Epilogue/Hope for the Future

Disclaimer: Monster Hunter is copyright Capcom. Most of the characters in this story are mine. Many characters belong to others, as stated in previous chapters. York and Rose belong to Thomas A. Hawk.

Edited by: Hoenn Master96

"It simply isn't an adventure worth telling if there aren't any dragons." – J.R.R. Tolkien

"Sweet mercy, it's too hot here," Stephan muttered, wiping a trail of sweat from his brow. Next to him, his squad mate laughed. "I hate the Volcano area."

"I thought you were born near here?" his partner asked.

"I was!" Stephan muttered. "But I hated it! There's a reason I moved away, you know."

"Ah, well, shouldn't be too much longer," his squad mate said. "Not if the Guild's information is correct. Any moment now it'll start, we can gather them up, and get them back to Loc Lac."

Stephan nodded, and turned away, looking instead at their objective. There, in front of him, were over a hundred massive blue crystals: the crystals of the Lost. Only a couple weeks ago, this collection of stones had begun glowing not too far east of the Volcano hunting grounds. A passing hunter had caught sight of the light, and upon realizing what they were, immediately sent word to the Guild. This time, as opposed to the previous awakenings, the Guild had responded quickly, and with the proper personnel. They were mostly hunters, but some volunteers that had come to help. That was why Stephan was here, along with fifty other men and women, watching and waiting for the next 'awakening.'

They'd been here for just under a week, waiting patiently for the crystals to begin to 'melt,' like the Guild reports said they would. The timing for when that would happen wasn't clear, but their orders for once it did were: as soon as the Lost awakened, they were to be escorted to Frost Town, the nearest city large enough to care for them, helping them understand their situation, and from there, they could do with their lives what they wished. And the hunters that were there were to take every precaution to make certain that there were no casualties between now and then.

Stephan was glad he'd signed up for this. It made him feel like he was actually doing something useful and good, as opposed to his time in Loc Lac, when he was just standing around looking for work. And this was far better than his job working for Moloch had been…

Suddenly a shout rose from the other side of the cavern they were in. Stephan looked up in surprise and realized that the crystals were beginning to glow even brighter. For a moment the people around them stood in awe, and then they realized that bright blue droplets were beginning to fall to the floor of the cave. The crystals were melting, just like the Guild had said they would!

The next hour was one of the most hectic of Stephan's life. In minutes, the first of the Lost had been freed from the blue crystals, and had been hurried off to the side to keep him safe. After that, one after another were released from the blue stones, and it was a rush for everyone to keep the Lost calm, especially with their current surroundings being so strange and unfamiliar. But they managed, somehow, to keep the Lost from panicking, and all of them were safe and sound.

Stephan found himself looking after several of the newly awakened Lost in a corner of the cave some time later, waiting for the wagons to be prepared. The Lost's situation had been explained to them to the best of his abilities, as well as what they would do and where they were going. Most of the people in front of him were younger children, who had banded together to play together while they waited for wagons to finish readying and take them to Frost Town.

But there were two older folks near him as well, a married couple that had popped out of the crystals later in the 'awakening.' The pair of them had kept to themselves the whole time, uncertain what to do. On an impulse, Stephan decided to approach them to see if they were alright.

"Are you two okay?" he asked, stopping in front of them. The man, an older bearded gentleman with grayed hair, looked nervously at him for a moment before nodding.

"Yes, yes, we're… we're fine, just… we're trying to wrap our heads around this whole thing."

"It's a lot to take in, isn't it?"

"It really is," the man nodded, before looking at the crystals. "You said we were… frozen? In those?"

"Yes, you were," Stephan nodded. "Though I'm not sure 'frozen' is the right word. The truth of it is… a little stranger."

"Yes, that… that dragon thing," the woman next to him muttered, shaking her head in uncertainty. "So… so strange. And… we've been sleeping for… how long?"

"A long time," Stephan replied. "Honestly, nobody's really sure, but it's been many, many centuries at the least."

The woman nodded, a lost, fearful look in her eyes. Stephan could imagine what they were going through. Likely they were constantly wondering, trying to convince themselves that this was all just a dream. Stephan shook his head. He had to keep the conversation going. "So… what are your names?"

The pair blinked in surprise at the question, and the woman answered first. "My name is Mary. Mary Geisel. And this is my husband Daniel Geisel."

"Well, it's a pleasure to meet you both. My name is Stephan. Now, is there anything I can help you two with at all? Are you hurt anywhere or anything?"

"No, no," Daniel replied, shaking his head. "I think we're fine. I…"

"Wait!" Mary suddenly gasped. "What about our daughter? Where's our little girl? Is she here? Was she frozen, too?"

"A daughter?" Stephan asked. From what he knew, only a small percentage of the Lost were put in the crystals by the Alatreon from what he'd been told, and most of the time, people never found their family members again. But he didn't want to ruin these two parents' hope… "What's her name? How old is she? The Guild put together list of all the Lost who have woken up that they've managed to gather. If she made it to a town or village, her name would have been recorded."

"Well, she's not that young," Daniel said, earning a miffed look from his wife. "But I suppose she'll always be considered our little girl. She was twenty years old the last time we saw her. But that was before things got bad and… anyway, her name is Eleanor. Eleanor Geisel."

Stephan blinked in surprise at the name. "Eleanor, you say?" He raised his hand up to about the level of his eyes. "About this tall? Brown hair, green eyes… stubborn disposition?"

Both of the Lost grinned excitedly, and nodded. "You've seen her?" Mary asked. "Is she safe? Is she alright? She's not hurt, is she?"

"She's… well…" Stephan paused in thought for a moment, then smiled at the pair encouragingly. "You know what? That's actually a really interesting story to tell. She was headed out west last I heard. I'll tell you what I know, but just you wait until you get to Loc Lac. I'm sure you'll hear quite a bit more of her; she's made a bit of a name for herself recently. After that, we can send you right on your way to find her if you want."

The married couple looked at each other uncertainly at the words, but kept rapt attention on him as he began to tell them what he knew.

Desig stepped nervously off the Guild ship onto the docks of the village. He was glad to be on land again after so long traveling. Though, he had to admit as he stepped off the ship, he already missed the sea. He supposed that was the result of spending so long as a sailor. For a couple years he had ended up sailing on the sea under Captain Vin, and he had ended up enjoying the experience immensely. But… eventually the call to become a hunter had overcome him, and the next time they had come to port in a town preparing for a hunter's exam, he had taken the chance.

And what a difference it had been from the first time he had tried! This time the trial had actually seemed… easy! Well, compared to his first try at least. The first test had been a bit of a trick for him, but the battle test had actually been a lot less strenuous than he'd imagined. Several of the other examinees who had taken the test had put his attempt to shame with how good they were, though. Especially a young woman he had made friends with there, a shorter woman who had turned out to be surprisingly more skilled than she had appeared. And the strangest bit was that she had been one of the Lost…

But that was neither here nor there. He had managed to pass! After a couple years sailing the open seas, he'd finally achieved his dream of becoming a hunter! He had been surprised once he'd found out to discover Captain Vin, as well as the rest of his former crewmates, had stayed in town to watch his attempt, and all congratulated him with a celebration to commemorate his success.

It had been several months since then, and he had chosen to stay in Orage Dell during the start of his life as a hunter. That had proven to be a pretty intelligent move; a lot of the higher-ranked hunters living in Orage seemed to have been asked to leave the city not long after Desig had gotten his license. Apparently there were some nasty rumors which had come in from Loc Lac and some of the villages to the south. Nobody really knew what was happening or why. Gossip and hearsay abounded in Orage Dell for almost a month before everything was sorted out and Guild Master Polgara released an official release of what had happened.

And the report! That was a fantastical story of its own! Riots in Loc Lac, an organization of poachers and kidnappings, a sketchy underground arena, a four-story tall Deviljho, and to top it all off the Alatreon was slain? It was all people could talk about, everything that had happened in Loc Lac and all the fallout from everything which had gone on since then. It was all very interesting, but Desig didn't know what to make of it half the time. Every time he'd come back from a new hunt, there was always new information and rumors, speculating and guessing at what had really happened and why.

Eventually, curiosity had gotten the better of Desig. Rumor said two of the hunters who had been caught up in the whole issue had returned to a village south of Orage Dell. So he and his hunting partner had picked out a mission that way. She was the young woman he'd befriended during the hunting exam, a lovely, lively Lost girl named Erin. He hadn't known what to think of her at first, being a member of the Lost, but she'd pulled his butt out of the fire numerous times during their hunts, just as frequently as he'd pulled out hers. Though he wouldn't have believed it when he'd first met, the pair of them got along swimmingly, and had hunted together since they'd gotten their licenses. There was a Gobul causing trouble down south, a bit inland, where a road got too close to a river and into the beast's territory. They could travel down to Boma Village and… look around, to see if they could hear the tale from the hunters themselves.

"I heard this is where the two hunters lived," Desig said, looking around. "It's a lot smaller than I thought it would be, though. I would have thought such famous people would have come from a city or town, not a village like this."

"Well, where should they have come from?" Erin asked, amused.

"I don't know… somewhere more dangerous, I guess. From someone closer to the Tundra or Volcano hunting area or something. Not a peaceful place like this."

"Well, it was attacked by a Deviljho, a really big one, if the rumors are true," Erin replied. "So… maybe it's not as cheerful and pleasant as you seem to make it out to be."

"I guess you may be right…" Desig admitted.

"Well, no sense standing around the docks looking stupid," Erin laughed. "Let's look for the Guild booth in the town square and see if the Guild rep knows anything about these two who killed the Alatreon, right?"

Desig grinned at her enthusiasm. "Agreed."

The people of Boma Village were friendly enough, many of them smiling to the two hunters as they passed. They seemed used to seeing unfamiliar hunters passing through town as well. It didn't really surprise Desig. After all, this town was the main port in the area, used to get to some of the interior towns and villages further inland. Not to mention Desig and Erin weren't the only ones to have heard rumors the hunters who had killed the Alatreon were located here. He had little doubt they weren't the first to come to Boma in hopes of hearing the tale firsthand, and maybe getting some tips from them.

It looked like the town really had gone through an attack by a truly monstrous beast like the rumors said it had. While half of the town looked like most of the other villages Desig had passed through, there were a lot of huts and new buildings which looked as though they had been constructed recently, and a number of structures were still under construction by the locals, especially on the north side of the village. They seemed to be arguing and laughing with a couple people who certainly didn't look like villagers about how the huts should be built. Erin told Desig the pair were Lost, though how she knew, Desig couldn't guess. He could never tell the Lost apart from anyone else to be honest.

The market was bustling, despite the small size of the town. Several other hunters were loitering around, chatting with the locals, though a number of them seemed fresh into the occupation, even less experienced than Desig and Erin were. Perhaps the fame of the local celebrities had called some of the younger people into becoming hunters as well, or at least hunter apprentices. Which meant… were the two hunters taking apprentices? Desig was already past the stage of becoming an apprentice himself, but still…

The Guild booth seemed to be in good condition for such a small town, and a couple of younger hunters were standing around the front of it, talking to the person behind the counter. However, as Desig and Erin approached, the pair of hunters turned and scurried away, heading towards a couple of other hunters who seemed to be their partners. Desig wasn't sure why they were hurrying; it was getting later in the day and they weren't going to be getting out to their hunt unless it was pretty close to the village. Erin glanced uncertainly at him, but Desig shrugged it off and pressed on, heading over to the Guild booth.

"Ah, more hunters in town, then? We've been getting a lot of you passing through recently," the Guild representative said with a smile. Desig blinked in surprise; he hadn't seen many Guild reps like this one. He was a young man, maybe a year or two older than Desig, with messy brown hair hanging loosely over soft brown eyes. Or rather, 'eye'. He had a rather noticeable three-lined scar running across one side of his face, but the other side of his face had a painful-looking burn wound which spread from his forehead, down his neck, to below his Guild uniform. His right eye was also covered in a wide eye patch which covered most of the side of his face, concealing a majority of the burn. But he also seemed fairly well-built for a Guild rep. Maybe he was an injured hunter forced into retirement, if he was behind a Guild booth? He seemed rather young, and the burn did look rather nasty…

"Yes, actually," Erin replied cheerfully. "There seems to be a lot of hunters in this town, for such a small village near the coast."

The Guild rep chuckled. "Yeah, there are a lot of hunters going through Boma these days. Seems a lot of them think hunting in this area will train them to be great hunters. Turn them into legends, that kind of thing."

"It doesn't?" Desig asked, a bit disappointed. The Guild rep smiled at him encouragingly.

"Nope, sorry. All we have in this area are Great Jaggi, Qurupeco, and Royal Ludroth… Oh, and the occasional Gobul and Rathian, but other than that, nothing really special or interesting."

"I thought a Deviljho came through this area," Erin asked, and the Guild man shrugged. For the first time, Desig noticed the man's movements seemed… awkward. There was something odd about him. Desig realized the man's right arm was hanging limply at his side. Another injury?

"Ah. That," the Guild rep said sheepishly. "Well, that was an oddity, but it's really not much different than anywhere else. This area's only had a Deviljho attack… what, once every ten years? If you think that's what makes a good hunter, there are better places than this. I hear the Tundra is a popular place to hunt them these days. Besides, the man who killed the Jho was a very experienced hunter from… well, I don't actually know where he was from, but it wasn't here. Anyway, you don't exactly look like you're up for the challenge of a Jho, not quite yet at least."

"Ha, yeah, I guess not," Erin replied. "We're only a couple of two star hunters, after all. We're here to take care of a Gobul we heard was causing trouble in the area, actually. Oh, and also we were hoping to meet-"

"Gobul, huh?" the Guild rep asked, cutting Erin off, making her expression sour. "We don't have many Gobul hunts in the area… Must be that one down south causing trouble for caravans. Give me a second; I think I have that Guild request buried around here somewhere or another…"

Desig's eyes widened in surprise as the Guild worker reached over and picked up a couple papers. His right arm remained resting at his side as he reached with his left, but as he stretched, a gap appeared between his glove and his sleeves on his right arm, showing the flesh beneath. Or rather, the lack of flesh beneath. Rather than skin and bone, there was some dark, metallic material beneath, pulsing and shivering with unnatural life. At the center of it, right around the wrist, was a deep azure gemstone, glowing eerily with a strange energy.

"Ah, here we go," the Guild worker said, pulling out a paper, and looking it over with his good eye. "Wild Gobul… Well, this is weird."

"What's wrong?" Erin asked curiously. She hadn't noticed the man's arm yet, but as the man shifted in his seat, her eyes landed on his arm as well, and they widened in shock and apprehension.

"Looks like this one is reported as being a battle veteran among Gobul," the Guild rep explained. "Lots of scars and missing its lantern, and wary of great sword users and bowgunners… that's odd. Huh, sounds kind of familiar, actually… It wouldn't have come all the way back south, would it…? Oh, never mind, it's probably just a coincidence. You're in for a trek, I'm afraid. It looks like this was a request from Lily Village. That's about fifteen miles southeast of here. You've got a walk ahead of you, unless you can find a caravan heading that way. I'll ask around if you like. I'm sure there'll be a group going that way sometime soon. With all the hunters around, business in the area has really picked up recently."

Desig winced as the man turned back to him, and he realized he'd been staring at whatever lay underneath the man's sleeves. The Guild worker had noticed though, and quickly pulled on his sleeve, covering the dark material which lay beneath. "Anyway," he continued, "I think there's a caravan carrying fish heading inland tomorrow. I'll ask around for you, see if…"

"No!" Desig said quickly, cutting the man off. "I mean… no, I… I'll ask around myself, don't worry yourself…. We can find it ourselves, thanks."

Without another word, Desig grabbed hold of Erin's arm and dragged her hurriedly away from the Guild booth and across the town square, with the huntress sputtering indignantly the whole time. Once they were out of sight of the booth, Desig came to a halt, gasping for breath.

"Was that really necessary?" Erin asked in frustration.

"Didn't you see… whatever that was?" Desig replied, and Erin shifted uncomfortably.

"I'm sure there's a reasonable explanation for it," she muttered, though she didn't sound convinced. "It's odd, I'll admit, but there has to be a reason for… whatever it was he had on his arm. We didn't need to run away…"

"Whatever it was, I'm fine not hearing about it," Desig said with a shiver. "There's been a lot of weird stuff happening recently, but I think I'm better off having some mysteries remain that way, thank you very much. Whatever it was, it gave me the creeps."

"Yeah… maybe you're right," Erin nodded with a fearful shiver. "Whatever was under his sleeves, I think I'm fine not knowing what it was. But it looks like we'll need to find a caravan to travel with on our own now…"

"That shouldn't be too much of a problem," Desig said with an encouraging smile. "After all, he did say the village was getting a lot of trade recently. Let's look around; we're sure to find someone we can tag along with."

"Well, at least you're still enthusiastic," Erin grinned. "Lead on then! If we can't find a caravan to tag along with, you're taking the blame for this little slip-up. And you'll start by paying for our room and board if we have to find an inn, got it?"

Desig winced, but tried to keep a confident face. "Erm, fair enough, I guess. Let's hurry off to the village gate. Wouldn't want to miss our ride, would we?"

"No, we wouldn't," Erin laughed, and the pair made their way off, ready to make their way to their next hunt.

Levin watched as the hunter walked away, and sighed in dissatisfaction. "I think I scared some more away."

He heard a chuckle come from the back room, and Ellie came around the corner carrying a stack of papers. "You can hardly blame them," she said. "That's not exactly the most… comforting looking thing to look at, even if it was just a prosthetic."

"If it was just a prosthetic, I could brush it off as my doctor having bad taste," Levin grumbled. "But this… this is something else."

Levin reached under the table with his left hand and pulled out a solid wooden cane from underneath. With a grunt of effort, he pushed himself to his feet. Standing awkwardly, he turned to walk towards the back room, careful not to put too much weight on his right leg. Ellie watched him as we went, making sure he didn't strain or hurt himself. Once in the back room, Levin plopped himself down on one of the chairs in the back, tossing his cane to the side. With some frustration, he pulled his right arm up and slipped off the red glove covering it, to look at what lay beneath.

It certainly was a frightful sight, Levin had to admit that much. What once was flesh and bone was now replaced by a terrible black material, pulsing with unnatural life. Dark Metal, taking the bastardized shape of an arm: five thorn-like fingers at the end of a twisted mass. To Levin, it looked more like a thick skeleton shape of the bones in an arm, but a little thicker, and a far darker, terrifying color. It throbbed a slow beat as well, pulsing in time with his own heartbeat. At the center of the wrist though, was something not made of Dark Metal. A deep azure gemstone was wedged into the center of the mass of metal, a glowing stone which the Dark Metal clung desperately to, draining its energy or feeding into it, Levin wasn't sure. He shifted where he sat, and felt the awkward motion of it. His right leg was much the same, a strange, horrifying recreation of the human leg, with another of the gemstones placed in the ankle.

This was the result of Farren's work, his last 'gift' to Levin. Levin wished the man would have at least told him what he was trying to accomplish when he'd begun his work on him, though he probably still wouldn't have approved. The process was something Levin barely remembered; he'd been in too much pain at the time to focus on what the man had done. What he did know was he'd gotten close to death again during the procedure, and had passed out from pain not long into it. When he'd woken up again, Ellie was enraged, screaming in fury that Farren was gone, nowhere to be found. She was desperate for blood for what the researcher had done. The entire hospital was in an uproar, searching for him, but apparently the researcher had disappeared the moment his work was done, likely leaving the city entirely the first chance he'd gotten, off to… off to find his sister no doubt, and face the consequence of his actions once that was done.

And he had left Levin with these… these dark limbs, as he'd grown to call them. Strange, twisted appendages made of Dark Metal, pulsing with some hidden power beneath. Doctors (and Harker) had appeared to examine the artificial limbs, and their diagnosis had been both astonished and fearful. Whatever the limbs were, however Farren had created them, they had somehow been fused into Levin's body. And they were still absorbing Levin's blood, though not at nearly so alarming a rate as they once had. Levin found his appetite had increased quite a bit since the attachment of the limbs, forcing him to make up for the blood the Metal consumed.

The gemstones which had been placed in each limb were a shock in themselves. Not long after the doctors had looked at the arms, several Guild workers had come to the hospital to look at them, and told Levin something he wasn't sure how to feel about. They were Dragongems, rare stones taken straight from the body of elder dragons. And these gems, called Azure Dragongems by the Guild, had been taken directly from the remains of the Alatreon itself. Whatever experiment Farren had conducted on Levin, he had used the power of the Alatreon to do it, making Levin more uncomfortable with the limbs than any other reason.

He had wanted them gone at first, but removing them would likely have taken as much effort as it would have been to remove actual arms, and likely just as dangerous.

Now that he'd had some time with them, Levin wasn't sure what to make of the dark limbs. He would've thought there would be a purpose behind Farren's efforts to attach the dark limbs to his body, but so far it was all pointless. They were worthless to him, black lumps of metal which hung where his arm and leg once did. They didn't move, didn't feel, didn't do much of anything. They were like prosthetics imbedded into him, but couldn't be removed safely. At least they no longer seemed to affect people in the way Dark Metal usually did; the doctors who studied them were able to touch the limbs without feeling anything other than a bit of a chill when doing so. And Ellie had brushed against them and held them numerous times since then, without any of the side effects. It was like the Metal was now… dormant or something.

But as time went on and he continued to recover, Levin had noticed something: every once in a while, when he wasn't really thinking about it, or when he tried really, really hard, he thought he could get the arms to move. The results were disappointing at best: just a wiggle, just a twitch, and barely enough to notice. But when he told that to Ellie, Harker, and Kerry, the retired long sword user launched another study. After some time, he discovered something even more fascinating about the limbs: they were reacting to Levin's nervous system. Somehow or another, the Dark Metal arm and leg were developing, slowly but surely, into a feasible, usable pair of limbs. One day, eventually, Levin might be able to use the dark limbs as near-perfect replacements for the arm and leg he had lost.

But that was merely in concept. Harker had told him it would take years, if not decades before the limbs could be used to such dexterity. The dark limbs' connection to Levin's nervous system seemed to be a immeasurably slow process. Farren's method was a first attempt, and was roughshod, as far as he could tell. Certainly, such a process would not be successful, not quickly, and not on the first attempt. No, as enticing the thought was that the arms could be used like normal arms one day, likely it would be a long, long time before they would be. And until then, they would be useless, motionless lumps to weigh him down.

But… even so, the thought that, one day, there could be a chance for Levin to be himself again, to be whole again, and maybe, just maybe even hunt again, had raised his spirits. He'd been in a better mood than before, even knowing it would take years of practice and training for him to even get close to getting back the strength he once had. It was something to look forward to, something to yearn for, and it gave him a reason to press on again. To think this had been Farren's goal all along…

Eventually, over half a year later, the day came when he had finally recovered from the wounds he'd received during the Alatreon battle, at least enough so to be released from the hospital and the doctors' prying eyes, to do whatever he wanted with himself. He and Ellie had long since decided what they would do from there on in: as soon as both of them were in fit enough shape to travel, they'd left Loc Lac, and went back to Boma Village, back to the place they called home. They'd left quietly, in the evening, not wanting to raise a fuss with the people of Loc Lac, only stopping long enough to say goodbye to their closest friends. Then they had left on the first sandship they could, heading back to the western coast. Boma had been glad to receive them again once they returned. Though Levin hadn't been able to hunt anymore, he was perfectly willing to have a job as a worker in the Guild booth alongside Mel, and Ellie was content to help him. The story of Boma's involvement in the Alatreon hunt had spread, and Mel found herself more than willing to receive help behind the desk as hunters and travelers came in great numbers to visit the port village.

Since then they'd heard news from their friends and allies from all over the place. Harker and Kerry were in Loc Lac still, trying to find someone to fund their mad research. On the one hand, they were both well-renowned in the city, but on the other, they were both legally considered walking disasters, and no scientific society wanted to risk the collateral damage which came along with them. Harker had mentioned in his last letter that maybe they were better off finding a new location to work, where they could conduct their experiments without risk of property damage.

Kim and Nat (and some acquaintance of theirs they'd met at the hospital) had traveled back to Orage Dell, where Kim was aiming to become a poaching enforcer and rogue hunter tracker. Nat had done something similar to Levin, with her legs gone, and decided to work for the Guild. Their letter claimed their friend was trying to become a doctor or something.

Richard, along with his father and mother, had traveled with some Wyvernian smith up into the mountains to work on learning how to develop some of the weapons popular in other countries. Apparently they'd been successful, because Levin had seen numerous new types of weapons on the hunters passing through Boma. After that, they'd returned to Frost Town, where Monique had returned to her smithy, though Richard claimed to be making plans to travel to Orage Dell to visit Kim and Nat on a semi-regular basis. However, his father had retired after his traumatic experience in the Coliseum, and was helping his wife in the forges.

Other letters from friends and acquaintances had been coming in as well. Everyone they knew had sent them news of how their own lives were progressing, now that the Alatreon was dead and the situation in Loc Lac had cooled down. Most of them seemed to be doing well, and the country seemed to be changing, now that the Lost were spreading out. Loc Lac itself seemed to be in a lingering state of difficulty, and with all the chaos which had gone on there, many other hunting cities were gaining popularity for gathering hunters, especially a port town to the north of Orage Dell called Tanzia.

Here in Boma, the wounds Marshall had taken during the World Eater battle sent the man into a final, permanent retirement from hunting. The body of Filcher, as well the Deviljho hammer which had once belonged to Hawke, had been burned along with the body of the World Eater. Marshall had been the one to suggest the idea, and had started the blaze himself. He'd done so quickly, so soon after Silas' airship had left for the Sacred Land, that the bodies were ashes long before the Guild men came to the village to study them.

In the meantime, with Marshall out of commission, Ellie had picked up the slack in local monster control, though they'd needed to hire a couple hunters from a nearby village to help keep an eye on the local monsters for a while, since Ellie preferred to stay close to Levin while he got used to his dark limbs. A couple of hunters from the nearby Moga Village had volunteered: a hunter and huntress calling themselves… York and Rose? Levin had really only met them once, and only in passing. But they'd gone back to their own home once Levin was better accustomed to taking care of himself, and Ellie could take up full-time defense of the village again. Of course, now there was talk going around the village of Marshall taking on a couple more apprentices to aid Ellie, despite his wounds. There wasn't much doubt the man could pull it off; he was certainly still strong enough and stubborn enough…

Levin's hopes for the dark limbs had died out quite a bit over the last few months in Boma though. His greatest achievement with them so far, despite all the time he'd had, was gaining the ability to stand up without a cane, though even it didn't last long before the strength in his dark leg wavered and he fell over. His arm moved very little, even when he strained and focused as hard as he could. Even with the hope of hunting again, he soon became somewhat depressed, realizing how long the recovery really might take.

"Have you heard the news from down south?" Ellie asked suddenly, sitting down next to him. Levin looked at his beloved curiously at the tone. She seemed… wary, cautious, and uncertain. He wondered why. He turned around so he could get a clear look at her with his good eye.

"What news?" Levin asked.

"Ah. Well…" Ellie scratched her head nervously. "It seems... well, you remember how the peak of the volcano we fought the Alatreon on in the Sacred Land collapsed when it erupted, right?"

"I remember hearing about it. I never saw it happen myself."

"Right… I guess I didn't see it happen either. I was worried about more important things at the time to take note of it…" For a quick moment, the huntress' eyes lingered on Levin's dark arm, before she shook her head and met his eyes again with a smile. "Anyway, it was pretty dangerous in that area for a while after the Alatreon died. For almost a month, no hunters or airships were allowed to travel through the area for fear of injury and death, save for the airships they sent to collect the Alatreon's body and those of the monsters the others fought, and even then they lost a good number of them trying to recover the corpse."

"They could've just left it there…" Levin muttered quietly. "They didn't need to drag it all the way to Loc Lac, not if it cost more lives."

Ellie smiled comfortingly. "They wanted to make sure it was dead. Absolutely certain. Besides, they wanted something they could use to celebrate over, especially after the riots. Both the Lost and the Therians could get excited at the sight of them dragging the body through the streets. It was more of a symbol than anything else, I think, and it helped motivate the Lost to begin their exodus away from Loc Lac."

"Yeah, I know, I know… I would've been perfectly fine just letting the body dissolve in the lava, though."

"Anyway… once the volcano's eruption settled down a couple months ago, they sent some researchers to survey the damage. Harker wanted to go, according to Kerry, but he was still recovering from his wounds, and she wasn't letting him leave the hospital for any reason. She told me she had to use… very personal persuasive techniques to get his mind off the volcano."

"That would certainly work on me," Levin said with a smirk, and Ellie giggled and rolled her eyes.

"Well, it certainly worked with Harker… for a while, at least. Anyway, here's where the news gets… dangerous. A few weeks later, they came back to Frost Town in a hurry. Apparently the research group came across some more of the blue crystals deep in the volcano's core, once it was safe enough for them to travel into it. Big ones. They thought they'd come across an entire city's worth of Lost."

"That's bad!"

"Yeah, it would've been, but that's not what was inside the crystals."

"Monsters?" Now Levin really was worried. More beasts which had been alive as long as the Silver Rathalos they'd met on the tower north of Nastre? That was no good.

"Yes, but not just any monsters, either. This probably isn't something you want to hear, but… they found more Alatreons, about seven of them, all waking up at the same time in the center of the volcano."

Immediately, Levin was on his feet and the piles of Guild paperwork were thrown to the floor. Fear and anger welled up inside of him. More Alatreons? Seven of them? No! He couldn't… there couldn't be more of them! He had to… there had to be something he could… he realized suddenly Ellie had her arms around him and was holding him back from losing control. Abruptly his dark leg gave out from underneath him and he stumbled to the floor, unable to keep himself upright. Ellie was right there next to him, holding him tightly as he began to hyperventilate, panic beginning to set in.

"Levin, please listen. It's not nearly as bad as it sounds. And I know it sounds really, really bad."

"How… how could it not be-"

"Just listen. Please." Levin was still scared and angry, but slowly and surely his breathing and heart rate began to slow down a little. "Listen to me. When the Guild got word of so many Alatreons, they began to panic as well, worried what the elder dragons could do. They sent a group of hunters they could gather in Frost Town off to fight them, see if they could hold the beasts at bay or at least give them some time to plan. They only had four they considered strong enough to challenge the beast, but that was the best they could do. The Guild was in a panic for a good week or so, waiting for the elder dragons to come down on Frost Town, but… around that time, when they thought the worst, the hunting team actually came back!"

"What?" Levin gasped, gaping in shock. "They… what? They managed to beat all the Alatreons?"

"No, not at all," Ellie continued. "When they returned, they told what they'd found. At first they'd been attacked by one of the Alatreons, and they claimed it was an epic fight. They managed to kill it, though apparently it was one hard-fought battle, and they were all wounded in the fight. After that they couldn't directly attack the Alatreons, not without a battle plan, so they decided to observe them for a while to see if they could find a moment to strike while waiting for reinforcements.

"But as they watched, they noticed something odd. The Alatreons weren't hiding or running, and the hunters didn't hear any voices in their heads or anything. They were just… making nests and claiming territory, hunting for food and fighting each other for dominance and mates. One of the hunters was pretty well-versed in biology, and swore they were acting just like regular monsters. Well… like elder dragons, at least, however elder dragons are supposed to act. They just weren't acting like the boogeymen nightmares they thought the monsters would be.

"Anyway, what really got them was how several of the Alatreons actually caught sight of them during their reconnaissance, but no more of them really attacked. They were only really chased after when the hunters got too close to the nests."

"I don't… I don't understand," Levin muttered in shock. "Why… how?"

"The Guild sent more people to study them," Ellie replied. "They have… they have a few theories about it. They think… they suspect maybe, just maybe, the Alatreon we fought put the rest of its species into those crystals. From what the hunters who observed the Alatreons in the volcano said, they think the rest of them are naturally territorial. They think maybe the Alatreon… your Alatreon, may have discovered the ability to put creatures into the blue crystals in the past, and imprisoned the rest of his kind inside to remove competition."

"It imprisoned its entire species inside the blue crystals?" Levin asked, stunned.

"If its entire species only consisted of eight of its kind, then yes, that's what they think. They sent out more hunters once the first four returned, and the next group managed to take out yet another of the Alatreons, one which had been going after caravans to the south of the volcano. They think… they're pretty sure these Alatreons are all quite a bit weaker than the one we fought, and none of them seem to have the telepathic abilities it did. They're just… normal elder dragons. Or at least, as normal as an elder dragon can be… like the Jhen Mohran which swim through the sandsea. They're not the same as the Alatreon which destroyed our lives."

Levin was quiet for a moment. More Alatreons? So many of them? Fear and anger welled up in him for a moment, then… faded away. All he felt inside was a feeling of contentment. There were more Alatreons around, but… they were just another monster for hunters to deal with. For other hunters to deal with, that is.

He grinned wearily and sighed in relief. "Thank goodness."

Ellie blinked in surprise. "Really? That's it? You're not… angry? Vengeful?"

"Not really, actually," Levin admitted. "I thought I would be, but… freezing its own species, making it so he's the only one of his kind around, becoming the terror of humankind, pretending to be an all-power unique monster? That sounds like something it would do, doesn't it? I think… getting angry at these Alatreon wouldn't be much different than how the extremists used to treat the Lost. If what you told me is true, it was hardly their fault, and they want nothing more than to create new lives for themselves and go on living. I can't blame them for that, can I? I'm not angry at them. I don't hate them at all."

Ellie smiled, a truly thankful and joyful expression. She leaned forward and quickly gave him a gentle kiss. "Good. I'm glad to hear it."

"Come on, now," Levin said with a smirk. "You weren't worried I'd throw myself at those Alatreons in some foolish suicide mission, did you, my dear Miss Ellie? In the condition I'm in?"

"The thought had crossed my mind," Ellie replied wryly, and Levin snickered.

"What would you have done if I had decided to go off chasing elder dragons, anyway?"

"Tripped you," Ellie replied simply. Levin pouted at the words, and Ellie smirked wickedly. "You're not exactly the greatest challenge in the world to pin down right now, Mr. Levin. It wouldn't take me much effort to keep you in one place."

"Ah, rub it in, why don't you?" Levin grumbled. "Making fun of cripples now, are we, Eleanor?"

"Ah. Sorry, sorry," Ellie said sincerely. "But… the doctors said you'd be as strong as you once were soon enough, even with those weird dark metal arms. You've always been a little physically stronger than me, so I just thought I'd enjoy it while it lasted."

"They said it'd take years, if not over a decade before I was back to normal," Levin reminded her. Ellie smiled sadly, but leaned forward and kissed him softly again.

"I have faith in you, my dear Levin."

"Thank goodness someone does," Levin replied with a rueful smile. "So… you're going on a hunt tomorrow?"

"Yeah," Ellie nodded. "Marshall asked if I'd be willing to take down a Royal Ludroth that's been pestering caravans going along the river road to the south of town. Hearsay says it's a young alpha male trying to bolster its territory, so it shouldn't be much of a problem to deal with. Just lure it out of the water and it should be a quick fight."

"Sounds like a good time."

Ellie sighed, looking regretfully down at the floor. "Yeah, maybe, but… I guess I finally understand what Lynn was talking about."

"What do you mean?" Levin asked, and Ellie looked back up and smiled softly.

"It gets… lonely out there, all by myself," she said sadly. "I miss having you out there with me."

"I miss being out there with you," Levin replied. "I never thought I'd enjoy hunting so much that I missed it when I was done, but… well, here I am. Life seems… boring, not being able to go out on hunts."

"Well, keep practicing with that arm and leg of yours, then," Ellie said. "You'll be back in the wilds again in no time at all."

"Whatever you say, Miss Ellie," Levin nodded. Farren had attached these prosthetics to him with little knowledge of how or even if they'd work. Levin wasn't even sure the limbs would ever move any more than the occasional twitches anymore. Honestly, he was happy enough when the dark leg was stable enough to support his weight, though he still needed the cane to keep his balance most of the time. "You'd better be getting to bed, I suppose. There's a whole lot of road to the south of town, and it might take you a while to find the Royal's nest."

"No, no. I should help you clean up," Ellie argued. "I mean, there are still those weapons in the yard out back, and these papers need to be cleaned up…"

"It's nothing I can't do myself," Levin replied, pushing himself awkwardly to his feet. "Don't worry about me. I don't want you tired when you go toe to toe with that Royal tomorrow. You'll be on your own, after all." Still Ellie hesitated, though, and Levin smirked slyly. "If you're really adamant on not getting your rest, Miss Ellie, I can certainly think of more enjoyable acts to eat up your beauty sleep, though this may not be the best place for them…"

To Levin's great pleasure, Ellie flushed in embarrassment. It didn't happen as often anymore, so Levin enjoyed it when it did. Finally, the woman laughed and smiled at him. "Oh, fine. Obviously if you've got the energy for lewd jokes, you've got the energy to clean up this place. I'll go get some sleep. But don't push yourself, okay?"

"Yes, ma'am," Levin intoned, earning a playful smack on the head from Ellie. She quickly pecked him on the cheek, before turning and making her way out of the booth. She gave one last concerned look at him, before he motioned her away and she left, making her way back to their hut. Levin smiled to himself. He'd have to be quick. She likely wouldn't sleep until he'd returned, just to make sure he really was fine.

It was rather frustrating, being treated like glass by the woman he loved, but there really wasn't much he could do. He really had needed a lot of help when he'd finally been allowed to leave the hospital in Loc Lac, especially with two limbs which didn't always work, though he'd improved since then. She'd been getting better about it though, not asking him to lean on her for support every time they walked further than twenty yards together, or immediately rushing to his aid every time he lost his balance. It had helped when Marshall had pointed out that Levin was perfectly capable of taking care of himself when Ellie was out hunting whatever needed taken down or scared off. She'd gotten less protective after that. He hoped she wouldn't act that way the whole time he was getting used to these dark limbs.

As Levin stumbled out the back door of the Guild booth, his eyes wandered over to the wooden practice dummies lining the back wall of the lot. Odd, he thought wryly, that the dummies were human-shaped. Hunters were trained to hunt beasts of all kinds, yet they practiced on targets shaped like other humans. Though… considering the trouble he and his friends had gone through dealing with Moloch's Crimson Coliseum, he had to admit maybe it wasn't such a foolish idea after all. All the training in the world could prepare you for a monster, but a single human coming at you could catch you off guard.

The practice weapons really were scattered around the yard. The would-be-hunters which had been visiting the Guild booth from nearby villages recently had certainly been coming in droves. The weapons had seen ten times the use in the last few months than they had in years. Levin and Mel had been talking about getting entirely new set of iron weapons as replacements; the ones they had couldn't take much more, despite the care they'd received. Maybe they could get some cheap practice weapons of weapons they didn't have yet, too, like the long sword or the switch axe. Maybe they could even get some of the rare foreign weapons which had been going through the village recently, like the dual swords, or the hunting horn, or those lances you could load up to shoot wyvern fire out of (Levin thought those were weird, but then, Ellie hadn't thought too kindly of his love for switch axes either). Either way, they'd need to do something to replace the rubbish weapons they had now; if they waited too much longer they'd be better off using heavy sticks instead.

With a frown of vexation, he was forced to set his cane against the wooden wall of the Guild booth. He only had one good arm, and he couldn't hold himself upright with his dark arm, so he'd have to hope his leg held out long enough for him to clean up. He set off quickly, working his way around the yard and plucking up weapons from where they sat and bringing them back over to the big box which held them. The great sword gave him a bit of trouble, considering he only had one good hand and leg to drag it along with. The lance and shield took two trips, one for the lance and one for the shield. Levin was already getting tired. Work was a lot harder when you only had one of each limb.

Finally he made his way over to the test dummies, where a few of the weapons remained around. One of them had the old iron short sword wedged into the ground in front of it, with a shield propped up against a nearby tree. Levin hobbled over to the blade carefully, reaching down awkwardly with his left hand and tugging the blade free from the earth. Looking at the old sword, he twisted it around, toying with it a little.

His arm felt weak as he swung the blade awkwardly in his hand. Learning to write with his left hand had been challenging enough, and his handwriting was still sloppy. Swinging a blade effectively was near impossible at the moment. He felt a momentary wave of depression wash over him; as much as he wanted to hunt again with Ellie, he just couldn't imagine how he ever could. His dark arm and leg ached just thinking about it. He could barely get the damn things to move, much less react fast enough to hunt again.

He looked again at the training dummies, then again down at his dark arm. Awkwardly, he tried to move the arm, and it twitched slightly in reacting to his want, but not much. So he swung his left arm over to the dark arm, and held the short sword between the fingers. The limb twitched again, just slightly, but not nearly enough to grip the weapon, and certainly not enough to wield the blade properly.

Levin sighed, working his way over to the wide tree stump in the center of the area and sitting down. He looked again at the dark arm, and the azure gem glowing softly in the center of it. Maybe he was going about this all wrong. What did he really know about Dark Metal? It was a cold, deadly substance which could be unearthed in the Tundra. Despite that (or perhaps because of it), hunters would seek it out and use it as a weapon. Richard's long sword was made of Dark Metal, wasn't it? He recalled someone telling him that. It seemed to be the common use, turning the metal into a blade.

So what did he know about long swords? They had that… spirit combo maneuver, which honed the blade during battle, or something. Harker had attempted to explain the theory to him once, but the man had been rambling at the time, so Levin hadn't paid too close attention. He remembered the madman explaining that to call upon the power, a hunter had to treat the blade as an extension of their body. The long sword fed off of the hunter's spirit and willpower, became the hunter's spirit and willpower. The blade was the hunter, in all but form, their determination and strength and will to defeat their opponent. Or at least, that was how Harker had been taught to use the weapon. The madman was certain there had to be a more scientific explanation…

Was that where he was going wrong? Since Farren had done this to him, Levin had always pictured the dark limbs as prosthetics; horrible, sinister prosthetics. Not a part of him, but something attached to him without his permission. Was he supposed to treat them not as an add-on, but as an actual part of himself? As his actual flesh-and-blood arms? Such an idea was nearly impossible… the memories of his torment under the piercing cold of the Dark Metal were still so fresh, and the Azure Dragongem which pulsed in the center of the mass of black material certainly wasn't helping. The idea of treating a piece of the Alatreon as a part of him went against his very nature.

But still… it was an idea, and one he'd never used before. There wasn't any harm in trying, was there? Once again, he held the hilt of the short sword over the palm of the dark limb, and this time… what should he do? He'd been trying to force the limb closed by giving orders to the Dark Metal, or something to that effect. But if he just imagined the limb as a part of him… it was a challenge though; his mind rebelled against thinking of the metal as a part of him. It took a bit of struggle and focus to do it, but eventually the arm reacted slightly, and the fingers slowly closed on the hilt of the weapon. It was loose, and Levin feared the blade would drop out of his grip at any time, but it was a better reaction than he'd ever had before.

He stood again, turning cautiously towards the dummy and walking slowly over to the wooden target, careful not to let the blade slip from his fingers. Now how was he to do this? Just hack and slash, and see how he did? He didn't think he had the strength available to do that much… No, when you were practicing, you had to imagine an opponent in front of you, a threat of some kind. But what kind of threat? With the human shape of the dummies, a couple images immediately sprang to mind. First was the face of Moloch, and second the face of Pugnax. He felt his grip tighten for a moment, but a second later it loosened, and he shook his head, banishing the images.

He frowned in frustration. He couldn't bring himself to imagine a human in the dummy's place. He'd already taken the lives of a few people, and honestly, it was a few people too many. So he tried to imagine a monster there instead. But which one? The Alatreon came to mind, but he'd gotten his vengeance, and after seeing the beast's deformed head planted above the Guild hall in Loc Lac, he'd lost any negative thoughts he had of the beast. He was done with the elder dragon.

What did that leave him, though, to motivate him? There was the Barioth, but he'd made his peace with that beast too. Some other creature? He wasn't really incited by a lot of monsters anymore. He'd been a bit sore with Barroths for a while after Ellie was injured, but that was just a bit of bad luck, and besides, he'd managed to fight a kill a few after that. What did that leave?

He grunted in irritation, before laughing in amusement at himself. Who would've thought he, Levin, a well-renowned hunter among the Lost, would be acting like a naturalist? He couldn't even bring himself to be angry at the creature he'd hated for years anymore.

He wobbled the sword around in his dark hand for a moment longer before shrugging to himself. He needed a new creature to dislike, might as well start small for now. A few Jaggis had been sneaking through the damaged town walls at night recently and stealing food from the farms up on the hill. A couple weeks ago one of the little carnivores had gotten lost and actually ended up yipping nervously in the practice yard. Levin had been surprised to find it there the next morning, and had lost his balance and nearly gotten bitten; he would have been if Ellie had not been there, preparing to go on a hunt that day. She'd gotten paranoid for a couple days after that, not leaving his side at all until the town guard had informed her they'd found and repaired the hole in the village wall the beasts had been slipping through.

Levin shrugged as he stared at the dummy. He really didn't have much else to work with. But still… getting overpowered by a Jaggi! Levin glared at the wooden post, imagining one of the small, yipping ankle-biters standing in front of him. Such little creatures, but always so irritating, and in such numbers… and yet he couldn't take one down at all…

The image of the Jaggi yipping at him, leaping to bite him, flashed in his head in stark clarity. He moved instinctively, his body reacting naturally as he snapped the blade at the creature's face. He could see the blood spraying as the sword cut through flesh and shattered bone.

Then he snapped back to reality as his leg gave out underneath him and he toppled to the ground with a painful thump. He groaned in pain as he pushed himself into a sitting position, rubbing his bruised shoulder irritably. Levin looked down at his dark arm in frustration, glaring at the Azure Dragongem as in glowed faintly. It was limp and unresponsive once more, hanging loosely over his legs. Levin sighed; what had he really expected? He struggled to push himself to his feet, balancing gingerly on his dark leg as he got upright. He needed to get his cane… but first, he really needed to finish cleaning up the yard. He looked at the ground around him curiously, searching for the short sword he'd been using moments ago. Had he flung it when he'd fallen? He couldn't seem to spot it, and he really didn't want to spend a long time searching around in his condition.

But as he looked up at the dummy, a glimmer of worn steel caught his eye. His eye widened in shock; the edge of the blade was embedded in the side of the wooden target dummy's head. It was a shallow cut, something even the most rookie hunter could accomplish with little effort, just barely dug in enough for the edge to remain wedged into the wood. Even as he watched, the sword loosened from where it was, slipping free and dropping to the grass below. Levin stared in silence, his gaze on the shallow cut slicing along the side of the dummy's head.

He looked down at the dark limb again, so weak and unresponsive now. But strength had been there, control had been there, even if only a little, and even if only for a moment. The thumb on the limb twitch idly, worthlessly, but even so a smile spread slowly across Levin's face, and the man laughed excitedly.

"It's not much, but it's something," he said to himself. He turned and laughed quietly, making his way back to the Guild booth, picking up the short sword as he went, twirling it a little in his left hand. He felt better than he had in months, grinning happily, even as the blade tumbled from his hand and imbedded itself into the ground. This time he ignored it, continuing excitedly back into the Guild booth. He'd clean up the yard tomorrow.

"I'm not done. Not yet!" With that, he shut the door behind him.

In the lonely yard, in was quiet for a moment. A few seconds later, a tinny clattering sound filled the area, as Levin's walking cane, already forgotten, tilted over from its place against the wall and fell into the thin grass. And there it remained as happy, hopeful laughter fluttered out from the Guild booth.

In this world there are many stories.

Not every story ends with everything being alright. Not every loose end is tied up, and not every question is answered. Not everything makes sense in the end. Not every hero receives their rewards and comes out better than they were, living happily ever after. Not every villain meets their fate at the hands of justice and earns their punishment. Sometimes, it's hard to tell whether a hero is truly a hero, or if a villain is truly a villain.

Sometimes the villains die, and sometimes they live on. Sometimes the heroes are victorious and continue their life, and sometimes they are broken down. Stories never end as certainly as we think they will. For some, the endings aren't happy or clean. For some, the endings aren't gentle and kind. For some, the ending leaves more questions than answers. For some, they question whether the story was worth even ending at all.

That's the way it is sometimes. The stories end, no matter what we think of their closing. Perhaps the story's close was enjoyable, perhaps not. Perhaps the beast was slain, the villain defeated, the love won, the war over. But perhaps not. We cannot stop the story's close. We can only contemplate its meaning, ending where it did. Were we happy with the end of the story? Were we disappointed? Were we hoping for more, or less? Was the story even worth reading at all?

But whether the ending is happy or sad, whimsical or painful, we continue to read them, hoping that the next, or the next after that, will give us what we desire. We keep on searching for stories, looking for those that excite us, or motivate us, or entertain us, or frighten us, or encourage us. Whether the story we read satisfies us or not, it won't stop us from enjoying what is to come.

And who knows? Perhaps there is still more to tell. Perhaps the story you've read has more to it. Perhaps there are worlds unseen and battles unfought. Perhaps what we think is the end of the story is just the beginning of yet another. Perhaps there is more to see, to dream, to hope for.

After all, in this world there are many stories. And there are always more to tell.

Author's Note: Please Review!

IT. IS. FINISHED. FINALLY! After almost 1.2 million words and 3.5 years, I have finally finished this story! I admit, I was never truly sure whether I'd keep the desire to continue writing that it took to finish this story, and always thought there was a chance that I may grow tired of it and stop writing, but somehow I plugged on, and by the time the Malefica arc rolled around, I knew I was in for the long haul. I'm glad I stuck around to the end! I kind of hoped to have this story done before the 10th, which was my birthday… but a complete story is complete, no matter when it's released!

I hope you all enjoyed that last scene in the previous chapter. It was fun to leave there. I enjoyed being an utter bastard to my readers, right to the end. Also, though it was quick, I managed to bring back my wandering Gobul for one more mention in the story, which pleases me greatly.

I apologize to everyone with OCs that I wasn't able to fit into the story. But as you can see, the last few chapters were hectic, and I didn't want to try and squeeze in someone new at the last minute. And besides… I'll be honest, some people really overdid it with the Mary-Sue in their characters, so I didn't want to put them in anyway. And to everyone who had well-made characters… I'm sorry, but there were far more OCs submitted than I'd ever imagined I'd receive, so I couldn't use them all.

On that note, I want to give a massive shout-out to Thomas A. Hawk, another Monster Hunter writer you may have seen or read before. I managed to squeeze his OCs into this story for a short cameo before the very end of it, which I'm rather happy about. Anyway, if you haven't read his story 'The Hunter's Oath', or its prequel 'Remembrance', you should give them a look! They're easily a couple of the best MH stories on this site.

As a final note to reviewers, I'd like you all, if you could, to write down as much of a review as you can about the story as a whole. What was your favorite scene? Favorite character (not including your own OC please)? Favorite location? Favorite fight scene? Least favorite of everything mentioned? What about my writing did you like? What do you think I could have improved on? Did I leave any plot holes? I appreciate any reviews and critiques you can offer!

Little known facts about TLC:

Nat was initially supposed to die during her time in the Coliseum, and her death would drive Kim to becoming a very determined, powerful hunter (after nearly shattering her psyche completely). However, this changed as the story progressed, when I realized that a lot of people liked the pair, even though they were only side characters. So, she lived, though she was no longer in any condition to hunt anymore. You might think crippling her was bad, but it was supposed to be worse.

Micah was initially supposed to lust after Ellie, and attempt to seduce her into joining Moloch's organization. The only reason this didn't happen was because of continuity issues that I accidentally created for myself. Also, the interactions between Micah and Nat began to push me more into aiming Micah's obsession to her and Kim instead. He was also supposed to die from Kim killing him, but that changed too.

Filcher was initially supposed to die a far less noble death in the Coliseum, like Lilith did, but considering he stole Hawke's Deviljho hammer, him dying to the World Eater slowly grew on me until I changed the story.

The initial story timeline changed dramatically after the Barioth hunt. Instead of the Alatreon attacking Loc Lac by himself, the initial outline had him sending several Diablos into the town. Levin and company take care of a Diablos that threatens some councilmembers, and the Alatreon is chased off. The four hunters are put on probation of sorts, and then are sent off to hunt a Rathalos. A red one, not a silver one. Like I said: drastic timeline changes.

Farren was originally just a cruel researcher working for the Guild at first, but I needed something to work with during the Echo Island arc, so he was given a story. The Dark Metal bit was also randomly decided as well, but proved to be a fine Chekov's Gun for me.

Speaking of the Dark Metal… Levin was only supposed to lose his arm in the final battle, and was to be given an iron prosthetic, which he'd use to carry a shield. He was to spend the rest of his hunting career only using the sword and shield, due to his lack of an arm. The Dark Metal bit was something that kind of came together after Hoenn (my editor) told me what he thought Dark Metal in a weapon did. I tweaked the idea in my story (clearly) and made it into something a little more twisted and weird. And gave Levin something to work for. And crippled him even worse than I'd initially planned.

Reading: The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien, Guardians of the West by David Eddings
Playing: Black Mesa, MH3U, Pokemon X
Listening: Les Miserables Soundtrack, Mika