The massive Brute Wyvern stomped across the Barren Desert's sandy terrain. Drooling uncontrollably, it searched for a half-decent meal that it could fill its stomach with. Its brain, relatively small for a wyvern of its size, incessantly screamed FOOD! FOOD! FOOD! Its great belly rumbled, the sound causing the earth to vibrate slightly.

The monster peered into the distance. As night came and the stars broke out in the desert sky, it thought it saw a strange light somewhere on the horizon. For a moment, it forgot its hunger. A point of light, in the middle of the Barren Desert? it thought in confusion. What could that mean?

Suddenly, the Brute Wyvern realized that it was a human settlement, and that it was their odd oil lamps and candles that was making the light. Where there is light, there is heat. And where there is heat, there is most definitely food. Grinning savagely, the monster altered its course, toward the soft glow in the distance.

Its footsteps shook the ground, making its presence clear to any and all monsters in the vicinity. A group of Delex, which had been swimming through the sand toward the smell of food, suddenly screeched and scattered as the Brute Wyvern stomped through their midst. Apceros and Rhenoplos bellowed in fear and ran as well, and a flock of Remobra hissed in fury and terror as the huge wyvern disturbed their rest. They flew up in a flurry of flapping wings from their tree, shrieking and cawing as they fled.

All over the desert, monsters, large and small, fled at the approach of the great Brute Wyvern. Resident monsters forgot their prey-predator relationships and ran, swam, and flew as fast as they could from the terrifying beast. In an amalgamation of different voices, they all screamed the same thing.

The World Eater is here! The World Eater is coming! they yelled in panicked terror as the Brute Wyvern continued toward its destination. One thought dominated each monster's mind; the Deviljho was coming. And it was coming to feed.

Just like their first night in the Military Bastion, way back when they had first started their training as hunters, the group of friends - consisting of Taka, Illeera, Relcia, Mylie, Taahnn, Ryka, and Kiem - as well as Bronton and Taka's sister Hydra, were up late. They were all having a good time celebrating, as they had all become full-fledged hunters.

Well, all except Taka. He had actually been the monster that the others were supposed to fight. Had Bronton or Hydra known this, they would have disgraced him and sent him back to Mediatas Village, never to come back. But they both believed that Taka had been training with his Longsword, the Guan Dao, the entire time, not even suspecting that Taka had faked death in the guise of a Scoliarch in order to help his friends complete their training.

When the celebration first started, Taka had nervously kept his distance from Ryka and Kiem. They were the only two out of the entire group that opposed the monsters that they were trained to fight. Everyone else secretly supported the monsters, and were plotting to end the war in a peaceful manner.

Ryka and Kiem hadn't known that Taka was the Scoliarch they had fought just a few hours ago, but Taka initially believed that they would put two and two together - the fact that he could shapeshift, and the fact that he had been absent from the Graduation Match - and turn on him. But they didn't.

Bronton and Hydra stayed a while with the new hunters, but were called to a meeting in the Military Bastion's Parliament, which was a chamber in the center of the fortress where hunters went whenever something big was afoot, and needed time to plan. When they left, Taka instantly became suspicious. What on earth would they need to plan for?

Taahnn noticed his expression. "What is it, Taka?" he asked. "Wondering what it is that Bronton and your sister are planning?" With a mute nod, Taka turned his attention back to the door that the two had left through. Illeera looked at him concernedly. She was his closest friend, and thus she had a very good idea of what was going through his head right now.

"Taka, you're going to follow them, aren't you?" He looked at her with a surprised expression. "How do you always figure out exactly what I'm thinking?" he asked in disbelief. Illeera ignored that and instead replied, "I'm not going to stop you. If it has something to do with the monsters, or..." She lowered her voice. "...your friend... Then I really think that you should definitely go."

Taka smiled gratefully at her, then told the rest of his friends, "I'm leaving. I'll be back as soon as I can." Without waiting for a reply, he left, closing the door behind him.

"What?!" exclaimed the Elder of Mediatas Village. "An Elder Dragon sighting?" The hunter who had brought the news nodded. He was the most experienced of the group, bedecked in full Tigrex armor. "Yes, I swear." His voice was deep, with an undercurrent of contained ferocity. "I was back home in Minegarde, returning from a Khezu hunt, when the sun was blocked out. I looked up and saw it - its massive wings blotted out the sunlight for a full thirty seconds before it passed. Since I sometimes associate with you Central World people, I recalled hearing about this Dragon. So I came here, knowing that you'd know how to take care of it."

Bronton shook his head. "Elder Dragons have been extinct for years now," he said doubtfully. "It was probably just a large Rathalos... um... A really large one... er... Or maybe a flock of them." Even he didn't believe his words.

The Elder looked grim. "This is bad indeed," he croaked, then cleared his throat. "I know of this Dragon... It is sometimes seen here in the Central World, every few decades. We know it as Taltaira, the God of the Skies. It is the only flying creature that rivals the Jhen Mohran of old in size." Everyone gasped at this. Some of the hunters had hunted Jhen Mohran before they became extinct, and it was hard for them to imagine a flying one.

Hydra spoke up now. "Hunters here have fought Taltaira before. I can guess that it is probably heading to its nest on the Ruined Island." Bronton responded gravely, "Fought them, yes... But never, ever killed one. They're that tough. Even with Dragonators set up on the Ruined Island, and shooting with Ballistas as it flies over the mainland... It can't be done."

The hunter in the Tigrex armor suddenly rose. "But maybe now we can," he said cryptically. "My associates and I have developed a new hunting technology - one that will allow you to chase this Taltaira across the sea and to its island." Another hunter wheeled a huge, disc-shaped platform into the centre of the room. Something was perched on top, but it was covered by a gray cloth.

The Tigrex hunter whipped the cloth off with a dramatic flair. Everyone gasped and began to mutter at the strange contraption in front of them. "What is it?" asked the Elder. "Some kind of weapon?"

The hunter smiled, the same smile that he wore just before a hunt began. "Yes and no," he answered. "This, my brother and sister hunters, is what I call a Hunting Plane. It is a vehicle with a miniature Ballista mounted on the front, and it can fly. I'm serious, I've had it tested." The mutterings became more excited. With a weapon such as this, it was hard to imagine how the sport of monster hunting could be revolutionized.

Hours went by as the group discussed their strategy for hunting the Taltaira. All the while, a small Giggi hid in the shadows, its leech-like face growing darker and darker with every word.

Taka sat alone, gazing out at the lake in the deepest part of the Military Bastion. This lake acted as a reservoir, giving the hunters who came here plenty of water for washing and drinking. Although, it was prone to Eelekiose attacks, as the eel-like Wyrms loved the fresh, clear water.

None of this was on Taka's mind now, however... He was still reeling from what he had heard last night. An Elder Dragon! he thought excitedly. What I wouldn't give to see one! And this one, the God of the Skies, is supposedly even bigger than the legendary Jhen Mohran! There were less happy thoughts pervading his mind as well - the news of a revolutionary hunting technology... that could fly... made him feel both scared and angry.

He had told his friends, minus Ryka and Kiem, of course, what he had learned. There had been mixed feelings of excitement, fear, and worry. Taka had told them that he was going to form a plan, and try to save this rare Elder Dragon, but so far he hadn't thought of anything.

And then there was the problem of Vulcan. He would certainly be concerned, even terrified, if Taka told him about this. Taka needed a solution, one that would save the Taltaira, end the war, and make peace between monsters and humans, ending the threat of new hunting technologies.

A soft sound behind him made him flinch. Turning into a Velocidrome by reflex, he whipped around and shrieked at whatever it was. Then he got a clear view of his company - it was only Relcia, looking shocked at Taka's reaction. He morphed back into himself, saying, "I'm sorry. I got a little frightened there."

Relcia recovered from her shock and relaxed. "What happened to the Taka that would simply dive into the water when he heard something that frightened him?" she asked softly. "You've changed. I don't think I like it." Taka flushed, both from embarrassment and shame.

Sitting beside him at the edge of the clear lake, Relcia changed the subject to something Taka found equally uncomfortable. "I came to apologize to you, Taka." He simply looked at her, his expression unreadable. Relcia continued, "None of this would have happened if I hadn't denied..." She choked up and tears began to well in her eyes.

Taka shifted a little closer to her and put his arm around her shoulders. "I'm the one that needs to apologize," he said firmly. "It's my fault for taking out my childish anger out on all of you. It's my fault for trying to kill you. I shouldn't have done such a horrid thing. None of this would have happened if I hadn't acted so... so..." Searching for a word, Taka felt tears well up in his eyes as well.

"How's your leg?" he asked Relcia after a moment. His voice was heavy with guilt. "It's fine," she replied. "I'm getting stronger walking on it, and the wounds are healing rapidly." Pausing for a second, she added, "You know, I just remembered that I wanted to thank you as well." Now Taka was completely bewildered. "THANK me? What on earth for?"

Taking a deep breath, Relcia cautiously went on. "For... for saving my life four times." Even more bewildered, Taka repeated uncertainly, "Four?" Nodding, she said, "Well, you saved me from the Rathian weeks ago... Then the Nargacuga... Then when you were posing as that Jet Agnaktor..."

Taka interrupted her. "Sorry to intrude, but I think those were the only three times. I don't think I've saved you one more." Relcia smiled at him. "Not at all," she said, then hugged him tightly. "You came back," she whispered into his ear. Taka began to smile as well as he hugged her back. Strangely, he didn't feel nervous - in fact, he felt a little more confident.

They let go of each other after a few seconds. Thoughtfully, Relcia said, "You know... I think that you chose the perfect armor all those weeks ago. The Qurupeco armor suits you." Turning away, Taka asked, "Why? Qurupecoes are funny-looking? Cowardly?"

"Not at all!" Relcia's tone shocked Taka into looking back at her. More calmly, she said, "Qurupecoes are colorful, quirky, intelligent, cute..." Her voice trailed off and she put an arm around Taka's waist. Looking at the ground, Taka responded, "Well... thanks. ...While we're on the subject, I think that you picked a suitable armor set as well."

Relcia looked at her Rathian armor, as if expecting to see something different. "What do you mean?" she asked with the ghost of a smile on her face. Taka responded after a brief pause, carefully putting his feelings into words. "Rathians are elegant, beautiful wyverns, more so than any other wyvern. They're called the Queens of the Land for a reason." Relcia leaned in a little closer, lowering her voice to little more than a murmur and clutching Taka's hand. "I still don't see what you mean... How does the title 'Queen of the Land' suit me?"

Swallowing nervously, Taka summoned his courage in preparation for what he was about to say next. "It suits you perfectly, Relcia... You're my queen." Relcia smiled, tears once again welling up - and then she lunged forward, kissing Taka on the lips.

Taka's mind just blanked out. His brain had just frozen. However, his shock wore off surprisingly quickly. He closed his eyes contentedly and embraced Relcia. After what seemed like an eternity, they broke apart.

"Nothing could ruin this moment for me, Taka," Relcia whispered, and leaned in to kiss him again - when a deep, guttural roar echoed from elsewhere in the Military Bastion. It was accompanied by a scream. Both of them instantly looked in the direction of the sudden noise. "You had to say that, didn't you?" asked Taka sarcastically. They both jumped up and ran, hands reaching for their weapons.

It was worse than Taka even suspected. Never hearing that particular roar before, he hadn't really known what to expect, but he did know that whatever it was, it was bad. From the intense reading he constantly did about the monsters of the Central World (the subject had always fascinated him - Hydra had thought it was about "know your enemy", and thus hadn't stopped him), Taka knew that all sorts of dreadful creatures invaded the Military Bastion.

Whatever confidence he had immediately drained out of him when he actually saw the creature. Bronton, Hydra, and his friends were trying to fend it off and drive it away, but of course they didn't have any luck - after all, this monster was the Brute Wyvern Deviljho, and to it, they were just snacks.

He saw Illeera narrowly avoid a bite from its slobbering jaws, limping forward on her half a leg. He saw Kiem desperately spearing it in the side before getting swatted by its thick tail. As tired as the Deviljho looked, it was clearly winning the fight. And Taka knew that it would get much worse soon enough.

Fitting his Longsword Guan into his prosthetic arm, Taka asked Relcia, "Well, any last words?" Relcia looked at him, shocked. "We can overcome this, Taka. Together, I know we can." Taka desperately wanted to believe that, but he knew it probably wouldn't happen.

Sighing, he ran forward into the fray, downing a Ration as well as an Armorskin. With only a moment's hesitation, Relcia did the same, right after quickly sharpening her Raven Tessen. Out of the corner of its eye, the Deviljho saw the two hunters rush into battle. With an ominous growl, it stomped over to end their progress.

Drawing back, it dug its jaw into the ground and flung a huge clump of earth at the duo. They separated, then drew together again when the massive projectile passed by them. Taka awkwardly swung his Longsword, making the Deviljho actually retreat a few steps. He knew that the Dragon element in the blade would deter the wyvern more than anything else. He pressed his advantage, driving the monster back with every swipe of his blade.

Deviljho - Known for its nomadic lifestyle and insatiable appetite.

Illeera had the second best thing at her disposal - a Thunder element weapon. She rained electrical arrows down onto the Deviljho's back. Although it barely noticed each one of them, she knew that the charges were adding up and doing damage. Pausing to wipe the sweat from her brow, she brought out some Poison Coating that Bronton had previously made for her, and dunked a number of arrows in the little bottle.

Taahnn was playing on his Basarios Rock like never before, increasing his comrade's agility, strength, heat resistance, and more. Kiem was forced to block bite after bite with his shield, retaliating once or twice with his Rugged Lance. Mylie fired one or two rounds of Thunder S, pausing every so often to reload.

Slicing at the Deviljho's legs, Relcia suddenly had an idea. There was no need to risk her life like this from close range - she had special items that she could strategize with. Putting away her fan-like swords, she ran a few yards from the distracted Brute Wyvern and dug into her pouch. She took out a slimy lump of Aptonoth meat. There's nothing a Deviljho likes more than a lunch break, she thought, grinning mischievously. But this food isn't exactly the healthiest.

She purposely dropped the meat, running as fast as she could away from it. By the time Taka noticed what she was doing, she had already put down two more chunks of flesh. "You, my girl, are incredibly smart," Taka said to her, amazed. "Why didn't I think of that?" Relcia smiled at him, then moved on to place another piece of food.

The tempting smell of raw meat found its way into the Deviljho's nostrils as it fended off an attack from Bronton. FOOD! it instinctively thought, then it ignored the attacking hunters completely as it headed for the first piece of meat. The morsel vanished into the Deviljho's gaping maw - then a roar of agony tore its way out of its throat as the poisonous food instantly paralyzed it.

Everyone instantly went into overdrive. No one knew what exactly had happened - save for Relcia, Taka, and Hydra, who had fought Deviljho before - but they weren't letting it stop them from taking advantage of the Brute Wvyern's obvious helplessness. After only ten seconds, the Deviljho was freed from its paralysis, but now it was bleeding profusely from multiple wounds.

Now it was mad. Ignoring its still-prominent hunger, its muscles swelled dramatically as it's rage went through the roof. It let loose with a guttural roar that shook stones from the walls and caused the very earth to shake. It swept the area with a beam of dragonic energy, doing devastating damage to anything caught in the destructive wave.

Bronton, Kiem, Taahnn, and Ryka were all blasted. Although the beam didn't physically harm them, they could feel themselves growing weaker as the energy affected their internal systems. They had attained "Dragonblight", a crippling ailment that would dramatically affect their performance in the battle. Luckily, all of them carried Dragonfell Berries, which would help speed up their recovery.

Everyone except Ryka successfully ate their berries and began to feel better - however, Ryka was so disoriented that she couldn't even get up. She finally found her item pouch and grabbed a Dragonfell Berry, but by the time her vision cleared and her strength returned, the Deviljho was nearly on top of her.

Taka, frozen in fear, watched the entire episode. The Brute Wyvern seized her in its jaws, now slick and dripping with drool, and tossed her high in the air. The scream lasted two seconds - then Ryka fell straight into the Deviljho's mouth and was immediately swallowed.

All of the hunters simply stared in disbelief and horror. Hydra snapped out of it first, charging at the Deviljho in a zig-zagging pattern in order to confuse it. However, she was easily batted away by its tail.

Now momentarily free from the attacks of the humans, the Deviljho could eat in peace. One by one, it devoured the pieces of meat that Relcia had left behind. Bad choice on its part - the combination of sleeping drugs, paralyzing poisons, and deadly toxins severely crippled it. Half-asleep, numb, and slowly succumbing to the venom, it knew that it had made a grave mistake.

It threw up once, depositing a load of half-digested meat on the ground, then stumbled back the way it had came, eager to put distance in between it and the horrid fortress it had invaded, simply looking for a meal.

For hours, no one could speak. The death of Ryka had been so abrupt that they didn't even know what to say. That wasn't to say that they didn't react at all - Mylie sobbed constantly, Taahnn kept shaking his head in disbelief, and Relcia clutched Taka's arm and stared at him with frightened eyes, silently asking him what they should do.

For once, Taka had no idea. Sighing heavily, he sat down next to Relcia on his bed, head in his hands. He wanted to say that everything would be fine. He wanted to assure them all that Ryka made it safely to the afterlife, where she would finally see Kread again. He wanted more than anything to simply hold Relcia close and tell her that in the end, Ryka's name would be remembered with honor.

Taka couldn't do or say any of these things. Being silent, he decided, is far better than lying.

To be Continued...

Monster Hunter XIII - Enter Warlaros, the Wyvern Warlord!

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