When early settlers first set foot in the Central World hundreds and hundreds of years ago, they soon found out about the new landscapes and biomes that surrounded them. One of the first they discovered was what they soon named the Barren Desert, because to them, nothing seemed to live there.
Oh, how wrong they had been. Upon further exploration, they discovered hordes of vicious monsters making their homes there. To their shock, it seemed as though the monsters had made comfortable lives in the inhospitality of the Barren Desert. Not only that, but when the settlers looked further, they discovered huge oasis's and gardens filled with towering cacti.
No, Taka reminisced, thinking back to that particular history lesson. The so-called Barren Desert isn't so barren at all. "Prosperous Desert", maybe, would have been a better name.
But the desert that he, Relcia, and Lauren were trekking through - simply called "the Desert" by the locals - certainly was deserving of the name "Barren Desert". The wasteland that surrounded them was almost completely devoid of life, plant or monster. It was only sand and rock, stretching on for kilometers. To Taka, it seemed miraculous that anything could survive here.
The only shrubs that Taka saw were those that he knew only inhabited the harshest environments, where even cacti could not survive. Crickets chirped from within their sparse branches, adding a somewhat relaxing feel to their journey. Especially after the silence of Castle Schrade, Taka thought, and shuddered.
Lauren scampered ahead, scouting ahead in search of any hostile wildlife. She needn't have done so - they were completely and utterly alone. In fact, the only monster that Taka had seen thus far, not including Lauren herself, was a lone Rathian soaring in the twilight sky. And that had only been for two seconds, before the wyvern disappeared behind a cliff.
As the sun continued to sink lower in the sky, it became darker and colder. Relcia began to shiver, and she clung to Taka like a Giggi, trying to get warmer. "You have Hot Drinks, you know," Taka said amusedly. "I know," Relcia replied with a small smile, and slightly tightened her grip on him. "Any excuse to get close to you." Chuckling, Taka gave her one of his Hot Drinks.
Soon, the sun had completely disappeared, and stars broke out almost all at once. Despite the cold, Taka had to admit that the Desert was strikingly beautiful at night.
But as the heat of the day slowly evaporated, the Desert's resident monsters slowly came out of hiding. Cephalos began their nightly hunt, swimming through the sand with ease, and Hermitaurs dug through the sand in search of stray morsels to fill their bellies with. Apceros came out in small herds to snack on the rare vegetation, and packs of Genprey went on the prowl, eating anything that they came across.
Due to this sudden activity, Taka became increasingly wary. Ready to whip out his Blango Decimator at any sign of a monster attack, he scanned the surroundings to make sure that nothing was creeping up on them. But luckily, the monsters that they ran across seemed to have no interest in them, either being herbivores or else looking for larger prey.
Lauren was now well ahead of them, already scurrying into a small cavern entrance. Taka looked at Relcia, silently asking her if they should follow. She nodded once, then got down on all fours and crawled through the narrow cleft. Taka went after her, noticing that the tiny tunnel beyond dropped at a sharp angle. Wherever they were going, they were going underground.
It wasn't long before the floor suddenly disappeared. Not literally, but it suddenly wasn't beneath Taka's feet, and he plummeted with a startled shout. Luckily, he only fell six or seven feet before he hit the ground.
When he came to his senses, Taka looked around in awe. He was in a vast cavern, and the tunnel entrance from which he had dropped was high up on the ceiling. Columns of sand poured down from above, piling up in medium-sized heaps on the floor. It was pleasantly warm, since the sand that was pouring down from the surface had absorbed the heat of the day and was now releasing it.
All of a sudden, Relcia was beside him. "You won't believe what we found," she said excitedly. "Come on, I'll show you there." Without another word, she grabbed his hand and pulled him along behind her.
They traveled a ways into the cave, ducking into a narrow side tunnel that branched off from the main cavern. At the end, there was an equally large cave. For some reason, the vibe radiating from the enclosed room gave Taka the chills. Was it the slightly lower temperature, or darker light? Or was it the occasional bone or scale that littered the ground?
But just up ahead, there was a sight to behold. It was a massive crystal, perfectly formed and standing as tall as he did. Taka ran over to join Relcia and Lauren, who were already there. "Isn't it beautiful, Taka?" Relcia whispered to him, and he nodded. It was indeed beautiful.
Lauren had a greedy look in her eye. As a Melynx, she was a natural kleptomaniac and was possessed by the urge to steal things of value. Although she usually kept it under control, it was clear that she was using all of her will not to give in to this temptation.
"Honestly, Lauren," warned Taka. "Now is not the time. Leave it be." But Lauren argued back, something she almost never did to Taka. "But master, it's just lying there, meow! We can easily swipe it and take it back to the village. Then we'd be rich, nya!"
Relcia took Taka's side after a moment of consideration. "Lauren," she cautioned the Melynx. "Don't you think there's something the least bit suspicious about a huge, perfect crystal just lying there for anyone to take?" Her words made Taka think; she was indeed right. He shuddered as the bad vibe coming from the cave intensified - or was the feeling coming from the crystal itself?
Suddenly, the last thing Taka wanted to do was to be near that gemstone. "Lauren, this isn't a good idea," he said, voice shaking a little. "We need to get out of here! It's dangerous!"
Lauren ignored him. The glow of the crystal seemed to be reflected in her eyes. Then she could wait no longer - she rushed over to the massive gem, dropped her staff, and began to pull it out.
"Come... to Lauren... nya!" she gasped, using all of her strength to try and budge the crystal. "Lauren, NO!" screamed Taka, suddenly realizing what the crystal really was. He ran full force at Lauren just as the geode erupted out of the ground, attached to a black, hard-shelled appendage. Taka grabbed Lauren and managed to escape just before the crystal smashed into the floor with superhuman force.Then the sand erupted again, revealing the rest of the monster that had lay hidden beneath the earth. It was a gigantic black scorpion, with crystals decorating its head and claws. Sand poured off of its exoskeleton as it got to its feet, raising its crystalline tail above its head. Fear engulfed Taka's heart - it was an Akura Vashimu.
The massive Carapaceon screeched, the unearthly sound causing the cavern to shake and extra sand to slide down from the walls and ceiling. The trio simultaneously drew their weapons in preparation for battle. Taka caught Lauren edging back towards the exit, so he picked her up with one hand and dragged her back. "You got us into this mess," he growled. "So you're going to help us fight this menace."
Then the Akura Vashimu suddenly hissed and rushed forward, claws outstretched. Taka ducked under its front legs and swung his Longsword upwards. To his shock, the frozen blade barely made a scratch in the scorpion's tough shell. In fact, the Akura didn't even notice the attack as it crawled towards Relcia.
Relcia dodged its claw swipe and made a swipe of her own with her Wolf Tessen. The super-sharp, fan-like blades cut through the shell of its arm, but the wounds weren't deep. They dribbled blue-purple blood as the Akura hissed in pain and drew its claw back protectively.Suddenly planting its claws and legs into the ground, the Carapaceon raised its tail and sprayed a jet of venom from its crystal. Relcia managed to avoid it, but the venom caught Lauren dead on. The high-pressure jet stuck to Lauren like glue, then rapidly hardened, encasing her in a coat of crystal. She couldn't even move as the Akura Vashimu scuttled towards her, ready to strike.
Taka swung his Blango Decimator in a wide arc, making an elegant swipe at the monster. Although the wound barely damaged its target, the Akura noticed the freezing touch of the blade. Halting its advance on the helpless Lauren, it swung its tail at Taka, throwing him to the side. Then it jumped to face him, raising its tail once more.
Seeing the huge crystal held high and at the ready, Taka quickly rolled to the side. The Akura's tail struck the spot where he had been with incredible force, throwing up a huge cloud of sand as it crashed into the ground. Then he was forced to roll again as the Akura continually struck at him with its tail, pounding the floor again and again as it kept missing.
Finally, Taka's exhaustion caused him to only manage a half-roll, not quite enough to avoid the crushing crystal. With ridiculous speed, the Akura Vashimu whipped its tail out once more, bringing it over its head like the previous times. A split second away from being crushed, Taka was miraculously saved by Lauren, who had recovered from her crystallized state and who shoved him out of the way at the last second.
As the frustrated scorpion chittered its rage, Taka painfully got up and met Lauren's eyes. "Thanks," he said to her. "It's my duty, master," Lauren replied. "And... I'm sorry, nya."
Taka ruffled the fur on her head and picked up his Blango Decimator, ready to battle once more. He raced towards the fight, towards Relcia dealing quick slashes with her Dual Swords and dodging repeated strikes from the Akura's tail and claws.
The Carapaceon didn't see Taka coming until it was too late. Taka triggered the Spirit Blade power by focusing his inner strength on the Longsword. The icy blade glowed a flaming red as it became charged with energy. Taka swung it multiple times in a second, marveling as he always did as it became stronger and lighter.
The Akura Vashimu screamed as the powerful Longsword slashed it. Blue blood sprayed from its wounds as it staggered backwards, trying to get away from Taka and his destructive weapon. Flailing its claws, it managed to disrupt Taka's assault by smacking the Longsword out of his hands.
Now unarmed, it was Taka's turn to retreat as the Akura advanced on him. A swing of its tail brought Relcia to her knees as she tried to defend him. The Carapaceon backed Taka against a wall with no possible way to escape.
Suddenly, a memory burst forth in Taka's mind. It was the memory of a battle from last year - the Vengeful Gobul advancing on him and Illeera, about to devour both of them. Taka remembered that he had used his incredible Thunder abilities to kill the awful Leviathan.
Taka had nothing to lose, so he searched within his consciousness, looking for that single spark that had changed the entire battle. This time, the spark was right where he needed it to be. Am I getting better at controlling this amazing ability? he wondered briefly, as his hand began to crackle with electricity.
Multiple eyes widening at this show of power, the Akura Vashimu didn't have any time to run. Taka released a massive lightning bolt that slammed into it, repeatedly shocking it as the voltage shot through its body. When the Carapaceon had stopped moving, Taka called his power back with some difficulty.
But the Akura wasn't dead. Indeed, unbeknownst to Taka, it was feared in the Great Frontier for its immunity to all elements. The monster twitched, then regained the use of its limbs. It crawled once again at Taka, who looked thunderstruck at the ineffectiveness at his assault.
From behind the Akura Vashimu, Relcia was desperate to save Taka. The wounds that she dealt with her Dual Swords were doing nothing, and even though the Akura was weakening from blood loss, it wouldn't die just yet, or even at all.
She stopped as she suddenly felt something deep inside of her. It felt like a stray ripple on the surface of a puddle. She realized right then and there that it was her elemental ability calling out to her - the power to control the element of Water.
Relcia seized the ripple and flung it at the Akura Vashimu. But even though she was successful in taking control of her element, her control slipped slightly. Instead of a bone-crushing tidal wave like she had hoped for, all that formed was a much smaller wave of water. It simply washed over the Akura, cleaning the stray particles of sand from its exoskeleton.
Taka noticed this, and mentally groaned. But before he could squeeze his eyes shut, waiting for the Akura's final blow, he realized something. Thought was deed, and he dove once again into his consciousness, again searching for that spark.
This time, he felt it immediately, harnessing the energy into one blast. The resultant thunderbolt flew from his hand and crashed into the Akura Vashimu with twice the force as the previous one.
Ordinarily, even the increased power of the bolt wouldn't have stopped a monster resistant to the Thunder element. But covered with water as it was, the voltage was amplified tenfold. The Akura gave a mind-ripping screech of agony and echoed again and again off of the cavern walls, spasming wildly as the electricity caused its internal systems to run out of control.
Then, the scorpion crashed to the ground with a thud, giving one final spasmodic struggle before finally flipping onto its back and curling up its legs and tail. Taka drew the energy back within him and joined Relcia in examining the Akura Vashimu. It was truly dead this time.
"Come on," sighed Taka exhaustedly. "Let's get out of here and find somewhere to seek shelter." With that, he, Relcia, and Lauren all exited the cavern, headed for the surface of the Desert.
The party of three decided to stop for the night after their little adventure. It was almost midnight by the time they resurfaced from the underground cavern. They found a comfortable spot to rest underneath a rocky overhang on the side of a cliff.
Taka shivered and moved closer to the fire that they had built, trying to keep warm. Lauren had already fallen asleep, purring softly as she slept near the fire pit. Relcia had her arm around Taka, gently leaning against him. They had taken off their armor in preparation for sleep, and were just wearing their regular clothes.
"Oh, I'm freezing," Taka moaned. "Why did we have to run out of Hot Drinks?" Relcia looked at him skeptically. "You're the one who packed," she said. "You should have been better prepared."
There were a few moments of silence as they retreated into their thoughts. "You know, Taka," Relcia said suddenly. "I've been thinking." Taka turned his head slightly to face her. "Go on..." he encouraged her.
"I've been thinking about the White Fatalis," Relcia murmured. "Do you really think it's as powerful as they say?" Taka thought about his answer before he said anything. "That it's powerful enough to destroy an army of hunters single-handedly?" he replied. "I don't know. Seeing as how nobody's been able to slay it after centuries of trying, that's probably the case." He paused and asked, "Why?"
Relcia took a deep, shuddering breath as she drew closer to Taka. The cold was clearly getting to her. "I also thought about how Tartu wanted to rule over all of the regions with the power of Renalimas to back him up," she went on, then snorted. "He'd never have been able to pull it off."
Taka glanced at her worriedly. It wasn't like Relcia to sneer at others, even if that person was Tartu. He began to once again feel that unnatural vibe radiating from her. "There's more, isn't there?" he asked, not sure if he wanted to hear the rest.
But Relcia nodded anyway and continued with her thoughts. "But what if he had the White Fatalis?" she mused. "Then, he'd probably take over the known world without any doubt." Taka found himself agreeing. With the most powerful Elder Dragon ever known under their control, then Tartu and Mylie would be unstoppable.
"So I was thinking," Relcia went on, lowering her voice. "What if we took control of the White Fatalis before Tartu did?" Taka's heart grew still. He couldn't believe he was hearing this. He looked into Relcia's eyes and saw that they had a malicious twinkle in them. He felt the weird vibe again, this time more than ever.
"If we had the White Fatalis on our side, we'd be able to crush Tartu and Mylie," Relcia said, her tone taking on an undercurrent of excitement - but not of the good kind. "But why stop there? We'd destroy anything that ever tried to harm us."
She pushed herself closer to Taka and whispered, "Who knows... maybe we'd end up taking over the Great Frontier."
Taka's spirit froze. Now he finally realized what Tartu had done to her. Good Gobul hide, he thought dazedly. Tartu's turned Relcia evil. He shot another nervous glance at her - she was waiting with that evil sparkle in her eyes, waiting for Taka's response.
"I don't know," he finally said. "We came here so you could be healed, not to take control of a legendary Elder Dragon and conquer everything in our path." In the back of his mind, he knew that he needed to reach the Tower and heal Relcia more than ever.
Relcia herself drew back a little bit, giving Taka a calculating stare. "Alright," she said. "I just thought that you should hear what's been on my mind." She hugged him a little tighter and went on, almost to herself, "I feel fine. I don't need to be healed."
Taka desperately wanted to believe that, but he knew that her ailment was worse than he had ever suspected.? She's right about one thing, he thought. We need to find the White Fatalis. The more quickly we get to the Tower, the better.
He realized that Relcia was speaking to him again. "One more thing," she said softly. "Remember how every time we have a bit of alone time together, something always interrupts us?"
Taka was relieved that she had changed the subject. "Yes," he confirmed, nodding his head. "There was the Agsolestea and Dark Agsolestea in the Forested Spring, then the Deviljho, then Ignatius, and then our friend Helix the Moardea."
Drawing closer to him once again, Relcia slipped an arm around his neck. "Annoying, isn't it?" she asked. "But this time... this time we don't have anyone around to disturb us."
With that, she leaned forward and pressed her lips against his, placing her other hand on Taka's cheek. His eyes involuntarily closed as he embraced her, feeling with a warm heart her soft, warm lips as she kissed him tenderly.
In that moment, Taka didn't care that Relcia had turned evil. That was the last thing on his mind. Her love for him remained intact, and that was all that really mattered.
Every being has a bit of darkness inside him or her, a kind of malevolent energy that brings with it greed, anger, hate, and other negative emotions. Luckily, most beings' spirits are mostly light, a benevolent energy that repels the darkness and keeps peace within that being's soul.
But what most people don't know is that the darkness can spread. If someone is exposed to a negative influence, the darkness can absorb the light within that person's soul, eventually eating it away entirely and corrupting the spirit.
As Taka remained within Relcia's passionate embrace, with nearly undetectable progress, the darkness within began to devour the light.
To be Continued...