The next day was when the trouble really began to start.
Phisto woke up in his rather small bed unceremoniously when Catry shoved him out. "What the rampaging Rhenoplos has gotten into you?" the boy hissed, getting up angrily and glaring through his heavy-lidded eyes. "Our next monster slaying requests," Catry stated. "Come on, put your armor on and we'll go see the Chief."
In the bed next to his, Morgana sat up and rubbed the sleep from her eyes, gazing at Catry questioningly. "You too," he said, throwing her the Lance and shield she always carried. "Come on, there are monsters to slay! Are you two going to sit around all day?"
Catry ran out of the hut the three of them shared. "I've been living with that kid for months, and his enthusiasm about hunting never fails to impress me," Morgana said sleepily, reaching for her Gigginox armor. "I think 'frustrates' is the word you're looking for," Phisto muttered, already halfway into his Jaggi armor set. "We might as well not keep him waiting, although I would like to get a decent breakfast first..."
The two friends emerged from their hut fully equipped, weapons shining in the early morning sunlight. The villagers already going about their work stared at the two teenagers in awe as they passed. It was clear that these people had little experience with hunters. You know what I'd like? Phisto grumbled to himself. Little experience with over-eager hunters like Catry... Why must the day start at such an ungodly hour?
Catry joined them shortly, and they found the Chief out at the end of one of the docks, smoking his pipe and staring out at the sunrise. He didn't even turn around when the three friends approached him. He simply murmured, "It's not often people wake up in the mornin' and simply admire the sunrise. You kids ought ta do it once in a while. It helps this old man relax, knowin' that a brand new day is about to start."
"If you don't give us those hunting requests quickly, those monsters are going to make sure you never see another one," Catry pointed out, and Phisto and Morgana simultaneously rolled their eyes. While they did love their friend, he took their job way too seriously.
The Chief laughed and finally turned around to face them. "It's clear you're itching to start yer work for today," he chuckled. "Speak for yourself," Phisto muttered, yawning.
"So," the Chieftain suddenly said, handing them two slips of paper. "These are the requests that the Guild sent yesterday. It seems like they're keepin' an eye on ya. Anyhow, they want ya to slay a coupla monsters in different locations. According to our local Guild associate, these two popped up unexpectedly and out of nowhere and are causin' a heckuva lot of trouble."
Phisto took the paper and examined both sheets, while his friends looked at them over his shoulder. The first one entailed hunting a Nibelsnarf. Apparently (according to the quest description), this monster had appeared almost overnight in the Sandy Plains, and the Guild had no idea it was even there until it had eaten three trade caravans going through the area the following morning. The quest was marked "Unstable".
The second was hunting a Great Wroggi in the Volcano. This Wroggi leader had spontaneously jumped a group of hunters while they were on an Agnaktor hunt, and their shock had cost them their lives. Like the Nibelsnarf, the Guild was totally surprised by its presence in the hunting ground. This quest was also marked "Unstable".
"That's weird," Morgana commented, seeing the quest descriptions for herself. "Why hadn't the Guild predicted the appearances of these monsters?" Catry shrugged and replied, "Who cares about that when we get a profit from stepping over their corpses?"
Phisto thought hard about it, but couldn't come up with an answer. Indeed, the erratic behaviour of the monsters in the Moga region was worrying.
However, he shook it off. We're in the middle of war, he reminded himself. It is bound to get fiercer. The monsters are just trying to tighten their grip on the hunting grounds, that's all.
"Why don't we split up for now?" Morgana suggested. "Catry, since Great Wroggis aren't all that tough, why don't you tackle him alone, while Phisto and I go for the Nibelsnarf?" Catry considered her idea for a short while and then shrugged, making it clear that it didn't matter to him.
"Alright," Phisto said, turning back to the Chief. "How are we going to get to the hunting grounds without an airship?" The Chief gestured down to the end of the pier, where two boats were lashed. "Just take them boats," he said with a chuckle. "The Volcano's relatively near the coastline, so that journey's no trouble. But the Sandy Plains're pretty dang far inland, so the two of ya will need to take an Aptonoth or Gargwa-drawn cart across Moga. It'll take a few days or so, but yeh'll reach it safely, and quicker than on foot."
Phisto and Morgana looked at each other. It seemed as if they had a long journey ahead of them.
The three of them bid the Chief farewell and gathered some supplies from the village. Each of them already had plenty of Potions, Mega Potions, Whetstones, and other basic items with them. However, they all made a stop at the small shop that the village boasted, purchasing Antidotes, Cool Drinks, and Hot Drinks with the bit of zenny they still had. Also, they took some extra food from the fishmongress, who gave it to them without asking for payment.
"Looks like we're ready to go," Catry observed when they stood together at the pier once again. He was idly sharpening his Lacerator Blade with a Whetstone in preparation for the upcoming hunt. "Yep," Phisto replied. "We might as well go now if we're going to be away from the village for a few days."
Catry climbed into his boat and checked the map. He'd have to do a fair bit of rowing if he were to reach the Volcano. Likewise, Phisto climbed into his own vessel and helped Morgana in as well. They, too, checked the map - it would be a long, hard journey to the Sandy Plains. Who knows how many people would be killed by the Nibelsnarf by then?
Phisto forced himself not to think about it. Instead, he and Morgana untied the rope that lashed the boat to the pier and began to row.
The Volcano was located close to the coast. It was thanks to this nearness to the ocean that monsters such as Crimson Qurupeco were able to thrive here, bringing lots of fish to the region and occasionally depositing the odd Epioth corpse onto the shore. It was the little things in life that counted for a monster.
Catry found himself on the banks of the small gulf nearest to the Volcano itself. It was about mid-afternoon, but the clouds of ash belched up by the Volcano darkened the sky. He lashed his boat to a random rock that stuck out of the water and slowly waded toward the shore. "Now, where could that Wroggi be?" he asked himself, adjusting his Duramboros helm so he could see better. "If I was a slimy orange Bird Wyvern, where would I hide?"All of a sudden, a loud, howling croak split the otherwise calm atmosphere. Catry looked up at the Volcano and saw the huge Great Wroggi loping down the mountainside, heading right toward him. "Guess I didn't need to ask after all," he muttered to himself, drawing his Lacerator Blade.
The Great Wroggi howled, a guttural sound that echoed across the coast and announced its presence to any monster in the nearby vicinity. A small group of Kelbi dashed away in the opposite direction, with a few Aptonoth joining them in their flight. In stark contrast to their behaviour, ten Wroggis slipped out from their hiding places in between the volcanic rocks and joined their leader.
"You're not going to overwhelm me with numbers!" Catry yelled at the Bird Wyverns. "You hear me? You are not!"
Needless to say, the gang of Wroggis didn't take being yelled at kindly. At a short croak from the Great Wroggi, they all inflated their throat sacs and sprayed poisonous mist into the air. The leader added its own toxic brew to the ever-spreading cloud, rapidly surrounding Catry with purple fog.
Growling, Catry took a deep breath and plunged into the cloud, throwing a Flash Bomb behind him. The bomb exploded with light, blinding all of the Bird Wyverns and allowing him to escape from the cloud of poison without opposition. But the effects of the Flash Bomb wore off more quickly than he had anticipated, and the hunter soon found the pack on him again.
"Alright, no more messing around!" Catry shouted, heaving his Great Sword over his shoulder. "Any Bird Wyvern that gets in my way is dead meat!"
The Great Wroggi leapt forward and pinned him to the ground. It opened its slender maw and howled in his face, eyes narrowed and throat sac pulsing faintly. Catry wriggled until his arm had been wrenched from the monster's grasp, and then he plunged his hand into his pouch and whipped out a Dung Bomb. This one exploded with a foul, manure-like odor, driving the Wroggi back with a disgusted croak.
Catry let out a loud battle cry as he leapt to his feet and retrieved his Lacerator Blade, which had fallen to the ground when the Great Wroggi pinned him. He swung the heavy, metallic sword in a wide arc, slicing right through the Bird Wyvern's tough hide. It cried out in pain, a high-pitched, gurgling shriek. Blood poured down from the gash in its flank, staining its bright orange skin red.
Two smaller Wroggis had been killed in Catry's attack. The others crowded around the Great Wroggi, all hissing and croaking as they defended their leader. Catry gritted his teeth in frustration, knowing he'd have to get through the smaller Wroggis before he could safely finish the Great Wroggi.
He swung his Great Sword again, sending the head of one of the Wroggis spinning off into the water. The remaining seven all shrieked and sprayed their poison into the air, but Catry avoided it. He heaved his blade and crashed it into the ground, chopping two more Wroggis in half.
The Great Wroggi howled loudly, obviously calling for help. But just then, the water behind it boiled and churned, as if about to leap out and attack the Bird Wyvern pack. A bright light shone from the depths, and Catry instantly knew what was lurking just beyond the coastline. He put away his Lacerator Blade and ran away from the water's edge. The Great Wroggi stopped howling and stared after him imperiously - it thought that it had successfully chased him away.But then, a deafening, hissing roar gurgled up from the depths of the salty, briny seawater. The Great Wroggi turned around, startled, just in time to see a massive grey Leviathan surge up out of the water, jaws open wide.
Catry looked back in response to the roar. He was just in time to see the last five Wroggis scattering, and the Leviathan clamping down on the squirming Bird Wyvern and swallowing it whole.
The Smoky Gobul stared down at the young hunter, its lantern glowing a fiery red and its teeth dripping with blood and saliva. Catry was far from intimidated, raising his Lacerator Blade and shouting, "You might have killed the Great Wroggi, but you're no match for the wrath of Catry Bones!"
And with another battle cry, he rushed toward the Smoky Gobul.
Somehow, Phisto and Morgana managed to make the two-day journey from Moga Island to the Sandy Plains in just over a day. Night had already fallen, and the moon bathed the drab brown landscape in silver light. Unlike the Desert in the Great Frontier that Phisto had read about, the Sandy Plains was a very diverse region, with lots of water and a surprising amount of plant life.
The Sandy Plains itself was a hunting ground that was located at the very edge of the Great Desert, which was where Loc Lac City was situated and where the legendary Jhen Mohran swam. Apparently, the part of the Great Desert that extended into the Nameless region was devoid of Jhen Mohran, and instead home to the savage Darren Mohran. Phisto had never seen either of these ancient Elder Dragons, but he wanted to someday.
Right now, though, the two hunters brought their Aptonoth-drawn cart to a stop. They were on the edge of a huge, sandy expanse. In the distance, they could see a small bed of cacti, and beyond that, there was a huge ravine that separated the Sandy Plains from the desert beyond. Shivering from the terrible cold that the Sandy Plains was well known for, Phisto and Morgana simultaneously swallowed Hot Drinks to keep them warm.
The initially cold liquid washed down their throats and settled in their stomachs. Suddenly, they both began to feel a spot of heat inside of them, which grew rapidly and bloomed inside of them, quickly filling their bodies with a comfortable warmth. They stopped shivering and relaxed.
"So this is usually where we can find Nibelsnarves, correct?" Morgana asked Phisto uncertainly. He was a lot smarter when it came to monster habits. In fact, he once told her that he was considering writing a field guide to the monsters of Moga. He replied, "Yes indeed. Nibelsnarves prefer areas where the sand is loose so that they can swim more easily."
But right now, it seemed as if there wasn't any sign of their quarry. Phisto scanned the moonlit horizon, looking out at the great sands that seemed to extend for miles. The only disturbances in the sand came from a school of Delex, throwing up small clouds of dust as their fins sliced through the ground in their search for prey. Farther out into the dunes, a small herd of Rhenoplos grazed on the tough desert shrubs.
Phisto and Morgana made their way cautiously out into the desert, keeping their distance from the Delex and Rhenoplos. They made their way around the mountains of sand that rose well above their heads, all the while keeping an eye out for the target of their hunt. Phisto remembered that there was supposed to be another large monster in the area, so he made sure to look out for that as well.
Suddenly, Morgana tripped on an unexpected rock and fell with a small cry of surprise. She hit the sand with a muffled *thump* and laughed embarrassedly. Phisto laughed as well and extended his hand, offering to help her up. She smiled and strongly grabbed it, allowing him to pull her to her feet with effort. However, he pulled a little harder than he meant to, and she ended up bumping into him.
Up close, Phisto saw her blush as her nose came into contact with his. But she didn't pull away. Instead, she smiled softly. Phisto couldn't help but smile back.
But that was when the sand dune they were standing next to moved.There was an explosion of sand as it rapidly sank into the ground. Phisto and Morgana drew away from each other and turned around in shock in time to see a trail of dust heading rapidly towards the herd of Rhenoplos in the distance. The two friends glanced at each other, nodded, and ran after it, drawing their weapons.
The Nibelsnarf leapt out of the sand and sailed over the Rhenoplos herd. The Herbivores bellowed and scattered all over the place, panicking at the sight of their worst enemy. With an immense squeal, the massive Leviathan slithered rapidly after a pair, scooping them up in its monstrous jaws and crunching down eagerly.Phisto hurled a Sonic Bomb, which exploded with a shrill sonic tone and startled the Nibelsnarf. It cried out and shook its head as the sound momentarily disoriented it. In those few moments it took to recover, Phisto was already on top of it. He slashed at the Nibelsnarf's flank, causing blood to spurt out onto the sand. Morgana thrust her Lance at the Nibelsnarf's other side, drawing more blood and injecting the creature with poison.
Even though the venom used in the duo's weapons was actually not as toxic as the fresh venom that Gigginox used, it still caused pain as it seeped through the Leviathan's bloodstream. Blindly, the Nibelsnarf turned around and snapped its jaws at them, forcing them to flee or be bitten clean in half.
Morgana was the first to recover, holding up her shield to catch a stray blow from the Nibelsnarf's tail before stabbing it twice with Luinox. As the Leviathan turned to deal with her, Phisto hacked at its already-bleeding flank with Bloodwing and Deathbolt. Squealing in pain, the Nibelsnarf dove underneath the sand and seemed to disappear.
Phisto was about to put away his weapons when Morgana motioned for him to keep them out. She had hunted Nibelsnarves before, and knew that it probably hadn't fled at all. She reached into her item pouch with her shield-carrying arm and experimentally tossed a Sonic Bomb.
The sand suddenly exploded only a few feet from the duo as the sound pierced the Nibelsnarf's ears. It had been waiting to ambush the hunters, but the screech of the Sonic Bomb was unbearable to it. It let out a terrific squeal as it leapt out of the sand and began to thrash about. Phisto and Morgana shared a look and closed in, making sure to avoid its wildly flailing claws and tail.
The Nibelsnarf suddenly flipped back onto its feet and rapidly spun in a circle, sweeping huge clouds of sand into the air with its massive tail. Phisto was swatted with a force that would normally have broken him in half - but instead he rode with the blow, flying an impressive distance before landing relatively softly on a sand dune. He groaned with pain, which was so intense he couldn't bear to move at the moment.
"Phisto, look out!" screamed Morgana, even as the Nibelsnarf dove under the sand and began to rapidly swim toward his helpless form. The boy forced himself to move despite the pain, which was rapidly fading into numbness. Coughing up blood, he winced as he stumbled to his feet, temporarily weaponless. He wondered through the haze of pain in his mind where his Dual Blades were.
Suddenly, there was a flash of light as something flew through the air straight at him. He caught Deathbolt by the handle flawlessly (he had practiced this extensively before) and fought to keep himself from falling unconscious. He knew that the Nibelsnarf's tail had inflicted some serious physical damage on him, and the combination of pain, possible brain damage, and likely broken bones was disorienting him something fierce.
The sand worm swam closer to him, its broad head pushing through the desert sands in front of it. In his disoriented state, Phisto could barely stand, much less defend himself. Morgana was too far away to do anything. He'd have to save himself.
Through the tension of the moment, not even the Nibelsnarf's keen senses detected the spiked fin heading rapidly toward the scene of battle.
Several things happened at once - the ground shook slightly, and the Nibelsnarf suddenly snapped its head upwards and shrieked, sounding like it was in terrible agony. Phisto collapsed on the sand as the noise pounded through his head, and Morgana screamed his name through the din. The Leviathan thrashed around, then suddenly rolled over onto its back and went limp. Its colorful underbelly was streaked with blood, and there was a series of horrible, fatal bites taken out of it.
Phisto wondered what could have done such a thing without being seen - when suddenly, the thing erupted from the sand, throwing what looked like an entire dune into the air around it. Through the haze of sand and the fog shrouding his own mind, Phisto could see a massive shape moving within. It looked bigger, much bigger, than any Nibelsnarf.
The sand eventually settled down onto the ground, and what the moonlight revealed was the gleaming brown-and-purple scales of a magnificent Piscene Wyvern. Its tough, membraned wings stretched wide, blotting out the moon and stars as it stood tall and emitted a piercing screech. Phisto knew the beast to be a Tawny Plesioth - a beast he thought only inhabited the faraway Central World! What is going on here?
The Tawny Plesioth swung its tail toward him, and it was only his quick reflexes that saved him from being swatted away like a Bnahabra. It charged, snapping at him with its terrible teeth. Phisto narrowly avoided them and swung Deathbolt clumsily, nicking the Piscene Wyvern on the nose. It flinched from the pain, then suddenly reared its head into the air, sand dribbling from its mouth.
Knowing what it was about to do, Phisto leapt to the side just as the Plesioth spat a dense jet of sand straight ahead. The jet impacted against the ground and made a sand dune explode into a cloud of the fine powder it was made up of. Phisto thanked the gods that he had managed to get out of the way in time. Morgana joined him and wordlessly handed him Bloodwing, completing his set of Dual Blades.
Together, they faced the Tawny Plesioth. Morgana somehow blocked a solid blow from its tail with her shield, even as Phisto dove under its snapping jaws and slashed it in the chin. With a screech of pain and anger, the Tawny Plesioth leapt high into the air and turned a somersault before plunging down into the sand headfirst.
Squinting through the haze of dirt that ensued upon its impact with the ground, Phisto saw its fin suddenly appear some distance away. The fin swerved sharply and streaked through the earth directly toward them. Morgana and Phisto both fled just as the Tawny Plesioth leapt out of the sand at the last minute, slamming into the ground right where they had been a second before. The monster hissed with annoyance before burrowing beneath the earth once more.
Phisto put away the Bloodbolts and shook his head furiously. The delirium he had experienced as a result of the Nibelsnarf's attack was slowly clearing. Morgana put a comforting hand on his shoulder in order to help him steady himself. He smiled gratefully at her and scanned the area - it seemed as if there was no more sign of the Tawny Plesioth.
The Rhenoplos from earlier had returned now that the Nibelsnarf was gone, and a pack of Delex was now coasting across the sands toward them. It looked to Phisto that the herd wasn't out of the proverbial woods just yet as the smaller Piscene Wyverns porpoised through the grainy earth like dolphins, chattering in anticipation of a meal. Hmm, a Rhenoplos steak sounds nice, actually, Phisto thought idly, stomach growling at the thought.
But suddenly, it became aware to the two friends that the Plesioth hadn't fled as far as they had thought. A fin suddenly rose up out of the ground and rapidly circled the Delex, spooking them into scattering in terror. But just then, the sand began to swirl and sink into the ground, forming a gigantic whirlpool that sucked the monsters in! The Delexes' screeches panicked the Rhenoplos into charging away.
The Tawny Plesioth erupted from the center of the whirlpool with an immense screech, a thrashing Delex trapped in its jaws. Phisto shivered both from fright and cold, as his Hot Drink was beginning to wear off.
"Come on," Morgana said in his ear. "Let's get back to Moga Village. We've done our job here."
Phisto nodded silently and shivered again, fumbling in his item pouch for another Hot Drink. The pair left the desert of the Sandy Plains behind them, leaving the resident monsters in relative peace. In the far distance, the echoing howl of a Jhen Mohran could be heard faintly, probably from miles and miles away.
However, a terrible and much closer sound drowned it out - a huge, guttural roar that stirred the chilly night air of the Sandy Plains. The Tawny Plesioth screeched and abandoned its meal, diving under the sand and swimming away. Phisto looked back and squinted into the distance. In the shadows of a distant rocky cliff, a huge, lurching monster could be seen moving about.
Morgana saw it too. "Could that be the same monster that we saw in Moga Woods? The monster that snatched the Great Jaggi?" she whispered.
Phisto shook his head. He didn't know, and he certainly didn't want to find out.
To be Continued...
Heroes of Moga VII - Return of the White Lightning