Happy holidays, everyone! In honor of this time of year, for 'tis the season to be jolly after all, I've wrote a little spin-off of the MHD trilogy, which takes place between the original MHD and MHD: Chronicle. Enjoy!

The Central World – a beautiful land that lay between those of Moga, Minegarde, and the Great Frontier. As a result, many monsters of all shapes and sizes made their homes there, making the Central World an extremely dangerous place – until recently.

This time of year, winter had already set in. Almost the entire northern half of the Central World, as well as the Frozen Wastes, of course, was covered in snow. It was because of these dramatic changes of scenery – from forests and deserts to dazzling, frosted wonderlands, the locals of Mediatas Village gave the affected locales witty names. Instead of the Forested Spring, Rainshadow Mountains, and Wet Rainforest, they were often called the Frosted Spring, Snowshadow Mountains, and White Rainforest.

The people of Mediatas Village had a special tradition that took place on the first day of the last week of the old year. It was called “Hiemfestum”, which basically meant, “winter festival”. It was at this time of the year that they celebrated it, with decorated fir trees, loads of special food, and the centuries-old tradition of giving gifts to close friends and family.

Deep in the Frozen Wastes, in a small forest of sparkling white pine trees, a small group of beings clustered. Two were humans, and two were monsters. The people were Taka, the shapeshifter, and his best friend Illeera, and the monsters were Vulcan the Rathalos and Syrie the Nargacuga. They were here for a special task – finding the largest and most spectacular fir tree to take back to Mediatas for the celebration.

“I think this is it!” called Taka, voice ringing through the otherwise still grove. Illeera came running from another part of the forest, along with Syrie and Vulcan. “You sure?” she panted, lungs stinging from breathing in the cold air. “Yep,” confirmed Taka, gesturing at the certainly magnificent tree beside him, almost twenty-five feet high.

Drawing his Longsword, Guan, at Illeera’s nod of approval, he swung it at the base of the tree, cleaving through the trunk with one swipe. Vulcan flew up and grasped the falling tree in his talons, gently lowering it to the ground. Right, he said. I’ll carry this on my back to the village. Have you got the ropes, Taka?

Taka unhooked the coiled length of rope that he carried on his shoulder, and Illeera did the same with hers. These ropes were each fifteen feet long, and would be tied around Vulcan’s midsection and tail to secure the tree to his back. As they did so, with Vulcan crouching down to patiently wait as they worked, Taka reflected on how this would probably be the best festival ever in all of his sixteen-year existence.

It was this particular Hiemfestum that was extraordinarily special. It would be the first time that the humans and monsters, which had previously been at war for many hundreds of years, would be celebrating it together. Taka and his friends had been the ones responsible for ending this war about six or seven months ago, and they had also been the ones to invite their monster companions to celebrate with them.

“All done,” said Taka with great satisfaction. “Let’s get this back to the village and commence decorating ASAP. We need to get everything ready before tomorrow.” Indeed, Hiemsfestum was the following day, and they would need to spend the entirety of today decorating in order to be ready before then.

Illeera hopped on Syrie’s back, who leapt up into the air with strong, yet clumsy, beats of her wings. Vulcan took to the sky as well, albeit after a few tries with the massive tree on his back. Taka instantly turned into a Yian Kut-Ku, following them easily with each wing stroke.

None of them noticed the pair of eyes watching them from the denser part of the frozen forest, one eye glowing crimson and one a milky white, having been slashed in a battle several years previously. The monster snarled at the sight of the two humans, having encountered them before not too long ago. It began to plan the time during which it would get its revenge on them, and the rest of their friends as well.

The party was greeted with open arms and wild cheers, for the tree was one of the most important of Hiemfestum decorations. It would stand alone in the centre of Mediatas Village so the entire village could gaze in wonder at its majesty.

As the Village Elder saw to the group of people who would prepare and steady the tree to be decorated later, Taka, Vulcan, Illeera, and Syrie went to find their other friends. It didn’t take long – Taahnn and Ignatius the Diablos soon came to greet them, and Mylie and Zin weren’t long in coming either. The Jinouga pup pounced on Illeera, joyfully licking her across the face over and over again.

Taka stood on the sidelines of this frenzy of affection and chatty conversation as Vulcan’s new mate, Reia, came flying to join. The two wyverns had recently laid a clutch of three eggs, which would be expected to hatch in eight or nine months or so. Until then, though, the Rathalos and Rathian were enough company for each other.

Sighing heavily, Taka wandered away from his friends. In truth, he had no idea what was suddenly bothering him. The feathers of his Qurupeco armor he wore rustled with every step he made. The sounds of delighted talking and laughing grew fainter as he walked to the edge of the snow-covered village.

Suddenly, he flinched badly as something gripped his shoulders from behind. He turned his head to see Relcia standing there, her own face inches from his as she grinned at him. He grinned back half-heartedly at his girlfriend, and she sat down to join him on the steps leading to the house he shared with his sister, Hydra.

“What’s the matter?” she asked him soothingly. “I know when you’re out of sorts. Come on, out with it.” Taka chuckled softly at her gentle but slightly commanding tone and told her that he, for some reason, wasn’t feeling too cheerful.

“I think it has to do, somehow, with the monsters,” he finished with a sigh. “I mean, we’ve never celebrated Hiemfestum with them before, and since this was all our idea, I’m worried that something will go wrong.” Relcia simply smiled and wrapped her arms around him.

“That’s all?” she joked, then went on in a more serious voice. “Taka, things are changing. We stopped the war and made peace with the monsters, remember? Things haven’t stopped getting better, and I see no reason why they should now. Hiemfestum will be the best we’ve ever had, you’ll see!” Her Rathian armor clinked softly as she shuffled closer to him and tightened her grip slightly on his abdomen.

Taka’s smile reappeared as he held her close. “You always find a way to cheer me up,” he murmured. “That’s what I’m here for,” she replied, equally quietly. She gently kissed him on the lips, then helped him up. They walked together back to their friends, primed and ready to make this the absolute best Hiemfestum in millennium that had ever been celebrated.

Under the supervision of the Elder and Bronton, the one who had trained Taka and his friends to become hunters, the great tree was finally ready to be decorated. According to tradition, everyone in the village would choose one or two items of great sentimental value to adorn the tree with. As soon as the tree was fully set up, everyone was called to bring their items forth to decorate it with.

Taahnn went first, hanging an old flute with a string tied to it from one of the bottom-most branches. It was, according to him, the same instrument that his mother used to play before she died.

Mylie and Illeera went next, and each of them hung a small leather bracelet from different branches. Each bracelet had a single gemstone attached to it. Taka recognized both bracelets – the two friends had worn them for years and years.

More people crowded around the tree, decorating it with their various items. Relcia soon found an empty branch, and hung the necklace that Taka had given her for her last birthday on it. The necklace consisted of a simple leather cord, upon which hung round, polished pieces of Wyverngold.

She stepped away from the tree, catching Taka’s eye and smiling at him knowingly. He was so touched at her choice of decoration that he felt a tear form in the corner of his eye.

Finally, the Elder called Taka up to place his item on the tree. “We want to finish the decoration process with the participation of the one who ended the war,” he had said earlier. “You’re the one who made it possible for the monsters to join us at this special time of year.”

This memory flashed through Taka’s head in the moment that he took to step forth next to the almost-fully-decorated tree. From the pocket of his Qurupeco leg armor, he produced a small figure made from soft cloth and stitched together with thread. The toy took the form of a Rathalos, with broad wings and long, spiked tail. With Illeera’s help, he had put a small loop of thread on the top of its head, through which he hung it on the tree. Now, the stuffed wyvern bobbed up and down on the branch, incredibly small and helpless against the vastness of the pine tree.

Taka walked backwards, away from the tree, and found himself next to Vulcan. “Hydra said that she recovered that doll from the ruins of our old house on the day after I was born,” he murmured to his friend. “That wyvern has been my closest companion for my entire life. I never admitted it, but every day, I wished that one day I would meet a real live Rathalos.”

Vulcan brushed his great head against Taka’s side, and he absentmindedly stroked the Flying Wyvern’s scales. “At last, I met you all those months ago,” he continued, tears coming back to his eyes. “It was as if my stuffed wyvern had come to life. You were a dream come true.”

The Rathalos gently nuzzled Taka. But you know that I’m not a dream, he said. You know that I’m real. Taka at last looked down into Vulcan’s deep blue eyes. “Yes, I know that you’re real,” he chuckled softly. “Perhaps that was what made it seem like a dream.” Finally, Vulcan seemed to understand, and he nodded slowly to show it.

Suddenly, Illeera, Relcia, Taahnn, and Mylie were all there beside the two of them. “You know, that stuffed Rathalos has been with you for your entire life,” began Mylie quizzically. “Why did you take sixteen years to finally choose to place it on the Hiemfestum tree?” Taka smirked at her and continued stroking Vulcan’s head. “Isn’t it obvious?” he asked sarcastically. “This Hiemfestum is special. Now I have a real Rathalos to spend it with.”

They all chuckled. “Speaking of which,” Illeera said with a twinkle in her eye, “why don’t we have a race – monster against monster? First one from the village gates to the edge of the ‘White’ Rainforest and back wins!”

Mylie was about to say something, perhaps in a regretting tone of voice judging by her expression, but was interrupted by Taahnn. “You can ride with me and Ignatius,” he said to her kindly. “It doesn’t matter that you don’t have a monster companion – you’re friends with four monsters!” She cheered up and shook his hand to seal the deal.

The race started, with Taka aboard Vulcan, Relcia aboard Syrie, Illeera riding Zin, and Mylie and Taahnn on Ignatius. On Taka’s shout of “Go!!” they were off. Vulcan and Syrie both rocketed into the sky, and Zin the Jinouga took off at a gallop towards the “White” Rainforest. Ignatius the Diablos, with a grunt of annoyance, began to burrow into the ground with some difficulty. He already knew that he would come in last place.

Illeera and Zin were currently ahead, and they only had a kilometer or two more to go before they reached the treeline and had to turn around. But almost as soon as they got there, the trees and bushes began to rustle. Zin ground to a halt, and Illeera peered intently at the moving foliage, both suspicious and curious.

A screeching howl crashed into their ears before the monster appeared. Bursting through the snow-covered ferns, a massive wyvern came running at them, shrieking at the top of its lungs. Illeera gasped in sheer horror – it was Warlaros, the Wyvern Warlord! And not just any Warlaros, but the one that had attacked Mediatas almost a year ago!

“Zin, let’s warn the others!” she shouted, and the Jinouga pup didn’t need telling twice. With a yelp, he was off and running in the opposite direction. The Warlaros was close behind, flapping its torn, ragged wings furiously and snapping at the crisp air. Its hot breath steamed from its mouth in clouds that fanned out before it.

It took about two seconds for Taka and Relcia, far above them, to realize that something was very wrong. The sounds of Zin’s howling and the Warlaros’ screeching reached their ears, and they goaded their monster mounts downwards to the ground. Taka’s heart sank and Relcia gave an audible gasp as they both recognized the incensed Flying Wyvern.

The Warlaros that fled Mediatas all those months ago is back, he thought grimly. The Wyvern Warlord is back for another attempt at conquering the village.

But there was no way that he would let this monster succeed at its second try. “Let’s go, Vulcan!” he yelled, and the Rathalos charged forward into battle. Syrie and Relcia were hot on his heels, pouncing forward in great jumps that rapidly closed the distance between them and their adversary.

Taka, gripping Vulcan’s neck with his knees, hastily fitted his Guan Dao into his prosthetic arm, which had been bitten off by the Vengeful Gobul when he was still training to be a hunter. With a yell, he jumped off of Vulcan and prepared to strike. Relcia did the same, using Syrie’s muscular tail as a catapult to launch herself into the ensuing battle.

The three humans and monsters were everywhere, and it was all the Warlaros could do to defend itself. As it successfully fended Zin off with its venomous tail, the earth beneath it suddenly heaved, and Ignatius and Taahnn came flying out, flinging the Warlaros into the air. It recovered, strongly beating its ragged wings in order to stay airborne. Diving from the sky, it knocked Taka off of his feet with a sharp talon, and Taka barely managed to avoid an attack from the Wyvern Warlord’s deadly horn.

An explosion of dirt and snow occurred as the horn’s explosive thorns detonated upon impact. The recoil caused the Warlaros to flinch, allowing Taka to carve a huge gash in its leg with his Longsword. The Warlaros screeched and fell to the ground, and as it got up again, Taka stopped it by holding Guan to its throat.

He stopped and looked into its eyes. One was glowing blood-red, and the other was milky white, with a scar slashing down across it. What are you waiting for? snapped the wyvern, so harshly it made Taka jump. I’m smart enough to know when I’ve been bested in combat. Take my life, you know you want to.

Taka felt something rise up inside of him. It was a feeling of mixed wonder and pity. This monster had the courage to accept its own destruction, and was lying there, waiting for its opponent to kill it. The Warlaros probably believed that it would be the honorable way to go. Despite this wyvern’s despicable nature and violent lifestyle, Taka realized, the Wyvern Warlord has a sense of honor. I almost… no, I do… admire that.

He opened his mouth to speak, touching Guan’s blade to the Warlaros’ neck in the unlikely scenario it attempted to try something. “I want to know one thing,” he murmured to the Warlord. “Why is it you want our village so badly?”

The Warlaros grunted and reluctantly answered. Typical humans. You never understand. It’s in my nature to conquer territory. I tried to take your village nearly a year before, and you foiled my attempt. So I also want revenge.

Taka cleared his throat and spoke once more. “The war between humans and monsters is over now. We are allies through thick and thin, whenever necessary. I don’t want to kill you. I will let you live.” And he stepped away from the Warlaros, he sheathed his Longsword, allowing the wyvern to cautiously stand back up, clearly suspecting a trick.

You’ll let me live? it asked… well, more like growled. That’s weak of you. But as much as I hate saying this… I appreciate it. Thank you.

At this moment, a thought popped into Taka’s mind, and he grinned at the Warlaros. “It’s the time of year for us humans to celebrate Hiemfestum, you know.” The Flying Wyvern nodded knowledgeably despite itself. It had clearly heard of this holiday that humans often celebrated every winter.

But… Where are you going with this, shapeshifter? asked the Warlaros, referring to Taka by his title given to him in the legends whispered all around the known world. Why do you think I care about any of this?

Taka smiled. “We don’t have to be enemies. At Hiemfestum, enemies can spend their time peacefully with one another, and forgive and forget their hostile relationships. That’s why… I wish to invite you to celebrate with us.”

The Warlaros forgot its dignity and leapt back as if scalded. You – you want to celebrate your holiday… with me? it asked, totally shocked. Taka nodded, still smiling. “Why not?” he asked kindly. “If these monsters” – he gestured to Ignatius, Vulcan, Zin, and Syrie, whom had all gathered behind him – “can celebrate the festival with us, why can’t you? All monsters are welcome.”

There was a very long silence. Finally, it was broken by the Wyvern Warlord. I never thought I’d say this, it said, but then again, I never thought I’d be asked this… I accept your invitation. You’re right, shapeshifter. We should forgive and forget.

The only reaction Taka gave was a simple widening of his smile.

The sun was setting, casting long shadows across the dusky evening village. Small jars containing Flashbugs were hung from the buildings and even the tree standing in the centre of Mediatas Village, giving the place a lovely feel to it.

Taka sighed contentedly as he gazed out over his home at the highest point in the village, as he often did nowadays. It always calmed him to see his fellow humans and their monster companions enjoying themselves, when a year previously they would have been trying to kill each other.

He climbed back down from his vantage point, heading for the area around the great tree, where most of the villagers congregated to celebrate. But as he passed a dark alley between two houses, a hand shot out and grabbed his arm, pulling him into the shadows.

Taka initially became frightened, but as the figure brought out a single Flashbug jar from behind a stack of firewood and the dark space was illuminated, he relaxed. It was only Relcia.

“So, tomorrow’s the big celebration,” she said. “Kind of makes me wonder why we’re celebrating now, on the night before.” Taka laughed and replied, “Sometimes I wonder too. But why question it? We all deserve a nice, relaxing break.”

Relcia smiled at him and put the Flashbug jar down on another pile of wood beside them. It gave the otherwise claustrophobic alley a calm, soothing atmosphere.

Suddenly, Taka reached into the pocket of his Qurupeco leg armor and produced a small box, just as he had produced the stuffed Rathalos earlier that day. The box was a simple wooden construction, with a silk ribbon tied around it. “Happy Hiemfestum, Relcia,” Taka said softly, placing the box into her hands.

A look of bewilderment crossed her face, and it was only until Taka gave her an encouraging smile and gesture did she untie the ribbon and open the box. Her eyes widened, and she squeaked with surprise, bringing a hand to her mouth. Inside were two sparkling, polished gemstones, each as large as her fist. One was a deep, sapphire blue, and the other was a radiant green.

Relcia, transfixed, held up the blue gem so that it caught the light of the Flashbug lantern. “Remember that?” Taka asked. “It’s the Deep Dragongem that we found washed up on the shores of the Idyllic Ocean all those years ago.”

She put the Dragongem back in the box, eyes sparkling. “That was when we first met,” she said dreamily. “We were twelve years old, and we’d never spoken to each other before then…” Relcia’s voice trailed off and Taka finished for her, “And things blossomed from there.” They both smiled.

Relcia picked up the other Dragongem. “Where did you find this?” she asked. Taka replied after taking a moment to gather his thoughts, “Vulcan found it on the distant Storm God Mountain. It’s a Sky Dragongem. I didn’t think the Deep Dragongem would have been enough, so I…”

He never got to finish his sentence, however. Relcia threw her arms around him and held him tightly around the neck. Her nose was almost touching his as she whispered, "It's more than enough. It's more than anything I could have expected from you. ... I love you so much, Taka."

Taka wrapped his arms around her waist and held her as close as possible. "I love you, too," he murmured, and Relcia closed the distance that remained between them, kissing him passionately. Taka's eyes involuntatily closed as he gave himself up to her, feeling warm and content wrapped in her embrace.

It truly was the best holiday that he had ever experienced.

I hope you all have enjoyed this little story!

Merry Christmas... or should I say, Happy Hiemfestum!

~ Cottonmouth25 (Cm25)

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