Terrence was crouched low in some tall, somewhat dry grass.
It had been a few weeks since his group was taken in by the bandits, and now they were only a day away from the Fertile Circle. However, Effera wanted to stop by the hunting grounds to restock on supplies for the next couple of weeks.
So here Terrence was, peeking through the grass to see one of their targets for the day. In front of him were three particularly big cacti, rather unassuming at first glance. But they weren't some ordinary cacti...He could sense a strong Imperium pulsing from underneath it.
He looked around, sensing the presences of his friends in the area, surrounding the cacti. He saw Effera's hand come out of the grass, holding up three fingers. Then two...and one...
At the count of zero, a now fully healed Lorica came out, along with Cid. She picked him up and tossed him up, using wind to propel him further. The Dwarf laughed as he went high, then somersaulted as he came down to slam the ground with his Imperium charged hammer. A shockwave rippled across the earth, scattering sand and uprooting the dried grass that hid the rest of the party, and bouncing them up as well.
Terrence yelped and flailed as he bounced, then he coughed as he landed on his back.
"The hell Cid..." He groaned as he sat up.
The cacti shuddered for a moment...then sprung up to reveal the true form underneath. It was a giant plant-like beast with a body made up of wood and spiny roots, twisted and knotted so closely together that there was barely any gap between them. Two cacti were its hands, while the third was perched atop its wooden skull.
"THAT'S A CACTIR!?" Terrence exclaimed.
The beast screeched swung an arm down at him, and he scrambled away from it. Its cactus hand struck the ground with enough force to still send him tumbling with a shockwave. He managed to stop himself after couple of seconds, staggering upright and coughing out sand.
"Rip out the thing's core, that's where all the water is!" Effera shouted, pointing with her curved blade. "And Muscles, don't you dare burn it!"
"God dammit..." Cid muttered, dismissing his Fire magic.
The Cactir turned and swept its arm at him, and he raised his hammer to block it. However, the sheer size of the arm still made him slide back. He scowled and glanced at Effera.
"How the hell are we supposed to get that core!?"
"The stomach holds the core!" Effera explained. "You gotta break it open, but knock that Cactir down first!"
"We're on it!" Lorica said, dashing into the fray. "Aquare, come on!"
"Right behind you!" Aquare replied, following her.
The Cactir swung at Cid again, and he knocked the arm away with a charged hammer strike. The beast stumbled back a bit, then roots extended from the tree trunks that were its feet, grounding them and preventing it from falling over.
"Dammit, we got to get rid of those roots." Cid grumbled.
"You can leave that to us!" Lorica shouted as she ran past. "Just hit it as hard as you can!"
The Dwarf nodded and started charging some magic. At the same time, May ran towards right leg. Terrence hesitated for a moment, then started going for the left.
Lorica leaped up, boosting herself with Wind to reach the Cactir's face and jab it rapidly. Her strikes did little more than chip the hard wood, but it was enough to draw the beast's attention. As she fell, it screeched and turned, aiming one of its hands at her and firing a barage of needles at her.
Aquare came up just as Lorica landed, quickly raising his shield and casting a spell just before the projectiles reached them.
The sparkling barrier shook and cracked as it took the heavy rain of needles, but it remained intact. The Cactir raised its arm in preparation for attack, only for Cid to soar over and strike the side of its skull with his Imperium charged hammer. The wooden beast groaned as it stumbled from side-to-side, threatening to fall over. From the bottom of its right foot, roots started to extend, ready to anchor it to the ground once it landed.
May yelled as she leaped up, swinging her charged blade horizontally to chop off the roots. Then she dove down and rolled away, narrowly avoiding getting crushed by the foot. The Cactir looked down, then let out a roar of fury.
"Gotcha now, you overgrown plant." Cid said with a grin, charging another Arcfire.
Seeing the flames, the Cactir fired a barrage of needles at the Dwarf to put it out. At that moment, Aquare stepped up and cast one more Rashield, blocking the attack and giving Cid enough time to complete his spell.
"Arcfire!" He chanted.
With an explosion of flames, he launched himself high enough to soar towards the Cactir's head. With a mighty battlecry, he charged his hammer and slammed it on the thing's forehead, with just enough force to shatter it. The Cactir roared again, stumbling back and forth and shielding its broken skull.
Roots started to extend from its left foot as it tried to anchor itself. Seeing his one chance, Terrence jumped up and chopped at the roots. At the same time, Lorica leaped in and cut them as well. They barely avoided getting squashed as they landed, rolling forward as they got up. Although Terrence ended up stumbling and falling face-first into the sand.
The Cactir continued to wobble as its anchors were all cut away. Then it finally fell backwards with a groan, shaking the ground as it landed.
Aquare held up his shield and braced himself, then gave Cid a confident look.
"You got this!" The Nymph encouraged. "Go get that core! Use me as a boost!"
With a smirk, Cid nodded and hopped onto the Sacred Treasure. Then with a burst of Imperium, he launched himself off it and soared over the Cactir, sending Aquare falling back in the process.
"Go for it Cid!" Terrence cheered.
"Break it open!" Lorica shouted.
"But don't you dare break that core!" Effera warned.
Cid laughed as he dived towards the creature's stomach, readying his hammer with one last charge of Imperium. As he got close, he swung down hard on the area, putting his momentum into it. The wood shattered into bits and pieces, and the Cactir roared in fury.
As Cid reached into the hole he made, the Cactir raised one of its arms. Then it swung down at him, right as he yanked out the huge spiny ball that was its core with great effort, roots and all.
The Cactir froze for a moment...then its arm fell as it went limp.
"I DID IT!" Cid yelled triumphantly shaking the core above his head. "Who wants some Cactir Juice as celebration! Ha ha ha!"
As he laughed, the other Heroes of Arum sweatdropped and sighed.
"How can he stay like that when he used so much power?" Terrence wondered aloud.
"Just wait for it..." Lorica muttered.
After another moment of laughing, Cid gradually began to quiet down. Then he fell backwards, still holding the Cactir core.
"Well, there he goes." Aquare said with a wry smile.
"That's one job done!" Effera said with a grin. "Good work, you lot! We'll be finished before lunch at this rate!"
"We should probably let Cid rest though..."
"We'll make camp here then. My people need to inspect that carcass for more supplies anyway."
As the Jackals scavenged the Cactir, Terrence sat atop it and looked out at the landscape below. He hadn't expected to see any wildlife in a place like the Malice Desert...But here it was, a little river of fresh water, a small field of yellow-green grass, rows of cacti, and even shrubbery scattered about. He even spotted a couple of foxes scampering together. It was all simply...
"Beautiful, isn't it?" May said from behind him.
Terrence looked to see her walking over. She sat by him, scooting close enough to make him blush a little.
"O-oh, hey May." He said with an awkward smile. "Yeah, this is nice."
She smiled back. "We Cait Sith have come by here a few times while wandering around. We were always driven away by the bandits though."
"Hm...Must be great, traveling around the continent with your kind."
Terrence immediately realized he said the wrong thing, and internally cursed himself for it. Guilt crept on him as May's expression dampened and she looked down.
"I wish it was..." She murmured, her ears drooping. "I wonder if they even miss me..."
Terrence looked at her with sympathy. May had been ostracized by her peers. Even though he didn't know why...he didn't really believe she deserved that. Nobody deserved to suffer like that...
He had really been worried about her recently. She seemed to be more...gloomy lately, like right now. Her face had gotten paler too, and Terrence wondered if something was wrong with her, and if there was anything he could do about it.
He was just about to give her some words of comfort when he suddenly heard a roar echo from somewhere. May's ears twitched, and she looked back with a frown.
"That sounded like...a Behemoth." She muttered. "Weren't we going to hunt one?"
"Yep..." Terrence said with a nod, a little concerned. "I guess it must be looking for food too."
Then he heard Effera call out to them.
"Hey, you two lovebirds better get down here! We got fresh meat to hunt!"
Blushing with slight embarrassment, he looked down to see her and everyone else waiting, including a refreshed and grinning Cid. Terrence gave May an awkward smile, then held out his hand.
"Well, let's do this." He said.
She blushed slightly and nodded, then took his hand. Together, they jumped down to meet up with their friends.
Terrence had only ever read about Behemoths in stories. Seeing the real thing...was far more frightening.
It was a black-furred beast with a monstrous feline-like head. Its limbs were like tree trunks, yet somehow it stalked along the sand without a sound, trailing behind an unsuspecting giant rat. Even though that rat was half the size of a human...it still paled in comparison to the collosal beast towering over it.
Terrence could only watch with a chill down his spine as the Behemoth finally got the rat's attention with an earth-shaking stomp, making it screech in fright. It scampered away, making for its burrow nearby. Only for the Behemoth to make a gigantic leap at surprising speed, crushing the rat under a boulder-like paw.
"Oh Gods and Goddesses..." Terrence hissed to Effera. "You seriously hunt those things?"
The Bandit Queen shrugged. "No better source of fresh meat. It's certainly not easy though."
Then a sudden roar rattled Terrence's ears before he could reply. He quickly covered them and looked towards the source.
The Behemoth had taken notice of the party, and was now preparing to pounce, with a menacing gleam in its gold eyes.
"A shield would be good about now!" Effera shouted to Aquare.
"On it!" He said, stepping up front and raising his shield.
He cast Rashield just as the Behemoth rushed in. It collided with the barrier with enough force to shake it violently. Large cracks spread across it, and Aquare winced.
"Ngh...so strong!" He groaned.
The Behemoth swiftly swiped with one paw, shattering the barrier and sending him flying back. Cid quickly leaped in and caught the Nymph, who sighed in relief as he was set down.
Effera jumped toward the beast, aiming to cut its nose, only for it to leap away. It quickly retaliated by pouncing at her, opening its jaws to gobble her up. She barreled out of the way, countering with a slash that struck the Behemoth's upper lip, spilling a bit of blood.
It snarled and jumped back, looking at the Bandit Queen warily as she landed on her feet.
"You're not so tough, are you now?" She said with a grin, shouldering her sword. "Alright Heroes of Arum, let's see what you can do!"
"I'll go up front, you two flank it, alright?" Lorica told May and Terrence. "Bring it down by cutting the back legs."
They nodded, though the boy a bit uncertainly, then took off toward the Behemoth and split up. While May took the left side, Terrence went to the right and readied a strike for the hind leg. At the same time, Lorica sprinted forward and made a great leap toward the Behemoth's face.
The beast growled and snapped at her, and she quickly maneuvered away. She then used a burst of Wind to propel herself at its right eye, aiming a jab at it. The Behemoth turned its head, letting its thick hide take the blow. Lorica grunted in annoyance as her blade got stuck.
With the beast occupied, Terrence quickly moved in and charged his blade. With a yell, he jumped up to slash the right heel. At the same time, May came to swing down on the left.
Their attacks missed as the Behemoth leaped away, then it shook its head to throw Lorica off. She yelped in surprise, but managed to right herself and land safely on the ground.
Just as the Behemoth was about to lunge for her, a slab of ice crashed into the right side of its head, making it howl and stumble from side-to-side.
Terrence looked to see Aquare sighing in relief. He then straightened up and let out a huff.
"Cid, your turn!" He shouted.
"I'm already on it!" The Dwarf said excitedly, Arcfire in hand.
He cast the magic at his feet, using the explosion to launch himself toward the Behemoth, which was snarling as it shook off its daze. It turned its head just in time to see Cid deal a heavy Imperium charged blow right on the top of its skull with a loud 'crack', rattling it violently. The beast howled even louder, then lowered its head as it kneeled weakly.
Seeing a chance now, Terrence looked at May and gave her a confident smile.
"We got this!" He said as he ran off.
"Yeah!" She chirped, going after him.
Once again, he approached the right hind leg. With a shout, he charged his blade and jumped up, swinging down on the heel with every ounce of strength he had. His sword cut noticably deep, causing blood to spurt out onto his clothes. At the same time, May had chopped off the left heel with her charged attacked, causing blood to spill in heavier doses.
The Behemoth roared in pain as it collapsed onto its belly, scattering clouds of dust on impact.
"Alright everyone, finish it off!" Lorica said, charging her magic.
Everyone else followed suit. Terrence hesitated before readying his own Light magic, hoping that he wouldn't screw this up. He felt his mana flowing into his hand, forming a ball of light that gradually grew bigger and changed shape. He could feel the drain on himself...but he managed to keep up his concentration as he continued the charge.
The light formed into an arrow-like shape and flashed bright. He couldn't hold it anymore, and so let it loose with one great chant.
At the same time, his friends cast their spells as well.
The Behemoth howled as it was bombarded with such advanced magic. Terrence's huge arrow of light pierced it all the way through its right side, while May's great claws of shadow rended its left. Cid's big ball of fire exploded on the left side of the Behemoth's face, followed by Aquare's slab of ice on the left side. Finally, Lorica's whirlwind of blades slashed the beast all over.
The beast shuddered one last time...before finally letting out one last breath and becoming still. Everyone was silent as they stared at the blodied body, with its charred face and multitude of cuts.
Then finally...Terrence let out a tired, relieved chuckle and dismissed his sword. They slayed a Behemoth...and he successfully cast an advanced spell.
"We did it..." He said with a sigh.
"We did it!" May shouted happily, running over to him.
Terrence turned to her, then gasped as she jumped on him. She ended up on top of him as they fell on the sand. He blushed in embarrassment as he watched her nuzzle his chest. He didn't know what to think of this...Although she was surprisingly soft...
May suddenly froze, then hastily got off of him and stood up. She looked away, blushing and smiling nervously.
"S-sorry...I got carried away." She stammered. "I'm just...really happy."
"It's uh...okay." Terrence said awkwardly, getting to his feet. "I'm glad too."
Seeing May like this, with her face full of color again...made him really relieved. This was the May he wanted to see the most. He couldn't help saying what he did.
"I like seeing you so happy. Your smile...is really nice."
May looked at him in surprise, turning even redder. Then she looked down and traced the sand with the tip of her boot. Her tail flicked back and forth erratically, and ears twitched.
"Th-thank you..." She murmured.
Terrence looked away, his own face heating up. Dang it...What the heck was he even doing?
Thankfully, Effera's voice spared him from any further embarrassing actions.
"Hey kids, get over here and help us with this thing!"
Terrence turned to see his friends gathered by the Behemoth, along with the Jackals who had come out of hiding. They throwing ropes over carcass and tying it up, and Terrence could already see where this was going...
"Do I have to?" He said in disbelief as he came over.
"Unless you want a smaller portion for lunch and dinner." Effera warned, crossing her arms.
Not wanting to be hungry, Terrence reluctantly grabbed a rope and helped pull the dead Behemoth to the camp. His arms hurt like hell by the time it was over, and he was out of breath as well. He didn't ever want to experience that again for as long as he lived.