Chapter 132 – Standing Out (Part 1)
Leo smiled and nodded “Come! I want you to meet someone!”
Daichi smirked as he followed. Leo was in a better mood than he’d been in days which made it obvious to him that it was very good news.
Haeru asked next to Daichi “So what happened? Where’d you go?”
Daichi just shrugged it off “She had me meet someone to go an additional.. Screening.”
Haeru didn’t pay much heed to his words “Did you get a professor as a master?”
Daichi shook his head “No.”
Damien who was walking a few paces behind them as he didn’t know what else to do was just as shocked as Leo and Haeru.
“Why not!? How could you not have been chosen by her as well?” Leo asked for Haeru.
“It’s not that big a deal, besides Professor Lydia stated she planned on giving me a little extra guidance as well at the beginning.” Daichi smiled but it was obvious to them he didn’t want to continue on the topic so they dropped it.
Damien stopped following as he saw the direction they were heading and instead began speaking with Karina as they decided to go wait with the rest of their group.
Leo’s footsteps were relaxed but quick and Daichi could practically feel his excitement despite him trying his best to keep calm. They quickly walked over and Daichi noticed that there were more people in the area. He didn’t immediately notice this before because he was spacing out due to the previous events. He’d already put the books inside of the ring he had on him, but his mind hadn’t been focused on what was around him until he met up with the others. Now taking a good look around Daichi realized that a few groups must have returned as Daichi led him to a group of 30 youths all around 15-16.
Leo quickly ran up and put his hand on the shoulder of a big burly guy that was laying in the center of the group with quite a few injuries on him. Leo’s smile was genuinely happy as he made introductions “This is my best friend Marcos. He’s the guy that’s been through thick and thin with me since we were kids.”
Leo gestured towards Daichi “This is the other guy I mentioned. We got pretty friendly in the forest.”
Although they hadn’t actually shared any life or death situations together, Daichi had travelled together with them in an area of high danger. Even if they hadn’t faced any serious situations together, the risk had still been there. So everyone would have still come to be on semi-friendly terms with one another under such circumstances, even more so because they’d already learned how terribly dangerous that forest could be.
“Any friend of Leo is a friend of mine, this here is Karla” even though it was his first sentence, he’d already introduced the girl who was sitting beside him with a caring expression on her face. Leo grinned as he teasingly poked fun “This is apparently Marcos’s new giiirlfriend. Heh”
Karla kneeled next to Marcos with her medium length black hair that was neither curly nor straight hung down around her shoulders and covered part of her face with her bangs. When she finally glanced back their way again her dark brown eyes very noticeable again that seemed to suit her olive skin quite well. Although no one would describe her as a beauty worth fighting a war over, it was clear that she was not an unattractive young lady of similar age to the rest of them.
Both Marcos and Karla blushed different shades of red but didn’t deny the comment. Daichi stared at such a strange scene unfolding before his very eyes. During his school days he didn’t find such a situation comfortable, and it seemed even after all these years nothing had changed for him. He felt himself growing detached from the situation without even meaning too even though he’d yearned for so many years to speak to someone new. Now faced with so many people around him though, he couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable by their normalcy.
Leo proudly pointed out to Daichi that Marcos had been the lynchpin that had kept his group of participants together and helped them all survive. A few of the people in their surroundings clearly from Marcos’s group chimed in on these words.
“Big brother Marcos really did save the day. If it weren’t for him we’d all be dead right now”
“That’s right! He’s incredibly knowledgeable! He even impressed the instructor, he said so on his way back!” one of the youngest in the group yelled with fervor in his tone.
“We were faced with monsters and even poisonous plants but no matter what the situation, big brother Marcos knew exactly what to do! A true leader! Another guy chimed in.
Daichi heard and watched these people speak up for him and felt as if he was staring at a burgeoning cult and its benevolent leader. ‘What did he do to them…?’ he wondered as he looked on in wonder.
Leo already knew that the people calling him ‘big brother’ were definitely doing so at Marcos’s request. It was one of those things he always asked people do in a friendly and joking manner, except normally nobody would.
While Daichi had left with Lydia Leo had been left anxiously waiting for any news of his best friend and Haeru had stayed behind next to him. He hadn’t even really wondered whether he would accept the master/disciple relationship, and had immediately decided on the spot when she’d asked.
They didn’t wait long before a few groups starting showing up one after the other. These groups must have been closer to one another inside of the forest, but the scary thing was that these groups for the most part only had a few people 1-7 people in them, making the ones looking on wonder whether those were all that were left from their original 50 participant-roster.
Finally with these smaller groups a large group finally appeared with around 30 people, and amidst this large group only one person was injured with torn-up rags for clothes as he was being half-carried by two people. One wouldn’t think by a quick glance that this guy who looked worse off than anybody else in the group would be the leader that had become the heart and soul of their existence within the forest, but this young man was Marcos.
Once they appeared Leo immediately ran over to them and began hugging Marcos who was physically injured but had his wits about him. He looked just as relieved and happy to see Leo. They’d both been worried that the other had found themselves in more trouble than they could handle, but the relief that passed through them when they saw each other spoke volumes about their friendship.
They hadn’t gotten to speak much before Lydia returned, but in that short span Leo had quickly seen how attentive the girl next to Marcos was treating him and the quick glances he shot her told him that Marcos had finally found a new ‘lady-love’ to focus his attentions on.
Now that Daichi was back Leo quickly began badgering Marcos to tell them what had happened to their group and although Marcos was more than willing to comply it was ‘Karla’ who spoke up and decided to answer on his behalf.
“You shush now! He’s too hurt and although he’s healed a lot thanks to the help of the instructor, he was poisoned by a special plant in the forest that has continuously been damaging his body through his mana. The instructor says that he’ll make a recovery within a month but until then he’ll be very weak.”
Leo’s eyes held a little concern, but he knew that since they were back in Lumea the danger had passed, whatever was still plaguing Marcos, if it could be healed then it would be healed here of all places.
“Yeah… Well… She’s right. I’ll let Karla tell you what happened.” He said with a bashful look of resignation.
Karla smiled tenderly at him as she spoke, her gaze never really leaving him “I’ll… Marcos needs rest so I’ll give you the short version for now.”
Leo nodded immediately and the others who’d shown up were at best mildly interested so no one disagreed.
“When we first arrived in the forest we didn’t know where we were. There was no animosity between any of the members of the group seeing as how none of us knew each other so we all decided to tell one another our talents and abilities so as best to pass the exam.”
Leo understood that while she said what she said, it was an action taken out of necessity rather than trust. He also didn’t believe that most of them shared everything, even Marcos the friendliest and most trusting guy he knew wouldn’t have told him his trump cards.
“We came to the general consensus that while we wanted to pass the exam, our abilities were on the low end so our priority was to stay together and focus on survival and minimize risk.”
Marcos wanted to say something but she cut him off before he even spoke by putting a finger on his lips. Clearly she cared about him, the concern was written all over her face.
“Although we decided on this by general vote, with fifty of us trying to come up with what to do things were quite chaotic and we invited disaster. We were swarmed by goblins. We were lucky they were just goblins otherwise it could have been worse considering how naïve we were at the time. We managed to defeat the goblins but they were stronger than what the books and stories described, strong enough that most of us had our egos put in place. No one died but that was the beginning of a miserable road.” Karla spoke the entire time with a slightly despondent tone but her face still mainlined her caring expression towards Marcos.
“It was during that first battle that a few people began to show off their skills, and Marcos was one of them. He was impressive but not enough that it was blinding. It was enough for the people around him to take notice. It was enough that after that, when he came up with his plan enough of us listened.”
Leo nodded with interest as Haeru stood to the side with a similarly intrigued expression waiting for her to continue.
“It was at that point that everybody became divided on what to do and where to go. Several people stood up wanting to tell others what to do but it was Marcos that stepped out of the crowd and made people listen.
He already had the trust of a few people he’d fought next too, but there was something about him that made others believe he knew what he was doing. He took the position of leader. There were quite a few people including myself that were unconvinced… But he proved himself almost immediately after.”