I tried to remember what Memory had said about the Interface. Something like mortals getting a very limited version? And that she mainly hoped we could… chat through it. Oh no. I eyed the quest notification with trepidation. Seemed like we wouldn’t get private messaging then?
Let’s see, what she wants first. Just thinking that made another message appear with a small ‘ding’ sound I could barely make out over the noise of the rain.
[Divine Quest: Fire-Scalamander
Hi, Sweetie! Remember me? How are you doing down there? It looked like you had lots of fun playing hide-and-seek and catch while growing up. But life is not all play and no work, right? So be a dear and do this little task for me, yeah?
Your species already has incorporated a bit of elemental energy. Sadly it is mostly water and a bit of earth, which won’t help much once the climate cools down enough to kill most amphibians… again. I’d be honestly surprised if it wouldn’t this time. ‘It’s a big part of evolution, Memory.’ ‘We really need to change up the Meta now and then, Memory.’ ‘Stop your whining, Memory!’ Stuck-up murder-hobos, the whole lot!
Aaanyways, I need you to find some fire or heat attuned proto-spirits before you reach sexual maturity and procreate. And incorporate a big bunch of their essence in your offspring. You’re smart. I’ll trust you to figure it out. You have a few years to find some. I believe in you, Sweetie!
P.S. I’ll give you a new Quest, once you’re done with this one. So don’t dawdle around too much. Have fun!]
That was… something? Running and hiding for my life looked like fun to her, huh? That certainly is one way to interpret it. Now she wanted me to become her own personal little breeding experiment? What would I get out of it? Shouldn’t there at least be some kind of reward for something called a ‘Quest’? And what were those instructions supposed to be? ‘Go find some spirits somewhere!’ ‘You’ll figure it out somehow.’ ‘You’re smart.’ Of course, I was smart. I was a damn genius! But where should I even begin with that kind of crappy directions?
And how could I be considered an adult of my species if I was years away from ‘sexual maturity’? That didn’t make much sense to me. Was it just because of the metamorphosis? It was probably futile to try and guess at the reasoning of gods. Maybe I’d come back to that once I had more data in future lives.
Well, let’s take a look at that ‘profile’ while we were already at it. What were the chances that it could help me with this Quest? Yeah. Who was I kidding? But I had to admit, I was kind of interested what it would say about me. Again, with just a thought, the text appeared in front of me.
Species: Scalamander (pending, affirmation required)
Age: 82 days
Aliases: Sweetie, Pesky Rascal
Blessings: Champion of Memory
Affinities: Water (weak)
Proficiencies: Swimming (basic)
I had to admit, I was a bit proud that ‘Scalamander’ was in the System now but the name of my Quest already told me that.
And I was supposedly born a whopping 82 days ago. I really must have missed some of those. It definitely felt way shorter to me. Did that take into account the time in my egg?
I had no name yet because nobody gave me one, but who the heck called me a ‘pesky rascal’? The Bastard? That bitch better not have. I mean, it’s not like I called her something demeaning after she tried to eat me, did I? I didn’t know who else could have been smart enough to call me anything at all.
Where were we? Ah… Titles, Blessings, Traits, ... There we go. Apparently, I had affinities for water and earth. I guess that meant magic? Memory said something similar in her message, so I’d go with that for now. And if I did complete her ‘little task’, my offspring would have fire or heat in there? I wondered how that was supposed to work exactly. Did I have to mate with a spirit? That sounded kind of eww.
Well, I’d never find out if I didn’t leave this pond. As I was about to do before this sudden reminder of the deeper nature of my reality. I huffed to myself and finally ascended to the surface.
There the downpour was still going on and it didn’t look like it would let up any time soon. It was the middle of the night, but my vision should have been able to handle that if it weren’t for all the rain. I just hoped that this would also mean that I’d be better hidden from predators.
I took a look around to see if I could spot any sign of the Newtagator. As far as I could make out, he wasn’t here at the moment. I’d never seen anything else his size and everything smaller - that I knew of - at least couldn’t swallow me with a single bite. So maybe I had a fighting chance?
Carefully, I approached the edge of the water at the point furthest away from his usual spot. There was a pretty steep embankment on this side so I doubted he would lurk around there, waiting for a snack to leave the water. It also meant I had a bit of a workout ahead of me. The rain didn’t help. At all.
The way up took way longer than I ever expected in the worst predictions I made in anticipation for this day. Yes, I did a lot of those. I mean, what else was I supposed to do while sluggishly lazing around, waiting for my body to stop morphing? How could I ever have predicted this torrent after a whole life of nothing?
I made it up the hill after sliding back down not one or two but seven times! Seven! Not embarrassing at all. At least nobody saw me, I hoped.
When I finally was up there I just felt exhausted. And dirty. Thankfully the rain was still going strong and, while I was resting, was washing away most of the mud I was absolutely caked in.
My legs really weren’t used to walking. I started to doubt that I could run away from anything that really tried to catch me. Or hunt something that could run away, for that matter. I guess I had to stick with my old and tried hiding-in-ambush-strategy. Or I could try to find slow stuff like maggots or earthworms? There had to be some that were edible, right?
I hadn’t had much luck with the plants in the water and I doubted it would be any different out here. And trying out new foods always reminded me of the rhinosnail incident. But the trees were my best bet to find some slow bugs for now.
I started to regret not having gorged myself before leaving my pool. I really didn’t want a repeat of that humiliating crawl up the embankment though.
The vegetation was as interesting close up as it had been when I saw it for the first time. Ferns and mosses were the only things I could name, but there were countless other types I’ve never seen before.
There were these long thorny vines with thin sharp leaves, ranking all over the ground, looking a bit like a never-ending green millipede.
Or these short round and fluffy ones that felt like sponges when rubbing against them.
But my favourites were all the different coloured mushrooms. I knew they were technically not plants, but why would I care? Wait a minute. If they weren’t plants, should I try to eat some? I could just taste them a bit first, right? Better not risk that on an empty stomach though. So where were those yummy little bugs hiding in this cloudburst?
I chose one of the giant palm-like fern trees with the scaly trunks and slowly made my way over. I couldn’t decide if I was walking or swimming through the mud at this point, but it wasn’t very far.
Once I reached there I started to climb it up a bit and was absolutely astonished by the awesomeness of my not-so-shiny-anymore claws. Pulling myself out of the dirt was easy as pie and going up only took a bit of reorientation and trust in my instincts.
Damn it! Now I really wanted to eat some pie. Let’s see… no fruits, no grass, so no grain either. Yeah, I supposed I should forget about that for at least a few lifetimes. That was just sad. Maybe I could ask Memory for a pie if I completed that experiment of hers?
I climbed to the dry side of the trunk to get out of the rain when I suddenly felt something move under the bark I just sunk my right front claws in. I promptly tried to pry the scale off the tree. It took longer than I care to admit and involved both front legs, my teeth and nearly falling off the tree a few times.
But I did it in the end, so the way I did it didn’t matter. I got my prize. A fat white larva of some insect or another that didn’t manage to eat through enough wood in time to escape. Obviously, I gobbled it down right away.
It was absolutely delicious!
Sadly it also wasn’t enough. I was still pretty hungry after this little snack. But now I knew where to find more and continued on around the trunk, testing every new bark scale I came across. With the tree being nearly double my length in diameter, that was quite a bit of surface to cover. I got lucky a few more times but after the fifth juicy grub, my legs got so tired that the next one escaped before I could get to it. Seemed like I needed a break.
The scale trees didn’t have any branches. Hanging from the side like this was not exactly what I’d call taxing, but if I wanted to rest I better moved back down to the ground. I only felt a little peckish by now anyways. Maybe I should just wait out the rain? I was reasonably sure that I’d find enough tasty crawlies once it let up a bit and they came out of all their little hidey-holes again.
So I found a dry spot covered in a thick carpet of some soft kind of moss after I reached the ground again. It was fairly comfortable. And the steady drippy drumming of raindrops sounded honestly quite relaxing if you got used to it and weren’t under water. Once I settled down a bit, I could hear the distant rumble of thunder now and then.
Everything smelled more alive somehow. As if the land was drenched in fresh energy. And that curious new flavour I couldn’t pin down before was getting stronger. It obviously was something in the water, but why wasn’t I able to identify it? That meant it had to be something non-chemical, right? I closed my eyes and just listened to the rain while thinking.
Lazily I inhaled deeply and took longer breaths, trying to catch more of that strange taste. Then the most peculiar thing happened. The calmer and deeper I breathed in, the more energized I felt. It was kind of exhilarating. Energy… from the rainwater…
It couldn’t be, could it? Memory had used the words ‘Energy’ and ‘Magic’ almost interchangeably. Did I taste the magic in the water?
I opened my Profile again. There it was. ‘Affinities - Water (weak)’. That had to be it. What else could it be? I was so excited. I distractedly noticed that I must have started to wiggle again. That was huge! Now I just needed to find out how to use it. How hard could that be? I was a genius after all!
When the rain finally stopped, I had to admit that it was pretty hard. At first, I had tried to feel the magic with other senses. That didn’t work. At all. Maybe it would have been possible if I could’ve turned my taste buds off for a while, but I couldn’t and so it wasn’t.
I still continued my breathing exercise - could this be called meditating? - throughout the whole process and so my next experiment was to try to follow the flow of the energy in my body. That was confusing as heck because it flooded absolutely everywhere in ever finer streams. I noticed some knots of higher concentration though. Those were in the area where I expected my lungs, and heart to be, the back of my tongue and the boney crest of the neck frill my gills had turned into.
It was quite amazing.
Were these body parts more magical than others? I couldn’t be sure and so I just continued to feel and try to influence the energy without any noticeable success until sunrise. Shortly after the rain let up and with it, the flow of magic turned down to a tickle.
Disappointed, I got up and scoured the forest for any little treats I could find. There were a lot. Spiders, millipedes, bugs with strange horn-like protrusions and bugs without them, earthworms and maggots of all kinds. If it was not too large to fit into my mouth, I devoured it. I may or may not have been a bit grumpy. Some people eat when they’re frustrated. I wasn’t denying that I saw the appeal. Well, it had the positive side effect that I wasn’t hungry anymore. So I wouldn’t justify myself.
It wasn’t all Land-of-Milk-and-Honey though. There were other hunter’s like me and I encountered one of them. It was a spider nearly the size of me. It was a light grey-brown, awfully hairy and didn’t look delicious at all. It already had a prey that looked suspiciously like a smaller version of my own species. The colouration was way off, but the body shape was similar. It looked a bit eaten... and very dead.
When the spider noticed me it took on a very aggressive looking defensive posture with four legs in the air, fangs exposed and ready to pounce. I absolutely wanted nothing to do with that, so I just retreated slowly backwards and left it to its meal.
The encounter did remind me to be way more careful though. Just because I was upset that magic turned out to be a bit more difficult than I thought, it didn’t excuse the lax awareness of my surroundings. What would I have done if I ran across the ‘Thing’ or something similar? Or worse, a more stealthy predator lurking around in the underbrush?
I had to be a lot more vigilant. I didn’t know my surroundings as I did every little pebble in my pond, even though I was still just a short walk away. For a while, I considered staying. The downpour helped a lot to fill it back up. But if I did that, I didn’t know if I would ever work up the nerve to leave again. Anyways, I had to look for those fire spirits. And I somehow doubted that I’d find them anywhere near here.
My departure determined I tried to come up with a travel plan next. I could find food pretty much anywhere as long as I stayed somewhere warm and humid.
Of course, moving quietly and unseen would be preferable. It was a bit inconvenient that my scales shone as red as embers in the sun. They still looked amazing of course, but they were not exactly what you would call stealthy. Maybe I could hide them with mud?
I also had to find a solution for sleeping arrangements and shelter, but I couldn’t do anything about that without knowing the conditions of where I stopped on each respective day.
Finally, there was the question of which direction to pick. The best I could come up with was to find a place high up and look for landmarks. Sceptically I eyed the scale trees. They were rather tall. But when I imagined myself climbing all the way up there, swaying back and forth, I firmly decided against that particular activity.
That left finding some high ground, I guess? A large hill or a mountain. I heard hiking was supposed to be healthy. So it couldn’t be too strenuous, right?
All decisions I could think of made, I took one last long look down at the pond I was born in, that had been my whole world until now, and then purposefully turned to leave up the steepest hill.
The track up the slope was a reminder that I wasn’t really used to walking yet. The still drenched muddy earth didn’t make it any easier. And maybe I should have been more careful with overexerting myself with prying off bark from living trees the night before.
Honestly, there was so much dead wood lying around that I really had to wonder why I didn’t just look for prey in some of those rotting logs in the first place. At least there was food crawling basically everywhere now. I indulged myself whenever I came across an opportune snack but didn’t go out of my way to search for anything specific.
In the late afternoon, it started raining again. Not the violent downpour from the night before, but still enough to reduce visibility by a lot again. I still hadn’t reached a hilltop and the slope only seemed to get steeper the farther I made it. On top of that, it didn’t feel like I got very far at all. But I was up since the previous evening, so maybe I’ve just got too tired to notice. When little rivulets of rainwater began to pour down on me from uphill, I finally decided to call it quits for the day and searched for shelter.
When dusk set in, I already lay half-buried beneath a dead, broken off trunk of one of those bottle-brush trees, facing downhill. I just had to hope that nothing would sneak up on me while I slept.
Since the rain was back, I tried to manipulate that magic energy again. But calming down and breathing exercises only caused me to fall asleep almost on the spot.
I woke up with a start. I’d dreamed of a giant spider finding me during the night, dragging me out of my hidey-hole, wrapping me up and slowly eating me over days while I was still alive. Hastily I checked if I still had all of my limbs.
Tail? I tried to bring it up to my field of view but must have gotten it caught in some crack in the wood. That caused a sudden tug and sent me into another panic attack.
Only for a moment of course. I was awake, I was hale. The outside might have been scarier than I thought, but I would not succumb to some stupid nightmares. Not one bit! It didn’t even make sense. The spider I met the day before neither wrapped the little newt up in silk nor did it keep it alive. That must have been the influence of the stupid memories of previous me. I seemed to have had some kind of irrational fear of those kinds of creepy crawlies back then.
Current me didn’t need that. Now, spiders were breakfast! At that thought, I finally calmed down. My stomach made itself known. I squinted at the sun glimmering through the canopy. Hmm, I really could go for some brunch right now.
Well, brunch turned into lunch ‘to go’... or was it ‘while walking’? I just gobbled down every crawler that crossed my path as I did the day before. A seemingly never-ending buffet. I wondered idly if I’d ever get sick of it.
Relatively soon the slope got gradually more gentle until I suddenly realized that I didn’t notice an incline at all anymore. And the ground was so littered with fallen trees and dead plants that I didn’t have to worry about sinking into mud anymore, because there simply was none of it exposed. Of course, that made navigating even more difficult and I wasn’t sure which direction I should go next.
There was no obvious hill to climb anymore, no matter where I looked. It seemed like I really did have no choice but to scramble up one of those giant trees. I didn’t look forward to that. But I thought it was better than just randomly wandering around and getting completely lost in the process.
I chose the scale tree with the widest trunk in the vicinity, expecting it to be the tallest, and very cautiously, very slowly crawled up to the top. The higher I got, the more it swayed in the light breeze. More than once I desperately clawed into the bark to hold on. When it suddenly moved backwards I felt like I would fall off at any moment.
I was scared shitless, so I searched previous me’s memories for helpful insights and started to recite random phrases that jumped into my head.
‘I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer.’
Right, absolutely no reason to be afraid.
‘It is not the strength of the body, but the strength of the spirit.’
Mind over… matter?
‘Do. Or do not. There is no try.’
I’m on it!
‘There is no spoon.’
I shook my head. This wasn’t very helpful. That last one confused me for long enough that I nearly slipped right off! When I finally made it to the top, the sun was already setting.
If that was west then… A very large lake or sea spanned across the horizon to the north. There was a mountain chain to the southwest. I wasn’t sure if it was smoke or fog I could make out, rising up from there. I wasn’t really up high enough to get an unimpeded view and everything that far away got very blurry and a little bit distorted. Still. Those mountains had to be my best option for a first destination. From there I’d at least be able to find a new target, I mused. And everywhere else I could see was just an endless expanse of the same swampy forest.
Then I noticed the dark clouds coming in rapidly from the east. Another rain front? And I was still up in that enormous tree.
It’d be fine. Surely…
I just needed to stay calm and climb down again before it got here. Just one claw at a time.
The wind picked up a bit.
I could do it. I was a genius! Just had to have calm thoughts.
‘All that goes up must come down again.’
‘Pride comes before a fall.’
That was such a stupid idea! If I’d been meant to be up this high, I’d been given wings! Or a parachute! Definitely a parachute. Memo to self: If you survive this, invent rope!
- CET... but my sleeping schedule is messed up anyways
- Fledgeling Writer
I wanted to pick up writing again after years of stagnation. And this time I'd really like actual feedback.
So I switched to English, since I barely even read in a different language for fun during the last decade, and I hoped to reach more people with a modern lingua franca.
Anyways, I hope to receive honest and diverse criticism. This site seemed rather civil compared to others in that aspect.
So I'm here.