Lily had walked for only a short while before she sat down, pouting. It had taken her approximately three hundred steps – from the point she was bored enough to start counting – to decide that it was a foolish idea to wander around without any idea where to go, physical rehabilitative purposes and symbolism notwithstanding.
Finding another skeleton, she moved herself next to it and closed her eyes. Ever since she had started walking on her new fake legs, she felt her control over her ability gradually increasing. As such, there was something she wanted to test.
No chant. Typically the chant was used to help direct the speaker’s thoughts and shape the magic, but with Lily’s newfound – or rather, newly developed – familiarity with her magic, it should theoretically be possible to skip chants altogether. In fact, it might even be possible to skip the skill name and activate it non-verbally, but Lily felt irrationally inclined to speak it anyway. Perhaps it was pride at having developed her own skill. Lily resolved to do some self-reflection when she next had the leisure to.
Her hypothesis proved correct. Even without a chant, she felt the magic, now constantly active to operate her legs, spread out from her metal feet and suffuse the ground. As she spread her network, she felt exactly how many skeletons lay around her in a two-kilometre radius: a hundred and thirty six, some buried within the piles of junk. She also felt a number of boxes, similar in shape and mass to the white box where she had found the blood packs. She took note of their locations, resolving to search for them in the hopes that she might find something useful, as she had previously.
As she reached the limit of her sensory range, she frowned. Unfortunately, though her speed of deployment had increased, her sensory capacity was still limited to two kilometres. She had almost reached this limit, yet still did not sense or feel anything that told her where to go. She mentally steeled herself to face the prospect of continuing to wander aimlessly.
…A tremor. A slight vibration, at the very edge of her range. So small it was barely noticable, like the quivering caused by a gentle breeze across a still pond.
Lily strained herself, but could feel nothing beyond that slight, constant tremor. She sighed and made a mental note of its direction, then opened her eyes, waiting for the network to cut itself off from the visual overload.
It didn’t cut off. Lily widened her eyes in surprise as she realised that she could still feel all the sensory data from her network, despite her not focusing fully on it. She blinked a few times as she waited for it to go away, but it simply stayed open, sending her data. It was a bit duller than usual, and was more of a constant stream of instinctive information in the back of her mind rather than occupying the forefront as it normally did, but it was there nonetheless.
Perhaps it was another unexpected result of her newfound familiarity for her magic, but it seemed that she could now sustain <<Probe>>, even while remaining aware of her surroundings. She could still vaguely feel the locations of the boxes, but the tiny vibrations were beyond her capabilities in this state. Lily likened the unusual feeling to a vague map in the back of her mind, enough to show the rough lay of the land, but not enough to show all the details. This was an unexpected, yet not entirely unwelcome development. Time to test further.
She jumped to her feet. During the motion, the map in her mind wavered a bit, but stayed. The network remained open. Lily tentatively took a step forward.
The network suddenly shut itself off. Lily frowned, shaking her head to rid herself of the sudden feeling of emptiness. It seemed that keeping a two-kilometre network open while walking was impossible for her. Perhaps if she reduced the range…? She spread out her network again, this time only covering a radius of a single kilometre. She took a step forward. The network remained. She took another. The network cut off.
She groaned in frustration. At the very least, she had proven it was possible to move while keeping the network open, if she limited its reach. She tried once more, this time limiting her network’s radius to half a kilometre. She took one step, then two, then experimentally tried running. The network stayed open.
Lily nodded, satisfied. In conclusion, she could now use a degraded version of <<Probe>> without restricting her movement. Under stress of battle, she would likely only be able to use it within a quarter-kilometre radius, but she lacked the means to test this hypothesis at this juncture. Keeping her limited half-kilometre search radius open, she started heading towards the closest of the boxes that she had detected.
What she found was, as expected, a box; identical in shape and size to the one which had saved her life. This time, however, the box was not colored in the medical white with red, but instead was completely olive green in coloration. She knelt down next to the box and depressed the button on its side, causing the lid to split open into equal halves along the centre.
A gush of cold air rushed out of the box, and it revealed its contents: a number of rectangular packets, identical in color to the outside of the box. Lined alongside these packets were several sealed cylindrical tubes, each about four centimetres in diameter. These tubes were transparent, revealing them to be filled with some kind of cold liquid. The white seals across the lids of the tubes were made of some hard, yet elastic material, with a button along the side. A word printed diagonally across the seal read: “Hydration”.
Lily knew not what the liquid was, nor did she know what material the seal was made of. She did not know where the boxes came from, nor could she discern whether their contents were safe to use. But at that moment, she did not care. She knew what “hydration” was, and she was feeling more thirsty than she had ever felt in her life.
Logically, this point should have come up much earlier. After all, Lily had not had anything to drink nor eat since the morning of the day when <<Battleforged>> was wiped, and how much time had passed since then was anybody’s guess. She ran her tongue over her lips, surprised to feel the dry, cracked texture. Lily presumed she had been so preoccupied with treating herself and her handicap that she had somehow forced herself to overlook her thirst. Yet now, with the promise of relief suddenly before her, that thirst made itself known tenfold. She immediately felt the soreness of her throat, the dryness of her mouth, the grating of dry air which passed down her still drier lips. Unable to contain herself, she hit the button on the side of the tube.
Instantly, the seal dissolved, disintegrating into nothingness, exposing the liquid to the air. Without any kind of grace or poise, Lily took the tube and overturned it into her parched mouth. Lily braced herself for the choking that was bound to occur with the sudden intake of fluid, but it did not occur. The liquid in the tube was not, after all, plain water. It was a gel-like fluid which moved slowly through her mouth and down her throat, suffusing her throat with moisture. Immediately she felt her thirst sated.
She looked at the now-empty tube in amazement. It was truly an amazing concoction. Lily desperately wanted to find out how to create this liquid, but recognised that, given the state of the world she was in, that was likely to be a pointless endeavour. Instead, she mentally re-prioritised her secondary objective of investigating the other boxes, converting it into a primary objective. If she could secure several more of these, she could probably survive for a decent length of time as she searched for a way home.
She peered back into the box, noting the green packets. Since the clear liquids were for hydration, it stands to reason that the box was meant as some form of food supply. Which implied that the green packets were food. Thinking for a bit, Lily emptied out about three quarters of the green packets on to the ground. She was not quite yet suffering from hunger pangs, and it was more imperative to have a water supply than food. With her newly-concocted plan of bringing along the box as she searched, it would be more prudent to leave as much space as possible for more of the hydrating liquid than to fill the box with food.
All in all, after this act, the box had nine tubes of the liquid left, alongside six of the green packets. Lily again pushed the button on the side, causing the box to reseal itself. Intrigued by the lid of the box, she traced along the line where its two halves had rejoined, marvelling at the flawless surface. On a whim, she allowed her thumb to trace beyond the end of the line and continue on a straight path along the side of the box which faced away from her. About halfway down the side, her thumb sank in to the surface of the box. Surprised, she probed it with her finger, finding it to be a handle of some kind, flush against the surface of the box. She giggled slightly, praising whichever deities that existed for this convenience. She was planning to carry it in both hands, but this handle made it much easier to manage.
She stood up with the box in hand, refreshed from the drink, and reconfirmed her bearing. Then she resumed walking, headed for the next of the mysterious boxes. Lingering concerns about the strange minute vibrations she felt earlier remained, but she decided whatever it was could wait until after she finished scavenging what she could from these little boxes of supplies.