Chapter 16: Curiosity All Around

Ryu made no sudden movements. Although the mockingbirds looked to be docile creatures, he couldn’t afford to make any threatening gestures. He subtly scoped the surrounding trees, then turned his head around, staring back to the way of the crossroads. The possibility of NPCs waiting in ambush for him kept ringing through his head.

It’s several hours back… I have to stay here.

He heaved a soft sigh and carefully rolled up his enchanted map, putting it in his bag. He brought up his log off menu and attempted to log off. But much to his dismay, the following message appeared.

You are in a Special Hidden Zone.

As you have only recently entered this Special Hidden Zone for the first time, you must wait a certain amount of time before you are allowed to log off.

If you would like to log off, you must exit the Zone to do so.
Plum Tree Forest has a six-hour [Log Off Restriction] for first-time entries.
Log Off Restriction Time Remaining: 38 minutes

You’ve gotta be kidding me…

Seeing that he had no other options, and obviously not wanting to stand there for the next 38 minutes, he calmly walked forward. He kept his head straight, daring not to give eye contact. As he walked by, the mockingbirds continued giving him curious looks, hopping and fluttering from branch-to-branch. Their sharp whistles, as well as the whistles of other birds throughout the forest, echoed through the canopy.

Sensing no apparent malice, Ryu tilted his head up. The mockingbirds continued with their whistling and fluttering, seemingly playful. Some were perched, shaking their feathers, while some were playing and fighting over plums.

Ryu saw a few of the purple fruits lying on the ground, untouched by the birds. He picked one up and Identified it.

Plum
This plum is made from a higher concentration of essence of what it ordinarily would be.

This plum is ripe and safe to eat.
Explicit Rarity: Uncommon
Implicit Rarity (Hidden): Grey

Curious about the possibility of its uses, he picked up two dozen more and put them into his interspatial ring.

However, as he picked them up from the ground and from the trees, the mockingbirds screeched at him and fluttered about. And as he picked more, their screeching intensified, alarming him. He knew better than to keep going, but he just needed a few more to fully fill one of his ring’s slots. But when he picked his last one, it was then that several of the birds attacked him, pecking his hands. Some flew in his face, scratching him with their beaks and feet. He swept his arm across to knock them away, but they flew back into his face and continued their aerial assault. Each bird peck was like a tiny, sharp rock slamming into his body. His face and arms became bruised, with several bruised patches bleeding.

He then drew out his sword and swung with natural energy. A few of the avian creatures fell on the spot, soon disappearing and leaving loot, but Ryu couldn’t be bothered by it.

Seeing their friends die, the mockingbirds screeched louder than before. Those that had been watching curiously from the trees and those that had been playing just snapped in an instant, and they all assaulted the player simultaneously.

Ryu retaliated, but the little buggers kept coming. They poked at his arms and sides, and some were trying to get his eyes, so he had to cover his face with his arm. Out of options, he briskly brushed them off and retreated. The winged creatures attacked him in pursuit.

He ran dozens of feet into the thick of the trees, but as he did so, the birds suddenly stop attacking. They cawed with a foreboding and flew away.

Breathing heavily, Ryu retreated into the deep thicket, stumbling into an ominous atmosphere. He stopped mid-step, sensing a strange danger, but he continued on anyway.


Ryu treked through the thicket, stumbling his way forward. There was hardly any room to move freely at all. It was just shrubbery and trees in his path.

Eventually, though, he came out of the thicket, and into a large opening. There was a waterfall falling into a clear pond, so clear he saw the pebbles and stones at the bottom. He couldn’t accurately determine the depth, though.

He walked up to the pond and kneeled down, scooping a handful of water. He splashed it on his face and washed the blood off. He lowered both his hands back into the water, washing them, and then scooped up another handful of water into his mouth. He gulped down the water, letting out a sigh afterward. He then washed his arms, and after he was done, he fell back on his arms, tired from his previous encounter. He was not exhausted, but after that annoying experience, he needed a breather.

He looked out at the surrounding, which was nothing but the dense plum trees and the small waterfall and pond. He took out his enchanted map and viewed it.

His eyes glared down at the shiny dot on the open scroll. His current location was now off the indicated path on the map. And to return to that path, there was no other option other than returning to the bird-filled area. It was strange he thought, seeing how there were no birds in this thicket. He could hear some faint bird whistling, but it was nowhere close.

At least they didn’t follow me.

Ryu took this time to comb through his items. He sifted through his bags seeing the book of the Durn language, one last piece of flatbread, an empty canister, and the token. That was all.

Looking at his near-empty sack, his stomach growled.

He took the remaining bread out of the bag, and ripped it piece-by-piece, stuffing each portion into his mouth. While eating, he became curious about his other items, one in particular. He brought forth his interspatial ring’s slots, which appeared before him as an ethereal stream of holographic images, each image depicting the item or items they stored. So far, he had two slots filled with copper bits, one slot fully filled with plums, and one that stored the stone.

Curious, he reached forth, extending his hand into the open air, and plucked the stone out of the slot. To an outside observer, it would have seemed like he grabbed it out of thin air.

For the first time, he inspected it. It really didn’t seem all that special.

Doesn’t seem too special.

He then attempted to Identify it. but surprisingly, he received the following message:

This item seems to be a stone. It’s egg-shaped and completely opaque, so you are unable to see through it. 

It seems to be made from an extraordinary amount of essence.

It was clear to Ryu that the item had not been Identified truly. The message had more-or-less repeated what he knew about the object, so he knew he had failed at his Identifying since no other pertinent information had been provided.

Hmm…

As another thought came to him, a sweet chirping came from above. A small amber-colored bird flew into the opening. It was small, around the size of a chickadee. It had a fluffy red belly and a black-tipped tail.

The tiny bird flew onto a rock that had a small puddle of water in it—a natural bird fountain. It gave no thought to Ryu, almost seeming like it didn’t even care about his presence at all. It splashed and fluttered about in the small fountain, chirping innocently away. To the player, it seemed completely harmless, like a baby who had just left its nest, oblivious to danger.

It finally turned its back and made eye contact with Ryu. It tilted its little head curiously, chirping its innocent chirp. It then flew across the pond and landed on the stone, which Ryu was holding.

The bird continued giving its innocent look, tweeting cutely. It tilted its little head down to the stone, hopping a few times on its tiny black feet. It gave the stone a curious look too. Then it perched, fluffing down right on top of the stone, shaking its red belly and feathers. It shook its head, and a tiny bubble popped from out its nostril. It yawned, and its eyes started to close. It seemed like it was going to sleep right then and there.

The little creature was cute in its sleepy state, and so Ryu took this opportunity to pet it. He rubbed his index finger over the tiny bird’s head in a circular motion. It didn’t seem to mind. In fact, it made it yawn even more.

However, as Ryu was petting it, strong snapping noises came from behind. The branches of trees were being torn apart as if a bulldozer was running through them. This alerted both the bird and Ryu.

The bird stood up. It hopped once and gave Ryu a curious look, looking straight at him. It gave two high-squeaking chirps and flew straight across the pond and into the waterfall. Ryu saw exactly what it did, but he couldn’t bear it in his mind at the moment. He placed the stone back into his ring and quickly picked up his things. As he stood up, the snapping finally came to a stop. 

Less than thirty feet from him was a monstrosity of a bear. The monster’s fur was dark and thick, its eyes a fiery brown. Even on all its four legs, it stood twice as tall as Ryu, each of which seemed to be like a person. Its snout was literally the size of the front of a car. But what was more concerning to the player was that it was drooling.

What…the…hell…is that?

The creature gave no warning at all, not even a roar, and charged. Ryu reacted the moment it did, turning away and jumping into the water. 

Ryu swiftly dove through the clear water, stroking as strongly and widely as he could. He wasn’t even halfway from the waterfall when a large ‘sploosh!’ followed behind. The massive beast was tall enough that it didn’t even have to swim, it trudged right through the water. 

Frantic, Ryu imbued all of his swimming parts with natural energy and swam as hard and fast as he could. The grizzly was just mere feet from him, but as it took one more step forward it fell into the water. The depth of the pond had drastically fallen at that point, making it slip. Ryu minded none of this and continued his swift strokes. As soon as he got close to the waterfall, he dove right under, the bear right behind him.

He dove up into a grotto behind the waterfall where there was a small cavern opening. He didn’t even think about the dangers. He simply kept to his pace and swiftly slogged his way towards the cave entrance. The bear came up right after, chasing him.

Wet, Ryu rapidly trod through the shallow waters and ran right through the darkness. The cave entrance was large enough for the monster behind him. The creature was only a few feet from gnashing the player. Fortunately, though, the crevice became small enough where it couldn’t fit through.

As Ryu fled, the monster snarled and roared, scratching through the space that it could fit its giant claws. Eventually, it stopped, realizing the player’s inevitable escape. It let thrashed about and let out a cry and headed back to shore.

Ryu stopped. He laid against the wall and took a deep breath. 

It was dark now. Much of the light came from behind him, from where he had entered. He looked forward into the cave, and all that awaited him was a silent darkness.

Then he heard it.

A small bird chirping.

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