QZ Chapter 25
First Published on Ainushi.
“When one is picked, both will die. These mushrooms grow in pairs, so they clearly can’t survive without each other. We have to dig them both out at the same time.”
“How is that any difficult?” After hearing what Ying Feng said, Ling Xiao immediately changed his strategy. He chose a pair of mushrooms and held one in each hand, but he soon released them due to the pain.
“These mushrooms bite?!” He exclaimed.
Ying Feng noticed the abnormality as well. “Your hand.”
“What’s about my hand?” Ling Xiao looked down at it. “What’s this? Why do I have all these red powders?”
On his finger was a thin layer of red phosphor powder glistening under the sunlight.
“I have it too.” Ying Feng checked his own hands, but the powder on them was white.
“Maybe it’s the mushrooms we were picking,” suggested Ling Xiao.
Ying Feng tried to touch the red mushrooms and didn’t feel anything. He then tried the white ones. Just as he expected, he felt a prick on his finger. It was probably what Ling Xiao called the ‘bite’.
The instructor saw from the monitor that they hadn’t moved in a while and figured it was about time, so he kindly gave them a hint “just in time” through the communication device.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you. These mushrooms can remember the people who killed their kind. Once you caused the death of a certain colored mushroom, it will leave a mark on you, and you won’t be able to touch any of the same colored ones for twelve hours. It’s like a protection mechanism of their species.”
Ling Xiao was utterly speechless. “Sir, why don’t you say important things like these earlier?”
“I forgot.” The instructor said with no sense of guilt. “But if you can’t return before your other classmates make it to the summit, I’ll have to make the heart wrenching decision of cancelling your grades for the day.”
Compared to him, Ying Feng was much calmer. “Sir, are there any other important messages that you’ve ‘forgotten’ to say beforehand?”
“Let me think… Ah, right. You have to put the mushrooms in the box as soon as you pick them up. If you leave it on the ground or some other place, it will die too.”
“What kind of mushrooms are they?” Ling Xiao complained, “They’re some smartasses!”
“This type of mushroom only grows next to the lake you’re at. They can’t live without the soil there. Therefore, they’re extremely repulsive to transplanting. They would rather die on their homeland than being brought to other places. The boxes I gave you are customized for holding these mushrooms. They were designed by some biologists before for research purposes so that these mushrooms could be safely transported to research labs.”
Ying Feng analyzed the known information in his head and said, “Okay, I know what to do.”
After the call ended, Ling Xiao followed up excitedly, “I know what to do too!”
“You go first.”
“I’ll pick your mushroom, and you’ll pick mine. If we do it at the same time, they won’t die.”
Ying Feng had the same thought. “You better get ready then. We can’t afford to make a single mistake. If the mushroom dies again this time, we won’t have another chance.”
“You can count on me.” Ling Xiao promised him solemly.
Two mushrooms under a certain tree suddenly shuddered. Behind them, two pairs of covetous eyes silently appeared.
The two people carefully pinched the bases of the two mushrooms with one hand each.
“You ready?” Ying Feng asked.
“Yep!” Ling Xiao nodded seriously.
“Let’s do it together when I count to one. Three, two, one!”
They pulled simultaneously, and the mushrooms were up by the roots. The red one didn’t wither, and the white one didn’t explode. No weird creatures had appeared. They quietly waited for a few seconds, and nothing happened.
“Did we just… succeed?” Ling Xiao couldn’t believe it. “As simple as that?”
Only then did Ying Feng say, “Look at their roots.”
Ling Xiao followed Ying Feng’s words and discovered that these two mushrooms were actually connected underground. “They share the same root? No wonder they grow in pairs.”
“Hurry and move them into the boxes. They’ll also die if they’re out of the soil for more than three minutes.”
Reminded by Ying Feng, Ling Xiao realized that it was not the right time for bioecology research. They both took out the boxes that the instructor had given them, and they both froze. The boxes were only large enough for one mushroom each, but if they were to separate the two, the mushrooms would just destroy themselves like the others did a moment ago.
“Why do I feel like the instructor has tricked us again?” Ling Xiao grunted.
“And your intuition is correct.” Ying Feng checked the box over and over again single handedly, trying to find out if there were any other mechanisms on it.
“Did you hear something?” Ling Xiao unexpectedly asked next to him.
Ying Feng stopped and listened carefully. Suddenly, his expression changed: “Duck!”
Ling Xiao subconsciously bowed his head together with Ying Feng. Before he knew it, a blast of wind had swept past his neck, whistling and howling along as it crashed into the tree across from them and actually broke its trunk down the middle. The tree gave out a loud crack as it fell, and Ling Xiao could feel a chill run down his spine ー He didn’t dare to imagine what the result would be if he had not dodged it.
A pair of hairy black hands immediately appeared in Ling Xiao’s line of sight. He looked up along its arm and saw that an extra-large baboon, which had twice the size of a typical baboon, was roaring at them. Within such a close distance, the snarl was simply deafening.
“What now?” He was just picking a mushroom, Ling Xiao thought, why were there so many troubles?
“Seems like it’s the guardian of the area,” said Ying Feng. He was staring at it without even batting an eyelid, a common behavior of his when he was on absolute alert. “It doesn’t want you to take away its mushrooms.”
The baboon let out another cry. It clasped its hands together and hammered down at Ling Xiao and Ying Feng. The latter two were well coordinated enough to leap back at the same time, their hands still holding onto their respective halves of the mushroom.
“My friend, the instructor said you can’t plant the mushrooms back once they are plucked. Why don’t you just let us have them?“
Ling Xiao tried to reason with it, but unfortunately, it couldn’t understand him at all.
“This won’t work.” Ying Feng quickly analyzed the current situation, “We can’t keep our movement synchronized forever. If we’re separated by any chance, the mushrooms will die.”
“Then what do you say we should do?”’
“One person has to let go first.” After he finished, Ying Feng let go.
Holding the mushroom by himself, Ling Xiao was speechless: ……
“Give me a chance to choose again, all right?”
“Don’t drop it. The mushroom will die if it falls to the ground. Now give your box to me.” Ying Feng half-commanded.
“Oh.” Ling Xiao passed the box to him obediently. “Then?”
“Take the mushroom, RUN!”
Ling Xiao charged out like a flash, not because he was ordered by Ying Feng, but because the baboon was already pouncing on him. His voice rang throughout the forest: “Ying Feng you’re so despicabbbbbbbbbbble….”
Ying Feng was studying the two boxes in his hand with his head bowed and completely ignored the other person’s curses: “Don’t come too close to me or let anything irrelevant disturb me. Don’t stray too far either, or you won’t have enough time to come back. Don’t just confront it head on; keep the mushrooms safe. The one you have is the explosive one.”
“AHHHHHHHH.” Ling Xiao ran madly through the forest, holding the ‘time bomb’ which could explode at any time. A furious baboon was chasing after him, aiming to tear both him and his mushroom to shreds.
“Are you sure you got this?” Ling Xiao shouted as he jumped around the forest. Even though the forest was like a home to him, it was the baboon’s territory after all. Not to mention that his agility was inevitably affected by having only one hand at his command. There were a couple of times when he almost got himself into trouble.
“If I can’t think of a way of doing this,” Ying Feng said while still fiddling with the boxes, “Just throw the mushroom at the thing behind you when the time is up. Might as well give up the grade then.”
“No way!” Despite fleeing in desperation, Ling Xiao refused to back down. “I’m going for an A. If you can’t solve it before time’s up, I’ll throw it at your head!”
Ying Feng was also racing the clock, trying to deconstruct the two boxes. Since the instructor said the boxes were custom made for this kind of mushroom, there must be a way for it to hold two mushrooms at the same time while keeping them alive.
Ling Xiao became more and more skilled at baiting the baboon and could now nimbly scamper through the forest with only one hand. From time to time, he would make a provoking sound, and the baboon that was unable to catch up with him would howl angrily.
It was almost time. The two people had formed a distinctive contrast on this lakeside next to the mountain forest as one of them was circling around the forest nimbly like a monkey, not touching even one leaf, while the other stood in the center of the circle as firm as a rock.
If the mushrooms could not be separated, then why not connect the boxes! Ying Feng was suddenly enlightened. He quickly disassembled and cast the box lids aside, faced the openings to each other, and fastened the buckle on the side. The two boxes locked seamlessly at once.
He examined each side of the reassembled boxes, and one of the sides finally sprung open with a click. At this moment, they were ten seconds away from the deadline.
“Come back!” He shouted.
That was exactly what Ling Xiao was waiting for. He feinted and led the baboon in another direction, while he himself dashed straight at Ying Feng.
“Put it in!” Ying Fang turned the box opening towards him.
Using one of the tree trunks as support, Ling Xiao leaped back at the last second and placed the explosive in his hand into the place where it belonged. Ying Feng swiftly fastened the lid, and the mushroom finally got into the box safe and sound.
“Kill it!” Ying Feng was already charging at it before he even finished. Ling Xiao had been holding himself back for a long time. He had never been chased like this before, where he couldn’t even fight back. How could he leave this opportunity to Ying Feng? He turned around and immediately started beating up the baboon.
The giant baboon was much stronger than those little mobs that had popped up a moment ago. Even with two people, it still took them some time to kill it. Ling Xiao finally understood what the instructor meant by “real combat” — this was probably the strongest opponent they had ever faced.
Unfortunately, even though the baboon was facing two Nestlings, they were two aces among the Tianxiu Nestlings. After struggling for a while, it finally fell to the ground, and a tawny colored crystal-like item emerged out of its dead body.
“What’s this?” Ling Xiao picked it up from the ground.
“No idea.” Ying Feng had never seen it before either. “We can ask the instructor after we return.”
They were back earlier than the instructor had expected and had completed the quest smoothly. The instructor only nodded as a praise, although he was greatly surprised within.
“Let’s eat these tonight.” Ling Xiao handed over the mushrooms to the instructor and then turned around just in time to see the disdain on Ying Feng’s face. He hurriedly explained, “I was just kidding.”
The instructor accepted the mushrooms and commended with satisfaction, “Nice job.” If this was Yutian Military Academy’s examination field, these two students would have been pre-admitted already.
“Sir, you gave such an easy quest. I almost fell asleep while doing it.” Ling Xiao didn’t forget to brag even at a time like this.
“Was it easy?” The instructor hit Ling Xiao’s head with the box. “Do you have any idea how many outstanding students applied to Yutian last year and passed all kinds of ridiculously difficult tests only to get ploughed at a simple stage like this?”
“Really?” Ling Xiao couldn’t understand. “I thought it was alright. Oh, by the way! What’s this?”
He showed the instructor the loot they got from the baboon.
“This is a life crystal. Some people also call it a soul stone. Every beast has a soul stone inside them, and they’re a very important kind of raw material as well.”
“Raw material? For making what?”
“It’s a kind of battle consumable, which is also a secret weapon unique to our Tianxiu people. Only after mastering it can you be considered to have formally glimpsed the way the Tianxiu people fight. ”
Ling Xiao couldn’t wait to give it a try. “How can I learn it?”
“Nestlings don’t possess the ability to use these items. You will formerly learn how to operate them only after you become an Adult and enter an advanced institution.”
Ling Xiao was immediately disappointed.
The instructor started to drive them away, “You two did well on the assignment today, but don’t be too proud. Prepare well after you go back, because the main part of the training program actually starts tomorrow.”
The next day came quickly. Having been warned repeatedly by the instructor, everyone prepared carefully and brought with them anything they could possibly use.
This time, the location of the training was a mine densely populated by herds of wild beasts. The place was so barren that, not even a single blade of grass was growing. As far as the eye could see, there were only pitch-dark cave openings.
“The exercises we had over the past two days were intended to give everyone a basic understanding of the field environment. Today’s drill is actually the focus of our field training this time.”
“In your biology class, we’ve already introduced in detail the danger level of different kinds of wild beasts. The mining site in front of you is the main habitat for beasts from Level E to Level B. Our basic requirement for tenth graders is to be able to defeat a Level B animal alone, and any person with outstanding strength must be capable of defeating a Level A beast by themself. This is also what everyone should strive for.”
“Therefore, in this area, one might see Level A creatures appearing occasionally. They’re a bit thorny to deal with, but from my understanding, as long as you stress enough on coordination, it won’t be hard to eliminate them.”
“Different beast will drop different level of soul stones. We will count your scores according to the results of your hunt. Level E soul stone accounts for 2 points. Level D, 10 points. Level C, 25. B, 50, and Level A, 100 points. The team with the highest overall score wins. As for whether you prefer to act alone or pair up, you’re free to decide on your own.”
“Every student’s personal terminal comes with an alarm system. I’m sure that all of you know how to use it. This is just for emergencies, and I hope that none of you will be in a situation where you need to use it.”
“The institute didn’t provide any armor. We Tianxiu people never needed such cumbersome. They will only slow us down. As for weapons, everyone has it on you?”
Everyone waived their right arm at once. There was a shining dagger in each hand.
“Very good!” The instructor signaled with his right hand, “Go!”
Several dozens of figures scattered in all directions. Within an instant, they all disappeared into different cave openings.
“The students this year seemed to do much better than last year’s.” The team doctor asked as he walked over.
“Because two of them brought up the average,” answered the instructor.
“Were they the two students you asked to collect the Qi-mushrooms yesterday?”
“Yes. The passing grade for normal students is a Level B beast, and we will raise the passing grade for outstanding students to Level A. However, the Qi-mushroom guardian that they killed yesterday was Level S. This kind of beast was not the most difficult one among the S-ranked, but it’s not easy to deal with either.”
“And you dare let Nestlings face a Level S creature by themselves?” The team doctor was astounded by his bold decision.
“Because with their capabilities, it shouldn’t be a problem for them to take down a Level S creature as long as they act together. The reason that I’ve decided to let them go is precisely because I know their strengths.”
“You sure ran a risk.”
“Only depends on who’s taking the risk.” The instructor thought of the Nestling from Team A who couldn’t even hold onto his dagger. “If every student is on the same level as a certain someone, I’ll make sure to lock them inside the institute and not let them set even one step outside. Every time I see a Nestling like him, I can’t help but suspect whether he’s of the same species as us.”
“Then are you sure there won’t be any beasts above Level A in the cave?”
“You must be joking,” replied the instructor. “It’s true that we claim the field training has the same standard as military practice, but the institute won’t forget the fact that they’re still a group of Nestlings who will lose their souls if they die. There’s no way that we will allow any accidents to happen.”
“We’ve already investigated this area a long time ago. No creatures above Level S have appeared here in the past hundred years. Even for the Level A ones, there are less than a hundred or so of them. They may make the students suffer or hurt them a little at the most. How could we possibly let them face any life-threatening danger?”
“Don’t you look down on what these Nestlings are capable of, and don’t forget that we are part of a race known as ‘the battle machine’ of this galaxy. It would be way too shameful if they were knocked down by a few beasts or so. You should know that the current principal could already defeat a Level S creature at their age. That man was a legend in Bikong.”
I know what we’re all waiting for. We’re getting there…