Chapter 10: The Festival of the Hunt
Lindblum Castle, Aircab Station
Omega leaned against the wall of the starting area, his arms folded and attempting contemplation. Something made more difficult by Zidane next to him, still acting annoyingly chummy. It took serious willpower to not beat him senseless, as the guards would no doubt not allow contestants to actively fight each other or worse. And he couldn’t afford to get disqualified or arrested.
“What’d you do with Stitch and Stiltzkin?” Zidane asked.
“They’re on my ship.” Omega replied.
“Ah, isn’t that breaking the rules?”
“Moogles travel to whatever worlds they want to go to with their own powers and even set up shop in many. And they leave holograms behind to run the shops when they aren’t in that world. It’s hardly a secret to them.”
Zidane chuckled a bit and kept up his barrage of questions, “And not worried about interfering with the ‘World Order’?”
“Not particularly.” Omega said, feeling as he did so his patience slowly eroding more and more.
“I’m starting to wonder if SeeDs have any regulations.” Zidane noted.
“They’re all bendable.”
“Well, how about-“
“You’re planning on just annoying me all day, aren’t you?” Omega asked dryly.
“Not all day.” Zidane replied, patting Omega’s shoulder. Omega just narrowed his eyes at him, but said nothing else. “Oh come on, don’t be like that.” Zidane said as he gently hook Omega. “No use in giving me the cold shoulder like that. We’re allies in this, after all.”
“I’m being blackmailed into doing while my friends are being held hostage.” Omega said, his contempt managing to seep out a little. “We’re allies only because you claimed you could help. Or did you forget that?”
“Hey, I’m just trying to help.” Zidane said. “Can’t look a gift Chocobo in the beak, can ya?”
“You just love the sound of your own voice, don’t you Zidane?”
“He sure does.” It was not Zidane who answered, but rather Freya, the rat woman from the bar. “Be thankful you aren’t a pretty woman.”
“Everyone’s picking on me today!” Zidane replied with a very fake sigh and even faker whiny tone.
One of the guards approached them. “We’ll be ready to start in just a few minutes. The rules are simple, you just have to go hunting for monsters within the town. You’ll have about an hour to kill as many monsters as possible or you can wait to try and slay the Zagnol.”
“The Zagnol?” Omega asked, his attention piqued this time.
“It’s a big, nasty fellow with very sharp horns.” The guard explained. “It is quite a fearsome foe.”
Then that was the one Omega would go after. If he could kill it, then everything would work out perfectly. Or at least, it seemed like it. There was no doubt that that man hadn’t factored such a creature into his plan. Still, it was Omega’s best option and not taking it down would allow someone else to do it instead and he couldn’t risk that.
“Now that we got the basics down, it’s time to talk about prizes. Each participant may choose a prize should they win the Hunt.” The guard said, which just greatly annoyed Omega even more because he was just saying obvious things now. The guard turned to Freya. “What do you wish for, madam?”
“I will ask for a specially made spear.” Freya said.
The guard nodded and looked at Zidane. “How about you?”
“I’ll just take some munny.” Zidane said, his hands behind his head again.
“So kid, you got anything you want for a prize?” The guard asked him. Omega didn’t even turn to look at him, he handed over a piece of paper. “Oh wow, this is unexpected. That’s quite a reward you want. You planning on making a feast with this?”
“More or less.”
Zidane whistled at that. “Seems you quite confident.”
“This won’t be much of a competition.” Omega said dryly. Zidane placed his hands behind his head and laughed as if Omega had told a funny joke, while Freya looked offended by the idea that she wasn’t being taken seriously by him. Omega didn’t really care either way. He didn’t have time or need for pleasantries, not with so much at stake. He could only hope he could rely on Zidane to fulfill his end of the deal.
Lulu hadn’t slept at all that night and she had a feeling Zell hadn’t either. They hadn’t had much chance to do so with some kind of creature stalking just outside the hut they were in. There was always the possibility that whatever it was would burst through the door and finally attack them. However, it hadn’t yet done so, though Lulu suspected it really was only a matter of time.
“Lu… you think it’s safe enough to make a break for it?” she heard Zell ask.
“I don’t know.” Lulu said. “We could probably beat whatever that thing is, but where will go?”
“Anywhere could be better than this.” Zell replied. “I mean, it’s an extremely obvious set up.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice…” Lulu said. “It’s not helpful.” She looked out the window again, hoping to catch a glimpse of the creature. “Still, we may just have to risk it.”
“Alright then.” Zell said as he went to the door and reached for the knob, just stopping inches from touching it. “Ready?”
Lulu held out her hands and one of her Moogle dolls appeared in them. She nodded, kneeling down as she did. “Ready.”
Zell took a deep breath and then wrenched the door open. The moment he did, the Moogle doll jumped out of Lulu’s hands and ran out the door and into the Mist. And as if drawn to it, what had been stalking them throughout the night appeared… yet they couldn’t actually see what it was! Finally, it made sense why they hadn’t been able to find it during the night. It grabbed the Moogle doll, which made it look like it was floating. And that was its big mistake, as Lulu started channeling fire magic through the doll. It unleashed an explosion that stunned the creature, allowing Zell to rush forward to try and punch it. He manage to land a hit on it, causing it to stumble back, as well as a strange reaction to occur. The skin that they had managed to strike took on various shades of dark grays, as well as black. The emblem of the Heartless was on its chest.
“It’s a Stealth Army.” Lulu called out to Zell, charging electricity through her doll. He jumped back to allow Lulu to send a burst of thunder magic through her doll at it, keeping it stunned so that Zell could continue to strike it with several kicks and punches. Each spot that was hit became visible, just like the initial strike. A large, chameleon like monster, this was a rare, but dangerous, Heartless. And one they could really use Omega’s help with, though by themselves it could be doable.
Still, Lulu knew they couldn’t keep this up indefinitely, as she felt her magic reserves deplete with each spell cast. Eventually, she would have to have her doll retreat so she could recover her energy, leaving Zell to find by himself. After hitting the now partially visible Heartless with ice magic, her limit was hit and the doll ran back to her. The lack of additional magic power meant the Stealth Army was much quicker to counteract, doing a quick swipe with its arms that managed to send Zell flying. Winded, but not down, Zell recovered and jumped up into air, managing to land a powerful kick onto the creatures back, knocking it down again, the Heartless then responded by gathering energy into its.
“Zell, to me!” Lulu called out, running towards the Stealth Army and Zell did so. Just as the monster unleashed blast, Lulu felt her magic return to her and cast her spell. The moogle doll floated in front of them, glowed and a magic barrier appears around them. It looked like it was made of glass almost and when it was struck by the beams, it shattered and flew outward, little bursts of energy following them. The two of them were unharmed, but the monster was hit and collapsed again. Not wasting another moment, Lulu charged for another powerful blast of fire and flew it at the creature.
The chameleon like creature shrieked in pain and fell still. Though, it wasn’t destroyed, it might have been down for the count… for now Lulu nearly collapsed, but Zell managed to catch her.
“Nice one, Lu. You okay?” Zell asked her, rather worried.
“Yeah… I’m fine. We just have to destroy this and we’re home free.” Lulu said, offering a small grin at Zell. Zell snorted and grinned back.
“Home free, perhaps.” A voice called just out of sight. Lulu and Zell looked up to see the man in black appear, as if out of thin air as he had so many times before. Lulu and Zell steadied themselves, but knew they weren’t going to be able to fight this man in their state. “Back to the stars, to chase what is so near, yet still so far.”
“Didn’t know you were a poetry nut.” Zell spat. “I’d stick with destroying worlds, though, since yours stinks.”
“Oh, my wayward children. Still no manners, I see.” The man said, that slight smile still on his lips as he placed his hand on the Stealth Army’s horn. “Though, you’ve been in the Mist for at least 36 hours, so perhaps it was unavoidable.”
“And what exactly was the point sending of us here?” Lulu said, managing to regain her breath and ability to stand on her own feet. “Just to get us angrier?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” The man asked as he examined the Heartless. “I had hoped to see how a Heartless would react to the Mist, to see if it’d become stronger when exposed to it. But sadly, it seems a slow infusion of the substance was not enough.” He stepped backward from the Stealth Army and before the duo could say anything, he raised his hand at it. Suddenly, the Mist around them began to be sucked into the large Heartless, as if it was water in a vortex! The Heartless bellowed again, as if in pain, shaking uncontrollably like it was going through a seizure! The vortex of Mist suddenly stopped and the Stealth Army let out another shriek as red and black armor suddenly appeared on its body.
“Ah, how interesting.” The man said as he checked out the Heartless’ new form. “Yes, this should suffice.” He snapped his fingers and the Heartless suddenly disappeared! Lulu and Zell grew even more tense. It had already been enough to take it down normally, but having to do it again in an upgraded form?
The man chuckled malevolently. “No worries. I have someone else who will fight this Armored Sneak.” He said, a glint in his violet eyes that Lulu did not like. She had a feeling just who he had in mind to fight his powered up monster. However, he did not elaborate further and instead looked up. “Ah, I see they’re finally here. Must have been drawn to all the fireworks.” Lulu and Zell looked up to see a small airship floating down to them. “Give my regards to Omega when you see him.” The man said as he faded away.
Before they could even fully regard everything that they had just witnessed, the airship landed and two individuals they’d never met before jumped out. One was a burly looking fellow bit a bandana over his eyes and a rather shabby looking clothes. The other was a short man with red hair that swished back, with his eyes covered by a belt, and several pieces of skin, including the left side of his face around the eye, looking liked patches of leathered showed on to him. The bigger one spoke first.
“Ah man, seems we were a little.” He said. He looked kind of brutish, but there was a way to how he talked that suggested he was far more sophisticated than one would expect.
“Naturally.” The second man said stoically. He too also had an air to how he spoke that didn’t quite match his physical description. “But that does not matter,” He pointed to Lulu and Zell, “we’re here for them, remember?”
“And just who in the Hell are you?” Zell nearly shouted, looking ready to start punching again.
“Calm down, your buddy sent us to grab you.” The bigger man said. “The name’s Marcus and that’s Blank.”
Lulu, at that moment, could not care less what their names were. “Omega would have come for us himself. Where is he?”
“He’s off competing in the Festival of the Hunt.” Blank replied. “Perhaps you heard about it before you got trapped down here?”
“Yeah, I did hear about it. But why would he be competing in that instead of savin’ us?” Zell asked.
“I think it’s best to talk about it on the way back.” Marcus said, going over to the side of the airship, which it’s landing ramp now open.
“Besides, we saw that Heartless you took down.” Blank said, his voice grim. “I have a feeling I know where it’s going to be next.”
Lulu grimaced and knew they were right. That “Armored Sneak” as it had been dubbed was going to be set loose on the town. “Thank you for the help.” She said as she stepped onto the airship, Zell following her, though much more silently.
Lulu and Zell walked into the small cabin, only to find a familiar mechanic working it. “Of course it’d be you two.” The mechanic they had met the other day said in a sardonic tone. “I’m not sure why I’m surprised.”
“Hey, I remember you!” Zell said, his mood suddenly lifted slightly, though Lulu wasn’t sure why. “Oh, it’s so good to see a familiar face, Mr… um?”
“Never you mind.” The mechanic interjected in a grumpy tone. “You two nitwits and your buddy are making me miss the festival with my kids.”
“Okay, why’s he here?” Lulu asked Blank as he jumped in.
“We needed an airship to get down and he’s something of an ally.” Blank said. “He also won the Festival of the Hunt a few years ago and we figured we might need an extra hand.”
“I still don’t understand what the Festival has to do with anything.” Zell chimed in.
“Well, you see,”
“Yeah yeah, all fascinating stuff, can we get going, or what?” the mechanic interrupted again, checking the engine as he did.
“Of course, don’t need to be so snippy.” Marcus said as he grabbed the wheel. “Ready whenever you are.”
“Hope you guys are ready to jump in if you need to.” Blank said as he leaned up against the railing. Lulu’s gut tightened even more than before. She really hoped Omega was okay.
Lindblum, Business District
The wolf creature let out a cry as it fell to the ground before falling silent. Marking it as his fiftieth kill, Omega continued on to his next target; the Zagnol. If his calculations on the time were right, it would be released into the business district in just a minute and if it was, there’d be no doubt that he’d be the winner in this sick game.
Omega stopped and took a moment to listen for any noises that would lead him to his target. He did hear something, but it wasn’t something he wanted to hear.
“Seems like I got here first.” Zidane said as he sat on high wall, eating a piece of fruit. “Though, no worries, I’ve not done much critter killing myself.”
“How thoughtful.” Omega said as he turned his attention back to the surrounding area. Zidane jumped down to join him. “Then I don’t need to make it clear that the Zagnol is mine.”
“Of course. What do you take me for?” Zidane inquired in a sheepish tone.
“I think he takes you for a backstabbing thief.” A voice from above them rang. Omega and Zidane both looked up to see Freya on the roof of a building. She jumped down to join them, a look anger still on her face. “Not that it wouldn’t be an apt description.”
“Freya, why must you break my heart so much?” Zidane said. Freya ignored him and approached Omega, who didn’t blink or back up as she did. The tension in the air was thick, but that wasn’t going to stop him.
“Can’t I help you?” Omega inquired in his best polite voice. Freya seemed to take more offense to that.
“I know you two are conspiring to get you to win. And I will not have it.”
“Oh? Is that it?” Omega shrugged.
Zidane sighed. “You know, it’s not very polite to eavesdrop on a private conversation.”
“Have such conversations where people won’t eavesdrop then.” Freya retorted.
“Look, Freya, I’m not helping him win. I’m just-“
“Don’t bother.” Omega interrupted. “Sorry, but I am going to win this.”
“I’ve been the victor of this hunt for years and I respect and honor it.” She replied, her voice full of anger. “You-“
Omega’s patience was at an end though and he coldly cut her off. “Look, I don’t care about winning or this hunt in general. I don’t care about any prize or any fame that could come with it. At the end of the day, I’ll be leaving this town and I don’t plan to come back anytime soon.” He narrowed his eyes at Freya. “I am still going to win this and nothing is going to stop me.”
Before Freya could reply, and Omega could tell she wanted to, there was a loud thudding heading their way. As expected, the Zagnol was there, by the fountain in the square. It was definitely larger than the other monsters that had been released into the streets, with its large hooves and horns looking particularly dangerous. But Omega had seen worse and as he summoned the Keyblade to his hand again, out of the corner of his eye, he saw that both Zidane and Freya had also readied their weapons.
The Zagnol began to charge at them… and then suddenly was pushed to the ground as if by an invisible force. It lay quite still, dead from the impact. The sudden abruptness of this startled the three of them.
“Well, this is… definitely different.” Zidane said. “I guess he wasn’t going to keep his end of the deal after all.”
“Of course he wasn’t.” Omega said, bracing himself more than before. Freya’s anger had now turned to confusion.
“What is going on?”
“A complicated story. One we would be best to save for later.” Zidane said. “All you need to know is that that is most likely a Heartless and a big one, no doubt.”
“I could figure that much out, Zidane.” Freya looked to Omega, though he didn’t look back. “Then I suppose this has something to do with you?”
“Do you want to keep talking or let that thing stay loose?” Omega said. However, he was not going to wait around for her answer as he dashed forward, he brought the Keyblade down to strike at the invisible creature, only to hear a clang of metal, a brief flash of color expanded from the impact. He had hit the arm of what looked like either a Stealth Sneak or Army, only this one had armor covering it. The creature pushed its arm in a backward swipe, which Omega only barely managed to dodge via a backflip. He landed on his feet as Zidane and Freya ran up to him.
“That was pointless.” Zidane said.
“Was it though?” Omega retorted. “We know exactly what we’re fighting now, don’t we?”
“Yes, and it looked very heavily armored.” Freya said, just as the Heartless roared and tried charging at them. Thinking quickly, Omega threw a blast of fire magic in front of them, which struck it and again made it temporarily visible. All three of them jumped out of the way, sending the creature hurtling into one of the stands, which had some kind of foul smelling food in barrels. Whatever it was, the juices from it managed to get all over the Heartless, which was momentarily stunned.
“If I’m right, there’s a weak spot we can very easily exploit.” Omega said. “Plus, we can use that smell to our advantage.”
“How’d you managed to figure that out in the two moments it was visible?” Zidane inquired.
“It doesn’t matter right now.” Omega said. “What matters is if we can hit it, we can take it down in one strike. We just need a clear, visible shot of it.”
Zidane shrugged as the Heartless began stirring. “Fine, I suppose I shall help you out.” He looked at Freya. “How about it? Think you could let that Heartless stay loose?”
Freya snorted, as if insulted by the question. “It would not do to let such an abominable creature live.” Freya said. “However, I demand to know exactly what is going on once we’re done.”
“Zidane can handle that.” Omega said as he surveyed the buildings while the Heartless was still down. “Alright then, Freya, stay on the rooftops, then when me and Zidane manage to make it visible, aim for the eyes or the neck.”
Freya nodded and without hesitation, jumped onto the roof. Omega looked at Zidane. “Well, if it’s all about making the creature visible, I think that fountain back where it showed up will help. Think that’ll work?
“Of course.” Omega said bluntly, as he had seen the Heartless got back up and then could see juice and vegetables falling off of its arm, making it a bit easier to see it now. It tried to swing its arm at Omega, who managed to parry it with the Keyblade. The Heartless shrieked in some pain as the armor became somewhat visible again, though it quickly faded as its eyes started to glow and a quick burst of energy homed in on them. Omega and Zell dodged, moving closer to the fountain they hoped to draw the monster to. It wasn’t a very smart creature, as it followed them, trying to swipe at them as it did. Eventually, they managed to get in position in front of the fountain. Omega held the Keyblade in front of him in a defensive position, as did Zidane with his daggers and, sure enough, the creature took the bait. It swung at them one last time, though both dropped their defenses just in time to dodge again. The fountain broke apart from the force of the blow. Water immediately flew into the air and down on the three of them. The water fell down on the Heartless, its silhouette now clearly visible.
Immediately, Freya jumped right onto the Heartless’ back, her spear managed to hit a groove in the armor. Not enough to get fully through, but enough to cause damage. The Heartless shrieked in pain, lurching backward as it briefly became visible again. And along with it, it’s bare and vulnerable underside was exposed. Omega lost no in rushing at the Heartless, stabbing the Keyblade straight through its chest. The creature let out one final shriek and fell to its side. Its body then vanished, releasing a blue heart like apparition that eventually faded away as well.
Omega let out a sigh of relief as it did. Zidane whistled, then patted Omega on the arm, the water from the fountain still raining down on them as it did. “That was impressive. How did you know its underside didn’t have any armor?”
“When I struck it the first time and it blocked me, I got a chance to see it when it became briefly visible.” Omega explained, looking at the place it had vanished. “I have fought Stealth Sneaks or similar Heartless before, but we do have data on them. I’ve never seen one like this before.”
“What about having Freya strike the head?”
“Well, isn’t it obvious? The eyes were not covered by the helmet so it could use its eye beams better and joints are always more lightly armored.”
“Well, that is true.” Zidane said. “Still, you’re full of many… surprises.”
Omega raised his eye brow and was about to ask what Zidane meant by that, but Freya moved forward. “Now that this is taken care of, I would like that explanation before the crowds come back down.” Freya said.
Zidane scratched the back of his head again. “Oh geez, it’s really quite a long story, Freya.”