Sky Render - Regal_Eagle - Monster Hunter (Video Games) [Archive of Our Own] (2024)

Chapter 1: Departure

Chapter Text

This story now has a cover, enjoy!

The first couple of days of travel were the hardest.

It was when they had to follow the coast and keep in sight of the land, albeit at a great distance, and it likely could be the last they saw from the Old World for the unluckiest of them. But for Valen? It was then that he realized that he was truly leaving everything behind. But on the other hand… What reasons did he have to stay? Nikki was coming with him and would go wherever he went. He was an orphan, his family all but gone since a very young age. The only hunting team he was a part of was reduced to a crippled member that could only do paperwork… Aki was the only one left that Valen truly cared for. He also had some modicum of respect for His Immenseness but it wasn’t enough to make him try to come back. No, he was right, going to the New World was the best decision and one that he would have taken himself even if it hadn’t been forced on him.

It was why the first couple days Valen simply stayed at the railing, the sailors busy around him, in his civilian clothing, and simply stared at the faraway land. He ignored any attempts the other hunters made to chat with him, however rude it may have seemed… Valen didn’t care at the moment, and eventually, after a few hours on the first day, they finally understood that they simply needed to leave him alone and did so. He only exchanged a couple of words with Adem when the Felyne asked if he could mingle with his kind, which Valen had no objections with.

However, Valen was also not only staring at the distant land… He occasionally glanced at the sky above, hoping to see a red trail, a sign that a friend was above and that he would not be left to continue alone. But as he also suspected, no signs were visible on these first couple of days.

So it continued… At least until the morning of the third day, when one of the sailors announced that they finally were leaving the coast for good and going into open seas. At that announcement, there was a large rush as seemingly the whole contingent of hunters onboard accumulated on the railing, and all of them looked at the disappearing land… Some had tears in their eyes, others smiles at the last sight of their homeland, and a multitude of other emotions. But one expression prevailed, visible on almost every face: hope. The hope for a better future and the excitement of the lands to come.

Everybody stayed until the land finally disappeared in the waves, and a resounding cheer erupted throughout the ship. Valen closed his eyes and took a deep breath. This was it, now there would be nothing but an open ocean around them… And it was the true start to a journey that would last weeks. The captain couldn’t give them an estimated date, as they might have to hold station on the ocean until the one Elder they were following showed itself. The Elder was the reason the Guild decided to send five ships full of hunters to the New World: Zorah Magdaros.

This Elder looked like a gigantic mountainous turtle, carrying a large shell of rock on its back, with lava occasionally flowing from openings on its back called magma cores. The Guild was keeping an eye on it since it was known to be non-hostile and didn’t attack ships or hunters unless provoked. However, its wandering patterns shifted recently and it was soon confirmed that this Elder would make the Elder’s Crossing.

So the goal of the Fifth Fleet was to follow Zorah Magdaros to the New World, recording all unusual behavior, and trying to understand the reason it was going through with it. The phenomenon was still shrouded in mystery even after centuries of it occurring, so the Research Commission wanted to solve it once and for all, and they knew that this occurrence might be it, as the means granted for it were nothing short of staggering. Never has there been so many hunters sent all in one place before, and a large part of them were hunters that had proven themselves on the fields, having hunted monsters such as Rathalos, Lagiacrus, and other kinds of Apex-tier wyverns…

The only caveat that was asked from all of them? That they left their armor and weapons back in the old world… The stated reason was that it was to better understand the differences between an Old World monster and the New World version of that same monster, as some differences had been reported, that went through different feelings in the armors. However, Valen was granted an exception… The simplest reason given was that there was nothing that he could craft there that would match his current armor and weapon, and that he had a different role, he would still help in the investigation certainly… But he was mostly here as a safeguard against any threat to the whole colony that may arise.

It was while reminiscing about this that Valen noticed that the number of people that were remaining on the upper deck had dwindled to almost nothing. Somebody coughed to his side, and Valen saw Aiden leaning on the railing near him.

“Having lingering doubts? Thinking about what you’re leaving behind?”

“… Yes at first, but now? No, I’m simply enjoying the moment… As much as I mingled with them, I don’t enjoy crowds. I prefer to be in the wilderness, accompanied by only Adem.”

Aiden hummed then replied. “Yeah, I can understand… The Frenzy Vanquisher was kind of the same. You may know that the Ace Hunters traveled with him for a while on that fateful Caravan. He tended to keep to himself, though when we truly needed him to debrief or to solve the traveling patterns of the Magala, he did not hesitate to help us. I kind of miss him though, he was a Gnarlycuga hunter.”

“I’ve heard his feats while I was still learning things… He truly rose to the occasion when we needed him. His rise was meteoric.”

“Like yours Valen. Believe it or not, you came out of nowhere and managed a feat few hunters ever did. And I knew one of them. People love you too, you’re a down-to-earth guy and do not lord over us the rest of us.”

Valen scratched the left side of his face, the flesh still itching him from time to time. “I’m glad then. I’ve been trying so hard to not be like some of what I met at Dundorma that I guess I knew what not to do.”

“I can understand, I’ve met the type a couple of times while I was with Julius. I could see they were trying to bother me but didn’t dare with my master nearby. In a sense I was lucky Julius found me, he made sure that I was not trampled by the ugly part of the Guild… It was also why I insisted over him that I leave the Ace Hunters to go with this ship. I want to make sure the Research Commission does not become like the current-day Guild. I want to make sure we are keeping it to our objective. Julius supported me in that endeavor.”

“And I will support you in that. I feel like things have become… bad… in the Guild recently, and I needed to leave it all behind. Though I sometimes wonder if that’s also admitting they have won..”

“That might be true. But also remind yourself that they will all fade into obscurity one day in the future. You are already immortalized among the great Legends of the Guild. So in essence you have already won, they simply were throwing tantrums and raging at your success.”

Valen looked at Aiden for a moment, then he nodded. “You are right. Thank you Aiden, I needed to hear that.”

“You’re welcome, Valen! Should we get to the amazing party down below?”

“I… Am not sure, I don’t like crowds. Always avoided these kinds of parties.”

“Wait. Are you telling me you have never participated in a Hunter party?”

The silence from Valen following this question was enough of an answer.

“Okay, that won't do, now you’re coming with me!” Aiden immediately said and started dragging Valen by his sleeve.

“Aiden, what are you doing?”

“Making sure you’re going to have a good time!” He said with a huge grin.

Valen tried to resist, before giving up, Aiden’s grip was strong and he wasn’t wearing his armor to overpower him with sheer mass. Besides, what was the worst that could happen?

A splitting headache was what greeted Valen the following morning, and he tried to open his eyes, only to close them immediately later with a groan. This light was coming from the window almost feeling like it would blind him. And even when he had his eyes closed, the light that he could perceive through his eyelids felt like it was too much already.

So he suffered in silence, still with the headache pounding on his head, until he felt good enough to have his eyes open without everything hurting.

Adem was looking at him from the bottom of his bed, looking smug. “There you are Meowster! You sure made yourself meown yesterday!”

His mind still working like it was coated in honey, Valen did not understand the Felyne’s remark, as the memories of what happened the previous evening seemed like a blur going too fast for him to process it. It was getting clearer by the second though, and he dreaded what he would realize once his mind was good enough to remember.

“Ugh, remind me to never drink that much at Hunter parties again… not an enjoyable experience.” The spots that were dancing around the bedroom finally disappeared and he was able to get up from the bed, not without groans though.

“A bath is ready for you to clean yourself, and the Captain requested your presence.”

His mind was good enough to process subconsciously, and Valen nodded automatically to the cat, his body leading him to the bathroom to clean himself.

Half an hour later, Valen no longer felt like he was wading through Honey, and with a fresh set of clothes, he went to the upper deck. He still didn’t know what happened the previous night, and only one thing: he drank way too much beer… And it felt like a dare? He wasn’t certain what happened and that scared him. He had never been drunk before and he feared that he had already revealed something about Nikki. Though since Adem didn’t seem panicked he hoped that it was simply that he embarrassed himself. The Felyne felt way too smug for nothing to have happened.

So he joined the Captain at the ship’s stern, who was looking ahead with binoculars. The sails were furled on all the ships, as they were now waiting for a sign of the Elder they would follow.

Once Valen approached the Captain enough, he turned around, clipping his binoculars on his belt. “Hunter Valen.”

“Captain. You called for me?”

“Yes. I’ve heard of your… Escapade the previous night, and wanted to ask if that will be a regular occurrence?”

Valen stared at the captain in surprise, which was noticed, and he simply shook his head. “I’d first need to know what in the name of the Sapphire Star I did , my memory of the night is… nonexistent.”

The Captain smiled, which scared Valen. “I guess you already paid the price of your foolishness then? For your information, you challenged our resident toughest sailor to a drinking contest, after already having way too many beers in your system.”

Valen blanched. “… Tell me I lost.”

A booming laugh erupted from the Captain, which still grated on his ears. “No! That’s the thing! You won! You outdrank the one we thought could never lose a drinking contest, you passed out right after he did, but you still won! The crew is in awe at your tenacity and respect for you. They collectively asked me to demand you reveal your secret.”

“You want the truth? I never went to a party like this. And never was drunk in my life before… I don’t plan to ever do it again, to be frank… Anything else I said that will follow me to the end of my days?”

“Nah, the tale of your Valstrax hunt that people know you for attracted the whole ship's attention though. I believe nobody here heard it before, so they were glued to your lips throughout, for having heard part of it, you are a great storyteller. Ya kept me on my toes the whole time, though I could feel some parts were exaggerated, I mean, who would be crazy enough to cling to a Valstrax while it tried to fly in the sky? But that’s how all Hunter stories go, they never tell it twice the same, and some details change, heck I’ve often heard them retell a hunt with them using the wrong weapon, in the wrong place, or even that they ended up knocked out or failing it while they overcame their opponent.” He shook his head. “You Hunters are all crazy, but the rest of us folk simply need to get used to your antics… And do you think you’ll repeat your show?”

“I definitely won’t, and I’ll make sure somebody gets this message,” Valen said while sending a very pointed look at the Felyne who was smirking on his shoulder. “Was there anything else?”

“How good is your sight? Because we need somebody that can help at the vulture nest, and given your experience, I’m sure you are used to scanning your surroundings, skies included.”

“Pretty good I’d say, my old companions were always surprised that I was able to spot something from far away… I wouldn’t mind that actually, that’d give me something to do in my days.”

The Captain nodded. “Good, I’ll send your schedule once we determine it with the others in the rotation. Also, Aiden wants to talk with you, and that’s not about your antics he assured me.”

Valen tilted his head “Oh? I’ll go see him then, not often do people want to talk with me, with how intimidating I am.” He lightly tapped on the scarred side of his face. “But I guess Aiden also is hard to impress with what he is known for. Thank you, captain, I’ll see what Aiden wants.” The Captain nodded in response.

Valen went to one of the rooms below deck, where Aiden was supposedly waiting. He found the red-haired hunter perusing his hunting book when he entered and immediately put a bookmark on it before closing it and placing it on the table. “Valen! Have you recovered from yesterday?”

“Could be better but I’ll be fine. You wanted to see me for something?”

He nodded. “Yes. As we all know, we may as well be the most experienced hunters in this whole fleet. Even though everyone else was deemed an ‘A-Lister’, that only means that they all faced most apex-tier monsters… None of them faced Elders besides the two of us. However, that doesn’t mean I want to be the leader of the whole fleet.”

Valen raised an eyebrow “And you want to know if I do?”

“More like I would suggest we let them prove themselves. One of them will surely rise above the rest and prove the natural skill they possess. After all, we shouldn’t make it too easy for them!”

A chuckle was the answer for Valen. “Don’t worry, I’m not planning on stealing their thunder. I mostly would have taken the place of a teacher or guide most of the time… But above all, my goal is to explore the wilderness myself with Adem. Due to the low number of hunters that reside in Astera and the priority given to building a permanent outpost in it, the territories were explored only by a scant few hunters. So I’ll take that role and find everything of interest I can.”

“That sounds like a good idea! I planned to mostly teach my tricks, as you may know, that I can wield all of the weapons! I’m Gnarlycuga like that!”

“Yeah, you’re known as a jack of all trades for sure. I only know the basics of the other weapons, Switch Axe is what I wield and I’ll keep it until I cannot anymore.” He sighed. “To be honest, we are kind of encouraged to stick with one weapon too, given how expensive it is to pay the smith with. How you managed to get as many sets as you did, I’ll never know.”

Aiden smirked. “Let’s just say that Lucius helped me in that regard. Also Valen. Don’t stay cooped in your room, party with us a bit, I know you are used to working alone, but you should enjoy yourself while you’re here!”

“… I’ll try. No more drinking contests though, yesterday was enough for me.”

A laugh was the response by Aiden. And Valen tipped his head before heading out of the room.

After he went back to the upper deck, he was instructed by the Captain that while they finished the schedule for the vulture’s nest, he could go up there, so that he could get used to it.

The climb up to it took him a bit, and the ship's rolling was actually very noticeable once up there, but Valen got his sea legs a long time ago, and he kind of enjoyed sea travel. He found a comfortable position and started scanning the surroundings. Once he confirmed nothing could be seen besides the sea and the other ships, he looked at the azure sky only dotted with a few clouds and smiled. He always loved to see the color the sky showed, the pure blue was always refreshing in his eyes.

He missed Nikki and wondered how hard it would be to spend so many weeks without her presence… The longest he had spent without meeting her was barely a month, and that was after she started showing herself above Dundorma. But now? She wouldn’t be able to stay above the ocean to follow him, which means that she most likely will cross it on one single trip. He simply hoped she would do alright without him… Because he knew that they cared for each other.

Chapter 2: Absence

Notes:

I’m sorry I didn’t post last week, the first part of this chapter I struggled to write… However the second part flowed out almost completely in one go, and I’m proud of it! I hope you’ll enjoy this chapter, have a nice read!
Thanks to The Chronomancer for betaing this chapter once again.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Valen looked over the horizon, scanning the endless ocean spanning all around the ship, broken only by the handful of ships escorting the one he was sailing on. Being in the revolture’s nest was considered a boring job, one where you only had to look around and spot threats to the ship. But Valen had grown fond of the job, it allowed him to distract his mind from the happenings on the ship. The other hunters mostly traded exaggerated stories of their hunts. This always gathered attention, Valen came to realize, hunting stories seemingly in high demand.

He was encouraged to tell the story of how he fell the Valstrax once again, and Valen obliged, being sober this time around to not distort the tale too much. Both times it seemed like the whole ship was in the room, staying quiet in respect just to let the story unfold, though they booed when he described the confrontation with the elite hunters, oohed when the Valstrax crashed and the ground, and gasped when Valen managed to jump on its back while it was rocketing forwards. And he then cheered once he had dealt the finishing blow.

Still, it was with all these evenings that Valen realized what he was missing by not going to hunter parties, that feeling of camaraderie, where other hunters respected your feats, even though they may not be as big as what they had done themselves because Hunting was not a job that could be done by one person… It was a community effort, and this was what these parties represent, the collective might of the hunters.

He smiled while reminiscing the nights. The other hunters learned to respect his distances, as he didn’t want to be mobbed constantly, which is why he enjoyed being on watch duty. He had spotted a Lagiacrus looking around once, and it stared for a bit at their fleet, Valen raised the alarm this time, but it seemed like it had realized it wasn’t a fight it could win and simply swam away.

However one thing worried Valen, it was the fact that even though he wasn’t officially part of the fifth fleet, he had been informed that he was still required to find a Handler. A handler’s job was to fill in the paperwork for the hunter and manage their belongings while he was on the hunt. They also took charge of the research aspect of the commission, recording everything unusual and drawing the maps that would be used to navigate around.

He had heard how much more paperwork was required for the hunters at Astera, given that they needed to learn anything they could about the new continent. He could deal with it, sure, but there were also enough Handlers for every Hunter that was on the fleet, and he did not really want to be saddled with somebody he didn’t like. So he believed he would have to try to find somebody tolerable while he could.

Adem tapped him on the shoulder breaking him of his reverie and pointed in the distance. Valen squinted. He could see something but wasn’t sure what, so he pulled out his binoculars and looked through them, and he smiled. There was boiling water towards there, which meant that the target of their fleet, Zorah Magdaros, was keeping its heading.

They never actually saw the Elder yet, only the result of its passage. The water was deep enough for him to be fully submerged while he swam towards the New World; they could only confirm his presence by the boiling water that he created as he swam.

The scant reports that were done of it while it was still on land were that it was massive, but they yet had to see it for themselves. They knew some Elders existed that were bigger than anything else they knew, the chief example being Dalamadur, the snakelike Elder being long enough to wrap itself around a small mountain. Lao Shan Lung was the most famous example though, the Mountain Elder was able to make the earth shake with each step while it traveled around. The few individuals that were known were kept track of, as it was the Elder that was the easiest to find.

Valen noted the direction he saw the bubbles, and started climbing down from his vantage point. He needed to report this to the captain so that they could be sure they kept the correct heading. The rope ladder was now familiar to him, and he deftly climbed down, the action not unnoticed by the Captain, who nodded to the pilot and went to wait for Valen at the bottom of it.

“Any news?”

“I spotted some steam bubbles, we are deviating a bit, but still keeping the correct trajectory.”

“Good. Your shift’s over anyway, you’re free to do whatever you want. Tell me the heading before you go too, a small deviation may not look like much, but after a long time, it has a huge impact, and it takes time to correct.”

Valen nodded and gave the exact headings he had spotted the signs. The Captain then thanked the hunter and went to the Pilot so he could steer the boat.

The Hunter descended to the lower deck, where some hunters were chatting animatedly. One of them, a brown-haired woman that he knew wielded an Insect Glaive, was one of the few hunters in the fleet who already had a Palico companion. Said Palico, named Flighty, was… in one word? Hyper. She never sat still and always seemed to fidget, and even Adem admitted that he struggled to handle her, before shaking his head and saying that after hearing about her tales, he knew she was not to be underestimated, doing her best to make the task easier for her partner hunter.

Said Hunter was called Raphaëlle, and though she only took down a Rathian, Valen seemed to recognize some talent in her and would not be surprised if she grew into a fine hunter. The limited ground available on the boat meant that the only way hunters kept sharp on it was a dedicated room where they could wail on dummies all they wanted. However, there were restrictions like a couple of Gunlance wielders that were ordered to not use any shelling at all. It also extended to Valen, but it wasn’t like it was something that was needed for his Switch Axe. Besides he would crash into walls well before he started to decelerate.

He passed by the table of hunters, only acknowledging them with a nod, before joining Aiden who was sitting in one of the corners of the room.

“Valen! Finished your turn at the watch?”

“I did, found some steam bubbles” Valen nodded. “So I know we’re in the correct direction. Haven’t noticed anything else.”

“Eh, I still remember the Lagiacrus incident. Everybody was on edge then!”

“I’m glad, it shows that not all monsters are bloodthirsty beasts, and some simply live their lives… Any news you got from our companions?”

“Just a hot-head claiming to have downed a Chameleos while only wearing Wroggi gear. Yes, it might offer protection from its poison but not… From everything else. Besides, he also claimed he had tracked the Elder after finding it passing by a village in a record time.”

Valen chuckled. “Indeed, those quirky things are hard to track, what with their ability to simply… disappear. Besides, it's not like it wouldn’t fly.” He frowned. “I’ve rarely heard about Chameleos attacks by the way. They only seem to steal from lone hunters or merchant convoys.”

“You’re right, they tend to keep to themselves. And are curious beasts. The only one I heard about that attacked a village was apparently in pain and had been attacked by something else. They, along the Kirin, are the most tame Elders.”

“We mostly hear about Kushalah and Teostra right? Doesn’t surprise me, these are plenty aggressive.”

“You might say… That they’re Toasting their competition!” said Aiden with a wide smile.

Valen groaned. “How do you keep coming with these?”

“I simply do! My old party said it was an acquired taste!”

Shaking his head, Valen said. “I can imagine…” He looked out the window. “I’ve got time to kill, should we get to the training area?”

“Suits me! I’ll find you there!” Aiden said while he sat up, he needed to grab his weapon, keeping it in his room as he didn’t need to carry it with him while on the boat.

Valen and Aiden spent the rest of the afternoon training together, fluidly alternating between motions on the training dummies. Aiden having chosen to use a Sword and Shield this time, the light weapon allowing him to stay nimble and partially deflect attacks. Valen proved he was almost able to keep up with him however, his mastery of the Switch Axe built over the years showcased by the fluid motions he displayed, to the awe of the other hunters.

The two hunters gathered quite a crowd, as they usually did when training, which cheered on the two of them, though Valen did use the occasion to give some tips about his weapon for the other Switch Axe users, and some general tips. Aiden however, due to his jack-of-all-trades status, gladly helped everybody who had some trouble with some part of a weapon. Both hunters had long since gained the respect of the whole ship for their willingness to share their experience.

They parted after the meal shared with every other hunter, tired but satisfied from a good day.

Thunderous steps, terrified screaming, and trailing saliva filled Valen’s senses. Everything he felt, heard, and saw was focused on one thing. The Yellow-Scaled beast. The Enemy. He knew this was what led him to a pitiful childhood, knowing they were goneGone before he was able to remember them.

He only knew that they cared for him, that they would love and shelter him until he was ready, but they were taken before it was time. As well as everybody he then knew. He saw houses crumble, splinter, and tear. Fire, a force that was normally tamed in the village, now growing rampant and uncontrolled everywhere, its great hunger devouring everything in its path. Blood, the crimson red liquid that was the lifeforce of beings, now spilled everywhere, its meaning unquestionable. Smoke emitted by the rampant fire now collected near the ground, giving the whole scene a hazy appearance, as if it wasn’t the normal proceeding of Life, as if it didn’t belong.

Then suddenly a gigantic form shifted. It looked around and immediately seemed to zero on the observer, who simply couldn’t move, fear stopping him utterly, as if his mind refused to acknowledge the reality. Yellow, dirtied scales were what he could see, with some glint of blue. A gigantic maw lined of razor-sharp teeth as long as his forearm, and a thickly built tail, that would break every bone in his body should it smash him. The Enemy had now spotted him and seemed to enjoy his fear. It raised its head high, and after taking a deep breath, roared, a concussive force that smashed into him and knocked him on his ass. It saw him helpless, and it delighted into it, savoring the moment.

Taking deliberate steps, it approached slowly, small thumps shaking the ground with every footstep, betraying the sheer mass of the creature. The observer tried to back away, but the fear paralyzed his legs too much to stand up, causing him to backpedal away on the ground, shuffling away. Even then, the terror didn’t increase its pace, still deliberately approaching. This action betrayed its intelligence… And the sheer joy it took into the act, it knew it had obliterated every life in the village, save the observer. It knew it had destroyed every building, rendering the attempts to rebuild too costly to be attempted. And now it was about to extinguish the final soul of the settlement, rendering it void of its inhabitants.

Now the observer could not back away anymore, a wall blocking the only path away from his nightmare. And it was close now, and in attack range.

And thus it stopped, and simply stared at him, from malevolent eyes that only spoke of a wish to harm, to destroy, because its internal pain was too great, that others had to suffer the same. It opened its maw, glistening drool coming out of it into drops that splashed next to him. He was so close he could smell its breath, a mix of rot, smoke, and blood that made him gag. But he couldn’t retch, every muscle of his body now frozen in fear that a twitch would cause the other to react… Save one. His heart, so important to his life, now thundered stronger than ever. Every beat reverberated through his bones.

Thump, and the enemy growled a deep sound that made his skeleton shake.

Thump, it approached one more step, the head now directly above him.

Thump, a deep exhale washed over him, making the potent smell even stronger.

Thump, it reared back, like a serpent coiling back to strike, and he knew it the moment he dreaded most was coming.

Thump, a flash of movement, a blur, and the empty void that was its maw encompassed his being, and a scream built up into his being, and he released it, as he knew it was now over. The sound reverberated back from the surroundings to him.

He knew it was over, he knew it was only his wounded mind that could not go over the fear, the event, but the panic that had settled into him refused to acknowledge that fact, gripping him like a vice that refused to release him, that did not allow to move on. He had lost everything to that event, and he would remember it forever more, now that it realized that the one that would protect him was no longer here to guard him, it came back with a vengeance, paying him back for all the years where he was sheltered.

He panted, drawing in quick, shallow breaths, ineffective in calming his raging heart, breaths that would not allow his rational mind to come back. His surroundings moved, regularly, like he wasn’t in a natural place, like he wasn’t in a safe place. There was a weight on his belly, at first he was scared that it was his enemy, but then it was anything but. It wasn’t oppressive… But gentle, comforting, it wanted him to return, to know that it was over. At first, his panicked mind glossed over this fact, but then a flash of memory came to him, of instructions drilled into him. His subconscious latched on to it and his body reacted.

The quick breaths stopped and he filled his lungs in their entirety, one long breath as deep as he could… And released it all in an instant, the air rushing out. The panic lessened a bit, and he was now aware of wood, though it was hard to perceive with the surrounding darkness.

Another deep inhalation, as far as he could draw, and he released it again, the explosive exhale steadying his heart the panic was now far less present, but it still latched on it, still clang on him, like it wanted him to know there was still danger, that it was inescapable, but the details around him sharpened, he now felt that he wasn’t on hard ground, but covered by soft material, two orbs was staring at him, and not with anger and hostility… They were full of concern, of safety.

Finally, a third, final intake of air, that while it was filled, seemed to lighten his head, finally making it realize everything was in his mind, that it wasn’t real, that it was only his imagination, and the panic almost desperately clung on, it didn’t want to come back.

He blew all his air out, in a sharp moment, and with it, all of the trauma that had bubbled up washed away, Valen finally knowing that it was over. That he was no longer young, that he was no longer defenseless. The blurry image he had before now had sharpened, and he could see Adem resting his head on his belly, his eyes betraying the wariness they had for him, but they also told him that there was no danger there.

He took a couple more breaths that washed away the remnants of his panic attack, then once he was certain it would not come back, he gazed into those green eyes and said: “Thank you Adem.”

“Are you well Master? You never had such a panic attack before.”

“I was having them regularly at one point… But I haven’t gotten one since a decade ago… Since I met Nikki.” He stroked Adem on his head, the motion comforting them both. “I remember it well… I had one panic attack back then when I was still wary of her when I refused to acknowledge she would not do me harm. And the fact she comforted me then, even defeating my demon for me, it was there that I knew she cared for me, and it was from there that I took the first step toward her, and our friendship started.

Valen frowned. “I have not gotten a single more panic attack since, so I believed I went over it.” He sighed. “It looks like Nikki had a greater impact on me than I expected. Though the fact that it happened only now while I had bigger periods where I didn’t see her is strange… Maybe it’s the fact I’m in a completely unfamiliar environment.” Shaking his head he finished. “I never had a nightmare and by extension, a panic attack that bad since then, so I’m worried they’ll return.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure to be at your side if it happens again!”

A smile graced Valen’s face. “Thank you Adem, you can't imagine how much that means to me.” He then stretched and started getting out of the bed. “I need to take some air, I’ll go to the nest, don’t think I can go back to sleep anyways.”

Adem answered with an affirmative and helped Valen to put on his clothes. Then they both went up the deck and climbed the mast, surprising the person currently on duty on the nest. “Valen? You don’t get to your turn until morning normally.”

“Nightmare, I need to get fresh air anyways, so I figured I may as well take my turn.”

“Ah, I understand.” He gave a hand to Valen, hauling him into the large wooden basket. “I’ll warn the others then, so they can relieve you earlier. Don’t argue, you don’t need to pull double duty.”

“Thanks.”

Then the other person started climbing down, and Valen focused on the surroundings, Adem by his side. Dawn was barely visible on the horizon, the sun hadn’t peeked over yet. But Valen wasn’t looking at the endless sea around him. He was looking at the sky above, hoping to see a sign, to see something only he could understand. But the clouds above were only reflecting the light of the rising sun on the horizon.

“I hope I can see you soon… Nikki.”

Notes:

… Yes I was surprised that the PTSD section flowed out that easily as it did.

Chapter 3: Turbulences

Notes:

Here we go, chapter 3 of Sky Render! This is a very important chapter, you’ll see the reason why when you read it, but I hope you’ll like it!
Thanks to The Chronomancer for betaing.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

The days continued to pass by for Valen, and a monotony settled into him as he progressed along the journey. A big chunk of each day was occupied by his time at the revolture’s nest. The rest of the time he spent either with Aiden, or by drawing in his notebook, which contained only illustrations of Nikki, as for some reason Valen was unable to properly draw any other monster. He supposed that since he saw Nikki that often and that he had so many memories of her, she became very lifelike on these.

Valen sighed and closed the notebook, satisfied with the result of his idle scribbling, depicting Nikki in the middle of a jump.

The nightmares haven’t stopped, far from it, they kept at him, and they were taking their toll. Valen felt tired, and only his morning beverage allowed him to go through the day. He shook his head. There was also one task that he still hadn’t dared to complete yet: to find a partnered Handler, as the Research Commission encouraged Hunters to pair with a Handler so that they could study any discoveries on the field without needing a dedicated scientist. If he couldn’t find one, it would be up to Valen to do the Handler’s job on top of his own, and while he would do it if he had no choice, he would prefer to have somebody trained into that instead of having to wing it.

However, one aspect also made him think he should forgo a Handler anyway: Nikki. Adem was in on the secret, but could he share it with a total unknown? Would he take the risk that they blew his secret wide open? He would have to get a measure of their personality before doing it. Aki was a complete accident, Adem he knew he could trust once he got to know him, but such an unknown? This was something that worried Valen but he guessed he would go with the flow of things, as he always did.

A collision knocked him out of his thoughts and he was sent sprawling to the ground, swearing, while another voice did the same in front of him, but the mirrored voice also dropped a stack of papers that went sprawling on the floor. Valen shook his head but regained his bearings first, and, realizing that he walked into somebody, he looked around, after seeing the dazed person who was knocked on the floor, he said.

“Sorry! I wasn’t looking in front of me.”

One of the aforementioned Handlers, judging by the stack of papers and the reading glasses clipped on his belt, was sprawled in front of him, and Valen noted his brown hair, though he had slanted eyes, showcasing his origins from Yukumo or Kamura villages. His hair was neatly brushed though, but that was all he could note before the stranger muttered. “And I had ordered them…” Valen winced, he felt like it was his fault.

“Sorry, that was my fault, I wasn’t looking in front of me. Here, let me help you.” Then, I started picking up the scattered papers.

The other looked at him and gasped, he then shyly said. “I… No, that was my fault, mister Valen, I shouldn’t have hurried that much.” He scrambled to grab all the papers as quickly as possible.

“I don’t mind, and I do feel guilty.”

Quickly enough, they managed to pick up all of the scattered paper, and Valen handed his pile to the other. “Here you go, mister…”

“I-Ikari.”

Valen nodded. “Ikari… You are a Handler I believe?” A nod? “Who’s your partner Hunter?”

I don’t have any…” Ikari whispered. “Almost everybody is taken.

The Hunter frowned. He knew that not many Hunters had found their Handlers yet, so he suspected the real reason was something else, as most were waiting to see the Handlers on the other ships to make their choice, which would be possible only when they arrived at Astera. However, something in the guy in front of him caught his attention. He wasn’t sure what… But he felt like he should trust him. He wasn’t sure if that was the shyness or the disappointment on his face, as something stood out.

Nodding to himself he answered. “I don’t have a Handler myself as well, and you sound like you have faced your fair share of disappointments…”

Ikari immediately stared into the eyes of Valen. “You, the Sky Piercer, you haven’t been swamped with offers from the other Handlers?”

Valen shrugged. “To be honest I was surprised as well, but I guess they didn’t want to impose on me… Or they found me too intimidating.” He scratched his neck. “To be honest, I was considering not having a Handler as well, given that I have more of a special role in this fleet anyway.”

Ikari opened his mouth, then paused, then seemed to steel himself and said. “It would be my honor if you accepted me as your official Handler.”

Valen was taken aback by the suddenness of the request. However, after considering the request, he found out that the proposition made sense to him, and no red flags appeared from the person in front of him, he even thought that he quite liked his character, even with the apparent shyness he displayed. So he nodded. “You know what, I like you, so let’s give it a try, Ikari!”

Ikari's mouth gaped open, seemingly surprised his forwardness worked. “I… Just like that?”

“Just like that, you’ll find out that I tend to go with the flow, and maybe our meeting was just the result of chance, but I tend to grab good occasions. So let’s start working together, Ikari!”

Ikari seemed to find himself again and smile, and they both went to the office of the Captain so they could register their partnership.

Thus the next few days were spent with both Ikari and Valen sharing information and Ikari meeting Adem, who hadn’t been present when Valen crashed into the Handler. Ikari shook his head when he saw the poor drawings of monsters in his notebook… However, he was surprised when he saw the quality of the few Valstrax drawings that were present in it, as Valen kept his current notebook secret. He did explain that his hunt against the Valstrax truly marked him, and he could almost imagine that he would be fighting it again if he just closed his eyes…

Valen felt bad for lying to Ikari, but he just needed to get a measure of the man and decide if he was safe to introduce to Nikki. Valen was afraid of what would happen should his relationship with Nikki be revealed to the wide public, or even to other hunters. He didn’t know if he would be labeled as a pariah, a team of hunters would be dispatched to hunt her, or if he would be put into chains… He knew he had been very lucky with Aki, who simply took it into stride, and lucked out on Adem being understanding, but how far could he push his luck? He wasn’t sure. So he was playing it safe.

But at least a fair amount of his time was spent discussing with Ikari, and the man did admit that he had a phobia of the monsters, so he would prefer to get on the field only when he was sure the hunt was complete. This fact especially made him realize that introducing Nikki to him would probably be a bad idea if he panicked. So he decided that he would have to meet her in secret from him…

At least when Ikari showed his drawings, Valen realized that the man had a real talent for the craft, as they were superbly detailed and clean, which was the complete opposite of the Hunter when it wasn’t Nikki.

When trying to talk about the past, Ikari said that he wasn’t ready to talk about it for now though, maybe later, but he said he needed to work himself up for it. Knowing his past and his trauma, Valen understood that he wouldn’t want to reveal what initially pushed him to hunt monsters, even though he grew past it.

Thus they started to get to know each other, through the discussion of their activities, and Valen believed he made a good choice with a Handler and had now a new confirmation that he should trust his gut feelings.

Valen sighed, he was once again basking in the fresh air at the top of the revolture’s nest after his nightly nightmare… They were now a constant of his journey, as much as he hated it. He wanted to get past it… But he knew that the scars of his past ran too deep, and there was a fair chance that they would never be healed if he didn’t take drastic action concerning them. Adem did not join him this time, as Valen managed to not wake him when he stood up drenched in sweat. He did not blame him, given that his sleep was interrupted due to him, so he decided that he would let the Felyne have a full night’s rest for once.

This did mean that Valen was alone in his spot, contrary to what usually happened. But he didn’t mind, the cool air that he basked in at his spot helped him relax and calm down. Looking around, he could only see the faint reflection of the few stars that peeked through the cloud cover, the sky having clouded over the last couple of days… There was talk about the possibility of their destination being close, but nobody knew by how much.

Valen sighed and let his gaze drift to the sky above, still looking for something, a sign that he wasn’t alone. Because he believed that it was due to this fact that he had the nightmares, that deep down he believed he would be once more alone. Even though Adem was still with him… He felt he wasn’t enough, that he wasn’t the one he truly longed for.

Suddenly he saw something from the corner of his eyes. It happened so fast he thought it was a trick of his eyes, however… He focused on the place, staring at it for several long seconds, and when he thought it was truly his eyes playing tricks on him, he saw it… No, her, through a large gap between two clouds, twin trails of red, so close together that you would believe they were a single one. But Valen knew better, he knew what it was, and a warmth that he didn’t realize that he had missed since so long ago.

A smile grew on his face and he waved at the far-off comet, and he almost believed it spun on itself in response.

“Thank you, Nikki.” He whispered. “You do not realize how much you helped me.”

He looked at the comet until it disappeared behind another cloud, and stayed a couple dozen minutes more, before suddenly feeling tired, and he climbed down and went back to sleep, a weight now absent from his shoulders.

A few days later, Valen was spending the evening in the huge room at the center of the ship. Knowing that their journey was soon over, as every day might be the last on the sea, the hunters started celebrating it every evening. The ambiance was festive, with alcohol being poured into every cup (though Valen has been careful not to drink into excess, he did NOT want a repeat of what happened at the beginning of the journey.)

Still, since Valen did not have many stories to tell outside his famed hunt, he mostly spent the time there listening to the tales of the other hunters, and especially Aiden, who had launched himself into a retelling of the adventures that led him to become a hunter. The tale surprised Valen, as he did not expect Aiden to have managed to repel a Lunastra that early in his career, the female counterpart to Teostra being famed for her aggressiveness… And the fact he saw a couple of hunters die that early on did not help either.

Still, he listened to the tale he spun, that had enraptured the whole room, being magnetized to the words that were coming out of his lips. Valen noted that Lea, the Handler that Aiden accepted to partner with, seemed to be captivated by the story too. He shook his head, he felt like the two of them would make a good pair.

Once Aiden finished his tale, with the Lunastra having being swept away by the inundation from the destruction of the barrage, everybody cheered and applauded Aiden for the tale and the good ending, though they also paid their respect to the hunters that gave their lives for the success of this hunt, at the prompting of Valen, who raised his mug for the fallen, followed immediately by everybody else in the room.

Once the somber mood dissipated, Aiden seemed to have spotted something that he noticed, and sat next to Raphaëlle, engaging in discussion with her, and it seemed that Lea followed his lead soon after.

He watched them a bit before noticing that one of the Handlers, having become infamous for her bottomless stomach, Sophie, was currently looking outside the ship from one of the windows. She had impressed everybody else with the sheer efficiency that she displayed in filing paperwork, though surprisingly, despite numerous propositions, she hadn’t partnered with a Hunter yet. Even though she was jokingly called “Voracious Handler” for her appetite being on par with a Deviljho, she was respected still, Valen was sure that she would not have trouble finding a Hunter that would be her partner.

Hearing footsteps approaching him, he noticed Ikari coming close. His Handler was quite timid and had difficulties engaging in a conversation at first, so Valen saved him the trouble.

“Ikari. How are you doing?”

“I’m doing fine, Sk-Valen.” The man had the habit of calling Valen by his title at first, but he encouraged him to use his name instead, it was still a work in progress though. “I believe we’ll make landfall either tonight or early tomorrow.”

“That’s good, not that I’m seasick, but I was getting tired of seeing the same landscape all around me. And I believe I’m not the only one, it’ll raise the morale of the whole fleet once the journey is finally over.”

“I do agree… There are only so many things you can observe while on the sea.”

Valen was distracted for a moment by Raphaëlle who seemed to have noticed Sophie and was in a discussion with her. “I also miss using my armor, it’s no use putting it on in such a confined space, so I’ll be glad when I can finally get some real training done.”

“I’ll be sure to be here when you do!” Ikari excitement rarely showed, but when it was about hunter training or showing their skills, he never failed to show it. “What kind of species do you think we’ll meet in the New World?”

“I think we-” Valen couldn’t stop his sentence as suddenly the whole ship rocked, as if they hit a rock. Fearing the worst, he immediately leaned out of the window to see what happened. At first, he couldn’t see anything, but when the shaking did not abate, he looked below and gasped.

A mountain was rising right from below them. No, not any mountain, Zorah Magdaros itself was rising right below them. A giant black rock was visible and it seemed they had been caught by sheer bad luck at the worst place possible.

To add to that, the ship was no longer flat and was tilting, rising vertically from the prow up.

Knowing what was about to happen, Valen shouted. “WE ARE GOING TO BE VERTICAL! GRAB ANYTHING THAT IS FIXED!” Using his authoritative voice, people finally snapped out of their surprise and promptly followed his instructions.

Scanning the room, Valen noticed most hunters and handlers were present… Until he realized one pair was missing, Raphaëlle and Sophie were nowhere in sight.

Valen was about to ask where the duo was when finally the ship lost equilibrium and with a loud drag, fell back to the horizontal. The Hunter was glad that the superstructure was built from massive monster bones, else he was sure the ship would have splintered already.

He kept a tight grip on the window he was holding on to for a bit longer, to see if the ship would move again, then once he believed everything was stable, he turned to the room and said. “I’ll check the situation outside. Nobody move! I don’t want to lose our current equilibrium with a large movement.” A large wave of agreements responded to this.

Valen then ran upstairs, and once he was outside, he gasped.

The whole ship was stuck in a very large groove, and almost half of it was hanging upon nothing, though he believed that should it tilt in that direction, it would simply slide back into the sea. He filed that for later, focusing more on the general situation. A panicked cry made him snap around, looking frantically for the source, and by looking upwards, he found the source.

Flighty was currently holding to the ropes above, dangling from them, and it looked like her grip was starting to fail. Without thinking, Valen ran right below her and shouted. “I got you! You can release!”

The Felyne trusted him and released her grip on the ropes, and Valen deftly caught her in his arms. He then looked around then said to her. “I would suggest you stay on my shoulder, the ship is still unstable, and I believe you wouldn’t want to take a surprise bath.”

She just nodded and clambered over him so that she could get a firmer grip on Valen. Once he was certain she was secure, he ran to the edge of the ship, on the railing, and looked around, the other ships of the fleet had cleared the way out of the path of the Elder, and he saw a couple of men waving at him from the closest ship. Valen waved in return, however, he was distracted when he saw movement around the shell of the Elder, and he gasped.

Sophie and Raphaëlle were both on it, and they looked like they were trying to find a way back up the ship. They were pointing at it and he decided to shout: “FIND ANOTHER PATH, I DON’T THINK THIS SHIP WILL STAY HERE ANY LONGER!”

And he was right, as suddenly the ship lurched, and it was only the iron grip Valen had on the railing that kept him stable, he felt Flighty dig her claws on his shoulder but barely noticed the pain. Immediately after, the ship started to tilt… Back towards the ocean, thankfully the pair of stranded women were out of the direct path, but they started running nonetheless so that they were fully out of the danger zone.

A loud grating sound resounded as the bone skeleton of the ship grated against the rock of the Zorah Magdaros, and over several long seconds, the ship plunged back into the ocean, salty water spraying everywhere, and missing colliding with another ship of the fleet by only a few meters. A few more moments and the ship stabilized, and Valen breathed out, the chaotic moment finally over.

The door opening from the Captain's cabin finally opened. And the man looked at Valen, and he nodded. “Good, nice handling of the situation, the initial impact knocked me out and I only just woke up, but I’m glad you took over for me, you managed to avoid a panic.”

“Thank you, Captain…” He looked over at the railing, finally noticing something he should have before: Land, covered by healthy green trees and numerous monsters fleeing the path the Elder was taking. It was his first sight of the new world, and he smiled. “At least it looks like our journey is over.”

“It is… Excuse me, now I have to make sure this ship safely arrives at Astera!”

Valen simply nodded, and he looked back at the shore, not seeing anything beyond the trees for now, but knowing that untamed wilderness lay just beyond.

Notes:

And now, as you can see, the MHW story officially started!

Chapter 4: Arrival

Notes:

Another Saturday, another chapter! Now we finally arrive at Astera! We are getting closer to get fully in the action, but not quite yet, I hope you’ll enjoy this chapter.
As an additional note, I’ve updated chapter 3 to fix a couple errors.
Thanks to The Chronomancer for betaing this chapter.

Chapter Text

Once the danger was confirmed to have passed, Valen descended back down the stairs, after which somebody asked. “It’s over, right?”

Valen nodded. “It is over. We are currently heading towards Astera, and I believe one of the ships will stay to observe Zorah until they lose sight of him, after which they’ll rejoin us at our port. I’d suggest everybody start preparing, we’ll arrive in a few hours.”

Aiden then posted himself next to Valen. “Our journey is coming to an end, and we’ll soon be able to start our true mission.”

I’ll however warn that a couple of us, Hunter Raphaëlle and Handler Sophie, are missing. The last I saw them was when they were climbing Zorah’s shell to try to rejoin us. I think they’ll still get to the mainland, but I’ll go with the search party to make sure they arrive safely at Astera once we are there.” Valen said.

Aiden remarked “I believe they were one of the few that received one of the slingers of the ship. So if they’re smart, they’ll hitch a ride on one of those Wingdrakes.”

Good point. And if anybody wonders, I don’t have one because I have some spare materials from my hunt so that I can have a specialized one crafted for me once we arrive.” He scanned the room, looking at the various expressions visible on each member, some were relieved the danger had passed, others were happy the journey was at an end, and some were anxious about what would come next. “I wanna conclude by the fact that I’m happy that you all kept your cool while the crisis happened. Keep that same level-headedness during your hunts and you’ll climb quickly!”

Everybody cheered and agreed with him. Then everybody dispersed towards their rooms so they could suit up, Valen followed their example and headed towards his to suit up his armor. Adem had joined him on the walk and told him he was sorry to not be with him during the crisis. Valen simply told him that it was fine and it allowed him to not have to worry about the Felyne.

Once in the room, Adem helped the Hunter put on his armor, as it was a task more easily done with one more pair of hands, as short as they were, and thus only a few minutes later, Valen was suited up and ready. Valen helped Felyne get into his armor, his trusty Mizutsune set.

This task done, they grabbed their weapons, climbed back up to the upper decks, and joined the captain at the steering wheel, who was giving directions to the pilot. Once he finished he turned around and looked at Valen. “We should be there in less than a couple hours. I see you are already suited up.” He smiled. “I hope you’re ready for a long night since it’s always better to have some help emptying the ship.”

Actually about that captain, I believe the urgency of our missing pair takes precedence… I’ll try to join the search party for them to make sure they make a safe arrival at Astera.”

The Captain hummed. “You are right indeed. Making sure all of our A-Listers arrive safely at our destination takes precedence. I’ll help you explain the situation to Commander Arcos once we arrive… Get yourself comfortable, and let’s finish this last stretch home!”

Valen nodded and he went to find a spot to wait on until they arrived. Inside him, tension… Yet excitement rose, how would Astera look like once they arrived, would the leaders there accept him? And most important of all… Would he manage to meet with Nikki without rousing suspicions? All of these questions were at the forefront of Valen’s mind during this journey.

However, with his mind thus busy, a couple of hours passed in a flash for Valen, who was only snapped out of his internal monologue when Adem thumped on his leg. When the Hunter looked questionably at the Felyne, he only pointed out a direction to him. Valen looked in that direction and gasped.

Astera was now visible, in all its glory, as an outpost made out from what remained of the ships of the previous fleet, and would also be the fate of the entire fifth fleet: they would be cannibalized so that they could serve to expand Astera. It was one of the decisions of the Research Commission for Astera: They would build only from what they brought so that they could leave the local ecosystem as untouched as they could so that they could learn the most from it. This tradition started in an accident when the lone ship of the first fleet got caught in a typhoon, which left wedged at the top of a rock outcropping. Said ship was now clearly visible to Valen, being illuminated with multiple lanterns, giving it a majestic appearance, dominating the rest of the outpost with its massive frame.

Valen whistled at the sight, he had for sure never seen anything like that, and even though he had not been at Port Tanzia, he knew that due to the way it had been built, there was nothing quite like Astera.

He could see the light of the forge, being the only building made out of something other than wood, which was logical given its use. There was also the other, fainter light of the canteen, which seemed to be in high activity. Valen supposed they were currently preparing a feast for their arrival.

Since the ship Valen was in was the one leading the expedition, it was for this reason that it ended up being the first to dock at the outpost, which triggered a lot of cheering from the port, as every resident of the outpost seemed to be out there to welcome them in.

Valen smiled, if that was how they were greeted, he hoped that they would stay as cheery and friendly during his stay there… Which probably would be for a long time.

Right before they started the docking procedure, the Captain said to Valen, “You should be the first outside. You are after all considered the leader of our ship, no matter what you think.”

Valen stared a bit at him, then sighed. “I wanted to avoid that… Okay, I’ll do this, but I’ll step down once one of the Hunters rises through the ranks so that they are the leader of this Fleet. I’m just the backup if anything world-changing happens.”

I’d suggest you give in and accept that you'll be important no matter what. But I also believe that you are not the kind of guy that loves attention, so just do what you think is right…”

Valen nodded, then headed toward the spot where they would install the ramp once the docking procedure was complete. Hunters parted before him to give him the way, with most of them dipping their heads in respect, and even a couple bowing at him. Valen nodded in return to everyone, and stood vigil at the exit of the ship, making his best effort to look impressive.

The sailors at the ship threw ropes at their counterparts at the dock, who secured these ropes to metallic pillars spread around. They worked in pairs to help drag in the ship, and once it was close enough, tied up the ropes to the pillars, securing the ship and preventing it from drifting away. Then finally, the ship sailors brought in the gangplank and secured it at the dock. One sailor nodded to Valen, who immediately started walking out of it, to the cheers of everybody present, both ship-side and port-side. He even believed he heard the other ships cheering him on. A glance behind confirmed him that nobody was following him, aside from Valen riding on his shoulder, which confirmed his suspicion that the leader wanted to welcome him personally and that he had the responsibility of representing the whole fleet.

This was the reason that everybody at the dock made way to let a single, middle-aged, and tanned man pass. His hair was graying but was still whole. He had his hands put behind his back and was looking at Valen with a smile.

Once Valen had descended and was face to face with the man, they stared at each other, and then the man spoke. “I was not aware that the Sky Piercer was sent with the Fifth fleet. I will not complain though, we have heard of your feats even there.”

Valen nodded. “I am not surprised. My tales spread farther than I imagined.”

In other news, welcome to Astera, Fifth Fleet!” He said with a booming voice. “I’m the Commander here, and you’ll refer to me as such!” Then with a lower tone, he said to Valen. “I hope you had a safe journey?”

Something… Came up right before we arrived, but we should allow them to start disembarking before we discuss this.”

The Commander frowned. “How serious was it?”

It’s important, we have a missing pair due to this, and we should render assistance as soon as possible.”

Let’s discuss this in detail then, but first let me finish.” He now faced the whole fleet. “I hope you’ll find yourself at home in Astera, and may the Sapphire Star light your way!”

Resounding cheers came from the whole fleet in response to this, and Valen smiled. While the cheers were going on, the Commander gestured for him to follow, so Valen did so.

As they exited the main crowd, his leader exchanged a few words with a young hunter, given the Greatsword stowed on his back, who nodded and seemed to head towards the gangplank.

Valen was led through the large dock towards the prow of an old ship, now converted as a meeting location it seemed. It was open to the elements, but he supposed they kept it as such due to an old tradition.

I’ll allow you to call me Arcos, I know you deserve the respect to call me as such.”

Only if you call me Valen. It is only fair.”

Arcos smiled for a moment then his face became serious. “Tell me what happened, it seemed important.”

Let’s just say that when we arrived at the shore… Zorah Magdaros emerged from the ocean… Right below my ship.” Arcos’s eyes widened at this revelation. “Everybody that is on the ship is fine, but a Hunter and Handler pair got thrown off the ship while this happened, and they ended up on the Elder’s back. They attempted to rejoin the ship that was at the time wedged on the shell, but it was dislodged and slid down back to the ocean before they could do so. I hope that they managed to hook on one of the wingdrakes and land back to shore that way, they would have the ability as luck permitted they were among those that received the slingers that were stashed on the ship.”

This is a priority indeed. I’ll send a rescue party. I assume you want to be part of it?”

Indeed, I know I should have been part of the welcoming feast, but I believe this takes precedence.”

Alright then, I know who to ask for help. Give me a bit, I’ll look for him.”

No need, I am here, Arcos.”

Both of them turned to the side and Valen could see somebody that he would describe as a ‘Veteran’, this man screamed of having a lot of experience fighting, the worn-down state of his armor, the large gash on top of the helmet, the old but well-cared for Longsword sheathed on his back. He also… Jogged a memory for Valen, as if he knew who that was.

Blue Flare. I was not aware you were nearby.” This made Valen’s eyes widen, this was the legendary hunter that had departed with the First fleet. This was the man that Valen was supposed to help in his role.

I noticed you getting away from the main event while I knew you usually attend them, I knew then something was amiss. And it seems I was right, we have a wayward pair of hunters right?”

Valen regained his composure and nodded. “Indeed, as they don’t have any weapons and only have their slingers to defend themselves, I think trying to escort them back to Astera would be appreciated.”

Let’s head out now then. The more time we waste, the more in danger they will be.”

Valen raised his hands. “I believe that figuring out on the map where Zorah Magdaros landed would be a necessity before we head out blindly.”

Good point. Let us ask the question to your captain and head off, we have no time to waste.”

In the meantime, I’ll go back to organizing the unloading of the ships. Good luck to the both of you, I trust that you will carry out this task.” the Commander said.

Both Valen and the Blue Flare nodded to the Commander, and having no time to waste, they both went back to the boat so that they could carry out their new task.

They would ordinarily have waited for a moment where the Captain was free, but due to the time-sensitive nature of the mission, they got him to show on the map where the encounter with Zorah happened, and with cross references with the maps that the Blue Flare had drawn, they managed to pinpoint the area where they could start their search. So they said their thanks to the Captain and headed out the gate of Astera, which led to the wilderness beyond the outpost, accompanied only by Adem.

The Blue Flare looked at Valen. “Ordinarily we would have taken wingdrakes to the location, but given the recent passage of Zorah, I imagine they are quite agitated right now, and I see you don’t have a Slinger yet anyways.”

You’re right Blue Flare, it’s a delay but I’m used to walking.”

Oh, you don’t need to call me by my title, Valen, everybody in Astera knows me as The Huntsman. But you, you deserve the right to call me Jake.”

Valen snapped his head to the right, staring at the slit in Jake’s helmet. The stare was returned in kind, and then Valen smiled behind his helmet. “Eh, I'm still getting used to the fact I’m still technically your peer. Even though it has been more than half a decade, it still hasn’t fully sunk in… I haven’t met many of the Named either…”

Jake nodded. “Yeah, we tend to keep to our chosen hunting grounds. It is only for the true threats that we are called up. I had to step up a couple of times here in Astera, but surprisingly it has been calm for now. Maybe it is also because we don’t actively hunt and mostly study our immediate surroundings. But as you know, it is going to change soon, as the Fifth Fleet's task is to finally unravel the mystery of the Elder’s Crossing completely.”

Valen hummed in response, and they fell into silence, keeping an eye on their surroundings, making sure nothing would ambush them. Though the fact it was a night meant that they relied more on their hearing than their sight… Adem especially, since Valen’s disability meant that he was at a disadvantage.

Looking above, Valen could see the night sky that stretched all around them, it was a bit different from what he was used though… With one exception: the Sapphire Star seemed to be even more prominent among its pairs for some reason, shining even more than what he was used to. He didn’t know if that was simply a trick of the eyes or if something made it do so. It held a certain beauty to it though, reminding us that it was a guide to all hunters should they get lost in the night, never faltering in its position and beauty, but with the single drawback that its shine made it so that she didn’t have neighbors, rendering her alone in her corner of the sky.

Valen looked at it for a moment more before he focused back down to the earth, keeping his ear and eyes peeled for any disturbances, as they had a mission.

The sun had already risen from the horizon when they finally reached the shore where the fleet met Zorah Magdaros. Immediately Valen and Jake looked around for signs of their wayward Hunters, though they were distracted for a while by the still smoldering vegetation around the large gap in the forest that denoted the journey of the Elder.

It was only when they reached one of the base camps of the Ancient Forest, which by sheer coincidence was nearby that Jake hailed Valen. “Look, some items are missing, including one of the maps, I’m sure it’s the two of them. This is the best-case scenario, as they’ll know where to go toward Astera. And there’s some faint footprints, looks like they are being careful about the signs they are leaving behind.”

Then let’s follow them, with a bit of luck we can catch up to them and make sure they arrive safely.”

Jake nodded and they resumed their journey, following them through the territory of the Jagras, yellow-scaled fanged wyverns that were led by an impressive member of their species, though thankfully no recent signs of its presence were visible.

However they heard shouts in the distance, and they didn’t even need to glance at each other so they both started running. They barreled through the thick vegetation in front of them, offering no resistance to their frames, and branches snapping from their sheer momentum and jumping above thick roots or fallen trunks.

They saw movement beyond the trees, and as they exited, they saw two figures running away from what he was sure was a Great Jagras, its yellow scales, lined up with green, the scaly tendrils giving it the impression of a mane covering his shoulders, and it was pursuing the two lone Hunters that were trying to escape it.

Valen pushed himself and ran faster, bending forward as much as he could, and activated the booster on his back, which propelled him through the air at a rapid pace, however, his aim was true, and he landed on the back of the Great Jagras, who immediately tried to roll over so to dislodge him.

So the Hunter dropped from the monster’s back and jumped back in once it completed the rotation. Now that the monster knew it wouldn’t dislodge him by rolling over, Valen looked at the Hunter and Handler pair and shouted. “Go! Get through this path, I’ll distract it!”

They didn’t let him repeat himself and dashed through the road, Jake on their heels to cover them. Adem though stayed around, occasionally throwing his boomerang at the Fanged Wyvern’s face to get its attention when it looked like it was about to roll again.

Valen held on the back of the Great Jagras for several minutes, until he heard a roar coming from the direction where the group ran, he swore and dropped off the back of the wyvern, grabbing a canister from his pouch and shouted: “FLASH!” then threw it at the ground, closing his eyes.

Extremely powerful bright light emerged from it, which was visible through his eyelids but the pained roar that he heard told him that it had the effect he desired. And the Great Jagras began to thrash widely around, blind to its surroundings, then he nodded to Adem and they ran towards where the group headed.

He ran for a couple of minutes and spotted Jake fending off a large brute wyvern, whose back was covered in dark fur, but its head was covered in pink scales and which had a large bony nose extended from its muzzle. It was roaring occasionally trying to scare the Hunter off, and to reach the two unarmed women that were running away, but was held at bay by quick cuts on its face.

Valen ran the distance separating him from the Brute Wyvern, that he wasn’t sure what it was called, and drew his weapon in Sword mode, scoring a large gash on its leg.

The wyvern immediately turned around to face Valen and tried to kick him, but he dodged the hit.

Then Valen saw the Huntsman rummaging around in his pouch while the Wyvern was distracted and retrieved a brown canister from it, loading it on his slinger. Valen immediately guessed what it was and made to run towards the other side of him, dodging the bite the Wyvern made at him, and it tried to follow him, however exposing its nose to Jake, who lined up his slinger and fired it.

Brown goop exploded on the pink face of the wyvern, and a foul smell started emanating from it, which didn’t bother Valen that much, his armor blocking most of it, but it was very effective on the monster, who immediately tried to shake its head to dislodge the Dung Bomb that splashed at him, to no avail, the stuff being sticky enough that it stayed.

The Wyvern was disturbed so much by the smell it roared weakly at them and turned to leave, most likely to find a stream to wash its face off.

Valen released the breath he was holding and sheathed his weapon, nodding at Jake. “Let’s go catch up to them.”

“Good job with the Jagras, we should hunt them only when no other solution is available, so it’s good that you only made it run away.”

Valen nodded “That is what I suspected, let’s catch up to the girls and make sure they get safely to the outpost.”

And thus they ran until they reached the pair, and they all traveled together back to Astera, the danger passed.

Chapter 5: Reunion

Notes:

Sorry for the poor quality of the last chapter, my Beta wasn’t able to get a go at it before I posted it, I should have fixed it now.
In other news, chapter 5 is here! Strap-on, it’s a long one today, but I’m proud of it, I give more background in it and something I’m sure you were all waiting for ^^.
Thanks to The Chronomancer and AysoMetric (New beta! He’s now my pun expert aswell!) for betaing.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Several days of celebration and building followed Valen’s return to Astera, as the Fifth Fleet hunters were happy to finally be out of their ships, and the rest of the Research Commission always made sure that their new arrivals felt welcome to their outpost.

Beer flowed out merrily, and a stream of large meaty dishes streamed out of the kitchen, the Meowscular Chef a flurry of activity with his Felyne crew, pulling out all the stops to satisfy his current customers: the whole of Astera with the newly arrived Fifth Fleet.

Valen enjoyed himself, simply content to be with peers, and that most of those peers respected him, given how the situation deteriorated at Dundorma in the last months before his departure. So he had found a spot outside the main party and simply enjoyed the festive ambiance, though at one point Jake found him and sat next to him. Though he didn’t carry a beer with him, which internally made Valen chuckle, it seemed the legendary hunter was one of those that never revealed his face to people. He didn’t doubt that the number of people that knew it was a very limited number, but he wouldn’t pry.

They chatted together, the Huntsman told him the hunts that he experienced in the Old World, and the few that he had to participate in in the New World. Though, the one that amazed Valen the most was the tale of how the Huntsman felled a Lunastra. It was a hunt that took the man several days of tracking, exhausting the Elder and finally felling it in an arduous fight where neither side refused to back off. At the end of it Valen nodded his head in respect. He knew that the deeds the Huntsman was known for were ones that proved his skills.

He however followed up with the story of the fight that he had with a Teostra which was undoubtedly the mate of the Lunastra he felled. This fight ended without victor in the end, because Jake managed to escape, but not without injuring the Elder severely, and it seemed that it had realized it found its match and fled to survive. It was where the large gash on his helmet came from, as he had not quite dodged a claw swipe from the Teostra.

They would have chatted more, undoubtedly would have been followed by Valen retelling his adventures if the Commander didn’t interrupt the both of them.

“Jake, Valen, I need the both of you at the Conference table, we have to discuss the specifics of the role you’ll take on, Valen.”

“Lead the way then, we’re following.” Jake answered.

Arcos nodded and they walked towards the conference table, which was where the important decisions of the outpost were discussed and taken.

They spread around the table and the Commander unrolled a map, which was visibly very incomplete, the area surrounding Astera being very detailed, but beyond that, only landmarks visible in the horizon and the general climate were described. Arcos said. “This is what we have managed to survey of the New World so far. As you can see… It’s very bare bones. The Third Fleet would have been the one tasked to fill it up with their airship, but we lost contact with their airship not long after it sailed off. We believe they have either gone down or found themselves in a spot where they’re unable to contact us, given that we hadn’t tamed wingdrakes then, and we have no idea where they are. And the Fourth Fleet, being mostly traders and people of artisan backgrounds, didn’t allow us to send our few hunters exploring.”

“And I guess with the Fifth Fleet’s arrival and me having proven my skill, you now are able to have at least a few people you can spare?” Valen guessed.

“Exactly. I’ll at least ask you to spar with Jake so he can better ascertain your skill and get a Slinger crafted before you go, but then you should head out towards there at least.” He tapped a spot on the map, simply named ‘Wildspire Wastes’. “Hunters of the Fifth will mostly be assigned to the Ancient Forest at first, but I want to map out the Wastes as soon as we can so we can better understand the ecosystem. Further hunting grounds will necessitate us to breach the Great Ravine.

“I understand. When should I leave, ideally?”

“Tomorrow. That should give you enough time to get your Slinger crafted. I know it’s short notice, but I want this done as soon as we can. We have been confined to the Ancient Forest for too long, and even I can tell that Jake is growing tired of it.” He looked at the Huntsman with a less serious face.

“You know me well, Arcos. The Ancient Forest is nice, but we haven’t moved from there in the past forty years… Though you also know we do have some explorers roaming around.”

“We do have them… But they all came from the First, and one should have been here in Astera.”

“You know the Admiral can take care of himself. Besides, even I admit he is more than qualified enough to search for clues about the Crossing, and I’ll be the first to say that you have done a great job taking over his role. About the Seeker and Tracker… They both know how to conceal themselves. I’m sure we’ll find them eventually and we’ll have detailed maps of the grounds they have explored.” The Huntsman argued.

The Commander looked at Jake for a moment before nodding. “You are right. I don’t doubt their skills, all of the first fleet were the best of the time in their roles. I am just worried for them.” He shook his head. “This aside, do you have any questions Valen?”

Valen frowned for a moment before snapping his fingers. “I have a couple, what about my Handler, Ikari?”

“Good point, he would normally accompany you, but he’ll need to stay here for the first week, all Handlers need to, so they are filled in with the state of the affairs and the few discoveries we have made, as well as learn our way of doing paperwork. But after that he would be able to accompany you should he desire to.”

“I see… Also I’m not that great at drawing, but I know that Adem is at least better than me, will that be okay?”

“Do you at least know the basics of how to draw a map?” Valen nodded. “That’ll be all I require, we have nothing of our surrounding, having the basics, even if they’re crude, would help better than you imagine. All the better if you find spots where we can set up camps.”

Valen nodded. “I’ll do what I can.” He turned towards the Blue Flare. “Jake, do you mind if we do our spar now?”

“Give me half an hour to prepare and I’ll join you on the training grounds. You know where they are at least?”

“I do, I’ll warm up and wait for you there then.”

The Huntsman then took his leave and headed out towards his personal room so he could prepare. Valen turned towards the Commander. “I’ll wait at the grounds, enjoy the rest of the festivities.”

“They should come to a close tomorrow, then the real work can begin. Good luck in your endeavours. I don’t think we’ll see each other until you return, though I’d ask that it’s in less than a month.”

“Do not worry, I’ll not be gone that long.”

“Then may the Sapphire Star light your way.”

“And may the Red Comet keep your skies clear.”

The Commander was taken aback for a moment before he smirked and laughed. “Of course you would. I cannot wait to see what wonders you will uncover for us Valen. I have a good feeling about you.”

“I’ll do what I can to solve this mystery.”

“That I do not doubt. Now go, you are dismissed.”

Valen nodded and headed towards the training grounds so that he could warm up for the incoming spar with the Huntsman, though he did a ‘detour’ to grab Adem and explain the situation to the Felyne, who immediately became excited as well for their first real assignment in the New World, and dashed towards their room so the cat could suit up. Valen chuckled at the excited Felyne, but at least he already was armored up and thus didn’t need to put on his armor and pick up his weapon. His armor was what made him recognizable, as there was no peer to it. The materials it was made of, as well as the unique additions of the thrusters were also completely unique. But he knew that Nikki was the one that made sure he had the best protections possible, so he kept it on as much as he was able.

Valen reached the training grounds, which were surprisingly empty, but he guessed that since everybody was at the feast it shouldn’t surprise him. Still, he appreciated the privacy, no doubt that the field would be swarmed with onlookers if news of the spar spread.

He sat up at one of the benches and pulled out his weapon and a whetstone, before frowning and shaking his head and putting back the whetstone in the pouch. It wouldn’t do to sharpen his weapon right before a friendly spar, he didn’t want to murder his training partner after all, so instead he checked the internal mechanisms, so he could be sure they worked correctly and not jam during the spar. It had happened a couple times and so he took precautions so that the risk of it happening was as low as it could get. So he removed the axe head and started inspecting the internals…

It was only a tap on his shoulder that jolted Valen out of the cleaning he was making, and his hand had half traveled towards his carving knife before realizing it was simply Jake that had surprised him.

“Kinda scared me for a bit there.”

Jake chuckled. “You were engrossed deeply into that… Which I can understand, I haven’t seen Switch Axe internals often, but I’m sure these are different from what the norm is.”

Valen nodded. “Indeed, due to the nature of Valstrax wings, we were able to experiment with a couple more additions. The benefits I gained are definitely worth the extra cleaning I have to do after and before a hunt.”

“I see. Eh, this is too complicated for me anyways. I’m a simple Longsword user, though I was a Greatsword master in my prime, but as you can see age caught up to me and I had to trade weapons.” He looked in the distance, remembering some memories fondly Valen supposed. “How long do you need to be ready?”

“Give me a couple of minutes, I am almost done anyways.” He replied, starting to put the Switch Axe together, deftly slotting every part together with an ease demonstrating practice, and it was only a short after that his weapon was whole once more. He made the mechanism work a couple times to make sure of the correct working, then satisfied, he put back his cleaning equipment into his pouch and looked at Jake. “How do you want to handle this? Given how sharp our weapons are, we will have to be careful not to cut ourselves to ribbons.”

Jake nodded and threw something to Valen, who caught it expertly. Looking at it, it was pieces of rubber, adapted for a Switch Axe. “These won’t hold for long, but enough for a couple hits. They shouldn’t hinder the mechanisms of your weapon, but it’s all we can use at our level.”

“Understood.” Valen nodded and carefully covered the edges of his weapon with the material, and as promised it didn’t hinder the working of his weapon in the slightest, after Valen tested with a couple swings. He looked at the Huntsman who had put himself into position at the opposite side of the training ground, then asked. “What are the rules?”

“First touch loses the bout, best of five. Are you ready?” He asked, one hand wrapped around the hilt of his weapon.

Valen sheathed his own weapon on his back and did the same. “I am.” He entered a combat stance, bending forwards slightly, increasing the distance between his feet and looking at his opponent intensely across the few dozen feet separating them.

Neither of them moved for a moment that seemed to last an eternity, both seemingly waiting for some sort of unknown signal to start. This signal could be anything, a twitch in the other’s posture, a sound, a movement.

Suddenly a fruit fell from one of the trees surrounding the training area, the quiet thump normally barely noticeable now seemingly filling the whole area, a disturbance in the trance that had overtaken the two fighters.

Both hunters exploded into action, Valen drawing his weapon into Axe mode and holding it to the side as he began running towards his opponent, who had also drawn his weapon and was starting to do a lateral slash on Valen. Instead of avoiding the wide slash, Valen countered it by striking with the Axe head from above, producing a quiet thump sound instead of the expected clang of metal against metal. He then would have pivoted his weapon and attempted to rip the Longsword out of his opponent’s grip, if Jake hadn’t managed to back-step and free his weapon that way.

Valen pressed his advantage, rotating his Axe so that the sharp Axe head pointed upwards and attempted to strike Jake from below.

Jake, however, countered with a thrust which would have hit his shoulder, had he not countered the move by releasing one hand from his weapon and slapping aside the attack with the back of his gauntlet, making it miss the intended target. The continued momentum of his own weapon made it impact Jake’s Longsword. Noticing it was placed into the hook of the Axe, Valen immediately exploited the opportunity that was given to him and pulled.

A quiet tching was heard as Valen witnessed the longsword flying free from Jake’s grip towards him. Valen caught the weapon by the blunt edge and threw it behind him, then immediately morphed his weapon into Sword mode and pointed it at his opponent. “Do you yield?”

Jake seemed to stare intensely at Valen, seemingly looking at him in a new light. He nodded at Valen and said. “I do, first bout goes to you.”

Valen smiled behind his helmet and morphed his weapon back.

Jake picked up his weapon and went in stance closer to Valen this time. He barely had time to assume his stance when Jake shouted “Begin!” and immediately jumped at his opponent, aiming for the head.

Valen was caught by surprise, but his reflexes immediately took over and he barely managed to duck below the swing. He immediately tried to thrust, hoping to destabilize his opponent with the tip of his weapon.

It wasn’t to be as Jake sidestepped the clumsy thrust and swung at Valen in the same motion, his blade seemingly alight with an aura of bloodlust. Valen’s eyes widened, but then he immediately pulled the trigger controlling the thrusters of his weapon, which immediately made them ignite with explosive force, creating distance between him and his opponent and making the dangerous swing miss its mark.

The unexpected capability of his weapon seemed to have taken his opponent by surprise. Valen decided to not let the opening be wasted, so as soon as he killed his momentum, he dashed forwards and attempted a downswing on Jake.

It seemed that the Huntsman either recovered from his surprise faster than expected or he faked it, as he dodged the incoming swing as soon as Valen had fully committed. Valen immediately realized it was a trap, but it was too late to escape as Jake executed a rising diagonal slash with lightning speed, striking him on the side.

Both of them stayed in their positions, not even winded as they stared at each other’s helmets. Then Valen nodded. “You got me.”

“You committed too early. But I suppose that with a weapon as massive as yours, it’s hard to deal with the nimbler weapons.”

“This is true… but it is a good thing my task is to fight with monsters and not fellow humans, is it not?”

“Correct, but it's still a skill you should practice nonetheless. You never know when you may have to fight a renegade hunter or poachers.”

“Good point… Next one?”

“Next one indeed.”

And so they resumed their positions once more.

Valen was currently heading towards the large workshop of Astera, being the only building made of metal so it could withstand the high temperatures produced inside.

He reminisced about the spar that had just happened, Jake having won it, the advantages of a nimbler and almost equal reach weapon too great for Valen to overcome. At least Dual Blades or Sword and Shield users had poor reach which allowed him to maintain his distance. But he had also expected the result, and he believed he had made a good enough showing of his skills to satisfy Jake.

He was going into the Smithy, as he had one thing that he needed made here in the New World: a Slinger.

The contraption was an invention from the resident smith, and from what Valen had seen during the fight with the Anjanath, the abilities it provided outweighed the bulk of the tool that occupied the left hand. However Valen also knew that he couldn’t simply pick up one from the armory and attach it to his left gauntlet. No, he needed one custom-made with the rest of the materials he had from the Valstrax he had slain, which explained the large box containing said materials that he was carrying in his hands.

Loud noises came from the Smithy, most of it being the strikes of metal against metal The multiple smithies seemed to be in intense activity, probably forging new weapons for the newcomers in preparation for the few that would inevitably break during a hunt.

However, after he entered and placed the box on the counter with a loud slam, all activity immediately ceased as all heads turned to the newcomer.

One of the workers placed down his hammer and walked up to the counter. He had dark skin, seemingly almost browned by the intense heat of the forge he was working in, an eye-patch that demonstrated the loss of one of his eyes, and dense, bulging muscles that could only be acquired by a life into the forge. He seemed to examine Valen critically, noting every detail of his armor and the bits of the weapon he could see on his back. A quiet hum of approval reverberated from the man, who seemed to appreciate the work.

“Now, that is a Masterpiece if I have ever seen one…” The man said with a loud booming voice. “This is incredible quality of smithing, and I can feel the power contained in it. A couple of kinks, but I believe that they do not matter at this quality of forging. Should your smith have been here, I would definitely have taken them as my apprentice. And it demonstrates your own talent as well, as you undoubtedly had a hand in this creation!”

Valen smiled behind his helmet. “I’ll tell Aki of the compliments you had then, she asked that I get your opinion on it.”

“She has talent I can see. And as long as it is not completely wrecked, I should be able to repair it without many issues as well. There is only one piece missing on it, but I also suppose this is why you are here?” Valen was about to answer, but the man overrode him. “Before we get to it, let me examine this in its entirety. I already see something that I’ve never seen before and I’m curious as to how it functions. You won’t need to remove it, seeing it on you is easier even.”

“Alright.” Valen answered. The Smith walked around the counter, and started circling the Hunter, tapping some pieces with the back of his knuckles, to gauge the quality Valen mused.

The Smith was paying even more attention to the thrusters adorning the armor’s back, seemingly impressed by the craftsmanship that they made. Then the hunter drew his weapon to the smith’s prompt so he could get a clear view of the back, to which he quickly gasped. “This is an impressive Gem… I’m guessing it is the power source of the thrusters?”

“It is, else it would require so many Switch Axe phials to fuel that it would be impractical. I can get away with the thruster system I put on the weapon since I can only use it in short bursts, but to hover, you need way more sustained power. I decided to call it the Ruby Dragon Mindstone if you are curious”

“Good name, more innovative than simply using the name of the monster at least. I now know what to do for your slinger, and we can get it done by this evening. Are you ready to forge?”

Valen nodded. “I am ready to follow your instructions, Second Fleet Master.”

The Smith chuckled. “Then let’s get ready to go!”

The other Smith cheered in the forge and Valen followed the Master, so he could finally complete his armor to the standards of the New World. They selected the right materials from the box, and Valen treated them while the Master molded them. It was a tedious and delicate task, as the internals of the slingers were precise, but they were all motivated to see it to completion, to make a Masterpiece.

Valen fiddled with his Slinger, which was exploiting some of the properties of the Valstrax wing membranes so its stopping power was increased, thus boosting the range at which Valen could sling stuff with it. The extra weight on his left hand was noticeable but he was sure he could get used to it and include the tool in his fighting style. Just the ability to load a flash bomb in it and throw it at a moment’s notice would be a lifesaver. So he adjusted it so that it was properly aligned and fitted, then made sure that it wouldn’t bother him while swinging his weapon around.

Satisfied with the tool, he had already made his thanks to the Second Fleet Master for the work. Valen was already seeing why he was so respected back in the Old World, that man was able to craft such a delicate and complicated piece in only an afternoon, and he could see no faults in it.

Adem was sitting next to him, making a tongue bath on the few parts of his body he could reach while covered in his armor. Valen smiled at the Felyne’s habits. He tended to do this right before they departed for a hunt. He supposed it was the way the Felyne had to deal with his nervousness, so he wouldn’t comment on it.

He however saw the Commander approaching him, accompanied by, surprisingly, Aiden. Valen was surprised at the presence of the Ace Cadet, but he supposed that given his reputation and his proven skill, it would make sense he had a leading role in the Fifth Fleet.

“Sky Piercer.” The Commander began. “Good, you haven’t departed yet, I needed to give you something before you went.” And then he opened his right hand, revealed a circular item that looked like a small cage, where some tiny green insects were fluttering inside. “This is your Scoutfly cage, it is what we need to track monsters here in the world. You simply need to give them a couple samples from footprints or discarded shedding and they will lead you to your target. We give one to every hunter here, so you should have your own as well.”

“Thank you Commander. I know how to track myself, but I can already see how this would help.” He nodded his head in thanks, and attached the cage at his waist, where he noticed the Commander was wearing his own. Once done, he looked again at the Commander. “Any other information before I leave?”

“Simply that you do not take that long. We already got a sample of your clothes, and we will train a Wingdrake to respond to you, but it’ll take time, so you’ll have to come yourself to transmit any information.”

“I understand. I’ll inform you of any unusual monster should I meet one… What about you Aiden? I’m sure you are not here for no reason.”

“Don’t I have the right to say goodbye to the buddy that I spent a lot of time with on the ship?” Grinning, he turned to Valen. “If I didn’t say goodbye, I’d miz-u-soon-e!”

Valen groaned while the Commander and other onlookers chuckled. “I should have known… Thank you anyway, Aiden. I’ll be sure to tell you what I discover once I’m back.”

“Good luck Sky Piercer, and may the Sapphire Star light your way.”

Valen didn’t answer with his own response this time, simply nodding and turning around, leaving through the gate of Astera that led towards the desert surrounding one side. While the Ancient Forest was explored, the Wildspire Wastes were not, due to the more dangerous monsters that roamed it, and the lack of cover that would have allowed a Hunter to hide. This didn’t deter Valen though, as after roaming the Sandy Plains and their harsh heat, this was simply a walk in the park. He had been through worse, and he also had a personal goal to reach… That he hoped would go without issues. And thus it was with that mindset he ventured into the unknown.

It had been more than a week since Valen had left Astera. Already he knew that he was far from any civilization, and it would take the same time at least for him to come back. He had more and less walked into a straight line from the outpost, only circling around natural obstacles like valleys or rivers, all of which were now detailed in the crude map he was carrying and filling. The Wildspire Wastes were named appropriately, as not much life survived the harsh and rocky environment. But it also made the life that thrived there all the more dangerous, especially the Monsters. Valen even spotted what he believed was some red fur that was familiar, though it was an especially old sample. But the signs were clear: this was a dangerous environment, and he was alone, far from any help.

At least that's what most would think. Valen had spotted something recently, something that warmed his heart. Because laying into the sand, partially covered, was a burned scale. The silver color had faded with some strange heat and the environment, but he knew more than anybody else what it meant.

He nodded to Adem, a determined expression set in his face, and the Felyne nodded in return. They both knew what Valen needed and hoped. Now that he had no need to hide it in his backpack, Valen carried a custom flare gun clipped to his hip, one that Aki had crafted for him as a gift. It was much bulkier than a regular one, and had an elongated barrel. Loaded into it was a special kind of ammunition. Part flare, part something else, this ammunition was one Valen needed to craft himself. Even though it was complicated, he realized the need for something like this and strove to learn the recipe.

Now that he was far from Astera, he decided that it was time to fire it, he unclipped the flare gun, unlatched the safety, and, while aiming straight up with both hands, he fired it.

The recoil from the custom-made weapon and ammunition was comparable to a Heavy Bowgun firing heavy-duty ammunition. Even when bracing with both hands, Valen barely controlled the kickback from the shot. He then followed the bright shot with his eyes, glowing blue.

The propellant that was contained in the projectile catapulted it to height far beyond what any normal flare gun would achieve. It climbed higher, and higher, and higher, still burning, until Valen could barely see it, but he was certain that it was higher than the few clouds drifting around. And just as anybody would expect the projectile to simply burn out with a whisper, it blossomed.

A gigantic firework expanded high above, blue and yellow lights expanding from each other, burning bright in the morning sky. They burned for a dozen seconds, clearly visible from far away on the ground, but from even further beyond for anything flying. Valen knew that should Nikki be flying even remotely close to his location, she would see it, and instantly know what it meant. It was why Aki crafted this gift for him after all, so she could know his location no matter where he was, as long as they were not absurdly far away from each other. He had fired it only once before, so Nikki knew what it looked like. They had agreed that should he fire it, no matter what, that meant he needed her, even if it was close enough to a city for her to be seen.

Valen lowered his weapon as he saw the last remnants of the firework flare burning out. Now he only had to wait, if she saw it, she would be rushing towards his position as fast as she could manage.

So he and Valen waited. He wasn’t sure how long he would have to wait, but he at least knew that Nikki was fast.

But it was only a bit more than five minutes later that he could spot a red dot that appeared over the horizon. He smiled, it meant that Nikki pushed herself as much as she could to reach him that much faster. He did notice the red comet slow down quickly though, he pulled out a regular blue flare and scratched it on a rough part of his armor, loaded it into his Slinger, raised his left arm up, and fired it.

Immediately the red comet almost disappeared, leaving only a silver glint in the sky, which made Valen realize that she was effectively slowing down. He rarely saw her executing this maneuver, which spoke of the speed at which she was traveling.

It was only a couple more minutes before Valen could see her clearly, and she was heading directly towards them. Anybody else would have dove to the side for cover, but Valen did not, he had a huge smile on his face and was staring at her unflinchingly. And not long after, when it looked like she would inevitably collide with them, she reared up and pointed her wings straight down and immediately shed the remainder of her speed, bringing her to a halt.

She hovered down lightly before dropping to the ground with grace only an Elder could muster. Valen then dropped all pretenses and ran towards her, embracing her head wholly whispering, “I missed you.” Even though she didn’t learn his spoken language, his intention was clear enough for her, and she rumbled in response, leaning into him.

Valen felt like they stayed like this forever, as they needed this in the several months where they weren’t able to see each other. But eventually he reluctantly separated from her and repeated, “I missed you,” in their sign language.

Nikki did the same, repeating his words as Valen removed his helmet, smiling at her.

They looked at each other in the eye before they simply nodded and Valen signed, “No problem Journey?”

“No, see you boat. You me?”

“Yes. Thank you… You help.”

Nikki then tilted her head questionably. So Valen explained. “Bad dreams return. Stopp after.”

To that she simply rumbled in worry and leaned into him. Valen smiled, He wasn’t surprised she would worry about him.

“Where Nest?” He finally said, pulling out the map he was drawing. He had instructed her on how to read a map, and it had been a lifesaver for the both of them, allowing them to meet when normally it would be hard to set it up. She examined it for a couple minutes before placing a claw outside the drawn area, about twice as far from Astera as they currently were.

Valen nodded. It was about what he had expected, and would allow her to fly around without many issues.

Finally Nikki looked at him and signed. “I stay you… Then you leave.”

The hunter smiledHe would be able to catch up with her for a while, until he had to come back to Astera, and he was glad of that fact as he finally reunited with someone he so dearly missed.

Notes:

Yes, I did some rough calculations for the ETA of Nikki taking the time to arrive.
First I wondered what was the maximum distance you could see an object that was at such a high altitude, while you were at about the same altitude. Given that AWACs (the literal flying radar planes of the armies) can detect planes up to 400 km away, I took this as a good first number.
Second was then how fast could a Valstrax go. We know that they can go supersonic at the drop of a hat when they do their famed divebomb attack. But is it their top speed? I did not think so. If you analyse the cutscene in GU, you would find an absurd number, so I settled on Mach 3 as a good reasonable number. Which is around 3000 km/h.
How long would an object flying at Mach 3 take to reach a position that was 300 kilometers away (a number I chose as a good middle ground) Six minutes, aka 1/10th of an hour.
Now you realize how fast Valstrax can go if they can cross 1/3rd of an European country in six minutes.

Now that the Math segment is over, I wanna ask a question to all of you readers: I revealed at chapter 17 of Sky Piercer the reason for the book title… I now want to know what are your theories about the title Sky Render that we have now. Of course I won’t confirm or deny guesses, but I’m curious about your own theories about it. Come on, don’t be shy, suggest even if you don’t think it’s right!

Chapter 6: Reports

Notes:

Sorry for not posting a chapter last week, writer’s block hit me. But now, I am able to deliver you the chapter 6 of Sky Render! I hope you will all enjoy it! Some more story progression in it.

Chapter Text

Nikki stayed with Valen for several weeks. They traveled together, the Elder only leaving them to go hunt. Valen appreciated that she sacrificed so much of her flying time to stay on the ground, but he knew that they would eventually have to separate again, though he knew that there would no longer be such long gaps between their visits like before the “Elites” tried to assault him. They now would be able to meet more often, and Valen’s special flare allowed her to find him in the case of an emergency. However, it could only be used in true emergencies, as it was too visible and unique to not attract questions. He dared fire it as he knew they were far away enough from Astera that nobody would even be able to spot it, but he wouldn’t repeat it if possible.

Nikki stayed with Valen as he traveled around the Wildspire Wastes, filling up the map of their region as they did, with some helpful additions from Nikki, who could spot landmarks from further away. He did not note which landmarks were impossible to view from their routes, as it would no doubt attract questions as to how he spotted them. Valen left most of the drawing to Adem though, who had more talent in that field than him. The Felyne rode on Valen’s shoulder as they did.

One thing that Valen tried to do in their travels was try to extract from Nikki what she meant by calling the New World “The Graveyard.” But she refused to tell, saying that it was something that she couldn’t explain and that they had to see for themselves. She did say though that the land was full of energy, much more than she expected and expected for the place. Valen could tell that she was quite unnerved. She hid it well, but he knew some of her lies. It was mostly visible on her tail, which was twitchy at times.

Nikki even slept with them, which also had the added benefit of making every large monster leave them alone, as they instinctively knew that an Elder was very dangerous. Until they met Nikki, they had to avoid them, though they took notes on what they were - he spotted a few Barroth, some Bird Wyverns that had an inclination to steal Eggs, a couple of Rathians, one Piscine Wyvern that seemed to swim into a large mud pool they found. But most importantly, they found a Diablos, the horned Wyvern known for its short temperament seemingly at home in the harsh environment, but Valen knew it was extremely rich in the monster’s diet: Cacti. So he took note of all of them, drawing as best as he could those he was unfamiliar with, and continued to roam around.

Eventually… All things must come to an end, and as they started to get too close to Astera, Nikki returned towards the nest she had found in the New World, and Valen made almost a straight beeline to Astera, though they came from a slightly different direction, which would help them fill in the map a bit more.

Finally, after about a month in the wilderness, they could see the gates of Astera in the distance. Reinvigorated, they crossed the last of the distance and arrived in front of the large gates early into the afternoon. The two hunters that were at the guard rotation only needed to see him before raising the large door made of wood to let them inside. One of them seemed to have run to warn the Commander about his return.

Valen then walked back inside Astera, the few hunters on the way welcoming him back and greeting him. He nodded back to most of them, but they stopped when he finally arrived in front of Arcos. “I’m back Commander, and my travels have been productive. Do you want my report immediately?”

“That would be ideal, Hunter. I’ll assemble the relevant members, you know where to go.”

Valen nodded and walked towards the conference table, noting the massive changes there have been on Astera on the way, the most visible was on the Tradeyard and the housing. The ships that the whole fleet traveled on had been almost completely dismantled, leaving only one intact, and the rest now was built into the Tradeyard, which had been greatly expanded over the sea, and the housing, where the cabins in which the Hunters and Handlers traveled in had been dug out and incorporated into Astera as a whole. Valen knew that it did not look the same from the sea, giving it a massively expanded appearance contrary to what it had when they had come in. It didn’t have that much of a homely feel, but it looked much more unique.

He finally arrived at the meeting point and pulled out the notebook and the large map that he had drawn. A few people started coming in, he recognized first the Second Fleet master, who had so graciously forged the Slinger for him, who settled himself to the right of him. Next to him was the Chief Engineer, a tiny Wyverian who was responsible for the innovations in Astera, he was the original creator of the Slinger, and wore a powerful lamp on his helmet. The Chief Ecologist was on the opposite side of the table, he was the one responsible for recording all discoveries made in the New World and was a wyverian as diminutive as the Chief Engineer. He mostly wore blue-dyed garb and a scholarly hat.

Next to him was the Provisions Manager, a woman with darker skin than other people around the table, with braided hair and was holding a notebook. She was the one responsible for the Logistic side of the New World, making sure everything at Astera was running smoothly and that the camps in the hunting ground were in working order and stocked up with supplies.

Another Wyverian stopped next to her, but he was as tall as the humans this time, though he still had the pointed ears and the distinctive digitigrade feet as well as only four fingers on his hand. He was the one studying any changes in the environment and, along with the Provisions Manager and the Chief Engineer, was also responsible for the logistics of Astera. They worked together to make sure no hiccups happened. He was the one who would warn or even forbid Hunters from going to a hunting ground if he knew there was a dangerous monster roaming.

The most notable person present, at least in appearance, was the large Felyne, almost as tall as the other humans present. The Meowscular Chef, as he was called, was once The Admiral’s Palico. Now he was the one responsible for the Canteen, spending his days preparing the meals for everybody at Astera - but especially for the Hunters who were about to leave for a hunt. He wore a bandana and had one of his eyes closed permanently due to the scar running over it, likely earned during his time hunting with Arcos.

Finally, facing Valen were the Commander and the Field Team Leader. He was the one who directed the groups of hunters on the terrain and greenlit regular hunts, only vetoed by the Commander for emergencies. He was carrying a very large Greatsword made primarily of bone. A light vest was all he was wearing, which revealed the powerful muscles that made his frame.

Once everybody was gathered up, Arcos started the meeting. “As you all know, I sent the Sky Piercer on exploration duty a few days after the Fifth Fleet arrived. You are all aware that we have been unable to map out the Wildspire Waste since we first arrived at Astera. As we cannot send any more hunters into the Ancient Forest for the moment, I believe now is the time to start the preparations to establish a presence in the Wildspire Wastes: first as a research zone, then as a hunting ground once we know what we can and cannot afford to hunt.” Everybody nodded, now aware of the Commander’s goal. “So tell us your findings, Valen.”

The Hunter nodded. “First of all, we’ll need to make sure everybody brings in enough water. The heat can be quite harsh during the day, though not at the levels of the fabled Sandy Plains.” Some people nodded, they were familiar with the desert. “As for the monsters, I found some I am not familiar with and some we know from the Old World. I could confirm Barroth, Rathian, and, more importantly, a Diablos.”

“A Diablos you say?” The Chief Ecologist asked.

“Indeed, I saw one feeding on Cacti. Its food is abundant in the Wastes, so it’s no surprise that they thrive there.”

“We will have to figure out their territories then.” The Commander interjected,” Not all hunters are certified to hunt a Diablos, so it would be good to avoid a bloodbath.”

Valen noted as Aiden struggled to suppress a chuckle. He made a note to ask Aiden what had amused him later, then continued his report. “As to what I saw I was unfamiliar with, I saw one unknown Bird Wyvern. It was cream colored, had a large beak, and it seemed to eat eggs as its main diet.”

The Chief Ecologist nodded in recognition. “Sounds like a Kulu-Ya-Ku. They are common near Astera as well.”

“I also saw a Piscine Wyvern that seemed to thrive in mud much like a Barroth. I would not be surprised if those disputed the same territories.” Valen finished.

“This one will need to be named then, once we figure out more about it.”

“Did you find any safe campsites?” The Provisions Manager asked.

“A few, they are marked on the map,” Valen said, pointing to some crudely drawn tents on the map. The Provisions Manager checked, then nodded.

“Hunter Valen, what are your general feelings about the Wildspire Wastes then?” The Commander asked.

“I don’t know about the Ancient Forest as I haven’t traveled into it yet, but it seemed like there weren’t as many monsters in the Wastes. Given the rarity of plant life other than cacti, the carnivores in the area seem to predominantly hunt ApcerosI did spott some Kelbi herds grazing around though, so they may hunt those as well. I would say that the monsters have toughened up a bit due to competition, but without hunting one I wouldn’t be able to tell for sure. For now, I’d say to make sure everybody who goes there has at least a few hunts worth of experience, preferably into the Ancient Forest.”

“Those were my thoughts on that matter anyway. Now that we know the rough basics, let’s discuss how we will proceed to set up in the Wastes.” The Commander concluded Valen’s report.

Everybody agreed, and the second part of the meeting began.

Valen exhaled, removing his armor after having worn it for almost one month. He would need to clean it before he wore it again.

The meeting lasted several hours, every detail needing to be decided on, and everybody grilled Valen about every detail he remembered about his travels, which information would be passed on to the Handlers so they could start discussing the workings of the region.

It was the boring part of meetings, but Valen knew about their importance, so he just powered through it. He knew the more details he could give, the less the Hunters sent into the region would be surprised, which reduced the risks of accidents happening in the field.

At least he was able to say that he was proud of what he had done, of being part of something as important as exploring unknown territories. Though he felt a bit guilty that he had to hide Nikki’s contribution or even existence… But he had no idea how they would react should they learn about her. He was venturing into grounds unknown, and he wasn’t sure if they would praise him or immediately throw him into prison. So for now, he simply kept her a secret. He was aware that he probably would have to reveal her to Ikari at some point, but he hoped that he could make him promise to keep quiet about her.

Valen spotted that Adem was already curled up in his bed and smiled, then decided to follow his example and got into bed. Exhausted by the month, he fell asleep quickly.

The next several days then weeks passed quickly without much fanfare. There was now a lot of activity in Astera, though it was notably emptier than when Valen departed for his mission, which made sense since a lot of Hunters and Handlers were now spread around the Ancient Forest to hunt or research monsters.

Valen also had reunited with Ikari, who had finished the basic training he was due for upon his arrival. The Hunter would have given him the notes he had recorded if the whole research team wasn’t already working on them so that they could copy them and spread the discoveries to the other Handlers. He at least gave them a verbal recap of what he told the conference members the previous day, which Ikari scribbled on his notebook. He completed them when the report was made public to the Handlers.

Adem spent his spare time assisting at the kitchen with the large meals the Meowscular Chef needed to prepare. Ikari simply was taking care of the paperwork for Valen, while Valen himself simply rested after a long time on the field. News trickled into Astera, and several hunters came back with their prizes, which mostly consisted of Great Jagras and Kulu Ya Ku, and sometimes a colorful Bird Wyvern with large wings and a striped tail. Named Pukei-Pukei, this wyvern was a bully over small monsters and was notable for the large tongue he could spit, as well as the poisonous glob he could spit out and the toxic gas he could spread from its tail.

Valen heard about the exploits of Sophie, who was the only one until now who had managed to hunt all three of these common monsters in the Forest. She was currently proudly wearing an armor set made of the bright feathers of her latest prey, a very large Pukei Pukei. It had been known to the current residents in Astera for being a nuisance, but they had lacked the spare resources to take care of it until now. He had seen the quarry brought back to Astera, and even he could not stop himself from whistling at the sheer size of the wyvern, compared to the other ones that were brought in.

He had heard that she was selected to be the one protecting the next expedition in the Wildspire Wastes. The next expedition had two goals: to establish the first camps and to look for signs of Zorah since they had lost track of it a few days after the Fifth arrived in Astera due to the forest regrowing extremely quickly after his passage. The researchers weren't sure what caused this phenomenon, but they suspected it was the large concentration of Bioenergy around the humongous tree at the center of the Forest. Valen also suspected that it was the Elder’s gigantic pool of Bioenergy assisting the regrowth. A cutting of the tree had already been brought back and planted in Astera, and its growth was nothing short of explosive, already as tall as a regular tree and showing no signs of stopping, though it had slowed down since.

Shortly after Sophie left for the Wildspire Wastes, Valen was called by the Commander. He had heard reports of an Anjanath causing troubles in the Forest, and they wanted him to observe it. Due to its aggressive nature, they needed to know if it would calm down or if it needed to be put down. Valen nodded and thus he, Adem, and Ikari departed from Astera, carried by a duo of Wingdrakes.

The blue and yellow-scaled small monsters were docile, able to be trained to carry Hunters. While this would seem to be impossible due to the weight of a fully geared hunter, the wingdrakes were found to be rich in Bioenergy which they used to aid their flight, allowing them to carry the Hunters with deceptive ease.

Thus the Trio traveled to the Ancient Forest, the journey only taking a couple of days due to the speed of the small monsters. When they arrived close to their destination, Valen gasped.

The Ancient Forest had at its heart a gigantic tree. It was so tall that the canopy of the forest was only a fraction of its size. Valen could glimpse the sea to his left but he was certain that the roots of the tree spread far enough to reach it, which would give it access to the nutrients that filtered through the bed. Several Wyverns were flying around it, circling it and perched on it, looking like a bird nesting in a tree, but it gave an idea for Valen to the sheer scale of the tree. He was certain there was nothing like it and it was as ancient as the New World, being born at the same time as the landmass. It was also what had given the Ancient Forest its name, as the sheer age of the tree could not be contested.

Furthermore, as they got closer to the tree, even Valen could start to feel the Bioenergy radiating from it. It permeated the very air itself and gave chills all over his body. He also could feel how his armor guzzled it all up like a Hunter in the Sandy Plains under the mid-afternoon sun. It also made him wary too, because if it powered up his armor… What about the monsters? At least he knew that nobody other than him had permission to hunt right next to the Tree, as the Commission quickly discovered that the monsters that even traveled through were much more durable and dangerous than those further away from it. It was another reason they were worried about the Anjanath. Its territory wasn’t next to the tree, but since it had moved near it recently, they feared it would quickly grow more powerful than its peers.

Valen sent a worried glance at Ikari. The Handler knew that he had to hide himself as much as he could, but Valen worried about him freezing in a time of crisis while he should escape. After all, he would not fight as effectively if he had to protect the Handler.

At least most of the Handlers that wanted to follow their Hunter on the field had been given what was called Ghillie Mantles, which were long coats that one could put over their clothes to conceal themselves from monsters. Different ones depending on which region you would go to, but they were primarily made of leaves for the Ancient Forest. It essentially masked one’s odor and muffled their sounds, though they should still be careful where they walk. It wasn’t deemed practical for hunters unless in particular cases, they were fragile and would break too easily under the acrobatic maneuvers that hunters needed to be able to perform. There was research being done on making other mantles, but it wouldn’t be concluded unless more monster materials were made accessible. So it was something that would have results only later and may benefit all hunters as a whole. Ikari's Ghillie Mantle was folded and put into his backpack and he would put it on once they arrived at their destination. As for Valen, they would render his jetpack unusable, so he already knew that he would not be using them often.

The Wingdrakes landed right in the middle of the base camp at the foot of the Tree. It was off-limits for any hunters besides Valen, Jake, and the Field Team Leader, though Valen supposed that Aiden would probably be the first to gain access to it once he forged armor from a tough monster in the New World.

Valen dropped his backpack and stored it in the tent, only keeping his hunter’s pouch on, which contained several potions and other utilities like flash or dung pods that he would use in emergencies.

Once he exited the tent, Ikari was already draped into the Ghillie Mantle, which was the same color as the bushes and moss everywhere. He could not contest that when somebody wearing it stayed still, they would be indistinguishable from the environment. It reassured him that it would lessen the risks of Ikari being targeted, even though his fear of monsters would make things harder.

“Are you alright, Ikari?”

“I-I have a bit of jitter, but I think I can manage, as long as I am far enough…” He took a deep breath. “I’ve been trying, b-b-by approaching the captured monsters to get as close as I could. It’s a bit better, but I still want to do better.”

“Don’t worry then, I’ll make sure you are not in danger on my watch. I don’t need to engage the Anjanath, we just need to observe for a few days and make our report to the Commander.”

Ikari nodded. “Then let’s go while my nerves are steeled enough.”

Valen nodded then turned to Adem. “You are my ears as always, tell me if you hear anything unusual.”

“No worries Meowster! I’ll be sharp like paw-lways!”

Valen shook his head at the Felyne’s familiar antics and they entered the small trail leading into the heart of the forest.

They found their quarry quickly, as it was not trying to be stealthy. It even left all kinds of marks around, spraying its mucus on tree trunks where his territory was delineated. He had frowned when observing that. From what he had heard, Anjanath was not quite the Apex of the forest - that title was reserved for the Rathalos that had made his nest at the top of the tree. It and his mate were the monsters that dominated the area, having no equal among the other forest-dwellers.

The Anjanath didn’t even seem to be that old, looking barely out of the juvenile period, but it had a few scars on his legs. After conferring with Ikari, they surmised it was an individual that had won all of its fights for territories and that, after establishing itself as the top predator in his original home, had tried to make a bid for the top territory of the Forest.

They could see that the residents around did not like it, but the Pukei-Pukei that tried to challenge the Anjanath lost the fight and had to retreat to lick its wounds, though it almost could have won, the Anjanath not having gotten out of the fight unscathed. But its victory also seemed to bolster it, and its aggressiveness only increased as a result.

A Tobi-Kadachi, a Fanged Wyvern with light blue scales and a gliding membrane between his legs, and all of its coat were made of scales that could be easily electrically charged by it shaking them around, then shocking its adversary by slapping them with its tail, also contested the Anjanath. It had managed to ambush it by dropping from above on its back. And it seemed that it would win until the Brute Wyvern managed to roll over, and with a devastating bite, used its superior mass to puncture its hide and even spewed a stream of fire at it. The Tobi-Kadachi bolted immediately after it, but the damage on the Anjanath sails was done, where one was torn, and it looked like it would take a while to heal.

Ikari was scared when they found the Brute Wyvern, but he had progressively managed to regain his composure over the few days of observation… Until the Rathalos decided enough was enough.

The Rathalos made himself known by immediately snatching the Anjanath by its back, and after it flailed around, but only causing the venomous talons to sink deeper into its flesh, he slammed the monster back down in the ground, making the Anjanath topple on his side, then breathed out a fireball at the Brute Wyvern. He hovered around, then let out a powerful roar that made even Valen cover his ears.

After the injuries sustained by the last two challenges, which it hadn’t recovered entirely yet, and the brutal beat down, once it got itself back on its feet, it threw a fearful glance, and bolted into the forest, in a direct path away from the tree. It finally seemed to have gotten the message that it wasn’t welcome and not tough enough to survive the hardened monsters of the Tree.

Ikari was curled in a ball near Valen, but thankfully it only made him harder to see. The Rathalos did not miss the Hunter, however, and looked sharply at him while growling.

Valen knew that if it came to a fight, he would be the victor, but this was not why they were here, and he did not want to disrupt the established order of the forest, which eliminating the top monster definitely would. So he assumed a nonthreatening posture and holding his hands in front of him, slowly walked backwards.

The Rathalos seemed to have gotten the message that Valen wasn’t here to challenge him, and after a last snort, he flew away.

Once he was out of sight. He immediately came to Ikari's side and whispered. “The Rathalos flew away, all is clear.”

It took a while for Ikari to calm down, however, and only after several minutes when Valen instructed him to take deep breaths, he said in a hushed voice. “Sorry. It was too big of a surprise for me. I hope I didn’t disappoint you.”

Valen shook his head. “You did not. You were doing wonderfully until the Rath arrived. Take a bit to calm down and we’ll head back to the camp. You’ll stay a couple more days so that I can check where the Anjanath is headed and then we’ll go back to Astera to make our report.”

“T-t-that sounds alright for me.”

“Then let’s go, I do not want to be here when the Rathalos return to check if we are still intruding in his territory.”

So they walked back to the camp together, at as quick of a pace as they could without making too much noise. Valen knew that even though the Anjanath was trounced, it would only take its frustration somewhere else… Which might mean he would have to take care of it after all.

Chapter 7: Tremors

Notes:

So, another chapter that took 2 weeks… But this time I have an excuse I swear! This chapter is 6.7k words long, which beats my previous record! So strap in, we are for the long haul fellas!
Also… We are getting closer to the Summer Game Show, who is frigging excited for more news about Monster Hunter Wilds!? I legit cannot wait, it is going to be GLORIOUS.
Once again, thanks to The Chronomancer and AysoMetric for betaing.

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Valen tailed the Anjanath for a couple of days before he confirmed that it was going to establish a new territory close to Astera… Too close for anybody’s comfort. He made a note of it, then the group flew back to the outpost. The return flight had a heavy mood, as Valen knew that the appearance of the Rathalos would not help matters for Ikari’s phobia, and the hunter would have to bring back the grave news to Astera.

Thankfully the return flight did not last long before they landed at the gate of Astera, freeing the Wingdrakes from their burden. They saw the Commander once he had a free moment, and he agreed with Valen’s assessment that the Anjanath might become an issue, but he would prefer to assign the hunt to a hunter that wasn’t him, Aiden or Jake if possible.

“We will monitor it for several weeks and if nobody else is ready by then, I’ll give the hunt to Aiden.” The Commander explained.

“Makes sense. Except for Aiden, we already have the best gear we can ask for, so the materials would be wasted on one of us.”

“I already have an idea of who might take it. You heard about Raphaëlle's latest exploits?”

Valen raised an eyebrow. “No, what happened?”

“A Barroth ambushed the caravan that carried the supplies to set up the new camp and she managed to slay it without issues. There was also a close call with a Rathian but it was routed. One of the scientists that was with it panicked and fled into the wilderness though. She’s currently trying to find him and bring him back.”

Valen rubbed his chin. “I’m definitely going to keep an eye on her then.”

“We also managed to find Zorah’s tracks again. And if it keeps the same heading, we might have an opportunity to study it more. I’ll tell you the details once we know for sure.”

“Oh? That is good news indeed.”

“Jake is the one tasked to follow it. Once he returns I’ll fill you in. I want you on standby until then.”

Valen nodded. “Alright, I’ll be around if you need me then.”

With that, The Commander walked away to relay the news Valen brought to the researchers. Valen decided to spend the rest of the afternoon in the Gathering Hub. The place was on the ship the First Fleet originally arrived on. But when they arrived at the New World, they had met an aquatic Elder that created a huge storm and the waves crested high enough that it wedged the ship at the top of a rocky hill. In the end, they left the ship as it was, becoming the home where the First lived until the other fleets arrived. It was also how the tradition of building Astera mainly with the ships they traveled on started.

Nowadays the ship had been converted into a meeting place for Hunters, to party, bring important news to all of them, or to organize large-scale operations. Valen believed it would soon be used for this purpose if he read the intent of the Commander regarding Zorah correctly.

He shook his head, it probably looked like a crazy scheme for him, but yet it also might work. So he simply dismissed the thought and went to enjoy a relaxing time at the Hub, listening to the stories of increasingly inebriated Hunters. His favorite was the one that believed he managed to slay a Rathalos with a whole squad of Heavy Bowgun users in under one minute, after drinking what felt like a barrel of beer. However, tradition called for nobody to call out another hunter on it, so he kept quiet, and spent the rest of the night having a good time.

A couple of weeks later, a lot of developments had happened. The main one was that Zorah Magdaros had been found, and his current trajectory was determined… And it was headed right toward the Great Ravine, which gave them an opportunity that the Commander would not let go to waste.

The full council had been assembled, consisting of all the members that were present last time, but with the addition of the Argosy Captain, who commanded the ship managing the liaison with Dundorma. The ship that Valen was on had been dismantled and incorporated into Astera, as the damage Zorah caused was deemed too extensive to keep it seaworthy. Now he was doing the journey back and forth, able to make the trip faster than the Fifth had, but he also was no longer limited by the speed Zorah was traveling at. He was sitting on a stool behind the Commander.

Jake was next to him on another stool, wearing his full armor as usual.

Next to Valen was Ikari, who was acting shy but Valen believed that he was intimidated by the number of important people present. Aiden and his handler, Lea, were next to him. Aiden was currently wearing a set of armor made of a Tobi-Kadachi that had terrorized a group of scientists. The lightweight armor meshed well with the weapon he was currently carrying, a gigantic Bow where some of the Tobi quills made the curves.

Finally on Valen’s other side were Raphaëlle and Sophie, the Hunter still wearing her Pukei Pukei armor, as she found the armor made from the Barroth and Jyuratodus—the name of the giant mudfish Valen found on the Wastes—too bulky to be used with her Insect Glaive and made her too much of a target.

The Commander looked around and nodded. “Now that the Blue Flare has confirmed the heading of Zorah, we can put the plan we made into action. Our goal is to try to restrain the Elder for a few hours so that our scientists can study it before we release it. To that effect, we sent the entire Second and Fourth Fleet ahead so they could set up. I’m here to discuss the details.”

Valen raised an eyebrow and asked the first question. “Are you sure you can manage to restrain such a large Elder long enough?”

“If everything goes well, it should be restrained for a long enough time. We don’t usually attempt something like this, but the physiology of Zorah, and the location it’s about to enter provides a unique opportunity.

“As you may know, the other large Elders we know the existence of, Lao Shan Lung, Dalamadur, Gogmazios, and Shen Gaoran, are covered in scales too thick for anything but a weapon made of Apex Materials or a Dragonator to pierce. The binders we use against them mostly loops around their limbs and they free themselves quickly. In Shen Gaoran’s case, it is too tall to restrain safely, and its shell is made of bone.

“Zorah, however, is made of Volcanic Rock, which means that with harpoons, we can shoot them deep enough in its shell that they are harder to dislodge. It also allows us to shoot more of them. So eventually if we restrain his movements enough, it will not be able to exert his strength to free itself. Then once we have conducted our research, We will free it and let it continue on its way. Ideally, we’ll try not to restrain it for more than two hours..”

Valen looked at the sky. The plan seemed ambitious… But with enough luck and preparation, it might work. Though he still wasn’t sure that restraining an Elder that way was a good idea, it might anger it and provoke it to rampage and wipe Astera off the map. But before he was able to voice his concerns, somebody else, Raphaëlle, beat him to it.

“I’m worried about the risk of angering the Elder due to restraining it.” Valen nodded to show his concern, and he noted Aiden and a couple of others around the table did so as well.

“Ordinarily I would not have gone for it too. But we received information that confirmed for us that this road is an option.”

He retrieved a piece of paper from his pocket and unfolded it.

“Here is what this letter says: ‘We have received confirmation that Zorah encountered a Lao-Shan Lung on his way, and even though the other Elder battled with it and restrained it for a while, Zorah simply retreated into its shell and waited it out until the Lao seemed to realize it couldn’t bother the Elder and pursued his way after a last intimidation roar.’ So it confirmed to us that Zorah is more of a passive Elder, it may eventually wait out an inconvenience but eventually, it’ll go back on its path. We are almost certain it would do the same on our objective.”

Raphaëlle and the other seemed to be reassured by this but Valen still frowned under his helmet. However, realizing that he was alone in this, he simply shared a look with the Commander and shrugged.

“Is everybody in agreement with the plan on Zorah then?”

One by one everybody agreed, then the Field Team leader said. “We do have one matter to take care of though: The Anjanath. Zorah will be all hands on deck and I am afraid that it would realize Astera is understaffed and use the opportunity to try to rampage through it. It has already attempted probing attacks, I suspect it wants to extend its territory there. So we need to make sure it won’t be a problem before we depart for the operation.”

Valen looked at Aiden, who simply smiled and shook his head. He was about to ask why when a voice on his other side said: “I will take care of it if you allow me.”

Turning around, he was surprised by the fact that Raphaëlle was the one who forwarded herself to hunt the Brute Wyvern. So he asked. “Are you certain? It is not a weak one, for having managed to survive right below the tree for a bit.”

“I should manage. Flighty and I will be careful but we will manage. Besides, I believe I was invited here for a reason.” She raised an eyebrow at the Commander, who chuckled.

“Indeed. I intended to give that task to you from the start, and you did not disappoint me by forwarding it yourself. Succeed at this hunt, and you will be granted permission to be a solo explorer, which only a few were allowed. The only two others from the Fifth are both here.”

She firmed her stance. “Then I’ll make sure I do not fail.”

“Take the evening to prepare and go tomorrow. We leave in one week for the operation on Zorah. Everybody knows what they need to do?”

A chorus of agreement was the response. “Then may the Sapphire Star light your way. Dismissed!”

This put an end to the briefing, and Valen took his leave. There would be more meetings to discuss and refine the details, but the general information was done. The announcement would be made soon to the whole of Astera, and Valen had to prepare for his part in the operation. He glanced at Raphaëlle, who was headed towards her cabin to prepare for her hunt and nodded. He believed she would succeed in it, she had a talent he recognized only within a few hunters.

What looked like the whole of Astera had been spread out across the ledges of a gigantic pass between a mountain chain. The Great Ravine bore its name well, the pass looking like it had been created by the coming and going of gigantic monsters, and it probably was. But they had no way to know at the moment.

Valen had climbed to the top of the ridge, observing the proceedings from his position. Adem was perched on his shoulder, a familiar weight for the hunter.

He still thought the operation was far too risky for his liking, but by this point, he had been overruled, so he participated to make sure any threats that arose were dealt with.

A gigantic barrier of wood had been hastily constructed, blocking the path forward, though Valen had no doubts that the Elder would simply make it crumble by the sheer power of mass. Had they gotten more time and warning, they would have reinforced it with metal, but they had to make do. The goal was to make Zorah waste his energy breaking through it anyways, the most important barrier was further along the ravine, not visible from their position due to the twists and turns.

Countless ballistae had been erected, loaded, and ready to fire, with ammunition stockpiled near each of them. A fair amount of cannons also stood ready, just as well loaded with explosive ordinance. They would both serve well to exhaust Zorah and slow it down.

What looked like an army of hunters was also running around, manning the heavy weaponry or preparing to reload them once they were fired. All of them were decked out in their full armor, carrying their preferred weapon on their backs. There had been a last rush to upgrade weapons and armor before the operation, and it showed, with a fair amount of them proudly displaying their shiny new equipment.

However, Valen spotted Raphaëlle running around, shouting orders. She had been assigned as the lead of a squadron of hunters, after she had returned successfully from the Anjanath hunt, battered but alive, a team of Felynes pulling the body of the brute Wyvern behind her.

She had made new gear out of it, though she was using her Juyratodus weapon since using a fire-infused weapon against a fire Elder was simply asking for trouble.

Her tale of the Anjanath hunt had regaled the evenings before the departure, she had narrated how she had taken a more patient approach, using the environment to weaken it and injure it, even dropped a gigantic boulder only suspended by vines for some reason, before using its anger to lead it to an environment where it had difficulties maneuvering and fighting it to the death, the blood loss and the concussions from the boulder finally having gotten the better of it.

She had been promoted at the issue of the events and was now able to depart on exploratory expeditions alone. Valen however expected her to take the lead at one point. She had a knack for it, and the only thing that could be spoken against her was her inability to craft items on the field, only managing what could be considered “Very dubious potions, I would not drink that unless I had no other choice,” by Aiden.

He shook his head. There were whispers of her becoming the official leader of the Fifth Fleet eventually, but that would be seen in time.

Movement from the corner of his eye attracted his attention however and he looked up, and immediately his heart clenched.

A Valstrax could be seen flying overhead, which probably was Nikki, and he knew there was no way she would be unnoticed. The skies were clear of any clouds and the bright red dot was perfectly visible among the azure background.

Just as he was about to whistle for the Wingdrake that was perched next to him and fly down to the Commander, a plume of fire further along the Ravine distracted him, and after frowning, he saw their target, Zorah Magdaros that was incoming on their position, lumbering at its slow pace. He grimaced, which meant what they were preparing for was about to happen, and he wasted no time whistling for the Wingdrake, which immediately perked up and took flight. Valen grabbed the length of rope that was dangling from its harness and rode it down to the Commander.

The flight was quick and he jumped down from the rope once he was close enough to the ground, and after a quick burst from his thrusters to kill his momentum, he immediately said. “I spotted Zorah incoming from the ravine, it is about to start.”

“What about the Valstrax, will it be an issue? Our worker reports they have occasionally seen it flying above them while they were building up the defenses.”

“It is probably just curious, but I’ll be ready to repel it should it try to be aggressive.”

Arcos scratched his chin and said. “Think it is one from the Old World?”

“Maybe? There was one that was flying around Dundorma before I left. Could be the same one, could be another. We never know with them, we can’t keep track of them.”

“Strange then… Keep an eye on it, I want you to man one of those ballistae and relay to me anything unusual you notice.”

“I will Arcos.”

“May the Sapphire Star light your way then. Dismissed!”

Valen nodded and posted himself at the closest available ballista that he could see. The siege weapons were gigantic upscaled crossbows that shot bolts as long as he was tall. For peak efficiency, two people were needed to man it: one person to shoot it and one to help pull back the string and reload. The draw weight was immense enough to warrant it.

Adem would be the one that would help him. Even though the Felyne didn’t look like it, when he had a proper grip and leverage he packed surprising strength in his smaller frame. He had piled the bolts they would use next to the ballista, ready to pick them up and replace one that had just fired.

Further along, the Ravine was another barrier and concentration of ballistae, but there they were loaded with binder harpoons so that once the Elder was in position, they could use their concerted strength to restrain the mountainous Elder. Every hunter would ride on Wingdrakes once Zorah broke through the first barrier.

But that was only in the future, and Valen focused on the moment, glancing at Nikki flying in circles above, almost like a revolture waiting for its meal, but he knew that she was just maintaining the speed she was at the most comfortable flying at. Zorah was finally visible at the bend, lumbering its huge mass towards them, one step at a time. He estimated that the Elder would be in range in a couple dozen minutes and that until then they could only wait for it.

Strangely it didn’t seem to react to their presence at all, Valen had no doubts the Elder noticed them, but he guessed that it simply didn’t register them as a threat.

The wait for the Elder to approach was a tense moment, every step he took echoing through the valley. The Valstrax circling above that some took as an omen of doom. The sun is hammering on them from above, causing the heat to rise and creating distortions in the air, painting the whole ensemble into an eerie scene.

Finally, Zorah entered the effective range of the ballista and there seemed to be a hush coming over every hunter, hearts beating strongly into each of them. Valen glanced around and could see everyone that was manning the siege weapons pointing them at the lumbering giant, one finger on the trigger.

Zorah took one more step, the low boom reverberating all around, and he could feel the weight of the step by the vibrations that it sent through the ground. He took another step, getting closer and everything seemed a bit louder. ‘How will it feel when he’ll be walking right next to us? I hope we’ll be able to handle it.’

Then just as it was about to do its third step. One voice resounded clear and wide through the improvised fortress. A voice that Valen had talked with not that long ago. The Commander shouted through a voice amplifier and said. “BALLISTAE, FIIIIIIRE!!”

Valen immediately depressed the trigger of the ballista. The twaaang of the string releasing all of the tension it was holding since he had armed it made the whole of the wood jerk. He watched the bolt already streaking towards the carapace of the Elder as he had aimed it, surrounded by countless others as everybody manning a ballista followed the Commander’s order..

It took a couple of moments for the rods to streak through the air and impact the black shell of the Elder. The impact seemed negligible, but Valen could spot some fragments of black shell exploding from the bolts impacting them. Though the overall effect on the Elder was minimal, it didn’t even react at all and continued his leisurely stride.

Valen helped Adem pull on the string, reloading the weapon, and then he corrected the aim that had shifted during the reload and fired again.

The first volley of shots became more of a constant barrage after that, every pair reloading at their rhythm, depending on their strength or their comfort with using the weapon.

Even still, Zorah Magdaros continued uninterrupted, and it came closer and closer to the barricade. Then suddenly the Commander shouted again. “CANNONS, FIRE!”

Countless detonations occurred in the valley at once, the noise deafening due to the echo, and he could see countless cannonballs, all filled with explosives, arc toward the Elder. And this time the explosions that covered its frame had more of an impact than the ballistae. Small craters now covered its shell, though they weren’t that deep, and he could see that Zorah flinched a bit from the huge assault. It seemed to pause for a bit but resumed its walk still, barely affected by the barrage, walking closer to the barrier, and now surrounded from, side and back by siege weapons.

But it did eventually grow irritated by the barrage, especially as one cannon shell impacted directly next to its eye, making it flinch. Zorah side-eyed the offending cannon, and raised himself completely, shifting from four to two legs, a gigantic paw raising with calculated but deliberate slowness. The hunters manning the siege weapon did not wait, and fled it immediately, which was wise, as the paw immediately slammed on it, completely wrecking it.

Seemingly satisfied, Zorah resumed walking towards the barrier on two legs. Everybody seemed to understand what was its intention: to crush the barrier with its immense weight. So it wasn’t surprising that every hunter that posted on it immediately started to book it, not wanting to be on the construct when Zorah decided to flatten it.

After firing another ballista bolt, Valen was about to help Adem reload a new one when the Felyne spoke up. “We’re all meow-t of ammo, Meowster!”

He nodded. “Then let’s prepare for step two. The Commander wants us, along with Raphaëlle and Aiden on its shell to target the magma cores.”

They had discovered that if they could break these, it would render Zorah lethargic while it repaired itself, and was the real reason it had waited the Lao-Shan Lung out: the Mountain Elder had broken one of them during their tussle.

Valen glanced above, Nikki seemed to still be circling the area, a curious observer above all of them. He looked back at Zorah, it had now reached the barrier, and he could see it starting to brace its front paws for the action it was about to accomplish.

Valen watched as slowly, eerily, Zorah crushed the barrier with a resounding cacophony of splintering wood and snapping ropes grinding against its shell. The barrier crumbled before its weight and showered Zorah with debris, some of which caught fire as they landed near its magma cores. Now back on all fours, it resumed its walk.

“GREAT JOB HUNTERS! PHASE ONE IS DONE, ALL ABOARD YOUR WINGDRAKES FOR PHASE TWO!”

Everybody reacted, and a huge flock of Wingdrakes, with hunters hanging below them, started to fly ahead of the Ravine, towards the second barrier, and all of the Ballistae loaded with Binders.

Valen whistled for his own Wingdrake, which swooped above him soon after and he caught the rope dangling below it. Adem grabbed his foot, hitching a ride on it, and they both flew to catch up with Zorah.

He spotted Raphaëlle flying a bit away from him, and Aiden not far from her. They nodded at him. They all had their target Magma Core and would try to assist the others once they took care of it.

Valen dropped to the top of the huge volcano-like shell, releasing the rope and cushioning his fall with a burst of his thrusters, barely a thought needed to activate them as if they read his thoughts. The behavior weirded him out at first, as they had integrated controls for them in his fingers but he eventually did not need them. He and Aki decided to keep them anyway for redundancy.

Adem had dropped next to him and followed his steps. The heat around was high, but there was a reason his armor was well insulated, and it was to allow him to operate in the harshest environments, either hot or cold.

He leaned forward and looked through the hole at the top, and as it has been reported, there was indeed a magma core at the bottom, pulsing with energy and occasionally releasing hot magma.

Valen offered an arm to Adem and said. “I’m going to drop down. Hold on tight, I’ll need to do a controlled descent.”

The Felyne jumped on his arm and after a deep breath, Valen jumped.

They accelerated only for a moment before his thrusters ignited, in a low but constant burn that allowed Valen to dodge the jutting imperfections in the tube that occasionally cropped. It became darker, the only light coming from the hole at the top, and the pulsing core below.

Eventually, they got close to the ground and his thrusters made a last burst to slow him down before he landed with a crouch. He straightened up and immediately drew his weapon. The gigantic Magma Core, several times bigger than him, loomed over him, the red hue betraying the intense heat it was radiating, that Valen could even feel through his insulated armor. He worried about Adem before the Felyne reassured him that he had drunk a cold drink before coming.

So with a nod, he immediately swung his weapon at the spire, chipping it and causing some cracks to drop down. He inspected his hit and judged it would take a while to make a sizable enough dent, so after enough wind-up, he struck again, more forcefully.

Adem followed his strikes, hitting it with his small sword between Valen’s swings. Eventually, the chips grew in size, becoming bigger, and bigger, but suddenly a bright glow started to emerge from them and Valen widened his eyes.

“TAKE COVER!” was all he had time to say before diving out of the spot he was striking.

Both of them narrowly managed to dodge the intense jet of magma that erupted from the spot they were hitting, intense heat radiating from the liquid magma.

Valen exhaled, that had been too close for comfort. But he steadied himself, they still had a job to do.

They did not stay in the same spot this time, deciding to weaken the structure all around, Valen started to strike higher up after, while Adem took care of the ground level. And they worked tirelessly at it, until.

CRACK.

With a resounding sound, a spiderweb of cracks suddenly appeared on the magma core, all of them slowly brightening up.

Valen immediately reacted, picking up Adem with his free hand, and ignited his thrusters right after, followed by his weapon that he pointed down once they were airborne. He aimed for a ledge higher up and managed to throw Adem at it then grab it with his now free hand, holding himself up with only that hand. He hoisted himself up immediately after, putting the ledge between him and the core below.

A resounding boom occurred below him, followed by a geyser of magma that filled the whole chamber. Said magma pulsed around and slowly started to solidify.

The whole tube started rocking, and it was only Valen’s honed reflexes that allowed him to hold on by digging with his weapon and using it as an anchor. They heard a roar, and they had no doubts about its origin. They steadied themselves for several long seconds before the shaking stopped. Valen waited a bit more before he peered below.

The core surprisingly was still intact… But while it was pulsing with energy and heat before, now it was dimmed, almost like the same appearance as the rock around save for the less rough aspect of it.

He nodded at Adem. “Our job is done here, let’s head back up…” Then looked above. “This is going to take a while.”

Thus they started climbing up, the numerous handholds present in the rock at least helped him in his task. He made frequent stops at ledges and always made sure there was one below him, because he had no doubts his partners would eventually complete their task, and Zorah would react just as violently as it had done before.

Which it eventually did. And thankfully Valen was at a stop at this time, though this time they almost got thrown off before they managed to steady themselves. Once the shaking stopped, it made them go faster in their ascent, they did not want to be in the same position for the third time…

And as luck would have it, right after they finished their ascent and they were on solid ground, Zorah roared again, for a third time and the shaking was even more violent this time. It abated, however, and they straightened up once they were sure all was clear.

What they did had an impact however, Zorah’s movements were visibly more sluggish and it seemed to falter in its steps. It was right at the perfect time even, as Valen could see they almost reached the second barrier and were about to enter the area where they would attempt to bind it.

He looked around, every hunter that was manning cannons or ballistae at the first barrier was now manning a Ballistae, without a partner to reload. The entire operation had been extremely expensive and cost a large portion of their resources, but should it succeed, even partially, they would gain extremely valuable insight into Elders and the Crossing.

Every step by Zorah was now extremely slow, calculated, and laborious. It seemed it was about to collapse from exhaustion. Which, given their goal, was good news.

Valen prepared to brace himself. Once the Elder was restrained, it was certain to try to free itself. He looked around and managed to spot the Commander standing upon one of the ledges, holding a voice amplifier in his hand. Their eyes met and both knew that what was about to happen might make history.

He raised the amplifier and shouted: “BINDERS! FIIIIIIRE!”

Suddenly, every ballistae shot bone harpoons with a rope trailing behind them, that was connected to the foundation of the ballistae, and it was the task of the shooter to secure the rope once it connected to the target.

Quickly enough, every harpoon connected to the shell of the Elder, and they immediately reeled the rope in, tensing it and reducing the range of motion of Zorah.

Zorah tried to thrash around, but he could only manage one sideways lurch before every rope had tensed enough that it couldn’t wind itself far enough to budge the harpoons. A few had failed to penetrate or dislodged when tensing, but it was a simple affair for the shooter to reel it back in an attempt to shoot again.

A few tense moments happened, where they waited in bated breath to see what the Elder would do, before it seemed to slump, too lethargic to put in an effort.

Valen was about to release the breath he was holding before somebody shouted, somebody that he recognized. “HOLD! ELDER INCOMING!” The voice of Jake resounded in the valley, and Valen looked up, fearing that Nikki was involving herself and that he made a mistake, but she was still circling above… Then movement in the corner of his vision directed his focus to it, and he narrowed his eyes.

Another Elder, but which seemed this time to be fully covered in spikes on his back, front paws, and wings, was diving towards them. His reflex was to unsheathe his weapon so he was battle-ready… Before he realized that it was aiming for the back of the Elder shell, towards where Raphaëlle’s assigned core was.

If everything was going to plan, Aiden should already have been going to join her, as it was where they would be taken back into the air by their Wingdrakes. But Valen needed to get down from the highest point of the Elder… But it was also a good thing that he had a way to get down quickly.

“I’m going to jump, climb on Adem!”

The Felyne did not question the order and grabbed his leg. Valen ran up and jumped from the volcano, splaying out his limbs… And with only a thought, the thrusters powered on at low power, pushing him towards his goal.

He could see that Raphaëlle was already engaged in combat with the unknown Elder. She was dancing in the air, carefully applying bursts of compressed air to redirect herself mid-flight.

Even with his boost, Valen landed still a way away from the fight. He lost no time however and ran the remaining distance.

It was only when he circled a jutting rock that he could see the two fighting again. Though he was relieved to see that the huntress seemed to have received no injuries yet. And on the other side of the field, he saw Aiden arriving as well, and he shouted: “I’M BAAAAAACK, MISSED ME?”

The shout had the effect Aiden wanted, as it immediately attracted the attention of the Elder. Valen now had a clearer view of it, and it was truly the most intimidating he had ever seen. Two giant, hulking horns emerged from its head, and white spikes sprouted from the back of its head until halfway through its back, giving it the appearance of a mane. Its underside was covered in orange scales, while the rest of its body besides its wing had brown scales.

Its paws were tipped with sharp claws, and the back of its wings were covered by scales as well, giving it a tougher appearance than most. Finally, a tail covered by spikes that lashed behind it completed the armament it possessed.

Valen never had heard about this Elder, because it was undoubtedly one, so he had no idea what its capabilities were. Though he would say it favored close-quarter combats as he didn’t see any indication it was able to use a breath attack or something similar. So he started approaching carefully, holding his weapon on the side, and Raphaëlle finally landed next to him from her latest aerial acrobatics.

“Anything you noticed while fighting?” Valen asked.

“It doesn’t fly that much, more like jumps with the assistance of its wings. No breath attack and only physical attacks… Though I don’t know if it can throw these spikes at us, given these weren’t grown on its head when I started fighting.” She answered while panting, catching her breath. “Also it is fast, really fast.”

“I see. So we keep our distance ideally.”

The Elder did not pursue its assault, seemingly observing the four, then five of them as Aiden joined them as well, along with Flighty.

An awkward standoff ensued, and just as it seemed the Elder was about to jump at them to resume the fight, hugging a tall wall of the shell, the Commander's voice shouted. “FIRE!”

All of them, even the Elder, looked at the source, and they saw a huge volley of ballista bolts streaking towards the Elder, only from one side of the valley, as the other side was blocked by the shell.

Valen gripped his weapon tighter, as he didn’t know how it would react, but the Elder surprised him by simply extending his wing and covering his flank with it, then countless amount of bolts struck it, most of them bounced from it through a few had the tip stuck a bit into it… Until the elder shook its wing and they all fell off.

The group firmed their stance. The fact that even on its wing, the powerful ballista bolts barely bothered it spoke about the resilience of its scales.

However, just as it was about to jump at them, a figure dropped from the air from a Wingdrake and immediately unsheathed its weapon, which Valen immediately recognized as a Longsword which only meant that the one fighting the unknown Elder was Jake.

Jake seemed to dance with the Elder, smoothly stepping away from the strikes, sneaking a couple of hits back though they didn’t pierce its scales. It didn’t seem to discourage the hunter, as he continued his fight.

Raphaëlle and Aiden looked like they wanted to help but Valen stopped them. “Wait, he needs a lot of room to swing his Longsword. We go if he starts having difficulties, we’ll only be a hindrance at this stage.”

And it was a truth, most Longsword users paired poorly with non-ranged hunters, which was why most of them formed pairs with them. It was the main reason not as many hunters used the Longsword, as it was a difficult weapon to work as a team.

It also displayed the experience of Jake, who even though it was the first time he was fighting such an Elder, seemed to understand its capabilities and expertly dodged its attacks.

Then suddenly the Elder reared up and attempted to slam his paw on Jake, but he had managed to sidestep it, and he used his momentum to spin around and unleash a devastating slice that cut through all the spikes on that paw. His opponent flinched away, not expecting this outcome. Jake returned to his neutral stance, waiting for the Elder to make its next move. But instead, it simply observed him, seemingly looking at the hunter with a calculating look. He then looked at the three of them waiting to engage, all of them tensed so they could jump at the moment Jake was struggling or there was a safe opportunity to do so.

The Elder seemed to reconsider its chances and then looked above. Valen followed his sight, and he could recognize the signs that Nikki was preparing herself to dive-bomb at a moment’s notice.

Then it concluded, unleashed a powerful roar that rattled their eardrums, and spreading its wings wide, flew away, unbothered.

Valen only relaxed when it had disappeared, then immediately joined Jake who had sheathed his Longsword. “Do you know this Elder?”

“We have gotten sightings of it before. We call it Nergigante, I sighted it once as well, but no altercations were issued out of it. For some reason, it seems to exclusively target Elders. I think it wanted to make a meal out of Zorah, but realized we were too big of an opposition to face, and it was uncertain of the outcome.”

“That was my suspicion as well… I have a feeling we’ll see it again.”

“Given our goal of studying Elders? I have no doubts. The question will be who will be tasked to fill it. I’m sure it would be an opportunity for our new rising stars to reach our level.”

Valen hummed. “Good point. Still. It looks like the operation was a success, to my surprise.”

“I will admit I had my doubts in the operation too, but we managed in the end. Now to exploit the opportunity before it stops.”

And indeed, right after he said that the Commander shouted. “GOOD JOB HUNTERS, RESEARCHERS, NOW IS YOUR TIME, GET DOWN HERE AND DO YOUR TASK, REMEMBER, WE ARE ON A TIME LIMIT!”

Valen looked at the Commander and nodded. The operation to temporarily capture Zorah was a success… And now they could start studying it. Nikki seemed to have stopped circling above and flew away, Valen no longer at risk

Notes:

I was tempted to name this chapter “Snorah” at first, but I don’t think everybody would get the joke xD
In other news, we now have our first major canon difference in MHW. Normally Zorah would simply free itself from the binders and continue on its way, making the operation a fail. However here the operation is a success and the Research Commission is about to get valuable data on it! I wonder what other changes this might incur in the future…
I am curious though, what are your favorite monsters in MH for all of you? There is no question for me, but I wonder how much overrepresentation of Valstrax is there here due to that? xD

Chapter 8: Passage

Notes:

Sorry, this chapter is a bit late, I was busy this weekend. We are still progressing in the story, but do not worry, action is coming soon! Enjoy this chapter in the meantime!
ALSO! I finally got real covers for the story, check them out, I’m sure you’re gonna love them! Massive thanks to Amayensis for drawing these for me!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Sky Render - Regal_Eagle - Monster Hunter (Video Games) [Archive of Our Own] (1)

Although they were certain that Zorah was lethargic, everybody was still tense as the researchers crawled all around the mountainous Elder. Most of them retrieved samples from its shell, but they also conducted a few experiments by testing the reactions of items around it.

Valen was himself accompanying Ikari, his handler admitting that he wouldn’t be able to focus on his work if he wasn’t near. It didn’t bother Valen though, as he knew the difficulties he had regarding monsters. However, he did see that he was progressing on that front, as he was able to accompany them on this critical and unprecedented operation.

“I think the fact that Zorah is so big helps. I don’t see its face, so it helps me distance my fear. I don’t think I would be as calm next to a more regular-sized Elder though.” Ikari admitted when Valen asked him about that.

Still, every Handler was doing their task, having split into small groups to make everything faster. Ikari was tasked to examine the magma cores so as to discern their workings.

Eventually, the time limit was up, and everybody was asked to depart from Zorah’s shell. The Elder was still out of it, but the Commander did not want to take any chances, and it would allow them to dislodge the harpoons so that the Elder would not destroy the ballistae as it tried to free itself.

One thing somebody was worried about was that several earthquakes occurred during Zorah’s immobilization. What was even more cause for concern, however, was the fact that they became more violent and frequent as time went by, which was another reason they did not want to push their luck.

Eventually, they freed Zorah from its bindings and caused the barrier to collapse, as they knew it would plow through it anyway if they left it up.

Then, suddenly, when the volcanic Elder stirred, a powerful earthquake rocked the area, making everybody unsteady on their feet. It was so powerful that some outcroppings collapsed, and Valen saw one barely miss a group of Hunters before it tumbled down the ravine.

One last powerful shake caused everybody to lose balance and fall, Valen included before a loud, gigantic crack echoed through the whole ravine. Zorah roared, finally awake, and then the shaking stopped. Valen only waited for a split second to confirm that the shaking had stopped before straightening up on his feet. He looked at Zorah, who seemed to be studying them all intensely, looking around, before it grunted, and started to walk, resuming its journey through the Ravine.

Valen unclenched the hand that was gripping his weapon tightly, exhaling in relief. He had been worried about the reaction that Zorah would have when it woke up, but it seemed to dismiss them and resume its journey. He looked around, noticing that more of the rock at the top of the ravine had fallen, and he hoped that not too many people had gotten hurt.

The gigantic crack was what worried him, that sound was powerful, and the fact it happened right after the last shake meant something happened, but he had no idea what.

He spotted the Commander as he approached a ledge and shouted orders. “PACK EVERYTHING NOT TIED DOWN! HUNTERS, WE’RE HEADING BACK TO ASTERA!”

This was a change of plan, as the original schedule was to disassemble all the siege weapons, but it seemed that this new development worried the Commander. It worried Valen too, so he understood.

Looking at Zorah who was walking leisurely, every step heard by them, he hoped they did not underestimate the power the Elder wielded.

After everybody was back at Astera an Emergency council was called into session. Everybody was tense, which was a logical conclusion to the event, as the only two major happenings were the appearance of Nergigante and that last earthquake. So if you counted these two events out, the operation was a resounding success.

“Now that everybody has had time to calm down and file up everything we discovered, we need to discuss our two events.” The Commander began the session, then nodded at the Huntsman.

“That Elder that attacked us? We call it Nergigante. We encountered it before, but it was only from a distance. This was the first time we fought it. Raphaëlle, you told me of your own experience while trying to survive it. I’ll add that it was fighting more like a Rajang than anything else… But I also want to warn you that it seemed to be clever, it seemed to anticipate my movements, and I was on the defensive the whole time.”

“I noticed that indeed. I think it is only thanks to Cara that I managed to survive that long. My Kinsect seemed to be a good distraction for it.”

“I’ll take that into note under its file.” The Chief Ecologist said.

“Now, about the earthquake… I tasked the Field Team leader to figure out if something happened… And he has indeed found out what.” The Commander went to the other subject.

“I sent a couple of hunters on their Wingdrakes both ways along the Valley to scout. The one that went where Zorah came from found nothing. The one that went the other way, however…” He unrolled a crudely drawn map on the table. “Here is what we know of how the Great Ravine looks like, as it is a single continuous valley through this mountain chain… And here is what my scout found out.”

He unrolled a new map, that was a drawing of a divergent path in the single ravine. Everybody seemed to freeze at this discovery.

“A new passage was formed in the ravine, one that led to a different area. The scout did not go down the path, as he did not know how treacherous the path was. But he managed to confirm something: Zorah continued its journey through this new path.”

“Wait… Are you implying that it was Zorah's goal to go through this path all along?” Sophie asked, wide-eyed.

“We have no idea at this point… But I would not be surprised if that was Zorah’s goal indeed, to use his immense bulk to bore a new path from the great Ravine through a weakness already present. But by immobilizing him we caused something from him to lash out, and the earthquake caused the weakness to crumble and create the new path.” The Chief Ecologist said, flipping through his book. “We know very few things about Elders… But we do know they are capable of changing the environment around them. We were now able to see this ability in action.”

Valen sighed. “I know that Valstrax tends to nest in or on tall mountains and that their continued presence causes the area to become infused in dragon energy, but it is a long process, and for an Elder to be able to alter its environment so suddenly…” He shook his head. “I wonder where it is going.”

“More likely wherever it is that Elders go after the Crossing. And we have yet to find out exactly where or why. But as you all know, that is the goal of this Commission.” The Commander reminded them. “Hunters Raphaëlle and Valen, I want the both of you to explore this new passageway Zorah took. Find out what is on the other side and explore as much as you can before reporting back. I give you one month for this task. The Field Team Leader will accompany you to the location of the new path, but from then you will be on your own. I want Sophie and Ikari to join you because while we had an idea of what the Wildspire Waste looked like, we have no idea what is beyond the Great Ravine. Normally the Third Fleet would have been the ones to take care of that, but since they went missing...”

Valen nodded, it was a task similar to the one he received not long after he arrived in Astera. “I will ready my belongings after this, then.”

“So will I,” Raphaëlle added.

“A long-term expedition? This is exciting!” Sophie said. “Let's not disappoint, then!”

Ikari only nodded.

“Then may the Sapphire Star light your way. Dismissed!”

Valen left the council table, which had started talking about all the discoveries they had made about Zorah. Valen knew that he would be informed of them once they had time to compile them all, but he knew that they would have a lot to catch up to once he and Raphaëlle returned.

The Wingdrake dropped him at a natural outcropping that formed at the fork of the now two paths that composed the Great Ravine, then went to perch itself above him. Raphaëlle, Sophie, and Ikari dropped next to him, along with both Felynes and the Field Team Leader, who nodded at the group. “Good, you are here. As you can see, we don’t know if the path is safe. So I suggest you be careful in your travels — some of those outcroppings look fragile and might drop from any disturbance.”

Valen looked above him, and he knew that was the truth, some of these outcroppings were on a precarious balance on the edge. “It does seem that way, Field Team Leader…”

“Please, all of you call me Lukas, you have earned that right several times over.”

“Thank you, Lukas.” Valen frowned. “We are going to have to be careful. Shouldn’t we use the Wingdrakes for this?”

“We would still have to fly in the ravine. They don’t want to fly above these mountains, for some reason. We still don’t know why but we suspect they have a natural predator patrolling these mountains. And flying in this ravine is risky when we don’t know the layout. Maybe on the return trip?” Sophie pointed out and suggested.

“Then let’s make haste, if we have to travel on foot, that’ll cut into the time we have before we return,” Raphaëlle said.

“I will leave you to it then, good luck to all of you,” Lukas concluded. He then whistled, and his own Wingdrake came to carry him away.

They watched him fly in the Ravine before they focused on their path ahead and Valen spoke. “I’ll lead, if something crumbles before my feet, I’ll be able to get to safety,” He said while pointing at the thrusters on his back.

“Then I’ll be closing the group,” Raphaëlle said, who was currently wearing the full set of armor as well as the weapon she made from the Anjanath.

None of their handlers protested against this arrangement, and they went on their way, walking carefully on the treacherous path, which was full of jagged rocks. Thankfully, Valen’s boots protected him from harm. Still, he advanced carefully, testing the stability of the ground at every step before progressing. It was slow progress, but a necessity because of the danger of their surroundings.

“So, Sky Piercer, do you have any ideas about what we are going to find on the other side?” The voice directly behind him asked, which was Sophie.

He finished testing a new section of ground before answering. “I really can’t say. We know nothing about the biomes of the New World, so it could be anything. Might even be something we have never seen before. Also, call me Valen, you don’t need to call me by my title every time, especially since we’ll see a lot of each other over the next few weeks.”

She hummed. “Good point.”

Valen asked his own question. “What do you think of Raphaëlle? I have heard about her feats, but I don’t know what you think about her, being at the forefront of the Fifth Fleet.”

She chuckled. “The only thing that stops them from naming her the leader of the Fifth is that you and Aiden exist, but maybe once she hunts an Elder that won’t stop them anymore.”

“Definitely won’t. Won’t be for a bit though I believe, even though she proved she can stand her ground against the Nergigante, she just lacks good enough gear to go a full hunt. I may have hunted a Valstrax in only Plesioth gear, but to be honest, that was just because of sheer luck.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, you ARE good, you just are too modest to flaunt it. And it is also why people like you, they like how relatable you are.”

He nodded, this was something he had realized and made sense for him. “You make good points… Also, I think the current path we are on is ending. We will have to rappel down to the ground level to continue.” And he was right, the outcropping they were on had ended.

Raphaëlle said from behind them. “I will prepare the rope, you find a good place to descend.”

So they set up ropes so that they could pursue their mission.

Their group had been traveling for a couple of days, and they thought there would be no end in sight… Sleeping in the ravine also was a tense moment, they had to take turns on watch as they felt exposed, but they did not give up. They had a mission to achieve, and they would achieve it. A couple of close calls happened with rocks that suddenly fell from above, but they were careful for just that reason, after all. Their Wingdrakes followed them, lagging a bit behind, staying on the rock outcroppings but never flying higher than the top of the Ravine.

Then, after crossing one last bend, they saw something different in the distance.

“Is it… Looks like we are finally coming to the other side!” Sophie said as she put on her mask, which served as a long-view. “Though… I cannot recognize the type of environment that I can see.”

Valen frowned. “Then let's continue. I’ll be glad to be out of the Ravine, at the very least.”

The group was reinvigorated by this new development, and they walked at a brisk pace, observing more details about the familiar environment, until they finally emerged from the ravine… And all of them gasped.

What greeted them was unlike anything they had ever seen before. It wasn’t a forest, it wasn’t a desert, it wasn’t cold and icy plains or tundra. It was something that felt like the coast around tropical waters. There were gigantic structures that had shapes not dissimilar to coral, tree-like plants that were of an unnatural pink above the surface, and white motes that felt like pollen floated all around, drifting gently with the wind.

Countless pillars that became larger at the top, not unlike some mushrooms, but made of stone were before them, and there were also plants looking like algae but which were simply above ground. The whole ensemble felt eerie and unexpected. It was something unique, that most assuredly wouldn’t be found anywhere else. It was… Different .

“It looks like we are in the sea…” Sophie marveled.

“I… This is truly different, I have never seen anything like this before,” Valen murmured.

Raphaëlle continued, “What could have caused the environment to morph like this, I wonder?”

“I would not exclude Elder influence… It is too unusual to dismiss it. But what kind of Elder would be able to do this? That's what worries me.” Valen said, then turned to Adem. “Smell anything unusual?”

“Smells like the sea… It is indeed quite un-mew-sual.”

“Hmmm. What do you think, Ikari?”

“It is breathtaking… And I’m interested to see how the local ecosystem functions. I would not be surprised if it is a mix of land-bound monsters, and others that are more at home at the sea.”

“Let's explore, then. We should be able to find more clues by looking around.”

Everybody nodded and they moved as a group. Sophie and Ikari were both writing and drawing furiously in their notebooks, recording everything they could manage.

They took frequent stops so that their handlers could collect and store samples in their bags. Several large monsters could be seen flying in the distance, but they were indistinct, blurred by the pollen flying in the air everywhere. They could identify a couple of monsters though, one being a Royal Ludroth, with its harem of Ludroth, the yellow-scaled leviathan having its spongy mane gorged with water.

They were more surprised by the Ivory Lagiacrus that they managed to see roaming around, keeping close to the numerous sources of water that were present everywhere. The Leviathan’s presence was unusual so far from the sea, but given that the Subspecies preferred the land to the open ocean, it made sense.

The group spent around a week walking around, discovering new facets of the environment that they realized was treacherous to cross, and they made liberal use of the grappling hooks incorporated into their slingers to navigate. They discovered new species, one being a Flying Wyvern covered in white fur and with a flat, sturdy tail, but which had the strange ability of being able to inflate its throat to hover around instead of flapping its wings.

They also found what they believed was the Apex Wyvern of the area, a large Flying wyvern that seemed to control ice. It had a great ability to maneuver in the air and hunt the local Wingdrakes. The Handlers noted that they nested in places that were high in the Highlands.

A blue-scaled Bird Wyvern that was able to create an intense flash from tendrils that emerged on the sides of its head was another new species, though it was nowhere near the top of its food chain.

Several small monsters were also spotted, but they were not as intensely observed as the large Wyverns.

The flora was mainly what attracted their attention as it was the most unusual part of the new biome, being so completely different and strange that it would busy the researchers of Astera for months or even years to come.

So the group was traveling around at the top of mushroom-like coral, carefully jumping to the next one… Until Adem straightened up, ears perked up.

“Wait Meowsters, I hear something.”

Valen stopped and looked back at the Felyne. “Something dangerous?”

“Wings flapping. I think a Wyvern is coming, but I’m not paw-sitive. I’ll try and figure it out fur sure..”

Flighty had her own ears perked up too, trying to figure out where the noise came from. Everybody stopped, looking around, Valen had a hand on his weapon while Raphaëlle sent Cara, her Kinsect, flying around and got her Glaive in hand.

“Adem, cover our Left Wing, Flighty, do so for our Right Wing, Raphaëlle, you’re in charge of the Tail of our group, I’ll take the Head. Sophie, Ikari, you look around wherever attracts your attention and signal us if you see anything.” Valen said, taking charge and giving them a basic plan.

Everybody was now tense, ready for anything. They looked above and below them, the mist that was present down below obscuring most of their sight.

They stayed like that for a couple of minutes, keeping their senses sharp… And were about to relax when suddenly Flighty shouted. “BELOW!”

Valen reacted, getting away from the ledge, Raphaëlle and Ikari did the same, but Sophie was slow to react… And when the ice-wielding Flying Wyvern suddenly appeared from the mist below, she lost balance and fell.

Raphaëlle was about to dive after her, but she was stopped by Flighty, who simply pointed to Valen doing the same, and she understood that he had a better chance of stopping their fall. Instead, she saw the Wyvern that was about to attack them.

It was all Valen was able to glimpse before the edge obstructed his sight. Sophie had panicked for an instant before her training kicked in and she splayed out her limbs, increasing her air resistance. Valen lined up his arms with his body in comparison, increasing his speed and the whistling of the air around him. But he caught up quickly with her, and after maneuvering, he managed to hold onto her with one harm, and she held him with both in response.

Seeing the ground coming close, he flipped the both of them so that their feet pointed down, unsheathed his weapon, and ignited all thrusters. The sudden deceleration almost threw off his grip on Sophie but he held strong, and they landed on the ground with only a jarring on Valen’s knees, though the Handler cried in pain.

Valen immediately dropped his weapon and held onto her. “Are you fine?”

“Feet hurts… Might be sprained.” She said with a grimace.

He nodded and helped her get out of her shoes. She hissed as he pulled it out, and Valen frowned, the skin around her ankle was red and swollen. “It is indeed. Let me treat it. It should be able to heal by tonight, but we’ll have to be careful with it until then.”

Valen rummaged in his pouch and retrieved a Potion from it. The medicinal drink tasted bitter, but it kicked the body recovery process into high gear. Potions are to be used sparingly though, as overusing it makes the body make mistakes during the healing process… And causes a certain type of illness that was incurable and marked the end of a Hunter’s career.

The anesthetic properties of the Potion also helped Sophie to ignore the pain. “Better…” She still grimaced for moments but wasn’t in as bad of a state as before.

The emergency over, Valen finally took the time to study their surroundings. They would use the Wingdrakes to get back to the top if needed, even if it exhausted them, but Valen first looked for alternatives. The first thing he noticed… There were bones everywhere, the ground was littered with them, some of them protruded from the walls, and they were all in varying states of decomposition. They created a crunching sound when he made a step, though the ground was more stable than he expected.

He then noticed something he hadn’t until now, mainly because his armor was partially sealed when he put on his helmet: the stench of rot was permeating everything. It was everywhere and almost overbearing for him, but he bore through it.

He glanced at Sophie and was relieved when she was already pulling out a mask to put over her face.

Valen, however, felt like something was missing, like he was missing an important element that he just couldn’t recall… Before it hit him. This whole area was a graveyard.

“This is a graveyard.” He whispered. “Do you think… This is where Elders are heading towards?”

Sophie immediately went to attention, studying the environment before answering excitedly. “Maybe… Though I don’t see any signs that Elders came through here. We will have to make a more extensive search and study of the area before we can conclude.”

“You haven’t looked hard enough for Elder signs.”

Valen and Sophie whirled around, facing the voice that sneaked on the both of them. The Hunter was taken aback, however, when he realized that it was a woman with white hair, a bulky backpack, and a large mask that covered her entire face.

“My excuses, I did not intend to surprise you, I’m the Tracker, from the First Fleet… Would I be correct that you are from the Fifth?” She removed her mask, revealing an aged yet kind face to Valen and Sophie.

“We are. You studied this environment a lot?”

“I did. I call it the Rotten Vale.” She smiled. “It has amazing properties, but we should discuss that later. Do you need a safe place to rest?” The both of them nodded. “Follow me, I know a place.”

Valen raised a hand. “Wait, this isn’t all of us, we got separated from our companions, do you know a way up top first?” She nodded. “Let me signal them to wait then.” He then retrieved a yellow flare, lit it up, and fired it up. Soon after, a matching flare came from the top. Yellow was used for hunting parties that got separated, and it allowed them to reunite.

“Good, we aren’t that far from them.” The Tracker then walked up to Sophie and allowed her to put an arm behind her shoulders. “You keep your arm free Hunter, so that you can take care of monsters jumping us. We shouldn’t meet any in our way, but better be cautious.”

“Good idea, and call me Valen.”

“Call me Kora then.”

“And I’m Sophie!”

Then WWW showed the way, allowing the wayward couple to ascend back to the top. They learned that she had given the region at the top the name of ‘Coral Highlands’, which was a name that described well the two main characteristics of the unusual region.

They managed to meet back up with Ikari and Raphaëlle, who were both relieved that they were now safe. Raphaëlle also took over helping Sophie to walk, despite the handler’s protests. After some reassurances from both sides that everything was okay, the Tracker then led them through the Highlands, going in a path that she assured was safe.

They took several hours of travel, and the sun was finishing its descent into the horizon when Kora cryptically said. “We are approaching. I’m certain you will be happy with what you will find here.”

Valen raised an eyebrow behind his helmet but continued to follow her.

So they crossed a last turn… And then all of them gasped.

What was undoubtedly an airship was docked on the ground before them, the balloons void of air laying flat next to it were nested into a small hole that protected it from every direction besides the air. It looked relatively intact at first before Valen realized that part of it showed signs of intensive repairs.

The significance of this was not lost on Valen: they had found the lost Third Fleet, which disappeared more than a decade ago when their Airship did not return from their expedition.

Raphaëlle, Sophie, and Ikari realized that as well, and Sophie immediately showed her enthusiasm: “The Third Fleet is alive!? This is amazing news! Raphaëlle, you know what this does mean right?” She nodded at that. Sophie would have jumped in joy if her ankle was not troubling her.

“You will be able to find a safe place here and a base of operations. The Third Fleet will also be able to assist you in your mission.”

Valen nodded. “Indeed, they will be a great help.”

“Let me introduce you to the Third Fleet Master. Follow me.”

Several members of the Third Fleet soon noticed them and pointed at them. One immediately ran inside the ship, possibly to warn the members inside, and soon enough, a lot of people came out of it, and cheered for them.

Several researchers and members of the Third greeted them and welcomed them to their airship, and though Valen was appreciative of the enthusiasm, this worried him a bit. They did not look desperate, but it was clear they had gotten a rough time from being cut off from Astera.

Finally, the crowd cleared in front of a figure that emerged from the Airship, Valen immediately recognized her as a Wyverian, which only meant one thing: This was the Third Fleet Master, that was leading them.

They stopped at a reasonable distance from her. She examined their group while Valen did so in return. She wore traditional clothing that was a bit worn, showing signs of heavy use, her long black hair was well cared for, and she was smoking from some sort of strange metallic pipe she held in her hand.

“Tracker, I assume you are bringing us some members of the Fifth Fleet if my timeline is right?”

“Indeed Masani, they had an accident, one of them is injured, and I’m certain they will appreciate a safe place to rest, as well as a base of operation for their mission.”

“Mission which I assume is to survey the Highlands and the Vale?”

“It is indeed.”

She studied them intensely, then raised an eyebrow when she saw Valen's armor. “Hmmm, did the Commission relax the restrictions on bringing gear here or are you a special case?”

Valen answered. “Special case, I am to assist Jake as another able to take care of emergencies while the Fifth completes their mission and strengthens up.”

“Jake would start to be old… I can understand that decision from the Guild, especially if you were available. What about you?”

“I’m a regular A-lister, I just am the best performing of all of us.” Valen almost wanted to chuckle, it was an understatement in his opinion.

“Then I welcome you at our airship. Take the evening off to rest, there are some duties that I would like to ask you, but that will be reserved for tomorrow.”

“Thank you so much for your hospitality!” Sophie said with her chipper tone.

Valen nodded, and the group was led towards one of the free bedrooms in the airship, they spent the evening resting and sharing the parts of the map they had drawn. Valen was, however confident that they had received a huge boon for their mission.

Notes:

I have been playing a bit of Rise again, and I still got Risen Crimson Glow Valstrax down. I’m happy that I still can do him consistently. I got a 1 cart, 25 minutes, 2 people quest in the arena, and it’s honestly more of a comfortable time for me.

Chapter 9: Catharsis

Notes:

I am so, so sorry, I got a huge writer’s block recently, and couldn’t push myself to finish this chapter, especially since it was a very important one to the story, as you’ll see… But at last, it is here, and it’s a chonker, 7k words!

Several things happened for MH since the last chapter even, first of all, we got TWO new trailers for Wilds! This game is looking amazing, and I’m eager for the gameplay we’ll surely have at Gamescom.

However, most importantly of all… VALSTRAX WON THE BEST THEME COMPETITION!!! I’m so f*cking happy, because while he isn’t the theme I think is the best (that goes to Kulve Taroth's final phase, The Brilliance that Rules the Everstream), he has still an amazing theme, and I voted for him because I believed he had a genuine chance to win… And I was f*cking right! The new theme we got out of it is pretty rad too, definitely will try to use it at a dance party if I ever find the occasion xD

Anyhow, I’m proud of this chapter, and I truly thank The Chronomancer for betaing this chapter… But most importantly AysaMetric for finally inspiring me to finish it and being a great sounding board. Thank you, we finished this thanks to you!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

Valen woke up early the next morning, still in the mindset of being in the wilderness and having to keep watch with Raphaëlle. It took him a moment to remember that they were in a safe location and they did not have to worry about a monster jumping them.

He was still completely awake though, so he got up from his bed and started his morning routine.

Once he felt properly awake and ready to take on whatever the day might throw at him, he quietly exited the room they all shared and went out into the ship proper. It was mainly a huge space where everything was somewhat chaotically organized. Most of the space was taken up by winding stairs leading up towards the back of the ship, which Valen followed towards where the Third Fleet Master conducted her business.

The Third Fleet Master was consulting with some of her subordinates when Valen arrived. They seemed to be discussing their plans, and he did not doubt that he would be informed of the details once they were finalized. She noticed him quickly and put an end to the conversation herself by dismissing the researchers. She then beckoned Valen to approach.

“Hunter Valen… Or Sky Piercer, as it seems you are.” Valen raised an eyebrow. Maybe one of their Handlers told her that title. “I do not believe I ever introduced myself properly. You already know I am the Master of the Third Fleet, but you may call me Masani. We have some tasks we would require of you and Hunter Raphaëlle, but I will wait for her.”

He nodded. “Indeed, it would be better if you did not have to repeat yourself.”

“While we wait, may I ask some personal questions? Just out of personal curiosity, but you are an unknown to us, and it seems that you are respected by your peers.”

“I don't mind… To preempt some of the more common questions, I received my title for being able to slay a Valstrax alone without assistance. I know it was necessary, but I did not take joy in the act. Since then, I had my new armor made and was kept as a hunter taking care of emergencies. Eventually, I signed up for the Fifth Fleet, and to my surprise they elevated my role to that of the guardian of Astera, a role that I now share with the Blue Flare.”

The Fleet Master took a long puff from her metal pipe, taking her time to ponder what he just said before replying. “If I remember the scope of the Huntsman’s role well, we should assign Raphaëlle to most tasks to allow her to prove her worth and can craft better equipment, yes?”

“That is how we have done it in Astera so far, yes. Mostly I am with her in case we meet an unknown hostile Elder.”

“We did confirm the presence of a Kirin here, but apart from that the Elders are making themselves scarce, which we are finding odd. It kind of puzzles me, I expected the New World to be a hotbed for Elder Dragons, but so far we have seen nothing like it… There have been sightings of a Valstrax flying around for several months though.”

“It is strange indeed. And we made the same Valstrax sighting. It seemed to even have taken a more active part during a large-scale operation a while ago, but we should wait to talk about that until everybody is awake.”

“And we won’t have to wait any longer, I believe the rest of your group is coming.” She said while looking behind Valen, who turned around. Sure enough, the rest of their group was there, having seemingly decided to move out of their room together.

He nodded at them and stepped to the side so that they could speak face-to-face with the Third Fleet Master, who greeted them. “I welcome you to our Airship, which is also our Research Base. You may excuse us for the unusual layout, but we are almost entirely composed of Scholars, and the few Hunters that were with us are only able to defend us against the few Monsters that find this place. We had no opportunity to send them out in the field for extended periods… Until now.”

“So you need our help for something, right?” Sophie asked.

“We do. You may have noticed our Airship is land-bound. It was in a worse state when we crashed, but we managed to repair it over the years of our seclusion. However, there is still one thing to repair if we are to take it back to the air: the Balloon. Unfortunately, it requires materials from a local monster, and we did not dare risk being without defense for long enough to accomplish the Hunts needed. Besides, even though they have gained experience over the years, our Hunters aren’t qualified for such a task. They are not A-Listers.”

Ikari nodded. “I can understand, they are not cleared to be the first hunters to slay a brand new Monster. It requires special training or the ability to prove yourself against monsters you never encountered. Valen did not go through that training himself, or so he told me, but given his accomplishments, he did not need to.”

Masani then turned towards Raphaëlle. “So I wanted to send you, Hunter Raphaëlle, on a hunt for the Paolumu. I am certain you would have encountered on your travels, they are the flying Wyverns who can inflate their throat.”

“You want me to hunt one then?” Raphaëlle asked.

“It will be challenging, and it would be best if you manage to not damage the sacs as much as you can. Can you work with these constraints?”

She only took a split second to nod. “I will do it. I think I can manage it with my weapon.”

“Then you may prepare yourself and depart.” The Third Fleet Master concluded. She then looked at Valen. “Would you assist in the patrolling of our home in the meantime? If it isn’t too much to ask from you?”

“This is fine for me. At least I should be able to go further away than your hunters… Ikari, do you feel okay accompanying me, or want to stay here?”

“I-I…” He stammered, before taking a deep breath and said with a more confident voice. “I’ll stay with you for the first couple of days at least. I’ll just discuss it with the researchers another time.” Valen smiled and nodded.

“Then I wish you good luck in your endeavors. May the Sapphire Star light your way.”

“And may it light yours.”

Taking the dismissal as it was, the group nodded and walked back toward their room together. They put on their gear, Valen and Raphaëlle doing it in turns as they each desired their privacy while doing so.

Once this was done, they headed out. At the exit of the hollow where the Airship was located, they had a last couple of words with each other. “Good luck Raphaëlle. Expect an air blast from the Paolumu, think about what a Kushala can do and I would say you may expect some similar tricks from it.”

“Good point! I wish you good luck too Valen.”

And each of them went their way, having their critical tasks to complete.

A few days had passed since they arrived at the Research Base of the Third Fleet, and several things had happened.

Raphaëlle’s hunt went very well, and the Researchers were impressed with the care she took not to harm the throat sacs. Their pristine condition meant that they would not require another hunt, so they managed to fix the balloon in one go. Then they were all tasked to explore the Rotten Vale, as up until now only the Tracker had been able to explore it, as she had the experience of avoiding monsters.

If they had to describe the Rotten Vale in one word, it would certainly be “Decayed”. Everything that was in it was either decomposed or seemed meant to assist in that task. The biggest surprise was when they discovered a huge skeleton that was confirmed to be of a Dalamadur… But it was far bigger than the only living specimen that had been discovered until now. Their Handlers also confirmed it was extremely old, and that they couldn’t even give a precise estimation of its age.

They also spotted a couple of the local monsters, one being a Fanged Wyvern that led a pack of its own like a Great Jagras or Great Jaggi. They had to be wary about it though, as it demonstrated the ability to inject paralytic venom from its bite, or even spit a glob at it at short range. Valen’s armor would partially protect him, but Raphaëlle’s lighter armor meant she was at risk of it. The Researchers of the Third had named it Great Girros from the reports the Tracker made.

The other monster they discovered, they all agreed, was almost certainly a cousin of a monster they knew about in the Old World: they shared the same main method of locomotion, which was to curl up in a wheel and roll on their spine. They also shared the same body physiology of a giant head with a strong jaw, two massive, sturdy feet, a tail as thick as their body, and stubby arms.

What set them apart was that while one was covered with minerals, had a diet consisting of rocks, and had a flame sac inside it, the one they encountered was instead covered in a sticky tar-like substance which it used to cover itself in numerous bones to protect its skin.

They had a couple of close calls with it, but its way of locomotion was noisy, so they could hear it approaching from a far enough distance. The name given to it was Radobaan, which was most assuredly chosen to reinforce the link with its rockier cousin, the Uragaan.

One Radobaan, however, was very aggressive, and the group needed to fight it off and wound it before it finally backed off and left them alone. Valen was glad that Ikari was not as shaken by the encounter as he had been by the appearance of the Rathalos during their last expedition together. He seemed to have made a real effort to work through his issues.

They only spent a couple of days on the expedition, however, and then made their report back to the Research Base… Where they were met with an unexpected surprise.

“Hey, my favorite Hunters! The Commander decided that I should try to join you after the latest feat I have accomplished!” Aiden and Lea had also managed to find the Research base. However, what also surprised Valen was that he was wearing a brand-new set of armor. The look and parts were familiar to him but he couldn’t place what monster it was.

“Aiden? This is a surprise indeed. And what is that new armor? It looks familiar…”

“Surprised? This is from an Astalos!” Valen raised an eyebrow behind his helmet. “Shocked? So were we! Me most of all though…” Valen barely had time to groan before Aiden continued, “It had attacked one of the expeditions in the Ancient Forest. It was only a juvenile, but it did not want to retreat, so I ended up having to take it down. We suspect it may have been riled up by Zorah’s Earthquakes… The gear is not as good as it would be from an adult one, but I’m satisfied with it. It also allows me to take this for a spin.” Aiden pointed to the weapon that was sheathed on his back, a Gunlance made from the same parts as his armor.

Valen chuckled. “Ever the jack of all trades are you, Aiden?”

“At least I can fit in any team! You know that it is better than being a single master of one!”

During Valen and Aiden’s banter, Lea explained more in detail what they had done during their absence. They had just arrived at the Research Base, but she gave some of the progress the Researchers back in Astera made on Zorah Magdaros.

“Oh, we should go in, Masani asked that we bring you to her once you arrived. She has some tasks to give you.” Aiden finally said.

“Then let’s go, we should not make her wait.”

They all entered inside the Airship, where the Third Fleet Master was waiting for them. She waved for them to approach with her free hand and when they were close enough, she said. “I see you are back from your expedition. I suspect you made some of the same discoveries as the Tracker?”

“We did.” Sophie said. “We met two of the Large Monsters she documented, though we did not encounter the third one.”

“I’m not surprised, the Odogaron are relatively scarce, and they roam deeper in the Vale. Also, I suggest you be more careful on future expeditions. Since the Earthquakes a month ago, there have been some shifts reported in the usual movements of the monsters in the surroundings, so expect anything.”

“We will be careful, don't worry!” Sophie proclaimed.

“But this was not why I required your presence. I called you here because we are finally ready.” She had a smile on her face.

Sophie gasped. “Do you mean…”

“Yes, the repair crew confirmed that the Airship is now ready to get back into the air. We were waiting for you so that we could finally do the test flights. All pre-flight tests have been done and cleared. They are all waiting for my word.”

Everybody from the small group looked at each other, smiles on their faces, for those that didn’t have their helmet on. It truly showed that their work had results.

They all followed Masani to the prow of the ship, which had a space so they could see outside on a balcony. She then explained some of the difficulties they had dealt with during their stranding.

The main difficulty of the airship’s repair was that due to the way it crashed, the researchers had been forced to remodel the internal layout early on so that they could have a stable environment to work on. But doing so created problems in the repairs later on, as it meant that the ship would now be permanently tilted backward when in flight instead of being horizontal, which was the main delay in repair. It would also mean the ship wouldn’t be able to dock at Astera until they built a special deck that allowed it to land in its tilted position, or else everything would lose equilibrium inside.

It was a good thing Airships were designed to be able to fly for weeks straight, which would give enough time for the Engineers in Astera to accomplish their job when they got back there.

Once they were all settled on the balcony, she shouted: “All aboard!”

A researcher, who had training in manning an airship replied. “All hands are aboard, ready to leave at your command!”

“Then we leave!” Masani replied.

The ropes tying the Airship to the ground were undone, and immediately, it visibly started to move, no longer tightly bound to the earth. And slowly, almost imperceptibly, it started to rise. Then it picked up speed, and smoothly rose, as the pilot was certainly trying to make sure the ship stayed level at all times.

Taking off in an airship was always an amazing moment for Valen. And given that this time it was basically on the airship’s first flight, it just made the moment more impactful.

Once they were high enough in the air and they were certain there were no issues, Masani looked at the group.

“We are now back in action, thanks to you. We won’t head back to Astera immediately, however. We need to make absolutely sure there aren’t any issues, so we’ll make several flights around the zone, but in a week we should be able to get back to Astera. This ties into the next thing I wanted to talk to you about. Hunter Raphaëlle and Handler Sophie, the Tracker wants you to join her in the Rotten Vale tomorrow, she has found out something and wants you to help her with it. Hunter Valen and Aiden, you should probably stay with us so that you can make sure nothing attacks the ship.”

“That seems wise. The last thing you need is a Legiana attacking, especially right after you just got airborne again.” Legiana was the name the Third Fleet had given to the agile Flying Wyverns of the Highlands. Their unique wing structure gave them unmatched maneuverability and speed among the coral towers that made up the Highlands, although Valen privately thought that Nikki could easily beat them in the open sky.

“Indeed, which is why I was waiting for all of you to be available to protect the ship should we be attacked. So far it looks like everything is fine.”

A bit of silence followed that remark, as everybody looked around. Then Masani continued. “We have discovered many things over the years in the Coral Highlands, but what the Tracker has discovered in the Rotten Vale outweighs all of what we studied. It is truly one of the keys to the mystery behind the Elder’s Crossing. I am certain you will agree once you have heard what she has to tell you.”

Sophie nodded. “I am writing the report of the expeditions we have made in the Vale, but my early conclusions are leading to that as well.”

“Then I believe we-” Masani’s reply was cut short by a violent rocking that wracked the ship as if something had violently impacted it.

Valen managed to grip the railing to stop himself from losing his balance, then immediately looked around and pointed to a blue shape winging nearby. “Legiana! You were right. It seems like it has been attracted to our ship somehow.”

“Then go! Valen, Aiden, you need to go deal with it before it manages to damage the balloon!”

Before Valen could agree, a voice cut through them. “No.” To their surprise, it came from Raphaëlle. “Valen, stay here. Me and Aiden can deal with it, but somebody needs to stay with the ship so that it can land safely.”

The tension rose as everybody realized what Raphaëlle had just done; she had given an order to a hunter who was technically her superior in rank. But before Valen could chastise her, he looked at her face, uncovered by her helmet, which held a look of determination and certainty, echoed by her stance and creating an effect like she had a natural aura of confidence. He then knew for certain that she was a natural leader. She could rally people to her and lead them in times of trouble.

So he made his decision and nodded, to the surprise of everybody else. “Go, I’ll stay here as our last backup, but do not overexert yourself. Remember, you need to be in top shape for tomorrow.”

“That was my intention.”

“Masani.” Valen looked at the Third Fleet Master, who flinched when the Flying Wyvern emitted a piercing shriek. “Do you still have gliders in good shape?”

She nodded. “At the top deck, we have kept them ready before taking off.”

“Then go, the both of you. Once you launch yourselves I’ll throw a Flash Pod. Good luck.”

The duo did not waste time, given the wyvern was still trying to break through the wood with its sharp talons, as they dashed out of the prow of the ship. Valen immediately loaded his Slinger with a Flash Pod, which was a fragile container with a bug inside. He waited a bit until he finally heard Aiden and Raphaëlle shout: “WE LAUNCHED!”

With that, he aimed at the Wyvern and pulled the trigger. The container traveled the short distance in an instant and he knew his aim struck true. He averted his sight and closed his eyes before the container broke upon the Wyvern’s head, shielding himself from the blinding flash of light emitting from it.

The Legiana shrieked in pain and plummeted downwards, but when Valen unshielded his eyes it had already caught itself. It looked at Valen and shrieked again as rime crystals began to form on its chest, a sure sign that it was preparing to unleash a volley of ice crystals at the airship in retaliation. It surged upwards and threw its wings wide, but before it could send its frozen needles flying a battle cry rang out with ferocity matching the Legiana’s own.

Valen looked to the sky to see Raphaëlle diving towards the wyvern with her glaive drawn and a fury that reminded Valen of Nikki’s duel with the maddened Valstrax. The Legiana rolled to the side in a desperate attempt to avoid Raphaëlle’s strike, but she quickly adjusted with a flourish of her glaive and the hiss of a compressed air blast. A shriek of pain rang out from the Legiana as Raphaëlle struck true, slicing the Legiana’s delicate wingtips to ribbons with a vicious flurry of blows.

The Legiana staggered and began to flee, much of its aerial maneuverability lost without the use of its smaller wingtips to make adjustments mid-maneuver, while Valen leaned forward in shock as Raphaëlle continued to plummet towards the ground below.

However, he quickly came to realize that his concern was unnecessary as Raphaëlle sent her Kinsect out with a whistle and fired a grapple line to latch onto its carapace. Proving remarkably strong for its size, the Kinsect hovered in place while Raphaëlle swung herself in pursuit of the wyvern, using the speed of her descent to help her cover the distance. Hobbled as it was, the Legiana hadn’t managed to make it very far, and Raphaëlle was able to cover the distance with only one more air blast.

While she had less speed this time, she was far better positioned to land upon the wyvern’s back, at which point she drew her hunting knife and began trying to sever the Legiana’s wing tendons. The Legiana screamed once more as it continued to flee, diving into the coral and carrying Raphaëlle out of sight, quickly followed by Aiden’s glider. Valen sighed as he watched Raphaëlle’s abandoned glider flutter away in the wind. Now there was nothing to do but wait.

Valen was waiting at the railing of the airship’s deck again. Aiden was next to him, and both of them were wearing their full armor. The Legiana hunt had gone smoothly, and Aiden had returned to the ship the night before. He had guided a team to pick up the body of the Legiana earlier that morning after Raphaëlle had guarded it from scavengers all night. Its body was currently secured on the deck, waiting to be processed by the Smithy once they were back in Astera. With the aggressive Legiana now taken care of, the ship was now back in the air. .. The Third Fleet master confirmed that they would start the journey back to Astera in a few days now that they were more confident in the state of the Airship. In the meantime, Raphaëlle had departed for the Rotten Vale to meet with the Tracker.

It was not that long ago that she departed, but Valen and Aiden were currently on standby to be able to assist her in short order should she need it. They believed that she should be able to take care of herself, but anything could happen, especially with the perturbations Zorah caused during its trip through the Great Ravine.

They were staring at the spot towards which Raphaëlle departed and were waiting for a sign of either her return or her requesting assistance. If she did, they would both go help, as they knew that she could judge pretty well if something was out of her league.

The duo thus stayed still, looking at the ground from their position, until Aiden broke the silence. “So… You think she’ll be the one to lead the Fifth Fleet?”

Valen hummed, then nodded. “She’s talented, and she learns quickly. I believe she will fit the role well. And as much as people tell me I should, I do not like leading, so I prefer leaving that role to others. People also like her, and she has the charisma needed to make people rally behind her. That’s why I did not protest her taking charge like that yesterday. I’m more surprised you didn’t since you are the other candidate for this role.”

“I do not like leading that much anyway, I’m more of a follower. I tried a couple of times and I spend too much time worrying about every aspect that it worsens my fighting abilities too much. She does it so naturally that she’ll do a much better job than me.”

Valen shifted his position on the railing to face Aiden. “I can understand. I have been thrust into the position to lead myself, and while I manage, I do not believe that is where my strength lies. I can work with full teams, but I’ve been working with Adem solo for so long that it’ll take a bit for me to get used to doing so.”

Aiden nodded. “Yeah, I gathered that about you after all the time we’ve spent together. You are a good man, Valen, do not forget that.”

Valen was about to thank Aiden when a light coming from the ground attracted his attention. It was a red flare. Which could only mean that Raphaëlle was calling for aid.

“Jaggi’s Ball, she’s in danger! We need to go!” Aiden exclaimed.

Valen did not waste the time to answer and immediately whistled for his Wingdrake, then put on his helmet. Adem took the time to climb on his shoulder and the small monster was already beating its wings furiously to reach them as soon as it could. Valen heard Aiden whistling to his own Wingdrake before he shot the grappling hook incorporated in his Slinger to the Wingdrake, which secured him to the harness and then jumped over the railing. The monster was a bit destabilized by suddenly taking his weight, but it recovered quickly enough. Adem was clutching tightly to him, making sure he wouldn’t fall from such a great height.

Shortly after, Aiden’s Wingdrake caught up to them, and they looked at each other and nodded. It was either Raphaëlle or Sophie who fired the flare, more likely Sophie since the Rotten Vale’s geography made it so that a lot of the area was covered by a ceiling. If the Huntress needed to focus on surviving, she couldn’t just run to open air to fire it.

The Wingdrakes plunged towards the valleys visible down below, where all they could see were bones.

One of the peculiarities of the Rotten Vale was that it was directly below the Coral Highlands. While the Highlands occupied the surface level of the region, the Rotten Vale made the “bed” of it, and was comprised of several levels itself. So they had to dive through the Highlands before they could reach the Vale.

They flew through the different layers, passing through the giant coral rocks that had a flat top, before the pink trees that looked at home, but unnatural compared to regular trees, before they finally reached the transition zone, where the coral started to morph into decomposing bones.

Valen had thankfully noted where the flare came from, so he had steered the Wingdrake towards that direction, and they came into view of Sophie, who looked quite panicked.

“There you are… Thank you! I do not know why Raphaëlle fired the flare, I just relayed it as soon as I could. We were chatting with Kora before we were jumped on by an Odogaron. We retreated while she took care of it, and I lost the Tracker in the process, but not long after she fired that flare. I do not know why, but it only means that something else came, I do not believe the Odogaron would be enough to cause her trouble.”

Valen looked at Aiden, who nodded in response. “We’ll go help her. Do you know which direction the flare came from?” Sophie pointed in the direction that went deeper into the bowels of the Vale. Valen barely took the time to thank her before he started running in that direction, followed by Aiden and Adem.

The trio ran, as they had no time to waste since they were not sure of the level of danger that Raphaëlle was facing. Valen did not know for how long they ran before a roar sounded in the distance, that for some reason evoked a memory buried deep into him. They knew it was a sign that they were getting closer, so they redoubled their efforts and continued to head in the direction of the roar.

Another roar resounded through the valley, much closer this time, and this time, Valen knew that he had heard such a roar like this before… But he could not place where or when, and this worried him. He felt like he had to know where it came from, but his memories came up empty. Valen shook his head and focused back on running. Adem was galloping on all fours to keep up with him, and Aiden was tailing him. The miasma that permeated the deeper layers of the Rotten Vale was denser here, and they barely could see in the distance.

Their determination to not let their companion fall to a threat she wasn’t equipped to deal with kept the three of them on their pace, but Valen knew that they would have to slow down soon if they did not reach their target fast, lest they be too tired to even render aid.

Finally, they could see a massive shape moving through the miasma, seemingly chasing something. They couldn’t see her yet but Valen was quite certain it was chasing Raphaëlle. It now meant they were pretty close so they pushed themselves to cross the remaining distance between them.

Finally, the miasma seemed to clear before them and revealed an open area where Raphaëlle was running away from the monster that was chasing her… A yellow hulking shape, striped blue, with a gigantic maw that could emit roars that were able to pulverize bones should they make the mistake of being close enough…

A shape that Valen knew all too well, because the moment he spotted it, he froze to the spot, and the Rotten Vale melted away… Replaced by a burning village all around him.

Valen knew that place, he knew it too well. It was the place of his nightmares. It was where everything began for him… For the worst. It was when his life crashed down. It was when he lost everything.

The shape in front of him was hulking, bigger than what it was a moment ago. It prowled in front of him, as it knew that it could play, since it was the only other living thing, all other life having been snuffed by its claws and teeth. It stared at him, the yellow scales baleful in the morning light, a sickly yellow with the smoke and dust permeating the air. Its blue stripes are devoid of all majesty, being only a travesty of its former glory.

Valen wasn’t a seasoned, respected, admired hunter. He was only a child, a child that lost all that he knew that day. A child who was petrified in terror. A child who knew that his time was about to end.

That giant maw licked its teeth, it knew it could savor this instant, that it had all the time it wanted. Glistening drool dropped on the ground, reflecting the light, tainted red. It paced towards him, doing one step at a time. It took a deep breath and enjoyed the odor of his fear that for sure permeated the air. Then it held its breath and roared.

A split second after Valen saw the motion, a wave of concussive air slammed into him, and even though weakened by the distance, it was still enough to knock him to the ground. He whimpered, he knew that there was nothing he could do against this beast, this monster. Nothing in this village could. He was faintly aware of something that tried to push him to the side but he didn’t know what.

Then suddenly something in its demeanor shifted. And it seemed to be no longer willing to play with him. It reared back, anchored its clawed wings on the ground, tensing its whole body… Then exploded in motion.

The footsteps made the ground shake, the ground cracking under the sheer mass of the monster as it barreled towards him. Valen wanted to close his eyes, to not see his death coming towards him, to not see that dark, cavernous maw engulf him whole. He could not avert his gaze, transfixed as he was by his certain end.

It came closer and closer, and Valen still stood, knowing everything was about to end for him… And just when the monster was a couple of lengths away, it prepared itself to jump. Then unexpectedly something slammed into it, fouling him, and causing it to lose its stride, and it rolled away once, then regained its balance. However, instead of turning towards Valen this time, it faced a shadowy shape, much smaller than the monster, but it wasn’t afraid of it.

Suddenly a memory, buried deep within him flashed, and he remembered.

He remembered how this day ended in the same manner. When a colossal Hammer slammed into that monster and diverted it as well. A figure clad in red had challenged his demise and made sure it could not inflict terror anymore. That figure gave its life, to make sure Valen was safe. But… He had forgotten that and only remembered the terror of that day.

Distant voices called to him, both from the figure and from next to him. And suddenly, with a sharp slap that turned his head aside, the village melted away, and he was back in the Rotten Vale… The monster resolved itself into a Tigrex, which Aiden was trying to distract as much as he could, using his shield to repel its attacks.

“-wster, WAKE UP!” a voice shouted from next to him, and Valen could see Adem shouting to him, looking completely panicked.

Valen looked into the Felyne’s eyes, who immediately exhaled in relief, but was still panicked. “This isn’t the past you Meownster, you are the Sky Piercer, and we need you! Aiden is holding on, but he cannot do his best if he has to protect you. Raphaëlle went to chase the Odogaron which is trying to pursue the Tracker, we need you meow!”

Taking a deep breath, trying to calm his raging heart, Valen held it for a bit, before exhaling and opening his eyes. His gaze sharpened, and he focused on the monster. “Thank you, Adem… You are right, I am needed.” And he stood up, unsheathing his weapon, holding it at its side.

He stared at the Tigrex, whose oh-so-familiar form still threatened to plunge him back into his past, to detach him from the present moment. But he could see the difference now. While the monster of his nightmares had a gaze full of anger, of hate, this one only had hunger, but was still outside reason. It was desperate, but it wasn’t malicious. It simply tried to live.

Their preferred course of action would have been to leave it alone while it hunted to satiate its hunger… But it was too desperate, too deep into that starvation-induced madness that it would chase them over an easier meal. They could only grant it mercy. Both to stop its pain and to protect themselves.

Valen’s childhood was cut short by a Tigrex, only saved by the nick of time by a Hunter that saw the fires from far, away and was only able to save him… That hunter fought fiercely, and felled the foe… But not without receiving a grievous injury himself. His final words to Valen were to remind him that most monsters were not as full of hate and that he shouldn’t pursue a road to hate… However, this memory had been buried by the nightmares.

“Find your path, live.” Were the final words of that Hunter, whose name he never was able to find out.

Valen now remembered… And he knew he found his path, but first, he needed to do one more thing. He needed to vanquish the monster of his nightmares.

The Tigrex slammed its paw into Aiden’s shield, who dug his heel in and was pushed back but held. The wyvern was laser-focused on his current foe, and was not aware of Valen… Who now saw an opening.

Valen dashed forward, his pounding steps shattering decayed bones under his feet. His armor seemed to glow with intensity, sharing his newfound determination, and aiding him in his purpose. He held his weapon with both hands and prepared himself to do something reckless… But he was certain of the outcome. He was certain he would prevail.

The distance to the wyvern was close, but it still did not notice him, it was attempting to bite Aiden, to overpower his defenses. And it was its mistake.

After it failed to bite through Aiden's shield, which had angled it to deflect the attack, Valen jumped, igniting the thrusters on his back to increase the distance. He soared through the air, the rumbling sound of the machinery echoing through the area.

That was finally what snapped the Tigrex out of its tunnel vision, it turned its head to figure out the strange sound. But it was already too late.

Gravity found him again after he cut his thrusters off, having depleted the whole store of energy at once. And his weight slammed on the Tigrex’s head, who was not expecting it. He immediately unsheathed his carving knife and stabbed it in his throat, giving him a solid grip on the monster. With his other hand, he squeezed both the lever and the trigger on the weapon, morphing it into the sharpened and pointy Sword mode, while a glow started to build up from the top thrusters.

Valen then plunged the weapon through the throat of the monster, though only the tip penetrated through for now. Then he started speaking. “I have made mistakes in my life. One that I regret above all. I also know that my past is not the greatest, having suffered tragedy from young… But I'm tired of it. I’m tired of my nightmares being plagued by you. I’m tired of freezing because a monster reminds me of your species.” His weapon sank deeper into the flesh, the blade starting to glow crimson through the energy building up in it, a whistling now audible. “I say, no more! My past shaped me, but it needs to stop haunting me. I want to protect, to make sure we can protect this New World.”

The Tigrex was now panicking, trying to swing its head side to side to try to throw Valen off… But his grip was steel-clad. “And for me to achieve that goal… I need to vanquish my nightmare. I am the Sky Piercer, and I tell you this: BE.” The whistling rose to a pitch, and the weapon looked like it could take no more. “GONE!” Valen pulled out his knife and released the trigger controlling the energy buildup, and it released all at once, the full energy of the Dragon phial, made of distilled Valstrax blood, exploded out of the weapon. The force big enough to catapult him away from the monster, a cloud of gore expelled everywhere. He looked behind him and controlled his flight, morphing his weapon back to Axe mode while doing so, and then once he touched down on the ground, slammed the axe tip into the ground, the increased resistance helping kill the momentum caused by the shockwave.

Once he stopped, he exhaled the breath he had been holding, and looked at the result… Which was not pretty.

The Tigrex’s head had been completely separated from its neck, the explosion powerful enough that it was catapulted into Aiden’s shield, who was now recovering. The stump on the body was completely exploded, which would make any monster or hunter scared of what could cause such a thing. The body convulsed once, then became still, blood starting to rain all around the arena, with a bit of mist permeating the air.

Everybody was silent, Valen, Aiden, and Adem, Raphaëlle having long since left the arena once the trio arrived. Valen was breathing hard, and tried to wipe his helmet, blood having splattered on it and covering part of his vision. He could still see the shocked face of Aiden. He took a deep breath and then exhaled.

A loud hiss distracted his attention, which reminded him that he had pushed his weapon to the limits, and it was venting the fumes remaining in the phial while it glowed ominously. He thus immediately removed the spent phial, and threw it away while it cooled down. Then he looked at Aiden.

His companion seemed to have finally recovered his spirits and said. “Gog, Valen.”

Valen chuckled, then laughed, he laughed hard, because he felt that a tension that had been present in him since a long time ago finally dissipated. A shadow that plagued him for years finally lifted, and he could truly feel free. Aiden chuckled nervously at first, but eventually joined him, while Adem simply shook his head and sat on the ground.

“Thank you Aiden, I needed that… I think I might have gone overboard though.”

“I think it was understandable… You have been messed up by a Tigrex when you were young?”

Valen shook his head. “You have no idea… I’ll explain the tale when we have some time, I need to collect my thoughts about this…”

“I understand, we should make sure Raphaëlle and the Tracker are safe.”

“Let’s go then, then I’ll need a long rest.”

They nodded and followed Adem who could smell Raphaëlle, though barely through the omnipresent fetid odor of the Vale. But Valen walked with a newfound lightness, as he was finally free from his trauma, having achieved the perfect form of catharsis.

Notes:

Yes, I did plan how this chapter would go for a long while, it is one of the TWO key moments of this book. What is the other you may wonder? You have to wait and see!

I also know that trauma does not work like this too, but I’m telling a story, and my experience with such things is lacking. Sorry if I offended some because of this, this was not my intention.

A new question for all of you, what is your favorite Monster Hunter theme? I revealed which was mine above, but I’m curious if it’ll be Valstrax for everybody or if you prefer others.

One more thing! If anybody have MHW on PC... You are now able to cosplay as Valen if you wish so! We finally released the armor mod for him! Here is the link: https://www.nexusmods.com/monsterhunterworld/mods/7574?tab=description

Chapter 10

Notes:

Yes, it happened, weeks where I post a chapter back to back! This one was fast to write compared to the last one, I hope you will enjoy it!

(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)

Chapter Text

They left most of the Tigrex's body in the Vale. As Valen stated that he didn’t need them, Aiden had carved the important parts from them. After that, they waited for Raphaëlle, who thanked them for being able to take care of the Tigrex, as it allowed her to complete her hunt with the Odogaron. She also told them that she had made some discoveries in her discussion with the Tracker and that they should return to Astera immediately: something was wrong with Zorah.

The group returned to the Airship with haste, though when they got there Valen, contrary to his habits, immediately went to rest and have some time alone. This was encouraged by Aiden and Adem since they knew he needed to make his peace with his past, but it didn’t stop him from feeling guilty about leaving them all to do the boring work… but he admitted he needed it.

His past had plagued him for most of his life, and there had only been improvements after he met Nikki. But now? Now he felt free, lighter than he had ever been, and he was grateful for that fact. He smiled. He had probably almost broken the Guild’s rules on poaching, but they would also decide that it was justified, given the circ*mstances, and besides, the Research Commission rules were more lax on this, given the nature of the uncharted territory.

Valen laid down to rest with a lightened heart, falling asleep instantly.

He was back in the nightmare, but this time it was different. The village was still in ruins and burning, but it wasn’t the hellish landscape that he had grown to be afraid of. It was simply the result of a tragedy, of bad luck.

He also was not a frail kid, somebody who could do nothing. He was clad in his armor, holding his weapon to the side, and he noted the presence of blood.

Movement to his side drew his attention and he knew immediately that it was Nikki coming to his side, her silver scales gleaming in the sunlight, scattering the light everywhere. She looked at him and rumbled, then looked in front of her, drawing Valen's gaze.

The bloodied form of the creature of his nightmares lay there, no longer a demon of evil, but simply a Tigrex that descended into madness caused by starvation, unleashing its rage on the first thing it found. It was full of cuts and bruises, and still alive, but only barely. It was clear that it would not survive.

Next to it was a figure clad in Rathalos Armor, wielding a Hammer made of what looked like the whole of the monster’s head. He was using the weapon for support, panting hard. It was clear that he had suffered his share of injuries, one leg was broken and a large gash was visible on his side, blood pouring out of it. He did not have long to live either. He looked at Valen and beckoned him to come closer.

Warily, Valen complied, keeping his weapon in hand. He stared at the Tigrex, which no longer had the energy to move and was simply breathing hard. Once he came close, the Hunter spoke.

It would be easy for you to hate every monster for what this one has inflicted on you, kid… to swear vengeance upon all of them. But I implore you, do not. A Hunter’s role is to preserve the balance, and such a thing would be anathema to this cause. So find the will within yourself to understand, to accept it. Do not forget, however, and be aware that such a thing may happen again, but next time you may be able to be quick enough to prevent disaster… Unlike me.”

They looked at the Tigrex, which had finally expired, and then the Hunter finished. “Fair winds, and may the Sapphire Star light your way in life.” And with that, the Hunter exhaled his last breath, his eyes closing. Then the dream faded away.

Valen woke up early in the morning, but not drenched in sweat as he usually was with those nightmares. No, instead he felt amazing, and well-rested, which was the real difference. He looked outside, the sun had already started to rise. He had an early night, so that made sense, but was probably also helped by the strange dream… No, this wasn’t a dream. Valen was certain most of it was a real memory, with some outside elements added in. The ship was quiet, which was different from the usual movement of researchers walking around to consult books and the like. Valen quietly left his bed and put on his armor, feeling more comfortable in it. He then discretely exited the ship, wanting to bask in the cool morning air, which felt amazing.

After a whole night to calm down and allow his emotions to rest, he was now sure that the way the events happened the day before was a great boon to him. It completed the work Nikki had started long ago by making him face his nightmares, and he was certain they would no longer plague him. He knew it.

Sitting on a rock, he took a deep breath and simply enjoyed the moment, taking the time to truly understand how much he loved his life… though he also felt like something was missing. He missed something to truly make sure what happened would stick, that it would not revert to the previous state.

And he had an inkling as to what he needed for that, so he looked up, and sure enough… He could see Nikki flying above. She frequently passed through the area in the morning, knowing he was there, closer than he usually was.

Valen hesitated only a split second before making a decision. He waved at Nikki, and got the confirmation that she saw him by seeing a faint explosion behind her, then said to her ‘Meet, land nearby.’ Immediately she changed her current course and headed in a new direction… And he knew she would hold it.

He felt guilty about disappearing without bringing Adem, but he needed it, so he simply scribbled on a piece of paper an arrow followed by the first letter of Nikki’s name. He knew that Adem would understand the meaning. He gave the paper to the guard hunter who was about to finish his turn on the watch, instructing him to give the paper to Adem, then whistled softly to his Wingdrake, which swooped down to allow him to grapple on and fly towards where he saw Nikki go. He was carried up past the cliff’s top then towards the red comet only just visible in the distance.

He had flown for most of the morning, and his Wingdrake was starting to get tired. The Wingdrakes domesticated by Astera had incredible endurance, but even they had limits. They usually needed to rest a couple of times throughout the day when they ferried Hunters across long distances. But Valen also knew that he was getting close. The Scoutflies, which he rarely used as he preferred using the traditional methods of tracking, had changed from their usual green glow towards blue. They did this only when they sensed nearby Elders or their tracks, as it had been observed when they were studying Zorah’s paths or the signs left by Nergigante. However, he didn’t need them to guide him as he knew Nikki’s habits, and there were signs of one of her preferred clearings ahead.

And sure enough, as he crested one of the flat gigantic coral structures Nikki was there, sitting down and now looking at him. The Wingdrake noticed her and became visibly anxious, so Valen simply led it to drop down immediately and unhooked himself from it, which caused it to immediately refuge in a crevice in the cliff where it could hide safely. It was in no real danger from Nikki, but the domesticated Wingdrake couldn’t know that.

He waited a bit to confirm that the small monster would not simply fly away, as much as it seemed to want to, then started going down the cliff. Nikki was now observing him but not going to lend him assistance. She knew he could manage fine, so she simply let him be.

He took a bit to climb down the cliff, but eventually, he dropped the last few lengths into the clearing… then, he looked at Nikki.

She was watching him with a bit of a worried look. She had already noticed something changed in him, but she did not know what it was.

Valen removed his helmet, allowing her to see his face, and then she tilted her head, rumbling inquisitively. Valen sighed, then started to sign.

Yesterday… Danger for companion. Tigrex.’

Nikki froze when he signed that last word, she was aware of his trauma and how she had helped him in that regard. She immediately stood up and walked closer to him, rubbing her head on his shoulder, a gaze full of compassion in her visible eye.

Valen smiled and continued. ‘I… froze. I remembered, I was back there. Companions woke me. I full resolve. Killed Tigrex. Now? Free.

Nikki rumbled, it was joyful, happy. She was happy for him, she knew that he had been plagued by the nightmares before she saved his life, and she knew just as much as him that he would only benefit by being delivered from them.

He rubbed her face, enjoying this moment that they had together. They hadn’t seen each other for months by this point, Valen having been too busy to be able to visit her. He thus got her up to speed as to what he had been doing. He explained that they had lost the path of Zorah Magdaros, and were surprised they hadn’t found him either in the Highlands or the Vale, and were starting to be worried.

Though when he looked at Nikki, he felt like something was amiss indeed, but that she wouldn’t tell him what. He was used to it by then, Nikki always had been mysterious to him and she was usually reluctant to reveal facts that Elders seemed to know naturally.

They enjoyed their time together. Valen knew that it was limited, as he would have to go back to the ship eventually, or else they would get worried for him. He believed Adem would reassure them that he would be fine. He still felt guilty to have left without his companion, but he needed this time with Nikki.

The sun above was still rising, which meant it was still the morning. Looking above, Valen noticed that his Wingdrake finally got the courage to escape its hiding hole and was preening itself at the top of the cliff, though always keeping an eye on Nikki.

However, not that long after he saw that the Wingdrake seemed to look behind itself, and then emitted a calling cry, one that they emitted only to alert others of their kind to their presence. Valen felt a chill on his back. It could only mean that another Wingdrake was nearby, and given that they weren’t native to this zone… another hunter was coming close. It would in no way miss the presence of Valen’s Wingdrake, not after it attracted attention to itself.

Nikki seemed to sense his alarm and immediately went into alert, standing up and ready for action if the need arose. Valen, however, tried to calm her down. He knew that should they be discovered, seeing Nikki in a combat posture next to him would send the wrong message. So he repressed the instinct that he had to grip his weapon and prepared himself for a confrontation, to reveal his secret to somebody else. Although the fact that they were even found at all was suspicious, Valen believed that he had been careless when leaving the airship.

They looked at the sky in tense silence, waiting for another Wingdrake to appear at any time. The one Valen rode on was looking again at Nikki, only periodically glancing behind itself. Valen noticed that it looked somewhere closer to the ground, which meant that the unknown Wingdrake had landed on the ground, which seemed a bit odd to Valen.

Then suddenly, Adem appeared at the top of the cliff, and Valen exhaled in relief. “There you are Meowster! You woke me up when you got out of your bed. You always forget that I have more sensitive hearing than you!”

“Adem! You scared me, I thought somebody else followed me.” Then Felyne immediately became shifty, which worried Valen.

“I’m sorry Meowster, but I was really worried for you.” Then Adem looked behind himself and said something to somebody else that Valen couldn’t understand, the distance being too far.

Valen waited for a tense moment, and then Aiden appeared at the top of the crater, seeing Valen first, then spotting the Gammoth in the room. He recoiled back in surprise, instinctively reaching for his weapon before Adem stopped him. Nikki was watching him impassively, making no threatening gestures, but her posture clearly showed that she would not stay idle in case of a hostile action.

Then as if to make it worse, Ikari appeared at the top of the cliff as well. This time he noticed Nikki first and backpedaled, his instinctive reaction being to get away from a monster, though he still stayed at the top of the cliff.

There was a tense moment as Aiden was rapidly looking between Valen and Nikki with an air of bewilderment, Ikari seemed to be on the verge of a panic attack, and Nikki simply looked at the two of them impassively.

Valen knew he had to do something to defuse the situation, so he took a deep breath and scratched Nikki’s head, then said. “Aiden, Ikari, meet Nikki. Without her, I would not be here, so please give her the respect she deserves.”

Aiden finally seemed like he found his voice, and grinned. “So, it seems like you have been holding out on us Valen! She won’t attack, right?”

“As long as you do not. You can come, she’s friendly,” Valen said, and then he turned to Ikari. “You don’t need to come close if you don’t want to Ikari, I know it’s already a big enough shock for you.”

Aiden seemed to debate the matter before shrugging and starting to climb down. Adem stayed at the top though, to give reassurance to Ikari. There was still a bit of tension in the air, but the worst of it had been defused. Valen was relieved internally, he did not intend to be found at all, and if he had to, he would have preferred to introduce them to Nikki in a safer manner, especially Ikari.

Once Aiden finally finished climbing down, he examined Nikki, who stared at him in return, neither making any movements. After a bit, he nodded. “It feels different to be in the presence of an Elder that doesn’t want to simply murder you.”

“You were part of the team that repelled the Kushala in Dundorma right?”

“I was, and there was the Lunastra I helped repel when I was young too.” He shook his head. “How did it happen?”

Valen sighed. “It was a… harsh time for me, but wait a moment.” He looked up and spoke louder. “Ikari, do you feel better now?”

His Handler did not reply immediately, but eventually, he answered, somewhat shakily. “A-a bit… I don’t think I’ll c-c-come down anytime soon though. Adem is he-helping, but… Valen, t-that’s an Elder.”

“I know. I’m gonna explain how it happened, if you don’t understand, ask Adem to relay.”

“I-I will try.”

“Go ahead Meowster, I’ll keep him claw-pany!”

Valen nodded, then took a deep breath. “You remember that hunt I did where my whole team got wiped by a Seregios? Well, I should have died there too, if not for Nikki.”

“She saved you right?”

“She killed the Seregios as it was pouncing to finish me, and then she brought me back to her nest so that I could heal. She even cauterized my face, because the ear was cut off by a Seregios scale. I will admit that when I woke up and I realized I was in her nest I panicked. Thankfully, she kept her distance and proved to me that she simply wanted to save me.”

“Wait a Gog-damn moment, how intelligent is she?”

At this, Valen simply smiled and turned towards Nikki. ‘How intelligent are you?’ he signed to her.

She replied, and Valen heard a gasp coming from Aiden as she signed back. ‘Very, me smart.

He looked at Ikari and believed that his eyes were wide, though it was hard to tell at this distance. Aiden seemed taken aback before he answered. “You can talk with her?”

“More like we can communicate very well. I think she cannot hear all of the registers that we talk at, I think she doesn’t hear the lower-pitched sounds. Besides, she wouldn’t be able to talk back either. It’s a bit rough, but signing allows proper communication between the two of us. Also, she’s crazy good at geometry, it’s impressive.”

“This… changes things. Are all Elders as intelligent as her? Because if so, the implications are frightening.”

Valen shook his head. “I asked her this question once, and she explained that she’s smarter than most of them, but also that she is different in other ways. I think most of them simply view the world differently than us. The main thing, however, is that she is empathetic. ”

“I see… Kind of makes sense.” Then he frowned. “Wait, the Valstrax you hunted? It was after you met her?”

“Believe me, it was her who wanted me to hunt him. I probably wouldn’t have gone for him, but she asked me to kill him, and I believe that is because he was afflicted with something. After spending so much time with her, it was pretty clear that there was certainly something wrong with him. She never told me what though, even after pressing the issue multiple times.”

“That is worrying, but understandable. She probably has some secrets she wants to keep.”

They stayed in silence for a moment before Aiden asked, “Do the both of you spar? I’m certain having a reliable training monster would be invaluable for any hunter.”

Valen smiled. “Oh, you have no idea. Hey, let us give you a demonstration.” He turned to Nikki and signed. ‘Spar?

She simply nodded, and thus they started their pre-spar routine, her bolstering the defenses of his armor first before draining his weapon. Aiden seemed to have noticed it was something unusual, but Valen simply said. “I’ll explain after.”

The area they were in had limited space, which would restrict Nikki’s movements, but not overly so, and they posted each other at opposite ends. The world around them became insignificant, Valen now focused only on Nikki. He drew his weapon in Axe form and they stared at each other, waiting for the other to make their first move. Valen was the one to do so this time, starting to run immediately. Nikki shifted only slightly in response, having learned to hide her tells over time, though Valen could still discern them if he focused. And so he was able to dodge the wing spear she threw at him with a quick sidestep, then jumped over the sweeping motion she did with it, having pivoted her whole body.

Valen was now in striking range after this quick probe, but Nikki was already preparing her next attack, and she lunged forward, attempting to bite him.

He shifted to the side, dodging the bite, but instead of exploiting the presumed opening, he tensed to dodge another attack. His gut feelings proved to be right as Nikki attempted to swat him away with her paw, which he dodged by jumping. But now that he knew she had to recover, he immediately struck with his weapon, striking Nikki’s chin with it, snapping her mouth shut.

He did not have enough room to do a follow-up strike, but he wouldn’t have had time to anyway. He heard a whistling that filled the air, which could only mean that Nikki was about to rocket forward. He would ordinarily dodge to the side when she did it, but he decided to attempt something different for once.

He jumped again, twisting to the side in the air and repositioning his weapon behind him… then he ignited the thrusters on both his weapon and armor at full power.

The strange nature of the Bioenergy contained in the armor protected him from the great acceleration that his body withstood, and he was rewarded by achieving something that he had never done before.

He kept up with Nikki on her short dash powered by her wings. Even better, he was slightly above her when she dug her claws into the ground to stop herself before she crashed into the wall. Valen was only keeping up with his momentum, his thrusters having depleted the safe amount of power available. He twisted in the air and managed to stop his dash by hooking one of her wing arms at the base with his weapon, though the sudden deceleration felt like his arms almost were wrenched out of his sockets. Nikki seemed surprised by the maneuver, so he did not waste the opportunity. Before she could recover, he gripped her shoulder, morphed his weapon into sword mode, and pressed the point of it at the base of the wing.

Nikki stiffened, then relaxed and admitted defeat by striking her tail on the ground three times. Valen was a bit winded but less than usual. He was surprised by how quickly the spar had ended, they usually went on for longer, but he guessed he managed to pull out a reckless enough move that she was surprised.

Valen sheathed his weapon now that he had achieved victory, and Nikki crouched low to allow him to get off her back. They nodded to each other, then looked at Aiden.

He had a gigantic smile on his face, and then he said, “Well I must say, Valen, that Blast Dash Valst-rocked!”

The first urge of Valen was to facepalm, but instead, he laughed. He laughed hard until he had to catch his breath, which made Nikki seem a bit worried about him but she stayed where she was. Aiden had followed him in his laughter until Valen had caught his breath and recovered. “That was awful, but I understand why. Nice one.”

Aiden pumped his fist in the air in victory, then he asked, “Do all of your spars go that way?”

Valen shook his head. “They usually last longer, and she wins half of them. And when we started… Well, let’s just say that she had a gigantic win streak. I just pulled something new and she wasn’t prepared for it. Doubtless that next time I do that she’ll react differently.”

Aiden looked at Nikki and examined her closely. “I wonder if it would be too much to ask for a spar myself.”

Valen chuckled. “She probably would accept, but I think you’d have to wait for another time… Besides, I think you’d need the training shells for Gunlance.”

“Good point. I wouldn’t want to injure her.”

Valen was about to say something else when Adem caught their attention. “Meowster, Ikari asks what Nikki did to your armor and weapon before the spar started.”

He understood that was something crucial to know for a handler. He faced Ikari and answered. “Bioenergy. Nikki showed me early on that Elders can manipulate Bioenergy directly. She drains what is contained in my weapon so that I can’t injure her and boosts my armor so that her attacks can’t just break me. It allows us to go all out in our spars and not worry about hurting each other.” He took a deep breath. “She confirmed Elders are all able to at least manipulate it to that scale, some at an even grander one.”

Ikari was furiously writing in his notebook while Aiden looked at Valen. “All? That is worrying. If something the scale of Zorah can do it in a large area…”

“Indeed, and it is even full of it. I did not realize it at the time, but I now realize I could feel it. The concentration he has of it is nothing short of mind-boggling. And we still don’t know why he came to the New World, so the fact we aren’t seeing signs of it is worrying.”

“We will get to the bottom of it Valen, do not worry.”

They stayed in silence before Valen sighed. “We should go soon. You came to make sure I made it back to the airship, right?”

Aiden nodded. “They leave tomorrow, so we should make certain we are there when they do.”

“The moment we get some time, we’ll see Nikki again, and you’ll be able to see how you measure against her.” He chuckled. “I’m certain I’m the only one that has a chance against her at this point. She has learned so much from me that nobody else would be a match.”

Aiden grinned. “I look forward to it. Also, I’ll keep quiet about her until you decide to share the secret yourself. I understand why you did not reveal her, though I believe Arcos would understand. You would have to worry about the swarm of researchers battling to see her once they find out though.”

“Which is the main reason I probably won’t. Ikari should be enough, though I’ll have to ask him to keep his findings in his notes, and only share them when I reveal her.”

He turned to face Nikki. ‘We leave, thank you for help.

She rumbled and nuzzled Valen with her beak.

Aiden and Valen climbed back up the cliff to rejoin Ikari. Once they reached the top, Valen looked at Nikki and waved at her before they called for their Wingdrakes and flew back towards the ship.

The journey was made in silence, each of them having their thoughts to ponder. Valen was mostly relieved that somebody stumbling on his secret ended up going well in the end. Though he definitely would get back at Adem for having put him in this situation.

They arrived at the airship and were welcomed back by the researchers. But what was surprising was that the Third Fleet master immediately called for a meeting, which Valen obliged. Once all of them were reunited, she turned towards Raphaëlle. “I wasn’t the one to call this meeting, but her. She has discovered something with the Tracker, but waited for now to share their findings so that we could rest from the ordeal.”

Raphaëlle nodded as she started to speak. “After my journeys, me and Sophie confirmed the Vale is a graveyard. It is where most monsters end up when they die… But most importantly, it’s where Elders go when they die. We didn’t find Elder bones on the surface because they were buried deeper, closer to the pools of acid that we found. But one worrying thing was that all of them were old, very old. The most recent ones we could find…”

“Were more than a century old.” Sophie completed.

Valen raised an eyebrow. “So before the Elder’s crossing started increasing in frequency.”

Sophie nodded. “Kora confirmed it to me, the Bioenergy monsters and Elders contain is purified in the Vale and spread out through the New World, allowing the insane amount of growth of the Forest, sustaining the Highlands, and more. It is the equivalent of the digestive system of the New World. But that begs the question… ”

Raphaëlle followed up, “Where is Zorah Magdaros? Where are all the Elders that did the crossing recently? By all logic, Zorah should have ended his path here and waited for his death, but he is yet to be seen.”

“This is worrying indeed.” Valen answered. “My own wanderings also showed me that Zorah traveled near, But that he was diverted somewhere else. The question is where.”

“It’s the reason I’ll go look for the First Wyverians once we are back in Astera, as the Third Fleet Master suggested. They have been living here even before the First Fleet arrived, so they are certainly more knowledgeable about the land than us, so they might have the answer.”

Aiden nodded. “I am worried about what would be powerful enough to lure Elders away from their place of final rest.”

“So we have no objections then? We set a course for Astera?”

Valen raised his hand. “Will Kora be okay without the support of the Third Fleet airship?”

“I already asked her this question and she said that she could pursue her job while we are gone,” Masani replied. “And we have nothing preventing us from coming back. Besides, as good of a job we did repairing the ship, I want to have the Airship Engineer with us to work on the Airship so we do not have a repeat of the event that grounded us. It almost happened again with that despicable Legiana attack, and I do not wish to have a third repeat. The airship should hold until we arrive back at Astera for sure.”

“Then I have no objections.” Valen nodded.

Nobody else had any objections either, so the meeting was called to an end and everybody was free to do their own business until the following day. Valen decided to have some time in his room so he could get out of his armor and relax. To his surprise, Aiden joined him. While they avoided the obvious topic, they still chatted about the events that happened in the New World so far, and what they thought would happen next… Because Valen had the feeling something major would happen soon.

Notes:

Yes, this is a thing now. The squad grows stronger!

Sky Render - Regal_Eagle - Monster Hunter (Video Games) [Archive of Our Own] (2024)

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