A Strange Sky: Chapter 4- Death’s Grip

Author’s Note: New Chapter here, this one was fun to write, awful to edit 😦 Hope you enjoy it. As usual, thank you for taking a bit of your time to read my work, and a special thanks to the kind soul that some days ago made a donation to me. It was the first time I received one, and to an aspiring author like me, it means a lot. Not only for the monetary value itself, but also, as a recognition of some sort, that, somewhere out there, there is at least a human being that thinks my work good or entertaining enough to spend some money on it. Anyway, here is the chapter!


 

Conrad woke up, gasping for air as his muscles jolted and convulsed. Pain jolted all over his body, deep in his muscles, like knives were being twisted into his own flesh. His vision still hazy, out of focus, the world blurred around him.

Drawing slow, deep breaths, he tried to calm down his racing heart, as the world began to regain focus in his view.

The events that unfolded before still burned into his mind. He brought his hand to his bare chest, caressing the point where he received the lethal blow from that accursed monster.

Now, there was not a single trace of it, his skin intact where it should have been ripped and gouged, exposing muscles and gnashed bones.

He recalled the events that led him to awaken once again in that spot, the same one where he first opened his eyes on this new and strange world.

He was hiding among the low vegetation, hoping for a chance to escape the stalking beast. Instead,

the Lyander surprised him, and he found himself knocked off his feet, his head pounding and his vision blackening out.

Something hit him, but the beast was still far off. He tried to struggle, raising himself from the ground but failing to do so, as his balance was strangely thrown off by another hit.

Conrad remembered the feeling of dread he felt when he realized that the beast was using some kind of remote attack to hurt him, keeping its distance. Moreover, he felt like each hit he took was somehow calculated to not hurt him too much, as if the Lyander was only toying with him.

Another strange blow from that unseen force reached him, knocking the air out of his lungs. Meanwhile, the monster advanced, slowly, its tentacles wiggling around while it leisurely walked towards Conrad.

Panic took him, grasping his heart and mind with a cold, hard grip, as he realized that everything was futile in front of that monster.

He could not run, nor could he hope to overpower the beast. For the first time in his life, he understood the truest meaning of fear.

He soiled himself, his body reacting to the looming menace of a predator, following those instincts ingrained in the deepest part of his mind, in a last, instinctive attempt to mask his scent.

Trembling, shuddering even, Conrad gritted his teeth, already having accepted the truth of that moment.

He knew his life would end, gnashed and maimed by the Lyander’s jaws.

And yet, something flared in his mind, yelling, a single desire burning bright and dangerous.

He gripped his spear, feeling the brittle wood of its shaft, knowing how fragile it was, how its point would not even be able to leave even a scratch on the monster’s black, glistening hide.

And yet, he bellowed a desperate cry, and rushed towards the creature.

It was a desperate move, born from the lack of other options for Conrad to take.

If he ran, the beast would chase him down and kill him. If he hid in the shadows, he would be once again be subjected to that strange force that the Lyander emitted, and then, after the monster would become tired of playing with him, he would die.

Those thoughts made him furious. If he was to die no matter what he tried, Conrad thought, he would at least go out fighting.

And so, he rushed forward, his hands brandishing a pointed stick, a man covered by ragged clothes, yelling and glaring at its foe.

The Lyander stopped for a moment, only to answer Conrad’s voice with a powerful roar. The sound of it made Conrad shudder, as he felt the air in his lungs tremble from the bellowing sound, his hair standing on his skin.

And yet, he advanced.

He thrust his spear towards the Lyander’s snout, a shabby, ungraceful attempt at stabbing the creature.

The Lyander simply side hopped, and retaliated with a sweep of its front leg.

Conrad felt a burning pain in his chest, and he had the nerve to look down to it. He saw his own flesh cleaved open, blood flowing and spilling down, painting the forest soil in crimson stains.

His view flashed red, and he fell on his knees.

The last thing he remembered, were the strange jaws of that accursed creature opening in front of his face.

And then, he woke up in that place. Like the first time he opened his eyes to this new world, even the pain was the same.

He snickered, his chest hurting with every motion. But he knew that the pain would come to pass, as his health regenerated. After all, Conrad had just cheated death, and was aware of it.

Although, he knew that he did not really “cheat” death. The Lyander did kill him, he was sure of it. But this strange Mosaic System revealed to him a new and wonderful function that it had. Like in a game, death was not permanent. He still had to check if dying had some kind of demerit or malus, like reduced stats or something similar.

He felt still too weak to actually go through his notifications, and he decided to wait for his health to regenerate before giving the matter some thought. After all, his head and body hurt like hell at the moment, and he preferred to have a clear mind, free of pain, to actually confront and take conclusions on what just happened to him.

He even managed to fall asleep for some time, feeling strangely secure in that place. When he woke up once again, his health was about half of its maximum value. He still felt dizzy, and his chest ached a bit, but his head was now clear.

Conrad rose to his feet, and tried to walk, then he tried to run and jump. Everything worked perfectly, and he felt fine, apart from the notifications flashing on the lower corner of his field of view.

He sat down on the moss covered rock, and decided to take a good look at the notifications.

As usual, the messages were divided by color, red and blue. He decided to leave the blue ones for later, focusing on the other kind.

Red windows were the majority, most of them suggesting him to immediately retreat from the high level monster.

<<Bit too late for that>>

He mumbled, dismissing the red notifications as soon as he read them. Some were damage reports, and he laughed when he saw how much damage the attack from that strange beast caused to him, realizing that a single attack could have erased his health at least sixty times over.

<<Six hundred damage…unbelievable>>

Then, the last of the red notifications came to his view.

Fret not, as death is not the end. That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons, even death may die. Now, rise once again…

He recognized those words, taken out of context here, but still representing a statement, implying that death was not absolute, as he recently learned. Still, he was surprised by the sudden interest of this strange “Mosaic System” in Lovecraft’s own writing.

But, as he recalled the Lyander’s appearance, wriggling tentacles and strange powers, he felt like the connection could be there after all.

That strange message was the last red one to appear. The others, the blue ones, were now the only things left for Conrad to examine.

Almost feeling like a child in front of a wrapped present, he was unaware of his own grin when he opened the first message.

New Skill Unlocked! Sneak (1/10) Type: Active (Tekna, 1sp)-

When active, Sneak will make you harder to detect, masking the sound of your steps and making you less visible when hidden among shadows

Skill Level Up! Sneak +1! (2/10)

He ran through some other messages, signaling how his Sneak skill rose up to level seven out of ten.

Perhaps, he tough, hiding from such a high level creature made the skill rise in proficiency with a high rate. Or, he considered, it could be related to the fact that he was in a “fight”. Following the game like logic, it was plausible that skills could level up faster when used in a direct confrontation, or in a life or death situation.

Then, Conrad took a good look at the last blue notification. He surmised that it referred to when he tried to attack the Lyander, failing miserably. And yet, the content of this blue window surprised him.

New Pattern Revealed- The Fool (0/100)- “A weak, pitiful man stands up, shattered weapon in hand, burning glare in his eyes and a powerful foe looming on him. Odds are stacked against him, and yet, he laughs and fights, powerless. And a fool he is, as without power, one is doomed to defeat”
New Skill Unlocked! Foolishness (1/10)- Type: Active (Pneuma, 1 SP)- The will to fight, even when odds are against you. Activating the skill grants a minor attack and defense buff. For two seconds, active skills that target higher level enemies do not consume SP. After use, no EXP will be gained for a whole day, and SP, AP will NOT regenerate for a whole day. But what is time, what is risk, to a fool?
Skill Level UP! Foolishness +4 (5/10)
New Skill Unlocked! Rush (1/10)- Type: Active (Soma, 2 SP)- Weapon in hand, close the distance between you and your target, granting a damage bonus and a chance to stun to the first attack (Combo Opener)
Skill Level UP! Rush +4 (5/10)
New Skill Unlocked! Pierce (1/10)- Type: Active (Soma, 1 SP)- Only possible with thrusting weapons, unleashes a forward thrust that inflicts physical damage
Skill Level UP! Pierce +4 (5/10)
New Skill Unlocked! Spear Mastery (1/10)- Type: Passive (Tekna)- A fang-less, talon-less creature, weak among the strong, grabs a fallen, dead branch. It grounds its point with stone, strengthens it with fire. It gains a fang, and the art to wield it…

Skill Level UP! Spear Mastery +1 (2/10)

Conrad grinned, even more than he already was. In total, he gained five new skills from his encounter with that monster.

The blue messages also revealed how he managed to obtain the skills during the fight. Sneak was easy to comprehend, and he knew he gained it when he tried to hide from the beast. But the others, it was an unbelievable chain of events that led him to gain them. When he finally gave up on running away, and he was ready to die, Conrad did face the creature. And that, he surmised, was the trigger to everything. In that moment, he gained the Foolishness skill, and he activated it, almost unknowingly. While recalling, Conrad did remember the feeling of spent SP, although in those confused moments he did not really think about using the skill. The rest was a consequence of Foolishness’s strange effect, as his actions led him to gain the skills, first Rush, then Pierce, and he used them, entranced by the situation. Foolishness allowed him to use the skills without any SP spent, and, even if he ultimately failed and died, the skills he received still gained some levels, since , he surmised, he used them against a vastly powerful opponent. Even more, that desperate action granted him the Spear Mastery skill, a powerful sounding passive skill. If he increased its level, Conrad thought, the skill would surely provide him with the means to defend himself.

Almost unbelievably to him, it seemed like dying made him more powerful, opening up a new Pattern for him to use, and several new skills to practice.

But, he soon discovered that the truth was different after all.

Even if death was not permanent, it had its heavy demerits.

As he stood up from the rock, he strolled away from his position, using his Map skill to find his way back.

Warning- Death’s Grip (Curse)
Death is not willing to let you go, and Patience is its virtue.
It waits, grinning, knowing that you will be back.
For a week it will wait, for a week it will grip your soul.
But a valiant soul, an unwavering mind might find strength in itself,
and escape once again…
As you escaped its grasp, Death is not willing to let you go.
Your Hit Points will be halved for an entire week,
as well as your SP, AP and their regeneration rate.
Escaping Death has its toll, and you lost all Experience and unassigned Tiles that you had.
Moreover, it will be impossible to gain Experience or new Tiles for the curse’s duration.
Having experienced the pain of Death itself, your body and mind are still recovering. As a consequence, your Stat Points have been reset to one, and it will be impossible to increase or allocate stat points when the curse is active.
Sleep will fail you, and food will not sate your hunger.
Sunlight and fire will lose their warmth, and Death’s icy breath will make your skin shudder in cold.

Conrad gulped down his saliva. This Death’s curse or whatever it was, it was truly a dreadful predicament. Too harsh of a punishment, he considered.

He started to feel cold. More and more, until he started trembling, his teeth clattering.

But, he steeled himself, and he pushed on. He used his Map skill to find the exact way to the cave, spending his last SP.

Shambling, swaying, Conrad throde on, following the path among those large trees, trying to reclaim his only sanctuary in this world.

He walked, and walked some more. Sometimes, he felt lost into the woods, betrayed by his own senses even if the Map showed him that the way was correct. But, he doubted it, confused by that everending sensation of deep cold that he felt.

He felt weak, and his stomach started to grumble. To sate his hunger, he stopped to pick up some fruit from a nearby tree, one that he recognized as edible. When he bit the succulent fruit, he almost threw up, as its taste was horrible, the foulest thing he ever had the misfortune to eat.

But he remembered how, the first time he picked that very same kind of fruit, it tasted good, kind of a mixed taste between strawberry and orange, sweet and acidic at the same time.

He was sure that the taste he was now experiencing, was due to the strange after effect of his “resurrection”. The cold too was due to that. And yet, the fruit had a sweet aroma, alluring and ripe, even more than he remembered.

The “curse” made food more appealing, more desirable, only to disappoint when you took a bite out of it, making it impossible to eat.

A twisted punishment, Conrad thought. But, he asked himself, was having a second chance worth the price he paid? After all, if things went differently, his life would be over. Instead, he concluded, he had to endure this for a week. An entire week of this world was an incredible amount of time, and, according to the message, he would not only lose the pleasure of food, or feel an intense cold, but he would also lose his sleep.

Yet, to Conrad, that price was definitely worth it.

<<Fuck it>>

He took a deep breath, and, once again, he bit into the soft fruit, resisting the will to throw up, trying to resist the awful taste it had.

The first bites were hard to swallow, and he retched and gagged, slobbering his mouth, chin and hands with juice and saliva.

The taste was horrible, but Conrad managed to gulp it down, after struggling with himself for some time.

Then, he resumed walking.

It was almost nightfall when he reached his cave, stumbling, the insane cold penetrating deep in his bones.

During his walk in the forest, he thought about it. The effect that this “curse” had on him. Seeing how sunlight shone above the treetops, and remembering how the same fruit that he felt disgusting actually tasted, he surmised that what he felt now was not real.

He felt cold, but his body was not actually cold. Food did taste like shit, but it was all in his mind.

And, if all of it was only in his mind, Conrad was sure that he would resist it. It would take him a lot of effort to do so, he knew, but he was determined to not give up.

He would endure.

Having reached his cave, he felt safer. Immediately, he began to gather the necessary for him to spend the upcoming, hellish days.

He gathered food, harvesting the mushrooms and plants he knew were edible. He tried to fish a bit, but it proved impossible given his conditions. His hands were shaking too much from the cold, and the water felt like it burned on his skin, the same sensation he felt when he fell into a frozen pond during his adolescence. The intense cold was unbearable, and he desisted, cursing under his lips.

He decided to concede this small victory to the curse, and focused on other tasks.

He gathered firewood, and the plants that he previously used to craft himself rope and strings. He gathered rocks, and used the hardest, sharpest ones to chop down some thin, straight young trees. Each was almost three meters tall, their trunk incredibly straight. Ideal for a spear, considered Conrad before actually cutting down the trees.

Then, he hauled his possessions to the cave.

Once in there, he started a fire, and consumed his dinner, trying his best to ignore the disgusting taste.

Struggling to keep his stomach from turning upside down, he sat on his bed of leaves, and began working.

He gathered his will, stopping his hands from trembling, the flames that flickered in the fireplaces giving him no warmth, no relief from the cold he felt.

<<A week like this. An entire week without sleep…will I make it?>>

He asked himself, and deep down, he answered the question he posed.

He would endure it.

During all night, he kept his hands busy, weaving some more rope from the vegetables he gathered, making himself satchels and baskets out of woven leaves and dried, thin branches.

Then, he started to strip the bark from those long, thin trees that he cut down earlier. He worked with his rock, cutting down wood until it reached the desired lenght. Slightly one meter above Conrad’s own height, as he measured.

Then, he took his pocket knife, and began shaping the wood, eliminating the places where it bulged, to make it as straight as possible. Using porous stones, similar to sandstone, he polished the wood, smoothing its surface as best as he could. Then, he proceeded to make the same with the other trees he gathered.

He took a small pause to relieve himself and smoke a cigarette. For a moment, he had the fear that even tobacco would be affected by the curse, but that was not the case.

Curious about it, he rummaged through the things he had in his pocket. A small pack of gummy candy, that he promptly ate.

Much to his surprise, the candy had its usual taste, unaffected by the curse.

And he savored it, as he worked to keep his mind occupied, to steer his thoughts from the cold he felt.

He set the polished sticks, his future spears, to cure over the fire. Then, he started to sort through the stones he brought back.

This time, he decided to not use a simple wooden point for his spears, but to try and make a stone spearhead.

Striking stone against stone, he began to shape it. He worked on it for some hours, cursing every time that the stone flaked in a way that was not useful to his purpose, or whenever it broke into pieces too small to use.

His hands and fingers were covered in small cuts and dirt, and he felt exhausted.

Conrad lied down on his bed of leaves, some of them dry enough to crackle under his weight, making it even more uncomfortable than it was.

<<Only ten minutes>>

He mumbled to himself, falling asleep.

And then, nightmares began. One time, during his university years, he had a single episode of something that he later knew was called “sleep paralysis”.

A dreadful experience, that left Conrad more scarred than he would ever admit.

During that single night, he felt the strongest fear he ever experienced, and the sense of utter impotence as his body was still sleeping, but his mind was awake. And in that strange duality, he saw and felt something, a vague shape, coming closer to him, with an increased sense of menace and impending danger.

Stronger, as the black, undefined thing neared him, until it climbed on his chest, pressing, its eyeless face staring at him.

The nightmare that Conrad experienced was similar to that lone event during his previous life, only, it was dreadfully worse. Not only his body was blocked, immoble on his bed of leaves. Not only did something crawl towards him, but it spoke. And Conrad felt its touch on his skin, he saw it grinning, a line of white, sharp teeth into a shifting blackness.

He woke up, a scream choked up in his throath, his skin covered in sweat. There was nothing with him in his cave, except a minuscule, finger long lizard-like thing that scurried away with incredible speed.

Conrad shook his head, resolving to not fall asleep again. A single day had been terrible to spend under the curse. And he had still six days and half to spend like this, he knew, and his resolve was beginning to waver.

To take his mind away from the nightmare, he started to craft once again.

The sound of stone striking stone resounded in the air all night long, until dawn came.

Exhausted, Conrad walked to his cave’s entrance, looking at the lone rising sun. One day was gone, six remaining.

He started to climb down, but a violent vertigo assaulted him, almost making him fall down.

Luckily, he managed to recover his balance at the last time, falling back into the cave.

As he tried to get up once more, he failed.

Cold assaulted him, even stronger than the night before. The curse, he surmised, not only was terrible, it got worse as time went by.

Conrad gritted his teeth, his body shaking uncontrollably. In that moment, he seriously tought that he would fail to resist, that it was too much for him to endure.

And the thought of letting all go slithered into his mind, a sweet lullaby, the promise of warmth and rest.

And yet, he thought, even if he let things go, if he stopped resisting it, would it really stop? If he forfeited his life once again, would it be for good?

Or would he wake up once again in that clearing, only to discover that the curse, Death’s grip, only got worse?

The following days were a true hell, as the cold Conrad felt became worse and worse, until he actually started to suffer from frostbite, his fingers and toes going black, as if he actually was beginning to freeze to death.

After two days, his mind began to heavily suffer the lack of sleep. Hallucinations clouded his view, filling Conrad’s mind with dread. He stopped working, unable to do anything but tremble and shudder. It happened the second day.

The third day, he stopped eating, the food having an unbearable taste, so foul that even if he forced himself with all his will, he could not swallow it. And when he did, vertigo assaulted him, making him retch those hard conquered morsels of food, until Conrad cried bitter tears of frustration.

He frequently fell asleep, only to wake up screaming, his heart beating so fast that it seemed like it wanted to break free from its prison of flesh and bones.

On the fourth day, nightmare and reality were not distinguished anymore, both of them blurred into the same, terrifying cold landscape, where black shapes crawled and mocked and insulted and threatened and smiled and grated their claws on the rocks and roared and laughed and laughed and laughed…

And a voice, sweet like honey, warm like Summer daylight, the one from his old world, spoke to Conrad, whispering in his ear to just let things go.

That voice was even worse than the cold, worse than the nightmares and crawling blackness. And Conrad resorted to all his will in order to block it out, focusing on the cold, focusing on how frostbite burned his skin. Until everything else was cut out from his mind. He shut his eyes, and focused.

Until the world, be it nightmare of real, faded, and only cold remained. He felt it in his skin, reaching his bones.

And, as he focused, the alluring voice waned, then stopped altogether. Conrad’s world became cold itself, and he gave an image to that sensation, picturing himself immersed into Arctic water, ice barring his way to the surface. He let himself sink into that water, until everything else drowned.

Cold was the absence of energy, the negation of movement. Absolute stillness. As his mind dwelled on the meaning of it, as it attuned to it, he felt his body react.

The trembling of his muscles, a last resort measure that the body uses to heat itself, slowly stopped, until he achieved that stillness that was cold itself.

His breath also became slower, deeper with each inspiration and expiration.

His heart began to slow down its rhythm, each pulsing stronger, but less frequent.

Until all became still. Even hunger, or thirst disappeared, first becoming a distant sensation, then fading, frozen as the rest of the world.

Only Conrad exhisted, and the neverending ice that froze his mind.

He lost track of time, as time itself froze in his perception.

Until blue light flashed, forcing him out of his frozen world.

He opened his eyes, no longer of that deep hazel color that they usually had. Instead, they pulsed with a pale blue light, flickering for an instant before regaining their original color.

Conrad fainted, a smile on his face, his mind drifting into proper sleep.

Message- You’ve overcome Death’s grip!

A will of steel, or a fool’s mind? You’ve challenged Death itself, and conquered your right to walk among the living. All of Death’s Grip’s effects have been lifted.

But beware, as Death now waits for you to fall once again…

Before he fell asleep, he only managed to look at the first of the system messages that clouded his vision. But those lights remained there, flickering their blue light, waiting for Conrad to open his eyes once more.

Mind Mosaic Status:

Level: N/A

Class: N/A

EXP: -/-

Statistics

Soma: HP 10/10

Strength: 2

Nimbleness: 1

Coordination: 1

Reaction: 1

Pneuma: AP 1/1

Willpower: 1

Intelligence: 2

Tekna: Sp 1/1

Precision: 2

Perception: 3

Titles: N/A

Tiles: 0

Patterns: First Step (0/10); The Fool (0/100)

Skills

General: Gathering (5/10); Crafting (3/10); Climbing (5/10); Running (2/10); Cooking (2/10); Map (1/10)

Active: Identify (5/10); Dismantle (2/10); Sprint (2/10); Foolishness (5/10); Rush (5/10); Pierce (5/10); Sneak (7/10)

Passive: Physical Fitness (6/10); Athletics (2/10); Poison Resistance (1/10); Spear Mastery (2/10)

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