The immense beast beat its wings slowly and strongly, effortlessly soaring through the moonlit sky. It knew that it would be there soon - its old home. The Dragon had tried to build a nest there many decades ago, but had been beat back by the hunters that had appeared to drive it away.
The monster sniffed at the memory. Stupid humans, it thought sourly. Just because they might be a little smarter than other creatures, they think that they have a right to own every inch of land they walk upon. I'm sick of them!
Passing over the great ravine that it now remembered, it saw the old castle in the distance. Ahh, the memories! How I loved - and still love - that building. Humans have their uses, I suppose. It increased its speed, eager to land in its beloved home and continue what it had started.
And this time, the Renalimas wouldn't hesitate to kill any human that got in its way.
The Gobul stopped on the edge of the vast desert and narrowed its eyes. It had taken a long time to get here, it recalled. As soon as its eye had healed significantly, it had gone off in search of its enemy. Now, the Leviathan sensed that the human it sought was across this desert.
It reflected on this mysterious sixth sense yet again. Somehow, the Gobul knew exactly where the shapeshifter was at any given time. Was its hate so intense, its need for revenge so strong, that it had given it psychic vision? The Gobul shook its head - such confusing thoughts would distract it from its task. And its task was to eat that cursed human alive.
The fish-like Leviathan resumed its journey. In order to avoid the dry sand, it burrowed into the ground, where it was slightly more moist than the layer of grainy soil above it. Grunting in satisfaction at the cool earth that surrounded it, the Gobul tunneled as fast as it could. There was a lot of distance to cover, it sensed.
It'll all be worth it, the Gobul mused, anticipation making its muscles tense up. Once that human slime is gone and safely in my belly - then my conscience will be clear. I won't have to worry about him ever again.
Taka was thunderstruck. Relcia held on to his arm like a lifeline. Neither could quite believe what they had just heard. Illeera and Taahnn both gasped, and Tenris and Elric both looked at the four in confusion - after all, they couldn't understand Vulcan's language.
Taahnn was first to speak, in a hoarse voice tinged with disbelief. "Renalimas..." he murmured. "It's coming?!" Vulcan slowly looked up and nodded. I sense its approach. It will be here within the hour.
Tenris let out a very audible gasp and brought her hand to her mouth. No one had ever seen her quite this frightened - she had been almost fearless in the battle that had taken place just a few minutes ago. Elric, who was already a shy, timid boy, looked like he was about to faint.
Relcia increased her grip on Taka's arm until he felt it grow numb. He winced and tried to ignore the feeling. But before he could speak, another chilly breeze, like the ones that they had felt only seconds before, swept through Canyon Village. But this time, it was so frigid, it felt like their spirits would freeze solid.
A high, keening wail reached their ears. At first, Taka thought it was the wind, but something struck him as off. The wail was followed by several harsh sounds, like the cawing of a flock of crows. The sound grew steadily closer, and coincidentally, storm clouds began to gather in the sky.
It's the Misfortune Raven's curse, said Vulcan in a raspy whisper. Our misfortune is growing as it draws nearer to the village. Taka heard another unearthly scream, identical to the one before, and suddenly, he knew the truth. Cautiously, he said, "It isn't drawing nearer. ...It's already here."
As if it had heard Taka's words, a single caw ripped through the stunned silence. Simultaneously, everyone in the village looked up. What they saw seemed to crush their hopes and dreams right then and there.
It was a massive black shape, soaring on immense, ragged wings. The monster let out several more caws as it passed over high above them. A strange, purple dust seemed to trail behind it, and this same dust emanated from its wings as it flapped. The mysterious substance fell slowly into the gorge, settling over everything.
Elric cried out in alarm as the crops on which they stood withered and blackened as the dust coated them. Believing it to be poison, Taka coughed frantically as he breathed some in, trying to drive it from his lungs.
By now, the creature had disappeared. The storm clouds above opened with a downpour, and soon the group was soaking wet and chilled to the bone. Vulcan gathered the six shivering figures onto his back and flew down into the village itself, hoping to get them to shelter.
Huddled underneath the overhang of a particularly large structure, everyone shivered as the cold rain seemed to leak through their meagre shelter. Taka, still trying to purge the Renalimas' dust from his lungs, felt weak and dizzy. "Wh-what's happening?" he asked, unable to keep his voice from shaking. "Wh-why do I f-feel so w-weak?" Vulcan wrapped his tail around him, trying to comfort him.
"It's the Renalimas' signature ability," came the Chieftain's voice. She was walking toward them, seemingly undeterred by the driving rain. "The dust it shakes from its wings drains strength. Against humans and monsters, it has little effect aside from decreasing their stamina, but against plants, as you have seen, it is lethal."
Relcia looked at the old woman shrewdly. "Is that why you call it the Misfortune Raven?" she asked. "Because it kills off your crops?"
The Chieftain smiled. "Partially," she said cryptically. "Our ancestors, who knew little of the monsters hundreds of years ago, thought that it was part of its curse. But now we know it's simply a chemical produced by glands in its wings."
She continued, "When Renalimas appeared in this region the first time, many decades ago, a lone hunter drove it away by damaging its wings enough so that it couldn't spread its poison. Now, it seems to have healed enough to be trying for another go."
Illeera looked quizzically at her. "Another go at what?" she asked curiously. The Chief answered, "Building a nest. It invaded the castle south of here, which is why, to this day, it is historically known as the Besieged Castle."
Taka raised a shaky hand. "I th-think that we sh-should try and d-drive it off. It's n-not that I want to h-hurt it - it's only t-trying to make a n-nest, after all - but the v-village might be th-threatened by its p-power." Everyone looked at the pale teenager, who had started to fiddle with his glasses. Illeera said in awe, "You'd help humans drive away a monster, instead of doing the reverse?"
The shapeshifter shook his head weakly. "N-normally, no," he said, voice regaining a bit of its usual strength. "But th-these humans are our f-friends. I would n-never betray my friends." A little moody due to the rain, Taahnn muttered, "That's not what you would have said a year ago."
Relcia violently slapped him. "That wasn't necessary!" she raised her voice to a near shout. Taahnn's words brought back the painful memories in all of them - Taka trying to kill his friends out of anger in the guise of various monsters, each more ferocious than the last.
"So what do we do?" murmured Elric, hopelessness tinging his voice. "Even if we try to drive the Elder Dragon off, how will we succeed? You saw the bad luck it inflicted on us earlier - actually battling the Dragon itself will make it a thousand times worse!" Not even Vulcan, who was usually so encouraging, could contradict this fact. Even he knew it was hopeless.
However, the Chieftain smiled. "Not if you have this," she said, reaching into the pocket of her dress. When she brought it out, she was clutching a small jewel attached to a thin rope. "It's the village's talisman," she explained, pressing it into Taka's hand. "It's power is enough to cancel out the Renalimas' curse and allow you to fight it safely."
Taka feebly clenched it in his fist, despite the shakiness of his hand. Already, he was beginning to feel better. His heart swelled and his head cleared. With this, the Renalimas will be no harder to defeat than that Gobul! he thought, then shuddered. When he remembered the Gobul that he had fought in the Murky Bog, he got a funny feeling. But there was no time to think of this now.
"Come on then!" he said, voice full and hopeful again. "Who'll go with me to the Besieged Castle and battle the Renalimas?" Illeera instantly raised her hand. "I'm your best friend, Taka," she stated as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "If anyone has to go, let it be me."
Relcia stood up indignantly. "I'm going too!" she yelped. Tenris and Elric both looked at each other, then nodded. "We're coming as well," Tenris said. "It's our village; we should fight for it!"
Soon everyone was volunteering. It was decided that everyone except Elric would go - he was charged with looking after Lauren, who had been injured in the previous monster attack. Illeera fought to have him come, but he shyly said that it was all right. Her concern made him blush furiously.
The rain was rapidly stopping, as if Renalimas' curse was a sentient being and had heard that they were coming for the Elder Dragon, and was giving up against their determination. Vulcan carried the five hunters on his back, and was preparing to take off.
"Beware," said the Chieftain to Taka. "Even without its curse, Renalimas has several other tricks up its sleeves. Not only does it have its draining chemical to spread, but it is also poisonous and hallucinogenic. Breathing in any of its different dusts may prove fatal."
Taka gave her a single nod from his position atop Vulcan's back. "Don't worry," he told her. "We'll all be coming back, either in failure or victory." Elric, standing behind the Chieftain and with Lauren cradled in his arms, added, "Taka? Take care of my sister for me, will you?"
Before Taka could respond, Lauren coughed slightly and rasped, "Good luck, master. I'll be waiting, nya." Taka chuckled at the two of them. Vulcan nodded to the two of them in farewell, then took off, whipping up a great wind with his broad wings.
As Vulcan veered off into the brightening sky, Taka reflected on Lauren's words: "Good luck, master." His face turned grim and he tightened his grip on the Chieftain's talisman. Thank you, Lauren. We'll need every scrap of luck we can get...
The Gobul idly glanced at the sky and ground its teeth in frustration. A wyvern was rising from the gorge and heading south. It sensed the human it was after aboard, and it sighed. More ground to cover.
Stealthily slipping underneath the sand once again, the Gobul silently gave chase.
To be Continued...