Chapter 20: Rank 2

Stephen had been hunting for a couple of hours now, managing to kill and devour every creature he came across. Nonetheless, most of them weren’t even strong enough to endure a half-hearted kick from him, hence not annexing his power and Evolution when gobbled down – much to his chagrin.

He did, however, manage to get ahold of a pair of Rank 1 monsters. Needless to say, despite being of the same rank, the fight ended with a one-sided slaughter vouching for the Predator’s triumph. His Encore Powered-slashes were clear-cut and noxious, adroit to cover a wide ground range; depending on the Encore Power input, of course.

Now he found himself with a throbbing feeling throughout his veins, something he couldn’t seem to get rid of. It had commenced right after eating the last creature, and hadn’t stopped ever since. His heart was beating irregularly, but the cause was lost on him.

Another thing he took note of was that his stomach wasn’t even remotely satiated after his latest meal, if anything it was being constantly fueled, fanning the flames of his hunger.

That’s why he was now silently slinking behind the thickets, looking up at his newfound prey preening itself leisurely atop a branch’s prong.

[Analysis Complete!]


[Nether Eagle, Male, Age: 3 years, Rank: 1, Encore Power: 20]


It was perfect!

Stephen made a jump for the treetops where the avian creature was nestling on, and with a deft flick of his wrist, a whisk of Encore Power cleaved the branch in half. Unfortunately, the feathery creature showed his aerial finesse by acrobatically eluding around it with foreseen ease, scurrying up to lengthen the gap between it and him.

“Come back here lunch!”

He buckled his knees, Encore Power pirouetting throughout his legs before he hopped skywards with a burst of strength, red energy tailing the trajectory of his leap, crumbling the branch he had just perched on.

[Encore Manipulation has reached Lv.2]


Mentally waving off the window, Stephen flared his sword by, ensuring another streak of Encore Power sailing after the fleeing creature, and this time it hit true, siring a nasty gash on its body where blood started trickling downwards. The Nether Eagle weathered through the pain for a stretch longer before plummeting down with an unceremonious thump against the grassland.

Stephen smiled victoriously whilst he steered himself upon a bough and used it as a leverage to shepherd him to the ground without sustaining injuries from the sky drop.

[Footwork has reached Lv.4]


[Light Step has reached Lv.6]


[Encore Slash has reached Lv.3]


His smile grew in size at the content of the notifications. Apparently, that dangerous stunt of him paid off more than he had bargained for.

Dusting himself off, he galloped towards the fallen Eagle where blood was visibly racking up around the wound and onto the patch of grass beneath. With a last squeaky chirp, the creature bit the dust.

Stephen squatted down and grabbed the carcass by the neck. It was not particularly large, its entirety could barely cover an average human’s arm; he mused, not including the unfolded wings span in the equation, of course. However, it was only a Rank 1 avian monster, almost the bottom-most of hierarchy.

The thought put a vexed frown on his features. He was only a Rank 1 himself, and the ladder to the top was way higher than that. He wondered if he would ever live to see the peak or die mid-climb. With a wag of his head, he broke off of his train of thoughts, knowing it was not the time nor the adequate place to indulge in introspection.

Stephen sunk his canines on the plumage, instantly reaching the soft texture of the flesh underneath. Blood streamed up his mouth alongside slabs of fresh meat, wringing him into leaking out a pleased hum.

[You have gained 3 points in Dexterity.]


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[You have gained 3 points in Encore Power.]


[You have gained the skill Aerial Acrobacy, Lv.1]


[You have gained 1% in Evolution.]


The throbbing quickened.

[You have reached 20% in Evolution.]


[Congratulations. You have reached Rank 2.]


[You have gained 6 points to all of your Attributes.]


[You have unlocked the Fragment Furnace function. This facet allows you to embody on yourself monsters’ traits after personally slaying them and plucking out the trait desired off the monster. Beware that this feature won’t work on monsters of a higher rank than yours.]


Stephen stilled for a moment, the sudden power surge had slightly stunned him, but he recovered quick enough once he cooled his excitement down. The last screen was still hovering afore his eyes, and he had to read it over and over to make sure he was not mistaken.

Snapping his head to the side, he stretched his hand out and plucked a handful of feathers off the Eagle before waving them in front of the floating window, “How does this work?” he raised an eyebrow when the content on his hand suddenly faded out in black smoke.

[You have acquired a Nether Eagle’s feathery fragment.]


[Nether Wings’ Fragments, 1/20]


“So I need 19 more Nether Eagles, huh?” he mumbled to himself, his tone interweaved with dripping anticipation. If his assumption concerning the new function was correct, then once he collected the mandatory 20 fragments, he could grow wings, the same ones as the creature he had taken them from.

His eyes unconsciously soared up at the treetops, tracking every inch of them to make sure there was no Nether Eagle concealing from his clutches amidst the thick foliage. However, considering the staggering number of trees in his immediate surrounding, going through them one by one was a daunting task he had no desire to partake in.

Heaving a defeated sigh, Stephen scooped the dead animal up and dangled it over his shoulder. There was still quite a bit of flesh left, his groupmates would certainly benefit from it, and so would their overall chances of surviving.

Thinking about that, his mind riffled over the shapeshifters and Britney’s last threat before he killed her. Paranoia kicked in, and he found himself with a deep scowl marring his visage. They had no clue about those land rulers’ comprehensive abilities, but he was sure they were no slouch in that department.

Monsters like the Night Stalker were still titans to his eyes, no matter his current strength. He had to tread carefully. If those shapeshifters somehow proved to be on the same league as the Night Stalker, the word ‘planetary screwed’ would have been a very weak adjective to describe the situation.

Stephen started heading back to the cave before a shuffle behind him caught his attention. Whirling around, he shifted himself in a combat stance with his hand propped on his sword’s hilt, waiting for whatever had made that sound to pop out of its hiding.

It didn’t come out.

“Hehe…” Stephen smirked deviously, having just found a way to release his pent up frustration in a non-sexual way. Tallying up a great quantity of Encore Power around the edge of his blade, he violently hauled it forward. The outcome was a fatass crimson energy whizzing at the spot the noise had come from in an incredible parade of speed.

The Encore Slash clashed against the tree with a buzzing sound, wracking off of the trunk a humongous chunk of wooden splinters that barreled out in every direction. The tree, that was scarcely holding itself up by its crippled pillar, couldn’t hold its weight anymore and proceeded to laterally slant downwards with a resounding crunch upon another tree, entangling their branches and leafage.

Stephen whistled at his handiwork, satisfied and brimming with pride.

However, a squeaky scream redirected his eyesight upon the source, “What is that?” a small and blackish humanoid-looking bipedal creature was furiously scurrying away from the damage with panic plastered all over its face, “So it was hiding behind the tree, huh?” he raised an eyebrow in mild surprise, slowly sidling up next to the newcomer.

“Sup.” he greeted, “Playing hide and seek?”

“…” the creature started shivering in terror as Stephen started to casually eye it up and down.

[Analysis Complete!]


[Fallen Dwarf, Male, Age: 41 years old, Rank: 1, Encore Power 13]


“Dwarf?” Stephen’s face scrunched up in thought, “Can you understand me?” he queried the pudgy creature whose wrinkled features were wobbling about in sheer fright, “Stop trembling and answer me, dammit!” his sudden spike in tone had the opposite effect on the dwarf who issued a girlish shrill, his chubby hands arching over his head in a useless struggle of self-protection.

“Y-yes! I-I can… I can! I can! Don’t kill me!” the dwarf stuttered out, peeking at Stephen through the gap of his quivering forearms, “Sorry! Sorry!”

“What are you apologizing for?”

“I… I… sorry!”

“You’re a very pathetic little man.”

“Sorry!”

“…” Stephen fought back the urge to facepalm before cooing the creature, “Chill, I’m not going to harm you… unless you give me a reason to, that is.”

“I wouldn’t dare!”

“Yes…” the Predator drawled, his eyebrow twitching, “Were you sneaking up behind me?” he demanded.

“No! I wasn’t… I-I was just spelunking around ya know… s-some caves tend to grow minerals that can be used to forge weapons, but I kinda… um… lost myself…” the dwarf’s silverish eyes took on a saddened hue, “Which is b-bad because I urgently need those materials…”

“Why so?”

The dwarf demurred, but considering that Stephen didn’t show hostile intentions towards him as of yet, he visibly relaxed enough to telltale his situation without slurring his words.

“Ya see… my kin is being constantly enslaved by warmongers to boost their military power over the lands.” he slowly related, “We… aren’t capable of holding our own against them, so our only means of survival is to obey and hope the storm passes without suffering more than the previous years.” he cackled with dry humor, “How ironic, we can forge peerless weapons with the cheapest of the materials, but we are utterly unable to use them. That’s our curse…”

“Curse?” Stephen parroted, “You’re cursed?”

“Oh yes. We all are somehow…”

“What do you mean?”

“The fact that we’re residing in this forest is in itself a curse…” the dwarf clambered back to his feet, “I apologize… but I really need to get going… that… if I’m allowed to go, of course…”

Stephen chuckled, “No need to ask for permission, little fellow. What’s your name?”

“Oh, where are my manners! I’m Keilan, at yer service!”

“Stephen here. Where may I find you?”

Keilan looked confused, “Why would ya ever want to find someone like me? Oh, weapons, right?”

“That too, but mostly to talk. You seem to know a lot of stuff, something I currently lack and am in desperate need of.” Stephen continued with a small smile, “And I’m sure we can eventually help each other out.”

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“Not to sound rude, but I don’t think yer help would make a difference.”

“That’s a low blow, Keilan. Give me time and I assure you I’ll be a valuable ally.” Stephen crossed his arms, “So?”

“Ahh…” Keilan sighed, “I-I don’t think it’s a good idea…”

“Is there someone currently forcing you into forging?”

“Yeah… a Rank 4 shapeshifter… those bastards are the worse of the lot…” the dwarf spat out venomously.

Stephen froze for a moment, “Shapeshifters?”

“Ya know them?”

“You can say we have a strained relationship, although I’m still not sure at what extent.”

Keilan offered him a weak smile, “Ya better not mess with them. They might not be some overlord kind of existence, but they know their stuff.”

“Hmm… still, if I reach Rank 4…”

“Rank 4? Not to shatter yer dreams, but unless ya have a special bloodline, it’d take a whopping amount of time to get there. Forget it.”

Stephen’s lips curled upwards into a predatory grin, “A special bloodline, huh?”


Stephen’s current status.

[Name: Stephen] [Race: Predator] [Evolution: 20%] [Rank: 2] [Strength: 29] [Endurance: 24] [Dexterity: 33] [Vitality: 27] [Encore Pool: 36]


═══Skills:═══

[Basic Sword Arts, Lv.7] [Light Step, Lv.6] [Footwork, Lv.4] [Encore Resistance, Lv.2] [Encore Slash, Lv.3] [Fireball, Lv.2] [Encore Manipulation, Lv.2] [Aerial Acrobacy, Lv.1]


═══Affinities:═══

[Low Fire Affinity]


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