Vol. 1 Ch. 5: A nightmare?
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Ethan woke up to birds chirping in his face.

Wait… bird?!

His eyes snapped open. The bird pecked his face and darted away.

"Where… am I?" he thought out loud and inspected the surroundings.

Thick, luscious trees stretched as far as he could see. Sun peeked from the cracks between the trees. It was a forest no matter how you look at it.

Is Mio playing a prank on me?

Last night, he drank with Valentina until they puked on the floor, bringing a fun end to the party. Then, Mio cleaned him up and dragged him to the bed.

Why the hell was he sleeping in a forest?

The nearest forest from his home needed a three hours drive and even that barely had many trees unlike this.

He craned his neck and squinted at the sun. Columbus city wasn't this warm.

Someone kidnapped me in my sleep?

Among the people he knew, only Celia and Andrew had the power to send him out of the city. However, Celia's pranks didn't go this far and Andrew would never waste his time on a childish prank.

Wait, Valentina and Regina. They were also there last time. Are they behind this?

Those two had no beef with him besides they had a lot of fun last night. He ruled out this possibility for now and checked his t-shirt and trousers. 

No smartphone and communication tool.

He groaned and leaned against a tree, scratching his head for some idea.

Minutes passed by, but nothing came up in his mind except the worst possible outcomes.

What if someone really dumped him in a forest to participate in a survival show similar to the anime where people used explosives to battle each other? What if Celia wanted revenge for rejecting her again? What if Mio—

He slapped his cheeks to clear the negative speculations budding inside his head. They were just baseless assumptions.

Celia acted on her whims but she wasn't so petty. She was charismatic and strong-headed. Besides, last night, she looked sincere about her confession.

Let's treat this as a survival game for the time being. I won't lose anything either way.

He won't have any regret if this really turned out to be some shitshow. Shelter, some food, and clean water—the most important elements for surviving in the wild.

He sprang to his feet and dusted his grey shirt. Every direction looked the same, so he chose a random one and advanced. A crunching sound echoed as he crushed a twig under his feet, breaking the serenity.

No point in attracting some wild bea—

Roaaaaar! A roar resounded in the forest, frightening the birds up top the trees. Ethan's head jerked to the left.

Bear? Lion? Tiger?

Ethan gulped. He was no expert in distinguishing between them, nor did he want to stay here to shake hands with the owner of the earth-shaking roar.

He forced his trembling legs to retreat. The thought of climbing a tree to hide emerged but he shook it away. Many animals could climb, even faster than him.

Roaaaar! Another roar echoed in the distance. This one was sharper than the last.

Screeeeech! Groooowl!...

In a second, hundreds of different cries filled the forest. Ethan's walk broke into a sprint, his heart hammering against the chest.

What the… fuck? What the fuck?!

A screech resounded above and a shadow covered him. He lifted his gaze and his steps froze.

The upper part of the trees was burned and reduced to nothing. A giant bird floated there, with shining red feathers that seemed to burn endlessly, radiating heat as if the sun had descended on the Earth.

It resembled the legendary Phoenix.

Phoenix stopped its movements and glanced down. Ethan's golden eyes met Phoenix's golden pupils and his legs quivered. But the adrenaline rushing in his head prevented him from collapsing.

This is another world...

The realization was not as sweet as he used to imagine. There was no princess to greet him, no god to grant him overpowered abilities, no cheats, nothing of the sorts. He was thrust into the world with nothing but a pair of shitty clothes.

"Fuck… fuck… Fuck!"

He cursed at the situation and gritted his teeth. He had no chance to fight a legendary bird. Hell, even a wild animal could tear him into pieces.

But he refused to go down this easily. Otherwise, he wouldn't be the same man who survived a yandere sister for two entire years.

His gaze flew around the place and stopped at a thick tree. He wasted no time and darted for it, taking cover behind the broad trunk. It was better than standing out in the open.

Phoenix, however, had some plan of its own as it appeared above Ethan and looked down with eyes narrowed in amusement. It flapped its wings once and flame swirled, forming numerous spears that glared down at him. In another moment, a dense web of burning lances blanketed the sky.

Think, Ethan, think. Try something. Can it understand me?

He took a deep breath. "Hey, can't we talk this out?"

No answer.

"We can make a deal or something. We have no enmity whatsoever. You will gain nothing by killing a weakling like me."

His blabber only received a cold glare from Phoenix.

Shriek! Phoenix's shriek brought down the spears one by one.

God, fuck this Phoenix.

He would be the worst Isekai Protagonist ever to get killed in just half an hour. But strangely, his fear had disappeared at that moment, only regrets remained in his heart. To not being able to meet Mio again. To not accept Celia's confession and try out something. A little regret to not say the last thanks to Andrew, who always looked out for him, and a lingering regret to not meet his mother again.

Regret, huh.

Ding! A sudden ding echoed in his head and a gray window appeared in his line of sight.

You gained a new Aspect for having deep regrets: Lament (I)

Ding! Another ding birthed a hot sensation in his heart. The same sensation he felt when he managed to knock out an armed robber to protect Mio and Celia.

His eyes unconsciously narrowed and glared back at Phoenix. 

You gained a new Aspect for remaining strong under the death threat: Courage (I)

The spears stopped an inch before him and vanished.

But the sensation inside him grew. His golden eyes glowed, despite the light around him, as though emitting his resolve.

Ding! Another small ding reverberated in his head.

Aspects Regret and Courage crystallized into a skill: Survivor's Vigor.

+10 Prana for gaining your first skill.

Prana requirements met. 

Do you wish to consume 10 Prana to unlock it?

Yes / No

Ethan's eyes went to the hologram-like window floating before him.

Survivor's Vigor… it looks like a skill from an RPG...

His gaze drifted to Phoenix still floating up there.

"Interesting."

A female voice reached him; it belonged to Phoenix.

"Show us your courage."

Saying those words, Phoenix vanished from his sight.

"Show us your courage," Ethan repeated her words that sounded like he was just a toy to fulfill her amusement.

There was a possibility that this bird summoned him here. He wiped the sweat on his face and hung his head.

What now?

Roaaaar! The vicious roar reminded him of the danger looming everywhere. He mustered strength in his legs and ran in the opposite direction.

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