Mash regained consciousness but was still shrouded in darkness. His cocoon hadn’t lessened the impact as much as he expected, but it did manage to keep him alive. Honestly, he didn’t know how much time had passed. Growing increasingly worried for his friends, he created an opening in the wooden cocoon. Once outside, he saw that his cocoon looked more like an egg. He didn’t consciously make the shape, instead just tried to shield his body. The shape it took must have the been the first thing to come to his mind. Thankfully, this egg didn’t break when it hit the ground.
He wasn’t in perfect condition, his throat still feeling awkward. Rubbing his hand against his neck, he realized that it felt strangely like bark. He grabbed a mirror from his storage space, having purchased one because of the many changes he underwent. His neck looked normal though, the wooden portion blending in with his skin. It was a scaled patch of the wood, and it felt like the side of a tree as he ran his hand across it. Essentially, it matched with the other patches of scales on his body, though this one felt different. He tried picturing changing it, to allow more air through. A little surprised to see it work, he tried speaking. His voice was different, a little deeper and dryer than normal. It sounded like he was speaking through something, his voice vibrating with something unknown. At least he could breathe clearly now. That was all he was aiming for; his voice could be dealt with once he got to the others.
Thinking about the others, his mind focused on Leah, and he started to contemplate why she acted at that moment. They were exhausted and injured from the wyvern, but they were in that situation after the bandits too. Even the monsters had caused problems for them, and she could have dealt more damage to the whole group. Was she specifically targeting Mash? He was the only one who could see past her invisibility. Was that why, or was it something else? Who did she work for? If she was part of the bandits, then perhaps they had been stuck on the cliff and she only acted once they found the door. Maybe she couldn’t open the door and was waiting for someone who could arrive. It didn’t matter, her motivations wouldn’t change what he needed to do. First though, he would need to find a way out.
He took in his surroundings, getting a bearing for where he fell. Not knowing what to expect, he was confused to find himself in a forest. His wooden egg tore apart the treetops as it crashed, leaving a small crater in the ground. The floor itself was a mix of grass and stone, but the stone was weirdly a dark green color. It was almost dark enough to be black, but there was a green tint that showed when light hit it. There was no specific path but climbing the mountain would be impossible. Hoping that there was an entrance along the mountain somewhere, he started walking around its base. The mountain was a single enormous rock, it looked out of place, like something that had crashed into the ground. Honestly looking at it from here, it reminded Mash of a tooth.
Following along the edge, he wondered where the monsters were. With the way the dungeon was set up, he expected hundreds of monsters to be infesting the ground, but he was struggling to find any. He would need to find some eventually, his rations were not unlimited, most of them were being carried by Red. He only had a few days’ worth, and only if he ate it sparingly. He was in a pretty bad situation; the only reprieve was that it wasn’t cold down here. If anything, it was a little on the warmer side. He continued along the stone base of the mountain, looking for some path upwards.
Eventually he noticed something, and he saw something falling in front of him. It was an enormous snowball that collided with the ground. The snow was melting quickly, and one of the chicken monsters rose from the pile. Another landed behind him, a loud thump echoing through the forest. They rose from the ground, uninjured and started to roll towards him. Without the extra snow they moved faster but lacked the weight and size they had earlier. He wanted to kill them, to collect the meat from their bodies.
He figured that he could handle them, forming a wooden spear and propping one end of it against the ground. Growing it thicker to be able to withstand the blow, the first of the monsters ran into it, the spear piercing through it tough hide. It didn’t die and he could feel the wood creaking as it tried to separate itself from the spear. He needed to kill it, to eat it, and he imagined bear like mouths sprouting from the end of his spear. Devouring the monster from the inside out, a growing torrent of ravaging teeth.
His creation seemed to respond to his intention over the image, instead forming a single enormous mouth that tore a massive chunk from the creature. It reminded him more of a dragon’s mouth and wondered if he had been subconsciously thinking about it. Maybe his class was naturally taking that shape, and looking back, most of the times he used the carnivorous tree skill, it resembled a dragon’s mouth. Was there a natural shape to the skill? Were there other skills that also had natural forms. He would test some of his other skills later, for now he needed to focus on the monsters.
The one was dead, and he turned to face the other as the stat bonuses took effect. He turned part of the spear into a sword staff and swung at the creature with his improved stats. Naturally, it didn’t accomplish much, the weapon breaking as it cut into its flesh. The creature stopped this time, a foot kicking out at Mash. He thickened his armor as the hit arrived, stopping the talons from piercing his skin. The armor cracked, and he was sent flying from the blow. He grunted as he turned the motion into a roll. Sliding smoothly to his feet, he felt a sharp pain through his ribs as he straightened himself. It started to roll at him, he formed another spear planning to repeat the same attack as before. Though before the creature rammed into the spear, it kicked off the ground jumping into the air. It was going to land atop him, and he moved the spear, bending it with his magic to pierce the creature as it fell. It landed atop it, ending up like a piece of meat on a skewer.
Making his way to the first creature, he formed a knife out of the wood. Beginning to cut off a section of meat, he realized that he didn’t have a way to cook it. The heat stone was with Red, and he didn’t have any other fire starters. When he got out, he would buy a fire starter, it was cheaper than the heat stone, and he should be able to afford it. He could eat raw food now, but it tasted vile. However, he didn’t have many options and could feel his stomach rumbling. He would need to eat a lot to satisfy himself, and this was the best option right now. Cutting off a large section of one of the creatures, he made a wooden mouth to start biting into the other one. It wouldn’t fill his stomach but would give him other bonuses. Taking a deep breath, he put the first piece into his mouth, gagging as soon as he bit down. It was fatty, absurdly so, and was disgustingly chewy as he struggled to swallow it. It felt like it was coating the back of his throat. Through willpower alone, he managed to swallow it. As bad as it was, he still needed more.
After eating his fill, he rose from the carcass. He almost threw up as he saw the blood on his hands and remembered the texture. There were a few things he found on the creatures that he thought might be valuable. He collected a few feathers, thinking that they might sell well. Also, he took one of the feet, noticing that the stone was sparkling a little, and seemed to contain some crystals. He could only fit one foot and hoped it would be worth something. It didn’t take him any extra time to grab the materials, able to do it while he ate. Finished with the bodies, he continued to move along the mountainside.
As he trailed along the side of the mountain, he noticed the trees thinning. He would soon get out of the forest, but still hadn’t noticed a pathway to lead him up the mountain. Gaining a level during the last fight, he was hoping to find a safe place to rest and allocate his free stats. He figured it would be safer once he was out of the trees. Picking up his pace, he broke through the wall of trees into an open plain. It was a wide bed of the greenish stone from earlier, and it seemed strangely tiled as he noticed divisions along the ground. It also looked like there was another edge in the distance, perhaps this was just another section of the mountain. He assumed he fell to the ground but didn’t know for certain.
The thing that drew his eye the most, was the monster that was staring back at him. At first glance he thought it was another wyvern but realized that it was more birdlike. Its entire body was feathered, and it had a toothless beak. It wasn’t like the chicken’s from earlier though, instead having a lean body and long tail. Its legs were unnaturally long, and its tail was covered in spikes. It seemed to be some half-wyvern abomination, and its stare dug into him. The eyes shown a pale red, with blood pouring out of them. What happened to it?
Before he could contemplate the answer, the creature launched feathers at him. They grew as they headed towards him, surrounding themselves in sheaths of wind. Mash still had his weapon from earlier and tried to deflect the attack. If its blades went through like the wyverns, he would have to flee. Thankfully, the feathers were stopped or swatted away by his staff, and he found it easier to relax. Entering the fight, he flowed seamlessly from each parry as he approached the creature. He didn’t get that much closer, instead throwing his weapon as he formed long limbs of wood behind him. It blew the projectile away, easily throwing it off course. Though the motion let him close enough distance to lash out with his wooden limbs.
Deciding that gaining stats should be the priority in the fight, each limb ended in dragon like mouths that snapped at him as they approached. The monster used its own beak to snap at one of the four limbs, breaking apart the wood easily. At the same time, it launched two more feathers at him, and he rolled to the side as the other mouths managed to find purchase on its flesh. Only one had managed to rip a bite from the creature, two of the limbs bursting apart from the creature’s movements. It was bleeding now, red now marking its white feathers. With the one limb attached to the creature he propelled himself forward while tearing off a piece of the monster. The creature reacted, by launching feathers from across its body, each flying several times faster than normal. Mash made his armor thicker and raised his arms to block any feathers from penetrating his face. Most attacks lodged into his armor without breaking through, but the ones along his forearm had managed to penetrate his skin. Blood started seeping out from around the feathers, but that didn’t stop Mash’s momentum.
Arriving at the creature, he slammed his spear into the creature. His additional limbs had grown pointed ends and dug into the creature. He hoped it would end the fight when, he managed to penetrate one of the creature’s eyes, but it didn’t stop slamming him with its tail. Several of the spikes had managed to get through his armor, and he felt his shirt become wet with blood. Letting himself be thrown by the attack, he used his limbs to swing around the creature. Cutting a large gash along its side as he swung around to the side. Landing to the right of the creature, he stumbled from the speed. The slight misstep let the creature grab him with its feet. Before the talons could dig deeper into his body, he started growing his armor out, encasing the foot and pushing it back.
He was trapped by the creature, but it was similarly unable to remove him. It lashed at him, slamming its beak into Mash’s chest. Each blow causing his wood to creak, and his breaths to leave. He didn’t wait for it to attack though, taking bites out of the creature as it attempted to do the same to him. Mash could feel his energy depleting rapidly as he thickened his armor to stop the pecks. It only partially worked, stopping it from ripping through his chest but not from hurting his ribs. Hearing the first rib crack, he started to panic trying desperately to kill the creature. Remembering his fight with the other monsters, he started growing spikes out of his armor, trying to let the creature kill itself on its next attack. Having managed to blind it, the creature slammed its head against Mash’s armor, several spikes were driven deep into the creature’s head. Though he heard a cracking noise inside his head as it happened. Some of his ribs had broken but didn’t know the severity. He had won but was not safe yet.
Pushing the creatures head away, sharp pains jabbed at him with each movement. He looked around and found a wall that had a slight overhang in the distance. It looked like it could hide him, and he limped his way towards it. As he got closer, he realized that it was opposite to a ledge. Moving to look over, he saw nothing. It was the void, it looked like he was staring into space itself, as though he were flying among the stars. It was an awe-inspiring sight, but he couldn’t appreciate it now. He fell back against the wall, starting to meditate and recover from his wounds. This was as safe as it would get.