Maria followed the group of teens through the woods on their search for a mythical creature to bring to the reserve. Kaida and the others left in good spirits, hoping the search would be quick. An hour into the search and Kaida realized what Sofia and Samuel had told them was true. Mt. Fuji was a hot spot for wild creatures. They spotted two tengu watching some fox pups play. The sound of a cockatrice resting in a tree startled the team. There were plenty of creatures around, but none needed help.
"This might be harder than I thought," Jun grumbled.
"Yeah," Yun agreed. "Finding a creature in need is going to take some time."
"Do we have the luxury to keep looking?" Rei asked. "For all we know, someone probably found the treasure already."
"I doubt it," Kaida responded. "From what Sofia and Samuel said, every team is going to be given a trial like this one from another team's coach. I don't know what challenge Yui and sensei concocted but it will be difficult. After all, each coach wants their own team to win."
"So you believe that we're in the same boat as all the others?" Kei questioned.
"Yeah I do."
"You guys are correct about that," Maria stated. "Our team right now is struggling with a task by the coach from Sweden. They've been at it since yesterday, last I heard."
"Even so, we should try and finish this as soon as possible." Yun continued to lead the way.
A few more hours into the hike bore nothing for the weary teens. They all decided to take a break by a stream in the forest. Yun turned to Maria and asked, "How are you feeling? I know lamias can't be in the sun for very long."
"Oh I'm alright," she said. "The sun is out but the trees have been providing enough cover." Maria slithered over to the stream and dipped her tail in. "Although, the water does feel rather nice on my scales."
"While we're resting, maybe we should come up with a plan," Kaida suggested as she pulled out a bottle of water from her bag. "We've been at this for hours and have seen no sign of any creature in trouble."
"We did help that baby bird back into its nest," Kei exclaimed.
Rei laughed, "I don't think that counts. So what should we do?"
Yun thought for a moment. "Let's split up into two teams. One team will search by air and the other on the ground. Kaida, you and I will search by air with Yami and Alba. The rest of you search on the ground."
"How will we communicate with each other?" Jun asked.
"I'll send Alba to find you if we spot anything, and you can have Asa tie a long strand of her cloth to the tip of a nearby tree. Place it high enough so we can see it from the air. Is everyone ready?" With nods of confirmation, Kaida and Yun boarded Yami and took off to the sky.
On the ground, Rei led the search along the edge of the stream. The group found a few deer grazing. They walked around so as not to startle the herd. They did not see any more animals or creatures for some time after that. Rei became frustrated and hollered, "This is taking forever!"
Kei sighed, "We have been at it for a long time. And look, the sun is starting to get low."
"Maria," Jun turned towards her. "Will we have to sleep outside?"
"You're welcome to go back, but then you'd have to walk all the way out here again tomorrow. For the sake of the mission, I would advise staying here."
"Fine. Rei, have Asa signal Yun and Kaida down he-" He stopped. Jun turned and stared at an animal off in the distance.
The others turned to see what had his attention. Kei had a difficult time making out what it was from a distance. "Isn't that just a deer, Jun?"
"No, take a closer look."
Kei and Rei both squinted their eyes. From where they stood, the two girls managed to make out the shape of wings on the sides of the deer's body. Kei gasped, having recognized the creature. "It's a peryton!"
"I've never heard of it," Rei commented.
"I've never seen one in person, it's a majestic creature that has the body of a stag, but the hind legs are the talons and wings of a large bird. They were once prophesied to destroy ancient Rome. Now, they are favorites among hunters for their ability to communicate with deer and birds. It's possible that this peryton was the leader of the herd we passed a while back."
"It is a beautiful creature," Jun said. "Unfortunately for us, it does not need our help." Just as he was about to turn away, a loud roar rang through the woods and the peryton ran in the direction of the group, a large lion hot on its heels.
"Woah! What is that?" Rei exclaimed.
"It's a nemean lion!" Maria shouted. "Everyone run!"
Jun jumped onto Dallas's back and took off along with the peryton. The others followed close behind. The nemean lion chased after them at full speed. In a single leap, the lion pounced onto Maria's tail. Unable to move, Maria lashed out at the lion and began to wrap her body around his body. Despite squeezing with all her might, the nemean lion yanked her off. He dug his talons into her tail before readying himself to attack.
Before further harm was done, Kei ordered Matsume to attack. The kitsune tackled and bit at the lion, with little result. "Why isn't it working?" Kei asked frantically.
"It's not use!" Maria shouted as she continued to squirm under the lions grip. "Nemean lions have impenetrable skin. Only a creature like a dragon has any hope of defeating it. Hurry and get out of here!
Just as the lion raised his forepaw to strike, Dallas galloped towards the lion. Jun held a large branch tightly in his hand and smacked it against the lion's paw. Even though the stick was shattered, the force propelled the creature off Maria. In one quick motion, Dallas ran back to safety as Jun snatched up the injured lamia from the ground. Holding her delicately he asked, "Are you alright?"
Maria blushed. "I'm more embarrassed that I had to be saved by a human."
Rei turned to Jun and handed him a strip of Asa's cloth. "Here. Take this and tie it to a tree. Kaida and Yun should come down to get Maria and take her back to the reserve."
"What about you and Kei?" Maria asked.
Rei turned back to face the nemean lion. "We're staying. Yami isn't here right now and Dallas isn't very useful out of water. We'll hold him off while you meet up with the others. Now hurry!"
Every instinct in Jun's body told him to refuse. He wanted them all to run away but knew that it would not be a possibility. "I'll bring the others as soon as I can." At that, Dallas dashed off into the woods.
Asa and Matsume stood in front of their humans, ready to attack. Kei turned to Rei. "You really think we'll be ok on our own?"
"No, but what other choice do we have?" Suddenly, the sound of hooves came from behind the two girls. It was the peryton, and it was stomping it's front right hoof, getting ready to charge.