The Wilds, ???
Kogen made his way to the edge of the encampment, taking one look back at the rest. He considered for only a moment whether or not he should let someone know what he was about to do before he did it. Of course, Kogen had already reached the conclusion to that train of thought long ago, before he resolved himself to this quest to begin with. If he were to die, he’d be forgotten just as quickly as he was the night before, just as he was those countless times he was bullied and beaten by his tormentors long past.
So instead, he simply tightened the ripped piece of fabric that held his makeshift weapon together, a piece of his sleeve torn off to fasten the rudimentary spearhead onto its shaft. Rather than simply using the fish bones as some sort of easily-destroyed weapon, Kogen instead decided to attempt to test something else out instead. He had did his very best to imbed some of the sharpened bits of the fishbone into the piece of flint he was using to carve his weapon moments prior, believing that perhaps possessing some remnants of the beings of this world would properly pierce the flesh of these creatures.
It wasn’t a hypothesis Kogen was confident in, but it was still something that was worth testing. After all, as he knew from moments prior, if the weapon did not end up working, the boy could just as easily rely on the tried and true method of stabbing whatever he runs into hard enough to pierce their shield anyway. That aside, Kogen’s stomach growled. While he knew that his hunger would make him weaker in some respects, he would only think back to his ancestors: the hunters and gatherers who lived off of kill after kill, their hunger driving them to press forward. Nodding at this, he would step deeper into the wilds to begin his hunt.
The forest greeted him with caustic silence as Kogen slipped into the wilds. His hunger gnawed at his organs, a reminder that though he may have picked up a few hours of sleep last night, he had practically eaten nothing since. The consumption of energy must be higher for Awakened than Unawakened, judging by how quickly they had consumed the monsters’ flesh last night, but there was nothing he could do about it now. He had made his choice, and as a man, he would stick to it.
Around him was the unfamiliar greenery of a deep forest. Thick grass and weeds were tread underfoot, while the canopy provided a deep shade. He could spy a few animal trails crisscrossing through the undergrowth, but there was nothing he could chase immediately. Birds from high above flew from one treetop to the other, their squeals catching his attention from time to time. Could he throw his spear well enough to strike them though? It would be a difficult proposition, and if it broke on the way down…
There were yet other options, less hunter and more gatherer options for Kogen though. Shockingly enough, yellow flowers spotted the base of one tree. Dandelions, strangely enough. He could make tea with them. He could perhaps even eat them, if he truly trusted that they were
dandelions. Mushrooms could be found growing on the sides of moss-subsumed logs as well, large white caps promising umami or death. And where fallen logs were, there were insects too, high in protein if he could swallow up his own sick.
Yet all those, from birds to plants to ants, were small game at best. They would not sustain him and they certainly weren’t worth bringing back to the encampment to rub into the faces of those who had abandoned him. The sun was still high up in the sky. He could afford to travel even deeper, even further away.
He would risk getting lost too.
No matter what he chose to do, Kogen knew that he needed some fuel for the road regardless. Because of this, weighing his options, the most “reliable” way of getting those nutrients would regretfully be the bugs under the logs. The idea made his stomach turn, but its low growling was also an indicator that it shouldn’t be a choosing beggar. Still, something to wash those creepy crawlies down would be good to have.
Inspecting the dandelions, Kogen kneeled down and sniffed at them for any funny smells. If he got a good enough vibe out of them from smell alone, he’d go so far as to pick one of them, rubbing the petals on his bottom lip, as well as crushing a bit of it in his hand. He saw this trick on the D*scovery Channel once. Something about any sort of burning, redness, or tingling is an indication that this plant was not to be trusted. Good to get this out of the way now, while he’s relatively close to the lake so he could wash off the residue.
His inspections didn’t seem to yield anything particularly harmful, but on the other hand, his body had changed to be capable of withstanding the claws of a beast. Would toxic plants even be considered toxic to him? There was only one way to find out, really. Kogen placed the petals in his mouth and swished them around, getting a sense of their taste and general mouthfeel. He didn’t swallow yet, however, juuuuust in case.
The taste was like salad without dressing, except if the salad was limp. Despite the dampness of residual dew that clung on the underside of the petals, the flavor was very much non-existent. The pollen tickled the roof of his mouth, a faint floral aroma could be smelled. No immediate reaction laid him low, however. He was still alive.
Well, no need to tempt fate for now. Kogen would spit the petals out and collect some of what he could. Now, for those bugs…
Steeling himself for the ordeal he was going to go through, Kogen lifted up the nearest damp log to see what he could find.
Things were squirming away immediately as he lifted up the first log. Some were brightly colored and exeskeletoned, clambering deeper into the holes of the rotted log, while others were more well-hidden, their camouflaged flesh undulating as they sought refuge away from the titan that tore up their home. Yet there were those wholly unbothered by the intrusion as well, eggs or larvae that were simply embedded in the underside of the log, shaped like kernels of popcorn before they popped.
It was nothing so appetizing as the massive, juicy worms that the Lion King showcased, and they were all very much still alive, liable to move around in his mouth, but, well…they were small enough. He could swallow them whole and not taste it at all.
After the thought of having any sort of meal quickly passed Kogen’s mind, an idea came to his head. Larvae are much smaller and less developed than a human, and Kogen was pretty sure at least some of them ate leaves and flowers. Pests and all that. With this in mind, Kogen grabs a grub as well as the crushed “dandelion” on the ground with the idea of feeding it the flower and seeing its reaction to it all. Surely whatever toxins are held in the flowers would be more quickly determined when going through such a small body!
The reaction was immediate…if one ignored the seven grubs that Kogen had to pluck out of the rotted log before he reached one that actually looked like it was in the mood to eat. The seventh wriggled slightly as it appeared to bite on a minuscule portion of the crushed weed, before it curled up into a ball.
With this new discovery, Kogen would grab his bottle of water, swishing a bit of it in his mouth before spitting it out. After washing his mouth of the petaly residue, Kogen will then seek out a less-inebriated bug to pop in his mouth. He wondered if crushing their little heads will make them going down the pipe a lot easier, but decided to just try and yeet it in their anyway and see what’ll happen. Bottom’s up!
Bitter. That’s what it tasted like. Like a shrimp gone wrong, except so much smaller than it. Rather than any texture of meat, it tasted like paste instead, whatever muscles the larva may have had been too flimsy and ill-formed to offer a proper bite or bounce. The micro-organs that Kogen’s molars had crushed were what caused the flavor, and considering the size of the larva itself? It would be a drop of rain in a bucket. Who knew how many of these he’d have to chomp down before he felt even a slight satisfaction? Well, one way to find out. Kogen drank some more water before holding his breath and scarfing down more of these little things, hoping that bitter taste will just fade with time.
With his stomach full of bugs, Kogen would let out a small burp as he drank a bit more water to wash it down. While it wasn’t a particularly filling meal, it probably was enough for Kogen to press on with his hunt. With that in mind, though, Kogen made the conscious decision of pocketing a couple more grubs. Maybe with their miniscule nutritional value, they could serve as potent enough ways for Kogen to trigger his newfound abilities, namely a bit of minor healing.
Seeing that there was no other direction to go but forward, Kogen would press on into the wilds, to find mightier prey.
The further away he went from the lake, the quieter and more insular his surroundings became. The canopy thickened, thick roots growing out from the dark earth, the soil fed by countless cycles of wither and rebirth. A dampness was collecting upon his skin, the dappled shafts of sunlight that had once given the forest a natural beauty becoming more and more sparse.
The lake had been an oasis, perhaps. A spot of tranquility, compared to the depths of true wilderness just a short hike away. And the first signs of that broken tranquility soon faced him head-on, as Kogen almost stepped into an indent on the ground, one of many that crossed his current path at a diagonal.
Just the right size for the pads of those hulk-phants from last night.
Looking at the trail on the ground, Kogen swallowed almost nervously. Even with his armor, he wasn’t quite sure if he could take on even one of those things on his own. Dealing with a whole pack of them was a different story altogether. Stepping back a bit, Kogen shifted course, tracing his steps back to where he was.
The boy still intended to hunt, but taking a detour without knowing where he was would prove more troublesome than it was really worth it to be.
Diverging in the opposite direction that those hulk-phants had gone, Kogen sketched in his notebook as he walked, gradually creating a rudimentary sketch of his understanding of the path he took. Though he had no particular experience in cartography to begin with, that mountain in the distance, the one that he had seen when he first reached the lake with the others, served as enough of a landmark to navigate with.
And worst comes to worst? He could climb a tree and take a look from there.
As he got further away, however, an aroma began to drift in the air. It was a sweet smell, like fruit, drawing him to a patch of the woods where the sunlight broke through to reveal a large, bulbous fruit that sat upon a mound of green leaves. Shaped like peach but with a vividly-red skin that gradated into green the way that dragonfruit may have, it was perhaps the size of a watermelon. A lucky find, certainly, in a forest like this. Or perhaps it was a common fruit, and the students simply haven’t foraged through the woods enough to encounter it until now?
A windfall! Kogen’s keen sense of smell has led him to a place filled with food! Still, though, the boy could not help but feel as if even this was suspicious. They are, after all, in another world where panthers shoot lasers out of their eyes… or something like that. He wasn’t quite paying attention to that. What he did pay attention to, however, was that certain plants use their sweet smell to draw in prey. Perhaps this could also be the case here?
Either way, it was a useful find to begin with, but for a different reason. Being sure to make a few notable landmarks to this place, namely marking some trees or making some rock mounds on the path leading to it, Kogen would make his return to the camp. Perhaps if he could get someone else to step into this glade, to partake in the fruit before he did, he could then see if this truly was something he could call his own find…
… or perhaps a weapon he could use against his traitorous kin.