The Rising Fist Saga

Plans of Varying Distances

Wasting no time, I scavenge close by, finding necessary materials for a fire. Tinder from dried-up tree bark is stripped and rubbed together, creating a nest for my future ember. Small twigs found on the ground are used for kindling with a thick straight stick set aside as a friction tool.

Thicker pieces of wood will be my primary fuel source, and I spend most of my time collecting enough wood to last into the next day. Darkness and cold work against me, causing me to spend more time gathering materials than what is reasonable.

Sure it was foolish to get sucked into cultivation like I did, especially while pruning in the shrivel-inducing cold. I have many regrets. Even more so, as my shivering hands clumsily attempt to create friction with the tools I set aside, my drill, and a semi-flat piece of dry pine.

Practiced hands work the drilling stick creating friction and heat as the drill is rotated firmly into the board. Although the process is tedious and tiring, I stick with it until a nice ember is created from the friction.

Handling the ember cautiously, I place it into the tinder nest and lightly blow. When the tinder ignites, I set the burning nest into my stacked kindling and blow softly, encouraging the infant flame to grow.

Moments later, I am beside a warm, burning fire. Absorbing the heat, my hands nearly become fuel for the fire as I force the shivering to subside.

Thinking the blinding pain in my stomach isn enough to guarantee sustenance, my stomach growls loudly. To be fair to my needy stomach, it has been a while since I have eaten.

As hungry as I am, I don bother searching for food tonight. Instead, I drown out the hunger as much as possible by drinking more river water. As a result, the water cools my body back down, opening the door to more shivers. Quickly shutting down the uncontrollable shakes, I huddle close to the fire and call it a night.

Tomorrow, I will be better. Tonight, I will rest. I close my eyes and fall asleep to the peaceful duet of cracking wood and the running river.

It is still dark when I wake up with an aggressive urge to pee. Tiptoeing into the woods away from the river, I curse each stick and needle that hinders my pathway towards relief.

Between my cursing and the twigs snapping beneath my feet, I can hear critters scampering away, trying their hardest to not be seen. None of the footsteps sound large enough to be a dangerous predator, and I sincerely hope that is the case. Getting eaten next to at my camp while I am asleep would be the absolute pits.

Fifty yards away, I find a nice secluded spot to relieve myself. Im not sure why seclusion is necessary. Im alone. I could have peed in my camp, and the only one who would have cared or known would be me. Knowing myself to be a critic was probably reason enough to walk a distance away from camp.

On my trip back, I take time to gather more wood to add to the burn pile. More wood is placed on the fire, and I fall back asleep, distracting my mind with empty curses about water not having to be so eager to constantly be flowing and more nonsense of that sort. It wasn my best cursing, and I blame it entirely on my level of tiredness.

When morning arrives, my fire is all but burnt out. Exhaustion pulled me into a deep sleep keeping me away from nightly fire maintenance. Luckily there was enough of a fire to keep unwanted guests at bay, or my deep sleep was me actually dying, and I was spared the experience.

Heaven knows I have already had enough experience dying, and that was all in one afternoon. If there was a word for being on the verge of dying and embracing it only to be shunned by death, I would be using that to curse. I only wake from my deep slumber when the sun shines directly on me, warming me to uncomfortable temperatures.

My first priority is keeping the fire alive. Sure I could create the fire again from scratch, but I rather not. Wisely I use the waning coals and coax my fire back to life. With the fire burning and enough wood to last for the day, I move on to the next priority: more water. Drinking from the river solves that problem. Now all I have to do next is figure out what I want to do next.

Planning is not what I want to do, and I find myself putting the task off by doing anything else. I stretch and do a few exercises to work out muscle soreness. I reflect on recent battles, both real ones, and dream ones. And since I really don want to plan, I get lost in more cultivation.

Numerous attempts later, I am no closer to actually cycling the death mana than I was when I discovered my core had bonded the pale energy.

I fail at cycling a few more times before deciding I need a plan. Before I get to planning, though, I make sure to collect enough wood for a propper night or two of burning. When the wood gathering is complete, I feel extra thirsty.

Sparing not another thought, I drink from the river heavily. Whether dehydration is trauma-inducing or not, I drink enough water to drown any memories of a dried mouth and parched lips. Consequently, the task of relieving my bladder seems extra demanding.

With every distraction expended, I finally attempt to devise a partial plan.

Not wanting to be left out of the list of distractors, stomach rumblings interrupt my deep planning session that is well underway. Turns out Im gonna have to eat my thoughts from last night about hunger pains being enough to remind me that I am hungry. Mindlessly ignoring the pains all day, I completely forgot about the famished stomach. You win this round, stomach, touche.

Putting planning on pause, I go all-in on procuring food. This would be a lot easier if death didn rob me of all my tools.

”Sweet batzards, ” I say, trying the new curse out, ”if death didn rob me of my fresh meats, this wouldn be a problem at all. ”

”Greedy bastards, ” I switch back to a more traditional curse. If it were only me judging, Id say the new curse delivers. The problem is cursing isn only for the curser.

I stop wasting my thoughts on curses and return to more productive thinking. ”robbed me of my Succulently Roasted Assorted Meats Kabob. ” Now that has got a good ring to it. Probably a dish you would find in fancy restaurants visited by nobility and their entourage.

Searching for food turns out to be a monotonous task. It is not so much that I am struggling to find food. There is plenty of edible food if I am hungry enough, which I am, but I don want to settle for the first weed I set my eye upon. What if there is something better like a berry or a grouse that I can hit with a stick? Critters are around here somewhere, I heard them all last night, and if there are critters, there has gotta be nuts and berries.

My gripe with searching for food is that it is basically walking, but now I have to pay attention to details. Stomach cramping intensifies, and the pain pulls me from my leisurely stroll through natures garden. However, it isn until I get light-headed that I quit my search for the good stuff and settle for what is easily obtainable.

Heading back to my camp, I grab a handful of leaves off the bitterweeds and the yellow flowers on top, carefully avoiding the bitter white sap contained in the stem.

Chikroot is also abundant, blanketing the forest floor where the trees aren densely packed. Tiny green leaves cover the thick stems. I pull up a few and add them to my bitterweeds.

Im about to turn back when a patch of goldshrooms catches my eye.

Light yellow mushrooms with a meaty stalk develop into gill-like ridges leading to the wide-open cap. Jackpot! Well, sorta, it is, after all, a mushroom.

Once the largest goldshrooms are picked, I shake loose the pollen and fungus that has coated the five shrooms in my hand and dust the goldshrooms left behind. Hopefully, the dusting will help the fungus continue to thrive.

My arms are now full of food, so I head back to my camp.

One more surprise awaits me on my trail back to camp. A thick patch of wild onions is off the path, to the side!

This changes everything. Dinner plans begin formulating in my mind. Bland flavors will be seasoned and enriched with the powder produced from the onions. Wild game that I eventually catch will become so much tastier.

Taking a moment, I break off a couple large stems from the patch leaving much to be harvested later.

Forests are so much better than deserts, and that is a fact. The food alone is worth the visit.

Back at camp, I prepare my wild feast. Everything but the mushrooms gets rinsed in the river and then placed on a smooth flat rock. Laying before me is a wild salad topped with yellow flowers.

Using the bitterweed leaves, I stuff an assortment of chikroot leaves, halved bitterweed flowers, and hand-shredded wild onions onto the leaf and then roll it up. My salad has turned into an easier-to-eat salad roll.

Bitter and sweet flavors from the various plants fill my mouth. The intense flavors are hard to take all at once, and I struggle to swallow the roll, resulting in me over chewing my first bite. Salad roll was a silly idea. I don bother rolling any more salads and eat the weeds in smaller, less dense bites, occasionally stopping to drink from the river.

Lunch, though a little late, is a huge success. I am mostly full, feel healthy, and have some food saved for later. Unexpectedly, luck turns for the better while I set aside my remaining food for dinner. Not too far from my camp, a rabbit is going about its business, paying me no attention.

Silent and slow, I reach for a nearby stick, pretending not to notice the rabbit. I grab a nice sizable branch, maybe two inches thick, a foot long, and slightly curved.

Still not looking directly at the rabbit, I find it in my peripheral vision. A task made more difficult by only having one good eye. Apparently, fixing eyes is beyond the limit of the slow healing powers provided by death.

Luckily, the rabbit is on the side of my good eye. Locked in my peripheral, I draw the stick back as slowly as possible. I visualize the throw first and then follow it with action.

In one subtle motion, I turn my body, aim at my target, then quickly release my stick with a sideways spin. Spinning in the air, the branch travels fast.

Noticing the danger it is in, the rabbit shoots to the left. It is not fast enough to escape the sticks length and fails at its attempt. Adrenaline is rushing as I follow the throw, running towards my downed target. It was a clean shot. I pick up the rabbit, ensure it is dead, and prepare to clean my kill.

Having no knife is my current dilemma. To solve the problem, we, the dead rabbit and I, head to the river bed to look for the right type of rock. I pace up and down the rocky river several times to locate the rocks I want. Each potential stone I find I put through a test by smashing another rock against its edge. If it chips away sharply, it passes.

So far, I haven had much luck. Most of the rocks crumble or break instead of chipping. Stones for knives, being my only option at the moment, keeps me looking.

Finally, I find a nice stash of rocks to test. Held firmly on the ground, I strike my round rock on the edges of the dark sediment rock and watch as sparks fly and the struck rocks edge chips away. Excited, I chip away at the edge of my new rock until it is nice and sharp, creating multiple sparks.

Roughly the size of my hand and an inch and a half thick, the new cutting rock holds a nice edge. Already far enough downstream from my watering spot, I begin working on the rabbit.

Processing the rabbit is as hard as I expected it to be with a rock for a knife. Rather than slicing, the rough blade must be worked back and forth to separate the fur from the body. Eventually, I have enough fur that I can pull on it to remove the fine dark gray pelt from the rest of the body.

Limitations of my blade become even more evident as I carefully cut away the guts. It is a delicate process, and I try my hardest to not puncture the stomach. Spoiling my meat would ruin the perfect day. When the meat separated from the gross stuff, I take a moment to wash the hide clean in the river.

All I have to say about this experience is that it is stupid.

Im not the finest woodsman… or cultivator for the matter. I have a death-attributed core with mana to shape and mold to my command, and here I am using a practically blunt rock to clean my kill. There is probably some spell or skill I could use courtesy of death that would make this process so much better.

Also, I have been rubbing sticks together like a fool when I could be knocking rocks to create a spark. So maybe it isn the process but rather the processor that I have issues with. Either way, criticism still standing, I have issues with what is happening, and I plan to make some changes.

Plan one: begin cooking dinner even though I just had lunch.

Plan two: figure out how to cycle death to make living in the wild easier.

Plan three: feast on the spoils of the days laborious task of avoiding making a proper plan.

I don know why I was trying to avoid planning so much. Maybe it is the labeling of tasks or the binding nature of plans. It could be that having plans invites the potential for plans to be ruined. In contrast, no plan means nothing can be ruined by unforeseen circumstances. Not only that, there is the pressure put on an ordinary task once it becomes a plan.

Take cooking a rabbit. I am going to cook the rabbit anyway. However, now that it is an official plan, I have the potential to fail at cooking the rabbit, and I have a chance to ruin the remainder of my plans as well.

On the other hand, not planning to cook the rabbit and doing so only because it needs to get done will not set me up for future failure. If I fail this independent task, no other unplanned task is at risk.

Now, if I fail at cooking, I don complete my task and can check off the plan from the tight schedule I have shackled myself to, and now my consecutive planned tasks are all in jeopardy as well. Can cycle while cooking if I don end up cooking, and I can eat what hasn been cooked.

Planning tasks has a peculiar way of taking out the levity in ordinary tasks, and I am not a fan.

The monotony of the tasks that follow my return to camp allows me to stay lost in thought. I unconsciously restoke the fire and set the rabbit meat on a roasting stick.

As I go to place the rabbit on the fire, I am pulled to the present to admire my fire pit, a task I completed earlier to avoid planning. A foot-high wall of rocks contains my fire, while two stacks of rocks holds my rabbit half a foot higher than the wall, allowing it to perfectly roast.

Catching the juice from the rabbit is another rock with a bowl-like shape to it. In this convenient natural pan, I will cook the remaining food I picked during the day, using the oils from the rabbit to help with the cooking.

I am using my rock to cut the wild onions and goldshroom into smaller chunks. Even though I won cook these until the rabbit is about done roasting, I take the time to finish the task now while still contemplating why plans are the worst.

Planning on its own, I guess, isn too bad if you plan to keep your plans minimal to ensure maximum success. The problem with planning is the deeper thinking it pulls you into.

Give me surface-level thoughts all day long; I can work with that. What I can see I can criticize, and what can be criticized can be fixed.

Planning, though, forces one to work with the unseeable. Since you can see it while you are planning, you are forced to reflect upon it later in a future planning session.

Reflection is bad. How does one reflect when one can remember?

”Oh, for the love. ” I express my disgust with the turn of events. Now I have stumbled into the depths of the issue. Depths that I rather not wade into.

Ever since I woke up, Ive been on the go. I hadn allowed myself any time to consider all I had lost. Sure I like the freedom of not having any memories, but what about my past life? Were there loved ones left behind? Did I have any friends or family? Is anyone looking for me? How did I end up in the desert…alone? What was my name… is my name?

Successful planning involves experience, experience called upon by a lifetime of memories, and I don have that. I don even have someone elses memories to work off of. Its just me, in the woods, alone. No direction to go and no purpose. There is nothing. It doesn matter what direction I go or what I plan. Like driftwood in the open waters or a feather in the wind, I am completely lost…at the mercy of the future.

Cold, dark, empty, alone, and lost, despair begins to creep into my heart.

Fire offers refuge from my thoughts, and I cling to the distraction as I watch the glowing embers. Hypnotic fading red coals hold my attention, coaxing me out of the current blackhole I was diving into.

”Damning plans! ” I curse, pulling myself wholly out of my head.

”Your very existence is to set people up for failures. And here you are, trying to get me to fail at my next planned task by making me contemplate your complexities, filling me with feelings I would rather not feel. Its late afternoon, and you have me feeling like a lonely cub in the middle of a harsh winter night.

”And I do not appreciate you stinting my progression. You
e supposed to help people, not hinder them with sad thoughts of lost memories and hopelessness. ” I mutter aloud with clenched, shaking fists.

Successfully, I shift the blame from myself while simultaneously shaking off the creeping thoughts threatening to embrace my heart with its icy hands.

No longer stagnating in thought, I get back to the planned task before me.

My roasted rabbit looks crispy on the bottom side facing the fire, and I give it a quarter turn to cook the back. Deliciousness wafts in the air. I breathe it in, causing my mouth to water.

Comfortable sitting beside my fire, I watch the meat roast for a moment longer before I dive into cultivation.

Closing my eyes, I focus on my soul. Pale gray energy in my second core continues to violently spin. This is my mana to use. I will figure out how to use it. I don even attempt to cycle the mana for a long time. Instead, I watch as it storms within me.

In my first attempts, I tried pulling the power from my core and through my body. There was no reason I knew why I tried that. It just felt familiar. Several variations of pushing and pulling on the core also did not work. Nothing has worked, so that is what Im doing now. Breathing and watching my core.

Constricting slightly when I breathe in and expanding as I breathe out. I let a few moments pass as I focus on the mana, noting how it easily expands with the pulling motion of inhaling. Feeling more connected with the power, I continue pulling on the core as if inhaling through my body.

Mana swells from my center and begins to flow through my body. It doesn travel far, only flowing enough to encircle my stomach and chest before running out of steam and returning to my core. Still, the progress is exciting. Already, I have begun to hone the technique for my next attempt.

Focusing on the pale core, I constrict the violent mana once more. As it condenses, I hold the compacted mana as long as possible, refusing to let it burst. When I can no longer hold back, I release the mana with a push.

Pale mana explodes out of the core and begins to flow through my torso. This time it doesn stop circulating. Now I can feel it coursing through my chest and stomach with no signs of stopping.

For good measure, I release the mana from my channels and practice cycling once more. Now that I have it down, I can cycle the mana without complication.

I can harness the energy of death!

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