The morning sun can be cruel sometimes. I've never been an early bird kind of guy, but nowadays I have to force myself to be one. If I wanted to get a head start and impress people, I kind of had to. And it would have been a lot easier to get used to this if there wasn't this temptation to just stay in bed and cuddle some more with a cute Great Jagras that during the night snuggled up so close to you that your two sleeping bags might as well had been one.
Yes, Jaina and I had stayed close together the entire night, and while I could hardly complain about that, now that I had to get going it was really hard to get away from her.
Her arms were slung around my neck like a vice, reaching over from her own sleeping bag into mine.
I chuckled as I carefully weaseled myself out of my ensnarement and peeled myself out of the sleeping bag. In her sleep, Jaina clawed at my empty bed, having an annoyed frown on her face before she once again relaxed and continued to snore peacefully.
A soft smile crept over my lips as I watched her. Right now though, there were more pressing things on the agenda. I strapped on my hole-filled leather armor as I laid out an organized to do list in my head.
The armor obviously made me aware of the first point that I should get sorted out: Visiting the smithy and getting a new armor fixed up.
After that, I need to visit the cook and have him prepare a few slices of freshly roasted steak to send up to the gathering hub for lunch.
Then there was the so far last point on my list and I already dreaded that one.
Releasing Anja and getting her and Jaina to get along. Even just saying those words out loud in my mind sounded like it would be a disaster. Anja had decided to stay and even said she would behave herself but how far that good behavior would go once she met Jaina… I was unable to tell.
"Nothing's for sure I guess. And winging it so far hasn't killed me. I suppose I'll cross those bridges once I get to them. How bad could it turn out, right?" My gaze turned towards Jaina as I tried to console myself.
In lieu of me, she was now clutching the furry pillow in her sleeping bag and held it so tightly that you could almost worry about the seams coming apart. She mumbled something in her sleep which I couldn't make out, but even without that knowledge, the simple innocent image was enough to put my mind at ease.
"I'm sure she'll be alright. We'll figure out a way to work together somehow. I crouched next to her bed and caringly ran my fingers through her hair. Her formerly slightly twitching eyes settled down a bit and even a soft smile crossed her lips. "Be back soon." I spoke to her in a quiet tone as I got up and made my way into camp to cross off my to-do list.
When I descended the stairs, I could already hear Astera bustling with activity. It was to be expected now that the fire blight plague was cleared and the smithy was back in full action. Now people could finally turn in the spoils of their hunts and get some new armor and weapons forged. I've always been amazed back home when I saw the gear some hunters had gotten during their hunts.
Some of the weapons I saw were even bigger than a person. I mean I'm not that much to compare to since I'm average height and anything but a heavyweight but I'm still talking about MASSIVE weapons here.
The blacksmiths of the guild had always been really creative when bending parts of gigantic monsters into gear. Just slayed a ginormous, world-eating monster? Give them a few scales here, a membrane there and they're going to fashion you the best, form-fitting, hard-hitting stuff you've ever put your hands on. And I was about to put my very own hands of some of that stuff myself. Needless to say, I was excited.
Conveniently enough, the stairs ended right next to the smithy and right as I arrived, I could smell the hot waft of glowing hot steel burning in my nose. The water-powered machines were hammering away, crushing different pieces of different monsters into usable materials before smelting them in a massive furnace.
A small group of experienced hunters just exited out of the bustling building as they admired the new armors that they were wearing. You could feel the heat radiating from them, meaning they were freshly forged.
One guy in particular was wearing noticeably fortified red armor built out of plates and spikes from a monster. His head was hidden by a sturdy helmet with a black mask and a steel visor.
"Wohohoh man! You look absolutely badass. What is this armor?!" One of the guys, who was with him, yelled in excitement.
"It's Rathalos armor. There was one roaming around in the Ancient Forest. Once I saw it on the notice board, I knew I had to slay that thing!"
"Damn! You look like you could withstand a meteor falling onto you!" A third guy awed as he knocked on the thick plates.
I chimed in as I approached the group, "They're right, that's an awesome piece of armor. Must've been a really tough fight. Good on you!"
Almost instantly, I could feel the atmosphere freeze up and the chatter died down. The three of them gave me sideways glances and none of them pleasant. "Urgh, it's the monster lover."
I raised an eyebrow as I questioned the nasty stares I got. "What's the problem? Did I do anything?"
"Don't play dumb, half blood. You should know just as well as anyone around here why you're not welcome."
I groaned and let out an annoyed breath. "I'm a hunter just like you are. Just because I happen to have monster blood in me, doesn't mean that that changes."
"You say that now. How long until it gets to you, this thing that you sleep with? Yeah, we know that you're already in bed with it. Can't be that long until you take their side and start fighting alongside them against us!" The man in the Rathalos armor mocked me, looming over me to look imposing.
"Monsters hunt other monsters too, you moron! There isn't a SIDE for me to be on!" I emphasized my words as I tried to maintain my composure. I could already feel my fist twitching. Even though I would've been at a complete disadvantage with him wearing that armor, there was an urge to fight him brewing inside me.
He looked back at his friends as if to see if they could believe what they were seeing. Like I was a peasant talking to royalty. He turned back to me and got up so close to me that his armored chest bumped into me. "You would be better off shutting that mouth, buddy. You're walking on extremely thin ice as it is."
I was just about to pull out my blades as an unexpected voice called out from inside the smithy. "S'cuse me, big shot! Would ya turn it down a notch out there?! Ye might wanna piss off and stop loiterin' in front of ma forge if ya don't want me ta tell 'em about the care packages yer mum always sends for ya."
The man grunted, unexpectedly reeling back away from me. I could see that he was affected by the unknown person's words. He turned to look towards the smithy, speaking to the man who apparently ran it. "Dammit old man, can't you fucking keep to yourself for once? This isn't your damn business!"
"Keep talkin' kid and I'll show 'em the cute little notes she puts into 'em too. Now scram and stop botherin' me customers!"
"Krrk…" The man froze up and even despite the armor, you could tell that he was breaking into a nervous sweat. "You don't… actually have some of those, do you?"
"What is he talking about, dude?"
"Nothing! We're leaving! You got lucky, half-blood!" He grunted, angrily stomping away as his confused companions reluctantly followed him down the stairs into the main area of Astera. I had to admit, it was pretty damn ironic to see such a well-armored man be so vulnerable.
I turned around the corner to see who the man was who got him to stop. When I did, there was an older man sitting at the side of a long conveyor belt that transported materials in front of him. Despite his visible age, his body was anything but saggy. In fact, he was in much better shape than I was with massive muscles and strong, bulging arms. His body was riddled with scars and sweat was pouring all over it, making it glisten with the light of the flames behind him. His chin was completely covered in curled hair from his full, black beard while his head was completely bald and an eyepatch covered up his right eye.
He was only sparsely clothed with a throw-over vest, leather coils around his waist and iron gauntlets for smithing. His face was gruff and with his one good eye, he looked up to see me.
I was quick to get inside and rubbed my neck in embarrassment. "Hey umm… thanks for intervening there. I'm sorry you had to be bothered by something that unnecessary."
He didn't answer, instead he squinted. His eyes were apparently a bit cloudy from the constant heat. Once he apparently saw what he wanted to, his face lit up with a realization. "That was YOU out there boy? Ye just can't stay outta trouble can ya?"
"Wait, what?" I wondered how he could possibly know me. I've never been to the smithy when it was open. When I came closer though and the waves of heat eased up a little, I finally noticed it. "No way! Sullivan?!"
"As he lives and breathes, kid!" He proudly proclaimed as he stomped the ground with a smithing hammer he rested his right hand on.
I chuckled in disbelief. "What the hell? I haven't seen you ever since the Fourth Fleet accident. The commander told me you were almost burnt to death. How did you end up in the smithy?"
"Old man's a lot tougher than ya give 'im credit for. Shrapnel hit me and got me legs lamin', my hair's burned off, my beard's singed and my right eye's… pretty much useless now, but thankfully this old geezer can do more than slice up a monster. Got sum strong arms and I'm gunna use 'em as long as I can swing a hammer."
As he so proudly said that, I felt an immense guilt rush through me. "Shit man, I'm really… sorry. I mean you can't hunt like that anymore, can you?"
He sunk his head for a second as he sorrowfully looked at his numb legs but shook it soon after. "Nay, boy. But I've had enough sympathies. Would've been a matter of time before age got ta me instead of a monster. Makes for hell of a more interestin' story as well."
I smiled weakly and got some relief from his optimism, but I could tell from the shift in his expression that the friendly conversation was over. "So… about what happened outside there. I wanna talk to ya about that and give ya some advice. Back down from stuff like that."
I was taken aback by the sudden suggestion and immediately went on the defense. "What? I'm supposed to just take stuff like that? If I let guys like him step all over me, how am I supposed to ever get someone to take me serious here?"
"He's a fresh high ranker, them guys are always cocky like that an' think they're tough shit. There's nothin' fer ya to gain from fightin' a guy like that."
I crossed my arms and complained in frustration. "I didn't want to gain anything. I just… haaa… I just wanted to get a little bit of respect."
"And how much respect do ya think ya get when you're put down or thrown out the gates? Things're tense right now, kid. They're only looking for a reason ta get ya in trouble."
I sighed scrunched my face in disappointment. I knew he was right, but the constant suppression and distrust was starting to get to me.
And then, Sullivan served me yet another kernel to the pile. "I wanna make this perfectly clear to ya as well. I don't trust ya…"
"You and half of Astera, Sullivan." I muttered, seeing that it was pointless to try and convince him otherwise. It would take a lot more than just saying that we're not going to do anything to actually convince people of that.
"But I don't think yer bad folk." I raised my head at his surprising words. "I might think that ye and yer monster friends are weird moods of nature."
"And you have sum really bad attitude."
"And yer way too confrontive."
"Yup, just keep piling."
"And I don't 'ave that much trust in yer ta even lift sumthin heavier than ole Poogie."
"Alright, alright I get it!" I chuckled uncomfortably as I stopped him from listing anything more.
He bellowed a short laugh as well and smirked. "I'm not gunna treat ya any worse than that Rathalos fella, that's fer certain." He joked as he wiped some soot from underneath his nose.
My mood lifted a little bit at that moment and I shot him a small, genuine smile. "I… really appreciate that."
He gave me a firm nod before he went back to talking brass tax. "Now enough of the sentimentalities, ya didn't come 'ere fer a nice chit chat, ye want somethin' made?"
I hastily fumbled to grab my pouch and approached the conveyor belt. "Actually, I need a new set of armor."
"A full one? Well, I can see that yers ain't fairin' too well. What can I make ya? Leather? Chainmail?"
"Well… Anjanath actually."
"…" His face went completely blank. "Anjanath armor?"
"Yer jokin', right?"
I wordlessly flipped my pouch and let the flood of Anjanath materials pour out onto the conveyor belt. Sullivan's mouth hung open as he slowly inspected the huge pile from bottom to top. It was an entire Anjanath body's worth of materials after all and even in its cut-up form, it spilled over the edges. "Afraid not. Think you can make something sturdy out of this?"
He was still in disbelief and had to shake his head to come back to his senses. "Yer kidding! I can make ya ten armors outta this. How the hell did ya get yer hands on this."
I shrugged, "I guess luck?"
I half expected him to throw the stuff back in my face but instead: "Bahahaha! Boy, ye either 'ave the biggest luck under the sapphire star or yer secretly a master hunter. Ye killed an Anjanath with yer weak-ass little blades and a bog-standard armor?"
"Suppose so, maybe I'm tougher than you give me credit for as well." I said as I joined in on his laughter by chuckling along.
He slapped the surface of the conveyor so hard that even more of my materials slid onto the floor as he burst out into another fit of laughter. "Ahhh, maybe yer ain't that bad after all. Knew ya could hit an unmovin' pole… barely. Never even dreamed that ya could slay an Anjanath. Ye know what, I'm gunna make ya that armor and if it ain't a fluke, I'll even give ya some new blades on top 'o that fer free. Now how much do ya have? Let's haggle."
I checked my money pouch to see what reserves I had left. "Well, I've got 10000 Zenny on me that I took from back home."
"I don't wanna make ya broke, kid. Let's make it 5000 fer the armor and once ya get slayin', with ma gear, ye'll be rolling in cash ta make it up ta me with."
"Seriously? Thanks, Sullivan."
"At least one favor can't hurt! Thanks ta ya, I've gotten away with my life from that fire blight after all. Some folks 'round 'ere don't recognize that, but I ain't a man that slacks on his debts." After saying that and giving me yet another hearty, confident smirk, he turned around to the back of the forge and yelled out with a commanding tone. "Horace! Barnes! Get yer asses in 'ere!"
Quickly, two men with smithing aprons and headbands emerged from behind the massive forge and stood at attention. "Yes sir?!"
"We've got a new order comin' in. Full set o' Anjanath armor! Get workin' mates!"
"Hraaah!" They yelled alongside him with excitement as they each grabbed a pile of material and sent it along the production line. Some of it went into the smelter, some was worked on the anvils and other parts were cut into shape to be attached to the armor.
So many processes were happening in front of me that I couldn't possibly follow it all.
Sullivan got up from his stool at the conveyor belt and limped over to the anvil as he used his hammer as a crutch. Once he was there though, he showed no sign of weakness and worked the glowing steel and hardened scales with his hammer to bang them into shape. He was obviously the man who put the perfect finishing touches on the pieces.
The glowing hot parts were thrown into a pool of water before finally being placed on the conveyor belt where they rolled along and ended up in front of me.
The three men wiped their sweat from their foreheads but apparently Sullivan wasn't quite done. He pulled an array of levers and a metal grappling arm shot down to pick up a pile of bones which it swiftly threw into a large melding pot. I could hear grinding and hammering from the enormous apparatus. Sullivan went back behind the machinery and his hammering emanated throughout the echoing room.
When he returned, while he leaned on his hammer, in his other hand he held a pair of rectangular bone blades, one edge of them deftly sharpened and the other edge dull but tipped with spikes. The handle was wrapped in a mix of Anjanath scales and black, bristly fur.
My mouth hung open as I watched Sullivan put those gorgeous looking blades next to my armor and shot me a satisfied smile as he gruntingly sat back down on his stool. "Haaaa… I reckon this should serve ya a lot better than that flimsy stuff yer usin'."
I had to smack my lower jaw to put it back into place. "I… I think you're right there!" I slid my hand over the amazing, smooth chest plate and the neck fur that decorated it. The pink scales blended incredibly well with the hardened, polished steel. "You sure know what you're doing old man."
"I don't do half assed jobs, kid. By the way though, ye should know that there's a lot of leftover materials lyin' around now. Whatcha wanna do with that?"
I looked over his shoulder and saw a still plentiful pile of fur and scales. Though at least the bones and fangs seemed to have been used up. "You don't happen to know something about making regular clothes, right?"
His eyebrows raised up a bit in surprise. "What?"
"You know, something that doesn't hinder movement too much that you can wear at any time other than battle but still sturdy enough to keep your body tense. You know… something like a corset?"
"Yer not going drag, kid are ya?"
I immediately waved my hands in front of me. "NO! No! It's not for me! I just need it for a… well I don't really know if I could call her a friend now, but… I need it for her."
Sullivan looked over his shoulder and I could guess from his expression that he was piecing the puzzle together in his mind. "So… that's how ye got so much stuff at once. Ye didn't kill the Anjanath, eh? Ya made her one of yer kind, didn't ya?"
I reluctantly gave up on coming up with an excuse and just told him. "Yeah, she's up in the Gathering Hub with me and Jaina. We've got her locked up right now, but I can't keep her trapped forever. I think she won't cause trouble and if I'm going to set her free, I just… don't want her to have to walk around in rags."
I prepared myself for being berated for bringing an Anjanath into Astera. Lord knows it was a huge risk to take. But instead, Sullivan just leaned back and nodded before he stiffly sat back up again. "Well, I'm not a tailor, kid. These hands are made fer smithin' not sowin'. If ya want though, I can give ya some tools an' some adhesive to make sum yerself."
I cocked my head in honest surprise. "You're… you're not angry about me taking an Anjanath into Astera? Why?"
"Boy I've been through a Volcano shootin' balls of lava at me. As long as ya keep that shit away from me, ye won't hear me complainin'. I have a warnin' fer ya though." He said ominously as he leaned on his legs. "If I ever learnt anythin' from huntin' beasts like those brute wyverns, it's that ye don't get in the way of 'em when they're angry. So if she is anythin' like that, don't stand between 'er and what she's angry about. If yer the thing she's angry about… run."
As his words rang through my head, I defensively dismissed them, although a certain sense of preemptive dread remained. "I… I think she can change that attitude. She is half human now, she can learn to control herself."
Sullivan leaned back with an almost wise smile. "That's the part that got me worried too, boy. How does the saying go? Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." He chuckled to himself as I packed up my remaining material as well as the tools he promised me. Admittedly his words left a dreadful feeling in my stomach, even more so than before. I constantly kept pushing away the thought that Anja could turn out violent, but I became more and more doubtful of my conviction.
I shook my head and tried to put my mind to something else. "Anyways, again thanks for everything, Sullivan. Pleasure doing business with you." I reached over the conveyor to extend my hands to Sullivan.
Which he promptly welcomed with a hearty handshake. "Pleasure's all mine, boy. Look out fer yer rear in the future, alright?"
"I'll sure try, can't make promises on that though."
"Hehehe, see ya later, kid. I have a feelin' I'll see ya plenty a times."
And with that, I grabbed my blades and armor, heading out of the forge, mentally making a tick behind the first order of the day.
Coming out of the forge, I now wore my Anjanath armor. It fit perfectly and even had a slinger attached to it. I guess that it's the standard for armors in the New World. I decided to not wear the helmet for now and placed it in my pouch which apparently contained a portal to infinity by now.
I already knew that the second order wouldn't take nearly long and then there was only one thing left to do.
As I left the forge, I looked for a quiet, cool place to refresh myself after the hot air in the forge and found one on a bridge that led towards the Palico kitchen. Even from here I could smell the sweet stew, roasted steaks and steamed fish. Even just being near this place and without seeing the food, my mouth was already watering.
A massive stone plate roasted over a crackling fire on top of which a posse of cute tiny palicoes prepared meals for the hungry hunters and they were led by what could only be described as a bodybuilder of a Palico. He wore a red bandana, a cooking apron and one of his eyes had a deep scratch running over it. I looked down at my own body and almost had to laugh at myself. "If even the palicoes around here are that buff, maybe I have to start working out."
I wandered over to the stone plate, settling down on one of the seats surrounding the platter.
The muscular… excuse me, meowscular chef focused his surprisingly intense eye on me and yelled, sorry again, meowed at me. "Nyan nyan, nyanyan nyan! (Welcome to the kitchen, what are you having today!?)"
"I'm not eating, not here at least. I wanted to make an order though."
"NYANYAN NYAN! NYAN NYAN NYAN? (Meowscular chef is here to satisfy all of our customer's needs! What can I do for you?)" He meowed with startling enthusiasm.
"I need 3 steaks, delivered up to the Gathering Hub. Should be around lunch time now, right?"
"NYANYANNYANYAN! NYAN! (With Meowscular chef it is always lunchtime! We will make it just purrfect!)" Upon hearing this, his smaller friends raised their wooden spoons and spatula's as if they were heading into battle and scrambled around looking for oils, spices and big chunks of meat.
It was amazing to watch them, but as time passed and I noticed that the cooking would take a little bit longer, I used the time to flip through the pages of my notebook.
Most of the pages were still empty, space left for monsters that we haven't yet discovered. There were plenty of entries before that as well though. All the monsters known from the mainland that have been spotted in the New World mixed in among some of the new ones.
"Mernos, Great Jagras, Rathalos, Anja…nath…" I stopped reading as I got to this page because there was a small key stuck to it. I peeled it off and laid it out in the palm of my hand. It had to be something the commander left in there for me, and I could already guess what the key was for.
I raised my head towards the Gathering Hub on top of the mountain and decisively slammed my hand onto the stone table as I got up. "Right! I've put this off for long enough."
I heard the chef call out to me from behind with a confused look on his face and his arms crossed. "Nyanyan? Nyanyan nyan?" (You're leaving? Did we get something wrong?)"
"No, but there's something that needs to finally be done. I'll be around another time!" I paced away from the kitchen, full of energy and determination, before I stopped in my tracks and turned heel. I came back to the table and signaled the chef with an OK sign. "It already smells delicious though." I reassured him and once again turned away, feeling all the confused eyes of the patrons on my back.
And with that awkwardness probably bearing on my mind for eternity, I ascended the stairs up to the Gathering Hub. The long, long stairs. God did I hope that they would soon install those chainlifts.
And here we are.
Well, I didn't get it ALL done yet, but I felt a bit bad to not post anything when I promised it to you, so I split this chapter up into a two-parter. Gearing up Part 2: Electric Boogaloo will be coming out this weekend when I finally ironed out all the things that I want to adjust a bit more. Hopefully until then, I come back to my senses and don't actually call it that.
I hope you enjoyed this one and you're looking forward to the other half of this chapter.
If you did, please follow and favorite me and my stuff and leave a review with your thoughts and suggestions.
A minor thing by the way, something that has absolutely no bearing for now, but I have a question that might come into play at some point. I haven't exactly decided on using a character like that, but if I did introduce a girl that treats Kalaydus kind of like a big brother, should I go full weeb and use the term onii san, or just have her refer to him with big brother and his name?
Like I said, no bearing for now and maybe I'll leave it out completely, I've just been thinking about that for a bit.
That's it for now and I'll see you again, very soon.