The jungles of Zebrabwe- Thirteen years before the return of Nightmare Moon.
It was a typical night in the jungle, with countless insects and nocturnal creatures roaming while their diurnal counterparts made their best effort to ignore them and sleep. Things flew invisible in the darkness as the flora slumbered and foreign humans stumbled through the vegetation-wait, that one's new.
A small group of soldiers and scientists walked through the dense foliage aiming for a certain cave at the base of the small mountain in front of them. The soldiers had a firm grip weapons in case they came across something dangerous. Who knew what they would find in here... or what would find them.
It sure was an interesting change of events for the million or so pair of eyes watching the group as they noisily went forward, more than one predator waiting for their chance to taste a new kind of meat.
“You know, I feel bad doing this.” A brown haired scientist commented in neighponese (the japanese of this world, with a horse pun in the name), the mother language of every member in the group.
“Why? Don’t you like the jungle?” His partner, an Earthbound scientist with a stocky build, asked.
“I sure don’t. Too many insects here for my taste,” A soldier chimed in, hitting the back of his neck to squish a mosquito. “I swear I’ve lost more blood to these little bastards than in any fight I’ve had before.”
“It’s not that… we are going to a tomb.” the first scientist replied.
“So? The bones won’t rise up and try to eat us, Sasuke.” His partner assured him.
“For the people here, this place is sacred, Taichi. The resting place of a great and kind creature that died saving them from a monster.”
“Do you honestly believe that? Those are just stories.”
“And yet, here we are.” Taichi had to recognize that Sasuke was right on that; their superiors wanted to find as much DNA of deceased, massive beings as possible, so they were checking every clue and lead they had. And this one seemed promising.
“Well, real or not, they sure didn’t like our request.” The tall soldier leading the group commented; the natives were downright furious when they asked them for permission to enter the tomb of this 'guardian' and take samples from his remains. He was sure some of them wanted to attack his expedition for that. Luckily, the leader calmed his soldiers, before denying them access to that sacred place. He sighed. “But we have orders. We enter, take what we need and get out as fast as possible; we don’t want to start a conflict.”
“Speak for yourself; I wouldn’t mind a bit of action.” A Valkyrie commented. The leader glared at her.
“There’s no reason to fight them; they just want to defend what’s important to them.”
“I don’t know why they would; it seems to me this was just a brawl between monsters that ended with both of them dead, and the people back them simply misinterpreted it.” The Valkyrie commented.
They arrived to the huge entrance of the cave, marked with two great torches at both sides. Every once on a while, a pair of warriors came and replaced them, to keep the fire burning as a show of respect for the deceased guardian. The occasional storm meddled with it, but the natives had kept the tradition since before the nations of the modern world were born.
“Well, my father never believed in the Neighsian dragons; you know, those that fly without wings and with their breaths heal and bring forth the rain.” Sasuke commented as he reluctantly walked with the others to the inside; he, their leader and another soldier raised their hands as a glow of light emerged from them. One of the perks of being an Elf was that you could be a walking source of light for dark places, especially if you knew what it was commonly known as the 'flashlight spell'.
“Those aren’t real. Half of Neighsia has looked for them for centuries and never found one. They are just a bunch of invented stories to entertain others, like all those myths about gods and kaiju.” The Valkyrie soldier responded, checking idly the walls around them while flying a couple of feet over the ground.
“I agree with her, Sasuke. The world is full of magic and great creatures… but Neighsian dragons aren’t one of them.” Taichi said.
“My father thought the same, until a Neighsian dragon saved his life on a forest fire. Actually, he saved the entire forest.” That comment picked the curiosity of the entire group.
“He?” Asked the leader.
“Yes; a kind dragon that helped because he could. That’s what my father said that the dragon answered when he asked him why he stopped the fire. My father also said that the dragon's voice was so deep he sounded like a little girl in comparison.” A good part of the group chuckled at that.
“My father taught me that you must not believe everything you hear… but you must also not believe everything is false.” Sasuke finished just as they noticed an orange glow coming from further in the tunnel.
It was coming from a humongous cave, with many little bones that seemed to be from several kinds of animals, and even a couple that looked human. They all looked ancient, worn from the passage of time.
But there were two particular details that left them awestruck.
The first were the two massive skeletons near the center of the cave; one was so charred it was completely black. The other had pieces of what looked like a shell mixed with the bones.
The second were the many spheres of fire floating in the air, slowly moving through the open space over them like a slow parade.
“Well, I’m not sure if I believe you about that dragon, but I admit that there is something special about this place,” the Valkyrie said to Sasuke, while the both of them were entranced by the lights.
“Let’s get to work.” The leader said, shaking his head to refocus on the mission.
There were four scientists and four soldiers; a small group for reconnaissance that had everything necessary to find samples and move quickly. And the slight increase on luminosity and speed of the flames was making the leader feel a bit glad for that. His gut was telling him that was not a good sign.
The charred skeleton had no surviving piece of organic material that they could find; it seemed like it was burned to death and then some. The other one, though…
“Did you really have to break the tooth?” The leader questioned his Earthbound and Elf soldiers, which had cracked one to see if there was surviving organic tissue there.
“They said that there could be samples in there, sir. And there were.” The Elf responded, pointing to the scientists. They were around the broken top half, tools in hand and working diligently.
The flames grew with a roar, flooding the cavern with light while simultaneously casting threatening shadows over the floor and walls.
Everyone looked up with a start as the fires flew through the air furiously, light and shadow dancing around them.
One of the flames came down and impacted near the group, startling them and sending a lot of small, hot rocks over their armor and clothes..
“LET’S GO!” The leader screamed.
While they got everything secured as fast as they could, the flames combined in a single, great fire.
Then, it morphed.
They were all scared as it slowly became strange figures. No… a sentence in their language.
And the message couldn’t be clearer.
And get out they did, stumbling several times as they rushed to the exit.
Once they were back outside, they stopped a second to catch their breaths; especially the scientists.
The flames from the torches rocketed out to the sky as a roar echoed from the mountain, half the jungle trembling as every creature flew in fear of the rage radiating from the place; the humans were terrified, freezed in place as they feared the fires would rain down upon them.
But before they could shake it off and run again,the flames hit the rock over the entrance. A loud and visible boom passed over the group, pushing them back. As they fell, a great cloud of dust covered the area for a minute.
When it subsided, they saw that the entrance had collapsed; several rocks blocked it completely.
The torches at both sides of it were, surprisingly, still in good shape.
… And new flames suddenly came to life on the previously extinguished wood.
The humans left as quickly as they could. Unbeknownst to them, what had scared them out was still there, glaring at their retreating forms.
The ancient spirit watched them go; his anger, while diminishing, was still present. Had they no respect for the resting place of a Guardian Beast?
‘Well, they probably have forgotten us. The pass of time has erased many things, after all.’ With a sigh, he turned towards the mountain. ‘Toto, my dear child, I must leave you in the care of these humans; I know they will protect this place.’ They sure would, after he told them of what the visitors from overseas did.
And he had to find out what they wanted with Toto’s remains; they did manage to take small parts of him.
‘From what I saw in their minds, he wasn’t the first either… and whatever they are doing, it seems to be a great secret.’
Genbu sighed, before starting what would be a long trek. ‘They must be the most troublesome race I have ever seen...’