Chapter 38:

Food Chain

The Consequence of Saving the World

The crickets’ song provided ideal cover, but it also signalled that time was running out. With the sun receding, this had to be my last one.

Each time the crickets started to sing, I started to creep slowly and meticulously, the rustling of the leaves beneath my feet masked by the noise. When their music arrived at a rest, so too did my movements.

With night knocking on the door, visibility was leaving. I could barely make out the figure of my mark—its tiny head lowered, gnawing on the undergrowth, its whole body motionless, unaware of the fate that was bound to arrive.

As I extended my left arm out in front of me. Using my thumb and index finger as a makeshift sight, I determined that the distance between me and the target was about 5 metres. This was good enough. I might be able to get closer, but I didn’t want to risk it.

With my free hand, I reached for the same bloodied stone that I’d been using for the past hour or so. A primitive projectile, but one that got the job done. The coarse edges of the stone rubbed against my palm as I held it steady, poised for a throw.

Before I could make the shot, the cool evening wind graced the back of my neck. Usually, I would welcome the refreshing breeze, but not now. With its head slightly raised, sniffing the air, my cover was about to be blown!

A quick flick of my arm hurled the stone at full speed, crashing into the side of its plump body. As the stone bounced off its body and into the thicket, I sprang forward to retrieve my bounty.

My heart raced as I could finally breathe loudly again, each breath that I took filled with the joy of successfully hunting down my third rabbit of the day.

Kneeling down, I picked up the animal. I wasn’t sure whether it was knocked out or dead. Well, only one way to find out.

The soft fur of the rabbit greeted my fingers as it wrapped around its neck. In a single swift motion, I bent the back of the neck back as far as possible. The small ‘crack’ confirmed that the rabbit was humanely dispatched. Even I wasn’t so heartless to make it suffer through what’s to come.

Its hind legs started kicking as I brought it back to the basket where I kept the others. This used to freak me out, but it was pretty normal. The creature was dead, just that the body hasn’t realised it yet. At least, that’s what I was told.

As I stored the newest rabbit alongside its deceased brethren, I felt a chill travel down my back. This wasn’t the same cool, refreshing breeze. The hairs standing on the edge of my skin was proof that it was something else.

A breathy, low-pitched growl pierced through the bush behind me as my blood began to freeze. Carefully, I turned around and the eyes of a Dire Wolf met mine. Sigh, my luck was rotten.

If it was a normal animal, I might’ve been able to scare it off, but the biggest difference between animals and monsters was that animals don’t actively attack humans.

What frightened me even more was that this opportunistic Dire Wolf waited for me to do the dirty work. Instead of going after me right away, it stalked me during my hunt, saving its energy as I gathered three rabbits and one human for its dinner.

I reminded my body to breathe; predators could sense fear. Even though I was afraid, I didn’t need to make it obvious. With a calmer mind, I quickly began to discern my options before the inevitable. Running was a fool’s errand—it had twice my number of legs and is easily several times faster than me. My only choice was to fight.

For the first time since this journey, I unsheathed Exordium. Its grip felt alien, a far cry from the wooden swords I occasionally used to humour Eveline with. This was a real weapon, one that I wasn’t trained for.

Thankfully, this wasn’t an unkillable foe like Remus. A lowly Dire Wolf should perish with one good slash. My only concern was if I could pull that off. Judging from my trembling fingers, I’d take that as a no.

Even though I tried my best to calm down and hide my fear, my body still wouldn’t stop panicking. The drool leaking out of the beast’s mouth made things worse. C’mon Evan, get your act together!

My blade gradually became steadier as I steeled myself, its tip right between the eyes of the Dire Wolf. Its head grew larger and larger as it crept closer.

In an instant, the monster charged straight at me as my breath came to a halt. I tensed my muscles, ready for a swing and as it came within range, I let my blade run its course.

The slight resistance of flesh as my blade went through the beast is what I felt. When I discovered that the only sensation I felt was the empty air, I realised I’d royally screwed up.

The charge was merely a feint to bait me into swinging. Now wide open, the Dire Wolf pounced at me. With a dark shadow easily that of my size casting down on me, I fell backwards, knocking over the basket of rabbits.

The monster’s maw was centimetres off my face, its rancid breath made me dizzy from the stench—the only thing preventing the stench from overpowering me was its saliva landing all over my head.

I expected its teeth to puncture my neck, but it couldn’t. Its dagger-filled jaws could barely reach my nose no matter how hard it tried. When I felt the warm sensation of blood seeping through my gloves and onto my hands, I realised—my blade has pierced the belly of the beast!

Somehow, as the Dire Wolf fell on me, it landed on my weapon first. My sword had become my shield, stopping the monster from reaching me by the skin of my teeth.

However, the more the creature flailed and struggled, the more I felt it sliding down my blade, bringing its teeth closer to my face. I too, squirmed and moved my head around trying to avoid getting it bitten off.

It felt like an eternity before its frantic movement began to slow down. My sword was sapping its strength. I was finally able to roll to my side, dropping the Dire Wolf next to me as I removed my weapon from its gut.

Its breath was rapid, but its body lay dormant, refusing to heed its call. The fight was over.

I caught my breath, panting like I had finished a marathon. Somehow, I survived with only my gloves and the lower part of my shirt were dyed red from the creature’s blood.

I didn’t want to take any chances; I had to end the Dire Wolf’s life there and then.

My blade was aimed right on top of its chest cavity as I stood over its body. There was no feeling of triumph here—I just wanted to get this done as soon as possible.

The Dire Wolf’s eyes met mine. I could imagine the thoughts flowing through its head, but this wasn’t the time to be sentimental. As I raised my sword to drive it right into its chest, its own blood dripped from the blade’s tip and onto its own fur.

It writhed momentarily, but the deed was done. As my senses returned to normal, a relieved sigh escaped my mouth. Cool air replaced the fear-filled air in my lungs.

A brief moment of respite later, it dawned unto me how quiet the forest has become. It was unsettling. I needed to get out of here, quick.

As soon as I thought of that, the same, breathy growl from before reached my ears as I cursed. One growl became two. Two growls became four. The Dire Wolf I had just slain wasn’t alone.

This was the worst-case scenario. I didn’t know where to point my sword as the threats came from all directions. They were circling me, hungry for both flesh and revenge.

Once again, I forced myself to calm down. I dispelled the thoughts of death and being eaten alive. I didn’t know how, but I had to survive.

Things went from bad to worse as I heard the Dire Wolves whimpering, then running away. I suppressed the urge to rejoice—the only reason why monsters run away is because there is a bigger one. I took back the thought that my luck was rotten—I had none whatsoever.

The Dire Wolves ran away to the north, which only meant that whatever was approaching from the south. I didn’t want to find out what was coming, so I bolted out of there.

I would have, if only my legs listened. These escalating events have fully numbed my body in fear. I started to lose my sense of taste—the saltiness of the sweat in my mouth was gone. I couldn’t even scream if I wanted to.

As my knees lost strength, I nearly fainted when from the darkness, emerged Sereya.

“Hey there,” she casually waved.

My body slumped to the ground. I didn’t let Sereya join me on the hunt as her presence alone scared all the wildlife away. I thanked the Goddess that the tides have turned and were in my favour.

“Are you done already? We’re starving,” she asked.

“Yup, I’m done alright.”