On the southern edge of the Great Forest, a couple of Kelbi peacefully grazed on the lush plants. Behind them was nothing but grassland, and if one traveled far enough, the border separating the Great Frontier and the Minegarde region.
The dense bushes suddenly rustled, and the pair of Herbivores looked up. Ears flapping nervously, they stared at the patch, muscles tensed for flight, just in case whatever was disturbing them was a predator.
An immense creature suddenly burst from the foliage, crushing the ferns underneath its clawed feet. The two Kelbi literally sprang into action, leaping away in short bursts with their long legs. They had no desire to be this creature's next meal.
But the monster wasn't interested in the Kelbi. She was only interested in showing Lauren, Taka, and Relcia to the edge of her home. She halted at the sight of the Great Forest coming to an end, giving way to grassy plains. She gazed out at the strange, treeless place - herds of Aptonoth munched leisurely on the endless lawn, while further in the distance, a pack of Velociprey could be seen stalking them. They were most likely trying to pick out a sick or weak individual, so that they could run it down, separating it from the others in the process, before finally killing and eating it.
Ruby ruffled her feathers uncomfortably. She had no business on the grassland - the forest, after all, was her home, and she planned to stay in it. Well, this is it, she said to the two humans beside her. If you travel in a direct path from this point, you will reach Castle Schrade.
Taka, hesitating at first, stroked Ruby's head feathers. "Thank you," he said to the Hypnocatrice. "You've been a great help." Lauren meowed her agreement, nuzzling Ruby's leg affectionately. A slight smile formed on the Bird Wyvern's beak.
"Come on, Taka," said Relcia suddenly. She was already a few steps onto the grassland. Taka nodded to her, then turned back to Ruby. Take care, she said kindly. I hope you find what you're looking for. With that, she turned and walked back into the dense forest, soon disappearing into the trees.
Taka stared after her for a few seconds, before hurrying to catch up with Relcia. Lauren bounded after both of them, finishing with a jump that carried her onto Taka's shoulder.
Taka caught up to Relcia, and before he could say anything, she pointed up ahead. "Look there," she whispered, and Taka did. He became still as he saw what she was pointing to.
The towers of Castle Schrade could be seen up ahead, poking up just above the horizon.
Taka and Relcia stood at the front gates to Castle Schrade. They were no longer surrounded by grass - it was a wasteland for at least a kilometer around the castle. No plants grew, no insects chirped. The only noise was the wind whistling through the stone archways and towers that made up the once-majestic building.
A solitary flag flapped above the open gateway. The gate's hinges were heavily rusted - it was clear that this building had been abandoned, by humans at least, for hundreds of years.
Lauren moaned and snuggled closer to Taka's shoulder, trying to make herself look as small and unnoticeable as possible. Taka didn't blame her. There was an eerie feeling to this place, one that made him feel still and hopelessly alone. The sheer stillness of the castle made his heart grow cold and his spine to shiver madly.
Relcia, trying to comfort him, gently stroked his arm. When he looked at her, she gave him a reassuring smile. "We're going to get out of here with our lives," she told him. "We'll get what we came for, the Fatalis Scale."
Taka numbly held her close, wrapping his arms around her. "But just in case we don't..." he murmured. "Just in case this is the last chance we will have to be together... I love you, Relcia." Relcia smiled and pushed her cheek against his. A few peaceful moments passed, and the couple tried to enjoy them as much as they could.
Finally, they separated and each took deep breaths, preparing themselves for what they knew lurked within Castle Schrade. Taka went first, cautiously taking his first step beyond the threshold.
The shadow of the gateway passed above them agonizingly slowly, but at the same time, it was mercilessly fast. All too soon, they were in the castle's courtyard. It was completely empty, save for a few wooden catapults that looked like they had rotted through.
Every footstep, no matter how quiet, echoed in the vast, open space. Lauren readied her staff, trying to look brave. Taka put one hand behind him to grip his Blango Decimator. Relcia reached for her Wolf Tessen. Finally, the three stood in a circle in the centre of the courtyard, waiting for the great Elder Dragon that they sought to show itself.They didn't have long to wait. The sound that reached their ears would have been quiet, if not for the dead silence that encompassed the area. Instead, it was definitely noticeable. It was the sound of leathery wings beating against the strong wind.
Lauren suddenly yowled and pointed with her staff to the top-most tower. Taka and Relcia looked to where she was pointing, and their eyes grew wide. Heaven help us... thought Taka, his heart pounding at the sight they beheld.
It was the Fatalis. Wings flapping clumsily but powerfully, they carried the dragon slowly upwards, so that it rose from behind the tower. Its long tail hung down, blowing in the breeze. Its horns on its head framed its eyes ominously as it drew ever closer.
The Elder Dragon soared forward, towards the trio that waited with their breaths held below. Beginning to descend, its wings whipped up a wind that blew the hair back from Relcia's face and shut the lid on Taka's helm. He pushed it back up in time to see the Fatalis land with a thud that shook the castle.
The Fatalis stared them down, looking at them as if they were insects that it looked forward to crushing. Its tongue crept out and licked at its lips, then it belted out an awesome roar that caused pebbles to fall from the walls. Taka's head felt like it was being pounded on by a Hammer as the vibrations bombarded him.
Then it spoke to them. Leave this place, humans, it said in a low growl, and Taka was totally shocked to hear that its voice was surprisingly feminine. Indeed, the Fatalis was a female. For some reason, Taka didn't expect this - the legends made the Elder Dragon seem like a male monster.
Leave this place, the Fatalis said again, menace building in her voice. Leave or suffer the fate that hundreds of others have over the centuries. Taka stood his ground as he replied, "Fatalis, we mean you no harm. We only seek" -
Of course you mean harm! the Fatalis screeched. Like countless other humans before you, you have come to slay me, to be the hunters that can say that you have successfully killed the supposedly immortal Elder Dragon of Castle Schrade. To become a legend amongst humans. I will not allow such filthy creatures to end my life!
Her rage was terrifying. Taka gulped, and Relcia wrung her hands nervously. Lauren still had her staff primed, unwilling to show the Fatalis that she was a coward. "Please," Taka said qiuetly, keeping his voice docile in an attempt to calm the Elder Dragon down. "Please, just listen to me..."
I will not! shrieked the Elder Dragon, and she suddenly charged forward, crawling on her belly in a cumbersome fashion. Taka and Relcia easily got out of the way. "If she won't listen to reason, then I guess we have no other choice," Taka growled, taking out his Longsword. Relcia did the same with her Wolf Tessen, although not before eating a Ration to increase the amount of stamina she had.
Lauren took out her horn and blew into it as hard as she could. The magical sound coiled out from it and enveloped the three of them. Instantly, the strength with which they could wield their weapons increased.The Fatalis came around again with the same awkward charge. Relcia dove out of the way, then sliced at the Elder Dragon's back legs with her Dual Swords. Barely noticing the continuous strikes, the Fatalis snapped her jaws at Lauren, but the agile Melynx scampered away in time. She then whipped around and hit the Elder Dragon in the snout with her staff, dealing a bit of Dragon-element damage.
Taka struck at the Fatalis' tail, swinging his Blango Decimator downwards. The frozen blade carved a deep wound, and the Fatalis noticed immediately - the wound not only hurt from the weapon itself, but the ice-sheathed blade stung her even more. Shivering from the cold, she whipped her tail out from nowhere, sending Taka's Longsword spinning off through the air.
Scrambling to retrieve his weapon, Taka was suddenly met by the Fatalis' head. The Elder Dragon's mouth began to glow as she prepared to shoot a fireball. There was no way that he could run away in time, and he waited for the end to come.
But then, there was a blur of motion, and Lauren collided with her master, sending him to the ground just as the fireball blazed past. It hit the ground, throwing up smoke, embers, and stones from the ground.
The Fatalis became totally focused on the one that had got away. She crawled menacingly towards Taka, growling deep in her throat. Taka ran in the opposite direction, eager to put distance in between him and the monster. Relcia and Lauren tried everything to distract her, but with no luck. One of Relcia's Dual Swords even made a gash in the dragon's chest, and the Fatalis didn't even pause.
Taka was running straight for a wall. The Elder Dragon's eyes narrowed, and she prepared to fire at him again. Now that Taka's back was against the wall, he waited, heart pounding, for the Fatalis to release her projectile.
It roared out of her throat and sped on a perfectly straight course towards him. At the very last second, Taka dove out of the way, and the fireball impacted against the wall, blowing it to smithereens. Now see what you're making me do! scolded the Fatalis. I have to live here, you know!
Relcia struck a deep wound in the Fatalis' leg, causing her to topple to the ground. "That's your own fault," she said in the dragon's ear. "You shouldn't have attacked us." But before she could strike another blow with her Wolf Tessen, the Fatalis righted herself again. Stumbling a little on her injured leg, she roared in fury and pain.
By this time, Taka had retrieved his weapon. But instead of using it, he sheathed it and advanced towards the Fatalis. He triggered his power of shapeshifting, becoming the likeness of a Glacial Agnaktor. The sudden size change was enough for the Fatalis to notice it out of the corner of her eye, and she turned in shock.
The shapeshifter, she breathed. Why are you attacking me? Why would you slaughter me, when you are destined to end the war by making peace between humans and monsters?
Taka answered once he had turned back into his normal form. "Why, indeed?" he asked skeptically. "You were the one that accused us of such a thing. I and my friends were just trying to prove you wrong."
The Fatalis was silent. Taka took this as a good sign and went on. "My friend Relcia is... unwell, you see. I have been told that the only thing that can cure her unknown condition is one of your scales. That is why we have come to Castle Schrade."
When the dragon finally spoke, it was in a whisper that easily carried through the once-again-silent courtyard. I could tell that there was something wrong with her, she said. But it is worse than you suspect. Something is wrong with her spirit. My scales are not powerful enough to heal such severe damage.
Relcia was looking down at herself, as if trying to see through into her spirit and find the hidden damage. Taka's heart froze at the severity of the situation. They had come all this way for nothing.
But the Fatalis was speaking once more. However, she started in a louder voice. There is one thing that is, in fact, able to cure even this. She paused, waiting for her words to sink in. When Taka finally motioned for her to go on, she finished, You must go to the far-off Tower and find my brother, the White Fatalis.
Taka, Relcia, and even Lauren gasped audibly. "The... the White Fatalis?" asked Taka in shock. The black dragon nodded. One of his scales will be enough to heal your friend permanently.
Lauren was nervously pawing at the ground. "Wh-where can we find the Tower, nya?" she asked in a tiny voice, clearly uncomfortable with speaking to such a legendary monster, immeasurably more powerful than she. The Fatalis responded gently, The quickest way is to cross the nearby Desert, then pass the Volcano and into the Highland. On the east side of that majestic land, you will find the sacred Tower.
Taka unrolled his map and stared at it for a few seconds. "OK then," he said after a moment's pause. "We'll have to travel across the entire Great Frontier to find the White Fatalis. But such a journey will be unfathomably dangerous." Relcia stepped up beside him and placed a comforting hand on his arm. "But it will be worth it," she told him softly. Unconsciously, Taka met her eyes and nodded his agreement.
The Fatalis, who had remained silent, spoke again suddenly. I wish you luck, she murmured. Please travel safely. The three simultaneously raised their hands in formal farewell, and silently walked out of Castle Schrade.
Gazing after them, the Fatalis said to herself, May the gods help you on your quest...
"Stinking Conga fur, how long does this forest go on for?" Elric complained, lurching forward on his painful feet. It wasn't particularly humid in the Great Forest, but he was sweating under his Red Khezu armor. The hours-long walk wasn't helping in the least.
"I think the trees are thinning up ahead," replied Illeera, looking back over her shoulder. Her Sonic Bow IV was in her hand - they had earlier had a violent ordeal with an Emerald Congalala who, apparently, had eaten something that didn't agree with him. Thank the gods Elric had the foresight to bring Deodorant, Illeera thought, shuddering. I don't think I'll be clean again.
Then, all of a sudden, the trees thinned completely, revealing a verdant grassland that stretched on for miles. Ahead, Illeera knew, lay Castle Schrade, and hopefully Taka and Relcia. "Come on," she said to Tenris and Elric, "we're almost there."
To be Continued...