The Frozen Wastes wasn't a place that you wanted to visit at the best of times. Even in the summer, it was frigid enough to freeze almost anything, given time. Its extensive network of caves were home to disgusting Khezu and Gigginox, and the vast snowfields and ice floes were dominated by monsters such as Barioth and Yian Garuga. In the winter, even the toughest monster could easily freeze to death.
Today, the skies were blue and empty, save for a solitary speck in the sky which rapidly grew larger. It was an airship, carrying eight humans - Bronton, Illeera, Kiem, Kread, Ryka, Taahnn, Relcia, and Mylie. They had been assigned another gathering mission, but with a twist - this time, Hot Drinks would be required to help combat the cold.
The first hour or so went by relatively peacefully. There was the occasional scuffle with a Blango pack or a small Lagombi, but that was it. Nothing particularly worrisome for the most part.
Until Kiem, Kread, and Relcia decided to explore the cave networks. That's when hell broke loose.
Kread instantly froze (figuratively speaking) when he heard a roar echo from deeper in the caves. Swallowing another gulp of Hot Drink, he tapped Kiem on the shoulder. Kiem turned to him, momentarily abandoning the sizeable stash of Isisium he had mined from the cave walls. "I heard it too," he said testily. "No need to jab me like that."
Relcia, from the other side of the cavern, hissed at them, "Shut up! You'll give us away!" Putting away her Iron Pickaxe and the lone Lightcrystal she had found, Relcia quietly crept in the direction of the noise. Kread, after considering for a moment, followed with one hand grasping the handle of his sheathed Siegmund. Sighing, Kiem reluctantly dragged behind.
The trio cautiously entered a great ice cavern, with beams of sunlight entering through small holes in the ceiling and illuminating the icy walls and floor. Stealthily creeping behind an ice-sheathed boulder, Kread gasped, then quickly clapped a hand to his mouth. Kiem and Relcia, now also hidden behind the rock, simply stared.
A solitary Popo was rearing and bucking in a panic, bellowing at the top of its lungs. The reason for this became apparent very quickly, when the floor suddenly cracked and out from it burst a mighty Leviathan. It was a Glacial Agnaktor, skin covered in thick ice and with a beak that could easily pierce the permanently frozen earth of the Frozen Wastes.
The great beast delivered a fatal peck to the Popo, slicing through its fur and flesh like it was butter. Then it began to feed, beak clacking noisily as it snipped off hunks of meat and swallowed them whole. Ever so slowly, its armor began to melt as it was exposed to the slightly greater temperature of the ice cavern.
Kiem moved over for a better look at the monster, accidentally pushing Relcia over. With a short scream, Relcia hit the ground, now in plain sight of the vicious creature which was not even 10 meters away. The Agnaktor's head snapped to the side, immediately spotting her on the cavern floor. By instinct, Relcia braced for the attack.
It never came. Instead of rushing forward, furious at having been disturbed, the Glacial Agnaktor simply tilted its head to the side, as if waiting to see what Relcia would do. It looked positively curious at her sudden appearance. She slowly got to her feet, all the while gazing at it in terrified fascination.The Agnaktor snapped its beak a few times, the loud clacking echoing in the cavern. Relcia jumped back at the sudden noise, then cautiously took a pace forward. The monster did as well. Behind the boulder, Kread's eyes widened and Kiem readied his Rugged Lance, just in case.
Looking directly into the Glacial Agnaktor's eyes, Relcia took another step. Completely calm and almost fascinated, the Leviathan bent its massive head until its sharp beak was almost touching her. The girl extended a hand, hypnotized. The Agnaktor didn't move at all.
Kread brought a hand to his mouth, completely stunned at what was going on in front of him. Kiem, on the other hand, tensed up, waiting for the monster to be distracted enough so that he could strike. "Come on..." he kept muttering under his breath. "Just give me an opening..."
Relcia didn't hear any of this. Her concentration was riveted entirely on the great Leviathan in front of her. It's almost... nice. she thought. This creature is so different from the monsters I've met so far. This Agnaktor seems genuinely kind towards me. She looked into its deep blue eyes and was reminded of dear Taka. That was when she finally made contact with the Glacial Agnaktor, brushing her hand against its ice-sheathed beak.
The monster's eyes closed in contentment, as did Relcia's - and that was when Kiem saw his chance. With a mighty yell, he charged, Lance held in front of him. Before anyone could react, he had stabbed the Agnaktor in the chest. Instead of a scream of pain and a spurt of blood, there was a clang, and Kiem's Rugged Lance bounced off of its still-frozen armor.
Relcia saw the monster's eyes snap open. With a thrill of terror, she saw that the soft kindness was gone, replaced with intense fury. A piercing shriek ripped through the chilly air as the Glacial Agnaktor became enraged. Kiem fell to the ground, shocked by both the impact of his weapon on the Leviathan's hide and the loud roar.
The monster swept its head toward Kiem, the point of its beak nicking him on the leg and easily ripping through the flesh. Kiem cried out in pain and Kread swung his Great Sword - but was swatted by the Agnaktor's tail as it finished its head sweep and snapped its tail back behind it. Relcia recovered from her shock and prepared to do battle, readying her Raven Tessen, trying not to slip on the ice, now slick with blood.
The rest of the group, who had by now reached the caverns as well, had heard the incredible din and were now just arriving. Bronton quickly took note of the situation and drew his own Lance, made from the beak of an ordinary Agnaktor. He knew that the weapon's Fire element would make the beast's armor melt that much faster.
Mylie had also gotten that idea, loading more Flaming shots into her Agnablaster and firing away. The Glacial Agnaktor instantly felt the burning pain and slammed its head into the ground. The sharpness of its beak allowed it to bury its head in the ice, and when it started twisting like a drill, it effectively burrowed into the never-melting earth.
The ground shook as the Glacial Agnaktor resurfaced, spinning into the air and almost impaling Taahnn on its beak. Then it shook again as it landed on its feet, causing several people to stumble. The Agnaktor took its chance, aiming its broad side at Ryka and sliding forward rapidly, crashing into her and sending her flying with several broken ribs.
Kread gave a shout of anger at the sight of this, heaving his massive Rathalos sword and smashing it into the Leviathan's side. If it weren't for the Fire element of the blade, then it would have bounced off without making a scratch. However, the fiery edge of the Great Sword cleaved through the ice, causing the Glacial Agnaktor to scream in pain as the blade did the same to its scales.
Taahnn bashed the monster on the head with his Basarios Rock, following up with a musical note that made the strength of his comrades' weapons increase. Wincing, the Agnaktor noisily clacked its beak and let loose with a watery beam from its mouth, smashing Illeera (who was standing on the sidelines, trying to get out her Power Coating) with a high-pressure wave of water.
Shivering madly, Illeera shot a volley of electrically charged arrows at the beast, which were deflected by a swing of its still-frozen tail. Then, sliding on its belly, it slammed into her before she could even blink. Luckily, its sharp beak missed her and she was hit by its body instead. Even more luckily, nothing was broken in the impact - however, Ileera was stunned badly with the blow.
As the Glacial Agnaktor pulled up in order to halt its slide, Relcia took advantage of its preoccupation and slashed madly with her Dual Swords. It instantly swung its head back and shot a blast of water at her, which plowed into her and chilling her to the bone. As she hit the ground, Kread took another swing with his Siegmund. The blow would have been very effective if Taahnn hadn't accidentally bumped into him as he slipped on the wet ice. The sword careened to the side and began to fall toward the downed Relcia.
There was almost no time to react, and yet someone reacted - the Agnaktor itself. It quickly turned around, using the slippery ice to its advantage, then slid toward Kread almost desperately. The resulting impact was so great, it send Kread siding into the far wall and knocking him out for a second, as well as sending the Great Sword away from Relcia. She got up in a panic and backed away, looking at her savior in both terror and awe.
The Leviathan's eyes turned wrathful. Screaming in rage, it kept sliding, crashing into the wall beside Kread. Stunned for a moment, the beast shook its head while Kread, terrified, got up and tried to retrieve his blade. The Agnaktor recovered almost immediately and slashed at him with a claw. Its plan went horribly wrong, as it ended up whacking the Siegmund right toward Kread's feet.
When Kread successfully retrieved his weapon, the Agnaktor began to rage again, stomping its feet and clacking its beak menacingly. With a screech, it brought its ultra-sharp beak down on him, which was thankfully blocked by Kread and his sword. Undaunted, the monster continued to slam its head into the raised Siegmund, ignoring the burning strikes from Bronton's Lance.
Normally, the sword would have been powerful enough to withstand multiple bites from the fangs of a Barioth, as long as Kread's endurance held out long enough. However, even the cutting fangs of the most feared monster of the Frozen Wastes couldn't compare to the fearsome beak of the Glacial Agnaktor. You see, the beak is specially designed to cut through the thick, icy ground which never melted. Coupled with the ice it was often covered in, the beak of this Leviathan could peck through even metal with enough effort.
Thus, after only four pecks, the Rathalos-scale sword was pierced through. The Leviathan's powerful beak sliced clean through the weapon, and the momentum carried the deadly point straight through Kread's chest. With a single gasp, he died almost instantly.
Ryka's reaction was instantaneous. She released a scream almost as shrill as the Agnaktor's as she charged, swinging her Shadow Saber in a blind rage. The Leviathan's mood changed from furious to almost scared. It backed away, shaking its head and making little squawking noises of protest. In the midst of this frenzy of action, only Relcia noticed that it kept glancing at Kread's body with regret in its eyes.
Just before Ryka reached it, the Glacial Agnaktor burrowed into the ground. Everyone braced for the attack from below. It never came. The ground never shook, the ice and snow never shifted. The monster had gone and made its narrow escape.
Cleaving through the frozen earth like a blade through water and surrounded by the cracking and shattering of ice all around it, Taka fled the scene of the crime, tears welling in his eyes. Why? he wondered painfully. Why did I allow myself to become so consumed with rage? It was an honest mistake, but... Relcia could have died! Kread should have been more careful! He swallowed hard as he tried to fight back his renewed anger.
One thing was for sure - Taka had changed, and possibly for the worse. More easily driven into fury, more comfortable with his shapeshifting ability, and prepared to murder in order to help Vulcan and the other monsters that were counting on him... Yes, Taka had definitely become a formidable enemy to his former friends. It was almost as if their friendship had been forgotten, if not for Taka's constant battles between his new personality and his inner feelings.
Surfacing from the ground, Taka saw that he was almost at the edge of the Frozen Wastes. With a shriek, he almost instantaneously became a Yian Garuga, one of the Central World's nastier creatures. The immense, raven-like Bird Wyvern took off and headed for the Magma Mountain, eager to get to Vulcan so he could spill out his feelings. Vulcan always made him feel better when the two of them talked.
Ryka sobbed and sobbed, a literal river of tears flowing onto the ground. The remaining gang had gathered in their barracks in the Military Bastion after the disastrous episode in the Frozen Wastes. Ryka's rage had become stoic seriousness on the journey back, followed by complete and utter melancholia when they arrived home.
Relcia was in a melancholia of her own. Again and again, the image of the fearful Leviathan backing away from Kread's body flashed through her brain. Only she realized that the monster had regretted its choice. Why? she asked herself again and again. Why did this monster regret killing a human, when countless others do it without even thinking?
As Taahnn and Mylie awkwardly tried to comfort Ryka and Kiem looked on, not knowing what to do, Illeera tapped her foot on the ground almost impatiently. She had seen the Agnaktor save Relcia earlier, sliding on the ice almost desperately. When Relcia had told her of her earlier encounter with the beast, Illeera had begun to suspect something. No, she thought determinedly. I refuse to believe this. There's no way that he could be doing this to us.
"Ryka, please calm down," said Relcia. "The monster didn't mean to kill your boyfriend. It was only trying to protect me-" And then Ryka instantly flew into a rage. "PROTECT you?! You, a human?! I've never heard such blasphemy in my life! That monster's a murderer, and it's going to pay for what it did to Kread!" Ryka actually picked up her Shadow Saber and started for the door.
"Please!" Relcia pleaded to her. "It thought I was in danger... Kread's Great Sword... Didn't know it was an accident..." Her words tumbled out of her mouth in short chunks as she began to cry as well. It took Taahnn, Illeera, and Kiem to restrain Ryka from storming out the door in a frenzied fury.
"Don't you all see what she's doing?" Ryka growled to the rest. "She's defending the creature that tried to kill us. We're hunters, not monster-lovers. She's a traitor to our village, indeed, our very species!" Illeera shook her head violently. "No, Ryka." she said firmly. "You're letting your rage get the better of you. You're better than that. You're right, we're hunters. Kread's death was practically inevitable - it's an occupational hazard." Everyone nodded at this.
Secretly, Illeera was agreeing with Relcia. Maybe the monsters are different than we originally thought. Unless... I'm probably wrong, but I'm sure that the reason the Glacial Agnaktor showed such affection toward Relcia, and such regret over the death of Kread, is because that it was Taka. And if it was Taka, then have we created a monster ourselves?
To be Continued...