Gale, tired of catching the sun, stood up and walked carefully along a flat bit of rock upon the Jhen Mohran's back, careful to dig her sword into the stone anytime she lost her balance. She was still wearing her armour despite the return of the heat, but thankfully she had packed plenty of Cool Drinks, and her Kirin "X" armour was a little "revealing" so as not to drown her in heat.
She made her way around the rocky foothold to another, wider area of flat rock at the very front of the beast, where Rakurai stood, arms folded, staring hollowly past the Elder Dragon's huge head at the desert. He saw a vague, tall shadow in the distance, that was slowly getting bigger and greener as they covered more ground.
"The Great Forest," Rakurai mused, sensing her presence but still not averting his gaze. "Its beauty always staggers me." Gale stared ahead at the approaching forest as well, and she too found herself hypnotized by the lush greenery."Wow, I see what you mean," Gale said, amazed.
Her gaze was broken by Rakurai walking past her, back around the rocky footpath. "Don't be fooled, Gale. Appearances can be deceiving," he grunted, disappearing behind a rocky mound. Gale walked away from the scene, climbing up a chunk of rock and descending down it's left side.
She saw Shinji and Jinsoku sitting cross-legged on the floor, talking absentmindedly about their role in the battle with the Jhen Mohran, their family, and other moments from their past. They stopped to smile warmly at Gale as she approached, and sat down with them.
"What brings you here, Gale?" Jinsoku asked. Gale stopped to think for a second or two.
"Well, I've already been to most of the other hunters, and Mizu's asleep, so I thought I'd come and find you two, seeing as we've never really talked before," she explained.
"You and him are always together. Is he your boyfriend or something?" Shinji probed gleefully.
"Well, I love him, so I think that speaks for itself." Gale answered. Shinji seemed satisfied with this as she tenderly picked up her bow and pulled out a linen cloth, and started wiping it over the bow. "It's my most prized possession. I like to keep it looking clean," she said. "But Jinsoku likes the scratches on his, don't you?" She giggled, nudging Jinsoku playfully.
Gale could see now how perfect a friendship they had, and how they were so content being friends that they had no desire to take it any further. Gale smiled to herself, getting up and heading further back along the Jhen's body. "Bye," Shinji waved at her, smiling thinly. Gale waved back and headed off.
She climbed over the rocky mound again. This time she stood there, and put her arms out either side of her, raising her head slightly and closing her eyes, taking in the breeze. Suddenly she felt someone else's lips on hers - Mizu, of course.
She giggled slightly and held him at arm's length. "Don't you ever annouce yourself?" she aked sarcastically. "You're gonna make me die of fright one of these days." He kissed her again. "Well, maybe you should be more prepared for suprises, then," he retorted with the same sarcasm as Gale. "Didn't I ever tell you? I don't like suprises!" She laughed. She started walking off again. She got a few steps away before she realized Mizu wasn't there. She turned back to him. "I'm going to find Sensei Arashi. You coming or not?" she beamed. Slowly but surely, Mizu followed.
They jumped off of the rock, heading back toward the tail of the Jhen Mohran. Sensei Arashi was sitting with Turo and the other Hikarian guide, who she had never heard a word from. As she approached the trio, she managed to catch his name - Zoru. Arashi saw Gale and Mizu coming, and excused himself from the conversation. Turo and Zoru walked away to the front of the Jhen, where everyone else seemed to be.
"Ah, my two favourite students. What would you have with me?" Arashi asked patiently.
"The Great Forest is up ahead, Sensei. I think we should get ready to disembark the Jhen Mohran." Gale said. She and Mizu lead Arashi to the front of the beast, where the Great Forest was now visible in its entirety. "Very well," Arashi murmured. Turo and Zoru stood before the search party, doing a head count.
"Okay. Everyone's here." Zoru said to Turo. Turo nodded, and turned back to the group. "Ok, listen up everyone!" he began. "Our stop's here. Everyone get ready to jump!" he shouted. The Great Forest was now literally right in front of them.They had all packed climbing equipment, so they absailed down to a lower point than where they had been camped (otherwise the fall would kill them). They all swung a little to gain momentum.The Jhen Mohran began to turn to avoid the forest.The party was now directly facing it.
"THREE! TWO! ONE! JUMP!" Turo shouted, and everyone let go of their absailing rope, fell off of the Elder Dragon, and went tumbling into the Great Forest. It was a bit of a rough drop, but not enough to cause any injury.
Gale, the first to recover, followed by Shinji, Jinsoku, Rakurai and the others, stared at the point where the Unmei Desert ended and the Great Forest began, watching the great Jhen Mohran slither away into the sand.
The conglomerate of hunters strolled quietly through the Great Forest (or as quietly as one could with heavy armour on), taking in the scenic views, the squeals of Kelbi and the chirping of birds - the general peace of the place.
Gale, Mizu, Shinji, Jinsoku and Rakurai, who seemed to have opened up and made friends with Gale and the others, were at the forefront of the party, walking side by side silently. It was going really well. They were making steady progress, and Turo had said about an hour ago that they would be halfway to Hikari when they came out of the forest. All was well, and so far the only monsters they had encounters with were a small herd of Kelbi and a pair of Bullfangos. Suddenly, a call broke the docile silence.
"Guys! Look here!"
It was Jinsoku. The party gathered around him to see what he had found. It was a couple of dead Kelbi. They had been stripped of most of their meat, shredded bits of flesh and flecks of crimson blood splattered here and there. Silence followed, as no one understood what the big deal was about two dead Kelibi. Jinsoku sighed impatiently. "Don't you see!? Kelbi are weak herbivores! The only thing wild and cruel enough to do this to an innocent and docile animal is-"
A loud, feral and animalistic yowl broke the silence. They hunters turned their heads up and to the left, only to meet the red-eyed gaze of a sleek, smooth, and jet-black pseudowyvern. It fidgeted its forelimbs impatiently, drooling mildly with raw hunger.
"NARGACUGA!!" Shinji screeched frantically, following which the beast sprang to life, jumping down speedily form the heavy tree branch to the forest floor and swiping three unfortunate hunters with its long tail as they tried to escape. This sent the other hunters spiralling into panic, some turning to face the Nargacuga, others running for their lives as far and as fast as possible. The wyvern swiftly smashed two more hunters with its powerful forelimbs as it tore ahead after the rest of the party.
Rakurai saw it heading toward him. He stood still, facing it, drawing his Espinas Great Sword. The Nargacuga yowled defiantly before leaping forward for the kill. Rakurai drew his sword back, as far as he could over his shoulder, waiting for the right moment. As the pitch-black beast drew near, he swung the huge sword back from over his shoulder and swiped to the left.The razor sharp blade tore through the flesh of its right leg, sending it flying off course, crashing into a nearby tree and leaving a huge splintered dent in the trunk.
It growled weakly and slumped to the floor, winded. The blade carried on going after making contact with the beast, digging itself into the ground at an angle. Rakurai pulled it out, and stood with the sword pointing at the Nargacuga, directly in line with his body, his legs wide apart to help maintain balance. It stared at him with angry violent eyes, flinging it's head up like a wolf and letting out yet another feral screech.
This time, the remaining twenty party members rushed into an area that looked like a wall of trees, hoping that the forest area there would be too dense and thick for the creature to follow. All - except Rakurai. He was preparing to charge the wyvern when suddenly he heard a faint crunch of breaking tree branches, that was gradually getting louder and louder. Then, Rakurai covered himself by holding the flap of his blade above his head as broken branches, leaves and twigs fell forcefully from the sky.
When the wooden rain had stooped, he put his Great Sword down, only to see a second Nargacuga standing before him, twitching its tail in anticipation. As the first monster recovered from its encounter with the tree trunk, he heard Gale shout out to him, "NO! WHAT ARE YOU DOING!? YOU'LL DIE IF YOU DON'T RUN! COME ON!"
He huffed with amusement, smiled thinly and closed his eyes for a few moments. "Don't worry. I'll be fine," he grunted.
"Besides..." he started, holding his outstretched left hand toward the sky, the familiar bold of lightning striking him and running down his arm, leaving the same electrical aura coursing around his body as when he fought the White Star.
"Somebody has to hold them off," he mused. He turned to Gale and smiled slyly at her. It was a thin smile, but a smile nonetheless. Gale read his expression and nodded soberly, running off into the thick trees with the others.
Rakurai turned his gaze back to the two wyverns, and pointed his blade at them.
"Let's see if you can keep up," he muttered, and on that note, charged at the pair of Nargacugas, feeling no fear, no remorse and no hesitation.
To Be Continued in: The White Star Chronicles IX: Yaketsukuyōna's Truth