"Oh, you've GOT to be kidding me!" Elric suddenly exclaimed. He and his comrades, Illeera and Tenris, were about midway across the great grassland towards Castle Schrade. Now, he peered through his binoculars in order to take a closer look at the castle in the distance.

"What is it?" asked Illeera, eyebrows raised at his exasperated tone. Elric lowered the binoculars and replied, "Taka and Relcia are leaving Castle Schrade... and are going toward the Desert!"

Tenris groaned. "Deeper into the Great Frontier?" she said. "Have they lost their sense of direction?" Illeera silenced them with a wave of their hand. "No," she told them. "There has to be a reason why they are doing this. Taka would never do something this dangerous, or foolish, without a good reason."

Elric jumped into the conversation. "Well, good reason or not," he piped up, putting the binoculars away, "we need to catch up with them. If we keep moving, we should be able to meet up with them sooner or later."

Illeera checked the position of the sun - it was around early-to-mid-afternoon, it seemed. "We should have plenty of time before nightfall to cover as much ground as we can," she said. "Come on, and get your Cool Drinks ready." The three of them began to move forward once more, in search of their friends.

The sun was setting as they made their way into the Desert. The sheer silence of the environment disturbed them - the only noise came from the crickets and the wind. Now that Illeera thought about it, though, the wind seemed to be getting stronger. It's probably my imagination, she thought dismissively. Nothing more.

"I don't understand how they could have just disappeared," complained Elric. "Look - from here, you can see miles and miles of nothing but sand and rocks. Where could they have gone?"

Tenris stopped walking for a second or two, stretching her aching legs. "I don't care. We can search all we want tomorrow. I'm taking a rest before I drop dead from exhaustion." Elric was about to angrily protest, but Illeera nodded her agreement. "We have traveled a very long way on foot," she stated. "It would be wise to stop for the night and get plenty of much-needed sleep for tomorrow."

They set up camp, using a large cluster of boulders for shelter. Tenris built a fire from the few sticks she had gathered in the Great Forest, and they all shared a meal that they had packed previously - Gargwa legs, left over from a few days ago. Illeera was struck with the bittersweet memory of the conversation that they had with Taka back then.

"Did anyone ever tell you that you eat like a Bird Wyvern?" Elric asked. "No, but then again, I LOOK like a Bird Wyvern," replied Taka, laughing.

Illeera felt tears sting her eyes. Taka was her best friend, and the thought of him journeying into this deadly region made her feel very, very frightened. I hope I can see you again soo, Taka, she wished sadly. Then I won't have to worry about such things.

The wind suddenly picked up, growing louder and louder as it became progressively stronger. "Thank goodness we're sheltered behind these rocks," Elric sighed, curling into a sleeping position. Illeera, all of a sudden, caught sight of sand flying in the wake of the gale-force wind. "You're going to be even more thankful in a minute," she said grimly.

Now the storm reached its peak, turning into a huge sandstorm that seemed to block everything from view. They party wasn't even touched by the wind and sand, but they could feel it nonetheless. Tenris shivered as the fire that they had constructed was blown out. Elric and Illeera huddled close together, trying to protect each other in case the wind suddenly turned around and blew the storm right in their faces.

The sandstorm raged literally all night. The relentless wind blew on and on, until the group began to grow used to it. Eventually, they decided that they should try and get some rest, shielded from the worst of the elements as they were. They curled up into tight balls, trying to remain warm and safe behind their barrier.

Finally, they were lulled to sleep by the consistency of the howling storm's noise. As they slept on, they didn't notice the storm die down at last, leaving the rocks and bushes that had been exposed to it to be buried under dunes of sand.

Daytime revealed a completely changed landscape. The sandstorm had wiped away whole sand dunes, only to replace them with new ones, set in totally different locations. If it weren't for the tall cliffs and large boulders dotting the area, there would have been no landmarks at all.

Illeera, Tenris, and Elric continued trudging across the sandy terrain, occasionally taking a gulp of Cool Drink. The desert heat was sweltering, and nothing moved. All of the monsters had retreated to the safety of the caverns to avoid the heat. Well, all except the Apceros - those Herbivores remained in loose herds to graze on what little vegetation they could find.

Suddenly, the herds began to roar and groan, rearing up on their hind legs and sniffing the air. Illeera became suspicious - the late Bronton had taught her that monsters had much better senses than humans did, and could thus detect subtle changes in the environment much quicker than any hunter could.

Now, the Apceros herds scattered, fleeing across the land and heading for the caves. Now Tenris and Elric began to realize that something was up. Both scanned the horizon for any signs of trouble. But while they had their eyes on the land, Illeera had hers on the sky. With a gasp, she picked out a single black shape in the otherwise calm blue yonder, heading right for them.

"Look out!" she cried to her companions before diving to the ground. The other two did the same as the unknown creature landed right where they had been standing. It skidded to a halt on the sandy earth with the force of an earthquake and craftily observed the three humans it had scattered in its wake.

Illeera and the others had never seen anything like this beast. It was clearly a Flying Wyvern - a Rathian to be precise. But its scales were a pitch black tone, and instead of toxic barbs, it had huge red spines on its tail and wings. The Rathian was bigger than any other Rathian that any of them had ever seen, and it now glared at them with blood-red eyes, sizing them up.
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The Ancient Rathian - death incarnate.

A primal fear took hold of Illeera as she remembered something about this beast. The Elder had once told her and her friends about the monsters inhabiting the Great Frontier. He had mentioned a monster that had lived on Earth since the dawn of time, a wyvern so ferocious that everything lived in instinctive fear of it. Although extremely rare, this creature had all the powers of a regular Rathian, but its strength had been enhanced by the gods themselves upon creation. This monster had taught subsequent generations of Rathian the measure of its abilities, but these skills had apparently been forgotten by all except itself.

It was the Ancient Rathian, the beast said to have come from hell itself. It was death given form, and now it blocked the trio's progress.

The Ancient Rathian growled, a deep, almost prehistoric sound that somehow reflected how truly ancient this monster was. And only Illeera was able to understand it, being the only one of the three that could interpret the monster language.

Unnervingly, she was speaking to them, not herself. What have we here? she said menacingly. Three little hunters who have lost their way? Pity - do you even know where you are going? Well, I do, and I would be more than happy to help you get there.

She giggled, a horrid sound that grated in Illeera's ears. But Illeera got the monster's hint. As if it weren't obvious enough, the Rathian was here to kill them.

"Come on, we need to get out of here," Illeera whispered to Tenris and Elric, and they nodded their clear agreement. As one, they drew their weapons and slowly backed away from the Ancient Rathian, ready to either flee or attack at a moment's notice.

With a roar, the Rathian jumped into the sky, clumsily flapping her wings. Before anyone could react, she rocketed down to the ground, landing with such force that she got her talons stuck in the ground! Cracks radiated out from the impact site, catching the three hunters off balance.

Growling in frustration, the Rathian gave a mighty pull, and she finally got herself free from the ground. She once again rose into the sky, flinging massive chunks of earth and rock into the air in the process. The rubble rained down among the trio, causing them to panic, running around and trying to avoid the incoming boulders.

Illeera took careful aim with her Sonic Bow IV, then shot a flurry of arrows at the Ancient Rathian, too fast for the eye to see. However, the Rathian shrugged off the electrical impacts like a gentle spring rain and dove once more, this time at an angle. Her claws skimmed the ground, straight at Illeera. She just managed to dodge by the skin of her teeth.

The Rathian ended up right beside Tenris. She quickly lashed out with her Qurupeco Chopper, dealing three blows in the space of a second, before leaping back when the wyvern snapped at her, flames gushing from her mouth. She was then forced to run as the Rathian charged full force at her, jaws wide open.

The Rathian was unable to stop in time, and tripped over her own feet. As she hit the ground face-first, Elric swung his Khezu Shock Sword, which hit one of the wyvern's tail spikes, slicing it off. Angry now, the Rathian quickly turned, lashing out with her tail and throwing Elric to the ground.

As Illeera and Tenris rushed to his defense, the Ancient Rathian stood with one talon clamped around his torso as if guarding him. Illeera launched another arrow, this one dipped in Paralysis Coating. Although unable to pierce the Rathian's scales, it distracted her long enough for Tenris to leap in with a single slash from her sword, the pain causing the monster to instinctively back away from Elric.

A red aura suddenly appeared from thin air and wrapped itself around the Ancient Rathian. She roared, the guttural sound causing their very souls to quake in fear. They simultaneously clamped their hands over their ears and saw the Rathian's already-red eyes begin to glow with a rage even fiercer than before.

Dunking another two arrows in Paralysis Coating, Illeera twisted her body out of the way of a sudden fireball, shot straight from the Rathian's mouth. Her heart grew cold at the sight of the flame - it was a bluish-white color, and deep black in the center. It didn't seem natural, and yet it was. That's what was so frightening about it.

The Ancient Rathian lunged forwards, hip thrown out and prepared to squarely tackle Illeera. She barely managed to jump out of the way of the hip check and shot three more arrows at the monster's exposed side. The Rathian began to jerk around spasmodically as the paralyzing toxins the arrows were coated in flowed through her system.

The three hunters charged, raising their weapons and yelling battle cries. It was their intention to hurt and scare the Rathian, as they hoped to use the sharp edge of their weapons and the volume of their voices to frighten her off.

But just as they reached the wyvern, the paralysis began to play havoc with the Rathian's horrible gas ducts, which were hidden on the underside of her wings and belly. White smoke began to hiss out of them uncontrollably, cloaking the four beings within its hazy cloud. The trio instantly backed away, coughing. They started to grow weaker as the gas sapped their strength.

By this time, the Ancient Rathian had broken free of her immobility and struck back at her victims with a vengeance. She let loose with all of the fire inside of her, blending every scrap of power into a destructive beam of fury and death. The beam, black in the centre and ghostly blue on the edges, was so strong that it swept curtains of sand off of the ground and instantly ignited the nearby shrubs.

The amount of sand blown into the air around the battlefield was so great, even the keen, deadly observant eyes of the Rathian couldn't see a thing. And when they could again, they widened. Impossible! she hissed furiously. Mere humans couldn't possibly stand against my power!

Indeed, Elric had used the size and weight of his Khezu Shock Sword to shield the two girls from the fiery beam. The sheer strength of the beam had pushed him back at least ten feet, but in the end, his determination and resolve had won out. Now he stepped out from behind the massive, charred Greatsword, looking tired but otherwise perfectly okay.

Surprisingly swiftly, the Rathian forgot her shock and descended into a terrible anger. Screeching so loudly that pebbles fell from the cliffs in the distance, she rose majestically into the air, an intricate red pattern blooming on her great wings. Illeera took aim once more and fired another flurry of arrows, hoping to knock her from the sky.

But she was too late. The Ancient Rathian maneuvered around the projectiles and continuously rained phantasmic fireballs down upon them, aiming at nothing. It was her strategy to fire random flames to keep the miserable hunter vermin running. Bunched up together and in a state of panicked fear, they were easy pickings.

The wyvern swooped once more, successfully snatching Tenris in her talons. A single snarl issued from her jaws as she started to fly off with the girl. "Tenris, NO!" cried Elric in a mixture of horror and fury, sheathing his weapon and running with all of his might.

The Rathian was steadily climbing higher, wings wheeling awkwardly as she tried to get airborne again. Elric ran up a slanted boulder and jumped off the edge with all his might, hand desperately outstretched. By pure luck, he managed to firmly grab one of the monster's tail spines.

Hauling himself up, Elric acquired a straddled position on the Rathian's tail. Taking out his trusty carving knife ("A hunter never leaves home without it," he often said proudly), he raised it and then plunged it down into the monster's flesh.

The Ancient Rathian felt the sharp pain and reflexively dropped Tenris. She fell twenty-five feet before landing with a gentle thud on the soft sand. Unfortunately, she caught the attention of a wandering school of Cephalos, and the curious (and hungry) Piscene Wyverns zeroed in on her location.

Meanwhile, Elric was repeatedly stabbing the Rathian's tail and interfering with her ability to fly straight. She was forced to land, blood running down from her multiple wounds, and Elric immediately jumped off and joined his sister and Illeera.

The first Cephalos came out from the sand, catching them all off guard. Tenris instantly slashed at it with her Qurupeco Chopper, slicing through its fin and causing it to squeal. Blood splattered across the sand, and the frenzied wyvern school surfaced, hoping to grab a bite of fresh hunter for lunch.

The Ancient Rathian hadn't flown off yet, and charged through the school's midst, scattering them in her path. The trio of friends separated, then drew back together as she passed, all moving at once.

This time, the Rathian didn't trip. She did a quick 180-degree jump, skidding to a halt. She jumped again, hovering a few feet above the earth. In a completely unexpected move, she released a single curtain of fire, and then swiped inwardly with her wing, causing several of her wing spines to fly off at ridiculous speeds. The spines flew so fast, they swept through the flames and came out crackling with heat.

It was under this barrage of blue flame and whistling spines that the Ancient Rathian flew off on silent wings, dark blood dripping constantly from her scars, having had more than enough.

The spikes streaked through the contingent of hunters and Cephalos, causing them to scatter and flee. But one spine hit its target - Illeera. The burning spike embedded itself in her arm, and she hit the ground with a shriek. The terrible venom carried in the spine oozed out and into Illeera's bloodstream, and the flames licked at her Zinogre armor and the skin exposed underneath.

Tenris forcefully pulled the spine out, ignoring the burns that seared her hands. Elric forced Illeera's head up, digging in his item pouch for the antidote for the Rathian's poison. Finding it, he tore the cap off with his teeth and held the bottle to Illeera's mouth. The purple fluid washed down her throat, dribbling a little across her chin.

As one, they all sighed. Illeera weakly touched Elric's face and breathed, "Thank... you..." before collapsing into unconsciousness.

The siblings decided that they should find another shelter, in order to give Illeera some urgently-required rest.

To be Continued...

Monster Hunter Destiny: The Darkness Within VIII - Out of the Desert, Into Dondruma Town

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