A Strange Sky: Chapter 5- Recovering

Slowly, Conrad rose on his feet. He felt weak, as he never felt before. A mixture of exhaustion and hunger clouded his thoughts, a dull headache pulsing in the back of his head.

Yet, he smiled.

He relished the warmth of sunlight on his skin, basking in those few rays that shone past his cave’s entrance, lighting the interior of his little sanctuary.

He felt warmth, and that sensation was enough to make a small tear flow from his eyes.

Suddenly, he became aware of his condition. The curse had a heavy impact on him, and led him to not eat, drink or sleep for almost a whole week.

Days in this strange world lasted roughly forty eight hours, so, in the end, he considered, he abandoned himself for fourteen days, if counted by the old world’s standards.

He knew a man could survive a long time without eating, if properly hydrated. But how much could a person survive without drinking? Or without sleep?

He knew he should have perished, by the old world’s standards.

But it did not happen. He was weak, too weak, famished and almost on the brink of exhaustion once more, but he was definitely alive.

Moreover, he beat the curse. And that thought made him feel exalted, as it represented his first true victory in this world.

And here, winning meant receiving definite rewards. He glanced at the blinking blue dots that popped in his field of view, exerting his consciousness to them in order to visualize those messages.

The first one, he already read, moments before collapsing on his bed of leaves, too exhausted to even celebrate.

It informed him of the curse’s end, and he read it once again, relishing each single, blinking word on that strange floating window that appeared in front of him.

Next, he dismissed the message, dedicating himself to the others that followed.

New Skill Unlocked! Concentration (1/10)- Type: General (Pneuma)- A hard task needs a focused mind. Concentration lets you enter a focused state, increasing accuracy, precision, letting the outside world fade out…

Skill Level UP! Concentration +1 (2/10)

Skill Level UP! Concentration +2 (3/10)

Skill Level UP! Concentration +3 (6/10)

Skill Level UP! Concentration +4 (10/10)

Skill RANK UP! Concentration Concentration II (1/20)

Congratulations! You Ranked UP your first Skill! As a reward, you’ve been granted: 1 Tile; +2 Willpower

Skill Level UP! Concentration II +2 (3/20)

Skill Level UP! Concentration II +4 (7/20)

Skill Level UP! Concentration II+6 (13/20)

Skill Level UP! Concentration II + 7 (20/20)

Skill RANK UP! Concentration II Clarity (1/10)- Type: Active (Pneuma, 1AP)- When active, enter a state of deep focus, closing off the world and focusing your senses, heightening your thoughts.

New Skill Unlocked! Cold Resistance (1/10)- Type: Passive (Soma)- Your body grows accustomed to cold, be it icy winds or frozen water…

Skill Level UP! Cold Resistance +1 (2/10)

Skill Level UP! Cold Resistance +2 (3/10)

Skill Level UP! Cold Resistance +3 (6/10)

Skill Level UP! Cold Resistance +4 (10/10)

Skill RANK UP! Cold Resistance → Cold Resistance II (1/20)

Congratulations! You ranked UP 3 skills already! As a reward, you obtained:

+1 Tile

+2 Willpower

Conrad looked at the stream of notifications, unable to believe what he was reading. As he read through them all, he noted how his Cold Resistance leveled up and ranked up at an astounding rate. He thought it due to him struggling to resist the cold caused by the curse. That strange state of clarity he found himself into, that was the time when he gained and used his Concentration, his focus and detachment from the outside world deepening as the skill level rose, and it ranked up.

Until the skill itself became something else.

And yet, the stream of blue windows was still far from its end.

Conrad skimmed through the simple notifications that informed him about his skills leveling up, until he reached the last window of that almost endless stream.

Skill Level UP! Cold Resistance II+ 1 (2/20)

New Skill Unlocked! Cold Attunement (1/10)- Type: Passive (Pneuma, rare)- Icy winds and freezing waters molded your mind and its vessel, allowing you to tap into their very essence. Attacks and skills are imbued with Ice element.

Congratulations! You have unlocked your first Rare skill! As a reward, you have been granted: +1 Tile, +1 Intelligence, +1 Perception

New Skill Unlocked! Will of Steel (1/10)- Type: Passive (Pneuma, rare)- Overcoming challenges has tempered your mind, your will has become as strong as steel itself. Grants minor resistance against Mind attacks and Curses, pain, hunger and thirst, debilitation.

New Patterns Revealed! Ice Series-Snow Flake (0/10); Ice Series-Brine (0/20); Ice Series- Hail (0/50); Meditation (0/10)

As the last of the blue messages disappeared from his view, Conrad focused his attention on the most pressing matters. First, he needed to feed himself. The fruit and vegetables that he had in his cave had gone bad, covered in pink-bluish mold. As he just escaped death and a curse, Conrad did not want to eat rotten food. Who knew what it would do to his debilitated body? He did not want to risk getting sick.

However, in order to get something fresh to fill his stomach, he would need to climb down from his cave. He felt weak, but not enough to not attempt to climb down. There was also another reason that compelled him to do so. He felt the dire need to clean himself, as during the time he spent struggling against the curse he did not move from his spot, not even to relief himself.

Now, his own smell disgusted him, and the sensation of stale sweat that stuck to his skin, along with other filth, made him sick.

Sighing, he started to climb down, moving with the utmost care. Halfway through, he stopped, fighting a sudden sense of vertigo.

But it went away, as quickly as it came.

Finally, Conrad’s feet touched the riverbank below, slowly sinking in the muddy terrain. He undressed himself, and he let the cold waters sweep away the filth from his body.

Then, he started to thoroughly wash his clothes. The lack of soap made everything more difficult, and the smell persisted on his tattered jeans as well as on Conrad’s skin.

Still, he felt better, the cold river water refreshed him, and he drank some small sips before washing himself. He knew that, in his situation, he could not just gulp down a lot of water, as his body would reject it. Instead, he needed to drink frequent, small sips.

Food was also another problem. As he went a long time without eating, his body would react badly if he just went and ate to his heart’s content. Instead, he needed to eat bit by bit, favoring simple, easy to digest food.

After washing himself, he strolled towards the forest’s edge, still naked and dripping with water. He grabbed a low hanging fruit, the same kind that he felt so disgusting when under the curse. Without hesitating, he dug in, biting the soft, ripe fruit, letting its juice flow from his mouth. He savored it, and to Conrad, that single bite felt like the most delicious thing he ever ate.

He gathered some more, then he strolled back to his clothes and began to climb up once again. Once he entered his cave, the smell lingering inside made him almost sick.

Cleaning the whole place would take him too much time, he thought, and he did not have the energy to do it. Instead, he considered another option.

The area around his cave was safe, he knew that. For the first time, he resorted himself to sleep outside.

He took the time to throw his possession down, carefully avoiding the soiled bed of leaves, almost feeling tempted to burn it. He left it like it was, instead, taking one last glance to his cave before climbing down once more.

The whole day, he spent it doing menial tasks, as he felt too weak to properly engage in productive activities. He built himself a fireplace, and gathered some leaves to act as a bed. Then, when night fell, he simply rolled over on his bed of leaves, and slept.

The next morning, he woke up with the first sunlight, feeling a little bit better than the day before. Conrad started his day with a fruit meal, this time conceding himself a full fruit to eat, just to see if his stomach would be able to hold it down.

Then, with his stomach filled, his mind more clear, he started to ponder a bit about what happened.

He died, and resurrected. All that happened was a consequence of that. The painful, cruel curse, was some sort of penalty that the Mosaic System introduced to discourage people from just letting themselves go, accepting death. If something like that did not exist, and dying had no demerit besides the pain, some people would use it as some sort of shortcut to power, thought Conrad.

Basing his reasoning on what happened to him, it was something possible after all. By fighting a powerful opponent, your skills would rise no matter what, even if you succumbed to it. A crazy enough person would definitely throw himself to stronger enemies, die and repeat, until his skills would reach a high enough level.

And so, the curse served as a deterrent to that kind of behavior.

It made sense to Conrad, although, he could not imagine someone that would die over and over just to become stronger.

Also, overcoming the curse gave Conrad some unexpected new skills. The new Cold Resistance and Cold Attunement left him a bit perplexed, as he was not exposed to actual cold, but rather, it was all in his mind. And yet, the system acted like Conrad himself was immersed in freezing waters, or covered in snow on some icy peak, going so far as to unlock Ice related skills and even Patterns.

In short, it was not what actually, physically happened to him that influenced the system, but what he thought it was happening, Conrad surmised. He thought that the cold was real, and the system reacted, changing him to endure the cold, adapting him to it, to the point that it generated a skill based on cold itself. He had yet to try it, but the skill description stated that his attacks and skills would have an Ice element attribute.

In RPG games an elemental attack was something good to have, and, without any doubt, it would prove useful to Conrad.

And yet, even if he gained much from the whole experience, he still felt terribly frustrated by all that happened. When weighting the small growth he achieved against the humiliation, pain and impotence he felt when facing the Lyander first, then during the curse’s effect, he could not help himself but to consider one simple thing.

He did not want to feel something like that, ever again.

Weakness was fatal in this world, and he learned it the hard way. Sure, he thought, he had been unfortunate in finding a powerful creature on his path, but he had the slight feeling that even a lesser monster would have bested him.

After all, his level was still one, and his skills, although he already had more than twenty, were not suited to battle or hunt.

As he dwelt on his considerations, he summoned his Status screen. The Pattern section drew his attention, with the new Patterns that he had unlocked. Now, he had some spare Tiles to use, and he wanted to experiment a bit with this part of the system. When he thought about it, the Status screen shifted, changing into another, unknown window. In it, the Patterns he unlocked were represented as silhouettes, each fragmented, like a puzzle. Around his left hand, four floating blue lights manifested, four as the number of Tiles in his possession.

With his eyes shifting from the blue lights to the Pattern window, he started to consider how to spend those Tiles.

The Fool’s Pattern required a large number of Tiles to complete, and he immediately ruled it out. For now, he considered spending his Tiles on something that he could complete. The First Step Pattern, along with Ice Series- Snow Flake required the least amount, both of them needing ten Tiles to complete.

Conrad weighted his options. The Snow Flake was tempting, but he felt like it was something too specific. The First Step was the first Pattern he managed to unlock, and its name implied something related to beginnings.

Conrad dumped all his Tiles on the First Step Pattern. As he did, each Tile took its place on the silhouette, revealing a part of the picture. The blue lights disappeared from his left hand, and a notification window popped up.

Congratulations! You assigned your first Tile to a Pattern!
As a reward, you’ve obtained:
+1 SP
+1 AP
+5 HP
+ 2 free Stat Points
Pattern Progress: First Step- 4/10
Congratulations! First Step has reached 40% Completion.
Reach 50% and 100% for Pattern Rewards!

<<Finally>> murmured Conrad, seeing how spending his Tiles yielded him bonus SP and AP. The increase was small, but now, he could use two skills in a row, instead of being limited to only one. Five more HP would also be beneficial, although, he considered, they would still mean nothing against a powerful foe. He remembered how he felt when he looked at the damage log from the Lyander’s attack, seeing how it six hundred damage to him. What were five measly points in front of that monstruous power?

The two free stat points were interesting, but Conrad was unsure about where to spend them. In particular, he wondered if he should dump them into one of his higher statistics, or try to balance out the ones that were lacking.

After some careful considerations, he decided to allocate the stat points into physical statistics. One point went into Nimbleness, the remaining one into Reaction.

He braced himself for the upcoming change. Mental stats did not give the same rebound when increased, only giving him a quick headacke, that during the day was overshadowed by the pounding pain caused by his condition.

But physical stats were another story altogether. He felt his muscles jolt, quick, nervous movements that followed the wave of energy, spreading from his lower spine to all of his body.

When he opened his eyes once again, he felt not different from before. Yet, he knew the change was there, and he would experience it once he started moving. For now, however, he had no intention to tire himself by trying his new stats or skills. His body was still weak, and he needed the time to recover.

After dealing with notifications and Patterns, Conrad was left without anything to do. His days, since he woke up in that clearing inside the forest, had been so busy that he basically had not a single moment of idleness.

Now, it was weighting on him, and he could not handle the simple fact of staying still, doing nothing.

So, he decided to partake in some kind of activity, something that would not tire him out or expose him to risk, but at the same time would keep him entertained.

He was near the riverbank, and the terrain around him had something that would keep him occupied enough, and help him on the long run.

Clay.

He rose to his feet, grabbed the largest satchel he had and strolled towards a spot on the riverbank where he was sure to find clay, or at least this world’s version of it.

When he reached the spot, he used his hands to grab clumps of the light gray material, hauling it back to his place.

Using a large, flat rock as a base, he started to mold the clay into a simple recipient. Then, when he reached a result that pleased him enough, he started the campfire once again, and put his work to cook among the embers.

He knew it was not the most apt method to actually produce ceramic, but without a oven, and the energies to build one, it was the only thing he could do.

As he waited, he sorted through the equipment and tools that he removed from his cave. Rope made of vegetal fiber, the long poles that would become shafts for his spears. Rocks of various sizes, hardness and texture, his primitive tools. Satchels made of woven leaves and branches, along with some raw, unprocessed materials. Bark, leaves, sticks and pieces of wood. Even the bones of the first, large fish that he caught on his first day, carefully wrapped inside a piece of cloth. Too brittle to use as cutting tools or weapons, but the thin fishbones could be used as needles in Conrad’s intentions.

All his possessions, apart from the spears he broke and lost during his unfortunate first direct encounter with the local wildlife.

Having finished sorting his items, a notification reclaimed Conrad’s attention.

Crafting Successful! Small Pot (Poor Quality) x1 has been created!

Skill Level UP! Crafting +1 (4/10)

Seeing the notification, he rushed to take the small pot out of the fire. It was covered in ashes, and Conrad used a stick to yank it out of the fire, walking to the river where he immerged his creation inside the water, to cool it down and clean it.

Then, he examined it. It was a small, ugly thing, but to Conrad, it was a huge success. The clay was good enough to be made into ceramic. And having ceramic would mean having the possibility of storing water, boiling it even.

Moreover, he could use the clay itself to build a primitive oven. Something like that could even be enough to smelt metal, if he managed to find some.

Following the elation after this success, Conrad fully dedicated to pottery. He crafted several recipients, going back and forth from the riverbank to the fireplace to gather enough clay.

At the end of the day, he had successfully made two small recipients, three medium ones, as large as a kitchen pot, and a large one, twice the size of the medium ones.

He filled one of the medium pots with water, throwing in mushrooms and roots he peeled with his steel knife, an aromatic herb that grew near the riverbank, its scent being a weird meddle of mint and lemon.

Lastly, he added two fishes, that he managed to capture with his hands. Unable to resist trying his skills, Conrad used Sneak to move silently in the knee deep water, without alerting the fishes that swam lazily in the shallow waters. Then, he simply grabbed them with his hands. The first three times he failed, but the fourth and sixth attempt granted him protein for his dinner.

Conrad’s mouth started to water as the smell from his boiling pot began to diffuse in the air. Using his steel knife, he fashioned himself a spoon out of a piece of driftwood, smoothening it out with a piece of sandstone.

The usual blue notification popped up, alerting Conrad that his Vegetable and Fish Stew was ready, and his Cooking skill had leveled up.

As he tasted the stew, he found its taste decent enough, although it lacked salt.

After the meal, he felt definitely better than before. His head was still a bit too heavy and clouded, but the worst part was now gone.

Perhaps, he thought, by the next day he would be able to actually do some work, and start training his skills.

Before abandoning himself to sleep once more, he took a last glance to his Status screen:

Mind Mosaic Status:

Level: N/A

Class: N/A

EXP: -/-

Statistics

Soma: HP 15/15

Strength: 2

Nimbleness: 2

Coordination: 1

Reaction: 2

Pneuma: AP 2/2

Willpower: 5

Intelligence: 3

Tekna: SP 2/2

Precision: 2

Perception: 4

Titles: N/A

Tiles: 0

Patterns: First Step (4/10); The Fool (0/100);Ice Series-Snow Flake (0/10); Ice Series-Brine (0/20); Ice Series- Hail (0/50); Meditation (0/10)

Skills

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

Passive: Physical Fitness (6/10); Athletics (2/10); Poison Resistance (1/10); Spear Mastery (2/10); Cold Resistance II (2/20); Cold Attunement (1/10); Will of Steel (1/10)

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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)

A Strange Sky: Chapter 3- First Steps


Author’s Note: Hey readers, thanks for stopping by again and taking your time to read my work. This little corner here is just to update you on some things. First, I am still actively writing, even with a slower pace. The real problem is not writing per se, but editing and fixing mistakes. And that brings me to the “most important” new to you readers. The new chapter of Re:Interference is in the editing phase. That means, if things go well, I will be able to put it out in two days (although, I promise nothing here).

So, beside the almost one week long silence, the blog is still alive, Re: Interference will come out with a new chapter, and A Strange Sky will also continue to update.

Glimmer of a Fallen star…well, that I’m taking my sweet time to write, since I want it to be a proper fantasy, and I hope to eventually publish it “seriously” once it is completed, and if I find it good enough.

Well, enough with my ramblings. Here is the chapter, so, enjoy. And, as usual, thank you for taking a bit of your time for my stories.

Author out!


Conrad woke up, rubbing his eyes and letting out a loud yawn. He had trouble sleeping during the night, often woken up by some sudden noise coming from the forest. Or he would roll in his sleep over the pile of leaves that was his bed, forcing an uneven piece of the rocks below to lodge itself in his back.

He had no injuries, and he was thankful for that, but his back hurt like it never had before.

Once he got up from his improvised bed, he looked at it with disdain, and muttered.

<<I need a better bed>>

Sighing, he consumed a quick breakfast, some of the fruits he picked up the day before along with leftovers from his dinner.

The fire had waned during the night, becoming nothing more than embers hidden under a gray layer of ashes.

That reminded Conrad, that if he had ashes, he could even make himself some soap. He knew the procedure, after all, since it was one of the things his father taught him.

He recalled the man, and the plethora of hobbies he had, all related to self-crafting and item productions with “natural resources and good’ol effort”,like Conrad remembered his father always saying.

He had taught him to hunt, to skin an animal, to make simple fibers into a rope and other curious things for a man like Conrad to know.

Still, even if different from the father-son time his companions often described, Conrad always cherished those lessons, more for the time spent with his ever-busy father, rather than the things he was taught.

But now, he had the occasion, if not the dire need, to put some of them into practice.

Conrad moved towards the entrance of his cave, looking up the sky as it dawned.

Curiously, only one Sun rose at dawn.

The others would probably follow at a later hour, thought Conrad while basking in the view, taking a deep breath of the crisp morning air.

He took a glance at his watch, seeing how the alarm on it did not go off at the supposed time.

<<Useless until the end, huh?>>

He decided to leave the watch into the cave. No sense in taking it with him, since the compass in it was unusable, the time it displayed was so wrong to result even comical, given how the days and nights in this world were far longer than those of the old world.

As he went once again toward the entrance, Conrad started to think about what he would do next.

He first decided to walk alongside the river, following the slim chance of encountering some sort of civilization if he followed the water downstream.

But, he was beginning to consider that there could not be a civilization to find, or it could be too distant to reach, requiring days, weeks even, just for him to get out of the forest.

He thought about giving up on that idea, and staying in his little cave. After all, he considered, in there he had water to last forever, given that the river basically flowed under his “home”.

Food was also abundant, with fruit, mushrooms and fish, and, perhaps, even animals for him to hunt.

He spotted some clay when he walked along the riverbank, and he could use it to improve his situation, craft some pottery perhaps.

Conrad began to consider his options. By staying in the cave, he would be safe and have access to food, shelter and water.

But, he knew that meant basically giving up on the opportunity of finding other people.

Then, he considered what it would happen if he left.

The forest was not safe, he knew that.

Shuddering, he remembered what he had seen during the night, when, feeling the need to relieve himself, he strolled, still half asleep, to the entrance of the cave, his back to the dancing lights of the fireplace, as he pissed to the wind while shivering for the cold of the night.

A quick, large shadow, swooped under the trees, on the other side of the river.

He knew it was not near his little sanctuary, but it was too close to Conrad’s taste.

And, surely, there would be more things lurking in the forest. He knew that ,and the possibility scared him.

If he left, he would be forced to camp in the open, if he did not manage to build or find himself some shelter.

And he could not be so lucky like the first time, when he basically stumbled on a cozy cave, situated on high ground and near a good amount of resources.

He gave some thought to the matter, and finally, Conrad reached a compromise with himself.

From the earlier experience, he knew that leveling his skills enough would yield him additional Stat points.

And that would mean, becoming effectively stronger without the need to level up.

There were too many similarities between this strange reality and those role playing games of the old world, and Conrad knew that, if the rules here were roughly the same as those games, in order to level up he would need to fight and kill something.

And he wanted to avoid the scenario of getting mauled to death by a wild animal.

Most likely, he surmised, the beasts around the area he was in were higher level than him.

Maybe even several levels over his own, and that, he concluded, would spell certain death.

But, if he managed to increase his stat points before venturing out…

Even an increase in Health Points would allow him to survive better, not considering the other parameters.

And, he noticed, he was too under-equipped to undertake a journey of any kind.

He lacked the means to transport some water with him, water-skins or even a portable canteen.

He lacked clothing, bare-chested as he was and donning ripped jeans.

And most of all, he lacked a proper weapon.

His knife, although sharp and made of metal, would be useless against a large animal, and he knew that.

His spear was nothing more than a pointed stick, good for skewering a fish and maybe chasing out small predators, but if something big, or a large group of animals attacked him, Conrad knew that neither the knife nor the spear would do much to save his life.

And so, he decided on the course to take.

He would dedicate himself to training his skills with discipline, preparing as best as he could, and then, and only then, he would attempt to leave his cave and search the forest.

Conrad knew he would still be forced to do quick trips to the forest in order to gather resources and food, but a four or five hours trek to a nearby place was definitely safer than leaving his cave and following the river downstream.

He took a good look at what he had, and thought about what he lacked.

In his list, the top priorities where things he knew he could craft himself with limited resources. First, he needed the means to transport larger quantities of materials, without having his hands busy with carrying them.

He was still using scraps of his clothes as some sort of satchels, but that was not nearly enough, he needed some sturdier and larger things in order to carry firewood, or stones.

And he needed something to store water. He had seen some clay on the riverbank, but, in order to prepare it, he knew he would need to build an oven capable of reaching enough heat to turn clay into ceramic.

He sighed, realizing that he would also need a lot more things.

Clothing, and he was sure that even a simple shirt, or a piece of crude cloth to cover himself with was outside of his capabilities.

He could try with some animal pelts, but that would require catching the animal first, killing it without ruining too much the skin, skinning it and treating the pelt until it became usable.

Too much work, he concluded, given his current circumstances.

Perhaps, he thought, he could rely on animal pelts at a later time, but for now, it was something out of his possibilities.

Especially, he was a bit concerned about his capabilities of catching a wild animal here.

Killing it and skinning the corpse would leave trail of blood to his cave, and the scent would attract insect, scavengers or worse, some larger predators.

He chose to not hunt, yet, even because he still lacked proper, effective weapons.

All he had was some pointed sticks, and a pocket knife.

But, thought Conrad, that was something he could improve.

Not much, but improving his spears with a stone spearhead would mean having something useful to defend himself, and, using the same procedure, he could craft an axe to cut wood, some knives and other tools.

He already knew where to find some hard stones to use as hammers, and some stones similar to flint, that would break into sharp splinters if struck with the right amount of force.

He knew the process would be long, and most likely he would not be able to produce something useful even after a whole day of trying.

Next, he would need something to bind objects. Strings for smaller things, rope for larger objects and in order to secure himself a quicker way in his cave.

He surmised, he had a lot of things to do.

Going back inside the cave, he decided to rework a bit on his spears. As they were now, they were only pointed sticks, but he knew that he could harden the wood using fire, and shape the spear-tip better, forming a proper spearhead out of it.

He decided that he would use those as fishing tools, and so, he needed to make some sort of prongs on the wooden spearhead. And so, he worked, starting the fire and then setting the spearheads on it, until they became slightly blackened.

Then, he would take them off, and start polishing the tip with a porous stone, one that he collected earlier near the riverbed. Unusual as it was, it caught Conrad’s attention given the peculiar material, of clear volcanic origin.

That, had made him think about other stones of that type he could find, perhaps somewhere inside the forest.

If there were some volcanic rock formations, there was the chance he could find a useful stone of that kind. Obsidian, or this world’s equivalent of it.

He knew that flint would made good enough knives or even a spearhead, but obsidian had higher cutting power, although it was more difficult to work.

Still, he needed to find it before crafting something with it, and in order to do that, he would need to explore the forest.

He parted himself from those thoughts, looking at the improved spear-points. He did rework the shaft too, cutting those rough bumps in the wood and smoothing it as best as he could.

Setting the first, finished spear to the side, he focused on the blue notifications.

Successfully Crafted- Wooden Spear (standard quality) + 2 attack

Conrad grinned, dancing lights from the fire made his smile even creepier in the shadows of his cave.

He took the next spear, and started working on it with renewed vigor, waiting to see if the process would increase his crafting skill.

Successfully Crafted- Wooden Spear (standard quality) + 2 attack

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

Not by much, he observed, but the skill still rose by one level. He knew that, if this strange “Mosaic system” worked like a game, there would be diminishing returns with his skills.

That meant, he would need to craft more objects in order to increase the skill’s level, or craft some more complicated ones.

After finishing his “fishing” spears, he decided to hop down to the river, and start gathering the materials he would need.

During the rest of the day, he went back and forth from the cave to the forest, focusing on his work and ignoring the notifications, deciding that he would look at them once his work ended.

When Conrad was satisfied enough by the quantity of materials gathered, he stopped, piles of leaves, wood and stones amassed near the rock cliff that hosted his cave.

The place was relatively open, he was well aware of that, but near the cave there was only one direction from where danger could come.

The forest.

If something approached, he would be able to see it and run into the cave.

At least, he hoped.

The other choice for him would be to haul all the materials up in his cave, something that would force him to spend too much energy.

By working on ground level, he had quick access to water, and a larger, open space to work.

The first thing he did, was digging a fire pit and starting a large fire in it.

It would keep predators, away, and Conrad learned that burning some of that bug-repelling sap in the fire would spread the substance in the air, thus making it more appealing than smearing himself with the sap.

When the fire pit was completed, he stuck some wooden branches around it, making some supports that he would later need.

Then, Conrad started the fire, working as he did the night before by using nothing more than wood, fiber and patience.

Soon, a thick white smoke rose from the pile of wood, as flames licked their way up, flickering orange and red before crackling out loud when they enveloped the wood.

Satisfied by the loud crackling of the fire, Conrad took the time to sort his notifications a bit.

Skill Level UP! Gathering +2 (5/10)

Skill Level UP! Identify +2 (3/10)

Skill Level UP! Dismantle +1 (2/10)

Skill Level UP! Physical Fitness +2 (4/10)

New Skill Unlocked! Running (1/10)- Type: General (Soma)

New Skill Unlocked! Sprint (1/10)- Type: Active- 1SP- (Soma)

New Skill Unlocked! Athletics (1/10)- Type: passive (Soma)

Skill Level UP!Running +1 (2/10)

Skill Level UP! Sprint +1 (2/10)

Skill Level UP! Athletics +1 (2/10)

He had gained a bunch of new skills from the earlier activity, and some more skill levels too.

Still, he felt like all of his skills, beside the active ones, gave little to none benefit over his normal activity.

He surmised he would be able to feel the improvement when the skill level would reach ten, at least, and he had still a long way to go before that.

Now freed of the blinking blue notifications, he dedicated himself to sorting the types of leaves he gathered.

Some were long and thin leaves, much similar to palm leaves but more tender and with smooth edges.

He sorted those in a separate heap, then focused on the rest. Two types of large, deep green leaves whose upper surface was hydro repellent.

Some more, smaller, softer and delicate, along with the thin stalks that held them.

Conrad took the time to sort them all, sending glances towards the forest’s edge from time to time.

Daylight was still strong, as this world’s days lasted far longer than those of the old one.

After sorting out the leaves, it was the turn for bark scraps, pieces of wood and some plant stalks that Conrad found and collected when, after cutting them with his knife, he found out they were basically made with a lot of fiber.

Once he was done, he focused his attention on the stalks.

He stripped them of their thin bark, using his knife on the fibers below, with the utmost care, in order to strip the fiber from the stalk.

Long, thin filaments of it, that Conrad hoped to later work into some kind of string. He would need to dry them first, then patiently twist them one with another in order to form some semblance of string.

The whole process of extracting the fibers netted him two more levels in Dismantle, bringing the skill to level four out of ten.

Each strip of fiber he put on the wooden supports he earlier made around the fire, distant enough to it to still receive the heat without risking them to burn.

Then, Conrad looked up to the sky, calculating how much daylight he still had to work. He decided to stop, and start trying to catch a fish for dinner. He already had gathered some mushrooms and fruits, but he lacked a “main dish”.

Unlike his first catch, he managed to only spear out two small fishes, the others altogether avoiding his form in the water, or too quick for him to spear.

One large fish that he managed to stab, thrashed around so hard that it snapped the spear, leaving Conrad with a broken stick and disappointment.

Shaking his head, he gave up, since he already had enough food for dinner and breakfast.

He took the time to clean the fishes, finding it difficult since the small size of them. Too small, he observed, to be cooked like he did with the other fish.

But, he could cook them by wrapping them into leaves, using them like tinfoil. He remembered doing something similar whenever he went fishing with his friend, and they would take some day off camping on the lake.

He then pondered for a while if he would climb up to the cave once again, or risk sleeping on ground level.

He had fire near him, and sleeping on soft soil was more appealing to him than his bed of leaves on a hard rock floor.

Still, he took the more prudent option, deciding to go back to the cave. Perhaps, he thought, he would be able to build a fence around the cave’s entrance sooner or later, and have a more secure place if he wanted to sleep outside.

For now, he considered safety a priority over good sleep, resolving himself to do something about that in the near future.

Taking the essentials with him, food and some firewood, he climbed up once again. Then, he returned on ground level, to take some of the palm-like leaves.

He did gather them from a small palm tree that grew among the forest’s undergrowth. His Identify skill named those trees Malu, and Conrad found the name fitting given the exotic, out of place appearance of those trees among the others of that forest.

He did this for almost half an hour, until the stash of Malu leaves he gathered was completely stashed into his cave.

Then, he climbed up once more, for the final time that day.

He dismissed the notification about his Climbing skill rising one level, and dedicated himself to start a small fire inside the cave.

The slight wind coming from the opening blew the smoke further inside the cave, spreading the acre, gray smoke where Conrad would sleep.

It did not bother him too much, and he decided to take some rest and add some smoke of his own.

He rolled himself a cigarette, using the tobacco he had been rationing, hoping it would last him enough but knowing that it wouldn’t.

Conrad burst into laughter, that quickly became a coughing fit, after seeing the content of the new system window that popped up.

New Skill Unlocked! Poison Resistance (1/0)- Type: Passive (Soma)

He thought about how his mother would agree to that statement. “Stop smoking that! It’s poisoning you!” she would often yell, whenever Conrad stepped out of the house to light a cigarette.

His mother’s face remained there, for an instant, impressed into his memory, gray hair and that ever concerned expression.

But her eyes, he remembered, feeling his chest tighten, her eyes were both sad and kind, a combination that appeared after Conrad’s father became paralyzed.

He shook his head, feeling his eyes slightly burn as he repressed those tears.

A bad habit he had, thought Conrad, to not let himself go, to suppress those emotions instead of letting them out.

And here, alone, he could do it, he thought, no one was there to watch, or judge.

And yet, he did the same as he did back in the city, the same he did near his father’s bed and later, near the brown, lucid wood of his coffin surrounded by flowers.

In order to shake off those thoughts from his mind, he sat down and took the Malu leaves, beginning to cut them from the branch and dividing them into two halves, cutting with his knife along the stem of the leaf.

Then, he started to weave them together.

After working on it for some hours, he finally got the hang of it and managed to craft himself a small satchel. It was flexible enough, given how the leaves were still fresh, and they were sturdy enough to not break, even when Conrad pulled the final product with some strength, making a satisfied expression as it did not break.

He then started to make some more, going on until he felt too sleepy to continue.

Before laying on his crude bed of leaves, he added some firewood to his fire and sat down in front of it, warming himself up a bit.

Then, he went to his bed and tried to find the best position that he could.

Tired as he was, he slept all night, waking up with the first light of morning and starting his routine once again after breakfast.

He would dedicate the first hours of the morning to gathering new resources, mainly leaves and some more of those fiber rich stalks.

Then, he would start dismantling the items he gathered, putting the fibers to dry near the fire and starting to work on those that were dried enough.

He first took the fiber between his fingers, and twisted it on itself.

Then, he would take another, doing the same, adding it to the first one and twisting in the same direction.

It took some time, both for him to learn how to do it the proper way to weave and craft those thin vegetable strings.

The most difficult part to him was learning how to insert new fibers into the string, thus increasing the string’s length and thickness. But, with time and patience, he learned how to do it.

The amount of string he crafted was still too low for him to do anything with it, but it was a starting point, and the whole process netted him another level in his crafting skill.

After dismissing the notification, he took the time for a quick lunch, before setting out to gather again, this time bringing his satchels made of woven leaves with him.

Looking at the line of trees with suspicion, he decided to not go in the forest yet. Instead, he climbed up on the rock that hosted his small cave, to have a better look at his immediate surroundings.

He took with him his spear, just to feel a bit safer, and some pieces of black coal along with a straight piece of clear bark.

Climbing up, he reached up to the top, four meters above the riverbank.

The rock formation continued inward, into the forest. It was not a continuous ridge, rather, it had some interruptions that forced Conrad to climb down and walk on ground level, sometimes for tens of meter, other for hundreds.

In the distance, he could see the place where the rocks stood even taller than the trees, providing a good point of observation to study the surroundings.

The climb up was surely more difficult than he did in order to reach his position, but Conrad considered it worth the fatigue and risk.

He took a deep breath, and started walking towards the higher rocks.

Conrad measured each step, trying to find safe footing before putting his weight on the spot.

Some times, his prodding of the stone with the butt of his spear made the stone crumble, pebbles tumbling down in the forest, forcing him to reconsider his path on the stone surface.

Luckily, he considered, he had some experience with free climbing, and he could manage even without proper security equipment.

Slowly, preferring safety to speed, he reached the point where he would need to stop walking, and start climbing up.

The vertical rock wall was not a difficult climb, its color and hardness suggesting the stone to be another type from the frail rock that he crossed earlier.

It was not even that high, sixty meters of vertical climb, with lots of good handholds to use.

After he managed to reach the top, panting and covered in sweat and dirt, Conrad rolled on his back, his eyes staring at the blue notification that floated in front of him.

Skill Level UP! Climbing + 2 (5/10)

Skill Level UP! Physical Fitness +2 (6/10)

He took some more time to let his breathing settle, his hearth thumping in his chest.

Then, he finally stood up, and let his gaze wander at the sea of green.

<<Shit>>

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.

The sight of those strange creatures made Conrad recoil in fear, and he darted behind a large rock, flattening himself to its surface in order to hide.

He took another, prudent glance to those weird animals. Long necks that towered over treetops, making the beasts taller than sixty meters overall.

Their skin had a primary shade of deep green, with darker brown spots that resembled a giraffe’s mane. Their bulbous heads lacked eyes, having a row of long, luminescent stripes that pulsed dimly.

Tentacles expanded from those heads, lightly brushing the foliage before grasping the branches and pulling them to the animal’s mouth.

Conrad counted six of them, and he was surprised not only by those thing’s weird appearance, but also by the simple notion that they did make almost no noise.

Certainly, he thought, animals of that size should be heard from miles away, and yet, those things walked gently among the trees, slowly bobbing their long necks as they droned from one tree to the other. He became captivated by that view, forgetting the fear that took hold of him before.

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 his surroundings. Conrad realized that those beasts, although queer in their appearance and proportions, did not pose any threat to him.

He looked at them some more, then he focused on the original task that compelled him to climb the rocks.

To look for useful landmarks.

In order to have some sense of direction, he considered north the direction he was facing.

In front of him, the rock formation went down progressively, until it became invisible, covered by the foliage like it was swallowed by green waters.

Further away, in the distance, the mountain range he saw on his first day was there, its peaks covered by black, dense clouds that made Conrad slightly worry.

A storm would definitely be bad for him.

Still, he judged it far, and the wind was blowing in the opposite direction, away from the forest and towards the mountains.

To his back, south, there was his cave, further down on the same rock formation he was now.

The river flowed south east of his position.

To his left, west, more trees.

Taller ones 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 similar to fins than proper bird wings. Tentacles wiggled where its beak should have been.

Conrad could only take a small glance at the thing, before it darted away in the sky.

The man shrugged his shoulder, as he sat dawn and began to draw on the piece of bark, using coal to trace a rough map of his surroundings.

He had no clear sense of distance, only a rough approximation, but having a map to follow would be inestimable, and a starting point for the time when he would decide to leave the cave and thread further into the forest.

As Conrad drew the approximated lines of his map, he felt a slight sensation in his head, followed by the usual ringing noise that preceded the blue screen’s appearance.

New Skill Unlocked! Map (1/10)- Type: General (Pneuma) Visualize a mental representation of the places you’ve explored. Landmark and points of interest are displayed and marked as you explore further

Congratulations! You’ve unlocked two skills of each Type (current: 2 Tekna, 2 Pneuma, 8 Soma)

Unlocked new Pattern: “First Step” (0/10) Tiles required for each level-1

Acquired: 1 Tile

Bonus Stat Points Gained!

+1 Str

+1 Int

+1 Per

The sudden rush of energy Conrad felt left him shuddering, as the increase in his statistics began to change his body.

This time, sensations assaulted all his being, mind and body, he felt them overflowing with energy, first painful, then waning into warm pleasure before vanishing.

The world around him looked more vivid, as he discovered that now, with his increased Perception, he could see more detail in the world around him.

He could even see the single leaves on distant trees, that moments before were nothing but green massess.

The world filled with so many new details was overwhelming for him, and Conrad closed his eyes for a moment, his improved vision causing him a headache.

Not only that, he noticed also he could now hear better, the rustling leaves around him, the creaking sound of branches swaying in the light breeze.

And his own heartbeat, now pounding louder in his ears.

It took him some minutes before adjusting to the new conditions.

As he tried to get up, he realized those were not the only changes.

He felt stronger, reinvigorated. To test things, he took a small stone and threw it away.

It flew well past the distance that Conrad knew he could throw.

Grinning, he tried to use the new skill he gained.

When he did, a blue window floated in his view.

On it, instead of the usual messages written in white, flickering letters, there was a bi-dimensional map, surrounded by black space.

The map represented the portion of the forest and riverbank that Conrad had ventured into.

He recognized the landmarks represented in there, his cave, the hill he climbed to on his first day, even the rock he was standing at that moment.

He tried to fidget a bit with the new skill, realizing he could scroll the map as he wanted, using nothing more than a thought.

Zooming in and out of it, and even reducing the window’s size. The skill itself did not consume his energies, and he could keep the window up without it impeding his field of view.

<<Well, this will be useful>>

He muttered with satisfaction, deciding to head back to his cave.

On the way back, he marveled about how the climb down was easier than he imagined, thinking it the work of the improved statistics he gained.

As he was about to climb down the final portion of the rock, he stopped, his eyes gaping in surprise and panic.

Below him, no more than three meters, a large animal stalked the forest. It had a long, sleek body with gleaming black skin. The beast moved among the low bushes, its steps having a feline grace to them.

Conrad knew, by instinct, that the animal was dangerous. He could not see it completely, parts of its frame hidden by the vegetation. But, as he observed it, holding his breath, he concluded that the beast was hunting.

A rustle in the bushes made him draw a sigh of relief, as the black monster sprung out to leap on another animal.

Thankfully, thought Conrad, the thing was not hunting him.

He remained there, his breath as silent as he could, as the black creature tore the animal apart, gulping down its flesh. The snout of the beast was similar to that of a tiger, yet so different.

The mouth looked more like an insect’s jaw surrounded by thick, short tentacles, that wiggled around when the creature joutted its head back and gulped large chunks of meat, like a bird would do.

Unable to resist the curiosity, Conrad used his Identify on the black predator.

Identified- Lyander (lvl 35)- Caution/ Retreat Suggested

Skill Level UP! Identify +2 (5/10)

Level 35. Those words made Conrad panic, as he resisted the need to leave his spot and run the hell back to his cave.

He forced himself to think, rather than act.

The monster did not spot him, focused as it was on its prey.

Conrad surmised that, if he dropped down and ran, the Lyander would chase him and, most likely, kill him.

Strange as it sounded, he considered that he was safe while still perched on those rocks.

But he needed to move from his position.

The rock formation that he was on was not continuous, and had numerous interructions that forced him to climb down and walk on the ground for a bit.

This was one such points, no more than one hundred meters or so separing his position from the next, high rock. If he managed to reach it, he would be safe on top of it, having some kind of height advantage.

If the beast decided to follow, he could spear it from up top, or chase it off launching stones.

But that was a matter for later, if he managed to sneak past the monster.

He pondered his options. First, he needed to get on ground level if he wanted to go back home.

He could wait for the Lyander to leave, or he could try and sneak his way out of sight.

He tried the first option, waiting for the black monster to finish its meal.

But, much to Conrad’s regret, the monster chose to crouch near its prey, apparently falling asleep.

Conrad began to feel his muscles tense too much, still hanging from the rock as he was.

He could not wait much longer in that position, and so, he decided to take the risk, and sneak away from the creature.

As slowly as he could, he moved sideways on the rock wall, cursing under his lips every time a small pebble fell from the rock.

His eyes darted from the rock to the terrain below, where the beast slept.

Conrad climbed down, and, once he reached the soft soil, he began to step lightly on it, putting some distance between himself and the sleeping predator.

In doing so, he kept visual contact with the monster.

For only a moment he glanced away, checking his surroundings.

A moment, but it had been enough for the beast to disappear.

He began sweating, his eyes frantically searching for the black shape of the beast.

Conrad crouched, trying to hide among the bushes, almost crawling when he tried to move from one to the other, careful to not let his steps make any noise.

He managed to step away from the rock, putting roughly thirty meters between him and the spot where the Lyander was resting.

For a moment, Conrad really thought he slipped by the beast.

A black paw touched the ground, half a meter away from the bush where Conrad was hidden.

From whithin the thick foliage, he could see the form of the Lyander, lifting its snout and wiggling those strange tentacles he had, almost, thought Conrad, as if it was smelling something.

Smelling him.

The beast had no eyes, he noted when he had a clear glance to its head. On its sides, where eyes should have been, the same kind of long, bioluminescent strips that those giraffe-squids had pulsed with purple light, rhithmycally, almost hypnotic.

Perhaps, thought Conrad, it had some other means of vision, but it did not see like an animal of his old world did.

Otherwise, Conrad would be already dead.

Instead, it looked to him like the Lyander relied more on smell, or some other weird sense to hunt its prey.

And that was what the beast did, its tentacles wriggling, extended towards the bush where Conrad was.

Perhaps, he thought, the monster relied mostly on smell to hunt.

But a sudden noise interrupted his considerations.

Something fell from a tree, perhaps a ripe fruit, or a broken branch.

The noise it made, it was not even that loud, and yet, the monster sprung toward that direction, darting movement so quick that the image of it became only a black, blurred shape.

A moment after, the monster re-emerged from the bushes.

Conrad’s heart skipped a beat, and he gripped his wooden spear so hard that his knuckles became white.

It used smell, and sound, he concluded.

He knew that the beast would tear him apart, if it found him.

And now, the thing was searching the area, only some moments left before it would find him.

The slightest noise, would mean death for him.

Conrad weighted his options, his thoughts running as to find a solution to his predicament.

He considered running away.

Doing so, he knew, would make a lot of noise. Seeing how mindboggingly quick the creature sprung to attack, Conrad now had the certainty that he would never be able to outrun it. And even if he did, the thing could just track his smell and the sounds he made, and it would reach him in some instants.

He imagined how the beast would just leap at him, sinking its jaws into Conrad’s back.

Or, and that option was almost as risky as the other one, he could remain in hiding.

Attacking the beast head on was pure suicide, he knew that.

But, if the thing really used smell and hearing to hunt, Conrad thought, perhaps he would be able to trick it, somehow.

He steeled his nerves, controlled his breathing, trying to calm himself.

Panic, he knew, would only worsen his situation.

Beasts could smell fear, something that every good hunter would repeat to a young one wanting to learn.

And Conrad remembered his father telling him so, when they spotted a bear during a hunting trip. The danger, back then, was faraway, not like what Conrad was facing at the moment.

And he was not even sure if that saying was true, or if it was even appliable to creatures of another world.

The Lyander pointed its snout towards Conrad, slowly advancing towards him.

Contrasting thoughts burst out in Conrad’s mind, instints and reason fighting each other in a tangled mess.

Run, fight, stay, scream, cry, die, survive.

All at the same time.

But something clicked, and he found himself unusually calm, cold even.

He slowly moved to the side, each movement calculated to not let out even the slightest noise.

He ignored those blue flashes and the noise in his head, focusing, holding his breath. Even the slightest mistake would spell his death, and he had only one chance, he was sure of it.

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: 1

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)

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

Patterns: “First Step” (0/10)

A Strange Sky- Prologue

The man groaned, pain aching through all of his body.

He tried to open his eyes, but the world he saw was confused, out of focus, red and blue lights flashing in his view.

He had the strange impression of a distant, distorted voice whispering something in his head, but that was being overwhelmed by the loud, ringing noise that pierced his ears, numbing his thoughts to the point that he did not even remember his own name.

Waves of pain were constantly assaulting him, originating from the deepest part of his brain and surging, expanding, as if his own head was about to burst open.

He coughed, a sliver of saliva dribbling down his chin as his chest convulsed in that abrupt motion, sending new waves of pain as he gasped for air.

Again, a blue light flickered in his view, along with the semblance of words whispered through that ringing noise.

To him, it was the worst kind of pain he ever experienced. Much more than when he broke both his legs falling down a tree, or when, barely adolescent, he was hit by a car.

<<A car…my…car>>

He mumbled, shuddering as his own voice sounded weak, broken, nothing more than a whisper.

His mouth tasted like blood, he smelled it even.

He tried to lift himself up, realizing that he was lying supine on the ground, his face scraping dirt.

Another jolt of pain made him subside from his attempt, and he just laid there, aching.

His breathing was heavy, and he felt his heart beating, the slow thump pulsing in his temples, weak, irregular.

His senses were about to give up, sliding into that murky oblivion that he just woke up from.

Instead, he resisted it, forcing his consciousness away from that “place”.

He struggled to maintain himself awake, stopping his own consciousness from drifting into a murky sleep.

He needed to stay awake, he wanted to stay awake.

Another one of those strange blue flashes, and he felt better.

Slightly,but better.

Every breath still pained his body, and his head still hurt like hell.

Steeling himself, he moved his arms, trying to lift them, fearing them broken.

They hurt, but he managed to move them well enough. Grasping the earth with his fingers, he collected his will.

He tried to get up once again, failing once more since his legs were not moving.

A wave of panic hit him hard, making his heart race like it never had in a long, long time.

He forced himself once more, this time without attempting to immediately get up.

Instead, he struggled to turn himself around, from supine to prone.

And he did, collapsing on his back, exhausted with that simple motion.

His sight was slowly returning to him, his surroundings regaining focus, becoming proper objects rather than confused blurs of colors like some moments before.

Another of those blue lights flashed in his view, staying there from some moments.

He felt the impression that something was written in his view, but it quickly disappeared, becoming nothing more than a flickering blue light in the farthest corner of his view.

Hurting, confused to the point that he did not even manage to put one thought after the other, he laid there, his bare skin touching the cold, soft ground below, while a gentle breeze swept the air.

It carried the sound of rustling leaves, it carried the smell of wet terrain after rain. The smell of vegetation, both growing and decaying.

The smell of a forest.

His thoughts were beginning to clear up, and the man was beginning to remember.

Some things were still murky in his mind, and he struggled to get them, feeling like when a word slipped by his thoughts, its meaning clear but the name related to it hidden, but close, as if he was about to grasp it, and he was forced to struggle in order to remind himself of it.

Then, memories clicked, working as they should have been.

The man started to piece together what happened to him.

He was driving his car on the highway, half an hour after work and still fifteen minutes to drive before reaching home.

The road unusually empty, he remembered pushing his foot on the pedal a bit too hard, wanting to test the new “toy” that his expensive car was.

<<Did I crash my car?>>

He muttered, thinking himself to be in some kind of hospital, despite his senses suggested otherwise.

He remembered hearing on the TV, that sometimes acute cranial trauma would lead to sensory hallucinations, like weird smells or strange noises, or even the blue flickering light.

In his thoughts, he began to consider his situation like the aftermath of a car accident.

And what else, he thought, could have happened?

He was driving, his consciousness blacked out, and he woke up hurting like hell all over his body and head.

And yet, his hands touched cold, soft soil, and the gentle breeze that swept over his skin gave him real respite from the almost oppressive heat of that place.

Could those be hallucinations too, asked the man to himself.

It had to be something like this, he thought.

The blue light flickered once more, and he was forced to blink a few times before it went away. Now, the number of blinking blue dots on the lower corner of his vision was beginning to worry him a bit.

Still, he ignored them, thinking them some weird hallucination.

After all, he thought, he must have hit his head pretty fucking hard.

Once again, the man struggled to force himself up. Again, his legs did not move. Now, the man was beginning to fear the worst.

Which, to him, was not to be dead. He did not fear that, thinking that whenever it would happen, it would happen, without the need for him to fear it or worry too much.

What he feared, was becoming crippled, his mind working and fine trapped into a broken body. That thought made him shudder, bringing forth with it the last memory that the man had of his father.

A large, ever happy man that spent his life doing things all day long, restless.

Be it farming, crafting ,woodworking or even hunting and fishing, the old man, Albert, had a number of hobbies throughout his whole life.

But the last portion of it, ten years, Albert spent paralyzed in his bed, unable to move anything below his neck after a fall during one of his many activities.

And his son watched him in those conditions, the images of his father from before and after the accident overlapping in his mind.

He thought of his father, weeping in his bed as his legs did not want to move.

He steeled himself, using all the willpower he had to make his legs move.

His lips started to tremble, when nothing happened for the third time.

The man was beginning to give in to resignation, but, he forced himself once more.

He raised his upper body, his elbows lifting the weight, trembling, aching. He looked at his legs.

The expensive pair of jeans he wore were torn and tattered, dried blood mixed with dirt staining the tissue.

He lost one of his shoes, a pair of black boots, imitations of those that the Army’s soldiers wore.

<<Fuck>>

He muttered, trying once more to move his legs, this time focusing on a single finger, the big toe of his left, bare foot.

The man almost laughed hysterically, when the toe moved.

He tried to do the same with the other foot, feeling his toe scraping to the tip of the shoe.

With a sigh of relief, he abandoned himself down, ignoring the jolt of pain that happened when he did so.

He closed his eyes, breathing slowly to let both excitement and fear pass.

He would wait some more time, then try to move his legs with more decision. Still, he knew that the fact his toes moved was a good sign.

He did not exactly know how good that fact was, if it was the sign of the complete absence of a spinal lesion, or if it just meant that the damage, if there was any, was of minor entity than an injury leading to full leg paralysis.

He opened his eyes once more. Concerned as he was, he had let it slide, but now, he was starting to realize it.

Trees. He was surrounded by trees. Looming over him, their canopy masking the sky above them, letting only some rays of light to filter down.

He already realized that he was not inside an hospital, since he was lying face down on soft soil when he woke up.

But, in his head, he had surmised that the crash made him fly and land into some sort of garden, or one of the small patches of cultivated terrain.

One of those that surrounded the part of the highway he was driving on.

The strangest thing of all, was that there was not a single place with so many trees in the vicinity of that highway, for hundreds of meters all around.

Sure, some gardens and terrains had some trees, he knew that, but, what he was seeing at the moment, and even smelling, was not a pair of trees in someone’s garden.

Not even a park, for that matter.

The trees he saw were too many for it to be the case, and the smell, so different from that of a city park, more like that of a proper meadow, or even a forest, thought the man.

And, there was not a single spot near that highway that had trees in that quantity.

<<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 muttered to himself, realizing that his voice now had more strength than before.

The man turned his head around, trying to see more of his surroundings. On his right, there was a rock, covered in moss, big enough for him to use it to help himself get up on his feet.

The place, everything, held a surreal aura to it, thought the man, feeling like inside a dream rather than properly awake. Although the smells, and the sensations he felt were too real for it to be a dream.

The two considerations clashed in his mind, but he shrugged them off, focusing on the more pressing stuff.

<<Ok, let’s try this now>>

He stretched his hands, turning his body as much as he could towards the boulder.

Grasping it with his hands, he pulled himself up, slowly, enduring the pain and the rising sensation of nausea and disorientation that assaulted him.

But, he managed to lift himself up using the boulder.

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, only, they looked more like tatters than proper clothes.

Especially his sweater and the shirt below, they were nothing more than dirty, bloodstained rags. He tried to check his back, reaching backwards with his hands.

Another jolt of pain, but, lesser than what he felt when he got up.

His hands, both of them, touched bare skin and patches of clothing.

If the front of his sweater was torn, but still had somewhat the semblance of a sweater, the backside of it was completely torn open, leaving the man’s back exposed.

Luckily, he thought, his pants were somehow still a bit intact. They were an expensive pair of jeans, now riddled with tears and stains in the tissue, but somehow still passable.

And, he was missing a shoe.

He glanced around, trying to locate the missing item.

If he needed to trek for some time among the trees, doing it barefoot would be a bad idea.

His eyes darting around, he managed to find the shoe, some meters away from his position.

The soil between that lone, out of place shoe and the man’s position was covered in dried leaves, but some patches of terrain were clear, like something had been dragged over it, clearing a line on the ground.

<<Something, or someone>> thought the man, a chill running through his spine. He considered himself that something dragged down the forest, almost picturing the scene.

But, if that was the case, thought the man, there should have been some blood splattered around. Instead, the terrain below him, and that around, were void of any trace of blood, not even a single blood.

While his body, thought the man, was splattered by it, most likely his own.

That fact led the man to a single conclusion. The accident happened somewhere else, and he was transported there, maybe dragged down by someone.

Despite his thoughts were turning slightly darker, as he considered how he could be the “thing” that was dragged there, the man noted how he was feeling definitely better than before.

His chest no longer hurt when he breathed, and he could now freely move his legs, although his muscles still tensed with pain at the start of each movement.

With a deep breath, the man decided to try and get up on his feet.

He managed, for two seconds or so, before a sense of vertigo assaulted him with enough violence to almost make him tumble down on his butt.

He recovered, letting himself sit on the rock again.

Perhaps, he thought, it was a bit too early for him to stand up.

The man rummaged in his pockets, looking to find his phone. Now that he was feeling better, he thought, he could try and call for help.

Inside his right pocket, the phone was still there, pressing on his skin until he took it out of the pocket.

It was off, oddly, since the man never turned it off, never.

<<It must have been the impact>>

He tried to start the phone, but, as he pressed down the button, the phone exploded into sparks.

The sudden light made the man close his eyes, white and red impressed in his vision, with the latter more vivid and staying there, even with his eyes closed.

But it subsided, his vision returning to normal.

<<What the fuck was that?>>

The man shouted, looking his hand to search some signs of burns or cuts.

To his relief, he still had all his fingers, albeit a bit reddened and slightly burned by the sudden sparks.

He sighed, muttering an imprecation before rummaging further into his pockets.

The right one held the phone along with his wallet and the keys from his apartment.

The left one held a pack of rolling tobacco, along with filters and rolling paper, all of them new and sealed. Other than that, he had his lighter, a small pack of gummy candy and a little knife.

He smiled when looking at the small knife, the silver reflections of the tiny blade, no longer than his

thumb but sharp and well kept.

The handle of it was in polished horn, shining in the dim light that transpired from the trees above.

The first piece of his collection, the rest of it exposed on a shelf in his bedroom. A weird habit, but something he cherished. And that knife was special, it was a gift from his father, his first knife, tied to memories of his old man, of when he was still strong and full of life.

He put the knife in his pocket once again, and he started to examine 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. Attached to the key ring, a small teddy bear made of plastic.

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 knives and sword replicas, she bought him a cute little thing instead.

They were still at the start of their relationship, two months since it started, that time where people stop wearing the masks that they put on when trying to impress the other person, and let their own self be known, taking all the risks involved.

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.

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.

He took out the pack of gummy candy, eating some of those. Not enough to sate his hunger, but still, it was something. He let the candy melt a bit before starting to munch on it.

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, and it made him look younger than he really was when he took it.

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, slimmer, younger, with a stupid haircut and even more stupid attempt at growing a beard.

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, swept back and well trimmed.

More professional, he thought.

The stubble on his chin was also gone, as,each morning, he shaved his face.

He got rid of the piercing rings that he used to wear on his left ear, all three of them.

His first boss did not see those kind of things, tattoos and piercings, in a kind way.

And, so he got rid of the earrings, opting for a “cleaner” look.

Overall, his face did become more handsome with age and since he put on some weight.

Back then, he was too slim for his own height, the man thought.

Now, his seventy six kilograms were almost the ideal weight for his meter and eighty four of height.

The man studied the details of his past self, the image of which impressed in that plastic material.

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 always thought about himself.

That, and his voice, deep and warm, sometimes more interesting that the thing he said with it.

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 it 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 eyes studying the shape it had before, then going down.

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.

<<Ah, right>>

He said to himself, feeling slightly dumb. His phone after all, decided to explode right in his fingers.

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, this time.

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, he walked up to his missing shoe.

The sock was still inside of it, and Conrad bent, making a pained expression in the process, to pick it up and put it on.

The pair of shoe, black boots made with leather, were sturdy and warm.

Perfect for trekking inside a forest, he thought.

After having both shoes again, he considered what to do at the moment.

Conrad thought, the first thing he needed right now was to get out of the woods.

Judging from the light coming from above, he surmised that it was still morning out there, since the rays of light that managed to find their way between leaves were strong enough to well illuminate the place.

<<Noon? Perhaps?>>

He muttered his guess to himself.

Perhaps, he thought, he might be off by some hours in his consideration.

Still, Conrad thought to have enough time to maybe get out of the woods, or at least, understand where these woods were.

Moreover, he was now sure that he was not dead, or in a coma or some other strange dream state or hallucination.

He had considered those options, before, when pain and confusion numbed him down and clouded his thoughts, so much that he thought it all an hallucination of some kind.

But, as time went on, and he started to feel a bit better, the reality of his situation became more and more apparent.

And, he convinced himself of that, although it still confused him, a lot.

He looked around the place, seeing if he somehow managed to recognize it.

Adding to Conrad’s confusions, the surroundings were unknown to him, as the type of plants he observed around.

The place was nothing more than a patch of soil among trees, with a scarcer undergrowth due to the rocky nature of the terrain underneath the soft soil.

Gray rocks emerged here and there, the biggest of them the one where he was sitting some moments before.

All around, a carpet of dead leaves was scattered on the floor, excepts from some lines of clear soil, those that he believed to be the signs of something dragged on the ground.

Something as big as him, he thought while looking closer at those supposed tracks.

That, incidentally, led exactly to the point where he woke up.

<<What the hell is going on?>>

He muttered, some more strength in his voice.

Conrad’s thoughts were now running rampant, trying to think why and how he was dragged down here, from the highway and his car.

Perhaps, he crashed somewhere, and some kind soul dragged him out of the car and went to search for help.

But Conrad excluded that possibility, since there were no trace of a car around, nor those of another person.

It was like he, and that thought was so silly that it almost made him laugh, came crashing down from higher altitude, and slid on the leaf-covered soil until he stopped near the rock.

Of course, he knew that if something like this happened, his neck would have been snapped by the landing.

Not that he could completely rule out the fact that, having had an accident with his car, he was launched by the impact. In his mind, the possibility that he had a car accident was now a certainty, confirmed by his wounds.

Still, he did not manage to find a possible explanation for how he did end up in that place.

The thought that someone might have dragged him there was the most likely option, but he failed to understand why someone would take their time and struggle to drag almost eighty kilograms of man inside a forest, and leave him there.

Without even leaving a footprint around.

He decided to leave those thoughts alone for the moment, and focus on getting out of the trees. First, he would need to find a way to orient himself among them.

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.

To his knowledge, however, there weren’t any parks or meadows near the place where he was driving.

All city on the west side, and on the east side, land used for industrial purpose and further away, patches of land purposed for cultivation.

Only some small gardens around that part of the city.

But then, he came to the conclusion that, without knowing where he was, and without having some sort of landmark to use, 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.

Step after step, stopping from time to time to catch his breath once more.

His vision was still riddled with those blue and red flickering points, flashing from the corner of his view.

Other than that, it was perfect, as was his hearing, now free of that annoying constant sound.

His head still pound with pain from time to time, especially when he accelerated his walk a bit too much.

It took him some time to get on top of it, a hill that had a height of roughly one hundred meters.

He checked the wristwatch he had on his left wrist, reading the time on the digital display.

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.

He laughed, shaking his head.

Then, he looked up to the hill, starting to trek up the sloped terrain.

It was a gentle slope, something that he would have been able to climb pretty quickly if he was in optimal conditions.

But, he wasn’t, and it took him some good time, and frequent stops, to get on top of it.

However,things went smoother than he initially surmised. Conrad thought his conditions worse than they were, or, he thought, he was getting better as time passed.

Once on top, he considered his conditions and felt like his suppositions were true. He felt fine, no pain coursing through his muscles.

And he knew, that the state he was in when he woke up was critical, something that would need weeks to heal, not mere hours.

Instead, the damage he had was gone.

Breathing no longer was painful, his vision worked perfectly and the ringing sounds in his ears was gone, as was the headache.

The flickering lights were still there, but that did not bother Conrad too much.

Other things had started to bother him, 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, a deep metallic purple.

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.

The sight from the hilltop was beautiful, stunning even, and it left Conrad speechless.

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.

A wide river slithered its way among the green of the forest, the treetops near it enveloped in a thin veil of mist.

Seen from above, the higher trees near the hill looked like they would reach half the height of it, but some other, seen in the distance, might have been taller than the hill itself.

As Conrad basked himself in the view, he thought it splendid, setting aside the implications that such a sight had, he simply let himself enjoy it, for a moment. 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, their home in the countryside lost among nature.

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.

Even atop of the hill, with the slight breeze sweeping it, the air was warm enough for him to feel refreshed.

Conrad removed his tattered sweater and shirt, tying the two ragged clothes around his waist.

The two pieces of clothing were ruined enough that more than comfort, having them on was becoming a hassle, as the pieces of torn cloth swayed with the wind, sticking to the skin that they left largely exposed.

After doing so, Conrad gazed upwards, to the sky.

As he did, he shuddered, dread taking hold of its thoughts. The sky, it was different, so much that it left the man speechless, trembling.

It was blue, but…

Not a single cloud, and a strange, aurora-like luminosity was dancing on the sky above. Pulsing, it shone, the colors of it shifting, 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 combined burned as brightly, blinding Conrad until he finally set his gaze elsewhere.

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, a strange sky where three small Suns shone and aurora lights danced in thousands of colors.

No trace of civilization all around, not a single sign of a road, or a settlement of some sorts.

Only nature, green as far as the eye could see. And the river, swimming its way in that sea of green that extended below the hill.

In the distance, a mountain ridge emerged lazily from the forest, growing in height as it grew more distant from the forest.

Some more hills emerged from the forest, between Conrad’s position and the mountain range, where the trees grew taller than the area where Conrad was.

This time, Conrad watched the compass on his wristwatch. To the north, he had the distant mountain ridge.

The rived followed the same direction for a trait, before taking a huge turn east and continuing its sinuous stream northwest of Conrad’s position. West, and south, more trees, unending, reaching as far as Conrad’s eyes could see.

<<This must be a fucking dream>>

He muttered to himself.