The wind was rushing through Taka's face as he flapped steadily away from the Desert and onto their next destination. He had taken the form of a powerful Frontier wyvern called a Berukyurosu, a monster feared in these parts for not only its power, but its intelligence. Indeed, Berukyurosus were the only recorded wyverns capable of speaking both the human and monster languages.

Relcia and Lauren were crouched on his back, trying to avoid the uncomfortable wind as best as they could. Strangely, Relcia had insisted that he become, not a full-sized wyvern, but a much smaller version of one. His current Berukyurosu form was only a third of the size of a regular one. Relcia's stated reason, when Taka asked why she had insisted this, was because a small wyvern would have a better chance of going unnoticed than a large one.

It was to Dondruma Town they flew, and Taka now reflected on the peculiar and quite ominous reason that they were headed there: they needed information. Not only on the quickest way to reach the Tower, but on a rumor that they had heard shortly after they had begun to travel across the Desert again.

The three of them had run across a group of hunters, and had been seen. They had been pretty much forced to stop and talk, and what Taka, Relcia, and Lauren had heard was disturbing. The hunters had said that shortly before they had taken their current hunting request (Taka thought it was a Diablos hunt, but couldn't quite remember), the Guildmaster of the Frontier Hunter's Guild had been found murdered in his quarters. And now Dondruma Town had a new leader - Tartu.

Taka didn't want to believe this, but something told him that the hunters were telling the truth. So he, Lauren, and Relcia decided to go to Dondruma Town themselves and find out if this was true or not.

It was a risky strategy. If Tartu, and undoubtedly Mylie, were running the place, then Taka and Relcia would have a battalion of hunters on their tails in no time flat. That was why they decided to lay low and sneak through the back alleys, avoiding the local authorities and, especially, the local hunters.

Taka was brought back to attention when Relcia leaned down and gently patted his neck. "I can see Dondruma on the horizon," she said in his ear. "You should prepare to land soon." With an affirmative nod, Taka increased his flying speed, dead set on the city that was indeed looming ahead of them.

It was Taka's first time in a city, and he didn't like it. Not only was he put off by the noise, the crowds, and the buildings that seemed to close in on him, but he was still in his wyvern form, and his instincts caused his hatred of enclosed, crowded places to intensify.

He had landed in what looked like a small cleft in the artificial canyons, a tiny little space. It was closely surrounded by four buildings, which cast shadows over the entire place. Taka noticed with a wrinkled nose that they had landed in what looked like a waste disposal site. Garbage littered the ground, and he could see dozens of rats and even the occasional Felyne rummaging through the trash, looking for food or items of interest.

The building straight ahead of Taka's current line of sight had a door, which was presumably used by the people inside to dump out their garbage. A strong smell of alcohol pervaded the entire space, leading Taka to assume that the aforementioned building was in fact a tavern.

Relcia seemed to have arrived at the same conclusion. "There's nothing better than a tavern for acquiring information," she said slyly. "Lauren and I will enter and try to... extract... some information from the locals. You stay here."

Taka nodded - it wouldn't do to walk around Dondruma in his Berukyurosu guise. He could just shapeshift back into his normal, Rathian-armor-clad human form, but then again, taverns were unpredictable places and he may need to defend himself more efficiently.

He followed Relcia and Lauren into a claustrophobically small alley between the tavern and the building next to it, just big enough for a wyvern of his size to squeeze through. He poked his head out and watched Relcia and Lauren disappear around the side. I hope they'll be alright... he thought, then tried to relax. Relcia could take care of herself easily enough, but ever since the revalation that she had become evil, Taka was reluctant to let her out of his sight.

Unfortunately, as he busied himself with observing the locals walking up and down the streets, two hunters came bumbling out from the tavern. They were clearly tipsy, and would sometimes stumble over the rough ground on which they walked. One of them could barely hold his Dual Swords, one of which was in his hand for some reason, the other put away on his back.

"Oy!" he said, noticing Taka's head peeking out from the alley. "Thats a wyvern, it is! Should we kill it?" His partner seemed to have some difficulty thinking straight. Finally, he nodded thoughtfully and replied. "Yeah, I suppose we should. After all, it's a shrimpy one, so it shouldn't give us trouble anyhow."

The two hunters drew their weapons and advanced on the pretty much cornered Taka. He growled threateningly, and then an idea suddenly came to mind as he backed farther into the alley. He shot straight up into the air, not difficult for a Berukyurosu, even in an enclosed space, and landed on his taloned feet with a thud behind them. The townsfolk gasped and screamed at the sudden presence of what appeared to be an undersized wyvern.

Hurry up, please, Relcia... urged Taka from within his head. I don't want to have to defend myself... Nevertheless, he had to as one of the hunters swung his massive Hammer at Taka's head. He jumped once more into the air, and instinctively lashed out with a wing ribbon. The clawed tip sliced through the hunter's armor and gashed his side. He gasped, too frightened (and too drunk) to react as the now-annoyed Taka advanced on him.

Taka didn't know anything about the darkness spreading inside of him, yet it was there. The scent of the hunter's blood caused his dark side, now much larger and more powerful from the extensive time he had been spending with Relcia, to cry out and demand the hunter's instant death. Taka suddenly stopped advancing, struggling with this sudden urge - his light side was still in control for now.

The Hammer smashed into Taka's face, causing him to squawk loudly and stagger away from the hunter. The other one, incredibly, put away his Dual Swords and began to beat him with his bare hands. The man clamped his arms around Taka's muzzle and physically threw his head down onto the pavement. Taka's body was forced down with it. A strangled growl escaped from Taka's mouth as he desperately tried to free himself.

The sight of the tavern's door opening caused a new wave of panic within him. Taka managed to stand up and throw the hunter to the ground, ready to fly. But the person emerging from the building was Relcia. She instantly took note of the situation and drew her Wolf Tessen threateningly, holding one up to the Hammer-wielder's throat.

"Get away from him," she snarled. The hunter didn't look pleased to be bossed around by a teenage girl. "Are ye mad, lass?" he growled. "That there's a Berukyurosu, the scourge of the Great Frontier. It'll rip ye limb from limb!"

Relcia pressed her blade closer to his throat, and the sharp edge cut it slightly, causing a single drop of blood to drip out from a fresh, tiny cut on his neck. "I wasn't making a request," she said in an ominous whisper. "I said get away from him."

The hunter scowled, temper rising fast (helped by the massive amount of alcohol in his system). "Make me!" he shouted, pushing Relcia away and half-running, half-stumbling to finish Taka off. He never made it. Relcia recovered her balance, and the hunter made it two steps before her Wolf Tessen sang through the air. A massive spurt of blood flew through the air from the hunter's neck, sliced clean through as if it were nothing.

The hunter hit the ground, dead in the space of a second. Taka was totally, completely shocked at the sheet brutality of the events that had taken place so rapidly. He was torn as to how to feel about this - his light side was horrified, and also a little nauseated, and his dark side was very impressed.

Somehow, the man's comrade had not noticed the blood of his clearly dead friend staining the ground (and his armor), and drew his Dual Swords, prepared to take down the wyvern that stood in front of him. "Don't move another step," warned Relcia with a malicious grin, "or I'll carve you up."

The man snorted with mirth, flecks of saliva speckling the cobblestones in front of him. "You don't have the guts, girl," he said. Relcia's eyes darkened - even if he had noticed the subtle change, he never would have foreseen what happened next. Relcia's own Dual Swords once again slashed through the air, and before he knew it, his intestines were spilling onto the ground in front of him.

Now Taka was utterly flabbergasted. His maw hung open as he gawked at Relcia. She's changed, he thought, once more half-horrified, half-impressed. Calmly putting away her bloody Dual Swords, Relcia adjusted her Rathian helm and smiled knowingly at Taka. This time Taka's dark side was stronger, and he smiled back.

The gathered crowd's reaction was somewhat more dramatic, however. Several people turned away to vomit, and there were a lot of gasps and fainting spells as well. Taka's sharp wyvern eyes picked out at least three townsfolk running off, presumably to alert the authorities.

"We'd better leave," he warned Relcia in a whisper. "You can't keep something like this a secret, and with our luck, Tartu and Mylie themselves will be coming here in person to see to our arrest." Relcia simply smirked evilly. "Who says we're going to let ourselves be arrested?" she said, gathering the unconscious Lauren in her arms (she had been one of the beings to faint at the sight of Relcia's attack).

Striding towards Taka in order to climb up on his back and escape, Relcia stopped dead as a hand clasped her shoulder. She turned slowly to see a hunter standing there, who had presumably come out from the tavern to see what all the commotion was about. He looked like he was in his late teens, slightly cross-eyed and paler than a Gigginox - obviously, he had drank too much ale in one sitting.

Taka, whose light side was strong enough to prevent him hurting innocent bystanders, was about to gently push him away with his tail, when he noticed that the hunter hadn't even seen him yet. His attention was focused on Relcia, and most likely the sleeping Melynx in her arms.

"Hey girl," he said in a slurred yet chatty voice. "Why don't ya come in and share a cup with me, eh? Get to know each other, like." Relcia gave him a weird look and backed away towards Taka. "No thanks," she answered coolly.

"No need to be afraid," he laughed, flecks of saliva flying from his mouth as he did so. "I don't bite." He laughed some more and drew a little nearer to Relcia. "No, but he does," she replied harshly, jerking a thumb at Taka. "And if you don't get away from me in five seconds..."

She never got to finish her sentence, as the hunter squinted at Taka as if half-blind. "That beast's yours?" he slurred, almost dreamily. "Good with monsters, are ya? I like that in a woman..." he trailed off and took another step closer to Relcia.

It was then that Taka realized that a soft, angry hiss was being emitted from between his clenched fangs, getting louder in volume with each word out of the hunter's mouth. His dark side was rising again, coming to Relcia's defense against this idiotic piece of Brachydios slime.

"Another step forward..." Relcia was saying, clearly about to commit another murder. But again, she never got to finish her sentence - the hunter impulsively leaned forward and kissed her.

Taka's blood pressure shot up in an instant, and a ferocious snarl twisted his already monstrous face. His angry hiss became an enraged growl, and the shocked citizens started to back away cautiously. But he didn't move. He wanted Relcia safely beside him before he did what he dearly wanted to do.

Finally, Relcia forced herself away from the stranger and speed-walked up to Taka's side. There was a furious light in her eyes, leaving no doubt about what she was going to say next. "Taka," she ordered in a voice tight with anger, "kill him."

Berukyurosu - the last thing you ever see when you provoke the shapeshifter's fury.

Needing no further goading, Taka lunged forward, a deafening roar tearing its way out of his throat. Two paces took him right to the thunderstruck hunter, who was roughly seized in his jaws. Taka threw his head back and released his grip, sending the hunter screaming into the air.

But he wasn't finished yet. Taka himself rose into the air, slowly and strongly beating his mighty wings, wing ribbons flowing elegantly in the wind. However, it was a deadly elegance - Taka gave a single flick of his wing, sending one ribbon snapping straight up like a whip. The clawed tip met its mark dead-on - it punched through the airborne hunter's armor and then his flesh, then ripped a massive crevice upwards up to his neck.

Taka and the hunter landed at the same time, one safely, and one with a crash. But the hunter wasn't dead; indeed, the huge amount of alcohol in his system had slowed his blood flow, preventing him from bleeding to death right away. His dark red blood oozed out like tree sap, and he convulsed with each breath, in clear agony from the gash that ran from his colon to his throat.

The shapeshifter, with the dangerous rage of a Berukyurosu powering each move, slowly advanced on the dying hunter. His wrathful eyes met the hunter's terrified ones. Taka stopped with one taloned foot on the hunter's slashed abdomen, and bent down so that his maw was almost touching the hunter's face. He flinched, afraid of what he feared Taka could possibly do next.

It was worse than he thought. Taka reached with his undersized jaws into the hunter's chest cavity, and with a single twist of his head, ripped out his heart.

Seeing that the hunter was still alive, albeit barely, he raised his head, giving everyone watching a clear view of the still-pulsating organ trapped between his fangs. With agonizing slowness, his jaws opened, allowing the beating heart to slide to the back of his mouth. Taka swallowed the organ whole, feeling it slowly move down his throat. And he knew that his victim could see the bulge it made travelling downwards, down into Taka's own innards.

His tongue slipped out from between his now-closed jaws and flicked at a trickle of blood that had dripped down his muzzle. The hunter, physically and psychologically damaged, closed his eyes and gave up whatever hope he still had of living. His slow, painful breaths stopped.

Taka swore he could feel the darkness within him running with his blood through his veins. He retreated from the carcass with tense muscles, tense from the unrelenting anger that fueled his movements, the same anger that was directed at the dead hunter for his actions against Relcia.

With effort, he willed the darkness and fury back, and light once again dominated him. But barely - the killing he had done influenced the darkness to take a huge bite from the light, before continuing to nibble at its edges. Indeed, Taka was more evil than he ever was, and steadily becoming even more so.

Relcia silently climbed up on his back and gently wrapped her arms around his neck. "We should go," she whispered to him. "I got the information we needed. We have to continue onwards toward the Tower." Taka nodded numbly, and powerfully flapped into the air, soaring out and away from Dondruma Town.

Guilt and shame dominated Taka's heart. Guilt for what he had done, and shame for what he felt. The dark part of him felt satisfied and even elated, and worse still, the light part of him felt satisfied as well. Both sides told him that he had done the right thing, defending Relcia like that.

Unconsciously, he asked Relcia for confirmation. "Did I do the right thing back there?" he asked as the sounds of the city behind them disappeared. "Was it right to kill that hunter?"

Relcia tightened her grip around his neck and leaned in nearer to his ear. "Yes," she breathed. "You had no choice. And I am very proud of you." She quickly kissed him on the top of his crested head.

A purr of pleasure escaped Taka's mouth, and he flew on with new strength, born from the faith that Relcia had in him. But was that faith good? Taka thought so, but anyone else would think differently.

The darkness was quickening its conquest of Taka's soul.

To be Continued...

Monster Hunter Destiny: The Darkness Within IX - Blue Fury! Bloody Demon!

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