Taka emerged from the Desert Ravine and into Canyon Village. It was the middle of the afternoon, and he was sweating profusely from his journey through the ravine. He had passed through a watery cavern full of hot, steaming pools of water that made the cave extremely humid. Then the rest of the journey had been freezing in comparison. Taka sighed in relief as he entered the sun-warmed village.
There was more activity than usual in the village. Taka idly wondered why - the buildings were all intact, so a monster couldn't have attacked. Suddenly, Lauren was there, clawing at Taka's legs in excitement. "Big news, meow!" she said hurriedly. "The others are waiting to tell you, nya!" She scampered off, leading a puzzled Taka to the center of the village.
He came to an excited group consisting of his friends, the Chief, and Tenris and Elric. "What's going on?" he asked, perplexed. Everyone turned toward him as one. Mylie was the first to speak. "It's exciting!" she exclaimed. "I've never thought we'd have the luck to see one alive!"
Taka was even more perplexed than he was a few seconds ago. He felt like he had walked into one of the Village Elder's stories in the middle. "What's alive? What's exciting? Would someone please explain to me what is going on?"
Finally, Relcia stepped forward. "It's amazing," she said in a voice hushed with awe. "An Elder Dragon has appeared off the coast of a place called Cratered Island." Taka's heart leapt. An Elder Dragon!! he thought, instantly jubilant. What were the odds? I thought they were all extinct! Then, he corrected himself on that thought. After all, he had seen an Elder Dragon a year ago - the Sky God, Taltaira. But then again, you don't see an Elder Dragon every day! Or even every month! It seemed that Relcia knew how happy he was, because she smiled.
The Chief stepped forward to explain this event to everyone. "Elder Dragons are by no means extinct, like you people of the Central World believe," she began. "After all, the Central World is not the entire universe. This Elder Dragon is an aquatic monster called the Lumidusa. This in itself is odd, since Lumidusa are parasites and often dwell within the body of a much larger Dragon.
"We sent for an airship from North Port - the region's most populous trade city - for a group of six to travel to Cratered Island and observe this rare creature. Tenris and Elric both want to go, so which of you want to go with them?"
Four of them volunteered. Mylie offered to stay behind. "Like you said, only a group of six can go. And anyway, with Elric gone, someone needs to take over the smithy, and I have some experience with that." The Chief nodded. "Very well," she confirmed. "The six of you will go to Cratered Island as soon as the airship arrives. Mylie and I will stay."
After a two-hour journey, the gang was over Cratered Island, on the other side of the Mysterious Beyond. A massive volcano, even bigger than Magma Mountain, spewed smoke and ash, and occasionally lava, into the sky. The landscape on the rest of the island was mostly barren, with small fields of grass and shrubs here and there.
"Our destination is the ocean beyond Cratered Island," yelled Elric over the noise of the wind. "Apparently, the Lumidusa was sighted there. As the Chieftain mentioned, they inhabit the bodies of larger Elder Dragons, and those Dragons generally live near the Abyssal Depths, which is far from here. Why a Lumidusa ended up here, without a host, is completely beyond my understanding."
Lauren had joined them, stowing away amongst their supplies (which consisted mostly of Mini Oxygen Supplies and Air Philters). Although there was some protest, Taka eventually convinced everyone else that Lauren, after all, stuck with him, and would be useful to them at some point. Lauren herself purred at his words, which for some reason pleased her.
They arrived at the designated spot for them to dive at. The airship lowered until it was about twenty feet above the sea. Illeera took one look over the side and asked rhetorically, "Anyone fancy a twenty-foot dive into the briny deep?" When no one answered, she added, "Didn't think so."
"How will we get down there safely?" Tenris asked. "The airship can't go any nearer to the waves." Taka grinned and replied, "Easy." Without another word, he had become an Azure Rathalos, an aerial predator that had some experience with water hunting.
There was really no need for anyone to guess what they were supposed to do. One by one, they clambered onto the Flying Wyvern's back and let him fly down to the surface. As Taka hovered patiently, they strapped oversized Oxygen Supplies to their backs and dove in. When everyone had disappeared beneath the waves, he turned into a Royal Ludroth and followed them.
The first thing he saw, after the rush of bubbles, was that the ocean here wasn't that deep - just a few dozen meters. There were numerous small rocks studding the seabed like some kind of rocky garden, and the side of Cratered Island was visible as a huge undersea cliff. Beams of sunlight illuminated the scene, adding to its serene beauty.
He quickly joined the rest, cruising alongside them as they explored the landscape (or, more accurately, seascape). Tenris and Elric started at the sight of Taka's new form, with the yellow, spongy mane and finned tail. However, they knew instinctively that it was him. Illeera, Lauren, and the others had somewhat milder reactions.
Suddenly, the seabed dropped vertically, and that was the second thing Taka saw - a one hundred foot drop to the ocean floor. Looking at his friends, he realized that they'd never be able to go that deep. "Grab on!" he growled over his shoulder. "I'll help you reach the bottom!" They all grabbed on to him, and he dragged them down with strokes from his powerful tail.
They reached the sandy bottom after less than a minute. Inhaling Oxygen Supplies to help with the change in pressure, everyone let go of Taka and stepped onto the ground. There were no rocks here - it seemed as if the sand stretched on for miles, without any imprints or debris to mar its surface. It was dark, much darker than on the plateau above them, with the deep blue water quenching much of the light. The sheer desolation of the scene unnerved Taka.
Still, something made his reptilian face stretch downwards in a frown. Somehow, despite looking uninhabited, Taka knew that they weren't alone here. He saw something move in the water in the near distance, something almost invisible. Only the keen eyes of a Leviathan, used to seeing in dark water, would have spotted the unknown disturbance - none of Taka's friends, including Lauren, had detected anything yet.
With a flash of iridescent color, whatever it was suddenly burst into view. It had remained hidden in plain sight, but now shimmered as it floated just above the sandy earth only three dozen feet away. The group gasped in shock as one, and they instantly knew that the great, majestic creature in front of them was the object of their search.The Lumidusa was a jellyfish-like creature, with a webbed, transparent body that glowed green and pink, lighting up the darkness easily. A single arm dangled from its bell, also glowing, but not as brightly. Four long tentacles extended from its top and trailed eerily behind it in the slight current that pushed it along. It was almost sixty meters tall - the size of the magnificent Ceadeus that Taka knew once haunted the watery depths of the Central World.
Although it had no mouth of any kind, a kind of mystic, sonic hum emanated from it. The constant, erethral sound soothed Taka somewhat. Combined with the beautiful neon colors it shined with, he felt hypnotized, and began to relax, drifting off into sleep.
He shook himself out of his stupor. I shouldn't allow myself to let my guard down, he thought suddenly. This creature, although stunning, is dangerous. Just how dangerous the Lumidusa could be was revealed a moment later, when it killed a passing shark with a bolt of lighting from one of its tentacles. The sight shocked the group (although not as much as the fish!).
"Well, if we're going to observe, we might as well do it from this distance," said Taka. Taahnn bobbed his head to show that he had heard, followed by the rest. They all got down on their stomachs, trying to make themselves as unnoticeable as possible, but too later - a change in the Lumidusa's hum indicated that it had detected their presence. Slowly, it began to move toward them.
"Too late," Taka muttered, changing into a Lagiacrus in preparation for combat. Elric and Tenris both flinched at the sudden transformation, then focused on the great Elder Dragon, which had covered a lot of ground surprisingly quickly. When the Lumidusa had come within striking distance, everyone drew their weapons as one.
Illeera struck first, firing a multitude of arrows from her Sonic Bow IV. The projectiles slammed one after the other into the Dragon's soft body, and it seemed to flinch. Its hum became a squeak of pain.
Taahnn and Elric went next, with the former playing notes on his Volcanic Rock, and the latter slashing at it clumsily with his Khezu Shock Sword. Growing used to the pain, the Lumidusa began to recover, and it lashed out with a tentacle. It swiped through the water easily, narrowly missing Taahnn.Tenris hacked at the limb with repeated strikes of her Qurupeco Chopper. The tendril spasmed for a moment, then a powerful current of electricity ran through it, badly hurting Tenris. She chewed up a Stormsender Seed as fast as she could in order to nullify the damage.
Obviously, Taka hadn't been sleeping through this. Although he knew that the Lumidusa was likely to be resistant against Thunder-element attacks, that didn't stop him from firing blasts of lightning at it, hoping to catch its attention. He succeeded, as it angrily whipped a tentacle at him, this one sparking with high voltage. The Elder Dragon underestimated Taka's speed while in his Lagiacrus form, however - the attack was easily dodged.
The Lumidusa became even more enraged. Its low hum changed to a high-pitched screech that disabled the entire party. Its tentacles sparked with electricity - then, with terrified realization, Taka saw the sparks turn red. The Dragon element, he thought grimly, trying to fight back his fright. We need to escape to the surface before the Lumidusa annhilates us all.
Before he could say this out loud, the Elder Dragon suddenly stopped shrieking, becoming totally quiet for the first time during the battle. It slowly opened up its bell until it had turned completely flat. Then, the Lumidusa began to spin, slowly at first, humming quietly as it did so. As it spun, it picked up speed, whirling faster and faster and humming louder and louder. Within a few seconds, it had created a vast undersea tornado that reeled in anything in the vicinity.
Taka and his friends felt the pull of the current the Lumidusa was creating and desperately tried to escape it. As they were sucked toward the maelstrom, Taka looked back at it and cried out - Lumidusa's tentacles were sending out bolts of crimson energy that whirled around with it!
Just before they struck the glowing vortex of water and lightning, the Lumidusa's stamina apparently wore out. In its effort to destroy the pesky humans, it had used up too much energy, and now it started to slow down. When the Elder Dragon had stopped spinning completely, Taka didn't hesitate.
"GO! GO!" he roared at the top of his voice. "Let's get out of here, while it's too tired to move!" Instantly, the group headed for the surface, swimming as fast as they could.
Being more agile than the others in his Leviathan form, Taka sped past them. Taahnn grabbed onto one of the spines on his back, Relcia and Elric held onto his tail, and the others held tight to his legs. Lauren, whose Oxygen Supply was beginning to wear out, stopped out of exhaustion. Spotting her from the corner of his eye, Taka scooped her up in his jaws.
They were making good time - they had already made it halfway to the plateau that they had traversed earlier. Taka sped up, and then realization burst into his head. Tenris! his mind screamed. I forgot Tenris! As if to confirm this, he suddenly caught sight of Tenris struggling to keep up with them, far below.
Mind racing, Taka snapped his serpentine body like a whip, causing everyone to fly off of him. "Get to the airship!" he commanded, voice high with growing panic. "I'll be right behind you!" If anyone had arguments, they were cut off by the sudden realization that Tenris was in trouble (as well as the fact that they couldn't talk underwater). They scattered and headed for the surface.
Taka immediately dove, rapidly heading for Tenris. He saw that she was growing tired from her panicked swimming, and to make matters worse, he saw the Lumidusa floating up toward them from the depths. As it drew closer, its ominous hum once again entered Taka's head.
About to grab Tenris, Taka suddenly stopped dead as he saw a wave of pink light billow out from the monster's body. Instinctively, he fled as the light flowed outward in all directions. Fifty feet from the Lumidusa's bell, the light ceased. Glancing back and seeing that it had faded, Taka sped toward Tenris once more. She was limp - the deadly light had lulled her to sleep.
With one snap of his jaws, he caught the girl. In one sinuous motion of his flexible body, Taka swam for the surface with all due speed. In his heart, he knew that the Lumidusa wouldn't follow - it would stay in deeper water where the pressure was more comfortable to it. The soft glow of the Elder Dragon was soon swallowed by the deep, dark ocean as he continued to rise.
Finally, after what seemed like an age, Taka broke the surface. The shock of going from water to air instantly woke Tenris. She spluttered and coughed before coming to her senses. From the airship, someone threw down a rope ladder. With Taka's help, she grabbed the rungs and climbed up to safety. Shifting once again into his human form, Taka followed her up.
When they had both reached the top, they collapsed from fatigue. Taka recovered first, standing up on shaky legs - he still had to get used to having something solid under his feet. "We... are not... doing that... again..." he panted, sucking breath after breath of the sweet, fresh air into his lungs. Lauren danced around him, meowing. She was happy that he was all right, to be sure.
Tenris regained her energy soon enough. As the airship flew back towards Canyon Village, she got up and hugged Taka tightly. "You saved my life," she murmured gratefully. "Thank you, Taka." He carefully extracted himself from her grasp and cast a nervous glance at Relcia, who smiled as if to say, It's fine.
The eight friends slept through the entire trip. They had experienced enough adventure for one day.
To be Continued...