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238 Oh My, Whats next? bears?

 "Nice! It's much slower in the air," Flanker said, looking around as if expecting praise for precipitating the mantid's transformation and continued pursuit.

Still, Flanker was correct, the mantis was actually much slower in the air than it was on the ground.

Dave's mouth curved in a wicked smile, "Hm, does anyone remember an old shooting game called Duck Hunt?"

The other Players immediately understood what Dave meant. They grinned and readied their long-range attacks.

"Yeah, Duck Hunt. With that stupidly annoying dog laughing all the time." Dave gestured, summoning floating orbs, "It's payback time. Ready. Aim. Fire at will!"

With a wave of his hand Dave sent his magical attack at the flying mantid. Lone and Perfect loosed their arrows at the insect and the other players used any ranged Skills they had to attack the bug. Tess shot black magic orbs at the flying creature with her scepter. The dark orbs exploded in spreading shockwaves of distorted space.

Kurukuru clumsily tried to avoid the incoming projectiles could not cope with the speed and sheer numbers of the incoming attacks. Dave's exploding light orbs caused the mantis to stagger in the air. It screeched and dropped precipitously for a moment, but then regained altitude. The mantis screeched louder and louder, feeling wronged. The prey was fighting back, its tiny brain couldn't understand why, prey need only die and be consumed! Screaming while being eaten alive was something the mantis favored in prey also.

The mantis finally understood that it was bad to fly, because prey can shoot at it and the mantid couldn't do anything against aerial bombardments. So it quite sensibly turned back toward the other side of the rift.

"Oh no! You're not getting away that easy!" Lone Arrow's hands blurred, shooting dozens of ice arrows at the flying mantis. Frost accumulated on the insect and spread to its wings. Then one of the mantid's wings froze over completely, the bug lost its ability to fly and fell into the chasm, a loud screech trailing away as it fell.

"Well that was easy," Flanker said, dusting off his hands.

"You're an idiot," Perfect smacked Flanker on the back of his head, "When are you going to learn to keep your big mouth shut?"

Flanker rubbed his head, "Oww, man! What was that for? Everything worked out fine, it's dead."

Perfect shook his head, "It's not dead. We didn't get the kill notification."

"Perfect is right, the bug must have survived. Let's just G-T-F-O. We still have a long way to go," Dave said. He mounted Spike and nudged him forward, the rest of the party followed after.

Flanker kept his staff glowing to light their way. It became immediately obvious that they had entered a new area of the Wilds. The trees were red, the leaves were the color of wet blood and the trunks were gunmetal gray. None of the Players wanted to voice their thoughts on what the ominous symbolism might possible mean or foreshadow.

Flanker looked at his map and said, "We're more than halfway to the tomb."

"Yeah, thanks to Tess's centaurs and her [Haste] scrolls." Fortress declared proudly.

"Yeah, there's no doubt Tess saved our bacon. Speaking of bacon, I'm getting hungry guys. When the centaurs are unsummoned, we should stop and eat," Dave said. Everyone agreed having a bite to eat was a good idea. They'd been playing for an extended time. While the VR capsules they were playing from managed physiological functions, it did not satiate their hunger or provide nutrition.

After a while of traveling through the dark forest, Ralph received a notification, which he reported to the other players in a jovial tone. "I just got the Wilds debuff, now I stink just like you guys do."

"Some of us stink worse than others," Flanker said as he glanced at Tess. No one knew if he was talking about the debuff or an IRL fat sweaty 300 pound 'Stan.'

Tess rolled her eyes and made a 'crush your head' movement with her fingers at Flanker, but didn't reply to the pervert priest's sarcastic comment.

They had found a path lined with two absolutely symmetrical rows of blood-red trees, and were traveling even faster than before. Suddenly, Spike started growling and snarling.

"What's wrong Spike?" Dave asked.

"Something is stalking us," Derin said as he looked around, searching.

"Shit, please don't let it be the mantis again," Flanker turned and focused his light to show the path behind the party. But there was nothing there, just the forest of red trees.

"What are you doing, Flanker? We need the light!" Dave exclaimed.

"Oh, sorry, man," Flanker said, turning the illumination back to the front. Something flashed across the path in front of the party like a ghost and disappeared.

"The fuck was that?!" Demeri yelped, looking around wildly.

"I didn't get a chance to inspect it. Everyone just keep going," Dave said.

They ran on, trying to outrace the new threat, but shortly after the appearance of the 'ghost' they came to a stop. The path ended in thick growths of thorny vines like razor wire. The choking plants wrapped around and between the trees, blocking the way completely.

"Let's go back, we can't stay here," Dave said urgently. They were being hunted and this confined area was not a good place for a fight.

A low growling voice came from behind them, "This is a lonely place to die."

The girls yelped in surprise. Even Mercy, with her nerves of steel, was no exception. Dave felt a little spark of pride that he managed to keep his cool and not scream, even though his heart had jumped into his throat too.

'Heh heh, never let 'em see you sweat.'

But when he got a good look at the owner of the voice he started sweating. Buckets.

He felt like someone was playing a dirty prank on him. The creature stood upright, twice the height of man. That was no problem. What creeped Dave out was the the blend of human and lion features. Tawny gold and black fur, claws, a muzzle full of sharp teeth, and a luxurious mane done in thick dreadlocks tied with ribbons and beads.

'You gotta be kidding me. Were-wolves and tigers were nightmarish enough, now the game throws a were-lion at us.'

The lion-thing held an enormous broad knife in one hand, it looked heavier than Ralph's greatsword, like it could be used to chop down trees. Fresh blood dripped from the blade. The three roundish shapes hung from the creatures wide belt also dripped blood. When the lion creature moved the objects swayed and rolled enough for the Players identify them as heads. Heads that used to be attached to the necks of weretigers.

"What are you doing in my territory? Well? Cat got your tongue? Speak!" the creature demanded, his green and yellow eyes examining the players.

"Fur kitty!" Demeri squealed into the silence, much to the were-lion's astonishment, not to mention the other Players, at least the non-female ones. Lone, Tess, and even Mercy started dismounting from their centaurs, cooing like doves when they saw the big gold and black 'fur kitty.'

'That's a fucking half-man half-lion!'

Dave rubbed his eyes, wondering if the girls saw something other than a big lion-dude with a bloody sword in his claw, paw...hand, whatever.

Dave inspected the 'fur kitty':

***

Name: Leonard The Pridestalker (beastkin monster)

Tier: Unique

Danger level: ☠ ☠ ☠

Level: 550

Base damage: 250,000-320,000

HP: 1,000,000

DN: 150,000

MA: 155,000

Skills:

[Worthy Prey] (Passive): Leonard lives for the thrill of the hunt and is above hunting weak game. He hunts only those he deems deserving of the honor of death by his hands as [Worthy Prey].

[Cut Me, I'll Gut You!] (Passive): base damage is increased by 20% for every 10% HP Leonard loses to attacks by [Worthy Prey] and on his next basic attack he has 100% chance for a critical hit.

[Disembowel] (passive): Leonard the Pridestalker has 20% chance to eviscerate a target, instantly bleeding them for 30% of their max HP. Additionally, if the target does not receive healing in 10 seconds, the target is immediately [Executed].

[Hunter's Roar]: inflicts a [Fear] status effect on the target. Damage to targets afflicted with the [Fear] effect is doubled.

[Thrill of the Hunt]: Leonard becomes invisible and base movement speed increases 200%.

Lore:

Leonard the Pridestalker comes from the extinct hunter triev Destaria. He lives for the thrill of stalking then battling dangerous creatures to the death. He scours the world for the most fearsome beasts he can find. The last of his kind, Leonard stalks his prey neither for food nor glory, but for the sheer thrill of the hunt.

***

Congratulations!

You have discovered a Unique monster. (Again!)

Killing a Unique monster will grant you a special reward! (C'mon, you know you want it...)

***

'What is up with the snark in these notifications?'

Flanker groaned, "Again, with this Unique monster shit man."

Dave held his hand up gesturing Flanker to quiet down.

This Unique monster was different from the praying mantis. He had a yellow name-tag and he could speak.

Dave realized that this Leonard could be reasoned with, so he asked, "Why are you following us?"

The lion-faced monster grinned, or maybe snarled, showing sharp rows of deadly teeth. He flicked the blood from his knife, "I am stalking a powerful monster, one I've been after for several weeks now."

"We just got to the Wilds today, I don't think we are your prey, lion-o," Ralph said.

"You have the creature's smell on you, I can smell it even with the Wild's Stench coming from you," Leonard said, wrinkling his nose.

Dave frowned then said, "Is the monster you are hunting an oversized mantis?"

"So, you have seen it! Excellent. Tell me of it, tell me where you last saw it!" The lion was thrilled.

***

You have fulfilled the conditions to unlock the hidden quest: [The Hunt is On!]

Quest tier: S

Time limit: None

You have encountered two Unique creatures, Kurukuru the Mantid and Leonard the Pridestalker.

Both monsters are temporarily neutral toward you.

Choose to help one of these Unique creatures kill the other.

Help Kurukuru kill Leonard the Pridestalker, the mantid will evolve into a final form and reward you with the skill [Isolate].

Help Leonard kill the mantid Kurukuru, achieving the Pridestalker's goal of hunting powerful [Worthy Prey]. You will be rewarded with the item: [Bonetooth Necklace]

***

Dave selected the reward options to see more information on them.

***

[Isolate]: When fighting single opponents adds 5% damage to all your skills and abilities.

***

***

[Bonetooth Necklace]

Item level: 350

Tier: Epic

Effects +50 to all attributes.

Active Skills

[Muffle Presence] (Active): For one hour a day, become harder to detect in the Wilds.

(Don't count on this too much, it probably won't hide you from a dragon).

***

"Well this is...interesting," Dave said as he looked over the two options, wondering again about the sarcastic additions to the system messages.