Hunt 27: Q
Among different types of animals and monsters hunted by humans, Sabercats were once very popular with the nobles. It is all because of their adorable and meek appearance for pets yet having tremendous mana that allows them to transform into a feline with larger body and monstrous strength. These traits make them great guards once trained properly. Many nobles wanted them as pet as well as a guard, however they can only be found in Namida Rainforest in the country of Laamhi. Namida is the largest rainforest and most diverse in terms of both flora and fauna.
The sabrecats are known to live solitarily in their entire life until they find their mate. The male protects the female and the offspring up to two of months after giving birth. The mother that usually gives birth to two to three cubs lives with them until they are able to transform and hunt for themselves. Their special trait which is rarely found in other monsters immediately turned them into the top most hunted species in mere ten years. After two and half decades, their population fell drastically, moving ICA to take action and implement a law to protect them as endangered species. However this law took years to be passed and by then they are already critically endangered. It has been more than five decades since the law to protect them was passed. Even so, the rarely seen Sabercats still became more difficult to spot. Today, some believes that encountering one of them in the forests is akin to good fortune.
Nearly half a year ago, this good fortune crossed Azalea’s path. However, the cat’s good fortune seems to have been overwhelmed by the bad luck she carries that time.
Being exhausted running away from her pursuers, Azalea leans on the nearby mossy tree trunk to rest. The cool breezy air makes the leaves dance along as it blew her hair that sparkles with the yellowish light of the afternoon. She does not remember how many days have passed since she is able to get any decent sleep. The scrapes and bruises do not worry her, they will heal on their own; but the exhaustion she feels is different. It is like feeling incredibly sleepy but not being allowed to even doze off for a second. All the time that she spends running away feels like a wild chase nightmare.
While recalling the past events she thought, “Maybe I should have at least taken a quick rest before continuing with my journey.” With regret she slumps down, her gaze on the ground, and then memories continues to pour into her chaotic mind.
The strain on her body and mind makes her vision hazy as she staggers on her way. Following a trail in that state, she fails to detect an adult sabercat seeking refuge among the bushes. Upon its wake, the adult is taken over by aggression for unknown reason. The agitated feline fiercely attacks anyone that looks like a threat. The loud roar alarms Azalea pulling her consciousness out of daze. Immediately, as the situation required, she casts a defensive barrier around her however the sabercat is moving faster than her already exhausted body. Its enormous figure, which probably weighs six times heavier than her, jumps swiftly in front and slams its powerful paws at her. Azalea, beat up and all, flies ramming at the huge trunk of a tree more than ten meters away from where she used to stand. The impact feels like her back is ripped open, her ribs crushed, and her internal organs smashed inside. Her remaining strength is being drained away. She falls face down on the cold ground, blood dripping from her nose and mouth, making it more difficult to breath than ever. With little consciousness she has, she tries to reach for her staff which is hurled away when she lost her control upon impact. Unfortunately, at that moment the sabercat is starting move towards her again. With the staff still far from her hands, she is unable to control her power.
“Not yet. I can’t give-up now.”
She gasps. She coughs blood. With all her might she tries to stand up, using both her hands to push her broken-down self. She looks straight in front. The sabercat, as blurry as it may appear, dashes and roars towards her bidding to bite and rip her apart with its sharp gigantic fangs. In an attempt to protect herself, even though she do not intend to kill the charging beast, she calls out her remaining trump card, “Bladeless Death Scythe!” An invisible blast shaves the plants and trees surrounding her. Without fully grasping the situation, at the corner of her eye she saw the sabercat get blown away. Its massive body got torn apart in no time, sprinkles of mana particles illuminates as it drops weakly on the ground. The large feline frame gradually evaporates into thin air as the mana particles dissipate away leaving a small normal cat-sized body unconsciously lying, bleeding to death. She starts feeling like she is about to vomit all of her organs from the inside, while the numbing sensation on her legs and around the tips of her fingers continuous to grow. Amidst her half dead state, with her darkening sight she sees a tiny cub come out of the bush and lay beside the lifeless body of the adult sabercat. Suddenly, all of her strength gets drained. She again falls down and this time, she knows getting up soon is impossible.
Her vision starts to fade while the throbbing in her head becomes more painful to bear. “Damn it! What have I done?..” She screams in her mind. “I’m sorry.” Before totally blacking out, she watches the cub cry as it licked the wounds of its mother in hope that she is going to wake up soon.
Now, that she has calmed down enough to think about it, that sabercat might have just been from a brawl either from another monster or another group of hunters. That fight might have greatly agitated her because she might as well have lost one or two cubs at that time. Some wounds dealt on it are not from her spell. If only she has rested a little, if only she has been calmer and judged the situation better, it might not have ended in such tragedy. She is drowning in regret as she is fully aware that she will never be able to make up for what happened.
When she wakes up, she feels something warm beside her. There is a purring sound coming from that warm direction. It sleeps beside her this whole time, keeping itself warm and keeping her warm; a seemingly futile attempt to protect itself from harm. Her small wounds have healed and the blood dripping from them has dried away. She does not know how long it has been since she lost consciousness. The pain inside is yet to completely disappear. She lifts herself and the little cub follows. She sits up and it sits in front of her, facing her, looking at her with its rounded meek eyes. She can only stare back in silence.
“Don’t… look like that… You hate me, don’t you?” She says looking at the little one. A brief moment passes then the cub stretches its forelegs and then walks towards Azalea. It purrs as it bumps its soft forehead on her knee then it continues to smoothly press its body. “I have no excuse.” She continues while picking up the young one and then lifting it with both her hands. “You’re alone now. Just like me.” She lifts it higher and it fixes its eyes at her with such adorable and innocent look. “You don’t even understand what just happened, huh? I can’t just leave you in this condition, can I? Would you like to come with me? I’ll take care of you and I’ll protect you, until you are strong enough to survive on your own… until you can transform, until…” She draws the cub closer to her chest embracing it. “Until you get tired of me…”
For a while she stays in that position. The sabercat does not resist her embrace rather it makes itself comfortable.
She buries the mother sabercat and then takes the young cub with her. Azalea keeps her promise while the cub grows attached to her in the process, or so it seems. Since then, they have always been together.
Since then, until just now, the cub is stuck with her following her around wherever she goes. Azalea clenches her fists tightly and grits her teeth while she leaps from one floating magic circle to another across the airspace of the city. Her sight is firmly fixed on the shadow of the man who took the sabercat. She seems to have lost herself, set on one goal.
In this busy city where the people are currently looking for different ways to enjoy their weekend through hanging out with friends having fun together, some concealed activities also mix in with the ever enthusiastic mass of the unmindful lot. At this certain moment, another usual underground occurrence is taking place, though remains unnoticed and ignored by the people passing by. Blair runs at full speed using her D-Shift while looking up following Azalea’s route. Just behind her is Emil, having a hard time getting through the busy mob.
In the port of District 3, where ships of different sizes dock, various kinds of traders, tourists and travelers wander about. They indulge their eyes with the scenery of the ocean highlighted by the changing hues of the sky as the day slowly shifts into the night. Among this busy crowd hides the prying eyes of a shadowed figure lurking and observing. Meanwhile, dashing from the crowds is a man carrying a bag strengthened by magic. He looks around anxiously as the people in the area stare back at him with wary eyes which then swiftly turns into uncaring peeks as they pass by. He gasps for air and then conditions himself, taking back his composure, acting cool, as if he did nothing to get worried about. Strolling like he is just walking in a park, he soon reaches one of the merchant ships. He goes inside carrying his loot, and then disappears into the dark interior.
From the mass of faceless people, three figures become distinct as they follow the man. They stand, unmoved, in front of that same ship. Their expressions suggest all the same; their thoughts written clearly on their faces.
“So, are we going to crush them now?” Oozing with confidence while cracking both of her knuckles, Blair asks while stepping forward.
Emil then grabs the nape of her shirt. “Calm down. It was your idea to follow Azalea to stop her from doing anything rush.”
“Huh? Was it me?” She asks innocently while turning her sight to Emil. “Az isn’t an idiot so she won’t do anything rush. I’m here in case she needs resback!” She says with her thumbs up.
“W-what?! Is that what you had in mind all this time?” He lets go of her shirt. He scratches his head while letting out a heavy sigh.
Blair chuckles while tapping Emil’s shoulder. “Why do you look so disappointed? Come on, if you don’t keep your high spirits, you’ll be left behind.”
“Don’t get too hasty,” Azalea joins in the exchange of lines. “I can still feel Q’s presence that way.” She glares at the direction of the cargo ships. “We’ll wait for everyone around here. Have you informed them already, Blair?”
“W-wha--! Wait, not yet!” She fusses while taking out her phone.
“And here I thought she learnt how to be a little logical.” Emil can only argue in silence while shaking his head.
“What shall we do while waiting for them to arrive here?” Blair asks with a bored frown while sending a message from her phone. “Should we sneak a peek into that humongous ship?”
Azalea narrows her eyes at her. “How about we mix ourselves with the crowd first?” She pulls both Blair and Emil along. “Let’s survey around the port. Look. Emil, what do you see?”
He tilts his head a little with furrowed brows while observing the ships around them. “Those are… cargo ships, Traveling Merchants’ Cargo Ships. There are three, no, more than four of them here and each holds different emblems.”
“Is something weird about that?” Blair asks rolling her eyes around.
“It’s not weird,” Azalea answers with a serious tone while casually walking. “It’s absolutely unusual for more than three traveling merchant convoys to stay in the same city at the same time. There’s a rule between traveling merchants, if there are more than three of them doing business at the same area, the latter ones to come should move on to the next area. It’s so that they could keep the prices for rare items high by lessening the number probable merchants who might have the same item.”
Blair rolls her eyes to the side. “What a greedy bunch to create such rule.”
“Well, that’s how it works. As you know, rare items are difficult to acquire due to the higher level of the monsters or demons that holds them. Selling them cheap won’t give justice to the difficulty of acquiring them. Furthermore, venturing in and out of danger zones isn’t that easy either, not only that you have to spend money to reinforce your transport defenses, sometimes you’ll also have to hire mercenaries to protect you. Well, let’s not stray too far from the main problem.”
“The problem?” Emil wonders while scratching the back of his head. “They are breaking their own rules, should we worry about that?”
Azalea stops walking and then leads the two in front of a small store. “Yeah, because whatever reason they have to break that rule might be within the boundary of our concerns. What do you think those large ship would bring to trade here?”
“Can we stop with the riddles and talk about something fun instead?” Blair complains hanging her head low. “You know I can’t keep up with those kinds of talks.”
Emil sighs and then leans on the wall beside him. “Trading, huh?” He mutters while looking far away. “Your question, it got something to do with that sabercat, does it?”
Azalea simply stares at him without giving him an answer.
Emil looks back at her and then turns his gaze down the ground to ponder. “Is there a possibility that they aren’t trading? Or probably, they didn’t come here to sell.”
“Merchants that don’t trade or sell?” Blair suddenly gets caught into the conversation. “Then there is something here that they want to obtain, else it’ll be a wasted journey.”
“Right,” Azalea responds calmly. Her eyes are starting to lose their lively glow. “Sabercats are quite rare, though I don’t think that’s their goal here. It must only be a bonus. What did they come here for?”
Emil stares at the ships and recalls something. “Maybe they weren’t here to trade. I think they just finished delivering something,” he mutters while looking far away.
The words that left Emil’s mouth catch Azalea’s attention. She suddenly turns her gaze at him. Looking at her cold eyes, Emil feels uneasy so he immediately avoided her gaze. At the same time, Azalea dived deep into her thoughts. “Deliver… right…” She says softly, her back slouching and her eyes staring blankly on the ground. “Are they that desperate that they would steal the sabercat? Could this be a--”
“Well, whatever it is, we’ll find out once we get in that ship.” Blair glares at the ship while cracking her knuckles. “Stuffing Q into that small bag is unforgivable! He must have been terrified!”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself.” Emil says casually while pulling Blair by her collar drawing her close to his side. “Stay here, don’t wander around by yourself.”
“I know, I know. Let go of me.” She replies while staying put in place. Emil eventually lets go of her collar and then they both stare at Azalea who seems to be so absorbed in her own thoughts. “Sooo~” Blair’s voice rings while peering closer to Azalea. “What’s our next move?”
“H-huh?” She jolts out of her thoughts. “Well… We’ll wait for the others…”
Blair narrows her eyes looking at her friend suspiciously. “You don’t sound too sure?” She moves her face closer to her invading her personal space. “You don’t sound too sure.”
Azalea pauses for a second before pushing Blair’s face away. She takes a deep breath and then glances at the ship. After the brief silence she turns her sight back at the two of them. She partly casts her pretentious mask away. “Us, being here right now… It’s not right.”
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