The lone Sun lingered in the sky, far longer than it should have, according to Conrad’s watch.
It was still calibrated on the day-night cycle of his old world, Conrad knew that.
On it, the digital display marked half past eight post meridian.
Conrad looked at the sky, seeing how visibility was still good, as the lone sun was yet to follow its tweens beyond the horizon.
Its “brothers” had already gone past the horizon, leaving a single, small sun to lit the sky, painting it with a warm orange light, along with the dancing luminosity of the dancing aurora.
Two things became clear to Conrad. First, this world’s “days” would last longer than those from his old world.
The second thing, was that his watch was practically useless. It would not signal the correct time, and the compass on it was even more useless.
Conrad hoped that the night would last long enough to let him rest for a bit, but, at the same time, part of him hoped that it would not last too long.
A night spent inside a forest was a stressing experience even in his origin world, and here, in this place so strange to him, it would be surely worse.
Still, he used that extra sunlight to look for a place to rest.
He initially considered climbing up a tree, but those in the vicinitiy were too high, unsafe to climb with only his arms and legs, without any rope or tool to use.
Although, he admitted to himself, what he feared most was that his bad habit of turning around too much in his sleep would prove to be fatal, if he chose to sleep among those branches.
If he had time, and suitable tools, he would consider building himself some kind of ammock, perched up in the trees and suspended between two sturdy enough branches.
But that thought, he quickly dismissed, as walking along the riverbank provided him with another solution.
He came to find himself near a cliff, protrudring to the river from a low rock formation, that extended itself from the forest to the water.
The rocks reached a relatively low height, reaching four of five meters of height, not even half the height of the trees around.
And, he observed,the surface of that rock formation that was facing the river looked easy to climb up.
Much to Conrad’s surprise and relief, halfway through the top, there was a large opening.
The entrance of a cave.
Having a roof, albeit a rock one, would be incredibly beneficial, concluded Conrad.
If that cave was big enough, he could build a fireplace in there, and warm himself enough during the night.
If it was too small, however, a fire would be too dangerous to light in a cramped space.
There were some risks tied to the place, considered Conrad. Namely, it could be the home of something. But, he thought it was worth a shot.
Conrad came closer to the rock formation, keeping wary of his surroundings.
No sight of large animals, or small ones for that matter.
Beside the fishes splashing into shallow water, and the insects that buzzed around, he only found traces of the passage of animals.
Sometimes, he would see shapes dart through the vegetation.
But, the little buggers were too fast for his eyes to follow, appearing only as blurred lines that disappeared quickly into the woods.
As he came close enough, Conrad took some stones into his hand, throwing them into the opening of the cave.
Seen up close, it was bigger than he thought.
The first four stones missed, pitifully.
The fifth, and sixth, and the three that came after however, hit their mark, dinging each time they hit rock inside the cave, ricocheting their way inside.
Nothing came out of the dark entrance.
Still, Conrad knew, it did not mean that it was empty.
To be sure, really sure of it, Conrad realized he had all but a single option. To climb up, and see for himself.
The opening was slightly seven or eight meters above ground, halfway through the top of that greyish rock formation.
Still, the climb up from ground level looked easy enough, not impossibly vertical and full of places where he could grip his hands and put his feet to support himself.
He first tried a few kicks on the rock, on groud level, to see if it would crumble. It didn’t, and, seen up close, it had a resemblance to granite, a hard stone speckled with darker dots of different minerals.
The color of it was different, he observed, gray rock speckled with green and bluish dots, but the structure of it was roughly similiar.
At least, that’s what Conrad thought. He was by no means an expert on geology, and he knew he could be wrong.
He tried a few of the handholds that the rock provided, first putting his full weight into them.
When nothing happened, he took a wide breath, and began his ascension.
Then he stopped, pondering if he should already gather wood and stones for his fireplace, or climb up first, assess the situation, and then gather wood and other things if the cave was suitable to be used.
He decided for the latter. It would be more taxing on his strength, he thought, but for him it seemed better to play it safe than hurl extra weight up, in case the cave was not suitable, or worse, it had already some occupants.
It was tiresome, but he managed to reach the top.
Careful, he crawled inside of the cave. It was dark, but wide enough for him to pass while standing up, and even if he stretched his hands over his head, he could not reach the ceiling of it.
Not that he did, since he was still in precarious conditions at that moment.
As the cave was dark inside, he reached for his pocket and the lighter in it.
He was a bit conflicted about using it, since the liquid inside of it could be precious in later times, but he needed to see, and he had not the necessary tools nor the time to prepare and light a torch at the moment.
He took the lighter, and used it.
When the small flame flickered on, he almost jumped backwards in fear. Out of luck, he did not, stopping his recoil before he could misstep his own foot and fall out of the cave.
He drew a sigh of relief, trying to calm down his racing hearth.
As the light from the small flame illuminated the inside of the cave, a rock formation appeared to him like the snout of a sleeping animal, in the spur of the moment.
Instead, after the initial fright and to a closer inspection, he realized it was just rock.
Not even shaped like anything that resembled an animal, that image was only the product of his own stressed mind.
The cave went deeper, for almost seven meters, as Conrad counted and measured the steps between the entrance and the rocky end of that place.
It grew smaller at the end, but was suitable enough for him to spend the night, with a campfire to warm him.
And he would need it, given the humidity of the place.
Still, it was shelter. Not the best, but better than staying in the open, and on ground level.
He left some of the items he was carrying, strapped to his clothes while he climbed up.
The large fish, his supposed dinner, along with the other materials and stones he gathered.
The only things he kept, some stripes of cloth, a few shards of those sharpened stones, and his makeshift spear.
Just in case something nasty decided to show itself.
He steeled himself, before heading down the path he came.
Climbing down was slightly more difficult, for the slight sense of vertigo that he felt when forced to look down.
It was curious, to him, since he never suffered from the likes.
When he finally managed to reach ground level once again, a noise popped in his head, making him almost piss himself.
New Skil Unlocked! Physical Fitness (1/10)- Type: Passive (Soma)
– Increases physical prowess
New Skill Unlocked! Climbing (1/10)- Type: General (Soma)
–Aids performing the action of “climbing”
<<Oh, new ones>>
He muttered to himself, knowing that there would be no answer.
No matter how many times he asked or thought about information or explanations, that metallic voice would not answer, nor a window would pop up except for when he actually did something. Whatever that “system” was, or whoever controlled it, it would not answer, limiting itself to announce new events, without further explanation or word spent.
Still, this whole thing was a mystery to Conrad.
He did not know how it worked, or how to make it work.
The “skills” he got, he knew he gained them out of luck.
He even tried to experiment on some things, performing certain actions to see if he would gain a skill afterward.
Much to his satisfaction, normal biological processes would not require or grant a skill.
Whne he considered it, the thought of earning a “pissing” or “farting” skill amused him. In some aspects, Conrad was childish, especially for what concerned his sense of humor. And he was fully aware of it.
Still, he made some tests, and learned something about the process of gaining skills. He concluded that it was not something related to the complexity of the action, or how much he repeated it.
Much to his frustration, he had to admit that he lacked too many informations about the system, and all his considerations on the matter were only guesses at that point.
To kill time, he made a small stick of wood rotate between his fingers, quicker and quicker as time went by.
But, although the action was complex, and voluntary, it did not grant a skill to him.
Conrad took a look at the sky, and decided to focus on more pressing matters than to spend time doing “tests”.
He gathered some wood, choosing the fallen branches and driftwood that looked dry enough.
Next, some leaves, brown and crispy, that would allow him to start his fire.
He tried to bang together some stones, hitting one with the other, and keeping those that would let out a spark.
Although, he would not use that method to start his first fire.
He knew another one, using friction and some sticks along with light flammable materials.
Conrad walked to the forest’s outskirts. Among the tall Scalethorn trees, there were some smaller ones, that his Identify named as Kalu trees.
Unlike the Scalethorn trees, this one had a twisted trunk, and a spongy, thick bark that easily came loose from the tree.
Much like cork, but greenish in color and with a pungent, sour odor.
Underneath it, the trunk was covered in brown fibers.
He used some pointed rocks and his pocket knife to scrape away some large pieces of bark from the older trees, along with the fibers underneath it.
The youngest trees were not useful to Conrad, their bark too hard to scrape. But the older trees, they had useful things on them. First, the bark itself.
Next, the fibers underneath it, in some of the oldest, dried branches.
It was brown and crumbled with the slightest touch.
Moreover, it was deprived of any humidity, the ideal combustible for a spark to start a proper fire.
He grabbed as much of the material as he could, and tied it together with the remaing stripes of tissue from his former shirt.
Next, he used another stripe to tie the “package” to his clothes, and went back to his refuge, ready to climb up again.
He ignored the ringing noise and the blue flickering lights, dismissing them for later.
Once inside the cave, he deposited the materials he gathered, and focused his attention on the messages.
Skill Level UP! Gathering +1 (3/10)
Skill Level UP! Identify +1 (2/10)
Skill Level UP! Climbing +1 (2/10)
Skill Level UP! Physical Fitness +1 (2/10)
He did not know why, but he was satisfied by that notion, the ringing sound and the message that followed.
It gave him a sense of progress, although he could not explain why.
Conrad looked around, trying to figure out how to use the remaining hours of light. The light outside was still strong enough for him to risk another descent to gather material, but he needed to choose the most indispensable thing, what he really lacked and desperately needed.
Looking at the bare rock floor, he took a mental note of the first thing he needed to gather.
Leaves, lots of them.
<<Otherwise, I will have to spend the night sleeping on bare rock>>
Once again, he spoke his thoughts out loud, almost without realizing it.
He shook his head, returning his thought to the mental list of items he needed.
Then, he climbed down once again, heading to the forest’s outskirts, grabbing only his makeshift spear and some tissue strips.
Conrad had the time to do ten more trips before he finally felt satisfied by the amount of materials gathered.
He considered that there was still enought light outside for him to do some more trips, but he decided against it, in order to better prepare for the night.
Sitting down on the bare rock of his cave, he began to sort through the items he gathered.
A large stash of big leaves, that he began to process by cutting off the rigid stem and setting it aside.
From those leaves, he would make himself some semblance of a bed. Next, he looked at his supposed dinner, the large fish he caught.
He cursed under his lips, and took the fish in hands, heading down once more.
Conrad forgot that he needed to gut and clean it, and he did not want to do it inside his cave.
There was the risk that the smell of blood would attract some animals, but mostly Conrad did not want his first shelter to reek of fish gut and blood.
And so, he headed down, took the fish to the river and started gutting it and cleaning it. With him, he brought one of the larger leaves.
He would wrap the fish meat in there, tossing aside guts, fins and scales.
He reconsidered about the scales, especially those on the fish’s head. The reason for that was their hardness and flexibility.
Conrad did not have any use for them yet, but, he considered, in this kind of environment everything could be of some use.
The same consideration he did for the fish’s bones. After cleaning the meat, he took the bones to a spot on the riverbank, where, during the day, he had spotted an interesting thing.
The terrain on that spot bulged up, forming a structure with several small holes in it.
From there, a line of blue insects walked out of their nest. They were strange little things, with a “wormy” body and long antennae, but Conrad noted that those creatures behaved exactly like ants.
He deposited the fish bones there, hoping that the colony would clean them up from meat remains, leaving behind only the bone.
He often did the same when, as a child, he visited his aunt on her seaside home. Memories of those times emerged in Conrad’s thoughts, of when he fished out some good looking shells from the sea, and in order to clean up the shell, his aunt taught him the “ant nest trick”.
He would leave it near an ant colony, and, after some time, he would pick up the shell, cleaned from any piece of its previous occupant.
Now, he hoped that those weird little bugs did the same. He didn’t really need the fishbones, but he surmised he could use them as some sort of needles, to stitch together leaves when he would manage to fix himself some kind of string.
Having done that, he returned to pick up the fish and head into the cave once more.
Once inside, as he did before, he took a look at the blue window.
Skill Level UP! Climbing +1 (3/10)
New Skill Unlocked! Dismantle (1/10)- Type: Active (Soma- 1 SP)
– Usable only on corpses/ plants/ non-living materials. Activating the skill will dismantle the object, yielding its components
Skill Synergy Unlocked! Dismantle ↔ Gathering
(When Dismantling/Gathering, bonus materials will be awarded)
Congratulations! You have unlocked the first Skill Synergy! As a reward, bonus Stat points will be awarded!
The message left Conrad slightly confused, but what happened afterwards was even more confusing.
His head started to spin, and once again, he felt that weird sensation as when the system first started.
It caused not pain this time, but rather some kind of ticklish unrest spreading through his nerves, reaching the head.
Then, the pain came, a jolt of it, like a knife was being stuck into Conrad’s temples.
And, quick as it came, it stopped.
Conrad opened his eyes once again, only to find that his vision was somehow improved.
Not only that, but his movements were also different, he noted. Somehow more coordinated, precise than before.
He shuddered, thinking about the message before, and the implications of it.
His Stats had changed, like in a game. But, unlike a game, this was real.
Those statistics, he considered, were not some random number, they represented his body. And, if those changed, concluded Conrad, his body would change.
He dismissed the blue message, still weirded out by what happened.
Outside, daylight had almost waned completely, and the forest’s song was beginning to change.
Night was falling, and with it, another set of creatures began to roam the woods.
Strange noises began to linger in the air, growls and shrieks like Conrad ever heard.
He felt immensely glad for that small cave, as he started to work his hands into building a fire.
He arranged the stones and the pieces of wood, like he did oh so many times when he was little and his father first, then his friends, took him camping in the woods.
And, it was from those days that he knew how to start a fire. He had a lighter with him, but though it best to save it for later times.
He took a suitable piece of the bark, not too small, not too big, then he set some dried leaves and fiber on it.
Then, he took a straight, flexible stick, tying a stripe of cloth to both ends, bending it to form a small arch. Like a miniature bow.
Before he did so, he wrapped the cloth strip onto another stick, in a way that, if he moved the small arch, the stick would rotate on itself.
Next, he worked, moving the arch back and forth while pressing the straight stick on the piece of bark, making it rotate over the fiber and dried leaves, letting friction do its work.
It became heated first, then a puff of white smoke began to rise after some work put into it.
Conrad brought it closer to his mouth, lightly blowing air onto the clump of fiber and leaves, until a small, weak flame began to dance.
Grinning, he put the piece of bark under the woods arranged into his fireplace, adding combustible to the fire and taking care to not choke out the flames.
After a few moments, fire was burning inside the small cave, its light dancing on the rocky walls of Conrad’s shelter.
He was pleased to see how the smoke from it was not suffocating, as the cave was large enough for the smoke to disperse.
After letting the fire burn for some time, he then started to fix himself some dinner.
He put the fish on a stick, and set it over the fireplace to cook, blocking the base of the stick with some of the loose stones that were inside the cave.
He did the same with some vegetables he found, and a few edible mushrooms he picked up after identifying them as edible with his skill.
Famished, he still waited for the fish to be done.
Eating raw ingredients might be dangerous, he thought. And he waited, patiently.
As he waited for his dinner to be ready, Conrad headed to the entrance of his little cave.
A chilling breeze made him shudder, shirtless as he was, but he resisted, peeking out of the entrance to see the sky above.
Night sky was a marvel, a dark purple color sparkling with so many stars that it left Conrad’s mouth gaping in wonder.
A lone moon was up in the sky, red in color and far bigger than the Moon that Conrad remembered.
Its surface was also different, smoother. And it had a ring surrounding it.
But, as pretty as the sight was, the sounds that the night brought were not as much.
Things were moving below, creeping among the trees and bushes. Roars, and hisses, and a curiously creepy sound, as if a bird was trying to imitate a human laughter.
It made Condrad shook his head and recoil back into his cave, to the warmth and light of his fire.
Consuming his dinner, he was pleased of the result. It lacked salt, but it was savory, and the mushroom had a nice, although unusual taste.
Moreover, he knew that a meal caught, harvested and cooked with his own hands, it always tasted better to him than those served in most restaurants.
He smiled when the system notified him of the newly acquired cooking skill.
New Skil Unlocked! Cooking (1/10)- Type: General (Soma)
– Aids in performing the basic action of “cooking”
Before curling himself to sleep, he summoned his status screen, gazing at it.
He felt different from the night before, where his world was still work, money and gray concrete.
Not only for the shock of this new world, or for the stat’s influence. It was something deeper, and Conrad knew the reason for it.
It was the open air that made him feel like this, at peace, content, even if his situation was all but peaceful or something to be glad about it.
He knew about that, and he surprised himself for how calm he was, for how he was enjoying it.
Like a trip to the woods outside the city, he thought.
That too, it always made him happy whenever he did it.
And, with each vacation or day off, he would dart away from his house and immerse himself into Nature for some time.
Because, Conrad loathed the city.
The oppressive rithms, boring job at his desk, everyday flowing the same as the one before it.
He was unhappy back then, repeating himself day after day that it was what he wanted, what he studied for, what he struggled for.
But that feeling was always there, gnawing at him from deep inside.
Sure,he thought, he had a nice car, a respectable bank account, and soon, he would have a nice apartment were to live.
But, that life, he knew, it was not for him.
Every moment was a pact between he and himself, to give up what he really wanted in order to pursue that thig called success.
And how empty it looked to him, right now, the same as it did whenever he had enough time to spare that he managed to go back to the countryside.
The air there was clean, and wide spaces full of nothing but nature always soothed Conrad’s mind.
Moreover, there was that feeling in the air, the one he got when his barefeet touched the grass, whenever he picked a ripe fruit right from the branch were it grew.
He longet for it, and being there, in that wilderness, had the same effect on him as the countryside had.
All in all, considering the possible dangers of this unknown place, Conrad felt a thing he almost forgot during his life in the city.
He shook his head, focusing on the blinking blue screen in front of his nose, as he laid down on the heap of leaves that was to be his bed.
Conrad’s eyes ran down the list of stats and skills he gained, and his grin widened further.
He muttered, feeling himself drifting into sleep.
Mind Mosaic Status:
Soma: HP 10/10
Pneuma: AP 1/1
Tekna: Sp 1/1
General: Gathering (3/10); Crafting (1/10); Climbing (3/10); Cooking (1/10)
Active: Identify (1/10), Dismantle (1/10)
Passive: Physical Fitness (2/10)