Darkness and pain.
Those were the first things that registered in Jonah's mind once the snake's jaws clamped onto him. He'd expected it to be more... violent. Maybe some thrashing around, a few dagger long teeth in his gut maybe, but he guessed he was lucky(?) that giant monstrous snakes from nowhere resembled to follow the same rules as their smaller cousins. Instead of being mauled to death, the beast simply swallowed him.
Jonah's breath became ragged and shallow as that thought finally clicked in his mind. The very real fact that at this very moment, he was slowly being pushed down the throat of a massive boa. One that shouldn't, by any logic, exist in this world. His eyes were the only part of him that could currently move, as the thick muscles around him pulsed and pushed him farther and farther into the darkness. Each pulse brought with it a blast of rancid air, and he could feel himself starting to become light-headed already. Was this how he was going to die? Not even quickly, but slowly suffocating the throat of some hellspawn? Why? Why him?!
He lost his friends. His mother. His job— the only place he'd even felt needed.
Now, he'd lose his life without the chance to even fight back... WHAT KIND OF BULL**** WAS THIS?!
It felt as though a fire blazed to life within his chest.
All of the rage.
All of the frustration and bitterness that built up over the long years, which once sat slowly rotting in his soul, seemed to ignite all at once.
Jonah let out a primordial roar, although it was muffled by the wall of flesh around him. He began to thrash around him as much as his prison would allow. When his struggles amounted to about as much as a weak wiggle, Jonah did the only other thing he could think of.
He bit down.
It was like biting into a rubber tire covered in both snot and glue. Jonah could almost feel a burning sensation as the vile mix of snake bile and saliva entered his mouth.
Except he didn't care at this point.
He kept biting down, again and again, gnawing and shaking his head even as he felt his own teeth crack and break the snake's rubbery flesh again. Suddenly, he felt something give away, and a scorching hot liquid filled his mouth, almost drowning him on the spot. It tasted of blood and honey, but hot enough to leave blisters. He screamed as the liquid washed over his face. The pain soon gave way to satisfaction though, when he heard the snake rumble from the inside. The snake didn't like that one bit. Seeing that, Jonah yelled out through his blistering mouth and broken teeth.
[Jonah] - YAH! TAKE THAT YOU SCALY BASTARD! YOUR MOTHER WAS A CHEAP HANDBAG, AND YOUR FATHER WAS A POOL NOODLE! I'M GONNA BE THE WORST CASE OF HEARTBURN YOU EVER HAD, YOU TURD COLORED NO LEG HAVING SON OF A *****!!!
But despite his struggle, Jonah could feel his fiery enthusiasm start to leave him. His breath became heavy with the combination of the (presumably toxic) fumes rising up and the blood rushing to his head, bringing pain. For all his anger, what did it matter? Even if he managed to bite off a few more chunks with his ruined teeth, he was still going to die.
Just as he was about to give in, a loud chime sounded out from the depths of his mind, like a crystal bell, but a thousand times purer. It was followed by a cold mechanical voice that resounded clearly.
Combat Confirmed. Submitting contestant Identification Number.
Welcome to "The Game"
Gained Legendary Feat: "First Encounter"
[You were the first of your world to fight back against the Monsters.]
"Fate's Cruel Design"
[Fate has weaved a tangled web for you. Do you want the strength to cut its Threads?]
Jonah stared wide-eyed at the strange blue box, despite its glow that was bright enough to hurt his dark sensitive eyes, without appearing to actually cast any real light (or perhaps it was just the boiling blood covering his face).
He recognized it.
This was the same strange box he'd seen in his bathroom, shortly before that evil little caricature appeared. He didn't have a good feeling about this.
As if summoned by his thoughts, the sound of distant fireworks went off in the back of his mind, and a voice he never wished to hear again sounded from thin air. It reminded him of every game show host, with the late-night personality rolled into one, yet somehow without any of the humanity or warmth.
[Caricature] - "Well, lookie here, folks! We have our first registered contestant! Though it looks like he's got himself into a bit of a pickle already! Hahahaha!"
A corny laugh track played in the back of his mind like the audience of a cheap 50's sitcom had somehow found its way into the skull.
[Caricature] - I have to say, boy, I'm impressed. In 100,000 Galaxies and 10,000,000 seasons, you're the first person to be devoured this quickly. I think that deserves a reward!"
Jonah heard the sound of fingers snapping, and the blue window in front of him shifted.
Gained Unique Title: "The laughing stock of 100,000 Galaxies"
Jonah could feel the fire well up inside him again, as he managed to croak out through the blood and bile and broken teeth.
[Jonah] - "Who in hell are you?! Are you the one who put that snake in my room?! Why are you doing this?!"
[Caricature] - "Why? Because you're playing 'The Game,' my boy! What fun is a game without a little challenge? Though I must admit, I never expected someone so.... eager to play. Hahaha hahaha! As for who I am? Why~ I'm your gamemaster, of course!"
Another round of cheering.
[Jonah] - "A game?! You think this is a game?! Who do you think you are?! Who gave you that RIGHT?!
[Gamemaster] - "No, no, no. Not 'a' game, my boy. 'THE' Game! The game to end all games! The game of the 'end' and of new beginnings! The game of life and death! THE GREATEST GAME THERE HAS EVER BEEN!"
A booming round of applause sounded in Jonah's skull, drowning out all other noise and thought, threatening to turn his brain to mush. After what felt like an eternity, the applause dimmed, and the "Gamemaster" spoke again.
[Gamemaster] - "...and as to who gave me that right? Hahahaha~ Well now, that's a secret I think I'll keep to myself for now. But rest assured, that right is something I do most certainly have. Now don't worry, I'm a fair gamemaster; others might revel in slaughter and destruction, but I've always found things are FAR more entertaining when there's a fighting chance. With that being said, I DO feel slightly sorry for you, my boy."
There was a slight pause before a corny "Awwww" soundtrack played in the back of his head.
[Gamemaster] - "You know what, kid? You made me laugh, and it would be a shame for our very first contestant to be eliminated so quickly. So, I'll do you a favor. Just... This..... Once..... Normally this is something we hand out after your first kill. But 'something' tells me you might need it sooner rather than later. Hahahahahaha! Use it well.”
“We'll be watching... Don't disappoint me."
With those words, a sharp "click" sounded out from the back of his mind. It felt as if an invisible pressure he didn't know had been there was lifted from his shoulders. Somehow he instinctively knew that the so-called Gamemaster was gone.... or as least as "gone" as a voice in his head could be, he guessed.
The blue window flashed one more time, as the words began to change again.
Administrator Override Approved.
Obtained new Contestant Starter Package: C Rank Skill Token x1, "The Game" Manual x1
Jonah started to feel two objects materialized from seemingly thin air, one appearing in each of his hands (an impressive feat, given how cramped it was at the moment). In his panic, he almost dropped them. Nevertheless, he managed to grab on tightly. In his left hand, there was a thin booklet, and in his right, a coin the size of a gold dollar. He was still thoroughly confused about what the hell was even going on but had managed to start putting things together. More so after hearing the "Gamemaster's" rant and perceiving the pop-ups on the screen in front of him. He might have gotten his life together later in life than others, but he always joked that at least he had never spent his teen years getting drunk and high like his peers.
No, he had a different "drug" — online novels.
He'd stopped reading after he started college. The intense workload of a nursing degree, along with the even longer nights working at the veterinary clinic, had completely consumed his life in the past few years. He sometimes forgot to even EAT, let alone had any time to read. Nonetheless, as the old memories started to flood his mind, he felt the uncontrollable urge to laugh. It began as a silent chuckle but slowly grew into a roaring laugh that even caused the giant snake that was still swallowing him to twitch. Despite the many blisters and blood that covered his face, Jonah couldn't help but grin from ear to ear.
He had a chance!
As he tightened his grip on the coin in his right hand enough for its sharp edges to draw blood, hope welled up in his heart.
He didn't want to hesitate a moment longer, but soon he realized a depressing truth...
[Jonah] - "..... ****"
He didn't know how to open his menus! Presumably, this would all be in "The Game" manual... the one currently stuck in his left hand, pinned to his side while in the pitch-black bowels of a monstrous snake...
He was sure the Gamemaster was having a riot right now, enjoying his "prank." Only Jonah was tired of letting other people get their way. He wasn't going to be the butt of other's jokes anymore. He was already playing "Hell Mode," what did a little extra challenge matter?
For the next twelve or so minutes, Jonah tried everything he could think of to open the menus. From mental commands to key phrases, nearly the only thing he couldn't try was hand commands. Eventually, after countless combinations, he seemed to hit on something.
[Jonah] - "Open Contestant System Menu."
Instantly, a small blue window popped into existence with 6 buttons that glowed dimly.
He had used this phrase before, although to no effect. The only difference was the image in his head. That seemed to be the key— intent. To test out his theory, Jonah "willed" the screen away, but to no effect. This time, he combined his "intent" with a command.
[Jonah] - "Close Menu."
The menu window flickered out of existence the next moment. Trying once more, Jonah gave a mental "command" with intent, and the screen popped back into existence. It appeared that it didn't matter if it was verbal or mental, as long as there was a "command" and "intent," the menus would respond. That could be very useful in the future. Jonah quickly focused his attention on the skill shop, and another window popped up.
Welcome to Laniakea Skill Shop, Official Sponsor of "The Game" and the only provider of top Quality Skills in the 100,000 Galaxies!
Checking Contestant ID#
Official Game Skill Token (rank C) detected.
Please refer to your manual for future instructions on acquiring skills and skill tokens. Thank you for your Business!
It was just what he was expecting. He still had a chance to make it out of this alive. Furthermore, it was a good thing, too— he was running out of air. Even now, he could feel the effects of the strange gases taking their toll on him. If he was going to do this, he had to act quickly.
...or maybe not ...
Jonah was stunned at the sheer number of skills that were listed in the shop. Even the C-ranked skills numbered in the billions, let alone the D and E-ranked list. He supposed he should have expected as much from a shop that claimed to cater to 100,000 Galaxies... Anything he could conceive was listed here, from Marksmanship to Ancient Sword Techniques, Magic to Black Tech level Mechanical skills.
It would take lifetimes just to look through the list, and based on how thick the fumes were becoming, he presumed he was minutes away from being plopped into the snake's stomach. Thankfully, there was a filter and search option.
Sword Skills? He didn't have any weapons.
Martial Arts? He barely had minutes left, let alone time to cultivate.
Magic? Ya, throwing a fireball into the gas-filled belly of a giant snake you were inside sounded like an AMAZING Idea.
Maybe something like ice or wind could have helped, but any skill that seemed might be useful enough to help him escape and not kill him outright was at least B-rank. As the minutes ticked on, he became more and more desperate. Jonah's aim shifted from trying to escape, and more towards simply surviving. Finally, something caught his eye.
Minor Acid Resistance
[When life gives you lemons, get tougher skin]
Passive Growth Skill: This causes the user's skin to toughen and become thicker, granting the user minor resistance to weak acids and other corrosive substances.
It wasn't much, but it was something. Plus, his gut told him that it would be something he would need very, very soon. Not only that but the "Growth Skill" aspect of it was intriguing. Oftentimes in novels, this indicated a skill that could become more powerful over time. That could be beneficial. The only downside was that it was Rank E, the lowest of the bunch. He didn't know how skills were categorized, but if his impression of the other Rank E skills was right, its effects might not be too powerful. Besides that point, to get the skill, he would have to split his only token, meaning he would be limited to at most D rank skills in the future.
Jonah hesitated, unsure if it was the right choice.
That was, until with a final push of the meaty wall around him forcing him down, making him slip into the bubbling pool of stomach acid, the size of a giant waterbed.