When the sun began to rise, the three hunters and Kuro-chan took an alternate trail down the mountain, leading them back to the edge of the Savannah Area but before they could go any further however, a Cerulean appeared. Unlike the previous one Kuro-chan encountered this one was smaller and instead of being a biped it had four spindly legs that gave the monstrosity a slow striding gait. Kuro felt a twinge inside her body, an instinctual feeling telling her to be ready to fight.
Brown Bear sighed, pulling her weapon of choice out before taking a glance at Kuro,
"Don't get in the way, Kuro-Chan. Just go hide over there."
She pointed to one of the trees behind her as Kuro-Chan looked at her confusedly.
African Wild Dog rolled her shoulders before chiming in with a grin,
"You're strong, Kuro-chan, but you're no hunter. You're just a friend."
Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey nodded in agreement,
"Protecting friends is a job for the hunters."
Despite feeling a twinge of interest at fighting one of those monsters again, she hesitantly complied. That being said though, that didn't stop her from peeking outside of her designated hiding spot to watch the three hunters fight as she pushed down the combative feeling flowing through her veins.
The three of them ran forward with Brown Bear at the front and both African Wild Dog and Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey following her from the left and right.
As soon as the Cerulean saw them, it lowered it's body to the ground while bracing itself with its legs and then suddenly a long tendril darted out towards Brown Bear who strafed to the side as the new limb went harmlessly past her front impacting the ground behind the three of them.
Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey darted forward and with a cry of "HYAOO!" she jabbed her staff into the joint of the creature's front left-leg. The cerulean retaliated by bringing the limb down on her but she managed to deflect it's strike with her staff into the path of African Wild Dog who sliced through it with her claws.
Two new tendrils emerged from the front forming a new set of legs that were brought down in an attempt to impale one or two of the three hunters all the while rising to it's full height. African Wild Dog and Brown Bear managed to jump back while Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey cartwheeled around multiple attempted strikes from the abomination's limbs until she was outside of it's reach.
Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey and Brown Bear glanced at each other and instantly they knew what to do next. The simian friend began sprinting forward, picking up speed and momentum while Brown Bear began to lower herself to the ground. The Cerulean attempted to strike her with one of it's front legs but African Wild Dog deflected away from her leader with a single strike from her claws which gave Brown Bear the chance to bring her hands down in front of her, just in time for Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey to step on it before she was tossed into the air by her leader who merely watched the simian friend fly above the Cerulean...
And strike the stone atop it's body with her staff, breaking it and by extension destroying the Cerulean as it burst into small cubical pieces. As she fell, both Brown Bear and African Wild Dog got below her, interlocked their hands together and caught her in their embrace. After holstering their weapons they huddled together, smiled and then bumped fists with each other for a job well done.
Needless to say, Kuro was extremely impressed with them. The fact that they fought together in near perfect synchronization to take down a foe while also protecting one another fascinated her, especially as someone who has only fought one on one with her opponents regardless of how they overpowered her in terms of strength or size.
"Man, that wore me out. Let's go get some water." African Wild Dog said as she stretched her limbs behind her back and crackling her sore knuckles..
"Lessee...I think the closest watering hole is over that way..." Brown Bear said when she pointed at the location, when she felt a soreness in her left arm, she grabbed her elbow and stretched it outwards.
Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey, seeing that their fourth companion had come out of hiding gestured her hand towards her,
"Come On, Kuro-Chan!"
Nodding in affirmation and a grunt, Kuro-Chan jogged up to her as they began walking towards the aforementioned source of water.
As they were heading there though, Kuro saw something out of the corner of her eye in the sky...Something was flying up there! Without any warning to the hunters she pointed her tail upwards and fired a beam at the object above. Said object turned out to be another friend; Lappet-Faced Vulture. She had a lanky build with short pink hair in a bobcut that faded to blue and then yellow and black near her forehead, brown eyes, and small wings atop her head and tail feathers above her butt that matched her namesake. Her pelt consisted of a black tank top with a brown leather vest, brown short shorts, a pair of white chaps, white biker boots, black fingerless leather gloves, and brown leather bands around her upper arms. When the beam came inches from the front of her head, she calmly weaved her flight path around it before the beam was suddenly pivotted to another direction, courtesy of Brown Bear jumping in the air and kicking Kuro-chan on the head with both of her legs as she yelled;
"Don't just attack anything you see flying!"
As Brown Bear was teaching Kuro-Chan a lesson, Vulture could only turn around and wonder; "What was that...?" before turning back to her original destination with this information filed away for her superior.
"Haha, oh my. What a calamity!" It was the cultured voice of a friend who was originally one of the Youkai of Japanese Legend; Yatagarasu. She had black hair with two bangs in the front tied neatly tied together with small ornaments and a small ponytail tied in the back, small black wings of a crow on her head and matching black tail-feathers near her bottom. She had a long-sleeved jacket with grey highlights on the shoulders, the collar, the wrist sleeves, and near the bottom, a grey skirt, black pantyhose and grey boots.
Currently she was currently sitting atop a cushion writing with a wooden caligraphy brush as she finished listening to Lappet-Faced Vulture's report.
"But it heralded the birth of a very interesting friend as well."
Lappet-Faced Vulture shrugged.
"They said they were heading to the library to find out more about her."
"Is that so?" The three-legged crow asked as she finished another brushstroke on the letter in front of her, "Vulture, I'm terribly sorry to impose on you, but could you please fly back and meet up with them?" She asked.
Vulture placed a hand on her hip, silently thinking about the three hunters in question and their new companion. The Hunters of Japari Park were already being stretched thin as it is, not to mention the fact that Brown Bear sustained an injury to her leg a while back.
"You sure we're not putting too much work on those guys?"
"Oh, I do understand." Yatagerasu said with a nod as she put the finishing touches on her letter, "But...we simply need more skilled hunters in our ranks. If going to the library is all they're doing, then don't interfere, but aside from that...I'm sure you know what to do."
Lappet-Faced Vulture sighed;
"It can't be helped then...alright I'll take care of things."
She took a few steps forward, Yatagerasu handing her the finished letter, and after securing it, Lappet-Faced Vulture ran back to the edge of the temple Yatagerasu called her home, jumped in the air and took flight once more.
The group of four made it to the watering hole they were looking for.
"Pfwaah!" Brown Bear pulled back with a smile on her face as she gulped down the last of her drink, "A big cold drink after a hard day going wild is just the best!"
She took a glance to her companions, African Wild Dog was bent down and lapping water from the edge of the pond while Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey was cupping her hands together, taking some water into her hand and drinking it.
Kuro on the other hand...
"That Kuro, she didn't miss a beat before diving into the water."
Indeed, upon reaching the watering hole, the first thing she did was step into the shallows to check the water. Satisfied, she crouched forward and then submerged herself inside with her tail trailing behind her.
As Brown Bear shook her head of excess water on her face after her drink, she heard one of her two companions ask if she was an aquatic friend. Before she could answer though, they were interrupted by a massive up-welling of water as two figures emerged, one being Kuro while the other was Hippopotamus who was one of the friends who made the watering hole her home. She had long black hair that went down the middle of her back with the ends fading into a bright red and of course she had the ears of a Hippopotamus on her head. Her pelt was a black catsuit with red stripes on it.
They heard the friend roar as she grappled with Kuro in the shallows of the water.
"You've got a lot of guts picking a fight with me!"
Despite Hippopotamus' enthusiasm at the challenge, Brown Bear decided to intervene by giving Kuro a very sharp chop on the top of her head.
"Knock it off."
The reptillian friend fell to the ground, knocked out as African Wild Dog began counting down, when she finally reached one she raised her leader's wrist up to signify her victory. Meanwhile, Hippopotamus was giggling after Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey told her about Kuro and how they met her.
"That's quite a tale!" She said as she finished getting the last of her laughter out of her system.
"That's why we need to find out what kind of animal Friend she is as soon as possible."
Hippopotamus hummed thoughtfully as she took another glance at Kuro, more specifically her tail and pointed to it.
"She has quite a long tail. Maybe she's related to Gator's kind?" She asked.
"But then there's that fire thing she does..." Snub-Nosed Monkey brought up.
"Oh?" Hippopotamus said as she tapped a finger to her chin in thought, "Perhaps she's one of Salamander's lot then? She was able to shoot fire, too. She passed by yesterday, in fact." She crossed her arms, "She said she was headed to the amusement park for some sort of gathering..."
She trailed off as something caught her attention, she looked to see the now conscious Kuro standing on her feet as the spines along her back began to glow, and then suddenly a beam of light burst out towards the sky as African Wild Dog and Brown Bear shielded themselves from the bright light.
Kuro was aiming towards the familiar form of Lappet-Faced Vulture but she simple pulled her head back, avoiding injury as Kuro fell to the ground from exhaustion and lowered her tail, snuffing the fire out.
'So this is her "fire"...to think it could reach that far!' Poor hippopotamus was honestly shocked to see Kuro's power at work and while she was familiar with Salamander's use of fire, this seemed...different somehow.
African Wild Dog on the other hand ran towards Lappet-Faced Vulture as she began to touch down,
"Are you alright, vulture?!" She asked in concern as the avian friend finally landed with a smile and a wink.
"It's avoidable when you know it's coming and I already did dodge it earlier today."
Kuro-Chan huffed and looked at the avian friend warily even as Brown Bear petted her head.
"So, all good, all good."
"So," Vulture started, "Work starts early, same as usual." She then pulled out a letter and handed it to Brown Bear, "From the boss."
Brown Bear cleared her throat and started to read it aloud;
"It says...'Sorry to do this to you today after all that has happened yesterday, but if you're going to the library, take care of a matter in the desert while en route.'...Understood." Brown Bear nodded as did Snub-Nosed Monkey and Wild Dog.
"That soon, huh?" Vulture asked with a frown on her face, "You really should make it a point to get some rest, y'know? I mean you're leg-."
"Vulture." Brown Bear said as she handed the letter to Snub-Nosed Monkey.
"I'm not going to overdo it like I used to." She said with a reassuring smile, "I learned my limits already..."
Vulture seemed skeptical of this at first until Snub-Nosed Monkey chimed in,
"She'll be fine."
African Wild Dog interjected as well,
"We're with her too."
Kuro just hissed at her though, though Vulture just ignored her.
Vulture smiled, it was good to know that Brown Bear's team was there to keep her in the right direction if something went wrong.
"Is that so...Alright then, I'm off." She jumped in the air, her headwings flapping as she began her ascent, "But I'm serious, you guys gotta remember to get a good rest in sometimes, okay? I mean it!"
Brown Bear nodded as Vulture turned around,
"Sure. And be sure to pass my complaints on to the boss about using Friends so roughly!"
Hearing that, Vulture raised her right hand and waved her hand back as both a farewell and an acknowledgement of Brown Bear's message.
Kuro-Chan on the other hand wasn't exactly happy about the new friend she just met flying off into the sky, in fact she was growling in frustration at the sight of her in the sky but when she was out of sight and therefore out of mind, Kuro bent forward and let out a deep sigh instead.
"You held it back, yeah? Attagirl!" African Wild Dog said this was followed by her petting the reptillian friend on the head with Brown Bear and Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey joining in. Kuro wasn't amused, in fact she found the action condescending but instead of fighting back she just shook her head back and fourth as the others laughed.
On the sidelines, Hippopotamus could see that this new arrival was more than meets the eye not only in terms of her powers but also in how she acts around her three compatriots.
"Alright then, let's get a move on!" Brown Bear said with a wave forward as her party followed her en route the library."
Hippopotamus waved to them and shouted that she would be praying for their success which lead to the four of them thanking her and sending her their farewells as they continued their journey.
In Japari Park, weather changes were not unheard of regardless of the regions of the islands. Near the edge of the Jungle Area as the sun began to set, a storm followed behind it bringing rain, thunder, and lightning behind it. While many friends had dens, nests, burrows, or whatever shelter they could call home some of the more nomadic or migratory friends had to find whatever form of shelter was available to them, mainly one of the old abandoned structures that were leftovers of human habitation.
In this case, several friends took shelter in an old abandoned church. During this time several of the friends would occupy themselves and wait out the storm. Brown Bear, Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey, African Wild Dog, and Kuro were among those waiting it out. Brown Bear was resting her head on Snub-Nosed Monkey's lap as she softly stroked her hair while African Wild Dog was trying to teach Kuro how to talk.
"African. Wild. Dog." She enunciated her name.
"SKREEONK!" Was the only sound that came from the Reptilian friend's mouth.
Progress on teaching her how to talk was...slow but on the bright side, Kuro did understand what they were saying so they had to be patient.
"She is getting better at it." Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey remarked as she continued to pet Brown Bear's head as she snored contentedly.
"Oh? That's a face I usually don't see around here." Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey turned to see a familiar face; Jaguar.
"It's been a while!" Monkey exclaimed with a nod.
"Did a Cerulean appear or something?" Jaguar asked, last time she checked there wasn't any word of any Ceruleans around before the rain started.
Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey chuckled and shook her head, waving her free hand dismissively, "No we're heading to the library today."
"I see, excuse me."
As she turned around she caught the sight of a long crocodillian tail that seemed very familia- Wait, she recognized that tail!
"Ahh!" She said a she pointed at Kuro who seemed curious as to what the feline friend was up to, "Aren't you the one I saw swimming in the river that one time?! Because I remember seeing your tail!"
Alarmed about the thought of Kuro-Chan getting into trouble before they met, African Wild Dog jumped up to meet Jaguar.
"W-Wait, Did Kuro-Chan do anything wrong there?!"
Jaguar just laughed, "Nah, she was just swimming along the river."
She then got on her knees to meet her face-to-face.
"I'm jaguar, nice to meet you, Kuro-Chan."
"Garr." Kuro said with a nod. Jaguar then noticed something about Kuro, mainly her size of all things.
"Whoa, you're huge." She said. Indeed, the hunters had acknowledged that she was probably one of the larger friends in Japari Park.
"I think you're bigger than Indian Elephant..." Jaguar said thoughtfully.
"EEP! She's here!"
Indian Elephant was one of the larger friends of the jungle region that Jaguar knew of. She had tan skin, orange eyes, gray hair, and the equally gray ears and tail of her namesake animal. Her pelt was a grey swimsuit-like attire with a grey sarong around her hips, blue thigh-high leggings that went down to her golden anklets and white sandals, blue fingerless gloves that went above her elbow, golden bracelets around both of her wrists and finally a large fluffy scarf that was wrapped around her neck with a long part of it seeming to move on it's on.
Indian Elephant, upon seeing Kuro blinked and then came closer.
"Ohh~." She said with intrigue in her voice, "This is the first time I've seen a friend that is bigger than me."
Kuro was equally curious about this newcomer as she was one of the few friends that was around her height range yet the way she carried herself was pleasant to her.
"While we're here." Elephant interlocked her fingers with Kuro's much to her confusion, "Would you like to dance with me?"
"Come on, now." She said pulling a bemused Kuro towards her, "We'll dance away through this rainy day."
While still gripping Kuro's hand she pointed free hand out towards the other friends with a rhythmic chant of "One, Two..." as she took a step back, twirled in place until her back was facing Kuro and then they jumped together excitedly as if they were prancing through a field. At this point other friends started taking note of the display, with some of them even applauding as Indian Elephant released Kuro and twirled her around like a top.
Kuro soon realized that she and Elephant weren't the online ones dancing because as Indian Elephant pulled back and clapped her hands above her head, African Wild Dog who was prancing in place jumped forward and with her arms crossed and pushing her up into the air she twirled around into a backspin and then a munchiemill before ending it with a hand-stand. The commotion eventually awoke Brown Bear who at first started to watch what was happening until Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey stood up and went to join in.
Meanwhile, another feline friend by the name of Ocelot saw Malayan Tapir bring in a slab of wood which gave her an idea. Together she and another friend, Small-Clawed Otter if she recalled her name correctly grabbed a pair of wooden bars and began to rhythmically drum on the wooden slab to produce some form of improvised percussion.
Kuro was honestly...having fun! Dancing was a new experience for her and she watched and observed other friends beginning to join in as well including Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey who leapt into the air like a human ballerina and stood on one foot and stretched herself into an Assemblé that Kuro managed to mimic with some effort.
Two avian friends, one being Peafowl while the other being Red Junglefowl on the other hand began singing, providing some sort of lyricless chorus to the percussion in the background.
As Kuro bowed alongside Snub-Nosed Monkey she noticed Jaguar and a Friend by the name of Okapi dancing behind her with the former performing a variant of Flamenco while Okapi did a short pirouette next to her.
Both of them were suddenly accompanied by Small-Clawed Otter who after letting Malayan Tapir take her place jumped over the improvised drum started joining in a happy jig.
Kuro was suddenly intercepted by Indian Elephant again, as she pulled the reptilian friend's hand down and then swung her around in a dizzying fashion. Eventually it got to the point that everyone was dancing with the exception of Ocelot who continued to act as a percussionist as other friends began bringing other items for her to use including pots, pans and even a watering can of all things all the while carrying on the rhythmic beat for the rest of the friends to dance to.
Brown Bear joined in, beating her chest and arms with her tongue out as she attempted a Maori Haka with African Wild Dog and Kuro joining in as well with several friends cheering them on.
The dancing would continue on and on until finally, the storm cleared leaving the shining sun in the sky in it's place.
"Whew, I worked some muscles I don't usually get to work." African Wild Dog muttered, she then hissed and grunted in pain as she stretched and rolled around her shoulder.
Wild Dog looked to see Indian Elephant holding hands with the aforementioned reptilian friend, "Yesterday was so much fun! Will you come dance with me again sometime?"
Kuro gave a "Gah." and nodded in affirmation, it was an enjoyable experience for her after all and she wouldn't mind doing it again if they saw each other again.
"Well, Well!" Brown Bear said, "Looks like someone made a new friend!"
Indeed, Elephant and Kuro seemed pretty happy together. Alas, they had to continue their journey to the library but first things first they had to make a stop in the desert region.
Traveling through the desert wasn't exactly a pleasant experience for Kuro, even with the large leaf above her head providing her shade she was way too hot! Sweat was dribbling down her face as a warm vapor came out of her mouth with each exhausted pant she made to stay cool. Eventually she couldn't take it anymore and she fell forward, unable to go any further in the heat. The fall caused Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey to yelp in surprise while African Wild Dog shouted her name and tried to wake her up.
Brown Bear came forward towards the unconscious friend and tried to grab a part of her but she ended up burning her hand instead.
"This is bad, real bad!" African Wild Dog shouted as the heat continued to bear down on them.
Little did they know however that a Friend was watching from afar and despite her reclusive nature she reluctantly decided to assist them especially since she was the one who called for them in the first place.
Kuro groaned in exhaustion as she opened her eyes, a small line of drool coming out of her mouth as she heard a voice...singing?
"Oh?" The owner of said voice caught Kuro's attention as she started to slowly sit up with her vision adjusting itself to the dark to peer at the friend who was currently with her.
"Hello, I'm Sand Cat."
She was a tiny feline friend with bright yellow eyes, dusty blonde hair with a few brown streaks across her forehead, and the striped fluffy tail and ears of her namesake. Her pelt was simple, a sleeveless blouse with a bowtie that had patterns mimicking her original animal form, white elbow-high gloves, a skirt with a pattern similar to her bowtie and was tied behind her back with a larger bow than the one around her neck, white fluffy socks with stripes on them, and white sneakers.
"Are you feeling better already?"
"Gah." Kuro grunted with a nod as she got up and sat on her knees, examining the cavern she was in, seeing a light near the entrance that presumably led to hellish desert outside.
"This is my home. Anyway, Brown Bear-san and the rest went with Tsuchinoko deeper into the ruins to exterminate the Cerulean. So Kuro-chan you're supposed to wait here." She then let out a sigh of exhaustion before crawling towards a clutch of rock in the cave.
"While we're waiting, let's eat some Japari Buns."
The mention of food got Kuro's attention, needless to say they would end up eating their Japari Buns as they waited with both being content to fill their bellies. That is until Kuro felt a twinge of something in her gut.
"What's wrong?" Sand cat asked.
It was the same feeling she got when she saw that Cerulean back in the Savannah Area though it admittedly wasn't as strong as it was back then. She continued eating even though she was a little tense, as if she was cautiously waiting for an ambush. Thankfully however, the feeling faded away when her three hunter companions came in with an unfamiliar friend alongside them.
The new friend was panting "Finished, we're finished!" as Brown Bear smoothed out the tense muscles of her neck while African Wild Dog yawned.
"There were a pretty good number of 'em eh?"
The new friend had pale skin, glowing blue eyes, a brown hoodie with a striped almost reptilian pattern on it that matched her long serpentine tail, teal-colored hair, and a pair of heeled sandals.
She let out a sigh before turning to the hunters.
"Sorry for asking but now we can search these ruins in peace."
"Well, thanks for your hard work gathering information inside the ruins as well, Tsuchinoko-san."
Brown Bear turned to see Kuro standing to meet with them,
"Kuro, you doing okay?" she asked.
"Gah." Kuro grunted affirmatively with a grunt.
Sand Cat raised her right hand up and bobbed it forward, a common gesture used by feline friends in Japari Park.
"Thank you for all your help."
"Oh it's no problem." Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey said with a smile.
"Hey Kuro, come on, say thank you to these two properly, now. After all, it was Tsuchinoko's information that got us this far."
Tsuchinoko huffed, "It's just by happenstance, just happenstance."
"Regardless, Thank You, ssu!" African Wild Dog said with a nod.
"Thaangshh." Kuro-Chan said.
"You're quite welcome." Sand Cat said with another bob of her hand.
"I just happened to have some business in the park, and happened to be passing by, that's all! Putting that aside, though, if you're going to the library, then taking this route is going to be less hot. It is a bit dark though..."
Kuro and the three hunters proceeded back into the tunnel that Tsuchinoko pointed towards and as they started making their way down, Brown Bear click her tongue in frustration.
"A bit dark my ass! I can't see a thing in here!"
"Kuro-Chan is shining!" African Wild Dog called out.
It wasn't exactly shining but there was a glow coming from Kuro's tail and parts of her hair and across part of her dress, but it wasn't bright enough to guide them towards...whichever direction lead out.
"Hmmm...I don't suppose you can shine a little more brightly?"
It was a sarcastic remark of course, but Kuro unfortunately took it seriously and quickly raised her tail upwards and with a loud "POOMF!" it ignited a small flame, startling the three hunters out of their thoughts. The flames flickered a few more times like a lighter before it finally formed one solid flame that illuminated their path.
This caught the attention of Sand Cat who looked intrigued at the light coming from Kuro's tail while Tsuchinoko skittishly hid behind her.
"It's bright, it's bright!" African Wild Dog celebrated.
"Thank you so much, Kuro-Chan." Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey said.
She would continue to light their path through the tunnels as their journey would eventually take them outside and into the Forest area of the park.
I don't really have much else to say this time to be honest except that I hope you all enjoyed this chapter because the next one is going to incorporate the fighting scenes of the next several chapters after Kuro-Chan and the Hunters reach the Forest Area. Please fave, follow and post a review if you like because I appreciate any constructive feedback I can get.