Chapter 16: Pre-Soldier Exam (3) Calpufer herbs
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(Something is watching me, but I'm unable to pinpoint its location.)

Before Dalis had taken the opportunity to crop the herbs, he checked his surroundings to ensure that the situation was safe. However, the reality was, it was anything but safe. 

(Did I make an oversight? Perhaps I should've double-checked. In any case there's no point brooding over spilt milk. I need to first locate where it is watching me from. I'm unable to use mana abilities to track its general location. So I will have to rely on my instincts. Unfortunately, my instincts are exercised to its extent in regards to this predicament. Where have I not checked. . . Or perhaps I should reverse that? Where have I been unable to check?)

Two most likely locations had come to Dalis's mind. Underground and above.

(I feel no vibrations, it must be . . . above!)

KOAAAA

Dalis immediately twisted his body and sprung himself away to the side. A green aerial beast with a pair of knife-like wings had barely grazed the skin of his arm. In actual fact, a sharp tear had been left on his sleeve, where he had been struck. A trail of blood started to seep out. When Dalis had turned to look at where he stood two seconds ago, he saw the large mossy rock sliced into two pieces, perfectly. 

(You're kidding me right? Why have I already encountered such a beast here? This is a freaking Green Razor Wing. The other beastsI've come across don't even compare to this raptor. At least let me obtain a weapon first!)

The two figures stared at each other. Dalis wanted to run at that very moment. However, if he were to be hasty with his actions, then he would probably slip and that would be the end of him. He wouldn't make such a rookie and classic mistake. 

Dalis then noticed with his watchful eyes that the beast had subtly turned his attention away from him. He could see the eyes of the bird being vaguely downcast. Dalis promptly knew that the beast was interested in the two remaining herbs that had been crushed underneath its feet. 

(Oh. So that's why . . . It makes sense now . . . )

The herb known as the "calpufer herb" was a herb that was quite well known throughout the continent. It was one of the few herbs that held resistant properties towards elements that were considered demonic. While its quality was considered "average", it had great utility. Due to its abundance, it was a substantial herb for the Church as they simply needed to obtain a sizeable amount. Not only was it not difficult to vegetate, but it was also considered as possessing Caleyar's blessing, causing its value to rise higher than expected. The main issue was . . . it was supposed to be one of the favourite treats of many beasts. Thus, the Church would not hesitate to station a few individuals to watch over a farm of sole calpufer herbs. 

(Even if the Church views this as one of the many "Caleyar's blessings," or beasts see this as some kind of delicacy . . . This herb is not worth crap in my eyes.) 

The beast was mortified at the loss of the herbs beneath its feet. It locked its gaze onto Dalis before moving on to the herbs clutched in his hands.

Dalis, having seen the beast's priorities, hastily stood up and distanced himself while maintaining eye contact. The beast took slow, menacing steps and began to charge at him but abruptly stopped with a screech as it witnessed the most horrifying action it had ever seen in its ten years of living.

Before the beast was a sadistic human who clutched his treasured herbs with both hands, one grasping the feeble, fragile leaves and the other gripped onto the stalk. Tension could be seen building up in the herb stalk as the human threatened to tear it apart.

"KUWAAAA" [stop it u bastard]

With a sinister smile, Dalis began to increase the pressure in his arms as the pitiful beast before him began to writhe in agony as if it were he instead who was being torn asunder. Noticing that the beast's mournful cries would very likely attract other predators, Dalis decidedly threw two of the herbs he held towards the beast before turning tail and seeking cover. If the examiners were to see what just happened, their jaws would meet the earth.

Dalis proceeded with care, his senses stretched tautly. It was exhausting, to say the least, but this degree of caution was necessary to avoid incidents like the earlier encounter. From his experience, he realised that the calpufer herbs were valuable to bargain with the beasts, especially the majority of the intellectual beasts. For those who could not be bargained against, they were either dangerous muscle heads or beasts too weak to mention. Therefore, the herb was an important safeguard. While Dalis was silently harvesting more herbs on the move, a curtain of darkness enveloped the forest. Upon looking up, roiling clouds could be seen forming above. It seemed like rain was on its way down.

Among the many towering trees, perched up on an unusually thick branch, sat Dalis. He was sheltered by a leafy roof he had made on the spot to protect himself from the rain. On the trunk he leaned against were vines, spiralling down towards the ground and carrying fresh rainwater through its canals. Dalis had made use of this to gather water and drink. While the rain brought many disadvantages such as muddier terrain, slippery roots, and obscured vision, this was true for the beasts too. So as long as someone kept stationary, rain would become the safest natural cover a survivor could ask for. 

(Is this a forest? Or a jungle?) Dalis complained in his mind. 

And so a day passed.

By now, Dalis's tongue was numb to the flavour of calpufer herbs. It really wasn't that great, in fact, he thought it was disgusting. Unfortunately, it was all he had. Perhaps after eating them for long enough, he too would begin to see them as a delicacy like the beasts.

(To think all I could find yesterday was calpufer herbs . . . My luck is really high on the other end.)

By the amount Dalis had gathered to this point, he would be considered to have struck gold. Three weeks of living costs!

As the rain cleared, Dalis surveyed his surroundings to find the forest covered in a moist gleam. A solid foothold was hard to see and even more so were any signs of surrounding beasts. As he was prepared to spend another day chewing on calpufer herbs, a glint caught his eye in the distance. Squinting to see further through the clearing mist, a metallic surface revealed itself. It was a silver chest nestled deep within the shrubbery. It would have been hard to notice if it wasn't for the glimmering dew coating it.

With nimble steps, Dalis slid down the spiralling vines and planted his feet onto the moist soil. Being careful to keep silent and lay low, he soundlessly trod in the direction of the silver chest.

When he was a scant few meters away from the shrub containing the silver chest, Dalis stopped his movements and slowed his breathing. He could just make out a rocky silhouette subtly moving up and down behind the shrub. It seemed to be breathing. Dalis then took note of his surroundings. This was the clearing he had been looking for earlier but unknowingly for him, it seemed to be occupied.

Luckily, however, it didn't seem to have noticed him as he slowly approached the chest. Dalis prayed to himself that the examiners wouldn't play a cruel joke and play fanfare like certain Z*lda games when opening a chest, and he carefully lifted the silver lid.

(Phew. Looks like I didn't draw aggro.)

Surprisingly, the metallic lid was light and easily unclasped without a sound before opening up. To Dalis, it was like witnessing the blooming of his favourite flower. And instead of finding nectar, it was his sweet, sweet staff he had dreamt of last night.

Like a child receiving a gift from Santa Claus, Dalis grasped the sheeny steel rod in his hands and lifted it up from the chest. He admired the simplicity of the staff and appreciated its design. One of his arms clasped the top half while the other held close to the bottom. 

"Yes, this surface . . . this feel . . . It fits right into my hands."

*Click*

*Klang!*

Dalis's pupils shrunk to a pin prick as sweat threatened to cascade down his forehead. His beloved staff fell apart in his hands as it split into three sections. From its dismantle, a glowing, blue, translucent chain emerged from the gaps. This wasn't a bo staff: it was a tri-section staff!

Caught off-guard, the blue mana chains continued to lengthen until the middle section of the staff thudded against the moist soil, and the rattling of the chains created a dreadful sound much louder than the feared Z*lda fanfare.

Dalis slowly looked up to see the breathing rock split down the middle and rise.

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