Hello, readers! This post here, it hosts the first version of the novel “A Strange Sky”. I have decided to severely re-work on this, as I felt it too generic to my taste. Since I do not like to completely delete things that I worked on, I decided to let the first draft of that novel to be available for reading, as I did with my first, discontinued series.
The man groaned, lifting himself up from his position.
His right side ached so much, and he felt a constant, ringing noise in his ears.
As he tried to pull himself up, a piercing pain flashed in his chest, spreading to the rest of his body and forcing him down again. He coughed, surprising himself at the sight of blood.
He was laying face down, sprawled on soft, moist ground that stuck to his skin.
He tried to get up from his position once again, this time slowly, rising on his elbows first, then turning his body around.
Each movement gave him a jolt of pain, but it was less than before, when he tried to lift himself up too quickly for his conditions.
From the earlier experience, he did learn that his conditions were bad, although he still lacked a clear grasp of what happened to him.
Only two things were clear to him. First, he was hurt, and badly. Perhaps, some of his bones were broken.
Probably two or three ribs, as the pain that he felt with each breath suggested him.
His arms were fine. Hurting, but fine.
He tried to move his legs, and, although his muscles jolted and ached, he was relieved to see that he could move them just fine, albeit with a bit of effort.
The second thing the man did learn, was that the place where he came to his senses was definitely not his car.
He was perplexed, scared even. One moment he was driving on the highway, going back home after a hard day of work, and the next, he was there. Sprawling on the ground, somewhere unknown to him. He did remember a flashing, intense light suddenly blinding him while he was driving, but, after that, his mind went blank. Only the noise was there, the same ringing noise he was still hearing.
He pulled himself up, turning into prone position. He supported himself with his elbows, but the gesture and position were too painful for him to maintain. In the short time he did manage to keep the position, he caught a glimpse of the place around him.
Trees. All around him. A park, most likely, one of the few places where this many trees could be seen near the city.
Although, the air around him smelt and felt more like a proper meadow, different from the still polluted air that you would breathe in a city park.
He scoffed, finding it difficult to believe what he saw.
And yet, the lush trees were all around him. Now that he was laying on his back, he could clearly see the treetops looming over him, and patches of clear sky beyond them.
<<This must be some kind of hallucination. I had an accident in my car, and now I am seeing things. Perhaps I’m in a fucking coma, or my head has been messed up by the accident. Or, I may be dead>>
He talked to himself, finding his own voice broken, almost a strengthless whisper.
Once again, he tried to move. Touching the ground with his right hand, he tried to find something in the immediate vicinity.
Perhaps a long, sturdy fallen branch that could help him support his own weight, in order for him to properly get up on his feet.
What his fingers came into contact with, was a rock.
He turned his head in that direction, looking the form of the boulder that was next to him. It was not
too big, more a big stone rather than a proper boulder. He used the stone to help himself get up. Struggling for a while, he finally managed to pull himself up.
As he did, a sensation of vertigo almost made him fall back on the ground. He closed his eyes, letting it pass before opening them again. His stomach was clenching, his guts twisting, but he endured.
He recognized those symptoms. The ringing noise, nausea, it was all too similar to when he had another accident, and he hit his head pretty badly.
He was forced to stay awake at the hospital that very night.
<<Falling asleep with a brain concussion might be dangerous>>
He remembered a pretty nurse telling him those words. She was short, blonde. Thin legs and a big pair of…He even sprouted a cocky line to her back then, giving his usual wry smile to the young woman.
Now, there were no pretty nurses around, only trees as far as the eye could see.
The man took a long, painful breath, and he forced himself to sit on the rock. He examined his own body.
His arms were fine, although dried blood and patches of black soil still stuck to his skin. He still had his clothes on him, although they were now in tatters, looking like they had been both shredded and burned at some point.
His trousers, a pair of blue jeans, were somehow intact enough, safe for some long tears on the fabric that showed most of his skin on the knees and thighs, but the important parts were all covered.
And he still had his shoes, black leather boots, an imitation of those used by the Army.
A sturdy pair of shoes.
He smiled. Having something to protect his feet with was something helpful in a forest. Because, at some point, he knew he would need to move away from that spot.
Perhaps, he would need to walk who knows how much distance, and a nice pair of boots could prevent him to injure his own feet by walking over something.
Like a pointed stone just laying below the soft soil, or even a broken stick of wood.
He once lived in the countryside, and, when he was nothing but a brat, he injured his foot while strolling around in the small woods beyond his parent’s farm.
There was a small pond of clear, spring water in those woods, and he would often go there. Discard his clothes, almost throwing them away, and plunge into the shallow waters, skin-dipping into the cold pond to flee from summer’s excessive heat.
That day, he saw a fox among the bushes, and, excited as a children could be before a wild animal, he chased it into the woods, butt naked as he was.
He pressed his foot on a fallen branch, and the splintered wood gave him a nasty gash on his right sole.
He almost lost his foot from the resulting infection, that he got because he hid the injury from his parents, as he was sure that, if he told them, he would receive a harsh reprimand from his father, and perhaps even punished for his carelessness.
Of course, he received plenty of both after he came back from the hospital.
From that day, he learned the lesson.
Glad that his legs were somewhat covered, and his feet were well protected, he got rid of the tattered sweater that was still on his chest, being no more than a thorn rag.
The sleeveless shirt that he wore beneath, that too was in no condition to be worn.
He still kept the rags, since they could come in handy as bandages, or even to light a fire, if he found himself forced to stay the night in the woods.
He began to convince himself that he was not dead, and neither in a coma. All around him, his surroundings were too real.
The sounds, rustling leaves and chirping birds, the clatter of insects.
And the smells, those too were there. The smell of forest soil, and grass and trees. The smell of blood and sweat, coming from him.
More than that, it was the pain in his right side that convinced him of the reality of his situation.
With his left hand, he gently touched his ribs, trying to find out if they really were broken.
As he was now bare-chested, he saw a large, purple bruise on the right side of his chest and abdomen.
Some spots on his skin were almost black, and touching them was painful enough to make his eyes wet with tears.
He needed to know, however. A broken rib might be the thing that spelled his doom right there.
So, he endured the pain and touched his chest, probing one rib after the other. But, much for his satisfaction, his ribs did not feel broken to him.
He concluded that his bones were fine, nothing broken. He just took a very strong hit, resulting in bruises all over his body and some minor cuts. All in all, a lucky epilogue for a car accident.
<<Well, aside the fact that I woke up in the middle of some fucking woods>>
The pain was also beginning to subside. All in all, his conditions were not as critical as he initially thought.
They were strange, he had to admit. Well, everything about his circumstances were strange, the man concluded to himself.
But his body’s conditions, it was like he just survived a harsh impact. A situation that was compatible with the aftermath of a car accident.
He could have hit something with his car, since he was speeding too much past the limit, like he always liked to do when the road was empty enough.
After the impact, he could have been flung away from his car, landing here, in the spot he found himself right now.
Except, he was driving through a part of the highway that crossed the city. There were some open fields nearby, but surely, there was no trace of trees for miles across.
Not a park, or some garden with more than a single tree in it. Much less a fucking forest.
He rummaged through his pocket, seeing if his phone had somehow survived the impact. It did, but…
<<What the fuck?>>
A static-like noise was coming from the small item, and on its display, a series of symbols, unknown by the phone’s owner, were being shown. The symbols looked like they were glitching out, their shape distorting into misplaced pixels.
And the phone began to melt in the man’s own hand. The screen turned black, enough for the man to see his own surprised face reflected on it, before the phone’s battery let out a huge spark and burst out into flames.
He dropped the phone, holding his hand that was slightly burned. The phone gave off some sparks for three more times, before burning out completely.
That was beyond bizarre, thought the man, as he gazed on his cellphone’s remains. He had a spare, he thought, but he remembered that he had it in his car.
And, seeing as his car was not near him at the moment, that thought was only useless to him.
He dismissed what happened with the phone as the aftermath of the accident. Perhaps, it took some heavy blow, that damaged both display and battery, and, when he tried to boot up the phone, the broken screen showed those strange symbols, and the damaged battery exploded into sparks and then flames.
Yes, he thought, that might be what happened.
Trying to distract himself, he pulled out the other items that were in his pockets. A gas lighter, a pack of paper tissues, and a new, sealed pack of rolling tobacco, along with filters and rolling papers.
That was the content of his left pocket. The right one, it held his wallet, and his key-chain. The key-holder he used was a comically small, but functional knife. It was something that Carla, his girlfriend, bought him when she came back from Italy.
She did visit a small town, famous for its pocket knives, and, given that her loved one was a passionate collector of sword and knife replicas, she thought it sweet and funny. And it was, at least for him. He looked at the small key-chain for a long moment, his eyes filled with a sad emotion.
Although that memory was sweet, his recent fights with Carla had made the two of them drift apart, and they decided to take a pause from each other.
It happened no more than two days ago, thought the man.
He examined the keys. Those for his own garage, his apartment, a large key for the Palace’s entrance.
The Palace, a high sounding name for the apartment complex where the man lived.
And the place itself, old and badly maintained, was the farthest thing from a real palace. It was cheap, and that’s all that the man needed when he moved in. Things had changed during the years, and in recent times, he had begun to hunt for another place to live.
A low, grumbling noise distracted the man from his own thoughts. His own stomach, now more relaxed than when he woke up, was beginning to signal its need for food.
And the man had none. At least he thought, but, as he rummaged further into his right pocket, he found an intact pack of gummy candy.
He always had a sweet tooth.
Without further thought, he opened the pack and ate a handful of candy. He saved the now half-empty small pack for later, savoring the sweet taste melting in his mouth.
Next, he rolled himself a cigarette. Not the smartest thing to do after an accident, when no more than twenty minutes ago he could not even breathe properly. But man, he thought, he really needed one.
He lighted it on fire, keeping the lighter between his index and thumb, looking at it. A cheap item, purple in color and made with a frail, semi-transparent plastic that allowed to see how much gas was left inside of it.
It was still half full. Still, thought the man, how come it did not even have a crack on it. After all, both his body and the cellphone suffered some kind of damage from whatever the hell happened, and yet, that small lighter was in pristine conditions.
He gave it not too much thought, considering it one of the marvels of random events.
Taking big puffs of white smoke, he enjoyed his self-rolled cigarette.
To kill time a bit, he opened his own wallet. Money, debit cards. His driver’s license. The picture on it always bugged him.
It was a really bad picture, that he took when he was still too young. Five years had passed from when he was eighteen, and he got his license. The face on that picture was roughly the same as it was now.
His cheekbones became more prominent as he grew older, and, unlike his eighteen years old self, he had no longer a long hair cut. Now, he kept them short, styling them with gel and keeping them swept to the back.
More professional, he thought.
The stubble on his chin was also gone, as, each morning, he shaved his face.
He removed the piercing on his left ear, all three of them. The rest was roughly the same as when he was younger.
His light brown eyes, that sometimes, under the right light, seemed almost yellow.
His eyebrows, that gave him an intense expression, black as his hair and naturally perfect, much to his satisfaction. The eye portion of his face was what granted him most of his success with the ladies, at least, that’s what he thought.
His nose, that was the feature he least liked of his own face. Back then, it was decent enough, but, when he was twenty years old, he had a fight and had his nose broken.
Now, the bridge of his nose was slightly bent to the left, as the broken bone failed to heal properly. It was not a major defect, however, he was too much conscious of it.
He even thought about spending some bucks to fix it, but he always desisted from that idea.
He had enough vanity to consider it, not enough to actually go with that decision. After all, it was still surgery, and surgery scared him a lot.
Inadvertently, he ran his left index on his nose, tracing the slight curvature that it had taken.
His lips, his cocky smile, that never changed through the years.
And of course, his name, written besides the photo on the small, plasticized document.
Conrad Levine. He always loathed his name. Conrad, it always sounded old to him.
Clara loved it, that silly, beautiful Italian girl.
Again, she crossed Conrad’s thoughts. For a moment, he wanted to grab his phone and call her.
He said to himself, feeling slightly dumb. He had no phone with him, nor he had the fucking idea about where he was. Perhaps, he thought, even if he had a phone, who knew if it worked out here?
For what he knew, there could be no signal there.
<<And where the fuck is “here”?>>
He shouted in frustration. One thing was sure to him, as his last outburst had just confirmed. He definitely felt better than when he woke up.
He tried to stand up on his feet, and he did it without much effort, or pain.
His side still hurt, but it was not enough to keep him from doing movements. Sure, thought Conrad, he could not be able to run a marathon or climb up a rock wall, but he could walk just fine. Perhaps even run.
And so, he decided to start walking. No point in standing there.
First, Conrad thought, he needed to find a way to orient himself among the trees. As he came closer to one, he was pleasantly surprised to see some moss growing on one side of the trunk.
Although he did not recognize the type of moss, and neither the tree, he knew from his days spent camping that he could use it to find the north.
But then, he came to the conclusion that, without knowing where he was, there was no point in knowing about north or other cardinal points, for that matter.
What he needed to do, was to choose a direction, and move that way.
Perhaps, he thought, he could climb up a tree, but he dismissed that idea quickly, since it was too risky for him in those conditions.
The best thing to do, would be for him to find a high place, perhaps a hill of some sort, and hope that it was easy to climb up top, but high enough to grant him a better point of view, past the treetops and past the woods.
The terrain around him was slightly sloped, and he thought that if he followed that slope, perhaps he could find himself in a high position and see where this place was.
He followed the slope’s direction, heading east.
After roughly one hour of difficult march, Conrad was pleased by what he saw.
Exactly what he wanted. A hill, whose top rose higher than the trees. More than that, it looked easy to climb it, reaching the top.
And Conrad did so.
It took him almost another hour, as he judged from the watch he still had on his left wrist. Another item that, mysteriously, did not end up destroyed like his clothes and cellphone.
Looking at it, he felt a bit dumb.
The watch, beside displaying the hour, it had a small compass.
The sight from the hilltop left Conrad speechless.
Climbing the hill had been easier than he initially thought, as the hill, although it was significantly taller than the trees that grew around it, was not steep. It sloped gently upwards, allowing him to walk right up to the top.
He still had to pause a few times, to catch his breath and rest his legs. Still, right now, he was feeling significantly better than when he woke up.
Breathing no longer was painful, and the fresh, clean air was nice on his skin.
Other things had started to bother him thou, like the feeling of blood, sweat and dirt clinging to his skin, and the constant buzz of insects that had begun to swarm him.
They were tiny little critters, their bodies held a green, metallic shine. As he swatted one, he took the tiny corpse between two fingers, taking it closer to his eyes for a better inspection.
It was nothing like he had ever seen. Kind of an hybrid between a dragonfly and a mosquito, with a peculiar coloration.
It had the bodily build and bulging eyes of a dragonfly, but it was much, much smaller, and had a stinger for a mouth, exactly like a mosquito.
And the little buggers stung him, too many times. His skin began to itch, and the bite-marks swelled and reddened, itching furiously.
He hoped that those little bugs were not something nasty, only mildly annoying. Otherwise, he would be in some deep trouble.
Still, after reaching the top, he forgot about the insects, and the dirt on his skin.
All around him, as far as his eyes could see, there was a green sea. Nothing but trees for miles and miles, in all directions.
And the hill he climbed was pretty high, roughly two hundred meters, he thought, so it offered a pretty wide view of the place.
A wide river slithered his way among the green of the forest, the treetops enveloped in a thin veil of mist.
As Conrad basked himself in the view, he thought it splendid. The calm of it, the absence of any trace of humanity all around.
It should have been something to worry about, but, against all logic, the sight calmed him down.
He breathed in the slight breeze, the air so clean, like it was back when he was a child, and his family lived away from the city. No, it was even better than back then, and Conrad had the slight sensation, the feeling that the air of this place, it never had an ounce of the polluting smokes of human activity.
It was pure, free, alive. Untainted.
It was only when he lifted his eyes, setting his sight on the sky above, that a sense of dread took hold of Conrad’s thoughts.
It was blue, but…
Not a single cloud, and a strange, aurora-like luminosity was dancing on the sky above. It shined, the color changing between shades of blue, green and purple.
The most stunning thing, were the three lights glowing where the Sun should have been. Significantly smaller than the Sun, their light was dimmer, enough for Conrad to gaze at them without blinding himself with their light.
Maybe their combined size could reach that of the real Sun, he thought for a moment, perhaps in an attempt to escape the reality of what he saw.
Well, reality, he thought, might be the least correct term to use here. His body, his sense of smell and touch, suggested that all of this was real. The breeze on his skin, the smells lingering in the air. Even the complex song that the huge sea of trees sang, with notes of birds and rustling leaves.
And yet, his sight suggested that this was not real. At least, not his usual “real”.
Conrad was standing on the top of a hill, surrounded by a sea of green, unknown trees. Over his head, strange skies where three Suns shone.
<<This must be a fucking dream>>
He muttered to himself.
Still taken back by the view, Conrad stood there, immobile, staring at the sky above. Even if the sight of it was indeed beautiful, he did not consider it so. It was strange, unknown. Frightening.
He shivered, his mind running through the implications and conclusions of such sight.
A noise ringed in his ears, and a chill ran down his spine. He thought to have heard a voice, behind him, and he turned around so fast that his head felt dizzy for a moment.
There was no one behind him, but he could not shake off that impression.
He sighed, deeply, thinking about how his mind might have gone for a trip in crazy-town. That was the best explanation he could give himself.
<<I crashed my car, hit my head strong enough to fall into coma, and all this is just the product of that>>
He thought that, because admitting that all this was real, was too much for him.
It was still plausible back when he was under the canopy of trees, when he could only see patches of the sky, covered by the foliage.
But now, it was so surreal that his mind rejected it. Torn between what he saw, and what his body felt.
<<Ah, shit. What the hell do I do now?>>
He sat there for some moments. Although the temperature under the trees was pleasant, up here, the breeze was cold enough to make him shiver. After all, his chest was exposed, so it was only natural for him to feel cold.
<<Can you feel cold while in a coma? Or perhaps, this is the afterlife. I cannot rule that out>>
He had never been a man of faith. Rather, if he would be forced to define his beliefs, he would describe himself as an agnostic. Not believing in any God, but unable to rule out the possibility that, somehow, somewhere, a superior existence, or a multitude of them, could exist.
He definitely did not believe in heaven, or hell for that matter.
And yet, for what Conrad knew, the place where he found himself could easily be either of those.
Or, and that thought was so silly that it almost made him burst into laughter, he could have woken up in another world.
<<Sure, that’s exactly what happened. I have been summoned into another world, and I will become the Hero of Justice here!>>
He shouted his words to the wind, laughing out loud afterwards. It was not a pleasant laughter, however, more similar to a psychotic break than sincere fun.
He calmed himself, after the sudden outburst. The air was too cold now, and his body was beginning to shake a bit too much.
He decided to climb down, going back to the forest below.
There was another reason that compelled him to do so. His stomach started rumbling again. The sensation was so real that it troubled him. More than that, it proved that whatever happened to him, it was definitely not a dream.
He felt a plethora of emotions whenever he dreamed. Lust, anger, sadness, fear. But that was it, they were only emotions. Sometimes, he even felt the pressing need to pee. But he never felt hunger, or pain, like he did since he woke up.
Listening to his stomach, he decided to go back to the forest. The hill where he was standing was lush with grass and some bushes, but nothing that looked edible grew there. He saw some yellow berries on some of the bushes, but he decided to not risk eating those.
Perhaps, in the forest, he might be able to find something more appetizing, and less risky.
Descending from the hill was easier than climbing it. Not only because, well, that’s how hills work, he thought, but mostly because he felt good right at the moment.
The pain was gone, the ringing sound in his ears was there no more. He even found the strength to run for a bit, and he did so easily. He was glad about it, but then he began to notice. Some of the cuts he had on his skin, some of the bruises, they were already healed.
The cuts were shallow, he admitted, but the bruises? They were severe, his skin tinged with a shade of dark, almost black purple, now faded into gray-ish yellow color, while most of his skin returned to his original, slightly tanned color.
As he went down the hill, he took a glance from time to time.
The bruises were really healing, it was not just an impression he had. By the time he was into the forest once again, they were completely gone. For good measure, Conrad ran his fingers on the spot where the bruises where, pressing them on his skin. Nothing, just the sensation of his hands pressing on his chest.
<<And, that marks the third unexplained thing. Shit, what the hell is going on?>>
He was really at loss for words. He sat on a fallen trunk, resting his head between his hands as he thought about what to do next. He needed to find some food, and water. When he was atop of the hill, he did not see any trace of civilization for miles and miles around. He wanted to get out of the forest, but to do so, he might have to walk for days, perhaps even a whole week, he thought.
<<Maybe, if I follow the river…>>
Like that, he took that decision. He would try to find the river, and, once he managed to reach it, he would follow its course, hoping to find some trace of civilization along the way.
Perhaps, if luck decided to be on his side, he might even find a boat along the river, hopefully with someone aboard.
The river he saw was flowing north-west of his position, and he headed that way.
As he walked among the tall trees, he started to take a closer look at them.
Having spend his childhood in the countryside, he was no stranger to meadows and wilds, but every single plant he saw he could not recognize.
They did not look tropical, and the place itself did not have the appearance of a jungle.
It was more like a forest that belonged to temperate climate.
Like the ones that he “explored” as a child, when he sneaked out of his parents’ farm, forging adventurers in his mind.
Yet, the trees he was seeing now were similar in structure, but there were some subtle differences.
The size of them was definitely bigger, and the bark looked more like scales than proper bark.
The leaves were unlike any he had ever seen.
The shape of them was like large needles, but they were soft to the touch, even those that died and fell off the tree. The dried leaves, as he pressed them between his fingers, crumbled into a thin, brown powder.
Those that he managed to snap from a short, young tree of the same species, they let out a thick, almost transparent juice.
It had a sweet scent, and Conrad was almost tempted to taste a bit of it.
In the end, he did it.
It was delicious, with a syrupy consistence and a rich sweet taste that reminded him of vanilla.
He tried to munch on an entire leaf, but he spit it out immediately.
The whole thing had a bitter taste.
<<So, leaf bad, juice good>>
He thought. Of course, the juice could also be bad. Very bad, if it contained some poisonous substance.
For that reason, he only tasted a small quantity of it. He would wait a bit before eating some again, in order to see how his body reacted.
The other types of plants, bushes and grass that he saw, all of them were different to the species he knew. They were similar, in some way, but different.
The bushes had the same kind of structure as those that he would find in a normal meadow or woods, with a height of no more than thirty centimeters, thick leaves of a dark green color, apt to properly use the scarce light that filtered from the canopy above.
However, they were different. The leaves had peculiar shapes, like two hearts inverted and connected by their point. Kind of shaped like the numbed eight. Those bushes bore berries, with different colors ranging from light purple to golden yellow.
But the thing that surprised him the most, it was a patch of moss like he never saw.
It glowed, a pale, faint blue light. Stems were growing from it, like thin mushrooms.
Something out of a science fiction movie, or a fantasy game.
He looked around, searching for a stick.
He did not know why, but he wanted to poke the thing. As he found a suitable piece of wood, he grabbed it from the ground, and…
You found- Wooden Stick (x1)
Would you like to equip it?
<<What the fuck?>>
Conrad looked at the stick he was holding in his hand.
He clearly heard the voice, but it was not coming from anywhere around him. It came from inside of him.
Like the voices that conversed when he thought about something.
But, unlike those, that spoke with his own voice, as they represented his internal monologue and dialogue, that voice held a monotonous, flat tone.
Like the voice of a vocal synthesizer from a computer.
Conrad dropped the stick.
You dropped- Wooden Stick (x1)
Slowly, he picked up the stick once more.
Again, the first message played in his head.
But what was even stranger than that, was the thing that came into his view.
Like a floating blue window, one of those you would see in those old RPG games.
He did play his share of them when he was a teenager, but the passion that he held towards them faded away as he grew up, until they became nothing more than a memory that he was slightly ashamed to have.
He disliked his old, nerdy, angry teenager self, so different from the efficient and success-driven adult that he became.
Yet, that thing was now before his eyes.
When he first heard “The Voice”, he saw it only for a moment, flickering in his view, but now, it was there, floating half a meter from his nose.
It read the same words that he hear the first time.
You Found- Wooden Stick (x1)
Would you like to equip it?
This time, Conrad thought “yes”.
A sound effect popped in his mind, much similar to his late phone’s message notification.
Successfully equipped- Wooden Stick
See Status Window for more Information
<<And what the fuck is a Status Window?>>
As he said the name out loud, another notification popped up in his mind.
The blue window he was staring at disappeared, and a bigger one appeared right before his nose.
<<You gotta be shitting me>>
He slurred his word, his mouth gaping wide open in surprise.
The Status Window displays your own stats, along with other useful information.
Name, Level, Class are listed on the top portion, while STATS, Skills and Titles are displayed on the lower portion.
Would you like a more detailed tutorial about the system?
Without glossing over it, Conrad choose “yes” when presented the option. He could not believe what was going on.
Sections of the Status Window were being highlighted, as the mechanic voice spoke to him, explaining each term and number displayed on the Status Window.
According to the Voice, this world that Conrad found himself in was ruled by two things. Level and Stats.
The Voice explained about Level, deeming it a rough gauge of a living being’s power.
The higher it was, the stronger the one who held it. However, explained the Voice, a high level did not necessarily mean absolute strength.
It was still possible to be killed, fairly easily, by something that had lower level than you, if you were careless enough.
Moreover, certain beings, while having low levels, held special skills or high stats, so the Voice advised a lot of caution before engaging an enemy or monster.
As the Voice continued, explaining about Stats, short for Statistics, Conrad’s eyes widened in surprise.
This was really like those fucking games, he thought.
Some of the terms were fairly easy for him to understand. Like the meaning behind the Level, and the fact that he would gain Experience by defeating enemies, thus raising his level when he gathered enough.
By increasing his level, he would obtain STAT points, that he could distribute freely among his stats, increasing them.
Like the name of them suggested, the STR stat, short for Strength, governed physical attack, defense and overall strength.
AGI stood for Agility, and it defined quickness of movement, along with precision of each movement, and by consequence, each attack.
VIT meant Vitality, and things like stamina and total amount of HP, Hit Points, were related to this statistic, while INT, Intelligence, was something related to the quantity of Mana that his body would be able to produce, absorb and regenerate.
Skills were defined as special actions, although the Voice did not explain how to gain them, if it was even possible.
Lastly, the Voice spoke about Titles, special bonuses awarded by performing notable actions. Earning a Title had the possibility of yielding bonus STAT points, or even Skills.
Before going silent, the Voice told Conrad that what he heard, it was just the basic Tutorial.
Several mechanics were hidden, only to be found and understood by trial and error.
For all the duration of the tutorial, and some minutes afterward, Conrad stood there, bare-chested, with a wooden stick in his hand. His mouth wide open, surprise painted on his face.
<<You’ve got to be shitting me>>
He blabbered, the only thing he could manage to say.
The situation, he thought, was crazy enough to make him want to question his own sanity.
But, as he was still wallowing in his thoughts, he heard a rustling of leaves, coming from his right.
As he looked there, he saw an animal dart out of the small bushes.
He expected it to be a rabbit, given the size of the creature, but when it stopped, standing on its hind legs, gazing at Conrad for a moment before scurrying off again inside the vegetation, the man clearly saw the creature.
It was definitely not a rabbit.
Looking similar to a lizard, without a tail, and two deep black eyes. It had the frame of a rabbit, moving exactly the same way, its hind legs bigger than the fore, that the little thing used to jump around with great speed.
Only, it skin had not fur, but scales, shining with a yellow-green glint. It even had something like ears, although they were more like flaps of scaly skin, that the thing raised when it looked at Conrad with curiosity.
Two messages popped up in his head, rapidly following one another.
Conrad shook his head, shocked by the little thing’s sudden appearance. The trees were strange enough, the sky even worse than those, but that? That was something insane, he thought.
And then, something clicked into his head. Perhaps, he always knew, since the time he woke up in this strange place.
He had the sensation, the certainty, that this, all of it was real. Crazy, without the slightest doubt, but real.
He was alive, he was not dreaming or hallucinating or whatever else.
He was wide awake, and this place was not his world anymore.
Having reached this consideration, Conrad thought, he had two choices before him. Deny it, or accept it.
He clenched the stick harder, and pressed on, threading into the vegetation.
Denying things would not get him anywhere, he knew that very well.
He had always been pragmatic, and right now, although he already spent some time doubting what he saw, he decided to accept it.
Perhaps seeing that creature was the turning point for him, although, deep down, he knew that the reason was another. If that thing was there, unknown, practically alien to him, what else could be there?
Woods were dangerous enough without the thought of something lurking beneath the vegetation, but right now, that thought was creeping into Conrad’s mind.
And it was that thought that motivated him to move, to leave the fairly open place where he was standing, gawking like an idiot.
Right now, there was nothing else he could do beside accept things, and try to do something about his situation.
He stopped worrying about his situation as a whole, since he doubted he could find any answers by standing still in the forest, and he focused on his immediate needs.
Three things, basically.
Food, water, shelter.
And he knew where to find both of those. The Sun…no, the three suns were still shining their light on the forest, so he still had plenty of time to reach the river and look for something to eat.
He did not trust the berries and strange mushrooms he found, now that he knew this whole place was nothing like he thought at first.
He walked for two hours, stopping only from time to time to rest his legs a bit, or to grab something he thought useful along the way.
Stones, one hard, dense and of deep brown color. Smooth, and did not break when he hit another, bigger rock with the small one he held in his fist.
Then, he found some smaller, white-ish stones that shattered when struck.
Those stones broke into pieces that had sharp edges, good enough to cut through vegetable fiber.
He could not cut down a tree with them, but they would be useful as improvised knives, or even spearpoints, if he managed to actually find a piece big enough to produce a spearpoint from it.
He had still the strips of his shredded sweater and shirt, so he could use them to tie the sharp stone shards to pieces of wood. But he would take care of that later.
On the way towards the river, he grabbed a long fallen branch, thick enough to be used as a clubbing weapon. The wood itself was hard and flexible, perhaps it had recently fallen.
<<Or ripped away from the tree>>
Conrad whispered, while looking around. He found traces of a large animal’s passage, droppings, scratching marks on the trees.
Luckily, the still warm excrements had pieces of semi-digested, small wooden branches in them, so it was something that ate plants, and not a large carnivore.
Although, thought Conrad, it could still be aggressive and territorial.
To be safe when night would fall, he would need to find refuge on the trees, perhaps.
Staying on ground level could be too dangerous, since who knows what might be lurking these woods at nights.
There were several ways that he could be killed, and Conrad mentally ran through each and every possible death that he could think of.
Trampled, mauled by a predator, stung by insects. Food poisoning, wound infection. Bitten by venomous animals.
Falling to his death. Disease carried by dirty water, disease by eating raw or rotten food.
Even some ridiculous things like being eaten alive by carnivore plants, or by dinosaurs.
He ran through them all. After all, in this place unknown to him, everything was possible.
He was scared, as he never had been in his whole life, but, somehow, he felt another emotion creeping in, making its way between his concern and fear.
Excitement, the rush of adrenaline slowly rising to his head. He could not see his own face at the moment, and if he could, he would be surprised to find a smile in his expression.
He walked for hours, and now, he could hear the sound of running waters.
The river was near, just beyond a final line of trees.
Luckily, he did not encounter any large creature during his march into the forest.
He saw some of those lizard-bunnies, and he even thried to catch one of them, but the little buggers were fast.
He was feeling seriously hungry right now, and his stomach was grumbling loudly.
Although the sap from the curious leaves did not hurt him in any way, he still did not eat those that he brought with himself.
Because, he found another use for them. He noticed that, his right hand, that had a bit of that sap smeared on it, was not being assaulted by those pesky little bugs.
After assessing that the sap was safe to use, and had probably some bug-repellant property, he smeared some on his chest, arms and face. His legs were still protected by what remained of his expensive pair of jeans, but he spilled some sap on them anyways.
Much to his satisfaction, the sap really did work. The bugs still buzzed around him, but they quickly dispersed. The biggest success was that they no longer bit Conrad, and he even felt that the bitemarks he already had were less itchy as he applied some sap on them.
When he decided to stop, and take a handful of those leaves to bring them with him, he got a notification from The Voice.
Gathered Scalethorn Leaf (x5)
New Skil Unlocked!Gathering(1/10)
That was the only thing he managed to say.
Now, each time he looked at a single tree and focused on it, a small window would float in front of it.
Detected- Scalethorn Tree
He tried to do the same with the other plants around him, but no window appeared.
Only after he managed to gather some parts of them, like leaves or branches directly torn from the plant, the window did appear.
His gathering skill worked in a strange way. After he managed to gather manually some parts of a plant, and the info window appeared on it, the skill would highlight the parts of it that could be gathered.
Some plants had glowing leaves, surrounded by a yellow aura. Others had the same light around their stems, or branches.
Even some berries showed the same glint.
He spent some time gathering what he could, and as he did, his Gathering skill increased to level two.
At the same time, another notification popped up in his view.
Skill Level Up! Gathering +1 (2/10)
New Skill Unlocked- Identify (1/10)
Now, whenever he focused on a plant, or even objects, like stones or fallen branches, he could see a small status window about them.
Some items only had a small description, like the stones he gathered before, or the wooden branch that he had with him.
Others, especially leaves, mushrooms and fruits, showed a bigger window, where, listed below the plant’s name, it showed some effects.
The berries from a nearby bush, they had a “mild poison” listed under their name. Another plant had
“minor poison” listed as an effect of its leaves.
Most of the vegetation around, was useless if not dangerous.
However, thanks to this new skill, Conrad managed to find some mushrooms that had the “edible” effect displayed, and also some berries with the same property.
He gathered some mushrooms and berries, storing them in a small satchel he made with the largest piece of his late sweater, that he tied to his belt.
The rest of the tissue stripes he brought with him, the remains of his shirt and sweater, were tied to the branch he used as a walking staff, so that he could keep his hands free while walking around. The stones he collected were kept the same way as the leaves, mushrooms and berries, wrapped into a fairly large scrap of cloth that he tied to his belt, dangling from the right side of his waist.
After the gathering spree, he finally proceeded.
He got out of the trees, following the growing noise of flowing water.
Until he found himself before the slow flowing river.
Before heading out of the trees, he looked around, using his new identification skill to see if some animals were in the proximity.
When Conrad saw that the place was clear, he headed out towards the river.
It was large, larger than he expected when he first saw it from atop the hill.
The waters flowed slowly, and they were surprisingly clear. He was glad to spot some fish swimming around in low waters.
Fish meant food, if he could catch them, that is.
He sat down, undoing the satchel on his right side, preparing himself to attempt crafting a makeshift spear.
During his trip to the river, he managed to find a fairly large piece of the white stone.
He was surprised to see that the system, or whatever it was that was showing him the names of things via those floating messages, described those stones as Whitestones.
The had no special properties listed, only the name of the stone and its weight, curiously described in kilograms.
Without minding too much to that detail, Conrad began to work on the stone, hitting it with the other, harder stone he brought with himself.
He broke the Whitestone in some shards, many of them being unusable for his means. Too little, or cracked in a way that they would shatter if he hit something with them.
But, he managed to produce some good ones, at least he thought.
One of them was big enought to be a passable spearpoint, and he set it aside.
The other five he deemed good enough, he would use them later to craft himself some kind of knife.
After all, if he managed to actually catch a fish with his spear, he would need to use a knife to peel away its scales and get rid of its organs.
He used the small knife that was his keyholder to cut a piece of his shirt into thin strips.
The ridiculously small knife was only good for something like that.
But Conrad was grateful for having it in his hands, since it allowed him to cut the fabric with enough precision as to obtain some strips, without ruining the fabric too much.
He rolled each strip on itself, burning each extremity with his lighter in order to melt the synthetic fabric, fixing each strip to form a small, thin rope.
Then, he started to work on his staff. He smashed one end of it, breaking the wood with the stone and then working on it with one of the small Whitestone shards, cutting off some parts and realizing a place where he could insert the larger Whitestone shard.
He fixed the shard by tying it tightly into the wooden branch. It took him some time to reach a passable result, but in the end, he managed to craft a makeshift spear.
The notification sound played again, and a message window opened up in his view.
Success! Crafted- Makeshift Spear (x1, Poor quality, Attack +1)
New Skill Unlocked- Crafting (1/100)
Conrad took a better glance at his work. He was slightly irritated by that “poor quality” that popped up near the spear, but he had no time to argue with an immaterial blue window.
Instead, he headed towards the water, ready to test his newly crafted weapon.
After some time spent ankle deep in cold waters, he shouted in rage.
<<Fuck! This is more difficult than I thought!>>
He muttered, trying to calm himself down. The fishes swimming around in the low water, were too quick for him to stab with his spear.
Moreover, the different refraction index between water and air slightly distorted the image he saw of the fish, leading to more difficulties for him.
He tried again, and again, until he finally managed to graze a fish first, then after few more tries he finally landed a good stab on a large, fat fish.
As the animal thrashed around, it almost broke the makeshift spear, surprising Conrad with its strength.
Still, he managed to yank it out of the water, where he finished the still squirming, wounded fish by hitting a rock on its head.
He quickly dismissed the message window that informed him of having successfully killed the fish. He received 1 EXP for doing so, but it did not matter to the hungry man.
Conrad focused his attention on the fish.
It was smaller than it seemed like when it was underwater, but it was still a good catch, more than enought to Conrad’s belly for the night.
The info window about his catch identified it not only as “edible”, but also as “delicious”.
<<Good to know>>
He said to himself, grinning from ear to ear.
Now that his dinner was secured, and he drank enough of the clear water from the river, he only needed to find shelter for the night.
The lone Sun lingered in the sky, far longer than it should have, according to Conrad’s watch, still calibrated on the day-night cycle of his world.
But, in this one, days were far longer than Conrad expected, and visibility was still good, as the lone sun was yet to follow its tweens beyond the horizon.
Conrad hoped that 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. Moreover, the treetops had tiny branches, who Conrad believed to not be sturdy enought to hold his eighty kilograms of weight.
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, being two or three meters taller than the trees around. And, the surface of that rock formation that was facing the river, it 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, namely, it could be the home of something. But, 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 something 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, 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 was different, 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, so, 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 better 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 the producto 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! General Fitness [passive (1/10)]
New Skill Unlocked! Climbing (1/10)
<<Oh, new ones>>
He muttered to himself, knowing that there would be no answer.
No matter how many times he asked for information or explanations, or even simple conversation. The Voice 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 gained 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.
Although the thought of earning a “pissing” or “farting” skill amused him. In some aspects, he was childish, and full aware of it.
Still, gaining skills was not something related to the complexity of the action.
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.
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.
Next, he used his stone knives to scrape away some bark from a different kind of tree.
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 found a group of those trees, that his Identify skill named as Kalu trees.
The youngest ones 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, dreid 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.
From gathering the materials, his Gathering went up one level, along with Identify.
As he climbed up, he gained another level in both Climbing and General Fitness.
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.
As he was inside the cave, his cave, once more, he started preparations to light his fire, and then prepare his dinner.
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.
Then, having secured warmth and light, he dedicated himself to food. He first scrubbed the scales out of his fish, then tried to open its belly with the stone knives.
Finding it too difficult, he resorted to his keychain, and the small knife attached to it.
Even if the blade of it was too small, it still managed to cut the fish’s though skin, and it was easy to use the stone knife to gut it afterwards.
Conrad threw away the guts, tossing them as far as he could. He put the fish on a stick, and set it over the fireplace to cook.
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.
Daylight had waned, the last of the three suns disappearing into the horizon.
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)
Before curling himself to sleep, he summoned his status screen, gazing at it. It was still basic, so different from the same kind of window he used to stare at during his gaming years.
Still, beside the strangeness of it, Conrad did not feel different in any way from the day before. Only slightly more energetic than usual, but he suspected that it was more because of the open air, rather than some obscure effect of this strange, gamelike world.
Because, even if he refused to aknowledge it, 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 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.
General Fitness (2/10)
There were two options on the top right part of the screen, both greyed out. He tried to think them open, then he even “clicked” with his finger on them, but nothing happened.
<<Perhaps, it’s something for later? Maybe if I level up, they will pop up? Well, whatever>>
He noticed that two more voices were added to the status window, namely attack and defense.
Conrad looked at them, and he reached a conclusion. These new voices were related to him having a proper weapon “equipped”. He tried to discard his shabby spear, and saw that both voices disappeared from the menu.
Shrugging his shoulders, he kept the spear closer to him, taking small comfort in that number near the “attack” voice of the menu.
By far, it was his highest stat, boasting double the amount of the others.
Of course, it was only two, the rest of his stats all being one.
Rolling on the side, Conrad tried to find a confortable position to fall asleep.
Which, as the night turned into day, did not happen.
The lack of a proper place where to sleep, and cover on his skin, along with the noises coming from the forest were enough to impede his sleep.
He fell asleep, then, ten minutes later, a loud noise would wake him up, making his heart race.
Or, his position on the bare rock was too uncomfortable. He even thought about going back down and gather some leaves.
Better than sleeping on rock, for sure. But going down, now, at night, it was a risk not worth the reward.
Not only because of things that might be lurking below, hungry and hidden, but for the sheer risk of him mistepping on the way down, and falling to his death.
Conrad finally gave up on sleep, frustrated and tired.
For how much he disliked living in the city, he surely never had to face this problem there.
Not the noise, there was plenty of that around his house, although none of it with the connotations of danger that the noise here had, but sleeping on a rock of bed was too much for him.
He took a mental note to gather some leaves, a lot of them, before making a new shelter.
And that thought brought him to a question that he needed to pose to himself.
Two simple words, that ran in his thoughts, among sleepiness and concern.
What next? He could try and follow the river some more, but, what were the chances of him actually finding civilization here?
There was the chance that he would find none, and walk for days to an empty end. It could be that this forest would extend for miles and miles, and it would take him weeks, if not months, to get out of it.
Or, there was another possibility, perhaps worst than the first one, Conrad thought.
There could not be civilization, anywhere.
After all, in a world with three suns, all possibilities were to be considered.
And that led Conrad to another consideration.
Would he move from his little cave, or would he stay there?
He had water close to him, and food was there, although he needed to struggle a bit to get it.
But, if he just stayed there, the chances of him encountering any trace of civilization would drop.
And, he needed also to consider how well would he fare, here in the wilderness.
Sure, he would be able to improvise some kind of shelter, even furnish it to some extent.
But what if bad weather came, he thought, or if he injured himself.
And most of all, he would be alone in there, only a man against nature.
Sure, the Voice would speak from time to time, but that was a monologue on its part, and frankly speaking, Conrad muttered to himself, that Voice creeped him out a bit.
<<What do I do?>>.
Those words remained there, in his thoughts after he spoke them, for all night.
Which, lamented Conrad to himself, was way longer than he thougth.
His watch already was past twenty four hours, signaling eight in the morning while morning actually came.
Like it happened at dusk, only one sun rose at dawn. The others would follow, later, until all three were up in the sky.
Still, the measurement of time that Conrad did was wrong, as he later reasoned about.
He remembered that, when he came to be in this forest, it was morning already, but those curious suns were up in the sky, all three of them.
So, he surmised, a single day would be longer than he calculated with his watch.
Far longer than he expected, probably more than thirty hours. And that would mean, he was awake for a day and a half.
<<Fuck. Way to pull an all nighter, Conrad. Next thing I do, is to build me a fuckin bed>>
Still, he thought, it was not like he suffered sleep too much.
He was still feeling drowsy, for sure, but not to the point of being unable to do anything.
And he did not need to do much, not today at least.
<<Now. Go up, or go down?>>
He asked himself his own question, after reaching the resolution of staying in that small cave for the day.
If he was to set on march again, he needed to do so when in full strenght, not after a sleepless night.
First, he decided to climb up, and scout the surroundings.
After a quick breakfast, during which he ate the leftovers from his fish and mushroom dinner, along with some fruits he picked the day before, he climbed up from the cave’s entrance.
The exercise granted him another level in General fitness and Climbing, making them rise up to three.
And the climb up had been easier than the night before, and the new levels in those “skills” made it even easier, to the point that he did not even feel fatigued.
Up on the rock formation, he was standing in front of a sea of trees.
He cursed out loud, surprised by the long necks emerging from that green sea.
Like seeing a squid-faced giraffe, slowly and lazily munching on treetops.
Their bulbous heads did not seem to have eyes, and large spots where the eyes should have been were pulsing in green light.
Still, thought Conrad, for them to make no noise whatsoever…
He immediately became glad to not have ventured further into the forest.
The other animals he saw, those he could tolerate enough.
But these ones, the sight of them truly made his mind wander to those sci-fi stories he loved when he was young, and sometimes, even now.
<<Well, one thing is reading them, living them thou…>>
He left his words hanging, turning his attention from the towering creatures to the surroundings.
His position was too low to see the path ahead, but he could look for useful landmarks or other elevated places that might be useful for a later time.
To his back, there was the hill he first climbed up yesterday, and the river to his right, flowing in the direction Conrad was looking to .
To his left, more trees, and rocky ridges that from time to time rose up from the green sea.
Perhaps, Conrad thought, the rocks where he stood now were a continuation of that very ridge.
Far in the distance, it became higher and higher, until, perhaps some kilometers away from him, it became a proper mountain.
Taller trees could be seen emerging from the more uniform treetops, but no other things that claimed Conrad’s attention, beside a curious flying thing that perched for a few seconds near him.
It looked like a bird, in its general structure.
But, featherless, with scaly blue skin and its wings more similiar to fins than proper bird winds. It had a beak, sure, but curved upward.
Conrad could only take a small glance at the thing, before it darted away in the sky.
He shrugged his shoulder, preparing himself to climb down once again.
As he did, he definitely noticed the benefits that General Fitness and Climbing granted him.
It was not that hard of a climb, but it still was tiring the day before. Now, thought Conrad, he barely sweated.
Taking note of that, he wondered if he could get more skills related to basic movements.
To test things, he jogged lightly on place, and then he ran on the rivershore, sprinting from time to time.
Of course, he did so after making sure that nothing was near the place.
Notifications dinged in his mind, and the usual blue screen floated in his sight.
New Skil Unlocked! Running (1/10)
New Skil Unlocked! Athletics [passive(1/10)]
New Skil Unlocked!Sprint [Active- 1SP- (1/10)]
He gained three new skills from that. Running, Athletics and Sprint.
The first was like Climbing, he just needed to perform the action and it would activate on its own.
The second one, Athletics, it was listed as passive, much like General Fitness.
The last one, Sprint, it was listed as active.
After few tries, Conrad managed to understand what it meant.
To will the skill into action, he needed to activate it, either by thinking the skill’s name, or exerting some more strenght into his steps.
It left him panting the first time he used it, far more energy consuming than when he sprinted by using the old, usual method.
But, he covered a significant amount of ground with it, and the speed he reached, it was so high that he almost crashed on a nearby rock.
Almost, but he managed to stop himself.
He gained no new levels for those skills, and decided to not practice them there. It could be dangerous, and he was too tired to do it anyway.
At the moment, he needed to prioritize two things.
Gathering, and crafting.
He needed to gather materials, and food.
He needed to build himself a decent place to rest, and perhaps, if he had spare energies to do so, some more things.
And so, he set out to gather enough material to build himself some semblance of a bed.
Surely, he thought, sleeping on leaves would be better than sleeping over bare rocks.
He gathered, snapping branches that had enough fresh and tender leaves on them. He even found some low growing plants, that had thin, flexible stems.
He gathered those, thinking of the use he would find to them.
Then, after gathering some more leaves, fruit and mushroom, he dedicated himself to fishing. Without success.
After spending roughly the entire morning, if this world still had a concept of it, he stopped and ate some raw fruit.
Still, he kept wary of the surroundings, but, much to his relief, nothing came out of the woods during that time, or out of the waters.
After his vegetarian lunch, he dedicated himself to more attempts at fishing.
This time, he managed to kill one with his spear.
It was definitely smaller than his first bounty from the day before, and, when he killed it, it granted him zero point two experience points.
The bigger fish granted him one.
<<So, it works like this, huh?>>
No other actions granted him experience before.
Only when he killed something.
He hoped that to not be the case, although, it made sense given the striking resemblance of this new system with those of an RPG game.
And in those games, killing “monsters” would give experience, and make a character grow accordingly.
To have a better grasp of things, he tried to squish one of the everpresents bugs that buzzed around.
Killing it gave no response from the system.
Although, when he moved to kill a slightly bigger thing, a scarab-looking beetle, no longer than half centimeter, he gained experience.
A negligible amount, 0.001 points. But still, it was there.
So, he thought, to grow in this world, witht this system, he would need to kill bigger things, or an inconsiderate amount of smaller beings.
That, of course, if this world really worked like one of such games.
But, thought Conrad, things could not be that simple.
He gathered some more materials, each time climbing back to his little cave.
When it was finally enough for him, he climbed once again, hauling some firewood with him.
Then he set up for the night again, this time having arranged himself a makeshift bed.
He prepared the small fish, the only success of his fishing activity for the day, and arranged some more vegetables to bolster his dinner.
Roasting them on the fire, he turned his attention to something else while he waited for dinner to be ready.
The flexible stems he found before, he sliced them open with his tiny knife keyholder, separating the fiber in them as best as he could.
What he tried to do, was build himself some semblance of a rope.
Of course, the results were terrible at first, and he wasted half of the stems he gathered.
With a bit more patience, after calming himself down and smoking a cigarette, Conrad managed to cut the stems as he wanted.
First, in half, running the minuscule blade from one end of the stem to the other.
Then, he divided those long halves into half again, using the same method, with more caution. He repeated the process, ruining the fiber most of the time.
But he managed to obtain some good ones, albeit a fraction of the total amount.
Then, he would need to dry them, before actually attempting to tangle those fibers into some semblance of a rope.
And he had not even the slightest idea about how to do it.
Still, it was something to keep his mind occupied on.
Setting aside those fibers, as he left them near the fire, laying them on a piece of bark to keep them straight, he then moved his attention to the fish and mushrooms that were cooking.
He consumed his dinner, adding some fruit after it.
To store some water, he used a crude recipient, made by tying some pieces of bark together with some of his last strips of cloth, and stuffing them with some large leaves he found on the riverside.
It spilled some, but held enough water to not force Conrad to climb down if he wanted to drink during the night.
He once again summoned his status screen, as he did the night before.
The numbers on it were the same, but the quantity of skills was definitely increasing.
After his gathering spree, he managed to raise Gathering one more level, as well as his attempt to craft a rope made Crafting raise to level two, while preparing his dinner yielded Conrad another level in his Cooking skill.
Much to his unsatisfaction, the increased level of the skill did not make the meal taste better, and the small fish he cooked was definitely less savory than the large one he caught and cooked the day before.
Perhaps, thought Conrad, it was the ingredient’s fault that his meal tasted worse, or he was simply too tired to properly enjoy it.
He focused once again on the Status window.
General Fitness and Climbing were up to level four, both of them, while the other skills remained invariated, since he did not spend any time running or sprinting around after getting them.
General Fitness (4/10)
There was a new voice in that window, stating the total amount of experience he gained.
A negligible amount if compared to the amount needed for him to level up, a staggering one hundred experience points. He thought about how he could manage to gather those.
He would need to kill ninety nine more of those large fishes, or a thousand smaller ones.
The thought of him seeking and swatting one hundred thousand small bugs, squishing them one after the other until he gathered one hundred experience from them made him laugh out loud.
He would definitely get something out of such ridiculous action.
But, his laughter faded as he considered another, quicker method.
As he surmised before, larger creatures gave more experience.
So, if he ever managed to catch and kill something else beside a fish, maybe…
Conrad set aside those thoughts, rolling himself in his bed of fresh leaves.
It was still a bit uncomfortable, but leagues better than sleeping on bare rock.
With a smile, he closed his eyes, this time drifting into proper sleep.