"What's going on here? Make way for the Chief!"
A deep voice interrupted the atmosphere of shock and disbelief that had come over the area because of the weird utterance from the youth.
This finally caused those watching to come to their senses. Some chuckled with mirth, a few blushed with innocence, but most frowned and looked like they were about to curse at him.
As soon as that deep voice entered the ears of Aaron and Woof, both of them sunk to the ground and entered alert positions.
They appeared identical: poised to leap at a moment's notice to either fight or flee.
The thick muscles of the wolf-like dog rippled under its snow-white fur that had splashes of brown here and there, and Aaron's lean figure also displayed a potential for explosive power that had been honed after years in the jungle.
Both of them had sensed a powerful threat.
Seeing this scene, expressions of seriousness appeared on the faces of those watching. As they were people who lived in this age in a hamlet that was always at risk of being overrun, their senses were sharp, and right now, those senses were telling them that these two were dangerous.
Together, the circle of onlookers expanded outward. It looked like this was a practiced move, as even the children kept silent on noticing the looks on the faces of those around them. They moved together with the crowd, causing distance to appear between them and the two in the center.
Watching this, Aaron and Woof were surprised by the synchronization, but they kept their eyes on the direction from which the voice had appeared.
In a few seconds, the crowd on that side parted to reveal a beast they were very familiar with.
The sight of that beast made Woof's hackles rise, as it had a special vendetta against this species.
A half-foot wide head, and a 10 feet long body with dark scales which shone in the sun.
It was a Flame-Tongued Viper, whose angled eyes were fixed on the two of them.
Right now, they were standing just inside the gate, where there was a large clearing surrounded by those strange wooden structures that they had seen from afar. Yet, they knew that even though there was only 300 or 400 meters of distance between them and the exit, it would be tough to cross it if they didn't take care of this beast right away.
Aaron still remembered the first time the two of them had crossed one of these beasts. They were quite common in the forest, but there were very few which grew to this tongue.
The name hadn't been given to it because it had a literal, flaming tongue. No, it was because of its ability to shoot flaming balls of poison at its targets with breathtaking speed.
In fact, the name had appeared in Aaron's mind when he saw the beast, and he had gone with it, before later finding out the reason.
So, if they turned their backs and chose to run, they would find themselves bombarded by those fast-moving projectiles which would cause a nasty burn.
Of course, that wasn't even the most worrying thing. No, that honor went to the poison, which would numb those it came in contact with in under a minute, causing them to become defenseless meat to be snacked upon. In fact, the whole objective of the flame was to breach the thick defenses of other species so that the poison could take effect.
Aaron and Woof didn't even have to look at each other to decide on a strategy. They had done this so many times that it was drilled deep into their minds and bodies.
As soon as the indication that the viper was about to spit out its first load of poison became visible, they would split apart and move in a zigzag pattern, which would result in the viper becoming dizzy, Through very painful experimentation, they had found out this weakness of the viper.
However, the viper just reached within 200 meters of them before stopping and curling up into a ball.
Closing its eyes, it laid down its head on top of the ball and…yawned.
Seeing this, both Aaron and Woof got dumbfounded expressions on their faces. Woof even tilted its head to look at that ball, while suspicion started to arise in its mind.
Hey, what's wrong with you? Why do you look like you're so drowsy? Is this some sort of trick to lull us into a false sense of security?
"You made me wake up Ace during its nap. Who are you? Why are you disturbing the peace? Where are you from? You do know that I can lock you up according to the rules set down by the World Government, right?"
A stocky man wearing coarse clothes walked up to the viper and stroked its head, which made the surprise that Aaron and Woof were feeling grow.
So…other beasts could gain companions, too? Like the two of them?
Now that they had a moment to take in the details of the viper, they noticed a few jarring facts that they had ignored before.
The viper was fat.
The ones they always encountered in the forest were highly agile, ready to move at lightning speed at a moment's notice. Yet, this one only looked like it was only capable of strolling around lazily, which would make it prime prey for the many predators who would have loved to snack on its bulging, oversized body.
Also, the moment that man's hand touched the viper's head, the viper closed its eyes comfortably and leaned forward, as if it loved how it felt.
What the hell was going on?!
Aaron turned to look at Woof, who only looked back with that same expression of befuddlement.
Yes, something was definitely wrong.
Yet, seeing their expressions, something seemed to dawn on the stocky man.
"Oh, I see! You must have gotten lost in the forest and survived on your own after having your gathering run over by beasts or Teras! It happens, you know. Children get kidnapped and have no option but to survive on their own if they are lucky enough to escape captivity. Most die, but I've heard that some manage to survive with the help of a few kind Teras. How much do you know, boy? Do you know what year it is? Do you know anything about the world?"
Aaron could understand what the man was saying, but most of it didn't make sense.
However, that last line made him shake his head.
Seeing this, a burst of booming laughter appeared from the stocky man before he spread his hands and spoke in a grand tone.
"BWAHAHA, I can't believe I found someone rare like you! I'm Ernst, the Hamlet Chief of Skystead Hamlet! Ascenders always think twice before challenging Ace, my Flame-Tongued Viper! It's the year 2220, and you, boy, are in the Age of Teras! You can keep your head low and live like an insect, or you can rise up and aspire to tread the 'Path to the Stars' as an Ascender! Whatever you choose, be careful, as safety is something that no longer exists for humanity!"
This grand statement made expressions of consternation appear on the faces of many who had gathered, yet Aaron's eyes opened wide while his jaw dropped.
His heart thundered in his chest, and his mind was in turmoil as he had just obtained a clue regarding the second and last sentence which had been in his mind from the moment he had awakened.
"If you wish to find out who you are, then Ascend to the top of the Path to the Stars!"
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I'm an aspiring author who fell in love with writing the moment I wrote my first story.
Most Notable Work: World Domination System, an 800,000 word ongoing fantasy novel which can be found at https://www.webnovel.com/book/11413811606356705/World-Domination-System