There we were again. The Ancient Forest. Don't know if I should've felt fond or cautious of it by that point. Though going in there with the distinct goal to hunt a monster certainly took out at least some of the uncertainty.
Aela was leading the group, though she made it perfectly clear that once the monster was found, she would be out of the picture. I followed right behind her, along with Jaina and Anja.
In regular intervals, Aela crouched down, checking the soil for footprints and shed fur or scales. "Do you have any info on this monster yet? Like color? Traits? Abilities? Wyvern Type?"
"Not much at all actually. We know it's fast and agile. The scouts we sent out claim that they barely caught glimpses of it. It hides in the tops of trees and in high places most people don't normally venture to. It can't be an Apex predator, otherwise it wouldn't hide so much."
"Thought so myself. Most monsters when they're in an area, make their presence known one way or another. Rathalos flies around, Barroth just waltzes around like it owns the place and Deviljho... Deviljho will just find you. This one though really seems to want to stay as far away from us as possible."
"Every monster, no matter how stealthy, still leaves a trail. It's not like creatures that size can hide their tracks that easily." I knelt down to inspect the ground when I saw something shimmering, stuck in a nearby bush. I pulled out a lengthy bushel of hair. It was reflective and had a silvery shine to it but the most striking feature were the little sparks of electricity that permeated between the hairs. It gave off a light static that I could feel even through my padded gauntlets. I looked over my shoulder, turning to Anja and Jaina. "Hey, Anja, Jaina, does this fur seem familiar to you?"
"Not to me. Sorry. I don't go into these deep parts of the forest unless I absolutely have to." Jaina said apologetically, but Anja on the other hand seemed to furrow her brow upon seeing it.
"Very familiar unfortunately. This "Tobi Kadachi" is one of the most annoying, bouncing turf-invaders ever. It uses electricity that collects in its body by rubbing against trees. It doubles as a way to mark territory too. That thing thinks it can rub up on your favorite spots and thinks it owns the place."
"So it uses Thunder based attacks... Anja, if this thing attacks, how do you fight it?"
Anja scratched the back of her head, turning away in embarrassment. "I usually let it hit me first and if I see an opening, I give it a good strike of my own and that's usually enough to scare it off. It's... not a strategy I'd recommend actually. I don't have the size advantage anymore."
"I see..." I stood back up and looked in the direction of the tracks, thinner strands of white hair leading into the brush. But something didn't make sense. The forest would only get more and more dense if you went the way the fur was going towards, meaning there's no way that a monster that big could exit the area through there... "It's still here."
We gazed into the deeper brush, thicker leaves and branches blocking the view, but still, we could hear a rustling sound that quickly changed the directions it was coming from.
"So..." Aela said, getting our attention and specifically addressing me "...now that you've got that much figured out, what's your next move?" She asked with her arms crossed like she was already evaluating me.
I thought for a second, looking back and forth between the dark density of the thicket and my party members. I took in my surroundings and deduced the best course of action. Amidst massive trees and hollow stumps were massive tree fungi growing and all sorts of bugs crawling on them. The fungus seemed sturdy enough to even stand on and among the insects around the area, were flashbugs.
I snapped my fingers in front of my face as I came up with something. "Alright, um... Jaina!"
"Yes, Kalaydus?!" She perked up anxiously.
"Get on the mushroom over there, the one on the tree. Get some high ground and when the monster comes out, take your hammer and slam it down as hard as you can on its head. We need to land every hit as effectively as we can."
"Will do!" She yelped obediently, getting into position while I turned to Anja.
"Anja, with any luck, after Jaina's attack, the Tobi Kadachi will be stunned. Charge your sword for a strike and inflict as much damage as you can while it's down. You take the left side, I'll attack the right."
She quickly answered with a nod "I'm on it." And got on the left side of the mushroom Jaina was standing on as I took position across from her and we unsheathed our weapons. "But how do we get it out in the first place?"
"That's the part where Ae..." Just as I turned to give Aela the final task for this plan to work, she raised her arm straight up and launched her slinger, grappling up to a thick branch and laxly perching on it. It took me a moment to respond. "I take it, you're not gonna be a part of this, huh?" I asked more in realization than annoyance.
"Correct. This is your mission, you know your target. I'm here to judge your abilities. If I helped you, it would taint the evaluation."
I sighed a little to myself, trying to think. "Okay... slight change of plan."
"So what now?" Jaina asked worriedly as I moved from my position, closer to the entrance of the dark underbrush.
I took out a small glass vial and fished a flashbug out of the air with it. I snapped it into my slinger and aimed into the darkness. "Your part stays the same. I'm gonna get it to come out. Fighting it in its own turf would be suicide. You better shield your eyes for this!" I commanded, raising my own free arm to nose-level as I saw the red flashing lights of the monster's eyes glare back at me. "NOW!"
With a cracking sound, the flashpod launched into the deep forest and in an instant, illuminated everything. I saw the flashes of blinding light bend around the contours of my arm as I heard an ear-piercing howl followed by the violent snapping of foliage and stumbling, stomping footsteps that came rapidly closer.
As I lowered my arm, I could just about make out the silhouette of Tobi Kadachi barreling toward me, its eyes closed and its glistening, silver-scaled body barely rushing past. I could feel my heartbeat pulsating through my entire body. It felt like things were happening in slow motion. The beast, a cross between a wolf and a snake, furiously shook its head while its eyes were closed to combat the temporary blindness. Its top scales had a blue-ish, silvery sheen while its underside went into platinum shades of white. Thick, spiky scales made up its hide with a mane of silver bristles on its head, neck and diamond-shaped tail.
As my body fell to the ground, being staggered by the force of the beast running by, I watched it slam into the massive trunk of the tree, just as planned. It was amazing to watch as its head punched a head-sized dent into the bark.
I screamed off the top of my lungs. "Jaina! Anja! Now's your chance. Do it!"
"HYAAHHH!" Jaina squeezed her eyes shut as she charged her hit and swung the hammer over her head, crashing it down onto the unsuspecting monster's skull. The heavy, massive metal boulder sure did its trick alright, making Tobi Kadachi screech even harder and losing its footing from the stunning attack. Maybe it was too effective though.
"Not this way! NOT THIS WAY!" Anja yelled as the staggered monster tumbled towards her, falling over and landing directly on top of her with its entire weight, pinning her legs to the ground.
"ANJA!" I stumbled my way back onto my feet and made a run for the silver creature crushing her beneath it. I grabbed my swords, flipped them around and plunged them into Tobi Kadachi's rib cage. As the monster howled, screeched and squirmed, I twisted the blades until they lodged themselves in between the ribs firmly.
"Master, what are you doing? Save yourself! I can handle this!" She yelled in protest as she struggled to get the massive body off of herself.
Gritting my teeth, I pulled together all the strength I could muster to pull and lift the weight off of Anja. I grunted, my muscles ached and I could feel my joints stretching. "I'm not NRRGHHH... gonna let this be your last move in this fight!"
Finally, I could feel the monster's body lift up slightly. At least enough for Anja to free her legs and get out. My blades lost grip just as my hands lost their strength. They slid out of the Tobi Kadachi's flesh, leaving me to tumble backwards yet again.
Inadvertently, I had helped it get back on its feet... and it was not at all happy about the two rectangular holes I left in its rib cage. Its serpentine eyes focused on me as I kicked the ground to get as far away as I could manage before my back made contact with another tree stump behind me. With me cornered and low on stamina, the creature sensed the opportunity to finish me off for an easy kill.
I hyperventilated, weakly gripping the heft of my swords, not yet strong enough to lift them up in defense.
With a loud screech and a scarily wide open maw, Tobi Kadachi lunged at me, its full body hurling towards me. But then...
"YOU'RE... NOT... EATING... HIM!" I heard a furious scream from the last source I expected it from; Jaina. Again, charging up a swing of her hammer, she had not swung it down but rather lobbed it towards and against the monsters head which, with its massive weight, pulled the monster along with it, crushing its head between the hammer and a nearby tree.
A harsh laceration oozed blood from its forehead. The skull must've cracked in at least one place and it seemed like the monster had a hard time standing upright from the concussion. But instead of weakening it... this only made it more angry.
Its breath quickened and its sharp eyes locked onto Jaina. It was easy to see that its anger had shifted to her and it was out for blood.
With a mad dash it now careened towards Jaina. I was helpless, watching as she shielded her face with her arms, defenseless and unarmed.
"NOT HER EITHER!" A war cry shook the forest as Anja stepped in to give cover to Jaina, standing tall like a fortress with the side of her greatsword shielding the two of them.
She stood bravely, both of the girls bracing for impact and digging their claws into the ground. But as if having changed its mind in the last second, the Tobi Kadachi didn't attack, but used the firmly placed blade as a stepping stone to jump onto the side of the tree trunk before it started wildly scrubbing its body over it.
My eyes shot open in shock as I reached out. "It's a trick! Get away from the tree!"
Just as the words left my mouth, the Tobi Kadachi charged up an insane amount of electrical energy, seemingly storing it in its fur which was steadily spiking up as it filled with electricity.
The girls didn't immediately move, in shock as they looked over their shoulders. I yanked at their collars, pulling them away from there as the monster crashed down its tail, causing an explosion of shock where it impacted. The ground was charred where it was struck and for a few seconds, the energy hovered in the air over it.
Tobi Kadachi was now seemingly going into a desperate flurry, making up for the hits it had taken earlier. Just like someone whose hair got charged up by friction, its fur stood up, giving it an even more imposing appearance. It didn't slow down either, charging after us right away as we tried to get some distance between us and it.
"Shit! Okay, new plan!"
"What are we supposed to do, Kalaydus?"
"What?!" Jaina asked in surprise as we ran.
"NOW!" I yelled as I threw myself onto the ground, twisting my body so I'd land on my back, with Jaina and Anja doing the same shortly after. I lifted my blades slightly above my head with the tips pointing upwards from the ground. As the Tobi Kadachi ran over me, given its unstoppable momentum, my swords hooked into its flesh, dragging me along with it, hanging from its underside.
With Anja and Jaina landing slightly to the left and right to where the monster was running past, they instead hooked their claws into the upper front legs on either side. "What are we doing? This is suicide!" Anja cried out as we were wildly shaken around.
"Just wait for an opportunity to get onto its back!"
"But..." Jaina wanted to intervene.
"Just trust me! I have a plan!"
"A good one?"
"Not at all!"
The beast, even more annoyed with us hanging off of it, got onto its hind legs, twisting and turning its body to shake us off. We stuck as close to the monsters body as we could, me clinging to the grips of my swords and the girls clamoring for something to dig their claws into. With our bodies being flung about like that, we had to take advantage of the momentum and I gave the order. "Loosen your grip and let it fling you around its body. Grab onto its back hairs."
"But they're electrified! We're going to get fried!"
"We don't have a choice, Anja!"
Reluctantly, the girls shut their eyes, swinging around the monster's body and onto its back. One by one we each grabbed bushels of hair with our 6 hands right next to each other as we attached ourselves to its body yet again.
Immediately, the current coursed through our bodies, stifling our muscles and causing spasms in our bodies. We grit our teeth, bearing with it as we fought the burning pain. Our combined weight was heavy enough to keep Tobi Kadachi grounded and from further squirming around too much. It was wheezing, drool dripping from its maw.
While being shocked, I wrung out my order. "We need to deal the maximum amount of damage while... nrrgrghhhhhh... we can! Anja..." Was the last word I could push out my throat, gesturing with my eyes at Anja's greatsword.
She unsheathed it with unsteady hands, gritting her teeth as every fiber of her body must've ached and refused to do what it was supposed to do. Me and Jaina put our hands on top of Anja's gripping the hilt of the sword.
Screaming through the pain, we pushed the great sword in between its shoulder blades, penetrating its fur and hide until it was buried halfway in its flesh.
Already weak and out of power, the Tobi Kadachi staggered and collapsed until its body went limp and the electricity fizzled out.
Our bodies were smoking and our armor charred at the edges. Just as limp as the monster itself, we fell off its back, rolling down onto the soft grass. With the monster lying next to us, just as exhausted and hurt as we were, we could finally relax. Thankfully, it was still breathing yet with the sword in its back, that couldn't have been easy to do.
"We... we did it... hehe... ahahahaha!" I started laughing, exhausted and wheezing, but still laughing. Jaina and Anja at first turned to me in bewildered confusion but soon started to crack up themselves.
"We really did, huh? Our first captured monster as a team..." Jaina chuckled, breathing sighs of relief.
"You haven't captured it yet!" A strict, harsh voice called out to us. Aela had gotten off her vantage point and gave us no rest. "It's still breathing and I don't see it turning into anything resembling the two of you!" She motioned towards Jaina and Anja. "So do whatever you gotta do to make that happen first before you start praising yourself!" And finally she pointed at me, looming over my tired body and lightly kicking me in the side so I would get up.
"Urgh... you're right, making it suffer longer than it needs to would just be cruel."
"It's not about cruelty, I just don't want to be out here longer than we need to be. I couldn't care less about how the monster feels about it, I just want to go back to camp already. Let's be time-efficient about this."
A little annoyed at her attitude, I turned my mind to something else. I sidled up to the head of the creature, its head on its side and its serpentine eyes looking up at me as soon as I came into view. Its breathing was ragged and partially gurgle-y.
I put its head on my lap, gently lifting it onto it while I petted the bristles on its head, which were no longer filled with the static from before. "You fought well, really went all out on us there, didn't you. You sure are a fighter. A clever one too."
In between its heavy breaths, I could hear a soft grumbling. Whether it was from aggression or affection, I couldn't tell. What I could tell was that it was uncomfortably in pain.
"Anja, could you remove your sword, please?"
"Certainly, master." She answered promptly and did as instructed.
Tobi Kadachi grunted for a second as the steel left its body but soon after sunk down into a more relaxed state, though still breathing heavily. "Don't worry, I'll make the pain go away. I hope you'll feel at home in our team as you did in this forest." I took out my sword and calmly guided it to its throat, making sure not to startle it with rash movements.
"You're gonna cut its throat? If you were gonna kill it from the start, why not just..."
"Shhh..." Jaina suddenly interrupted and silenced her with an uncharacteristically stern look and head-shake at Aela who was slightly startled by it but obliged with a stifled groan.
As with Jaina and Anja before, the blade didn't actually cut through the flesh, but rather glided through the body without leaving a trace. I dragged it through its entire neck, gently pulling it back out after I hit the ground with it.
It was sufficient enough and soon after, the body hollowed out, leaving an empty hide as the life left the former monster's eyes. I gave it a few minutes to settle and called on the girls to cut open what was left of the body.
Inside the remains, laid a slender girl with an athletic body, slightly pale skin and dazzling, frizzy, long silver hair even longer than Anja's and Jaina's. It was long enough to even transition into the elongated, diamond-shaped tail that was growing out of her lower back which was covered in fur on top that was indistinguishable from the rest of her hair. Her arms and legs just like the others' were covered in scaled and ended in claws rather than hands or feet.
I lifted her out of there, making sure not to wake her up. She needed her rest probably even more so than Anja or Jaina did.
"So... this is how you do it, huh?" Aela inquired as she inspected the girl.
"Yeah, that's what happened when I fought against Anja and Jaina. She needs to recover now before she can get up again. Her mind needs time to get used to her new body."
"Interesting indeed. Heh, you might've just made our job of capturing monsters a lot easier. This... is far more manageable. Haaa... well now that I've gotten a taste of this new world, guess it's not too different from the old one. Hope you'll manage to keep it interesting for me. We'll be working with each other for a while after all." She said, stretching her arms.
"I uh... guess I'll do my best? So what now? We've finished our mission, should we get back? Don't you want to carve anything from the Tobi Kadachi?"
"Those are your spoils rookie. You've earned them yourself. Though..." She turned to me with a strict tone. "...there is still the matter of your evaluation. Once you are finished here... meet me in Astera." And with those foreboding words, she let out a whistle, calling in a Barnos to carry her back to camp and left.
"Did we... mess up, Kalaydus?" Jaina asked carefully, as Anja's eyes seemed to ask the same question.
I smiled softly and before I even realized it myself, I was pulling in both girls to give them a firm hug. With their heads on my shoulders, I could feel their warmth as I squeezed them. "No, you did nothing wrong, girls. You did exactly what you should've done. I'm... You did good."
I didn't even have to look, to feel the relief and joy radiating from them as they squeezed me back.
"M...master..." Anja muttered, resting her head on my shoulder while her claw grabbed onto my back along with Jaina's.
"You looked out for each other and you hit when you were supposed to. It's thanks to you guys that we even won. If anything... I owe you." I spoke softly next to their ears, petting both of their heads at the same time, gently combing my hands through their hair.
"We owe you much more, master. You're the one who'se given us a purpose to begin with." Anja said, humbly lowering her head and closing her eyes.
"She said it. We're glad to be by your side, Kalaydus. You can count on us anytime." Jaina pumped a hyped-up fist, cheering us all on.
"Heh, guess I will have to many more times then." I chuckled, breathing out another sigh, not being able to believe how lucky I got with these two. Guess the luck isn't showing any sign of drying up either.
Lost in thought, my eyes wandered to the new, sleeping girl. I already wondered what she would be like. Would she accept becoming human like Anja and Jaina did or would she reject it?
Only time would tell, but for now...
"Well then... guess we'll have to carry her and the materials back to Astera now..."
"Haaaaaa..." And we all let out the final, exhausted sigh of the day.
I took quite a long time to come out with this one and this time it's been on me. Not only have I been busy dealing with people who stole and reposted my stuff...
but to be honest, I have been ABSORBED by a game called Persona 5. It just ate up a lot of my time and it was hard to tear myself away from it. So much so that I even considered doing a full on romance series about it. Let me tell you, that game has some top-tier characters, let alone waifus.
We'll see if I actually go through with it but for now, this has been a refreshing return to form.
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Until hopefully soon,