DISCOVERY PART 4A
Day 427; 0724 (Morning)
A few streaks of faint sunlight pierced through the sullen, grey overcast skies floating menacingly over 513's basecamp. From a distance, the camp appeared as-if it was a long-neglected fortress erected in a foreign and forgotten land; it was an enchanting and mesmerizing scene if one were to ignore the context behind its creation.
The blanket of unending clouds continued to loom overhead as 513 glared intensely at it with a hint of vexation in his eyes. The scene he had longed to view -- one he had hoped to see -- regrettably could not be found in the sea of lifeless grey matter up above.
[When will winter end, I wonder?] He pondered silently to himself as a gentle breeze blew through basecamp.
Breathing a heavy sigh filled with unrest, he somberly whispered to himself.
513: "Haaah...so, even today, I’ll be doing nothing but guess-work, won't I?"
His complaint was left unanswered as the frigid air pricked-away at his bare hands and uncovered cheeks.
What he had hoped to find in the clouds were not the flakes of snow gently falling to the ground, but the clear, blue skies that would usher in the dawn of a new season: spring.
Since the coming of winter, every day had been uncompromisingly bleak; dreary. 513 would spend every morning performing the same monotonous routine just to ensure his own survival. The tedium brought with such repetition was barely tolerable. However, if it were spring, circumstances would be different. He could be out tilling fields, planting crops, or steadily gaining ground in the expansive, uncharted wilderness beyond the borders of his basecamp.
In essence, 513 longed for a warmer season, as it would give him more options for exploration and labor. His earlier complaint was reminiscent of this reverie.
As he contemplated all the past decisions he had made since settling inside the dead zone, he pondered the likelihood of finding his way out of the forest. The thought caused him to tremble in fear.
[To die alone...that isn’t something anyone wants.]
Shaking his head to rid himself of such treacherous musings, he heaved another depressing sigh and closed his eyes.
513: “If only these clouds weren’t here...I’d already established directional bearings…”
He complained under a low breath.
He had planned to use the sun as an instrument for navigation, but with the unceasing stagnant overcast, he could never gain access to it, nor the stars at night; without a reference point to anchor from, he could never attain an accurate orientation in the world.
[I'm in desperate need of a compass...damn it all. Nature was never one to be kind...well, there's no point in sulking over it.] He thought.
The rage hidden behind his closed eyes soon subsided as time passed.
With his body relaxed, he returned to the tasks he had assigned himself for the day and buried himself with work.
Day 427; 0745 (Morning)
513 loudly shut and locked the doors of his storage rooms and living quarters as he made preparations to leave the basecamp. The faint clicking noises following the door slams came from a simple locking mechanism he had attached to every door of the temporary home. The lock was uncomplicated, requiring only a small twig to disable. However, the twig needed to be inserted in a specific location, at a specific depth, and at a specific angle for the lock to open -- it was a simple device. Clearly.
Stepping away from the man-made structures, 513 surveyed the basecamp one final time. Satisfied with what he saw, he nodded his head approvingly, noting that he had taken all measures to keep his temporary home safe. Then, he walked over to a pile of gear sitting neatly atop a sturdy sled and began auditing his equipment, comparing the items piled on the sled with a detailed checklist he carried in his hand.
Today marked the start of a long expedition -- an excursion into enemy lands; lands occupied by the False Arachnes.
The decision to embark on this journey of peril was not made lightly. Frankly speaking, it was an inevitable situation that 513 had cornered himself into. He simply could not let Areikys, the False Queen continue-on living after sparing her life all those days ago.
His choice to spare her life was not out of pity, but out of efficiency.
Areikys was the leader of the False Arachnes, and being the leader, once she fell, so too would the command structure. Normally, this would be seen as an ideal outcome. The removal of the leader would sew chaos into the lower ranks, causing disruption and confusion. However, if the intent was the complete annihilation of the spiders, the issue of clean-up would turn into a monumental task; without a figurehead to keep things organized, the spiders could easily scatter into the forest until a new queen took-up the mantle as a leader.
To ensure a higher-than-average success rate for his plans of genocide, 513 needed Areikys to consolidate her power and resources -- preferably in a stronghold of some fashion. This way, exhausting efforts in eliminating remnants and left-overs spiders scattered around the forest would be minimized.
513 had crafted this plan purely out of convenience for himself. He was confident in his skills, and given his experience in fighting the spiders, and was sure to come-out on-top.
The problem, however, was the abrupt change to the timetable.
Originally, the expedition was planned to take place during spring, when the weather had started to warm and the frozen ground had begun to thaw. He aimed at this transitional phase in the seasons to catch Areikys off-guard and out of position. He wanted her to falter, to make mistakes. From those mistakes, he could create an opportunity to deal a decisive blow.
Unfortunately, his run-in with Rialla the day before had rattled him to the core. The message she had delivered in the Protector’s place had plagued his mind since that day.
He felt pressured into acting, and now that there were clear expectations of him, he felt an urgent need to perform.
[Once this is over, maybe I can finally put my mind at ease.] He thought, hoping that his rushed decision and accelerated timetable would work-out for the best.
Even now, as he readied himself to embark on a prolonged journey, the words of the Protector haunted him.
From that message, he had explicitly been told that the forest was not his home; that he was under surveillance; that he could easily be killed if deemed unworthy. The fire and fury that he felt the night before, had quickly whimpered and died the moment his contemplations gave clarity to his position: that he was a fart in the wind; forgettable and of no consequence.
For 513, it was clear that the Protector's message was not just a warning, but a threat.
Day 427; 0805 (Morning)
513: “That’s everything...time to go.”
Muttered 513, as he exited the basecamp through the central bulwark gate, tugging a large sled filled with miscellaneous items behind him.
On his person, he had equipped a full arsenal of weapons and armor.
Such weapons included:  a falx sword, which was a modified sickle;  a short spear-sword -- a meter-long spear, where half of the total length consisted of a spearhead;  several machete-length knives made from the Lentipede’s legs;  a club fashioned from the bones and teeth of beasts, which was coated with blood bone glue as an experiment;  and finally, a composite whip made from False Arachne silk, Whipperwood, and Lentipede leather.
For his armor, he wore gear influenced by Roman, Spartan, and Samurai heavy infantry. The core of the design was rooted in modularity and mobility. In lieu of metal plates, he used a highly tweaked version of composite leather, which used the evolved blood bone material -- blood metal -- as both a coating and binder.
Underneath the armor, he wore two layers. The top layer consisted of loose, padded clothing that secured the armor onto his body; the layer underneath consisted of breathable garments that would wick-away sweat from his body.
Overtop of everything, he wore a thick and durable fur cloak, adding a final layer of protection from whatever he might face during his journey.
Behind him, towed on the sturdy sled made of bones and leather -- lashed together with False Arachne silk and Whipperwood strands -- were his provisions for the trip. Food, water, tools, building materials, and so-on were neatly packed inside the half-empty sled. The other half was reserved for additional materials he would find and make use-of on the expedition.
Also carried on the sled, were an assortment of weapons and gear he could not carry on his person. Javelins; atlatl darts; normal-sized spears; a sword spear -- a long spear with a meter-long spearhead and pyramidal butt-spike -- spare combat knives; silk rope; and composite leather material to patch-up the armor he wore, were all conveniently secured above several layers of weather-resistant, leather tarpaulins which protected his provisions underneath it from the elements.
Fixed on the rear of the sled, situated away from his supplies, were two crystal coal torches that remained ablaze. They were his primary source of fire and light as he ventured into untravelled parts of the forest. Coincidentally, the two torches would also serve as minor deterrents to creatures of the night -- their eyes being sensitive to bright, flickering lights.
[I hope this is enough.] Thought 513 as he swiftly closed the bulwark gate behind him and locked it in place.
Although it could be said that he was bringing enough supplies to arm and feed a small army, none of that mattered when faced with the unknown -- even the best-made plans could be met with misfortune.
513: “Rather too much, than too little…”
He rattled-off to himself as he began his march into the ocean of trees.
Day 427; 1054 (Morning)
The start of the expedition went smoothly from the get-go. The roughly 30 kilometers of previously mapped terrain were quickly traversed in no-time. However, once 513 reached uncharted areas of the forest, his pace slowed.
To ensure that he had a proper way back to his basecamp, he diligently followed markers on the terrain that he had set-up during his previous, short excursions. As soon as he reached new territory, however, his methods changed.
Similar to his first day in the world, he removed moss growing from the trunks of monolithic evergreens as a way to indicate his presence in the area. The moss removal only extended to the side of each tree facing the pathway 513 was constructing and included only the trees nearby. By doing this, he could locate the path from afar, if he were to ever become separated from it.
The path itself essentially involved 513 flattening the ground where needed and placing any debris he came across, off to one side. Occasionally, he would stake-in straight fallen branches, twigs, and dried-up tree roots into the ground, creating superficial poles that marked the edges of the pathway he created. As for larger debris, he maneuvered them to directionally point, length-wise, towards the location he had come from.
Eventually, as he continued to work on the path, the amount of moss collected from the trees filled his sled. To remedy this minor issue, he decided to clear a section of land next to the last tree he had removed of moss. Then, using the clearing as an impromptu storage location, he transferred the excess moss from his sled on to the clearing with a single carry. When the task was completed, 513 designated the neatly piled mound of moss as both an accessible stockpile of raw materials and a distinct marker for the pathway -- a win-win in his mind.
He repeated this process several times as his trek continued. Gradually, the further he ventured into unmapped parts of the forest, the faster he got at constructing the pathway and clearing trees of their moss.
[Efficiency through repetition.] 513 thought as his body worked on auto-pilot. His mind, on the other-hand, mused-over the forest's scenery.
In the past, he would often describe the forest as a “thicket”. However, that description was a poor representation of what it was. In truth, the forest was more like a giant grove, with little to no undergrowth. Perhaps this was due to the nature of the forest, where only the oldest and tallest trees would survive.
[It's a miracle I'm able to forage for vegetables] He continued. [The shafts of sunlight breaking through the canopies must be enough for them.]
As his mind wandered between contemplating the forest’s age and pondering whether or not the trees shared the same root system -- similar to aspen trees on Earth -- the sudden movement from above the trees quickly grabbed his attention.
513: “Well, it was about damn time.”
He muttered in a low breath as he stared at a large, egg-shaped mass dangling precariously from a silken-white rope attached to a thick branch of a diseased tree.
The white mass slowly swayed like a giant pendulum as a gentle breeze nudged it forward.
Restless, 513 anguished over the sight, as it reminded him of his very first memory inside the forest.
[Memories…♬ Light the corners of my mind.♬] He capriciously hummed, both in amusement and revulsion.
Finally, he had reached the land of spiders.