Chapter 18: Revelation & Resolution

Stephen breathed out, his insides churning, a sour taste of mashed up food and stomach juices climbing up the walls of his throat. With a violent tug, he yanked back the rope, prompting the crying woman he was wreaking so much pain upon to hoist off the solid foundation her feet were resting on, resuming the medieval torture she was being submitted to. Her arms carried the entire weight of her body in an uncomfortable angle that allowed no respite to her protesting joints.

He fixed his eyes on the shapeshifter’s face, an intern debate going on in his head, “Have you changed your mind?” he shouted.

“F*** you!!” Britney’s spat out through gritted teeth, pearls of salty water tracking down her cheeks before dissipating in the blustery wind, “I won’t te–” she was abruptly cut off by Damien’s groan of pain as the young man veered himself up, his face crumpled up in a great dosage of ache.

“… Britney…” he moaned out, “Tell them… just… tell them what they want to know, please…”

“Damien!” her features buckled up in concern, “Stay down, least your injuries worsen up!” she cried out amidst twinges of agony that had their starting point on her shoulders, and thereupon trailed up her stretched arms.

Stephen narrowed his eyes, glancing askew at the younger shapeshifter before speaking out, “John, would you mind taking my place?” his request was met with a nod from the older man as he trodded next to him, taking ahold of the cord whilst swapping positions, “Thank you.”

“No problem.”

Hardening up his expression, under everyone’s gaze, he waltzed towards a groaning Damien whose body was constantly squirming from the bleeding wounds that donned his battered body, “I don’t think we’ve been introduced properly.” Stephen uttered out, a smile tugging at the corner of his lips, “But it hardly matters right now.” he crouched down, grabbing the shapeshifter by his neck before slowly raising him upward; the sudden shift in position provoking waves of painful tingles throughout his injuries.

“Ugh!” Damien rasped, futilely trying to free himself from the Predator’s steel-like clutch.

“Apparently, Brintey is being rather privy of her information. I hope you at least, will collaborate with us.” however, no answer was given for the lack of oxygen was hampering Damien from voicing out his reply. The only thought wheeling through his head was breaking free from Stephen’s grasp so as to relieve his blocked airways.

“Leave him alone! Aaah!” came Britney’s aggrieved yell, “You damn bastard!”

“You seem to be more worried about him than your own conditions. Hmm, were we applying the wrong method of torture to slip some tidbit of information out of you?” he tightened his grip, his fingers sinking on Damien’s soft neck, begetting red welts on the pressured flesh.

Britney’s eyes widened in fear, “F***! LET HIM GO! You hear me you piece of s***!?”

“He’s not gonna last long. Will you provide us with what we want, yes or no?” Damien’s lips started taking on a bluish hue.

“Argh! Yes! Yes! Let him go now!”

“That’s lovely to hear.” Stephen unclenched his hold on Damien, eliciting the latter to unceremoniously plop on the ground, “John, you can stop, as long as she’s not freed.”

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John nodded with a relieved sigh, helping the woman slowly slope down onto the soil.

“Uh… finally, I was feeling uncomfortable hearing her screams,” Frank muttered, “I wonder how they can go through with this kind of deed without turning a hair.”

Apolline piped in with a likewise amount of relief mixing in her voice, “Well, from what we can see John seems to have had… similar experiences… so it’s not that all surprising, all things considered.” she wrinkled her nose, “But Stephen didn’t give off the vibes of someone who would do something like that, granted that I don’t know him that well… but from the way he was handling it, it felt like he was forcing himself to do it…” she shuffled her gaze upon Natasha who had a blasé facade on, “… either way, although I don’t condone such ways, we can’t fault them for it.”

“You have a point there.” Natasha nodded, “Let’s go and see what Britney has to say.” with that they all approached the gasping auburn-haired woman who was flanked by both Stephen and John, their weapons ready to strike down their enemy should she show signs of aggression.

“S***… hehe, you guys–“

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Stephen cut her off, “Where are we?” he queried. Everyone paid careful attention to Britney, not wanting to miss out what was about to be revealed.

Taking a deep breath, the woman grunted out her reply, “We are in the Chaotic Region of the Alazar Forest, the last place in this godforsaken world you’d rather be.” she cackled ill-humoredly, “Welcome to hell.”

There was a pregnant silence as the realization behind that information downed upon them. Although it was already silently speculated – even before hearing from Britney’s own mouth – that it was pretty likely they were not in their homeworld anymore, the news struck them as hard as the thunders slithering through the sky.

Of course, such theory was so ludicrous that they needed some sort of proof to solidify their assumption. No matter what they had seen or gone through, the very thought of being catapulted into another world was not something to be taken lightly.

“Elaborate further! Where are we exactly!? Isn’t this Earth?”

“Earth?” Britney looked back at Stephen, “You mean this?” she pointed to the ground.

“The name of the world! What’s this goddamn world called!?”

“You don’t even know this?” the shapeshifter studied the group’s faces, “Apparently not.” she grinned, “This world’s name has been long forgotten, now we call it Relictus.”

“…”

Another gloomy silence ensued. They could not verify the veracity behind her proclamation, but at this point, they felt there wasn’t a need to. Everything they experienced the past week was already slowly leading them to that realization, no matter how far-fetching it was. Stephen’s face blanched as he paced back and forth whilst scruffing a hand through his hair.

They were in another world. A world with the adequate ecosystem to sustain life – and although he couldn’t measure it – even the atmosphere seemed to contain the perfect balance of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon and all of the other chemicals to make sure their bodies would survive. Which meant that, wherever they were, they were certainly not in their all familiar solar system for a world like this was never discovered before in the deep meander of space near Earth.

“God…” Frank was petrified on the spot, “You gotta be k-kidding me…” he croaked out incredulously.

John looked around, his trademark emotionless visage clearly cracking up as he surveyed the clearing they were in, lightning roaring through the bulk of clouds before the first droplets of water started falling down, “Guys…” he started, but his words went ignored. Taking a quick peek back he noticed that his group mates were still dazed, much to Britney’s growing amusement, and to his chagrin, “Guys!” he intoned, louder.

That seemed to snap them out of their trance and tack their attention upon him.

“Listen…” he frowned, “I know you’re still trying to understand what is going on, but if we don’t leave shortly we might never have the chance to.” he pointed his forefinger skyward, “It’s raining…”

Natasha responded with a frown of her own, “But… but we…” she was harshly cut off when her wrist was suddenly grabbed by Stephen, “S-Stephen?”

“He’s not wrong, we need to hurry.”

“Well? What is happening?” Britney chimed in, “Don’t tell me you’re scared of the rain.”

“Don’t you know higher ranked monsters tend to creep out during rainstorms?”

The shapeshifter burst out in peals of giggles, “Oh yes, that’s true. But that rule doesn’t apply here.”

That stopped them in their tracks.

“I-It doesn’t?” Frank dumbly asked.

Her lips curved into a Cheshire grin, “Uh huh, that’s because this stretch of forest is ruled by us Shapeshifters, of course. And unless a territorial challenge has been issued to our Queen meanwhile you fellas were having your sweet time with me, we are still the rulers de facto.” she snickered, her pale face regaining a bit of color, “Which bring us to the next problem.” she licked her lips, “You see the woman I’m taking the shape of? Imagine my surprise when I found out a long thought extinct race pop out of nowhere leisurely hunting goblins. Goblins that WERE under our protection!” 

Her snarl silenced them.

“We killed the woman, and the rest of the group she was in, not without repercussions though.” she stole a glimpse at Damien, “However, apparently, they were not the only ones.” she stared at them, “The suddenly skyrocketed death ratio of goblins alerted us. If a few goblins die we usually don’t meddle with the cause. But an ENTIRE colony of them was slaughtered!” her amethyst eyes glinted in hatred, “By you!”

“Is that supposed to make us feel bad?” Apolline shot back, “What gives you the courage to reprimand us when you’re clearly an inch away from hell’s gates?”

Britney smirked, “Because the nearest batch of Shapeshifters should already be on their way here.” she hummed, “We had set-up a time cap for them to take action in case we failed. You proved to be stronger than we had expect-” her last words hitched in her throat as a blade abruptly stuck out of her chest, jerking her body forwards. Her eyes splayed wide open before she haltingly gazed down at the offending object that protruding out of her from behind, blood copiously skimming down; her blood.

“Stephen!” Natasha cried out in surprise, “W-What…”

The group was flabbergasted at the sudden turn of events as they stared at Stephen who had silently slinked behind Britney and impaled her unprotected back with surprising decisiveness.

“NOO!!” Damien rasped out, moving his upper-body up.

However, a red ribbon of Encore Power darted through his neck, silencing him before he could cause any more ruckus. A head plopped down with a wet sound, blood sailing up from the jagged stump of flesh. Stephen gnashed his teeth as he forcefully stopped the trembling of his sword-wielding hand, “We gotta get the f*** outta here.” he addressed everyone, “Now!” he yelled when he noticed the group was still staring at him, aside John who nodded and moved to pick up the corpse of Britney, something he mimicked by scooping up the headless body of Damien upon his shoulder, not after cauterizing the stump with a fireball to avoid leaving a trail of blood behind, of course.

“Let’s hurry.” Stephen set off in a run, followed right after by the rest of the group who were queerly looking at the dead bodies they were bringing along, something neither he nor John seemed to care. It was because of a spur of the moment, but it was still food, both of them rationalized. More importantly, it was the flesh of a higher ranked creature, which would have granted them what they needed to survive.

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