A comforting softness pressing against the back. A warm yet thin material covering the front of the body. The panicked whispers of several people. A great pain in the upper left arm, and nothing in the lower left. Mouth dry, yet filled with the aftertaste of a Potion, Taka twitched involuntarily as he slowly woke up.
His eyes fluttered open. He was staring at the ceiling of the barracks in which him and his friends slept. He was in his bed, with a comforting blanket covering him. He slowly, cautiously, turned his head to the side and saw Illeera in the bed next to his. From the look of her, she was still out of it.
Taka carefully sat up slightly. The first thing he noticed was that his friends, as well as Hydra and Bronton, were huddled together, whispering to each other urgently. A lump in his throat, he swallowed reflexively.
The slight sound made the group turn as one. Hydra gasped as she saw her brother suddenly awake, staring at them. Ryka and Mylie both breathed a sigh of relief.
Taka was about to ask what had happened when, out of nowhere, Relcia rushed up to him and hugged him tightly. "I was so worried," she murmured in his ear. "I thought that you - you - " Tears sprung to her eyes as she embraced him again. Taka, redder than a Daimyo Hermitaur, wrapped his arms around her as well.
When she withdrew, Taka tore his eyes away from her face and instead looked at his left arm. His eyes bulged and he let out a squeak. The upper arm was fine - the lower arm was gone, replaced with a thick metallic prong with an opening in the centre, attached by metal plates bolted into the remainder of his arm. "I - I - I..." Taka stuttered in absolute horror. "The Gobul... It didn't..."
"I'm afraid it did, my friend," said Kread sadly. "You killed it, but before it died, it snapped your arm off like a toothpick." Kiem muttered bluntly, "We thought that you were dead by the time we brought you here. There was tons of blood, you see. I didn't think that you had survived that."
Listening to them intently, Taka suddenly remembered something. "Illeera! Is she..." Bronton put a strong hand on his shoulder. "Relax, Taka," the trainer said reassuringly. "She's fine. She lost half of her leg, but we replaced it with a wooden one." Hydra chimed in at this point. "We gave each of you at least twenty Potions each. Not all at once, obviously. You're fully healed, all of your lost blood's been replenished... As well as Illeera's."
Taka slumped in relief, and then slumped even further when he remembered something else. "I... I shapeshifted," he rasped, licking his lips to wet them. "I had promised... It's too unnatural... I let myself down. I couldn't control myself." Ryka, who had been been clutching Kread's arm, suddenly let go and stepped forward emphatically. "You shapeshifted, yes, but for a great cause!" she said forcefully. "If you hadn't, Illeera would be dead, as well as you!"
No matter how much Taka was reassured, he remained ashamed of himself. Finally, he felt strong enough to climb out of bed and walk around the Military Bastion. He grabbed Guan and left his friends alone.
Taka, numb with all of the shocks that he had received, walked through the Military Bastion alone. He had figured out that he could easily wield Guan by inserting the end of the handle into his wooden arm. Trying to get used to it, he swiped a few times at an imaginary monster while he traversed the great stone walls surrounding the Bastion.
From the top of one, he looked into the great canyon which surrounded the fortress on three sides. Crouching next to the Dragonator button, he imagined a great Lao-Shan Lung or Shen Gaoren approaching the fort, an earthquake accompanying each step. If only they still existed, he thought wistfully. Then I could see the magnificent beasts with my own eyes.
After another hour of walking, during which he mostly gazed out into the Barren Desert from another wall, he decided to return to the barracks for a little rest. Illeera would have definitely woken up at this point, so he thought he might pop in and ask her how she was feeling.
When he reached the barracks, he was about to open the door when he heard Illeera's voice. His heart skipped a beat when he heard Relcia respond. Overwhelmed with curiosity, he pressed an ear to the door and listened in. I know it's not nice to eavesdrop like this, but...
What he was about to hear would set in motion the events that would change his life forever.
Relcia and Illeera sat in their beds, which were opposite each other, and talked. At first, the conversation was about what had happened in the Arena Terra, as Illeera had no memory of the events just before her injury. Then, when Illeera asked what had happened to Taka, the conversation slowly turned toward him.
"Awww, how sweet," she teased Relcia, when she told him about their meeting in the Forested Spring. When Relcia blushed from both embarrassment and annoyance, she became more serious. "I honestly didn't know that you liked Taka that much. I mean, I knew that you two were good friends, but..."
Relcia blushed even more, suspecting that she was still being teased. "We ARE good friends," she said angrily. "Our relationship won't move anywhere beyond that! I have no interest in him!" She felt guilty about denying her love for Taka, but for some reason, she didn't want anyone to know until she was ready to reveal it.
Suddenly, both girls turned in response to a noise that sounded suspiciously like a sob and the sound of running feet. Illeera awkwardly got to her foot and a half and limped toward the door. When she opened it, she turned to Relcia and motioned her forward.
When Relcia got to the door, her heart wilted. She saw the familiar footprints of someone wearing Qurupeco armor, and a single colorful feather. She turned to Illeera, eyes wide with fear, as if she couldn't believe what she had seen and was asking Illeera to tell her that it wasn't real.
Illeera sadly said, "I think you hurt his feelings." On that note, Relcia dropped to her knees and began to quietly cry into her hands.
A little ways across the Barren Desert, a Monoblos fed on a bed of cacti. Suddenly, something caught its eye and it looked up. A lone human was running across the sand, wearing some kind of feathered clothing. The dinosaur-like wyvern briefly considered giving chase, but decided against it as he continued off into the distance.
The human in question was, of course, Taka. He took no notice of the fearsome creature as he continued to run. He had no idea where he was running off to. Heartbroken, he only knew that he was going away, away from the Arena Terra, away from his friends, away from Relcia. Finally, his pace slowed.
He stopped to catch his breath near a verdant oasis. On the shore of the water, a massive Plesioth rested in the sun, sunbathing. Its milky eyes watched him closely, until he continued to move away from the Military Bastion. Walking this time, Taka, as before, had no idea where he was headed to.
Continuing to walk deeper into the desert, he passed a great bog, where two Barroths, ordinary ones, where squaring off, fighting over who would get to cool off in the mud first. Taka sullenly walked past them, not even hearing their bellows.
His mind wandered. When it rested on his friends, he grimaced and started to run again at the memory of Relcia. He didn't notice the terrain become less sandy and more rocky. When he finally stopped and looked up, he realized with a thrill of fear where he was.
The first thing he saw was a great volcano, not too far off. He murmured to himself, "Magma Mountain..." Indeed, that terrible place of intense heat and scarce vegetation was where he was. Taka had heard stories of the terrible monsters that roamed the volcano - Stygian Zinogres, Volvidons, Agnaktors, and more. Desperately, he whirled behind him and saw nothing but rocky terrain and the occasional bush. He couldn't see the Barren Desert at all - he was lost in a very harsh place with nothing but ferocious monsters to keep him company.
Cautiously, Taka continued up the slopes, climbing up onto an elevated plain filled with small shrubs and weeds. Not too far away, he saw the plain become barren as the elevation rose to form the sides of the volcano itself. Turning left, he followed the grassy expanse around Magma Mountain. He hoped he wouldn't reach the lake he knew to exist here - then he would have Smoky Gobuls to worry about, and the very thought of those fish-like monsters made his knees weak.
Suddenly, from higher up Magma Mountain, he heard a desperate screech. Taka jumped, prepared to run for his life, when something stopped him. That shriek... he mused. It sounds almost... frightened. Something must be in trouble! Unconsciously, Taka began to climb up the slopes of the volcano.
His climbing took him into a small hole in the side of the volcano. Squeezing himself in, he found himself in a vast cavern. It was quite cool inside, and he saw a much larger opening on the other side, which he knew led to the top-most parts of Magma Mountain. However, something made him look away from the exit and to another side of the cave.With a shock, he saw a Rathalos, King of the Skies, flailing on the ground, clearly injured. Taka's eyes picked out a large gash in its left wing and an ugly wound on its leg, pouring blood onto the ground. Surrounding the Flying Wyvern were a pack of creatures that Taka had thought to be completely extinct - Wroggi. The orange Raptor Wyverns were everywhere, and were accompanied by a huge wyvern. Taka recognized the slimy orange skin and purple throat sac from a picture in a book. It was the leader of the gang of poison, the Great Wroggi.
The Great Wroggi howled, the deep, croaking sound causing the hairs on Taka's neck to stand up. However, through his fright, he felt anger begin to bubble up inside of him. How dare the pack bully the helpless Rathalos? Unsheathing Guan and attaching it to his wooden arm, he started forward as the Great Wroggi puffed up its throat like a frog and exhaled a blast of deadly poisonous gas. The purple cloud enveloped the Rathalos, causing it to choke.
Taka started to run now, jumping in between the pack and the Rathalos. The leader croaked a warning to Taka, telling him to get out of the way, or else. Taka shook his head and shouted, "You're not going to pick on this wyvern any more! Take your gang and leave!"
That was when Taka began to understand the Great Wroggi's howls. He didn't know how, but all of a sudden, the noises began to make sense to him. Make me, human! it growled in fury. My kind is dying out. I must feed my pack with anything I can find!
At this, Taka dug in his pouch and fished out a big hunk of Aptonoth meat, which he had gathered from a carcass he had found in the Forested Spring. Throwing it in front of the Great Wroggi, he told it, "There's enough meat here for all of you. Leave the Rathalos, for the last time."
The Great Wroggi looked at him quizzically. You help us, instead of killing us in cold blood like the rest of your species, it croaked. You provide us with sustenance, instead of taking it for yourself. You are a fascinating creature, human. Please, keep your knowledge of me and my family secret. It howled an order to its pack, then loped off into the deeper caverns, followed by its contingent of Wroggi.
Taka slowly, carefully, fed the Rathalos one of the Antidotes he carried with him. As the Rathalos began to relax as the Raptor Wyvern's poison began to fade, Taka also gave it another slab of meat and a Mega Potion to help heal its wounds. The wyvern looked at him all the while, staring at him with the most intense blue eyes.
Why do you help monsters? the Rathalos asked. You are a hunter - you carry a sword of Jhen Mohran and wear armor of Qurupeco. Why are you so different? Taka, in response to this, said, "I don't know why I am so different. I have killed monsters before, I admit. But... I regret it. The monsters didn't deserve to die." Tears filled his eyes as his voice shook from anger and sadness. "My kind has been at war with you for centuries. But, I've been wondering why. Why can't we live in peace? Why must we fight?"
The Rathalos continued to gaze at Taka as the healing Antidote and Mega Potion coursed through his system. The Great Wroggi said that you were a fascinating creature. She spoke the truth. You help monsters, not kill them. You feel pity and sorrow for us. Tell me, human, what is your name?
"My name is Taka," Taka replied. "I am from Mediatas Village, in the centre of the Central World. I am also a shapeshifter." The Rathalos's eyes widened at this. You can shapeshift? he asked in shock. When Taka nodded, the Rathalos went on.
My name is Vulcan. When I was just a hatchling, my mother told me and my siblings a story that had been passed down for generations. It told the tale of an ancient Elder Dragon who made a prophecy at the beginning of the war - that a human, blessed by the gods with kindness and the power of shapeshifting, would make peace with the entirety of the monster population in the Central World.
Taka looked Vulcan in the eye. "You're insinuating that I am this blessed human. You're saying that it is my job - no, my destiny - to bring peace to the Central World." Vulcan nodded once. Feeling stronger, he struggled to his feet. Please, he said. Please bring the terrible war to an end, even if you have to kill other humans to do it.
Eyes growing dark with anger, Taka said ominously, "You don't have to tell me - I'm fully prepared to do whatever it takes."
To be Continued...