CH : 19 – DISCOVERY PART 2C
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DISCOVERY PART 2C

Day 53; 1011 (Morning)
Focus: 513

*THUD* *THUD* *THUD*

513 was busy removing spiked anchors from the tree he was on when a deluge of corpses fell from the sky. Countless bodies cut through the mist like small meteors and slammed into the ground like blunt hammers. Their hard impacts kicked-up frost into the misty air, further obscuring the land below in a transparent sheen of crystal gloss. 

The entire event gave 513 a headache as it halted his plans for retreat.

When the hail of corpses finally stopped, he shoved-away the limp bodies that had crashed onto him and sighed. He was relieved to find that the size of the corpses were no larger than squirrels on Earth. Otherwise, his body would've received real damage.

Still, he felt it was necessary to practice caution, so he turned his attention towards the treetops. 

While scanning the trees, he located a peculiar creature.

On the lowest branch of a nearby tree, he sighted a large bird that looked like a feathered pterodactyl. It keenly stared at him for only a moment, before making motions to flee the area. 

Just as the prehistoric bird expanded its wings and launched itself into the air, a large rope-like appendage shot-out from the mist and wrapped itself around the bird’s feet.

*SNAP*

The bird cried-out in distress as it tried to get free, but the rope-like appendage pulled with such force that the bird’s neck snapped in-two with a loud crack, turning it limp.

513's eyes locked with the bird's as it was quickly dragged into the mist by the tentacle. The feeling of intense hatred came from the bird’s eyes, but 513 couldn’t understand the reason why.

As the bird was only one breath away from death, 513 chose to dismiss the encounter, noting that searching for a deeper meaning behind the bird’s animosity would gain him nothing.

His eyes then switched focus from the dying bird, to the rope-like appendage.

The appendage -- or tentacle -- reminded him of his ill-fated encounter with the funnelhead. From initial observations, there were a few similarities between the mist creature’s tentacle and the funnelhead's rope-like tongue, such as their general size, shape, and function. 

Just thinking about this made the large, helical scar on 513’s leg ache.

As his eyes followed the quickly retracting tentacle, he noted that its effective range dwarfed the funnelhead's total attack distance. If he had to guess, using the average girth of the surrounding trees as a unit of measure, the tentacle's range of motion exceeded five trees -- or one-hundred meters -- outside of the mist.

This was an exceedingly high-range of operation. Combined with its speed and silent approach, 513 deemed the tentacle as an obstacle that must be avoided at all costs.

Luckily for him, there was only one tentacle. If he could find a way to distract it, he could easily make his escape. 

This knowledge made him feel more at-ease.

Unfortunately, the momentary comfort he felt was thoroughly squashed as several more tentacles shot-out from the mist, each latching onto fleeing creatures high-up in the trees.

Upon seeing that, 513’s heart sank. He could imagine himself being constricted by a tentacle if he chose to run, just like the captured creatures before him. 

For a moment, he then lamented.

After some time had passed, he gazed down at the hazy corpses littering the ground. The complicated feelings inside his head had prevented him from thinking clearly, so he hoped a change in scenery would help him focus.

Looking at the corpses, he discovered that they had already begun to freeze. [So that's its effect.] He mumbled in his mind. 

The harmless mist appeared to be capable of freezing whatever was trapped within it in a matter of minutes. In addition, dead bodies that could no longer generate heat would freeze even faster. 

513 had no doubt in his mind that he wouldn't survive five minutes inside the mist. [My prospects aren't very good are they?] He complained.

Sighing to himself, he revised his plans yet again. If escape was impossible, then an attack was necessary.

Just when he was about to carry-out his plans, a familiar, but haunting sound grabbed his attention.

*GIGGLE* *GIGGLE* *GIGGLE*

The unsettling sound of children cackling uncomfortably close to his head, turned 513 pale. This was his second time hearing such eerie laughter -- the first being, his encounter with the giant wolf.

“Hahaha, it’s your turn!”

“Can you do it?”

“Are you scared?!”

Following the ominous laughter was a series of taunts whispered directly into his ears. Each distinct, but unfamiliar voice brought him both confusion and terror. 

He tried to dismiss the phenomena by convincing himself that it was all part of a delusion. But he couldn't deny the fact that he could clearly feel the presence of warm moisture trickling down his neck and ears, as-if several people were directly breathing on him. It was an absolute impossibility, considering his head down to his shoulders were completely covered by armor.

[What the fuck!] He cursed inwardly, unsure what to do.

“Get up and play!”

“It’s not too late”

“Here it comes!”

As the next series of taunts came, 513 frantically searched his mind for a reasonable cause. But in the end, he couldn’t find one. Giving up on a logical reason, he decided to accept the goading as literal warnings -- there was no time for indecision.

Convinced by the ghastly messages, he immediately descended down the tree.

Once he reached a distance a few meters above the mist, he stopped his descent and moved laterally to conceal himself.

*BOOM*

A tentacle pummeled through the side of the tree where 513 had once fastened himself, gouging-out a thick section of bark and destroying the few anchor spikes still left in place.

513: "Phew."

He exclaimed in relief.

[Was that an early warning system? Or was it the manifestation of my subconscious? Well, no point worrying about it now.] 513 thought to himself.

Hugging the tree tightly, 513 endured through the rain of wood shrapnel that came directly after the attack. 

When things quieted-down, he reached into his supply pack and grabbed four whistlers. His plan was to use these whistlers to test the tentacles' blind spots and reaction time.

After confirming their travel paths, he threw the whistlers out in quick succession.

*WHIRLOLOLO* *WHIRLOLOLO* *WHIRLOLOLO* *WHIRLOLOLO*

One-by-one the whistlers were quickly intercepted by the mist tentacles -- except for one. The whistler that had been thrown towards the center of the mist was left completely unimpeded. [Can it only attack outside of the mist?] He wondered. [More importantly, is there a limit to its range?]

513: "Hmm."

513 contemplated for a brief moment. His eyes showed a faint glint of hope and determination.

Grabbing two more whistlers from his supply pack, he immediately threw them both towards the mist’s center.

*WHIRLOLOLO* *WHIRLOLOLO* 

Again, no reaction from the tentacles.

513: "Interesting."

He calmly whispered to himself.

He then grabbed one more whistler from his supply pack and threw it away from the mist's center.

*WHIRLOLOLO* 

This time, just before hitting the ground, the whistler was intercepted by a tentacle.

513: *sigh* "Looks like escape really is out of the question."

Knowing his options were sealed, he mumbled to himself with dissatisfaction. 

Looking on the bright side, his experiment proved fruitful. From his testing, he concluded that the tentacles did not attack within a certain range. Unfortunately, that safe range did not include the area around the tree.

With the understanding that his only way-out was by charging through the enemy, he gathered his resolve and jumped into the mist.

Once he landed, he hastily gripped his short spear with his left hand and equipped his miniature kite shield on his right. He then threw three whistlers at random directions and rushed towards the center.

◊◊◊◊◊◊

Five seconds had elapsed since 513 entered the mist.

*COUGH* *COUGH* *COUGH*

Just as 513 had expected, the temperature inside the mist was depressingly cold. 

Each breath he took felt like the air inside his lungs were mere moments away from crystalizing into ice. The tingling sensation led him to involuntarily cough every few seconds, ejecting solidified chunks of blood onto his fur cloak.

Seeing the blood, he became more concerned. 

He was uncertain whether the blood chunks were a result of the suffocatingly cold mist or if the concussive blast from the roar -- just minutes ago -- had done more damage to his insides than he had previously thought.

When he was hit by the concussive blast, each and every one of his muscles simultaneously spasmed. The intense pain that followed, made it feel like his entire body had detached itself from his bones. But that was not the worst part. Because of the blast, his innards swelled-up and vibrated violently. The swelling couldn't be contained within his body, so blood and bodily fluids leaked-out from his pores and every orifice. 

The suffering he went through during the entire ordeal had almost knocked him unconscious. To-date, it was the worst pain he had ever felt.

If it weren't for the short span of the concussive blast, his insides would have either imploded from the swelling or liquified from the vibrations, just like the small creatures that had rained-down from the trees.

Shaking his head to clear his mind, 513 pressed forward and gradually increased his pace.

Ten seconds had elapsed since 513 entered the mist and his hands had already grown uncomfortably numb. 

Being inside the mist was like entering a cold vacuum that sucked away all the thermal energy from his body. Thankfully, the layered clothing and armor he wore limited the heat loss, but that only delayed the inevitable.

To top things off, 513 was also nursing several puncture wounds on his right arm.

When he first dashed towards the center of the mist, a tentacle shot-out towards him and wrapped around his right arm. He had more-or-less expected this outcome, considering he had to cover a hefty distance to reach an area where tentacles had no influence.

At that time, the tentacle tightened its grip and tugged 513's arm with enough force to jolt him a few meters forward. This however, did not surprise him as he immediately thrust his short spear into the tentacle, completely severing it in-two. He then used the force of the tentacle's initial tug to propel him further into the mist, thus landing him inside the safe zone. From that point onward, he had no more run-ins with tentacles.

The plan should have been considered a success, but there were some setbacks. 

Sharp, hooked claws hidden underneath the tentacle wrapped around his right arm, had ripped through his armor and into his flesh. With the help of his right arm guard taking the brunt of the damage, the wounds from the attack were relatively shallow, but that didn't stop him from being uneasy. 

He worried that the claws may have been coated with fast acting, high-strength poisons or toxins. 

To relieve his concerns, he immediately cut-away the remnant tentacle off of his arm and stuffed the puncture holes in his right arm guard with soap moss until the moss made contact with his wounds underneath; removing the armor would have taken too long. By doing so, he hoped that the soap moss would help remove impurities left by the claws and also speed up the clotting process.

Of course, he did this all based on speculation. He had no factual basis behind his action, other than wishful thinking. Even so, plugging the puncture holes would have at least stopped the bleeding.

A total of fifteen seconds had elapsed since entering the mist.

*CRUNCH*

Marked by a familiar noise, the world inside the mist suddenly turned dark.

From his periphery, 513 saw several shadowy figures freely moving in the distance. Their erratic movements reminded him of crazed animals searching for victims.

Then, just as abruptly as it had arrived, the world of darkness disappeared, and the mist returned to its dull-white color. The shadows he had seen from a distance were nowhere to be found.

His pace quickened into a brisk jog as he contemplated what had just happened.

513: “Eighteen seconds.”

He mumbled to himself, still counting the amount of time he spent inside of the mist.

He shrugged-away his previous thoughts and diverted his attention back to the puncture wounds on his arm. From his observation, the blood-soaked soap moss stuffed inside the puncture holes had begun to freeze, along with his right arm guard. Because of this, the arm guard had become useless as a piece of armor. 

To make-up this loss of protection, he adjusted his grip on the miniature kite shield to fully cover his right forearm. This grip adjustment was something he had thought-up while thinking of a way to turn his shield into a weapon. 

Speaking of offensive capabilities, normal shields -- when built with durable material -- are capable of delivering devastating blunt damage through shield bashes and full-body charges, but 513 wanted more. 

By combining the unique profile of a kite shield with the small size of a buckler, 513 produced a shield with high mobility and moderate protection. He then further modified the shield by sharpening the tip and edges until the shield took-on similar properties to a sharpened spearhead or short sword.

As for the shield’s orientation, the revised grip 513 used handled the miniature kite shield similar to how an arm blade or katar would be wielded.

From 513's viewpoint, this was the best method for using the miniature kite shield.

Just as he finished the thought, a total of twenty seconds had elapsed since he entered the mist.

*CRUNCH*

Back into the world of dark crimson 513 went. Again, he witnessed shadows darting around in the distance. This time, they seemed to have multiplied and had become more crazed.

Among the shadows were large, tube-like vines that emerged from the ground like tree roots. They quickly spread throughout the crimson mist like forked lightning, randomly fracturing and growing more frequent.

As they came closer to 513, their appearance became more clear. The fracturing vines reminded him of webbed strands of mycelium. Each time the strands fractured, the parent strand would grow thicker and its propagation would quicken.

This self-propagation allowed these vines to cover large portions of the dark, red mist in just a few blinks. Because of this, 513 grew troubled. He did not want to get entangled by the vines.

Eventually, the vines caught-up to him and managed to block his path. 

His brisk jog turned into a run as he attempted to drive past the vines using brute force. To his surprise, his momentum never waned nor was he constricted by the vines. Instead, he passed through the vines as-if they were never really there.

513: “Illusions?”

He muttered to himself in surprise.

A moment later and the blood mist returned to its dull-white color. The shadows and vines were gone from sight.

The time between blackouts decreased.

*CRUNCH* *CRUNCH* *CRUNCH*

The cycle of light and dark continued. 

513 had given-up on tracking his time inside the mist as it was no longer the biggest cause for concern.

He still hadn't figured-out the purpose of the vines or the shadows inside the red mist, but the ominous vibe they gave-off made them incredibly dangerous. 

Not wanting to waste any more time, he sped-up his run into a full-sprint.

*CRUNCH* 

On the sixth cycle of darkness, the shadowy figures inside the crimson mist finally noticed 513's presence.

Once he was spotted, a blurred wave of shadows swept over the ground and chased after 513 from the sides and from behind him. As they got closer, 513's eyes narrowed and his face revealed a slight look of panic.

The wave of shadows comprised an endless sea of bloodied hands erupting from the ground like bamboo shoots. Their fanatical speed matched the ruthlessness of their behavior as fingers snapped and grabbed at 513’s fur cloak and feet like rabid beasts.

One-by-one the sea of hands gained a small hold on 513, causing his speed to drastically slow. In a panic, he wildly thrust the butt-end of his short spear into the endless sea of hands. 

The sharp point of the spear butt pierced through several hands effortlessly, giving 513 confidence in his strength, so he continued.

His spear thrusts increased in both speed and frequency as he pushed through an unimaginable amount of hands that were desperately trying to drag him into the ground. Unlike the red vines that were strewn about inside the mist, these hands were tangible.

In the corner of his eyes, tall, wispy figures were drawing closer to his location while he struggled to free himself from the bloodied hands. Their grotesque profiles made the figures look like walking abominations akin to Frankenstein’s monster.

Then, as-if nothing had happened, the red mist returned to its dull-white hue, and all the hands attached to 513 disappeared in a blink of an eye. Even the tube vines and wispy shadow figures were gone from sight.

513: “...”

He could do nothing but release an exasperated sigh. He had no words to describe what he had just experienced.

However, what he did know was that it wasn’t over.

---Chapter End

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