Locke started awake in the middle of the night due to the cold weather that his torn clothes that provided little protection against it. When he woke up, he realised that Angelina had latched herself onto him like an octopus. Besides, he discovered both his hands clasped around her breasts over her clothes, which had crumpled up under the pressure.
Ugh. Awoken by the cold, Locke retracted his salacious hands in embarrassment. Before falling asleep and pulling the grass garment tighter, Locke covered Angelina with it, leaving only a small part for himself. No wonder he felt chilled after the fire went out. Sniffling, Locke cautiously pried Angelina's limbs off of him, bundled himself tighter in his tattered clothing, and scurried over to the extinguished fire. There were no embers beneath the firewood anymore, and there laid nothing but a heap of charred remains. Still, this was no challenge to Locke -- he smacked some combustible dried branches onto the pile of charcoal and gave it a good huff. The charcoal began to glow red, and soon, the dead branches in the charcoal crackled. Once the fire rose, Locke shielded the sparks from incoming wind as he swiftly threw in some withered grass and leaves. He then watched the fire slowly grew into roaring flames. As a final step, he added a few more branches and a warm bonfire took shape.
Having reignited the campfire, Locke returned to the cave and found that he was no longer in the mood to sleep. He retrieved the work-in-progress grass mat and continued to weave it as he watched the fire. He didn't notice when the woman had wrapped her arms around him, but that did not stop Locke from relishing in it. Princess, princess. She has to be much more prestigious than normal nobles. I suppose I have quite the charm, huh, Locke thought.
The bonfire sizzled. Locke patiently wove the 'quilt' in the cave whilst Angelina lied fast asleep. It was a warm night.
At the crack of dawn, Locke yawned and stretched lazily, his body stiff from last night. He trod to the lake and rinsed his face to sober up. There shouldn't be any other animals in this place. During the second half of the night, Locke didn't hear anything apart from the faint howling of beasts coming from the depths of the jungle. Of course, they were from a distance, so Locke was not worried about unexpected guests paying them a visit.
Washing his face with saltwater was not an experience Locke wanted to relive, given that he sustained a decent few small scratches on his face. Locke had tried his best to avoid the wounds, but the pain was still alarming. After freshening up, Locke gripped the sharp rock stained with blood in one hand and his dagger in the other. He set off with yesterday's unaccomplished goal in mind to explore the surroundings.
Angelina hadn't woken up yet. Locke's heart would sink every time he recalled the fact that she had slept for two consecutive nights. Generally, soldiers in the battalion who spent this amount of time in slumber were likely to never awaken. Locke was not aware that Angelina had exhausted her mental power and suffered blowback. Her awakening would depend solely on the recovery of her mental strength. An entry-level Lehrling like herself was estimated to take between two to three days to recover.
Locke first went to the place where he woke up yesterday. He could not wrap his head around this. If he had fallen directly from above, this sandy beach might have served as a buffer, but he would inevitably still be pressed into a meatloaf. Unless he had plunged straight into the water like Angelina. During his swim yesterday, Locke sensed that the buoyancy of this saltwater lake was greater than usual. As a result, it was no surprise that Angelina could float listlessly on the water without sinking.
Since he had plummeted into the water, how did he get ashore? This saltwater lake was undoubtedly stagnant water, hence there was no force to wash him up. This time, Locke carefully circled the saltwater lake. When he neared the side of the cliff, he heard a faint sound from behind a raised part of the rock wall. Locke inched in for a closer look and saw water constantly seeping out under the stone wall, gushing at impressive velocities. Locke cupped his hands together to collect some of the water and slurped it.
Freshwater. Locke's eyes twinkled with joy.
Looking at this rock wall no smaller than his own body, Locke spat on his hands and rubbed them together. Then, he firmly clutched the sides of the rock wall and wrenched at it forcefully. The wall was not as sturdy as he imagined and it gave way effortlessly. The rock wall crashed into the lake, and almost immediately, water trickled down from the crack in the wall into the lake. Locke figured there must be a source of water in the mountain wall, from which water flowed directly into the bottom of the lake -- consequently, the tranquil surface of the lake concealed the fact that there was thrust underneath.
Upon discovery of the water source, Locke heaved a breath of relief. At least there was no need to worry about dying of thirst. After all, the body fluid of that strange creature was limited. To provide water for two adults, they would most definitely require freshwater from the water source. Scooping the water with both hands, Locke took several sips. This water tasted much better than river water -- there was even a slight sweetness to it. It was a pity that he didn't have a container to store it. While he was fine with it, it would be troublesome to get the water to Angelina. It wouldn't be practical to transport the water in his hands to feed her. The water would all leak out before he could get back to her.
Locke scanned the woods around himself. Guess I'll make a wooden container.
Strolling into the woods, Locke was in no hurry to find a tree whose trunk could work as a container. Thick ones were a hassle to chop and thin ones wouldn't suffice, so he simply walked around to survey around first. At the same time, he also tried to look for fruit trees. He was certain that there had to be fruit trees in such a dense forest. Many trees bore fruit even in winter, not forgetting the fact that winter had yet to come.
Locke dared not venture too far. He dreaded losing himself in this forest so with every two steps he took, he carved a mark with his dagger. Pine trees were plenty abundant here. Locke had already planned to bring along a handful of pine cones when he returned at noon. Even if it wouldn't be enough to fill his stomach, they would still serve a good snack.
Towering over him in the woods were a multitude of trees that he didn't recognise. Although he had travelled north and south for many years, he had never encountered most of the plants here. Well, the Bering Mountains was known for its monsters, so foreign plants weren't out of the ordinary. At the very least, he had never seen those unfamiliar creatures by the river in front of the village as a child.
After hiking for quite some time, he couldn't unearth anything. Somewhat impatient, Locke unhesitantly wandered deeper into the woods, and alas, he was not disappointed. Standing before him was a peculiar tree with red leaves and a few yellow fruits hanging from its branches. Locke tucked his dagger back into his boots to free his hands and scaled the tree like an agile monkey. Locke was an exceptional climber. Back when he was younger, he often joined his neighbour Hans at the hills behind the village to play.
After picking a total of seven, Locke couldn't find any more. He had already plucked those within his reach -- others were too far away from the trunk. Hopping off the tree, Locke cradled the seven walnut-sized fruits near his chest and trudged forward. Perhaps because he was in the depths of the forest and the trees were also lush, Locke stumbled upon a few more fruit trees, all different from the one earlier. After some busywork, Locke had in his arms a plethora of fruits he didn't recognise.
After marking this place, Locke walked back along the way he came.
Upon returning to the cave, it was already noon. The sun shone on the sandy bank, and with every step, Locke could feel the warmth enveloping him. It was the polar opposite of the bitter cold they experienced at night. The lake glimmered blindingly under the sunlight, giving rise to picturesque scenery. Unfortunately, Locke didn't have time to stop and relish nature's beauty. On the contrary, a few of those greyish-white crustaceans crawled out in the open to bask in the sun, attracting Locke's attention. His tongue darted out to lick his lips. He could feast on 'chicken meat' alongside a fruit platter for lunch.
Back at his little nest, Locke unpacked his harvest. He laid a dozen or so green or yellow fruits on the ground and unloaded from his back segments of bamboo-like branches. This was the material to make the vessel for water that Locke had spent a long time searching high and low for.
Whether these fruits were poisonous or not, Locke didn't know, so he could only use the most primitive method of finding out -- tasting a little of each. Thanks to his impetus, as long as it was not very poisonous, a little bit of toxin intake would not pose a problem. The worst-case scenario would merely be a mild case of diarrhoea. There were three kinds of fruits. Of the three, he felt okay half a day after ingesting two; they were non-toxic. The other was a slightly greenish fruit with black spots, which gave Locke a negligible tingling sensation in his abdomen upon swallowing. Even if it was not poisonous, Locke was not keen on eating these anymore -- who knew if there were other side effects? Throwing away the green fruits left him with 12 fruits in total, which should still be adequate.
First, he rekindled the bonfire again by performing the same trick on the bank. With two swings, the sharp stone in Locke's hand once again took two fresh lives. Carrying one unusual, eight-legged creature in each hand, Locke suddenly thought of a new preparation method. He stuffed a few washed yellow fruits into the creature's shell, and threw it into the fire. Although he didn't have much, Locke still knew to make the best out of what he had.
A while later, the rich, meaty aroma wafted into his nostrils, indicating to him that dinner was ready. The savoury fragrance of meat coupled with the freshness of fruit bestowed upon Locke an exceedingly delightful lunch. Of course, he didn't forget to save half for Angelina. The feeding process was no longer as nerve racking as the first day. Although Angelina's nobility greatly perturbed Locke, she was at best a sleeping beauty for now. After a few trials, Locke calmly helped Angelina swallow this time. Subsequently, he ran to the side of the cliff again and picked up some water with the carapace of the strange creature to feed Angelina with. Locke then finished his work and cleaned up the debris.
During the preliminary investigation he carried out in the morning, he didn't spot a single beast throughout these four weeks, save these bizarre creatures. To top it off, he couldn't be bothered to tidy up, so he simply stacked up the food scraps and shoved them into the fire to keep it ablaze.
In the afternoon, Locke had no plans to go out for the time being. There were still some fruits left from his morning haul, not to mention the weird creatures still shuffling about on the bank. He had his dinner settled. Locke bit into a dark-green fruit of another kind and unsheathed his dagger to work on the sections of tree trunk he had fetched. The fruit was sour down to its core, but Locke managed to bring himself to enjoy it. After an entire afternoon of hard work, he finished two arm-length water bottles. He put it to the test and tried to collect some water. There was no leakage. He didn't care how it looked so long as long as it functioned.
As evening approached, it was time to eat up again. Getting down to work, Locke was too lazy to invent new tricks, so he concocted a similar meal he had named the 'fruit-meat wrap'. For the time being, Locke hadn't given much thought about when they should depart. He could only make plans after she had awoken, after his injuries had healed, and after his impetus had recovered. There were no threats nearby and this place did have a sufficient supply of water and food. Locke saw no harm in settling here temporarily.
As he chewed on some food to feed Angelina with, Locke's mind wandered off thinking about when she would wake up. Meanwhile, Angelina's lashes twitched imperceptibly on the straw mat, and a few seconds later, her eyelids gradually fluttered open to reveal her stunning orbs. Absent minded, Locke leaned down habitually before he realised he was staring blankly into Angelina's eyes. In a moment of panic, he gulped down the contents in his mouth...