The others slept peacefully despite the massacre in the swamp underneath them. Locke had protected them well the whole time and they were far too exhausted and mentally drained to bother. At least, they managed to get some good night's sleep thanks to him.
Locke obtained several crystal cores and the skin of major monsters. They were mostly from low-ranked major monsters as minor monsters didn't dwell in this part of the forest, and the mid-ranked ones left the swamp as soon as they’d quenched their thirst and rehydrated themselves. Though, he wasn’t in the fray the whole time and only picked up some major monster’s limbs and crystal cores whenever there was an opportunity.
Angelina yawned as she wormed out of her sleeping bag. She was always the first to wake up no matter whether she was at home or when she was out on excursions. Locke felt that she looked the prettiest right after waking up and couldn’t help giving her sleepy face a kiss. The others were still asleep. Although she really enjoyed the passionate kiss, she was now wide awake and aware of her situation again, so she punched him, rolled her eyes, and crawled out of her sleeping bag.
As the sky got brighter, the others started waking up one after another. Locke went to look for Joaquin after carrying Angelina and Billie down the tree, but she already got down when he got there. By the look of her slightly crumpled clothes and her pale, dirty palms, she must’ve climbed down by herself.
They only had bacon and fruits for breakfast as they hadn’t lit fires to cook in the past few days as there were too many mid-ranked major monsters around them, which Locke might not be able to handle alone. Bob and Chris’ wounds were almost recovered and the casters’ mental power was fully replenished after a night’s rest. It was now time for them to head to their destination.
“Locke, do you want to get some rest?” asked Angelina. He hadn’t been getting enough sleep in the past few days and he could only have a good rest once they completed their mission and left the forest.
“I’m fine!” Locke said with a smile. He knew his limits and this wasn’t as tiring as when he was at war. Plus, his advancement improved his endurance and adaptability.
At noon, they finally saw numerous shorter trees that bore red fruits. Their way there was quite smooth sailing, surprisingly lacking in encounters with major monsters.
“Magic-condensing fruits!” Mina said excitedly. Among the casters, she was the most eager during this mission. Her best friends and peers had already advanced to a low-rank Lehrling but she was at the beginner rank after so many years; it was difficult for her to break through due to specialising in a rare spell type.
Magic-condensing fruits could be eaten directly or made into potions to increase a caster’s mana reserve and boost mana recovery, which would be really helpful in her current situation. If she ate enough, she could even advance to become a low-rank Lehrling right away.
Unlike Mina, Joaquin and the others' responses were much more measured. Although the fruits were only helpful to casters, major monsters also consumed them as they were high-grade magic plants, so there might be some lurking around them. Locke looked at the trees solemnly. He didn’t know much about them compared to Joaquin and Angelina, but he had a bad feeling about this.
It turned out that his instincts were right. After instructing the others to hide, he arched his back and crawled towards the fruit trees. Mina cast Stealth over him, the highest-level support spell she knew, and Angelina cast Featherweight on him. The reason they were able to make it so deep into the forest wasn't just because they were strong fighters; the concealment spells the casters used played a huge role. It was impossible for them to kill all monsters here, after all, so sneaking past them was even more effective.
As Locke got nearer to the trees, he could see the surroundings more clearly. There were bones hidden among the grass and under the branches; this part of the forest didn’t seem as peaceful as it first appeared to be. He held his breath and continued crawling forward.
He saw several blue plants with wheat-like grains. As a gentle breeze blew past, the plants looked like dancing blue flames. It was indeed a beautiful sight. Thanks to the reading he did, he knew that they were called bluestar grass and they usually grew near magic-condensing fruit trees. They were herbs with detoxifying properties. Apart from that, their seeds were the favourites of many small herbivores, which in turn might draw in monsters that ate them, or perhaps even their natural predators.
He could sense that danger was approaching, but he couldn’t find anything unusual around him. Though he felt like he was being eyed by some high-level major monsters, his reason suggested otherwise based on what he could gather. However, his doubts soon cleared as a flock of green-feathered birds appeared in the sky. Countless birds emerged from the emerald-green leaves of the trees above, turning the sky green in a blink of an eye.
“Oh, no!” Angelina, who was observing Locke from a distance, panicked. The flock of green birds were hovering exactly above him. She held her wand and was ready to make a move anytime soon.
Locke quickly restrained his impetus circulation and lowered his heart rate. Thankfully, the birds hadn’t noticed his presence yet. Nobody knew what they were called and they didn’t land on the branches when they swooped into the fruit-bearing forest. Instead, they flew directly towards the bluestar grass and began pecking at the grains as they chirped joyfully.