Chapter 14: Alpha

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They started balking off. It was not clear who was the first one to cast away its weapon, but it sure linked the others to follow on its steps in a tumultuous chain of scampering goblins. It was utterly stupid trying to overwhelm those red-eyed humans with sheer number alone. And those who attempted such folly now joined their deceased predecessors amalgamated in the ever so growing trail of blood and mushed flesh behind them. Yet for how much they wanted to test their fate relocating elsewhere, the hobgoblins were not merciful against their pleas for one of them raised a staff where a red crystal was forcefully embedded on.

“I don’t have a good feeling about this,” Stephen muttered aloud, his wrist flicking with practical ease as a red thread of Encore Power sailed forth from the direction he had swung his sword at, decapitating a bunch of unaware goblins scrambling away, the proof of their deaths sliding out of their spurting stump onto the ground with a wet flop. That sight further elicited them into moving their stubby and short legs faster, lest they were the next ones to concatenate in their brethren’s mischance.

He decided to not take chances and stepped back, his eyes fixed on the hobgoblin’s glowing staff, upon which said hobgoblin rattled something inscrutable, just in time as a geyser of scorching fire hatched mid-air and bathed the landscape adjacent them in a 4 meters radius, flooding over the desperately romping away goblins in a display of pure callousness and brutality worthy of a ruthless leader.

Stephen splayed his eyes wide, mirrored only by the burning death ever so approaching, unrelenting in its sizzling breath as it seared through the grassland and the painful cries of its conflagrant yet unwilling martyrs. Fear gnawed his stomach, prompting him to muster all of his Dexterity, spin around, grab a panic-stricken and frozen Natasha, and against all the odds, cap his legs with all of the Encore Power he had left, before leaping out the path of the fire that roared by his back, the fiery element’s blazing tongue licking his back.

He hissed with a wince once he registered the pain, the fact that he had flopped to the ground with a guest in his arms didn’t help either. The heavy tang of burnt ozone permeated the air. He used his arms as leverage to prop his upper body up, “Damn!” his heart was still beating fast, it was a good thing the fire was not particularly fast, but its broad range of effect sure made it almost impossible to evade without getting burned.

“Guys! You’re all okay?” John’s deep voice boomed, “Sarah, you’re not hurt, are you?” his tone took on a softer timbre. The rest of the group grunted in affirmation, although it was not obvious whether they were injured by the attack or not. Plus they were exhausted from the fights they had been partaking in, thus they had barely managed to roll out of the flame before it engulfed them.

Stephen shakily stood up, his eyes fixed on the culprit of their almost plenary obliteration, and to his great surprise, the hobgoblin was crouched down, heavily breathing. It looked more brittle and aged, as if about to die after a failed act of sacrifice to dispose of them. He didn’t feel pity for those creatures, his face was aquiver with a mix of fear and heated rage. It pumped in his heart before streaming through his veins.

Was it Encore Power? He could hardly distinguish it with his eyes hazed in fury.

He growled, an animalistic and predatory sound that asserted power and dominance over that stretch of land. It caught the hobgoblins and the few goblins survivors’ attention. Unbridled fright filling their hideous features.

“S-Stephen?” Natasha’s mouth was hung open in surprise, and the moment their eyes made contact she recoiled, scurrying back with her feet to lengthen the distance between them, “You…” he ignored her, she was nothing but insignificant now.

He remembered, yet he wished he never had. Memories he forced into the back of his mind, never to be scraped to the surface anew. Fear. Humiliation. How he hated those emotions, it plunged him back to face the ghosts of his past. The face of a man at the forefront of his mind, as if deeply printed in the back of his eyelids. His shadow still haunted him, and there was nothing more distressing to know he couldn’t forget.

That hobgoblin made him remember.

[You have temporarily entered the Alpha state.]

[All of your attributes have been augmented by 100%]

[Warning! Your body can’t host the sudden intake of power, therefore you have a limit cap of 2 minutes in this state, any longer and your body may risk a breakdown.]


He swatted away the notifications, relishing on the inebriating strength pulsing across his muscles and skin. His upper lip parted, laying bare two sharp and long canines that seemed to sparkle from the fire’s light that still flickered on the kindled patch of land.

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Stephen acted without qualm, his body flared out of position, leaving only a small web-shaped crack on the soil. He reappeared afore the hobgoblin that had almost killed them, his hand dove for its face with such a speed it hadn’t even the time to perceive his movements. His fingers stretched out, grasping its facial skin before proceeding to peel it off with a violent haul. A sickening tearing sound echoed out, consequently followed by an inhuman shriek. The goblin’s face – now stripped of its hide – was nothing but a surface of sinews and bones overlaid by a screen of blood.

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He spun his body around, his thigh up high whilst his leg crimped inwards before he delivered a hard kick upon the head of another stupidly dazed hobgoblin, wind seemingly trailing alongside his foot. Its head caved in with a crunch, blood flowed out of its orifices as it inelegantly slumped down, lifeless.

The female hobgoblin that was scampering away trembled when she felt Stephen’s eyes on her. It was a stupid plan, but it was not like goblins were notorious for their intelligence, after all. They relied on that crystal which should have secured them an easy victory, or so was what they had been thinking about. Now almost all of the goblins were either dead or incapacitated. And one of their hobgoblins was dead, whilst the other was about to follow in their footsteps. Still, she didn’t want to go down without putting up a fight, so unsheathing her sword from a crude handmade holster attached to her back by a rope, she charged at him.

She swung her moderately well-kept blade at him, which he effortlessly sidestepped and ducked under a left hook from her. He could perceive and foresee her moves even before she made them just from a twitch of her muscles. His skyrocketed Dexterity granted him an incredible awareness of his surroundings, coupled with ground-cracking speed. She was almost moving in slow motion to him.

Stephen curled an eyebrow in amusement as he watched the female hobgoblin trying to foolishly ward him off with her flimsy offensive. He wanted to humor her, but time was ticking by. He slashed, no skill behind his move, just a casual flick of his wrist accompanied by a burst of Encore Power, and her head was sent flying along with a chunk of her sword by the red rope of energy that soon ebbed away in the atmosphere. Everything seemed so easy with that skill, or was it because his opponents were not that strong to begin with?

[Encore Slash has reached Lv.3]

“Well, that was anti-climatic,” he chuckled, his bubbling anger from minutes ago had wholly cooled down, “But at least we got our dinner.” he looked at the group who was staring back at him, astounded, “What?”

“Damn, that was awesome,” Frank laughed heartily, struggling to stand up, “Ouch! S**t!” he flopped back down on his ass, his hand holding his burned leg. His pants were blackened and ragged whilst blistered skin could be seen from within a jagged tear.

“How did you suddenly become so strong?” John chimed in with his brow furrowed, “I know at what level you were before, but this was way beyond what you were capable of.”

“I dunno? The screens told me I became an alpha and then I went super sayan.”

“…”

[Time limit reached! Do you wish to stay in this state for longer? Do beware that the backlash will be more severe due to the strain you’d be inflicting on yourself.]

Stephen shook his head while thinking, ‘No.’ the screen vanished into nothingness before heavy exhaustion walloped him, way too sudden for him to react.

He fell down.

“Are you okay?” Natasha scooted closer whilst the others were inspecting the dead hobgoblins. Thankfully not all of them were wounded, and only Frank, him and Daphne had received some kind damage, although Frank’s one seemed more serious, “Your back…” she reached with her hands but didn’t make skin contact, afraid the touch would have pained him more, “I… thank you…” she chewed her bottom lip with a deep sigh, “If it was not for me you would have been perfectly fine had you not wasted that second more from saving me.” her tone lowered, her amethyst eyes didn’t glow in mischief like they used to, instead, they were expressing her heartfelt gratitude towards him, her smile only convincing him further of that, “Really, thank you, Stephen,”

“Where is Evil Natasha, what have you done to her?” Stephen mock-feigned horror as he gaped at her, “Wait… is that you Natasha?”

“Pfft, no, I’m afraid not…” she smirked, “It seems you’ll have to put up with me for waaaaay longer than you expect.”

“Stop flirting you two and come to eat. Jesus f*****g Christ,” Frank butted in with his usual finesse, “Why don’t you just f**k each other and get over it?” he yelled from the other side as he ripped a slab of goblin meat before stuffing it inside his mouth, “Damn, this s**t is good.”

“…” Stephen cackled, “That’s Franky for you.”

Both of them stood up, Natasha draping his arm over her shoulder to steady him up before they strode towards the group. The hobgoblin Stephen had brutally ripped the face of was now dead, laying in its own pool of blood, inviting and appetizing as ever.

Gathering in a circle, avoiding the fire that was pretty much alive, and still coating sizeable chunks of grass, they passed each other sliced flesh from each of the three hobgoblins. They had found out that no matter how much someone kept eating a creature, there was only a set amount of attribute points they could gain from it, so if they ate a small piece of meat or the entire corpse it would have not made any difference.

It was a good thing they had three of them.

[You have gained 1 point in Strength.]

[You have gained 1 point in Vitality.]

[You have gained 1 point in Strength.]

[You have gained 1 point in Encore Power.]

[You have gained 1 point in Encore Power.]

[You have gained Low Fire Affinity.]

[You have gained the skill Fireball, Lv.1.]

[You have gained 1% in Evolution.]

[You have gained 1% in Evolution.]

[You have gained 1% in Evolution.]

Stephen smiled at the rewarding screens, feeling the pain on his back lessen a bit. Furthermore, he had even got himself a magic skill, and for that he was elated. It was a pity he couldn’t get points from monsters with a rank lower than his, otherwise, he would have feasted upon those goblins. But it did not matter, with another ace up his sleeves he knew he had to bring his game up a notch. Once they got back he would set himself a schedule for training and hunting, so that he could advance in a fast yet stable way.

Taking a deep breath, he closed his eyes. Today they had almost died. Luck would eventually run out if it hadn’t already. He had to prepare himself. Remembering how he stood paralyzed in terror afore that fire, struck a painful chord in his heart. He didn’t like it. Not at all.

Emboldening his determination, he decided to do anything necessary to prevent such situations, even if it meant lording over the food chain of this place.

Smiling at the thought, his crimson eyes lit up in delight. Yes. That idea was definitely to his tastes.

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