Locke casually walked towards a bush that was near Joaquin and pretended to be on the lookout there. Sure enough, she stood oddly before the huge tree for a long time without attempting to climb it. Even Daenie had already climbed up her tree with the help of Angelina and the others.
“Joaquin, come up!” Angelina’s tree was next to hers; Locke had helped Angelina get up before the others.
“I’ll keep watch to see if there are any dangers around,” replied Joaquin. Angelina didn’t think too much about her reply and went straight into her sleeping bag. They were all exhausted and they needed enough rest to replenish their energy, especially their mental power. Only Bob and Chris were left. Since they were injured, they didn’t have to be on the lookout tonight, but they had to set up the traps before climbing up and going to sleep.
When Locke saw Joaquin stomping irritably, he could tell that she didn’t have the guts to climb the tree. He tried his best to hold back his laughter, but since he wasn’t in a hurry, he continued to observe her behaviour.
A sudden gust blew past and her exposed calves; that red dress of her didn’t offer much coverage. Although it was only at the beginning of the sixth month, the nights in the forest were rather cold, unlike the warm Princeton. Joaquin couldn’t wait any longer. She gritted her teeth as she grasped the bumps on the trunk while using the branches as footholds, trying to climb with much effort.
The tree was twenty metres tall and Angelina had laid out the sleeping bag on it for her at around fifteen metres from the ground. It was the safest position and the leaves could block out the wind there, but Joaquin thought differently. She felt like she’d been climbing for a long time, but her sleeping bag still seemed so far away. She was so tired that she couldn’t move her arms anymore and her calf muscles were all tensed up.
She decided to take a break on the trunk to catch her breath. As she took a glimpse beneath inadvertently, she shrieked in fear. She was now approximately ten metres off the ground and it was her first time being so high up. Thankfully, the leaves were rustling in the wind and her voice wasn’t that loud, so the others probably didn’t hear it, aside from Locke of course.
Startled, she hugged the trunk quietly and dared not move her feet. After quite some time, she finally pulled herself together, then pursed her lips, and continued climbing upwards slowly. Locke, who was watching the scene from below, had to admit that he really admired her as she tried to overcome her fear by herself without asking anyone for help.
Though, this didn’t necessarily mean that she had the capability to overcome her fear successfully. When she was finally less than a metre away from her sleeping bag, she let out a sigh of relief, only to suddenly lose her footing and fall. It’d caught her completely off guard and she didn’t even manage to scream.
Although they were in wetlands, she would definitely break some bones if she fell from this height. As she was about to hit the ground, Locke immediately dashed towards her. Everything was happening too quickly and he didn’t have the time to catch her properly, so he just rolled under her to cushion her fall.
Her body slammed against his, but it didn’t hurt for him. Though, the air was expelled from his lungs and he couldn’t draw any more in owing to the two soft, slightly fragrant lumps that threatened to suffocate him.
His cough startled Joaquin, who was still wondering why it didn’t hurt when she fell. Feeling the warm air exhaled into her bosom, her face flushed red. She stood up immediately and saw Locke underneath her. Her red dress clung to her body a little too tightly, revealing her curvy figure, but both of them weren’t in the mood to pay attention to that right now.
“Are you okay?” Joaquin reached her hand out to him and pulled him up. He seemed to be in more danger of suffocating to death than he was being crushed to death.
“I’m fine.” As soon as he turned to look at her, he flicked his head sideways, feeling tempted by how she looked right now. He didn’t think that she would have such a good figure, and the embarrassment of having her chests press against his face had finally caught up to him.
“Alright.” Seeing that he was fine, she tidied her outfit. There was some mud on her dress as well. She had always strived to project her best self, so she felt very uncomfortable looking so messy like this in front of him.
As he was tidying his clothes as well, he heard an unexpected question. “How long have you been watching me?” Joaquin asked coldly, leaving the muddy part near her chest alone to be cleaned when no one was watching. She had realised that it couldn’t be a mere coincidence that he was able to catch her in time.
“Huh? What do you mean? I wasn’t watching you, I was just setting up some traps over there.” Locke pointed towards the pile of equipment not far away.
“Oh really?” Joaquin asked dubiously.
“Yes!” exclaimed Locke. He would never admit that he was secretly observing her just now.
After looking into his eyes for quite some time, she let out a sigh of relief, relieving the tense atmosphere. “Thank you!” This was her first time thanking him.
“No worries!” replied Locke hurriedly. He felt guilty about lying, so he didn’t really take note that it was her first time thanking him in earnest.
She tried to rub the dirt off her dress with her handkerchief, but the stains didn’t seem to come off, so she eventually gave up. She had a clean set of clothes in her spatial ring anyways, but she could only change into her clean outfit in her sleeping bag. There was no way that she would change right in front of him.
She had to climb the tree again. She stood in front of it and hesitated, still traumatised by the fall and feeling more nervous than before.
“You seem to have sprained your ankle. I’ll help you out.” He offered out of guilt.
“Oh, are you sure? You don’t have to.” Usually, she snapped at him firmly, but that wasn’t the case now. Locke ignored her, grabbed her by the waist and brought her to her sleeping bag, just like how he’d carried Billie up the tree. Joaquin didn’t look at him and just held onto him like a fearful animal the whole time, either due to her nerves from the fall or embarrassment. As soon as they reached her sleeping bag, she immediately let go.
“I’m sorry for getting your clothes dirty,” she said when she noticed that there was some dirt on his chest.
“It’s alright, my clothes were dirtier from the get go.” There was indeed some mud on his clothes, but he got most of the stains on his back when she’d fallen onto him just now. Feeling that it was getting awkward so he bid her goodnight and jumped off the tree. He still had to keep watch and needed to find a place with a good view. The moment he jumped down, he heard her whisper, “Thank you, Locke.”
It was his first time hearing Joaquin so soft-spoken. He turned to look at her to try to catch a glimpse of her expression, but she was already in her sleeping bag. His curiosity not sated, he left and went to look for a place nearby with a good viewpoint to keep watch for the night. He then took fresh clothes out from his spatial ring and changed into them. After that, he called out to Bob and Chris, who’d finally finished setting up the traps. “Remember to apply some potion and go get some rest!”
Their wounds seemed terrifying but it really wasn’t a big deal given their great recovery. And with Angelina’s potions, their wounds would most probably be fully recovered by tomorrow morning.
“Alright!” Bob answered whereas Chris just hummed weakly in response. He looked like he’d been heartbroken before his relationship even started.
The wetlands were far from peaceful that night. All kinds of beasts came to them as if they were an oasis in the desert; it was likely this was the only non-alkaline water source that most monsters and beasts could drink from and survive, so the small swamp became a chaotic battleground. Thankfully, Locke and the others were high up on the trees, so the major monsters weren’t able to harass them.
Locke wasn’t too concerned about the battles beneath him and only needed to make sure that the birds wouldn’t disturb the others who were sleeping. Fortunately, the two rot apes from earlier in the day didn’t show up. They were the ones he had been worried about as they were skilled climbers. Not to mention, he wouldn’t be able to take on two himself, so he would have to wake the others up for help. He drank an energizing potion to keep himself awake till dawn.