The Besieged Castle was eerily empty when Taka and the others landed. It reminded him of the story of Castle Schrade that he had heard when he had been younger. The picture in the book had been of an empty castle courtyard with a sky covered with storm clouds. Although there were no storm clouds now, it didn't change the creepy resemblance.
Taka hopped down off of Vulcan's back and surveyed the area, not that there was much to survey. He heard the gentle sounds of the others hitting the ground as well, and then the footsteps that they made as they, too, looked around.
Every single sound that they made, no matter how soft, echoed in the vast, empty courtyard. It unsettled them. The atmosphere seemed too quiet, and the silence pressed into them like a physical object. Taka could practically hear the others' thoughts.
"Where's Renalimas?" asked Taahnn tentatively, and everyone flinched at the sudden noise. "We might have gotten here early," suggested Tenris, clearly uneasy. "We only got here in about ten minutes, after all, and Renalimas was flying at a more leisurely pace than we were." But she didn't sound too sure of herself.
"What's our strategy for when it does appear?" Relcia asked to no one in particular. "Aim to damage its wings," responded Illeera matter-of-factly. "That way, it won't be able to sap our strength like it did to Taka." She paused, then added, "Just make sure that you don't damage them TOO much. After all, we need it to be able to fly away."
Her words were suddenly cut off by the sound of slow, sarcastic applause. Each clap echoed loudly, making it easy for each of the party to hear. As one, they all turned to see Tartu, with Mylie by his side, standing on a high ledge on the far castle wall.
"Well done, Dragon!" he said, voice carrying so that they could clearly hear. "What an excellent plan! I should have thought of that myself!"
Taahnn didn't take his sarcasm well. He readied his Volcanic Rock and held it perpendicular to his shoulder in typical Hunting Horn fashion. "Come down off of that ledge and fight, you coward!" Tartu simply laughed, longer and louder than was necessary, goading Taahnn's temper to boil.
"No, I don't think I will!" cried Tartu, trying to catch his breath. "You see, I can simply hide up here and let Renalimas dispose of you! It won't mind, after all, because you're invading its territory and threatening its nest."
Mylie joined in, stepping up beside him and staring down at her former friends. "And when you're finished, Tartu and I will use Renalimas's awesome power to rule the Mysterious Beyond! And after that, we'll conquer the remaining regions as well! No human or monster will be able to stand up to us!" She giggled maniacally, the noise crashing in the group's already startled ears.
How could she DO this to us? seethed Taka in his mind. It doesn't matter if she loves Tartu - no one in her right mind would agree to this! He drew what remained of his Longsword, Guan, holding it before him like a sword. Mylie laughed even harder at the sight of the undersized weapon.
The rest drew their weapons - Relcia's Wolf Tessen Dual Swords, Tenris's Qurupeco Chopper Sword, and Illeera's Sonic Bow IV - as they heard the approach of wingbeats. It's Renalimas, moaned Vulcan, shivering in both fear and cold as another frigid wind whipped through the courtyard.Agonizingly slowly, the Misfortune Raven descended upon them. When Taka had first seen it flying above the village, he had pictured it to look much more horrific. Not so - in fact, the Elder Dragon was surprisingly majestic. It was covered in dark grey feathers, almost black in color, and its glittering green eyes regarded them with a mix of pity and hate. The feathers trailing from its wings were ragged, and puffs of purple dust cascaded from them as they blew in the breeze.
Despite the dire situation, Taka couldn't help staring at the Elder Dragon in awe. The Renalimas looked at him, and for a moment, their eyes met. Then, it spoke to him in a croaking voice.
You, it said simply. Taka nodded in reply - he knew what the Renalimas was getting at. You're the shapeshifter spoken of in the ancient legends. Why are you here now?
For a moment, Taka couldn't speak. He wondered how he would break the news that he, the one rumored to stop the monster war in all regions across the globe, was trying to drive it away from its chosen nesting site. But then, the choice was no longer his.
"We're here to stop the plot of Tartu and Mylie," Illeera said strongly, gesturing with her head to the two perched above. "Unfortunately, their plan involves you. And that means we must chase you out of the Mysterious Beyond."
The Renalimas snorted softly, breath hissing from its nostrils. You humans are all the same, it scoffed. I can't trust any of you, even the one who will supposedly stop the war peacefully.
Still, Taka and his friends all detected something in its voice, They knew that it would not attack them, even if they attacked it first. They sensed that the Renalimas thought that they weren't worth the effort of fighting.
Tartu, not knowing the monster language and thus not understanding the conversation, grew impatient. "What are you waiting for, Renalimas?" he shouted down. "Destroy them!" The Elder Dragon looked at him with disdain, and turned back to the five humans and Vulcan.
He's right, you know, it said to them, regarding them with its intense green eyes. You are invaders in my territory, and you admit that you seek to drive me away in a hostile manner. I consider the five of you to be enemies. Then it glanced at Vulcan and continued, I have no quarrel with you, wyvern. You may leave here in peace.
Vulcan growled - he didn't take kindly to being simply called "wyvern". I don't think so, he shot back, loyally shielding the five with his tail. I stick with my friends. Renalimas scoffed once again and said with the same disdain with which it had stared at Tartu, A monster, siding with the humans? You are lower than I thought. I, an Elder Dragon, would never have such feelings toward filthy humans.The Flying Wyvern snarled, his pride hurt. Tenris raised her Qurupeco Chopper, about to signal the start of the fight, when a noise caused her to stop. "What was that?" she asked to no one in particular. Everyone else was just as clueless as they looked around for the source. But Taka began to get that feeling - a deep sense of fear, one that threatened to overwhelm him and send him running in sheer terror. The last time he had felt this sensation, he had been fighting - Oh no.
He slowly turned around toward the far side of the courtyard. There, glaring at him with the most intense hatred that he had only seen once before, was the Gobul that he had injured in the Murky Bog. Its scarred eye was now a hazy white color, and its good eye glowed the same ferocious yellow as when they had first met. Another Vengeful Gobul... Taka thought in horror. It's still after me from when we last fought.
Then it roared, and in response, the Renalimas gave its spine-tingling wail. Both monsters charged at the contingent of hunters, and they readied their weapons. The battle had begun.
The Besieged Castle truly lived up to its name, what with the chaos that had unfolded.
The hunters (and Vulcan) were being attacked on two fronts - one with a Leviathan determined to swallow Taka alive, and the other with an Elder Dragon powerful enough to take them all down in mere minutes. Taka sighed as he swung his broken Yan Yue Dao (G) futilely at the Renalimas, while at the same time avoiding a reckless tackle by the Vengeful Gobul.
Soon, the hunters had been separated into two groups - Taka and Illeera were facing the Vengeful Gobul, while Taahnn, Relcia, and Tenris were fighting Renalimas. Vulcan was lending his support to both teams, striking from the air with his poisonous talons and his fireballs.
Sparking its lantern, the Vengeful Gobul roared and produced a brilliant light that filled the battlefield. Illeera had been blinded temporarily, and if the Leviathan hadn't been focusing so much on Taka, she would have been doomed. As it were, Taka had managed to shield his eyes with the flat of his blade, so he was able to dodge the gnashing jaws of his adversary.
He swiftly struck two blows with Guan, piercing the Gobul's side both times and causing it to flinch in pain. Taka then followed that up with a thrust, which drove his weapon deep into its flank. Wincing, the Vengeful Gobul turned and snapped again at Taka's heels - yet again, he had managed a narrow escape.Illeera recovered her eyesight right then and fired three arrows in rapid succession, all coated with Sleep Coating. Almost immediately, the Vengeful Gobul yawned and slumped to the ground, wriggling sluggishly as it tried to fight the sedative. But it was no good - now it was fast asleep, and Taka and Illeera were able to join their three friends against Renalimas.
They got there just in time to see the great monster spread its wings and shake a deep purple powder from them. Then, it snapped its bill once to signal the start of the attack, and flapped its wings furiously. A huge cloud of poison swept toward the group, and Taahnn and Illeera were both struck. Tenris's shield seemed to have saved her, as did Relcia's fan-like Dual Swords.
Of course, they had all prepared for this. Taahnn and Illeera both swallowed a bit of Antidote, which immediately got to work healing the poison. Vulcan struck once again from the sky, slashing at Renalimas with his claws. However, the Elder Dragon retaliated, rising into the air and creating a huge gash in Vulcan's leg with its own talon.
In order to stop it from finishing off Vulcan, Illeera fired an arrow that speared Renalimas in the wing, causing it to caw in distress and fall to the ground. As soon as it did, Taka sprung with Guan in hand, slicing madly at its flailing legs.
Renalimas got back up, reared its head up high, and sprayed a huge cloud of magenta gas from its beak. Taka choked at the horribly sweet taste of the noxious gas, and backed away, coughing. Instantly, he knew something was wrong.
His vision was blurred at the edges, but it wasn't foggy enough to totally distort his sight. However, he saw things that he hadn't seen a few seconds ago - there was a Bullfango in the courtyard, and it was charging at him! He yelled out as the boar-like monster crashed into him, sending him flying into the ground. But the instant he swung his weapon at it, it disappeared.
Taka was totally confused. Huh? he thought - even his mind was a little blurry. And then he remembered what the Chief had briefly mentioned. Gigginox spit! She said that the Renalimas could spray a hallucinogen! I'm only seeing things that aren't real! Luckily, he realized this just as another Bullfango tore across the battlefield at him. Taka held his ground, and the Bullfango vanished before it even touched him.
Clear of the gas' effects, Taka was back in action, striking at the Renalimas with a vengeance. In the time that he had been taken out of action, Taahnn had suffered a bad wound to his arm and couldn't hold his Volcanic Rock properly, and Tenris had been doused with Renalimas' stamina-draining dust.
About to strike a blow to the Elder Dragon's chest, Taka was thrown off balance when the Vengeful Gobul suddenly sprang out of nowhere and careened into him, driving him into the earth. Crap, Illeera's drug must have worn off. Illeera noticed this, and joined Taka once more against his hated enemy.
The battle raged on, with Taka and his best friend rapidly driving the Gobul back. However, their attempts at luring it against a wall completely backfired - a surprise maneuver by the Leviathan made sure that they were the ones that were trapped. Above them, Tartu's eyes widened with anticipation.
Taka looked up, shaking his head to ward off the dizziness that had begun to consume him. He saw the Vengeful Gobul opening its jaws, prepared to bite Illeera in half. He closed his eyes, not wanting to watch - when he suddenly felt a tiny spark from deep inside of him.
With that spark came a memory. Tartu called me Thunder, because I can control the Thunder element. That is what I must do! Concentrate and summon my elemental power!
Taka squeezed his eyes even tighter, searching for the source of that spark. He found it after a second and psychically grabbed it. With all of his willpower, Taka commanded the energy within him to destroy the Vengeful Gobul.
At first, there was nothing - and then, a massive jolt of lighting blasted from Taka's body, crashing into the Vengeful Gobul and ensnaring it with electricity. The Gobul roared in pain, and the roar became deafening as the electric cage suddenly closed in, wrapping it in its tendrils. With a final hiss, the Vengeful Gobul clamped its jaws so hard that several of its teeth broke, and lay still.
Illeera pulled Taka into a tight hug, grateful to him for having saved her life. Taka was so relieved, that he hugged her back with just as much enthusiasm. When they broke apart at last, they heard another wail from Renalimas - they battle was not yet over. Stepping over the Gobul's charred carcass, Taka ran into battle, Illeera limping along behind him on her prosthetic leg.
Vulcan was unconscious from blood loss, as Renalimas had injured him further. Relcia was also in danger, with one of the monster's massive talons clutching her like a vice. Taka yelled in fear and anger at the sight, and ran even harder, desperate to save her.
But he was too late. The Renalimas' thick, sharp beak raced toward her, about to deliver the fatal blow. There was a shrill scream, and a spurt of blood, and Taka knew that it was over.
However, as he wiped the tears from his eyes, he saw a new sight, one that he hadn't noticed at first. The Renalimas had released Relcia, still very much alive, and was tossing the lifeless corpse of Taahnn over its feathered shoulder. He landed next to Taka, a gaping hole in his chest, sightless eyes staring up at him with frozen fear.
Taka felt his heart snap at the loss of one of his dearest friends. Nostrils flaring, Taka released a primal growl of pure fury as he ran once more toward Renalimas, Guan held at the ready. Vulcan, fighting to regain his consciousness, opened his eyes and fixed them upon Taka.
When Taka reached the Elder Dragon, he jumped with all of his might, trying to reach its head, held up high. Renalimas turned, and its emerald eyes widened in surprise. There was a huge flash of black lightning as Taka struck with Guan. He landed off to Renalimas' right side, on all fours. The Dragon element enfused within Guan's blade had proved fatal to Renalimas.
Numb with shock, the Elder Dragon reached up with a talon to touch the ferocious slash in its neck. With a final, terrible screech that released all of the Renalimas' emotions, the Misfortune Raven collapsed onto its side and stopped breathing. Its eyes closed, seemingly at peace with the world now that its time was up.
They had done it. The Renalimas was no more.
To be Continued...