Chapter 84 – Bull-Wind Forest (Part 4)
Leo stepped out of the portal with wide eyes as he turned his head to the side and threw up.
The moment he stepped into the portal, it felt like all of his organs had been shaken and all of his blood froze for a moment and just as a moment later as he’d stepped through, seemingly back on solid ground instead of weightless he’d felt everything coming crashing back down. Everything he’d eaten rose all the way to his throat and he couldn’t help himself from tossing his cookies.
He couldn’t help but get everything in his stomach out as his eyes blurred a little with tears from the exertion of emptying his stomach. When his stomach was finally empty he could finally manage to take a few deep breaths as he finally felt empty enough that breathing in no longer flared up that sensation of nausea that had washed over him.
Only now could he finally look around and noticed that most of the others around him weren’t doing much better than him. The acidic smell from the stomach acids of all of the food and beverages that had been regurgitated in the past few minutes lingered in the air giving everyone who inhaled the smell the immediate sensation of wanting to gag.
Leo stopped taking any deeper breaths as he covered his mouth and nose with his left arm as he began walking forward. No longer wanting to stay in the same spot, the smell was overwhelming.
Everyone in the area who had finished were thinking the same thing as they moved further forward to the area where Professor Lydia was. Next to her were three guardsmen. The three-clawed guardsmen whom they had noticed earlier, he was clearly an important member as even Professor Lydia was paying him some deference, and two guardsmen who looked as young as some of the participants.
Noticing that most of the participants were regaining their barrings, Professor Lydia spoke in a calm and even tone as the sound was loud enough for those around her to hear “From this point forward, there will be no screaming or yelling. Any loud noises could attract a catastrophe. The majority of you can hear me, and for those who don’t those who did will relay the information I am about to give out. The nausea you’re feeling is normal and will go away in a few minutes. It’s a common occurrence when traveling through the void.”
Instead of continuing she waited for everyone to crowd around herself and the other guardsmen as everyone seemed to be present.
“We could be anywhere in the forest at the moment. Crimson has explored as much as anyone else in regards to this Bull-Wind forest and therefore he will lead us. If he says an area is too dangerous, you listen and follow. Any instruction that he gives is to be followed immediately if you want to survive. I will personally be taking note of every action and inaction you all make, and it will be based on my recommendations and Crimson’s and to a lesser extent these other two that you will either be granted entry into the Lumea Academy or not” Professor Lydia said as she haphazardly pointed towards the other two guardsmen while deeply praising ‘Crimson’.
Leo wasn’t able to make everything out clearly because he’d been in the back at the start but he’d managed to move forward enough to make out enough of what was being said. He was entirely focused on finding out what the requirement for the exam would be, it was the only thing that mattered to him in that moment as his ears strained themselves to catch every noise being made, afraid he’d somehow miss the only thing that mattered.
“We will stay in the forest for one month, earlier if the tasks necessary are accomplished before then. Every participant must do battle with 5 creatures and must slay a beast or monster before everyone can leave. We the instructors or guardsmen will only watch and keep a distance and intervene if something goes awry or an enemy that has no business being here appears. Otherwise we will maintain a silence and watch, even if you all get slaughtered. We will not save the weak, and the strong won’t need our help will they?” with a wink and a shrug at those around her. Professor Lydia stopped talking and started making her ay out of the large crowd desiring some space.
Crimson finally spoke up as he noticed Lydia was done with her speech “I’ll keep it short and sweet. These two guardsmen are Flow and Jill. They are new and this is their first mission. Much as this is a test to see if you are all good enough to enter the Lumea Academy this is also a test for them to see if they are strong enough to survive being a guardsmen for our great city. I will make the best decisions in order to keep you all safe, aside from that it will be up to your own skill to keep yourselves alive. Best of luck.” Crimson shrugged his shoulders and walked away from them too.
Flow and Jill the other two guardsmen stayed in place with shy expressions on their faces as everyone else turned to stare at them.
Leo looked at the rag tag group that he was now partnered up with for the rest of the month. A month which would be filled with danger and more for the foreseeable future.
Following behind Professor Lydia, Leo decided it would be a good idea to stay near her. It would be good if he could stand out while she was around. Everyone else took their time getting themselves together, but knowing that this was a test and that they were being judged, no one wanted to come off worse than anyone else. This was the group with the most potential after all.
Instead of leading, the group noticed that the professors weren’t going in any particular direction, in fact they seemed to be aimlessly wandering. Finally someone mustered the courage to ask “Where should we be going?”
Crimson glanced at the boy and answered indifferently “You can go wherever you want. We won’t protect you remember? You can go as a group or alone, but there are only four of us, we will generally be keeping an eye on the biggest groups. If you all want to branch out independently you can do that too, but then know that your odds for survival are that much lower and that you might not get noticed regardless of what you do.”
Hearing this everyone seemed to reevaluate their strategy as Damien spoke up “Those who want to follow me can follow me. We will find a nest of monsters and we will wipe them out! One month? Why should we bother staying here that long? Let’s do this in three days!” his overbearing tone inspiring confidence in the participants around him as Crimson’s eyes darkened.
Just earlier they’d all been told to keep their voices down and now this idiot is yelling at the top of his lungs trying to sound inspirational? Crimson wondered whether this was the type of idiot that ran into battle and got killed or the type of idiot who let others run into battle ahead of him and got them killed. In his mind the boy who’d just shouted could only be one of those two types of idiot.
Almost half of the participants gathered around Damien as he set forward ignoring those who hadn’t flocked to him.
Meanwhile a lot of the others looked at one another measuring each other up. Leo was paying close attention to all of them, as he noticed a vague mist in the distance. Walking closer to a tree he hopped up onto one of the branches as he lowered his voice so that only those near him could hear as he asked “Is that the mist of the deepest layered area of the forest?”
Professor Lydia and the other guardsmen’s eyebrows quirked. The information regarding the different layers of the forest wasn’t kept secret but it was still information that didn’t get around. A little interested was piqued and some of the more observant participants that had not moved to follow Damien had noticed the changes in the expressions of Professor Lydia and Crimson. Noticing their changes, they instantly decided to pay more attention to Leo.
“Yes.” was Crimson’s only response.
‘Hmm’ Leo thought, ‘If we go in that direction according to the book that Marcos had, there will actually be less monsters but the danger is somehow much higher. The purpose of the exam is simply to show off our skills and to garner some proof. Moving in the opposite direction where there are more and weaker monsters is the starter decision.’
Leo hopped down off the tree and made eye contact with some of the others before stating “I think we should go in the opposite direction of the mist. If that’s the deepest layer than the weaker monsters should be in greater numbers the further away we go. Even if we want to test our skills… It’s best we start from the bottom and work our way up.”
Everyone had different opinions to this. Some of them didn’t want to do it because if it did then it would make Leo stand out more. Some of them thought it was prudent to follow his plan because there was no reason not too, there were also only so many guardsmen and clearly at least one was going to follow Leo after he spoke.
Haeru had no such opinion and was merely interested by Leo. He’d heard that Leo had gotten into a fight with Damien and was surprised that someone would actually stand up to him. He knew him personally and understood how much of a bully he was just based on how coddled he was inside of his family. It was rare for someone to stand up to him, and it was almost unheard of for someone to do it that he hadn’t even heard of and to come out of it unscathed.
Moving forward he offered his hand out to Leo “Haeru.”
Leo was surprised as he’d heard of Haeru before but he’d never seen him. Haeru’s family was well known due to the mysterious fighting abilities his family was known for. Leo extended his hand and shook Haeru’s as he felt an ironclad grip as his eyes widened for a second before he steeled himself and squeezed back “Leo”.
The two stood still for a few moments before Haeru let go while thinking ‘Not bad, normally kids don’t like shaking hands with me for some reason.’
Leo pulled back his numb hand, with the fingers that had been pushed together slightly aching feeling content that he hadn’t flinched ‘That’s right, you can use all your strength. You can’t intimidate me’.
Haeru nodded at him and begun walking in the direction Leo had just suggested. Leo gazed at him for a moment not wasting any more time as he followed suit. Noticing Haeru had decided to follow Leo’s suggestion, most of the participants present were aware of who he was and even those that didn’t had a psychological push after seeing people slowly beginning to follow them.
In just a few minutes everyone had split into two groups going in opposite directions.
Professor Lydia gazed at both groups and then decided to follow Leo’s group. Noticing her choice, Crimson pointed at Jill who was one of the new guardsmen and signaled her to follow that group as he begun to follow behind Damien’s group with Flow.