which the Guildmaster sat. "MIRALIS!" he screeched. "DIRE MIRALIS SIGHTING!"
He slapped down a piece of paper in front of the Guildmaster, most likely the contract to hunt the Elder Dragon. "You needed to know," the messenger whispered into the dead silence that now pervaded the tavern. He then crumpled to the ground in a dead faint.
Before an uproar could start, the Guildmaster stood up onto the table to make himself be heard. He dismissed all the hunters from the tavern until him and his aides could figure out a strategy for killing the monster. Phisto, Morgana, and Catry were the first to leave.
Inwardly, Phisto was seething. Dire Miralis was the monster that had killed his parents. Apparently, they had encountered it just a month after settling down in Loc Lac, and no one had ever seen them again after that. Rumors had circulated wildly, but Phisto knew what had happened - the Elder Dragon had killed them, and even though he had never known them, he knew that this was his chance to avenge them.
He turned to Catry and hissed under his breath, "You were saying something about aiming higher?"
The Tainted Sea was a place everyone wanted to avoid. Phisto and his friends, however, had stolen an airship and snuck off toward this dangerous gulf off the coast of the Volcano.
For ages, boats had mysteriously gone missing in this region when their trade routes took them past it. No one knew why, but everyone suspected that it was the rumored presence of an ancient Elder Dragon slumbering deep under the waves. The Dire Miralis was like an underwater volcano, sleeping for decades only to awaken and rampage. They said the heat it produced was enough to conjure whirlpools and tidal waves, and there was even a legend about how it was the being that had birthed creation.
But none of this, for once, put Phisto off. Gripping Bloodwing and Deathbolt tightly in his hands, he jumped out of the airship and landed on the deserted shores. Morgana and Catry nervously followed.
Wreckage from destroyed ships littered the shores of the bay. In the distance, the Volcano ominously rose up from the horizon, spewing smoke and ash. Waves lapped at the rocky beach, and Phisto was astonished to find that the water was pleasantly warm, even hot.
"Is anyone else having second thoughts about this?" Morgana asked, gulping and tightening her grip on Luinox's handle. "Third and fourth thoughts, thanks for noticing," Catry replied. Phisto didn't say anything, he just stared out at the water as if the waves held the answers to all life's questions.
But just then, the water began to boil. The three cried out as the water became scalding hot. The temperature increased to a point where the entire bay began to steam. And in the center of it all, a fiery orange glow appeared under the surface. A loud roar built up from the depths, causing the waves to intensify and crash down upon the beach relentlessly.Then in an explosion of boiling water and lava, an immense head and torso emerged from the surface of the steaming bay. Encased in a hard shell riddled with pockets of heat, the Elder Dragon roared towards the sky in a mighty display of its power and might. Its head and wings gushed lava that fell into the water with a loud hiss. It was the Dire Miralis, and rumors said that only the mythical White Fatalis was stronger.
Phisto's eyes blazed at the sight of the monster. Morgana and Catry squeaked as their hands shook, causing their weapons to tremble. But Phisto kept his grip on the Bloodbolts as he readied for battle.
The Dire Miralis clambered up onto the shore, scalding water pouring from it like a massive volcanic rainstorm. It suddenly turned its crimson eyes towards the three humans that stood like tiny Hornetaurs beneath it. Narrowing its eye until they were only gleaming amber slits, it softly growled and reared its head up until it eclipsed the setting sun.
Just then, as the only sound came from the waves still crashing against the shore and sending a mist across the area, the Dire Miralis roared deafeningly, massive fireballs spewing from its wing plates in a furious storm of fire. As the three hunters clapped their hands over their ears, and the Elder Dragon continued to roar, the fireballs began to fall back down toward the ground, crashing down with explosive impacts. The ground rocked continuously as the three friends scrambled to avoid the falling meteors.
Phisto was first to strike, slashing out with his Dual Blades. He hit the beast's foot dead-on, but its armored hide refused to be cut. A fireball dropped down from its wing and slammed the ground uncomfortably close to Phisto. The Dire Miralis felt the blow struck from Bloodwing and lowered down onto all fours, trying to crush him with its feet. Phisto avoided the falling Elder Dragon and scrambled back to his friends, now also charging into the battle.
Morgana ducked under its leg and speared it in the belly with her Lance. Luinox's point somehow managed to pierce its super-tough armor, causing the Dire Miralis to recoil away from the pain reflexively. As it did so, Catry ran over to its front claw and bashed its talons with the flat of his Lacerator Blade. It had an effect akin to stepping on another person's fingers - the Elder Dragon roared and yanked its claw away, then twisted its head to snap at the fleeing boy.
Phisto slashed at one of the heat pockets on its tail with his Bloodbolts, causing a tingle of electricity and poison to disturb the Miralis. It turned and smashed its claw down, trying to crush him again. He was too quick though, and dove to end up by Morgana's side. Together, they struck at it with their venomous weapons.
However, both blows missed as the Dire Miralis smashed the base of its tail into the ground, causing a tremor that knocked them off their feet. Lava poured uncontrollably from the Miralis' head and wing plates, and its mouth glowed as it prepared to unleash a blast of magma. The two friends scrambled to their feet as the ball of lava crashed into the ground where they once stood.
Catry crashed his Great Sword onto the ground with a loud clang, distracting the Miralis away from the two. Phisto spied the point of a hidden Dragonator in one of the wrecked ships, he crept over to the old, rotting launching mechanism and crouched on the deck of the boat. It took an effort to contain his rage and not charge back into the battle.
Morgana and Catry saw where he was and decided that he had hit upon a good plan. They subtly began to lure the Dire Miralis to Phisto's ship, where he would strike the mechanism and send the Dragonator right at the Miralis.
But the Dire Miralis was reluctant to follow. It charged in a rush at the couple, then backed away just before it would have hit them. It, too, was trying to lure them into an attack as it repeated the process. The dragon roared deafeningly the third time this happened, and the combined noise and fake attack made Morgana and Catry draw closer together,
It was exactly what the Miralis wanted. Bunched up as they were, it would be able to obliterate them with one colossal strike. A cone of white flame built in its mouth as it aimed directly at the two. Just as the flame reached maximum heat, the two broke out of their stunned state and ran for the ship.
Behind them, a huge, pressurized, white-hot fireball flew out of the Dire Miralis' mouth. It struck the ground, which was only a short distance away, and exploded in a gigantic conflagration of whirling flame and embers. The attack was so powerful that it forced the Dire Miralis back into a bipedal position. One of the flames spinning around from the impact zone managed to lick at Morgana's leg, and she fell with an agonized scream, badly burnt. Now, the Elder Dragon roared as it lumbered for another assault on the hunters.
But by now, it was close enough to the ship to be speared with the Dragonator. Phiso reared to his full height and shouted at the Miralis. "This is for my parents!" he shrieked, holding Deathbolt up high. As the Miralis' great eyes widened, he smashed the blade into the launching mechanism, and the combined impact and electricity-infused blade triggered the Dragonator.
The immense spear shot out with blinding speed and skewered the Miralis right in its leg. Bright orange blood sprayed out and around from the ghastly wound, as if the Dire Miralis had magma flowing through its veins. It gave an earthshaking roar of pain and toppled, falling to the rocky shores of the Tainted Sea with a mighty crash.
Morgana staggered to her feet at the sight of the fallen dragon. Catry came to support her as Phisto rushed out to finish the Elder Dragon. But as he got there, the Miralis stopped him in its tracks with a surprisingly quiet growl. "I did... not kill... your parents... Phisto," it rumbled.
Phisto's eye twitched in shock and he reflexively dropped his weapons. It took him a while to find his voice in order to ask the questions already gathering on his tongue. "How do you know my name?" he asked quietly. "How do you know my parents? If you didn't kill them, then what did? And how the hell are we talking to each other?"
The Dire Miralis gave a small, pained smile. By this time, Morgana and Catry had came over, wondering why Phisto wasn't about to strike the finishing blow. They both had similar reactions as Phisto had when the Elder Dragon spoke again.
"In answer to your last question," it said with a laugh embedded deep in its voice, "all Elder Dragons can speak the human language. Indeed, all monsters once shared their language with the humans, before the war. Now, only a few of us, the oldest and wisest of us, can remember enough of the language in order to communicate with you." Phisto blinked - he had heard only the most intelligent of all monsters, the Berukyurosu and Doragyurosu of the Great Frontier, could learn and speak fluently in the human language. As best as he could tell, all other monsters could only be taught a few words at best. And some couldn't speak at all. But he had no inkling that the oldest monsters, the ones who had been alive since the start of the centuries-long war, could still remember and speak to humans.
The Dire Miralis was speaking again. "The answer to your first question - how I know who you are - I recognized you when you shouted at me moments ago. I knew that you were referring to the two whom I met all those years ago. They told me that their son's name was Phisto..." It trailed off, lost in memories.
In a few seconds, it spoke once more, and now all three were listening intently. "In answer to your second question, I met your parents almost fifteen years ago when they came to the shores of the Tainted Sea. They had come from a faraway place, fleeing from their home that was no more, where Elder Dragons like me were extinct. They said that they came because they wanted to see me, an Elder Dragon that was only an old children's story where they had lived."
The dragon's voice became dark and filled with pain. "And that leads me to my last answer..." The Dire Miralis fell silent, and Phisto waited. "What did it?" he demanded, unable to contain it any longer. "What killed my parents?"
Finally, the dragon spoke. "The same thing that brought destruction upon their village - a horde of Bird Wyverns. They came just as the sun was setting. My beach was swarming with them in seconds. Your parents fought valiantly, but they soon disappeared from my view... I tried to save them, but when the Bird Wyverns finally parted and fled back to whence they came, there was no trace of them."
Phisto was silent for a very long time.
Morgana and Catry just stared at him, waiting for him to react. At last, he retrieved his weapons and pointed one at the Dire Miralis. "You lie," he spat angrily, voice shaking. "My parents were great hunters. They were heroes. Nothing as small as a Bird Wyvern would cause their deaths."
With a roar, the Dire Miralis painfully got to its feet. But it didn't attack. Instead, it said softly, "I do not lie. And your parents... they were not hunters."
The Dire Miralis then slipped into the boiling waves and disappeared without a trace.
Phisto suddenly broke down, kneeling on the ground and crying into his hands. Morgana bent down to his level and hugged him gently, doing her best to comfort him. Everything he thought he knew had just been turned upside down. How? How could mere Bird Wyverns have killed my parents? And... just... why?! Humans and monsters are at war! Why weren't they hunters, and why didn't the Dire Miralis want to help them? Why didn't it kill them where they stood?
The tears stopped flowing and looked at Morgana. She had a sympathetic expression on her face. She smiled sadly at him as she helped him up, and Catry punched his shoulder in an effort to cheer him up.
But Phisto didn't notice. His eyes were riveted on the airship that had appeared in the sky above the Tainted Sea. With a sinking heart, he could see the short figure of the Guildmaster on board, and the regal, white-robed Tundra King beside him.
And as they drew closer, he could see that neither of them looked happy to see them safe and sound.
To be Continued...