As the sun began to set over Mediatas Village, Vulcan returned from his old home, Magma Mountain, with a dead Aptonoth clutched in his great talons. Circling once over the village, he swooped down and dropped the Herbivore carcass at the entrance to a cave in the side of a cliff. This particular cliff formed the border between Mediatas Village and the Idyllic Ocean, and a precarious path on the side was the only available pathway for humans to access that particular region. Caution was a priority - if you lost your balance, it was a LONG drop to the ocean below.
None of this was on Vulcan's mind, however. Almost as soon as he landed beside his delivery, a Rathian emerged from the cavern. This particular Flying Wyvern was Vulcan's new mate, Reia. In the past, when humans and monsters were still warring, Vulcan had lost his previous family to a group of hunters who invaded the Forested Spring. He had managed to escape with his life, but the memory of his lost family stung him so much that he came to live alone in the Magma Mountain. When the war ended, just over a year ago, Vulcan met Reia on a hunting flight with Taka, and things blossomed from there.
Thanks, Vulcan, Reia said to him now. Honestly, if the war were still going on, and I lost you, I don't know how I'd be able to take care of our eggs alone. Vulcan's response was a modest flick of his broad wings. It's the least I can do. I want to make sure that our children grow up with a committed father. Not to mention that I have experience raising a family. The Rathian was about to reply when she suddenly glanced behind him and assumed a defensive pose between her and the nest she had made in the cliff.
Vulcan turned and saw his friend Jin galloping toward them. Jin was a Zinogre pup that had been rescued by Illeera in the Forested Spring just after the war ended. He had been orphaned not even a day before, and had accepted the human girl as his new protector. Now, they were inseparable companions and friends to the death. It's fine, Reia. Vulcan assured his mate. J'in won't do any harm to the nest. But he knew that nothing would calm her down. Nesting Rathians were notoriously edgy, sometimes bordering on hostile. Luckily, Reia wasn't the aggressive type.
When Jin reached the pair of wyverns, Vulcan immediately saw something was wrong. The young Fanged Wyvern was panting heavily and his fur stuck out haphazardly. Vulcan, he said, exhausted. Where's... Taka? I need him... right away! Vulcan frowned and said in response, Taka left with Relcia just a few minutes ago, I believe. Why, what's the matter?
Jin paused before telling Vulcan and Reia, trying to catch his breath between words. When he had finished spilling out his story, the pair looked at each other worriedly. This is bad, Reia said, stating the obvious. Vulcan, you watch over the nest while Jin and I look for Taka. Jin, you'd better tell Ignatius to tag along too. Jin frowned, still panting although not quite as heavily. Ignatius? Why not Syrie? She's faster, and anyway, Relcia might be concerned too.
Reia rolled her eyes at the pup's indignance. Fine, she told him. Tell her too, but hurry! We need to head to the Forested Spring right away and tell Taka and Relcia the bad news!
Taka's "special" armor set turned out to be Crimson Qurupeco armor, almost identical to his ordinary Qurupeco set except for the color. He had acquired it from a trader bringing supplies from the Moga region. Although the Central World had been trading with Mingarde and Moga for decades, they had only recently began swapping armor sets and weapons with each other. Taka's Red Qurupeco armor had cost him his entire Kut-Ku armor set, which he had gotten from his sister Hydra.
When Relcia had met him at the entrance to the Forested Spring at sundown, she had raised her eyebrows. "Another Qurupeco set?" she had asked skeptically. Taka had exclaimed indignantly, "I go with what's comfortable. That, and it's clean."
The sun was almost fully down when the couple reached the lake that gave the Forested Spring its name. Taka sat down on the shore against a large boulder, while Relcia sat on his lap, stroking his dirty-blond hair and gazing out at the water.
"Remember when we were last here, a year ago?" she asked, mouth tweaking upwards at the edges. "We were sent here to gather items for our next training assignment," Taka confirmed, mind floating back to that twilit afternoon. "I was gathering when you startled me."
Relcia pointed to a clutch of dark red mushrooms growing near them on a piece of rotten wood. "I gave you the Dragon Toadstool I found in the forest," she continued on wistfully. "Then we held hands" - she reached out and gently grabbed Taka's hand - "I wrapped my arm around you, like this" - she proceeded to do so - "and finally, I leaned forward..."Taka interrupted, "And then two Agsolesteas ambushed us. I didn't want you to say that in case you jinxed it and it happened again." Relcia laughed and brought her face closer to his. "Don't you think we should make up for that?" she murmured. She released Taka's hand and touched his cheek tenderly.
"As a certain Remobra once said to me, it pays to be opportunistic," agreed Taka. And before he knew it, Relcia closed the centimeter-wide distance between them and passionately kissed him. Warmth and comfort flooded Taka's heart as he closed his eyes, reached up with his free hand and clutched the back of her head, pressing her closer...
The ground suddenly trembled violently. The pair extracted themselves from each other's embrace and stood up. "Can we honestly get one touching moment together without being interrupted?" Taka growled, reaching for Guan's handle. Relcia got out her upgraded Wolf Tessen and piled on, "First the Agsolesteas... then the Deviljho... now this - whatever it is."
The earth in front of them suddenly heaved and the ends of two horns poked out. They slowly worked their way up with what looked like quite a bit of difficulty, until a full minute later, the head of a Diablos was emerging from the ground. Taka instantly recognized it as Taahnn's friend Ignatius.I HATE burrowing in the forest! Ignatius raged. The soil is FAR too thick and compacted! I could barely breathe on my way here! Then he noticed Taka and Relcia standing there, weapons lowered. Oh, hello. Enjoying your night, then? Not every day you see a Diablos in the Forested Spring, is it? Now I know why... Ignatius continued to grumble to himself as he tried to further free himself.
The trees and shrubs behind them suddenly rustled madly as a Rathian and a Nargacuga stepped out from them. Sorry to disturb you, Syrie apologized sincerely - she was one of the only monsters in Mediatas Village that took romance seriously. We have important news. Bad news, admittedly... but important!
Reia spoke up, Taka, Relcia, we need you at Mediatas Village now! Jin suddenly burst through the foliage at running speed, stopping too late and smashing into Syrie. Not even bothering wasting time apologizing (although he did take note of the Pseudowyvern's enraged glare and shrink back a little), he yelped, It's terrible! Bronton... Bronton, he... Jin was too choked with emotion to continue.
"Bronton what?" asked Taka, voice rising in worry. "What's happened to him?" Ignatius, who had successfully gotten his wings and upper body above ground said in a quiet voice, He came back from his mission in the Frozen Wastes... He's been fatally wounded. He's dying, Taka.
The two friends burst into the room, only to see that Taahnn, Illeera, and Mylie were also there. They all had grim expressions on their faces as they stood over Bronton, covered heavily with blood-stained bandages and lying down on his bed, face pale.
Taka's comrade, Lauren, was there, applying the bandages and changing the water-soaked cloth on his forehead. Lauren, a Tea-Spotted Melynx, had become Taka's "apprentice", as she said, just five months ago, accompanying him on various patrolling missions around the Central World. She was a bit of a klutz, not to mention a kleptomaniac like all Melynxes, but she more than made up for that with enthusiasm and loyalty. However, all of her cheerfulness had vanished on this particular day.
"Taka," Lauren spoke up now as she suddenly noticed him in the doorway. "I'd purr-fer not to be the one to tell you this, nya... but I'm afraid Bronton won't make it. He was ambushed -" here her claws unsheathed as she became angrier - "by a foul, purr-nicious World Eater... the Deviljho himself, nya." Taka's heart sank down to somewhere near his toes.
The Melynx continued speaking; "He acquired a serious bite, nya, and be-claws of this, his life is rapidly fading. I... I think he wants to say something to you all before... before he leaves us for good, nya."
The five friends, plus Lauren, gathered around Bronton's bed to listen. His voice came out after a few swallows - his mouth was dry, and his voice nothing but a croak. "Listen closely, rookies," he said quietly (Bronton still liked using that term even though they were finished their training). "I've gotten... news of great importance. North of the distant Moga region... there is another, new region. It has just recently been discovered... and has been named 'the Mysterious Beyond'."
There was a collective gasp. This truly was tremendous news! "I request..." Bronton went on. "...that the five of you travel to this new region... and make peaceful contact with the humans living there. But... be careful, as we know nothing... of the monsters that inhabit the Beyond... or of how fiercely the ongoing war is raging there."
There was hushed silence when he paused, in order to let this new information sink in. Before anyone could speak again, Bronton spoke once more. "I have... one more thing to say... to Taka." Taka's eyes widened at this and he leaned forward cautiously. "Go on..." he encouraged.
"Taka... I... I am your father."
An even greater silence ensued. Finally, Taka whispered, "What...?"
Bronton smiled slightly and started to explain: "I didn't die at the fins of that blasted Gobul trying to save you. I was badly wounded, with the neurotoxins coursing through me. I needed three weeks to fully heal. When I recovered, I decided that you and your sister were better off believing that I had died.
"I changed my armor and weapon to the ones that you see me with all the time... But sixteen years later, when you arrived for training with your friends, I couldn't shake the feeling that I knew you somehow. I had completely forgotten Hydra, thanks to the Gobul's poison. She was the one who told me that the Guan Dao you currently carry once belonged to your mother, and that was how I knew.
"And now, at the brink of death, my memory has finally come back to me. I remember Hydra and your mother before she perished seventeen years ago. Most of all, I have finally realized that you are truly my son." Bronton's body spasmed for a second, and then he finished, "Goodbye, Taka... I am proud to have been your trainer, and father..." With that, his eyes closed and he lay still on his bed.
Taka, Lauren, and the rest were all numb with shock. Finally, Taka found his voice. "I spent my entire life thinking that I was an orphan. Now I know that wasn't the case. And to be told that I had a father, all that time - and to have him taken away just like that - I... I..." Tears began dripping onto his lap, staining the Crimson Qurupeco feathers.
Everyone left to let Taka mourn in peace... everyone except Relcia, who stayed behind to comfort him. "Taka, I know that this is hard for you," she whispered in his ear, walking up beside him and hugging him tightly around the waist. "I admit, I don't know exactly how you feel... but I'm here to help you through this."
Taka took off his glasses and wiped his eyes in his sleeve. "Thank you," he murmured, voice breaking as he hugged her back. Relcia rested her head on his shoulder and nuzzled him a bit. "I love you, Taka. More than anything." He smiled, content for the moment and reassured by her words.
They stood there in the dark room, just the two of them, and silently wept for their lost friend - and in Taka's case, father.
To be Continued...