The sun had just began to rise over the horizon. Everyone in Mediatas Village had at last fallen into a troubled sleep after the attack last night. Everyone, that is, except Taka.

Busy keeping watch over Relcia's bed, he found that he couldn't sleep at all. He was simply so worried about Relcia's condition, that sleep eluded him. So he had stayed up the remainder of the night, watching Relcia closely for even the slightest sign of movement, alone with his thoughts.

Taka's thoughts had indeed wandered. He raged inwardly at Tartu and Mylie, he mourned silently the loss of dear Taa, oldest daughter of Vulcan and Reia, and he hoped with all of his might that Relcia would wake up soon. And now, with the sun rising, he jerked himself from his thoughts and examined Relcia once again.

This time, with a thrill of joy, Taka saw her shift a little bit. Her eyelids tensed, then fluttered open. She sat up, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Then she glanced around, examining her surroundings, and the first thing she noticed was Taka, anxiously sitting beside her.

"Relcia!" he blurted out, relieved. She smiled slightly at him, a little weakly. But it didn't matter to Taka. He threw himself forward, holding her close and kissing her. Relcia didn't even bother being confused or surprised - she simply wrapped her arms around him and kissed him back. For a few moments, it was just the two of them and their love for one another.

They broke apart, breathing hard from both excitement and momentary lack of oxygen. "I thought that Tartu had... killed you," murmured Taka. "I was ready to return the favor." Relcia gave him another weak smile. "I'm completely fine," she told him.

Taka stopped - even her voice was weak. Something's still wrong, he thought. She just needs some rest. He put this thought into words, saying, "Relcia, you need more rest. You aren't yet back to full strength."

Relcia stopped and looked at him intently. Taka instinctively gazed into her eyes - and he shuddered. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something just felt... unnatural. He felt as if she was studying him, sizing him up as if he were a potential enemy. This is ridiculous! he scolded himself. But still, he had his doubts.

Finally, she spoke to him. "Alright," she replied to his earlier statement. "I... do feel a little tired." With one last kiss on his cheek, she laid back down on her bed, settling down for another few hours' rest. Taka left after a couple of seconds, closing the door gently behind him.

Two days passed, and the village had been completely restored, thanks to the hard efforts of the villagers. Life seemed back to normal in Mediatas Village.

But not to Taka. Something nagged at him incessantly. At first, he dismissed it as mere worry - the worry that Tartu and Mylie would return for yet more destruction. But after constantly thinking about it, he realized that it was a much bigger concern.

It was Relcia, he was sure of it. She was back to full health, showing absolutely no signs of her earlier affliction. But... Taka couldn't shake the feeling that something was still wrong with her. He could see it in her eyes, every time she looked at him or him at her. There was still that unnatural vibe radiating from them, alongside the usual warmth and regard.

Taka shared his suspicions with his other friends - Illeera, Zin, Vulcan, Reia, Bront, Rell, Ignatius, and Syrie. The Nargacuga in particular was just as worried as he was, having detected the same feeling. Taka and Syrie had talked long into the night, discussing what might be the matter. But even they, the two beings closest to Relcia, couldn't figure it out.

Taka's sister, Hydra, wasn't particularly concerned - but then again, she had bigger things to be concerned about. She had a husband, Ignus, and a monster companion, Geon the Basarios. Not to mention her seven-month old daughter, Terra, who kept Hydra busy throughout most of the day. Taka was still getting used to the fact that he was now an uncle.

But that was another matter entirely. Taka became so worried about Relcia's unknown condition that he went to the Village Elder for advice. Taka told him everything, from Tartu's attack to his growing suspicions.

The Elder was silent for a very long time, mulling over the situation as he always did. Then, at last, he spoke in his raspy voice. "I regret to admit that I, too, have no idea as to what is afflicting Relcia," he sighed, much to Taka's disappointment. But as he hung his head, the Elder continued his unfinished thought.

"But..." he trailed off. "I do have an idea as to how to cure it." Taka was confused. "What?" he asked. "How can you cure something when you don't even know what it is?"

The Village Elder smiled thinly. "There is one thing that is rumored to be so powerfully magical, that it can cure absolutely anything." He paused to let his statement sink in, then finished dramatically, "A scale from the Legendary Black Dragon itself - the Fatalis."

Taka's eyes widened. "The Fatalis... exists?" he asked in shocked disbelief. The Elder nodded and whispered, "I hunted it once, many decades ago. I was the only one in my hunting party to get back alive."

Everything Taka thought he knew had just been turned on its head. He, as well as all of his friends, had grown up thinking the Fatalis was a myth, a story invented to entertain children. The realization that the fabled beast actually existed totally boggled his mind.

The Elder was speaking again. "According to the legends," he mused. "The Fatalis resides in Castle Schrade, the site of its mighty victory against the humans of Schrade Kingdom many hundred years ago. A single one of its magical scales will heal Relcia, I guarentee it."

It wasn't often that the Village Elder said that, but when he did, it really was a guaranteed chance. Taka felt hope surge through him as the image of the legendary scale filled his mind. His entire world rested on that scale - for if Relcia couldn't be cured, he would crumble into nothingness.

Once again, the Elder broke into Taka's thoughts. "There's one more thing," he murmured. "You must be aware of where Castle Schrade, and indeed the ruins of Schrade Kingdom itself, lie. They are located in none other than the Great Frontier."

The Great Frontier! Taka thought excitedly. How I've wanted to go there and see what amazing monsters inhabit it! But he knew that this was no fool's errand - the monsters of the Great Frontier were more powerful than anything he could ever imagine. Indeed, there was an old saying in Mediatas Village that said as much - "A Yian Kut-Ku in the Great Frontier is like a Rathalos in the Central World."

Taka gathered up his courage, standing up straight from his seat in the Elder's dwelling. "Thank you," he said gratefully. "I'll leave at once."

The Village Elder smiled. "Not so fast," he cautioned with a wry smile. "You'll need a few special items first..."

By the time Taka emerged from the Village Elder's home, he looked radically different. Instead of Qurupeco armor, he wore Rathian armor, and it wasn't his Alatreon Longsword, Demise, that he wore on his back - rather, he carried a Blango Decimator. A map was clutched in his armored fist.

It was the Elder's reasoning that wearing his regular armor and weapon would attract unwanted attention from the people of the Great Frontier - after all, Qurupecoes and Alatreons didn't inhabit that particular region. So, he had substituted his equipment for those made from Rathian and Blangonga parts, as those monsters were common in the Frontier.

Relcia smiled amusedly when Taka walked up to her in his new armor. "Rathian armor, too, huh?" she laughed, gesturing to her own Rathian set. "What made you decide to swap?" Taka grinned good-naturedly and told her the whole story.

Taka and Relcia, both in Rathian armor. (Again, these are only models, not the actual characters.)

She wasn't smiling anymore when he had finished. "The Great Frontier?" she whispered. "Of all places... I know you're worried about me - I am feeling a little different, that's for sure - but isn't this taking it too far?" Taka shook his head, shifting his helm underneath his arm. "If the Fatalis is the only one who can help, then I'm all for it," he replied. "I'd do anything for you, Relcia. You know that."

It was settled. As they prepared for the journey, Taka was shocked to see Lauren, his Melynx friend, scampering toward them. When the cat-like creature reached them, she was panting a little, out of breath. "I want to come too, nya!" she meowed happily. "You're my master, Taka, and I want to help you!" Taka's heart swelled with pride. Lauren was clumsy, and a bit of a kleptomaniac, but otherwise friendly and blindly loyal. If Taka told her to jump into the open jaws of an Akantor and crawl into its stomach, she would have.

With that decided, Taka turned into a Rathalos - Looking very handsome, Taka, joked Vulcan as he passed - and allowed Relcia and Lauren to cautiously climb up onto his back. With a running start and a single flap of his broad wings, they were airborne. They were on their way to the Great Frontier - but how long would their lives last in that dangerous region? Only time would tell.

To be Continued...

Monster Hunter Destiny: The Darkness Within III - Into the Great Forest

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