The two groups of hunters reunited shortly after the episode with Tartu. Elric's party met up with Tenris's party in the Murky Bog on their way back to Canyon Village. Lauren, who had been at the Great Mountain with Illeera and the others, was also there, and she clung to Taka like a burr when she saw him again. "It was horrible, meow!" she kept saying to him, over and over. "The furr-eezing cold... the biting wind... and the monsters, nya! A white Duramboros almost squashed me into a pancake!"
As much as Taka's natural curiosity was piqued (A white Duramboros? How I'd love to see that with my own eyes... he thought), he had to admit to himself there were other, more important things, to be told. Along with Elric, he told Tenris, Illeera, Taahnn, and Lauren about their meeting with Tartu earlier. Tenris's reaction was nothing like Elric's when she heard this.
"So," she said calmly. "Tartu shows his face once again. I kind of expected him to show it sooner." Elric was taken aback at this news. "WHAT? What do you mean?" he demanded. Tenris sighed and replied wearily, "Tartu said it himself - he was banished from the village, not the entire region. He's perfectly entitled to travel wherever he wishes." Her brother ground his teeth but said nothing.
"What was this about Renalimas?" Taahnn said, confused. "I still don't really understand." Grudgingly, Elric explained to him about the legendary Elder Dragon while the others muttered to each other.
"He said that fate would ensure that we'd meet again," Mylie said. "That means we'll run into him again sometime soon. But where? And why?" Tenris shook her head. "You can't question fate. That's something Tartu used to say all the time. Unfortunately, he's right." Lauren shivered slightly. "This doesn't sound good, nya," she moaned. "Not good at all."
Taka thought that perhaps Lauren didn't know how true her words really were.
Taka wandered deeper into the Murky Bog. The others had left for Canyon Village, and he had decided to stay behind. At first, everyone had worried for his safety, but he assured them that he'd be able to find his way back on his own. And anyway, his shapeshifting abilites would keep him safe enough.
He was deep in thought, replaying the conversation with Tartu in his head. The seer had spoken of Renalimas with a weird tone - something like anticipation, as if he had been waiting for years for the Elder Dragon to appear. What could that mean? Taka wondered.
Suddenly, a noise from up ahead startled him out of his thoughts. Taka crouched instictively, hiding himself in the foliage. Silently creeping up to a clearing he saw just ahead of him, he cautiously peeked out from the ferns. His eyes widened at the sight before him.
A huge Bird Wyvern stood knee-deep in a muddy pool of water. It was a white-grey color, with a long, orange beak and blue wing membranes. It had a set of long tail feathers as well as an elongated crest on its head. The creature was stabbing repeatedly at the water for some reason.
Before Taka could get a better look at the strange monster, it abruptly swiveled its head in his direction. I see you in there, it squawked after a moment. You might as well come out. There's no point in hiding. Ready to draw his Longsword at a moment's notice, Taka slowly got to his feet and stepped out of the bushes.
"I mean you no harm," Taka said quietly, yet loudly enough for the wyvern to hear. "I was just passing through." The Bird Wyvern made a noise that sounded like a squawk of laughter. I understand. I wasn't going to attack you, if that's what you were thinking. I know who you are, by the way. You're the shapeshifter spoken of in legends.Taka became curious. "That legend is told here too? Not just in the Central World?" The Bird Wyvern exclaimed, Of course not! All of us monsters, no matter if we're from Moga or the Central World or even the Great Frontier, want the war to end. And you're our only hope. Taka began to relax - this monster wasn't hostile. In fact, it seemed positively friendly.
"May I enquire as to what type of monster you are?" Taka asked as politely as he could. "I've never seen a wyvern like you in the Central World." The heron-like creature cocked its head to the side, as if making a decision, then nodded to itself.
Of course you haven't, it chuckled. My species, as far as I know, is found only here. I am a Moardea, a type of fish-eating Bird Wyvern. My closest relative you may be familiar with - the Qurupeco. Taka was indeed familiar with that particular monster. Besides wearing armor made with its feathers, he had killed one once, in the Arena Terra a year ago.
"I'm Taka," he introduced himself. "Do you have a name?" The Moardea nodded once. My name is Helix. Pleased to meet you. Taka smiled to himself. Having a friendly chat with a monster always excited him, even though he'd been talking with monsters for quite a long time.
Helix and Taka continued to talk. When Helix had finished describing her species, she became quite curious about the monsters that Taka had encountered. So he told her about the bear-like Arzuros and the ferocious Monoblos, among other monsters. Taka also discovered during this period that wyverns such as Tigrex and Zinogre could be found here in the Mysterious Beyond.
A sudden rustling in the undergrowth behind them disturbed their talk. Taka whipped around, his hand on Guan's handle. Helix became wary, worried that the commotion was caused by a larger wyvern. Both waited, prepared to act as soon as the unknown creature showed itself.
They didn't have long to wait; a massive black monster burst out of the foliage, claws swinging and tail lashing. It looked like a huge scorpion, with four spindly legs and a hard carapace. One of its claws resembled a regular pincer, while the other looked more like a mallet studded with glowing, blue... things. Its tail was covered with more, along with a gigantic yellow one at the end instead of a stinger. It crackled with electricity as the beast hissed threateningly.
Before Taka could whip out his weapon and strike, Helix stopped him with an outstretched wing. Not so hasty, Taka, she cautioned. This here is my good friend, Dronk the Thondriun. The Thondriun stopped and took a closer look at Helix.
Could that honestly be youse, Helix? Dronk spoke with a weird accent, and his voice was a clicking, chittering sound. Haven't seen youse in ages. And when I saw this human here... He trailed off and looked at Taka intently. Do I know youse, by any chance?
Hesitantly, Taka replied, "Well, we've obviously never met, but I'm that shapeshifter that you've -" Dronk cut him off before he could continue. No, it's not that, he replied with a laugh. Even though I have heard the legends. I recognize youse from the fight with that Gobul. Youse friends, and youself for that matter, fought pretty damn well.
"You were there, Dronk?" Taka asked in surprise. He nodded his horned head, and the glowing studs on his left claw hummed quietly with electrical power. Yeah, and that was quite a spectacle, the Thondriun said good-naturedly. The sparks were really flyin', I can tell youse that. But I left when that Tartu fellow arrived.
Helix stiffened at his words. Tartu is here again? she asked worriedly. When Dronk nodded again, her voice turned into a near growl for a Bird Wyvern. I've never liked that mystic. Creeps me out every time I see him. Taka looked from one monster to the other as Dronk responded acidly, Walkin' around like he owns the Murky Bog himself. I can't wait to see the end of him.
Taka interrupted Helix before she started talking again. "Wait, you two know Tartu?" The Moardea angrily pecked at an insect that had landed on her wing. Of course we do. He came to the Murky Bog right after he was exiled. And he's plotting something. Taka cocked his head slightly. "What, exactly?"
No one knows what, exactly, hissed Dronk. And that's not even the worst of it. He can see the future, as youse well know, and that means he knows precisely what he has to do in order to achieve his goal. He paused before adding, Before youse ask, I don't have a clue as to what that might be.
"Hmm," was all that Taka said. After a brief pause, he asked, "Do you know if Tartu's been anywhere else, other than the Murky Bog?" Helix almost immediately answered, Yes. We know he's been lurking around in the Sandstone Desert, near the ravine. We think that he's on the lookout for his precious Elder Dragon.
Dronk shivered. Don't bring that foul creature up again, he said quietly. If it appears, it'll be bad for both humans and monsters all over. Taka was once again confused. "'Precious' Elder Dragon?" he asked Helix. Her answer was: We know from the humans of Canyon Village that Tartu greatly reveres Renalimas, almost admires it.
I personally think that his plans have something to do with Renalimas, offered Dronk with a little hesitation. It can't be a coincidence that he starts plannin' almost as soon as he was banished, especially since his prediction caused his exile. Between youse and me, when Renalimas appears, Tartu will have a grand old time puttin' whatever he's planning into motion.
None of this bode well for Taka. The two monsters seemed to know a lot about Tartu (Probably because he's often lurking around this neck of the woods, he thought privately), and what they were saying put him on edge. Not to mention the fact that it seemed inevitable that this mysterious Elder Dragon would appear in the Mysterious Beyond.
"Well, it was nice knowing the two of you," said Taka, preparing to take his leave. "Put I really must be going. My friends will be expecting me." Both the Moardea and the Thondriun nodded graciously. Of course. Goodbye, Taka, said Helix. Be seeing youse, muttered Dronk. If the legend is true and youse did end the war in the Central World - then try and stop Tartu before he does something that'll doom us all, will youse?
Taka smiled encouragingly. "I'll try, Dronk," he said in what he hoped was a confident voice. "Farewell, the both of you."
The ferns rustled and dead branches snapped as the Gobul staggered onwards. Its wounds still wept tears of blood, and it could barely see where it was going. It needed to find a hiding place, and fast, before it encountered a larger monster. A good-sized Nargacuga or Steramir would definitely kill it in this condition.
The Gobul noticed that there was an opening in the trees ahead of it. Beyond was a deep cavern. It eagerly galloped towards it, looking forward to some well-deserved rest. It had been a very bad day for this particular Gobul.
First, it had woken up to find its favorite hunting ground devoid of prey; courtesy of a large Plesioth that had either chased away or eaten everything. Next, it had been harried by a flock of Remobra until it finally ate one that got too close, scaring the rest off. It had never dined on Remobra before, and the Gobul found that it hated it - too bony, and what meat it could salvage from the carcass was chewy and tasteless.
And finally, a group of hunters - and one in particular - had severely injured it. It remembered the terrifying beast that the one hunter had turned into, and shuddered at the memory of its dagger-like claws ripping at it. How that puny human had managed to do such a thing, the Gobul would never learn.
The Leviathan settled onto the floor of the pleasantly damp cave and closed its eyes, but sleep eluded it. All the Gobul could think of was the human that had maimed it. The image of the feather-clad being filled its mind, and the Gobul tossed its head as if trying to shake off the memory. And with the image came something else - anger that, while small at first, grew and grew until it was nearly overwhelming.
The Gobul had never hated anything before, but it instinctively knew that hatred was what it felt. That human must die, it seethed. As soon as I heal... I will hunt him down.
To be Continued...