With that last scrap of his haunting memory playing out and ever so slowly tunneling away from his vision, Stephen’s eyes snapped open to welcome a rather confusing sight. He, – or better, his body – was charging at breakneck speed towards a… boulder?
It didn’t take long for his pupils to dilate in a bloodcurdling realization; the boulder was moving en route to him as well. He tried to swerve and avoid the upcoming attack, but the gap between them was shortening way too quickly for him to successfully pull off such a stunt. Thankfully, his wit flared, prompting him to subconsciously rally up all of his Encore Power around him in a defensive cocoon…
… that shattered as soon as the rocky punch whistled through the wind and connected with him. Needless to say, he was flung away like a kite with broken strings, wrecking a tree in half before his back painfully slammed against a stouter one, his silhouette comically sinking in the wooden pillar.
His stomach contracted so intensely that his lips automatically crackled apart, giving way to an oversized bullet of blood that shot out and spattered the blades of grass underneath. The sheet of pain that blasted his nervous system left him almost blind and deaf of his senses.
Another gut-wrenching twist on his abdomen led him into spitting out an additional quagmire of red liquid and gastric juices. Stephen gasped for air but none came in. He felt like every nook and cranny of his body was mushed up in a fleshy mess. And with no strength left to groan or scream away his pain, the only sound that breezed out of his throat was a dying out gurgle.
Should he have thanked his higher vitality for prolonging his sufferings? He just wished for whatever otherworldly entity to quickly judge him with a thump of their gavel and shepherd him into the afterlife.
“Stephen! SNAP OUT OF IT!”
A hysterical and mourning yell inside his mind brought back some smidge of colour to his eyes. Everything was a blurry mishmash of green, brown and grey, but a short squeeze of his eyelids did the trick. The spinning landscape in his head finally came to a gradual halt, and through the throbbing waves of agony, he finally pinpointed the miscreant liable for his injuries.[Analysis Complete!]
[Earth Golem, ?, Age: 67 years, Rank: 5, Encore Power: 320]
He wanted to cackle ill-humoredly at the colossus creature who would have had no problem dwarfing most of the trees back on Earth. Its anatomy was mostly a big rock where limbs jutted out from, like a snowman made of stone.
Most importantly, it was stomping its way towards him; its thick and long feet leaving dents on the soil alongside a thumping noise.
How long before he died?
“Stephen, calm down… you still have a bit of time.”
Was that Roseline’s voice? Ah… nevermind, he wanted to sleep.
He opened his mouth but only chocked gurgles slipped out. He had so many questions at that moment; such as how could she speak in his mind? He felt lightheaded, like a drunkard out of a bar ready to have a good time with hoes and friends. He wasn’t scared anymore… every fiber of his being was slowly being snuffed out by the overflowing blood. He wondered if he would die first or if the Golem would finish his job in time.
The thought put a rueful smile to his face, and he found himself yearning for his death to approach faster just so his foe would not enjoy ending what it – or probably him considering his previous state – started.
Roseline’s usually pleasant voice now seeped into his ears as an annoying buzz. Leave me alone! He yelled back in his head.
“OH HELL NO! NOW YOU LISTEN TO ME YOU PIECE OF S***! DON’T YOU WANT TO GO BACK TO YOUR WORLD ONE DAY? DON’T YOU WANT TO RIGHT THE WRONGS YOU DID THERE?”
A brief and distorted image of his mother weeping on the cold floor of the court, her hands covering the mess of tears and make-up on her eyes, under the gazes of many, flashed through his head.
“YOU ARE NOT DEAD YET STEPHEN… please…” her voice softened, “… don’t give up yet, not now, not ever…”
The Earth Golem was still struggling to reach him as fast as its heavy frame could allow. However, the distance he was sent to was quite large; meaning he had quite a bit of time before he could have been considered as good as dead.
Was it true, or was she lying? He never deliberated of ever going back after Britney’s exposè right before he stuck his sword through her chest. Roseline’s hidden promise seemed a bit too convenient to him, and the timing was suspiciously accurate as well.
Could he really go back one day? It was rather far-fetching, but he couldn’t deny that small fire of hope that kindled up in his heart.
I can’t move… I can’t speak… I can’t do S***! F*** you, Roseline! Why couldn’t you have just let me die!? Nooooo… you had to butt in and guilt me into survive!
“F*** you too, Stephen. And don’t squeeze your brain over this, I got you covered.”
He chewed his lips, staring at the oncoming monster. It took it approximately a few seconds to take a step forward with each limb. How could have his feverish-self have been so stupid as to charge in a beeline at that behemoth when he could have easily skirted around it with his speed?
What do you want to do?
“Something that will cause an unpleasant backlash to me and… quite a LOT of pain to you.”
You’re truly lovely, you know that?
“Awh… thank me later.”
She giggled, and with that cue, the conversation ended.[Warning! An unknown source of power is forcefully stimulating the user’s evolution process!]
[You have gained 10% in Evolution.]
[You have gained 12 points to all of your Attributes.]
[You have gained the skill Encore Step, Lv.1]
Stephen’s body did a sudden upward jerk as a bulky amount of Encore Power rushed through him. He blacked out for a moment, digesting the memory that came with the skill. The Earth Golem had finally sidled up to him, now standing a scant few meters away.
Then his brain registered a scalding hot sensation merrily swimming around and inside his veins, like a curious fish prodding all over him in a hellbent mission to lit up his pain receptors.
His rocky enemy marched to a halt. Stephen looked up, his blanched skin regaining a healthy hue. The Earth Golem robotically shuffled its head down to meet his gaze, the noise of stones bumping stones resounded alongside its stiff movement.
It brought its massive fist up, and Stephen didn’t need to guess what was about to happen if he didn’t move in the next couple of seconds. Wholly integrating the last puzzle of memory in its place, the lifesaver skill he was bestowed upon activated, sending ropes of Encore Power down to his legs and feet. His muscles throbbed and squirmed as flimsy scarlet lights coated the outline of his body; it was just a fleeting instant, the perfect moment when the jagged punch was about to pluck his life away. It was right then that a buzzing sound – like a fly drifting around a turned on loudspeaker – echoed out.
A rumble followed right after once the blow walloped against the trunk, easily wreaking its upper body to a smithereens of scampering splinters. However, when the cloud dust finally settled down, there was no sight of gore the monster had been expecting to see, much less that of the half-dead Stephen.[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 4 minutes in this state, any longer and your body may risk a breakdown.]
Stephen felt like he was high on drugs with a not small quantity of alcohol in his system. His entire being thrummed with power, and he wished for nothing but lash it out somewhere and drown in the wanton destruction it would leave behind.
But time was not his friend, and he could clearly perceive the pain Roseline warned him about. Thankfully his wounds had healed, so he could act with a free mind knowing it would not have yanked him back down a breath’s away from getting forked in the ass by the devil’s sycophants on a lone cliff with a blazing inferno as the background.
He tilted his head slantwise, stealing a last glance at the Earth Golem. He had inadvertently landed on its outstretched shoulder, almost stumbling down from the abrupt chasm of speed between his previous and current self. Apparently, he had to get familiar with his newest skill soon, least he risked making a fool of himself during a fight.
Waving off his train of thoughts, Stephen flickered out of position with an Encore Step and reappeared ten meters away upon a tree’s prong. Looking back, his foe was still there, seemingly puzzled over his sudden departure. He had the urge to yell at it ‘What? Are you petrified?’ with dripping sarcasm, but thought otherwise. It was not smart, and he didn’t want to take chances. Karma tended to be a bitch sometimes, and not the kind Stephen wanted it to be.
Turning around, he leaped away; tails of crimson energy stalking behind him with each Encore Step he took. However, not short after he started debating to himself whether he was finally out of peril or not, a golden beam of light hissed past him, shattering both trees and his hopes.
The shockwave of the explosion that ensued blew him away. Fortunately, aside from the blunt trauma of the force, he was not particularly injured. Pirouetting his body around, he backflipped mid-air to align himself in a better falling stance.[Aerial Acrobacy has reached Lv.2]
With a muffled thump, he forward somersaulted when he made contact with the ground, propelling him up before he landed down on his feet in a wonderful display of dexterity.
“I wish someone had seen this…”
Stephen glimpsed back from the corner of his eyes, heaving a deep soothing breath when there was no golem chasing after him. He then proceeded to bolt away through the underbrush, slinking in the shadows of towering trees and boulders that mother nature ever so kindly provided to him.
An unexpected rolling heat stopped him in his tracks. It was like someone had suddenly shoved him inside an oven with him none the wiser. His throat went dry, and despite the hazy veil that cloaked his immediate environment due to the spike in temperature, he could still discern the foliage ahead parting ways, accompanied by a familiar thumping sound that didn’t come from behind.
The encroaching presence was leaking out a staggering amount of Encore Power, to the point that he found his heart beating alongside the unknown creature’s stride. If he could smell himself he would probably reek of fear.
When the newcomer belatedly made his entrance, Stephen just wanted to drop dead and curse Roseline for inveigling him into not dying under the Earth Golem’s clutches.[Analysis Complete!]
[Magma Golem, ?, Age: 84 years, Rank: 6, Encore Power: 517]
“F*** my life…”