Elric led a group of three - Taka, Mylie, and Relcia - through the dense, forested Murky Bog. Tenris, Taahnn, and Illeera were all absent from this excursion, as they were exploring an area known as the Great Mountain.
The Murky Bog rapidly became one of Taka's most hated places of all time, right next to the Barren Desert in the middle of the day and the Frozen Wastes' caverns. The ground was muddy and slimy, clinging to his Qurupeco-skin boots and making walking a chore. There was a perpetual mist that hung over everything, making it next to impossible to see. Adding to his frustration were the mosquitoes, which were the size of Jaggi, and the fact that they hadn't seen any new monsters, as Elric had promised them.
"Ugh!" he exclaimed as another giant bug approached him. Slapping it away, he cursed and said, "How can anyone stand coming here for any reason?" Elric glanced back at him and told him, "You might not like it, but the monsters sure do."
Taka huffed, "What monsters? The only creatures I've seen so far are these... god-damned... bugs!" He finished his sentence in a raised voice as he swatted another huge mosquito. Mylie giggled at the spectacle, then suddenly, her good eye bulged. "Taka!" she exclaimed. "When did you have two hands?!" The others turned to look as well.
Indeed, Taka had miraculously gotten rid of his prosthetic arm, and in its place was a real-deal, flesh-and-bone hand. He feigned shock, staring at it in ridiculously phony surprise and flexing his new fingers. "Color me surprised," he muttered.
Relcia put one hand on her hip. "Alright, Taka, enough funny business," she ordered him in a stern voice that surprised even her. "Humans don't grow arms or legs like Carapaceons. What happened?" Taka tried to keep a straight face, and failed spectacularly, dissolving into giggles. "OK, you got me," he admitted, trying to catch his breath. "I'm honestly disappointed that it took you this long to notice."
Taka proceeded to explain; "I learned, just a month ago, that if I concentrate hard enough, I can shapeshift partially. With enough practice, I became able to not only change my entire appearance" - he turned into a Genprey to demonstrate - "but change only one aspect of my appearance as well." As he said this, the Genprey sprouted Vespoid wings and began to hover above the swampy earth.
Of the three speechless faces before him - which he observed with delicious satisfaction - Elric was the most shocked. "H-he can shapeshift?!" he stuttered. Mylie took him aside and explained as briefly as she could. "He could do that ever since he was born," she said matter-of-factly. "It took him eight years to learn how to control it. And before you ask, no one knows how he acquired this power." Elric only stared at the mutant Genprey, whose body parts went through several individual changes at once before becoming human again.
"I never noticed it before..." Relcia breathed. "But when we were in the Forested Spring yesterday... you had shapeshifted like that! You changed your wooden arm into a real one!" Taka nodded once and grinned at her reaction. "I thought I'd look more respectable on my first date with two fully functional arms, not just one. And I can't believe that you never noticed!" They all began to laugh.
Mylie stopped laughing first and asked, "There's one thing, Taka, that I don't understand. How can you keep a form like that for so long? Don't you, when you lose your concentration or run out of energy, change back to your original form?"
Taka's response was a shake of the head and a chuckle. "Nope," he confirmed. "When I shift, I can be in that form for as long as I want. If I want to become... well, me... again, I simply change again. It's not like my power 'turns off' or anything like that. My current form automatically becomes my original form."
When he said it like that, Relcia realized several things could be explained. For example, when Taka had turned into a Glauxiturn in order to get revenge on his friends (Relcia winced at the memory, for Taka had seriously injured, and almost killed, her), he had remained in his Pseudowyvern form even after being put into a drugged sleep by Illeera.
Before she could say any of this, there was a hissing roar that emanated from the mist behind them. Taka began muttering, "No... no... I refuse to believe this." Elric's Khezu Shock Sword was already in his hands, and he motioned for the three friends to move behind him. Still muttering, Taka readied Guan, and Mylie cautiously loaded some more Flaming Shots into her Agnablaster.They didn't have long to wait. Emerging from the fog was a massive Gobul, mouth open wide to reveal rows of jagged teeth, spiny tail thrashing and causing the mist to stir. It hissed softly, regarding the four with bright, glowing yellow eyes.
Taka began to tremble as he looked into those eyes. They seemed to hold him prisoner, boring into him and lighting up the darkest depths of his soul. This wasn't comforting in the least, as the illumination chilled him to the bone and caused shivers to travel up and down his spine. It took all of his will not to give into his innermost fears.
His hands became clammy and he loosened his grip on Guan. Relcia saw this and gently put her hand on his shoulder. This simple act caused the malevolent light to fade and the Gobul's eyes to dim. Taka felt brave again, and he silently assured himself, This isn't that Gobul. I killed it with my own hands. It's just your average flat, spiny, lantern-flashing Leviathan. You can do this, Taka. You can show this ugly pufferfish who's boss!
With a determined yell, uttered mostly to cover up his earlier fear, Taka thrust Guan at the Gobul, catching its attention. While its head swung his way, Elric ran up to its side and began to charge his Shock Sword. If the Leviathan noticed him, it couldn't do a thing about it as Mylie peppered it with Flaming Shots. The burning impacts caused it to hesitate a second too long, and Elric's fully-charged, electricity-infused weapon crashed into its side.
The Gobul roared in pain as the volts shot through it in less than an instant. Relcia attacked its fins with her Wolf Tessen, slashing over and over again until it stumbled and fell on its back. Now it was in trouble - it's back was too flat, and its fins too short, for it to flip right-side up again. As one, the four humans attacked, weapons primed and ready to end this battle.
All of a sudden, the Gobul stopped flailing around in a panic. With ridiculous calm, it puffed up its back and simply rolled back onto its feet. It easily repelled both Taka and Elric with its tail, and at the same time gnashed its teeth at Relcia and Mylie, driving them back.
For some odd reason, Taka began to get angry. The memories of the first Gobul he had encountered, way back in the Arena Terra, flooded his head. The Vengeful Gobul had not only nearly killed him; it had bitten off his arm and Illeera's leg, it had shown the most frightening hatred towards him and him alone, and not only that... It had invaded his village, eaten his mother, and severely injured his father - all only seconds after he had been born.
His rage grew and grew as the memories seemed to taunt him, floating around and around his brain. Before he knew it, he had become a creature known only to him from books - a Teostra. The immense lion-like Elder Dragon screamed in anger as flames began to leap up around him - it was as if Taka's anger was causing everything around him to burn.
Through the haze of fire and fog, Relcia, Elric, and Mylie beheld an incredible sight - a once-extinct monster dueling the hated Leviathan. Smoke began to rise, making them all choke. The entire glade began to waver as the sheer heat disturbed the air.
Taka lunged at the Gobul, snapping his fangs menacingly. Surprisingly quickly, the Gobul dodged his attack, only to be hit with his tail as the Elder Dragon pivoted on the spot. Growling, it sparked its lantern, preparing to blind him. But Taka was ready for this, and simply shielded his eyes with a paw.
The battle ground on, with both sides sustaining minor injuries. Finally, backed into a corner by the monstrous fish, Taka desperately swiped with his razor-sharp claw. The claw, by chance, raked across the Gobul's eye, half-blinding it.
The Leviathan, weeping blood and tears from its injured eye, finally had enough. It burrowed into the mud and escaped, too quickly for the enraged Taka to pursue. With difficulty, he forced his anger down and became himself again.
Elric whispered, "What... was that?" Mylie could only shake her head and reply, "I wish I knew." Relcia was about to say something as well, when a voice rang out into the decimated swamp. "I can tell you what it was." the voice said. "It was the one who will, supposedly, save us all."
A person appeared from the flickering fires and now-strengthening mist. He wore Nargacuga armor and carried only a small Sword and Shield. Mylie, Relcia, and Taka simply stared at the stranger. Elric, however, twisted his face into an expression of mixed shock and fury.
"Tartu!" he snarled. "WHAT are you doing here?!" The person known as Tartu simply shook a finger at the blacksmith. "Elric," he said in a voice that sounded like he was talking to a stupid child, "I was banished from Canyon Village. Not the region entirely. I can do what I want here." Taka let out an involuntary gasp. This is the exiled seer from Canyon Village? he thought.
Tartu glanced at Taka dismissively. "I see you've heard of me, Thunder," he said, sounding bored. "Most likely lies." Before Mylie could ask a question, he interrupted, "Yes, Ice, I am referring to you by your elemental names because not only can I tell which element you three are, but I also do not know your real names. And do not care."
Taka disliked him more and more with every word out of his mouth. "Would you like to tell us why you were exiled?" he asked through gritted teeth. "I assume it wasn't because of your attitude, however likely it might be." Tartu sighed exaggeratedly, but answered the question.
It seemed like the seer had been banished for predicting the appearance of a feared Elder Dragon called Renalimas. Apparently, the appearance of this monster meant extreme misfortune, and the name itself was banned from being uttered. He had also predicted the arrival of Taka and his friends, which was why Tenris, Elric, and the Chieftain had been expecting them.
He also explained that he didn't believe the prophecy, the one that said that Taka would end the monster/human war in the Central World. "Before you say anything," he said abruptly. "I know that this has already happened - but there is more to this prophecy. Supposedly, Thunder will stop the war entirely. As in, stop the war in every region." Tartu sniffed when he said this.
Elric looked about ready to slice Tartu in half with his Great Sword, but Relcia stepped in front of him. "Don't do anything stupid," she cautioned. "We don't have to listen to him anymore. Let's just continue on our way." Tartu snickered from the sidelines. "It doesn't matter how much you try to avoid me, Water," he said teasingly. "Fate has decreed that we will meet again... Many, many times, in fact."
The group wandered off, deeper into the Murky Bog. Tartu laughed quietly to himself. And when that happens, the Renalimas will appear... And my plans will begin in earnest.
To be Continued...