Chapter 4: Just Take it For Granted, Stephen

Stephen gawked in bewilderment at the screens hovering by his side. His brain sparked in a short circuit, his eyes having a hard time processing the intake of such alien information up to his head. Right before he could open his mouth, memories flashed through his mind, mostly depicting a short-sized creature aimlessly flailing a sword around. Despite that, however, he had the odd feeling that there was an intent behind its unrefined swings, like a clear blueprint of slashes being ineptly carried out.

Breathing out, he realized that his legs were a bit lighter than they were before, as if a weight wrapped around his ankles had finally been undone. Standing up, he wrinkled his nose, scanning the coarse and dirtied state his clothes were in; patches of blood stained his black shirt, and a rather plentiful amount of it was smudged over the corner of his lips as well. He gulped, the coppery aftertaste still lingered in his tongue, but with his hunger already satiated, his mind wasn’t clouded by his dangerous hunger anymore.

“J-John… do you have any idea what happened?”

He was still shaken and deeply aghast by what he had done, but considering that he was quite fond of the taste he couldn’t bring himself to be disgusted by it. At this point, he was more disturbed by the fact that he was so calm about it. Furthermore remembering the content of the prompts that still mockingly floated nigh him, he felt agitated. None of it made any goddamn sense to him!

“No idea… I…” John took a deep soothing breath, “I think it’ll be hard to go back home…” he leaned his blood-stained arms upon his knees as he sat down, taking out a handkerchief to clean the mess out of his face.

“How so?”

“Intuition, but please, do take my opinion with a grain of salt…” he sighed grimly, “Everything that happened thus far was ridiculous… and I doubt this will be the last thing that’s gonna jumpscare us,” he pointed at the unrecognizable corpses, “And… these screens,” he waved his hands in the air, “Where do they even come from?”

Stephen paused for an instant, “Do you think that someone may… have put some kind of technological s*** in our brains or something?” he truly considered that theory, seeing floating boxes around him was a good enough proof to make him concerned, but apparently, John was dealing with the same problem too. Was it really a coincidence?

At the question the older man furrowed his brows “I’m not excluding the possibility but… it’d be very advanced technology… and, I’m sure you also experienced those weird memories a moment ago, right?”

Stephen nodded, “I did, it was about the goblin I killed practicing swordsmanship, I think…”

“I also got memories from the short-sized man I killed, I even got a skill or so it seems…”

“What about that last message?” Stephen’s face stretched in seriousness as he queried, “It said something about me… or us in this case, being predators…”

John scratched his head, “That’s… complicated. I’m also at a loss, I can only make assumptions.” he then looked at the younger man’s eyes and said, “Also, I believe that it would not be safe for us to tell the others about this, I don’t know how they’d react.” he thought it over a bit before adding, “At least for now. “

“Killing those weird things was the trigger for us getting those messages… or so do I believe,” Stephen voiced out his thoughts, “I wonder if it works only with them or any other creature, besides, if we are going to stay here for quite some time, I doubt that the existence of…” he frowned, trying to come up with an appropriate term as he pointed to the space around him, “… this thing will stay hidden from them, hell, they might get it too.”

“That’s true, but they’re different, aren’t they?” John narrowed his eyes, “The rest of the group wishes to safely get back home, why should we spoil their hopes with our problems?”

“But this might become THEIR problem too.” Stephen retorted, “This whole place is ridiculous, and as you said before, weird things will surely happen again, we need insurance that we can survive here for the time being.” he stood back up as he dusted himself, “Let’s go back and fetch the weapons the creatures dropped, we gonna need them if we want to bring back something to eat.”

“Do you really want to go back in these conditions?” the dark-skinned man wrinkled curled his nose, his hands waving over him up and down. “We are full of blood, they’ll be suspicious…” he rubbed his chin in consideration before proposing, “We can go hunting right now, then say we got the blood from the animal we killed, though it’s a bit of a lackluster excuse, it’s still something, unless you have a better idea.”

Stephen shook his head, “Okay, but what about the weapons?”

“Here, take this.” he drew out a knife from his jacket as he threw it to him, “You must have gotten a sword related skill, haven’t you?”

Stephen rolled his eyes, catching the blade mid-air, “I don’t know if it works, and even if it does, do you really think a creature like that can possess refined and otherworldly skills?”

“Might as well try it, we’re gonna hunt weak and small creatures anyway, nothing that deserves a high level of skill.”

“Good.”


The wind started picking up speed, allowing the rustles to camouflage the sound of twigs and leaves being stepped upon. It took them a couple of hours to finally find something meaty and edible, aside oversized insects that buzzed around them. The weather was getting worse by the minute, so that massive and weird-looking rabbit was considered a godsend to them. It quickly attracted their curiosity because not only was it way bigger than a normal rabbit should be, it also had a small horn that curved inwards on its crown.

“That’s gonna be delicious, ain’t it?” Stephen licked his lips, feeling the hunger coming back anew, “Also, what the hell is it? There’s no way that’s a rabbit…”

John heaved a breath as he replied in a low timbre to not startle their soon to be prey, “Just take it for granted Stephen, after yesterday I’m afraid it will be very hard to surprise me again.”

“Is that so?”

Stephen focused on the white animal as he steadied his breath, his eyes unwavering. He scanned it, reveling in the uniqueness of that rabbit, something so familiar yet foreign that he couldn’t help enjoy watching it wagging its whiskers around, looking for food. However, to his surprise, a message suddenly popped up in front of him.

[Analysis Complete!] [One-Horned Rabbit, Age: 1 year, Rank: None, Encore Power: 0]

“Weeell… that’s interesting,” he whispered amusedly, at this point more resigned than wary of these screens.

“What’s interesting?”

“Oh… I just got a message, it seems that the rabbit over there is called ‘One-Horned Rabbit’ or so is what it is saying here…” he stared at the black screen, slowly reading its content out aloud “1-year-old, no rank, and it has no Encore Power…”

“Encore Power?” John was puzzled.

“I have no idea what it is…”

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“By the way, how did you find its information?” 

Stephen shrugged, “I just concentrated on the rabbit, seeking unusual places… you know it’s not an everyday thing seeing a rabbit with a freakin’ horn. If my phone had signal I would have taken a snapshot of it,” he ended with a cackle.

John shook his head in dismay before following his younger comrade’s instructions, and as he said, its information was quickly displayed in front of him.

“How do we catch it?” Stephen asked.

“We don’t have the time to lay out traps, nor do we have food to lure it to us…” John pondered, “And–“

However, just as he was about to speak again, an elongated and titanic shadow jumped out of the dense foliage, opened its maw, and in an instant the unaware rabbit was merrily on its way down the newly-arrived monster’s stomach before it quickly slithered away in the darkness of the forest, leaving a deep trail behind on the ground.

“W-what was that?” Stephen’s eyes stretched so apart they almost popped out of their sockets. With a blanched face he stuttered out, “That… that looked way too huge to be a snake, no… even an anaconda for that matter…” he slowly spun his body around, shivers crawling through his skin, “John?”

The man in question was still blinking at the chunk of grass the rabbit was cutely snugged in, utterly gobsmacked. He faced Stephen, his brows soaked in sweat, “We… should probably eat something else for today, yes… l-let’s go.” his usually expressionless face was twitching, his eyes unskillfully trying to conceal the deep anxiety and panic within.

It seemed he was wrong regarding the difficulty of being surprised again. 


Getting back to the cave, the rest of the group immediately noticed the depressing aura looming over them. They had only managed to bring back a few odd fruits, which was not enough to fill their teeth, but after explaining their rather unwanted encounter with an impossibly huge snake, and how it had rudely snatched their meal, nobody complained again. Slowly but surely the hope of getting out of the forest was becoming dimmer, and it sparked great restlessness among them.

As John had expected, the blood on their clothes drew their attention. Fortunately, Stephen came up with the disgusting excuse of using the humanoids’ limbs and blood to attract animals, which managed to abate their suspicions, somehow. They were more worried about their situation than the few stains on their clothes.

“This tastes weird…” Frank frowned after taking a huge bite of the colorful fruit, “It tastes like… sweaty balls…” he forced the mouthful down his throat.

“For the love of God, Frank!” Natasha lashed out, disgusted by his, once again, dirty comment, “There are kids here!”

“I’m not a kid…” Sarah pouted, something that John found queerly cute.

Daphne looked displeased as well, but made no remarks.

“I’m more curious about how you know what sweaty balls taste like,” Stephen chimed in with a growing smirk, “Did you deepthroat one of those oily and hairy sportsmen?”

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“Stephen!” the red-haired woman slapped his arm, “Seriously, you’re all so crass,”

Frank mouthed out a silent ‘F*** you’ as he gave the younger man the middle-finger when Natasha was looking, lest he incurred her wrath yet again.

“Ehm… John…” Natasha suddenly started, her tone hesitant, “About that gun… you…”

“Nothing you need to worry about, Natasha.” John derailed from the topic, “I needed it for my job.”

At that everyone seemed to relax, especially Sarah that heaved a sigh of relief, though Stephen felt that there was more to it than he let on. The group didn’t seem intent to spy on each other’s private affairs anyway, so they hardly talked about themselves. The dinner passed by with small chit-chats and occasional laughs, something that was very welcome. The food didn’t taste as good as they hoped, but they were hungry, so they had put up with it.

Outside the sky showered the lands with heavy rain, its familiar noise filtering in the cave as it ever so slowly lulled the group to sleep. Despite their initial uneasiness, they were gradually adapting, or so was what they wished to believe in. Going back home started to look like a sugar-coated fiction to them, but nobody wanted to give up. They latched onto that last straw that allured their minds into claiming that everything would turn out fine. But two people among them were thinking otherwise.

With that, their second day in the forest came to an end.

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