Stephen slid one foot backward, ready to scamper away with another round of Encore Steps. His heart wouldn’t stop knocking against his chest; he found the sound annoying but couldn’t really blame its unsettled mood. He dug his fingernails into his palms, his knuckles shifting down along the pressure. What were the odds now? He didn’t have an inexhaustible amount of Encore Power to call for whenever he wanted.
Squaring off with that small mountain of cobblestone buried in a fulgent blanket of magma seemed as appetizing as cuddling with his father in the couch, with the latter giggling to himself while zealously fondling his hair. Truly an inspirational thought that’d invoke chronic depression and subsequently a bungee jumping session down a building without the ropes.
The stream of sweltering air prickled his skin; it was becoming unbearable just standing in its presence. His breath gushed in and out at a rapid pace, and he didn’t know whether it was due to the searing heat or his fear finally worming its way into his lungs. Maybe it was a knot of both.
A screech that oddly resembled that of a car suddenly slamming on its brakes proliferated from behind. Then a dot of light sparkled through the foliage before burgeoning in as a massive wave of golden energy that – accompanied by the whistle of a teakettle – swallowed a slew of trees and thickets, then proceeded to whizz at Stephen and the Magma Golem.
Like a deer caught in headlights, Stephen’s wide open eyes mirrored the approaching beam of light. Despair bloomed in his heart, trailed by sadness. The attack was rushing by way too fast for him to get out of it unscathed – or alive, for that matter.
But the lone picture of his mother, and the debt he resolved to pay back had become a persistent itch in the back of his head, one that wouldn’t let him bow out even when he was face-to-face with death. With his face scrunching up to that of a man that had way too much to lose, he squeezed almost every drop of Encore Power into his hands as he whipped them forward so violently it was a wonder his shoulders didn’t pop out of place.
A geyser of fire spewed out of his palms like a scorching stream of water. And right before both forces collided, Stephen was deft enough to use the remnant Encore Power in his body to form a defensive – almost physical-like – shield of energy in front him, before he jumped up.
Needless to say, his measly attack couldn’t even hope to delay the Earth Golem’s beam of light. However, that was not Stephen’s plan. What he hoped for was that small explosion that generated afterward, and the subsequent shockwave that sprung up and swatted him further away in the air when the golden energy seared past him, almost gobbling him down.
Nonetheless, his plan couldn’t have been considered a true success for he still got in the range of effect of the Earth Golem’s skill, courtesy of stray rays of energy that managed to overtake him. The momentum of the blast got stronger, pushing his distressed form even more backward, like a missile going off skyward. He felt a tingling burn tugging at his pupils as he continued pouring out more energy into his ever so crumbling protection. At last his temporary Encore-powered cover was utterly wrecked, leaving him powerless to the leftover golden strands of death that scarfed him within.[Congratulations.
1) You have successfully gone through your Predatory Fever.
2) You have successfully unshackled one memory chain.
3) You have successfully survived the siege of a monster exceedingly stronger than you.
– You have evolved your eyes to the next stage.][All of your skills’ level have gone up by 1.] [You have gained 20 points in Dexterity.] [You have gained 50 points in Encore Power.] [Time limit reached! Due to the user being unconscious, the Alpha state has automatically been turned off.]
Of course, none of that was visible to Stephen. His mind had already shut off, and his severely wounded body was shooting down from the sky, somewhere far from the battlefield he was mingled in.
The noise of water bubbling over rock and branches was disrupted by a sudden splash, startling the daylights out of the scurrying back creatures that hastily climbed out of the stream and cautiously eyed the patch of blood pooling around the bedraggled and mangled form of Stephen.
“What’s going on?”
A theatrical and authoritative voice put an end to the hubbub that ensued right after the creature fell from the sky. Every head snapped back, their mouths instantly zipping shut as they scrambled back to free a passageway for their…
“Matriarch Jadesin! T-There’s something in the stream!” someone hurriedly shouted out, “It’s injured… what do we do?”
“Injured?” Jadesin parroted, “Hmm…” her serpentine lower-half slithered over the source of the ruckus. There, quietly floating on the surface of the water, was a masculine shape. Yes, the previous transparent and crystalline liquid was tainted in red, hence hindering her eyes from scouring more of him, but she was plenty sure that ‘it’ was clearly a man. And despite the knowledge of more… odd races having a quite difficult system to differentiate male from females, she was confident that her gender discerning sense didn’t fail her.
Yells flew out from behind her, but her attention was already ensnared by their… guest. She allowed a curious and almost devilish-like smirk to crinkle her lips upward before she turned around, and with a leisure wave of her hand, “You and you.” she pointed at two blissfully oblivious lamias busy making themselves small in the horde, “Go fetch him.”
Her words carried the highest of weights among them, so despite the trepidation crawling through their skins at the thought of approaching that unknown creature, they begrudgingly grunted out in acquiescence and obeyed. Plunging back in the stream, the pair of lamias tentatively trudged forth; the tang of copper wafting into their noses.
Burns and gashes ran all over his battered body, and his rather ‘unique’ attire was completely in tatters, to the point he would have looked better if he was naked instead. However, as they slowly sidled up to him, their eyebrows shot up, “He…”
“What are you scared of?” Jadesin prompted them to continue with their endeavors, “Hurry up!” she forked her scaly hips and wrinkled her nose.
“Miss Jadesin… he must be a rank 3, at least…”
“A rank 3, you say?”
“Y-Yeah… I’m not sure if it’s safe getting any nearer.”
Jadesin tapped her chin in thought, “Even so there shouldn’t be any problems, considering his conditions there’s no way he can even muster up the energy to wake up, let alone rouse the thought of fighting us.” she wagged her hand dismissively, “Also, did you forget who I am? If he does wake up I should be more than able to handle him. Now bring him here.”
“As you wish.”
Shuffling down ever so lightly, they draped his arms over their right and left shoulder respectively and ransacked him out, before carefully laying him down on the grass.
“Hmm…” Jadesin hummed, “He’s… unnaturally good-looking for a humanoid creature, isn’t he?” she muttered aloud as she studied Stephen’s rather symmetrical and streamlined features, with the weakest of hints of a stubble growing up.
“Could he be… an Elf?” one of the two lamias responsible of combing Stephen out remarked, “He sure does not look like those ugly and bulky creatures, hmm… a Fallen Angel, perhaps?”
“An Elf? A Fallen Angel?” Jadesin deadpanned at her, “Red Virtue, does he even remotely look like one? Pushing aside the fact that there’s no Elf ‘alive’ in this forest, he does not resemble those delicate and beautiful blokes. He’s more on the manly side, shall we say?” she yammered on with a barely concealed disdain, “And scribble out the probability of him being one of those black chickens, he does not smell of sin and Easter Lilies.”
“Then… a Dark Elf?” Red Virtue sheepishly offered, knowing more herself than the others that her suggestion was off the charts, “What?” she flinched when an array of ‘are you serious now?’ kind of stares pierced through the shield of her idiocy, “I’m sorry?” she probed, only to wound up ignored.
“Anyhow… there are way too many races to keep track of, he might be one of those that slipped off the vault of our knowledge, still…” Jadesin took a couple of whiffs, “… he does smell of something powerful, despite his rank not alluding as such. Blue Pearl, Red Virtue, I’ll task you both to keep an eye on him as we journey back; do be careful not to worsen up his injuries and please, should he show signs of waking up, relay it to me immediately.”
“Lady… Jadesin, is it truly safe to bring him with us?”
Blue Pearl tried to sweat off her stubborn shiver of fear. Stephen’s Encore Power – despite being lower than what someone of his position should have – was oddly powerful and foreign, pulsing with almost evil-like intentions. It was not a stretch to say that if she could, she wouldn’t step on anywhere around him.
“You shan’t worry my dear, as of our current circumstances, it wouldn’t hurt to rope in an ally like him. Before tending his gashes and bruises, we’ll make sure to jot down a proper evaluation of his character and see if he can – or want – to be any help of us. If he behaves whimsically against our goodwill, then we’ll take him down.”
“I know what you’re worried about, little pearl.” Jadesin chuckled and sent her a reassuring wink, “Just because a specific power is not good in nature it does not denote the holder being anything like it. Let’s not convict him without a rightful appraisal beforehand. Now usher him up and let’s depart.”
“Yes, Lady Jadesin!”