Chapter 8: A Close Call

For an instant, all the cluster of noises ebbed away in his ears, leaving the spotlight for his thumping heart that echoed out with unnatural timbre in his head. Were they about to die? Stephen’s face buckled up in bitterness and fright, with not a small dose of unwillingness. The monster in front of them was exuding an aura laced with unbridled power so vast that the air and space around it seemed to shake and shiver in its royal presence. They knew, from the moment that crushing pressure poured upon them, that whatever struggle they tried to put on would have been futile.

The Night Stalker suddenly propped its mouth-like body up and a sickening and thunderous roar engulfed the group in a petrifying clutch, its overwhelming Encore Power seeping desperation into their bones. John gritted his teeth as he tried to force his limbs into moving, but his body felt numb and unflappable, as if under anesthesia.

Natasha was not faring any better for she couldn’t stop shivering, and Stephen could see a dark patch slowly wetting the fabric of her jeans, right where her modesty was.

[You have gained the skill Encore Resistance Lv.1]

[Encore Resistance has reached Lv.2]

Feeling his shoulders loosen up a bit and his fear abate to controllable levels, Stephen’s eyes flashed a crimson shade as he shakily stood up, and steadying up his erratic breath he glimpsed back, noticing a huge and proportionally long shadow slithering its way through the underbrush, hissing. It didn’t take him long to realize that they’ve been caught up in a war between two creatures, that, or they were about to team up to kill them, something that was highly unrealistic.

[Analysis Complete!]

[Basilisk, Age: 10 years, Rank: 5, Encore Power: 200]

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John and Natasha seemed to have gotten the same skill as him for they quietly stood up, albeit still quivering a bit. Stephen hinted with his eyes behind them before beckoning with his head towards his left, hoping they would quickly understand his silent suggestion.

Nodding, both of them tried to sneak away as furtively as they could. However, the Night Stalker didn’t seem pleased with their actions as a bubble of purple energy suddenly swirled into existence right in the center of its massive spiky mouth, before firing it off at them. The beam of energy whizzed through the air, its colorful violet rays lighting up the sky for a moment.

Stephen, exploiting all of his Dexterity, was fast and reactive enough to sense the danger and propel himself along with his groupmates onto the ground, avoiding the ray of death that then proceeded to slam against a tree not far off of them, completely wrecking it in half from the sheer kinetic force alone and then disappear in the darkness of the forest before detonating in a purple and black mushroom cloud a few kilometers away; scorching leaves and trees laid wasted in its raging wake.

The Basilisk, seeing an opening, didn’t hesitate and quickly slinked behind the Night Stalker right when it was busy assaulting the group of humans, its long and scaly armored anatomy wrapping around its legs in a death grip as its tongue flicked out, prompting the mouth-like monster to switch its focus upon the Basilisk, allowing them the time to escape and take shelter behind one of the biggest trees far away from the battlefield.

“That was a close call…” Stephen panted out, his hand clasping his heaving chest, “I still feel my back burning…” he frowned, taking a deep breath to cool down his wildly throbbing heart, “I thought it we would have bitten the dust…”

“Let’s get away from here lest we get involved in the crossfire,” John proposed as he surveyed his surroundings. Considering that the path to walk back to the cave was right behind where the confrontation was taking place, they had to go somewhere else for the time being, “Might as well risk it and venture forward,” he whispered with a grim sigh.

“Natasha? Are you okay?” Stephen called out once he noted the heavily trembling woman, her arms encased around herself as small sobs winded out of her mouth.

“I don’t like this place!” she muttered through gritted teeth, tears streaming down her cheeks, “I’m tired of being here!” her voice was low but her emotions were conveyed successfully as she sniffed, “Every day I fear it will be my last… I… I just wanna go back home…” she cried out, “I never did anything bad… why am I here!?” her sentences were confusing and disjointed, but they didn’t blame her for the outburst.

“Can you stand up?” Stephen knelt in front of her as he tried to coo her, “We have to get away from here… so that we can survive, and eventually go back home. Don’t you want that?” he was not good at comforting people, women even less. But it seemed to calm her down a bit, so he was satisfied.

“My left ankle… it hurts…” she curled her nose in pain.

Stephen furrowed his brow after he realized she must’ve hurt herself when he pushed both her and John on the ground, “I’m sorry… here, let me pick you up.” he reached with his hands before they were abruptly swatted away from a very embarrassed Natasha.

“T-there’s no need…” she averted her gaze.

John interrupted, “Natasha, it’s dangerous here, if you can’t walk then let yourself be helped at least.” as if on cue another violet beam pierced through the trees, splinters and leaves barreling out in every direction, which made the older man’s face countenance become grimmer.

“Don’t worry, I don’t mind.” Stephen stared deep into her eyes, eliciting her to become even more abashed, but eventually, her fear won over her embarrassment and she promptly agreed whilst biting her bottom lip ins growing shame.

Stephen delicately scooped her up, her body nestling cozily against his chest, “You’re very light.” he smiled at her as a weird smell wafted into his nostrils, but he paid it no heed, “Let’s go.”

Wading through the forest with little to no light was a hard task, they could only pick a direction and hope for the better. But looking back now it didn’t seem to matter that much, they had been running for dozens of minutes, and every place their eyesight fell on, seemed to host a battleground for fearful creatures. Judging from remains of trees cleaved in half, shattered boulders, and scorched ground, the level of the contestants must’ve been of a very high level, something they couldn’t afford to mess with.

John was at his wits’ end, they tried to avoid places where fighting noises were proliferating from, but it was like the entire forest was accommodating a big war.

Only allowed on

“There!” Stephen pointed at a huge fallen tree, there was a somewhat big hole in it which they could easily slip into, “Let’s stop there.” it was not the greatest idea, however, it was best to hide and wait for things to calm down instead of running into their eventual doom.

Exhaling, Natasha curled herself up against the wooden frame of the trunk as John cautiously entered their temporary hideaway, “What is going… just what is going on…” she mumbled in bewilderment.

“No idea…”

John looked at Stephen, “What do you think we should do?”

“Wait? Heh, it’s not like we can do much…”


“One step outside… and we’re dead…”

“…” Natasha and John glanced at each other, their lips zipped.

“I don’t like this…” Stephen propped his legs up and buried his head within the hollow of his arms, “Not at all…” his voice was almost a whisper but one could feel the veil of anger and bitterness that clouded it.

“Two rank 5 monsters… I felt suffocated just by their presence.” the older man shook his head in disbelief.

“Umh… regarding that, John. Could you please explain to me what those… black screens are?” Natasha asked after a short pause, “Stephen was about to explain it to me but we had to… you know…” she smiled bitterly.

“Ah yes, you see…” and then he started explaining what they thought those screens were and how to acquire them, rambling on the benefits while assuming what he thought were the negatives, but overall they hadn’t any major proof so it was taken with a grain of salt. Natasha absorbed the information as she nodded, however, it was hard not to notice the disturbing look that plastered her delicate features after he had concluded.

“This place…”

“Yes…” John interrupted, raising his head up, eyes ajar, “This place is totally and undeniably f***** up.” Natasha didn’t bother to correct his language as she hugged herself to struggle against the cold. She closed her eyes, hoping she’d get some rest, but the constant explosions and thunders outside were daunting her.

Time ticked by at a very slow pace, and soon the unwanted noises decreased until all they could hear was the pitter-patter of the rain. Stephen hoisted his head up, his eyes glowing in the darkness of the cramped space. Looking to the side, Natasha was dazedly staring up at her hand where a silver ring laid in one of her fingers whilst humming a song, a fond smile on her face. Opposite of him John was resting his head against the wood as he melancholy eyed a photo he was holding up.

“It stopped…” he muttered, rubbing his hands. The temperature had dropped a few grades in the meantime, “I wonder if we should wait a bit more…”

John broke out of his reverie along with Natasha and sighed, “Let’s wait a bit more.” he frowned, however, when thumping sounds filtered through the wooden hideout they were in. Panicked, they peered outside, and what they saw left them astounded and frightened.

It was an inhumanly tall goblin marching towards them with strong and heavy steps. Its bulky body was a big mass of ripped muscles that stretched throughout its body, making it look like its physique alone was nigh impenetrable. Adorned with leather shoulder pads, a cloth wrapped around its waist, and a menacing looking axe in its stout hand, the monster looked like an invincible and bloodthirsty warrior straight from hell.

Widening his eyes, Stephen stared at the screens in front of him.

[Analysis Complete!]

[Orc, Age: 9 years, Rank: 2, Encore Power: 67]

“Oh no!” Natasha recoiled, probably after receiving the same information as him.

“It’s injured.” John noted, narrowing his eyes, “Look at it carefully.”

Squinting his eyes at the ever drawing closer Orc, Stephen indeed noticed patches of blood trailing over its skin from a deep gash on its torso as the monster donned a scowl of pain, its hand tiredly dragging its weapon along. Apparently, it had been wounded during a fight, and had either fled or won with no small losses.

“We should go away then!” Natasha proposed urgently, “If it’s injured we can safely make it out of here!”

John stayed silent, considering.

“No way!” Stephen said in a tone louder than intended, shocking both of his partners, “Escape? Where? If we go further in the forest we may never find our way back to the cave again.” it was hard to refute his words for they had escaped in a straight line before, so all it would take was to trace it back and get back to the Safe Zone from there, which was not that far away, “And… it’s injured, we’d be three versus one, and although its rank is high, the rewards should be likewise.” he continued in a more subdued voice, “If its body is anything to go by then its attributes are mostly strength based. I should be faster and nimbler, I can keep him in check while you try to worsen its injury.”

The Orc, having noticed them, seemed to be ecstatic as it hastened his steps towards them, though it was not particularly fast in its endeavor.

John took on a thinking pose before nodding, “Good, let’s do as you say.”

“You can’t be serious!” Natasha gasped in fear as she heard them planning on how to coordinate themselves, “You’ll get yourself killed! You idiots!”

“We’d get killed anyway, Natasha. Whether by the Orc,” he pointed with his thumb at the advancing monster, “Or from something else, way worse.” and then he set off, followed right after by John as they went to meet the green monster head on.

“Just so to ask, but any chance you have any bullets left?”

John shook his head as he gripped onto his axe, preparing himself for the oncoming confrontation, “No, that was my last, and I don’t know if it would have made any difference anyway.”

“A pity.”

Steeling his emotions, Stephen set his blade horizontally, narrowing his eyes.

The Orc lifted its huge axe up and swayed it at them, the speed of the swing was very slow, but its force was so strong that it carried along a gust of wind. Ducking under it, Stephen moved fast as he flanked it, trying to avoid being in its aim range, and slashed at the creature with all the strength he could exert.

The blade, however, didn’t do any significant damage as it actually rebounded off its hide, almost making him stumble back.

John stepped in as he noticed the Orc slightly distracted and swung his axe at its wound. Blood sprinkled out, prompting it to roar in pain and anger before reflexively swatting John away with a backhanded slap. The older man flew a few meters in the air before plummeting down with a muffled grunt.

“F***!” Stephen cursed as he dodged another attack, “John, you okay!?” he asked without tearing his eyes off the Orc, even a small distraction could result in his death.

“Not dead yet,” John gritted his teeth as he held his belly, blood trickling down the corner of his mouth, “But we’re sure gonna be if we don’t do something soon!”

[Footwork has reached Lv.3]

Stepping to the side to avoid yet another swing from the Orc, Stephen maneuvered his feet in fast and agile movements, as if he was dancing, and shifted under its axe before piercing with his sword’s tip into the deepest spot of its injury. Red liquid spilled out as he pushed it even deeper.

[Basic Sword Arts has reached Lv.7]

Growling in pain, the green creature’s hands latched on the blade, inhibiting Stephen from drawing his sword back out, and it was in that split second that, fueled by bubbling rage, it kicked him in the stomach, hard.

Air wheezed out of his lungs. He gasped painfully, tumbling a few meters backward, his hands hugging his stomach as he retched blood on the ground.

“Stephen!” Natasha called out in alarm, prepared to step forward to aid him, but she was stopped.

“Stay… there…” Stephen breathed out, his face blanched, the pain fuzzing his senses, “Don’t move…” he tried to vainly stand up but his legs gave in under the lack of energy.

The Orc, however, didn’t seem to be in perfect condition either. In fact, it had just foolishly removed the sword lodged in its body, causing even more blood to cascade. Nonetheless, it must have had a stupidly high endurance for it could still stand on its own feet, albeit rickety.

Wobbling towards John, it strained to pull its axe up, and despite the shakiness, it managed to do it notwithstanding. The usually cool-headed older man seemed to have seen his own death crawling in his eyes for his face had scrunched up in desperation and sadness.

Stephen had a frown on his face as he forced his body to stand up, only to helplessly fall down anew.

“John!” Natasha covered her mouth, her frame quivering. One of her comrades was about to perish, after both he and Stephen fought that monstrous thing together. And she? She was there, in the sidelines watching it unfold, useless and worthless.

She couldn’t accept it. She didn’t want to accept it.

Biting her bottom lip, she raised both of her hands up as she felt something warm coursing through her veins. Holding back a surprised gasp, she noticed a small fireball had spawned mid-air, right in front of her. Not knowing how, just wanting it to stop that Orc from killing her friend, the flame, as if it magically understood her overflowing desire, shot through the air right when the green monster was about to end John’s life in one chop.

The fire impacted against its face, bursting in a blaze of hot air that stunned the Orc, and consequently blinding it.

Roaring, it tried to wipe away the discomfort from its face, not understanding it was just worsening the situation, and the more it flailed around, more blood pumped out of the gash on its chest. There was no need to end its life for it was already about to vanish itself.

Stephen looked incredulously at the falling Orc then at a stunned Natasha. 

- my thoughts:
Ohhh boy... a few months ago I thought this shit was dope, but now I can't help but cringe at how bad I was at writing. I mean, I still am but my rank now should be rookie instead of noob, right!? RIGHT!? Thankfully the latest chapters won't need to be edited, but daayuum... how bothersome T_T
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