Gale had been keeping watch on the situation for hours, since which night had fallen, looking behind their cart every few minutes or so. She was keeping track of the Jhen Mohran, who, much to her disdain, was making steady and rapid progress. Her legs ached from kneeling for so long - there were almost thirty people on the back of this cart, and there was barely any space to move in the huge mass of armoured people. She felt a hand on her shoulder.
"Gale, c'mon, you need to rest," Mizu muttered. Gale shivered mildly - the cold desert nights were getting to her.
Mizu saw her shaking, and again took off his shirt and laid it over her shoulders.
"No, Mizu, keep it, you'll get cold," Gale refused, shrugging it off.
"Maybe so, but you already are," Mizu retorted, putting the tunic back over her shoulders. "Besides, it's kinda scratchy. And I packed loads of Hot Drinks, and you didn't," he added, pulling a flask of warm water from his belt and drinking deeply. He held her hand against his chest.
"See? Warm. I'll be fine," he said slowly.He started to lie back down and go to sleep, but then he realized Gale's hand was still on his chest. And so did she. They stared straight into each other's eyes. Gale slid her hand up to Mizu's shoulder. She felt his hand on her face. She closed her eyes and leaned in.
And they kissed.
When Gale woke up, it was still night time. She motioned to get up, frantically remembering the Jhen Mohran situation. The she stooped and realized where she was.She was wrapped in Mizu's embrace. She remembered the kiss. She smiled at him. She took his tunic off off her shoulders, and covered him with it. She crawled a few centimetres forward, putting her hand on her forehead,searching for the tell-tale sandy trail of the huge Elder Dragon. It was gone. But how-?
Gale's thoughts were interrupted when a huge obsidian chunk of rocky flesh burst out of the desert floor, soaring high over the cart,covering the hunters in a great, jagged shadow before diving back into the sand, sending sand particles rushing into Gale's face in the breeze. The loud noise woke the party up in a flash. Mizu, sensing the danger, frantically pulled his tunic and Barioth Armour on, quickly pulling out his Eager Cleaver. Gale pulled out her Long Sword, a nasty-looking Tigrex blade, serrated, with cruel jagged fangs on the outside edges.
"JHEN MOHRAN! JHEN MOHRAN!" Turo bellowed. Suddenly, the great Mountain Dragon resurfaced, not dolphin-diving from under the sand, but slowly emerging like a worm. It roared a mighty roar, but as the guides had warned them to pack for everything, they all had high quality earplugs for such an occasion as this, rendering the Jhen's response to their presence mute. It barrelled at high speed toward them, slithering like a serpent.
Turo reached over and whacked the Popo with such force that it actually managed a half-roar,and quickly clumped its way across the desert, just as the Jhen Mohran's mighty tusk were about to shatter the cart into wooden splinters. It shook it's head wildly and roared again, quickly recovering and swerving right to follow up on the cart for another charge.
Rakurai, seeing this, shouted to Sensei Arashi. "The Popo's too tired! We'll never escape the beast in time! "
Sensei Arashi considered this for a moment, then turned to two hunters near him. "We must repel it for as long as possible! Shinji! Jinsoku! Ready your bows! Aim for the cracks in it's shell! If you can get a hit, aim for the eyes!" Arashi boomed over the loud, sand-swimming Elder Dragon, and the hunters' earplugs.
The two hunters nodded soberly, moving up to take a one-knee position on the right side of the cart, where the Jhen Mohran was slithering alongside them. Shinji readied her Barioth bow (a strange combination with her Agnaktor armour) and Jinsoku readied his Nargacuga bow, which went perfectly with his Nargacuga armour. Shinji and Jinsoku were well known around the village. Many had speculated that they were a couple, but they stated innumerable times that they were just best friends. They each had different bow techniques that complimented each other almost impossibly well, so they always hunted together. Shinji would fire arrows so fast that you could barely see her pull the next one out of her quiver.This helped get the targets attention. Jinsoku, however, would take an arrow and hold it in place for pinpoint accuracy, often coating it in poison, and sometimes would pile on three or more arrows at a time.
Shinji quickly engaged the gargantuan Jhen Mohran, rapidly shooting arrows and reloading almost faster than the eye could see. A lot of her arrows bounced off of the Elder Dragons rocky exterior, but a few made it into the cracks in the dry stone, causing an irritating sting due to the fire coating. The Jhen Mohran felt the arrows and squealed, which turned into a roar, as Jinsoku's poisoned arrow drove itself straight into the beast's eye, sending a searing hot pain through the optic nerve. With this painful disparagement, it roared again, so incredibly loud that everyone heard it through the earplugs. It dived back into the sand, and all was silent. A cheer of victory reverberated among the hunters. However, Rakurai, Gale and Mizu knew better. Shinji and Jinsoku were also staying where they were, adamant that it wasn't over. And their prediction was right.
"LOOK!" Jinsoku yelled, pointing forward. The party looked to see a great line of sandy wind speeding toward them.The Popo was groaning with fatigue, it's speed deteriorating. "Sensei, listen to me. The Popo is too tired to carry on. We are not going to be able to avoid that charge. It will hit us," Rakurai stated firmly. He paused while Arashi mulled this over. "But I have an idea," he added, and, for the first time, Gale saw Rakurai Kaminari, the Lightning Bolt, smile.
"EVERYONE! LISTEN UP!" he beckoned. Each and every one of the hunters turned from their worried conversations. Rakurai turned slowly to see the Jhen Mohran. It was almost upon them, a mere forty kilometres or so away from them. He blinked slowly, solemnly, then turned back to face the group. "This cart isn't going to outrun the Jhen Mohran this time. The Popo is too tired and too slow. Really, we've been lucky to not have been obliterated when it first attacked us."
"However," he continued, "While this creature is too slow and tired to carry us any further, there is one other monster that isn't," he finished slyly. The hunters immediately saw where Rakurai was going with this, murmurs of excitement, approval and fear spreading among them like wildfire.
"Mizu... is he... is he serious!?" Gale whispered, worried. "That thing'll crush us!"
"C'mon, Gale have a little faith in the man! He's saved our skins before," Mizu implored.
"Yeah, but this is different." She said, and she found herself cozying up against him.
"No it isn't." He argued. He held her at arm's length. "You ready?" He asked softly.
"...Ready." Gale said, noding slowly. They stood up with the rest of the search party, the Jhen Mohran mere metres away. "READY!?" Rakurai shouted. The sober silence spoke for itself.
"JUUUUUMP!" He roared.
And with that, the entire party dived forward, just as the mammoth Elder Dragon made contact with the wooden cart, sending splinters flying in all directions, the poor Popo crushed under the beast's mighty weight.
The syncopated screams of the hunters hung in the air as they all clamoured onto the rocky back of the desert beast. Just then the twilight dawn faded, making way for the early morning desert sun.
Gale and Mizu smiled at each other with pure relief. They laid their back against a rock "wall", closing their eyes and taking in the sun, letting the seemingly docile Jhen Mohran carry them across the desert expanse.
To Be Continued in: The White Star Chronicles VIII: Into The Great Forest