A snowstorm was raging through the Tundra. The harrowing cold and the knife-sharp winds took their toll on the hunters, and one or two had died of hypothermia along the way. They had collapsed into the snow and without transport, forcing the others to have no choice but to leave them there. All of this was made worse by the fact that Sensei Arashi was no longer here to cheer everyone up. Along the journey, he had told them all so many exciting stories about so many monsters and even his own past experiences. But no longer. He was dead. And that hit home hard.
Night was approaching.
Out of the blue, Gale suddenly started haemorrhaging and hyperventilating. The fire was reaching her heart. On the verge of panicking, Mizu frantically set her down on the snow. The group gathered around. "What are we supposed to do!?" he yelled, distressed. Rakurai, Shinji and Jinsoku looked worried. "Wait," he said flatly. "Everyone! Concentrate all your thoughts on Gurētosutōmu! Pray to him... for Gale... he is her last hope," he finished in a solemn mutter. Everyone locked hands in a circle of pure hope, looked up to the sky, and waited.
Gale lay in limbo, awake once again.
"You are dying, Gale. The fire is reaching your heart faster than anticipated."
"They... they are praying to me. Begging me to save you. Normally, I could do nothing of the sort. But when a Wyrm is prayed to... they can heal... for a good cause..."
So... you're gonna... save me?
"Sort of, yes. I can arrest the fever temporarily, but not for long. You must hurry to Hikari. It will drain my power considerably, forcing me into a more Dragon-like form, like the White Star's. But that boy...you have no idea how much he loves you."
Until we meet again...Gale Kaze.
Suddenly the grey sky above Gale turned bright white. She reached out to touch the light. And...
* * *
Gale stopped haemorrhaging, and came to life with a huge gasp for air. Everyone jumped back, startled, then began chattering amongst themselves, surprised by the spectacle. She sat up, looking around frantically in all directions, as if someone was missing.
Mizu put his hands or her shoulders and shook her firmly. "Gale!" he shouted. She turned and looked at him, silent. "I'm right here," he said. And she practically fell forward, hugging him, and burying her head in his chest. "It's not gone, Mizu. The curse, I mean. It's just slowed down," she muttered.
"By who?" Mizu asked. "Him," she replied, referring to the great wind Wyrm. "Really?" Mizu laughed. "That's your first thought when you come out of a coma?" He stroked her hair. "You never cease to amaze me. Always business first."
"We must make even more haste to Hikari, then," Zoru said. "Yes," Turo solemnly nodded in agreement, "but it's getting dark, and the cold will be unbearable. We must set up camp for the night."
"Agreed," Zoru said. The hunters began setting up tents and hot food in preparation for the cold night ahead.
Night had fallen. Almost all of the hunters were asleep. All - except Mizu and Gale, who were sitting by the fire, warming their hands, talking nostalgically. Ever since they had met when they were five, they had always done things together, much like Shinji and Jinsoku.
But whereas Shinji, Mizu, and Jinsoku apsired to be hunters at an early age, Gale only really considered it after the village was attacked. They talked of how they met, all the times they used to play on the farm when they were younger, and eventually got to current events; the White Star, the hunting party... the kiss while on the run from the Jhen Mohran. Alcohol had been provided and the couple were half-drunk, not enough to lose control, but enough to be a little bit wild and have a headache in the morning.
"And... and that time you thought there was a Lagiacrus in the lake by our farm... an-an-and then you fell into the water trying to find it!" Gale slurred, drunk and amused. Then her drunken stupour wore off a little and she matured again. "So..." she mused,stroking Mizu's hair with her finger. "Everyone's asleep... we're by ourselves... so... are you coming?" she said suggestively walking over to their tent.
Mizu was taken aback by her subtle hints. "Are you saying... you want...?" He never finished, as he saw in her eys what she wanted. "Random, I know, but... we could die at any moment, Mizu." Gale said tenderly. "We should take these opportunities as they come." Mizu thought seriously about this for a while. And, as Gale walked away to the tent, he slowly followed.
It was still nighttime when everyone awoke. It was only twilight, too early to begin walking again. But they hadn't been woken up by Turo, or Zoru or Rakurai. They had been woken up by a vicious roar. Gale turned over in her tent, hiding her shame. She nudged Mizu awake. "Huh...? What now?" he said, half-asleep.
A second roar crescendoed through the Tundra. "That's what. Now hurry up and get some clothes on!" she barked. "Okay, okay! Calm down, geez." he said, a little more alertly, pulling his tunic and Barioth armour back on. They heard the bestial howl again. This time screams followed.
Unsheathing their Long Swords, Gale and Mizu stepped outside the tent to greet the morning daylight and the frozen cliffs of the Tundra; and a great lumbering black and gray beast, with demonic red eyes, tearing aross the ice to the campsite. With no wings, they knew it was a Fanged Wyvern. As it tore through the idle of their settlement, a hunter deperately cried out "ZINOGRE! STYGIAN ZINOGRE!" before being thrown across the ice by a huge bolt of red thunder.
The Stygian Zinogre howled with pride, turning it's gaze to Gale and Mizu. It stalked ferally toward them, and they drew their swords up in a defensive stance. As it prepared to maul them both with a huge claw, Gale swung her Tigrex sword over her head and down to the ground, slicing into its grey flesh and leaving a large gash.
It squealed like a hurt dog, and drew it's claw away in annoyance. Then it's body language hardened again and it roared at the pair angrily, sending a huge red bolt of electric might toward them. They would have been dead in a flash, if Rakurai hadn't appeared before them, having summoned his own lightning, cancelling both thunderbolts out. "Don't just stand there! Run! Now!" he yelled at them. Still startled, they turned and sprinted to catch up with the others. Like he always did, Rakurai turned away to face the Zinogre. He laughed to himself. "Saving your skins really is going to kill me one day," he muttered. Then his facial expression hardened, and he brought his Great Sword to bear, ready to challenge the Hell Wolf Wyvern, alone.
* * *
The remaining eight hunters (apart from Rakurai) were still running wildly through the Tundra, as far away from the Zinogre as possible. They had started out with twenty-five people on this outing and to be down to only eight... All they had to do was get out of the Tundra and they would finally be at Hikari, the City of Light, where the Frozen Tower awaited. But first they had to stay alive. And to do that, they had to keep running.
"Watch out! Above!" one of the hunters shouted. The group came to a sudden halt as a huge Barioth pounced from its icy perch to the icy ground below, landing if front of them. It growled, then threw itself at the hunters. But as it did, it slipped on the ice and slid to the side of them, giving then freedom to flee as fast as possible.
The Barioth turned again, snarling at the outrage, and immediately began to lumber toward them. The party was tired of all the running, barely able to continue. The Barioth was closing in. Zoru, the silent Hikarian guide, stood his ground. "Go. I'll take it."
Familiar with this solemn self-sacrifice, the others merely kept running, while Turo followed after exchanging formal bows with each other. Zuro, who stood on the precipice of a steep icy cilff, caught the attention of the clumsy wyvern, as it charged toward him. Zuro had just enough time to cling his knife into its eye before colliding with its huge torso, sending both plummeting off of the edge and into the icy water below.
Suddenly, Rakurai was back with the group in a yellow flash. "You kill it?" Shinji huffed, still running. "What, you mean THAT one!?" he yelled impatiently, pointing at the huge wolf-like beast lumbering toward them. "I don't think so, do you!?" he asked rhetorically.
The group, seeing the still very much alive Stygian Zinogre galloping across the ice, redouble their efforts, but still not enough to outrun the beast. As it drew close, it howled and jumped over the group with ease, skidding to a halt in fron of them to block their escape. They all drew their weapons on instinct, bows, lances, gunlances, swords and bowguns alike aimed at the foul, wolf-like creature. It howled in their faces, the warm breath of the Zinogre and the cold breeze of the arctic Tundra blowing in their faces.
One of the hunters took this opening and thrust his lance forward into the beasts chest, almost piercng it's heart. The Zinogre roared and howled with pain and rage, blood pouring steadily from its wound. Gale and Mizu then sliced its legs with their Long Swords, causing it to yelp and stagger back. Shinji rapidly fired several arrows which embedded them selves into several places along its side. The final touch was Jinsoku's poison-coated arrow flying stright and true into its eye, sending it slumping to the flloor in pain, its left eye turning an ugly purple colour. The hunters ran as it staggered pathetically after them once more, skidding over rocks and slipping on the ice as it headed for the group. Even in their tired shape they could easily outrun the beast.
The Zinogre slipped on the ice once more, and the hunters heard a crack in the ice, the sharp shards digging into the monster's arm. This was the last straw for the wyvern, and red thunder cascaded armound it as it roared and bellowed like a demon, irate and humiliated. With renewed vigor it trounced into the hunters. In its rage it fired several bolts of angry thunder at its prey, most of which were inaccurate, but still wounding one more hunter. Gale turned, fed up of the beast, and threw several small Barrel Bombs onto the ice behind them. She grabbed the wounded hunter and carried him over her shoulder.
"RUN!" She shouted, as the bombs detonated and the icy terrain behind them cracked and began to fall into the water below. The Zinogre became aware of the danger, and galloped at a superhuman speed to get away. It made one last desperate jump toward the hunters as the ice before it broke apart, flying far thorugh the icy air, baring its fangs... before falling with a deflated howl into the icy water below.
Gale, Mizu, Rakurai, Shinji, Jinsoku and Turo, the only hunters left, set the wounded young man down in the snow. Gale was tired of all the nameless deaths of people so young, like her, and comforted him. "What's your name?" she soothed. "...Thomas..." He croaked. His wound was fatal.
She probed him further. "Do you have someone special?" She asked softly. "...Y-y-yes...her name is...Nina... She lives in Hikari...and..." He used the last of his strength to yank a silver chain from his neck, a white wyvern fang carved into the shape of a dove on the end. He folded it up neatly, planted it into Gale's hand, and closed her fingers around it, clasping her hand still. "Give this to her," he said seriously, his eyes sober. "...and...tell her...that..." he gasped, laying his bleeding head down in the snow. "...tell her that I love her."
He closed his eyes for the last time, as his cold fingers slowly slid off of Gale's hand. She sighed, tears in her eyes, and carried his lifeless body in her arms. Only Gale and her friends remained. Hikari was before them.
They marched off toward the City of Light.
To Be Continued in: The White Star Chronicles XII: The City of Light