The break finished and all the recruits assembled in front of the starting point of the HQ Forest. Instructor Taile stood there to give the briefing. The goal of this final training session was, as expected, for all the recruits to survive the upcoming three days without any help of the instructors or elites. The idea was simple—apply all the knowledge given in the training sessions to survive the forthcoming days. Naturally, this also meant that the recruits weren't allowed to leave the area.
The strange part was that every recruit received a small glass pendant necklace. To survive was the main rule, but the necklace supposedly represented one's life. "If the necklace breaks, you'll be considered dead," were Taile's exact words. He even demonstrated what happens if a glass pendant breaks. A high-pitched sound chimed in a constant rhythm and echoed throughout the whole area. No doubt, anyone nearby would be able to hear that.
There was no mentioning why this necklace was needed. In fact, that was all the information the recruits received. They were left alone now, and that's how the three-day survival started.
How to proceed further was entirely up to the recruits. They could have collaborated as one big group, but that just didn't happen. For some reason or another, people started to form their own groups and plans. This might've been because it felt more natural and easier to work in a small group than a large one, or because people generally cling to those that they have a connection with. As for Ayuki, it was a given that she teamed up with Ryuzo and Yuu since they're in the same squad, to begin with.
"Hey, Ayuki." Selyn greeted Ayuki with a smile and joined her hands together. "Mind if I join your group? I won't be a bother!"
Ayuki was secretly hoping Selyn would ask her. "Sure, no problem. Wait, is it a problem guys?" She looked at Ryuzo and Yuu to see whether they were against the idea. They both looked at each other and shrugged.
"I don't mind."
Great, just what Ayuki hoped for. Throughout the training sessions, Ayuki made sure to look at every recruit's face, studying their expression, using her Fes to take a deep look at them. She would do this every now then, just to train her ability. The more she did this, the more her ability improved while she also learned something new from all the recruits.
Selyn, for example, is very honest and straightforward person, yet humble and open-minded as well. She feels confident in her knowledge of plants and isn't afraid to put her hands into the dirt. She's also very comfortable to work in groups and caring for people that are close to her.
"So..." Yuu was thinking about something. "Who's going to be the leader?"
Yuu is a confident guy with a lot of experience in combat, but he does lack a certain sense of decisiveness. He feels confident in doing cooperative work and following orders, but not so much to initiate those things himself. As for being a leader, every squad should have a leader to work more effectively and to guide the squad into the same direction. That's at least what every recruit has been taught and practiced so far.
"Shouldn't it be you?" Ayuki asked, crossing her arms while giving Yuu a questionable look. "You're the most experienced here and the oldest one too."
Yuu scratched the back of his head. "Ehhh, true, but you know... I'm not good at those things—too much of a headache."
"You're starting to become a headache if you ask me..." Ayuki thought.
"But Ayuki has a point, no?" Selyn seemed to agree. "If you're more experienced than us, then just do it. If you're not good at it, work at it. Isn't that the point of being a recruit?"
Nice comment! That's what I like about Selyn. She's a quick thinker and not afraid to be direct with her opinion.
"Ehhh, don't make it sound so easy." With a hand behind his neck, Yuu let out a heavy sigh. "Everyone wants me to be the leader that much, eh? Fine, fine. I'll do it then! Just don't regret my decisions, okay? Any mistake I make is the mistake of the whole squad. That's how it's going to be."
Ryuzo made eye-contact with Ayuki and muttered, "I think I'm already regretting it."
Ayuki almost chuckled, but she restrained herself with just a grin. Yuu would be angry if Ayuki laughed behind his back. For now, it's good that Yuu is taking the initiative. Ayuki didn't think he'd do it. Selyn's opinion must've changed his mind. Guess I can't predict things so well after all...
Predicting a future was more a lucky thing in most situations. Ayuki could read someone's intentions, but whether that person would truly do it, was something she couldn't know. One recruit might, for example, plan to sleep after training but instead bump up to someone in his path and have a long chat instead.
"Say, leader Yuu, what are we going to do now?" Selyn asked. "Perhaps give us some instructions?"
"It's simple. I'm hungry, and I bet you'll all be hungry soon too. We're going to look for some food."
Ryuzo, Selyn, and Ayuki didn't argue with the idea of securing some food, so they followed Yuu along while discussing their abilities and how to utilize them.
After walking for a while, Ayuki wanted to break the silence. "Yuu. You've done something similar like this before, right? What did you do?"
"Well." Yuu peered around the forest. "It doesn't look that similar, to be honest. Sure, we did have training sessions, but never without any supervision. Luckily though, we had some training in food-hunting before. There are some good spots I still remember—like that one over there." He pointed at a thick tree with short branches and spiked leaves.
"Oh, a deborel tree," Selyn said. "Good finding, Yuu."
"Correct. Perfect for food, perfect for storing drinks."
The deborel tree itself isn't edible of course, but its produced fruits, the borels, contains lots of vitamins and minerals. People mentioned that it tastes pretty good too. The outer shell of a borel is very thick, but once you manage to open it and eat all of the stuff inside, you'll even have a useful drinking bottle.
Yuu and Ryuzo climbed a couple of deborel trees to either wiggle or cut the borels free from the branches to drop it on the ground. Both of them were confident in their climbing skills and didn't fail to disappoint. Ryuzo mentioned he never climbed a tree before, but he quickly got the hang of it and eventually climbed the trees much faster than Yuu could. Ayuki and Selyn, collected all the dropped borels on the floor while trying to open up a few of them with their knives.
When it came to knives, Ayuki had a surprising knack for using it. For some reason, cutting, slicing, and even throwing with a knife, all felt natural to Ayuki. It's as if she's done all these things before. Too bad she couldn't say the same about her Fes ability. Training her so-called empathetic enhancement ability was a real pain.
The one thing Ayuki became good at with her ability was to detect a lie. Well, it might not be correct to say that she could know the truth, but she could easily tell if someone feels anxious or doubtful when talking. The slight tone change of one's voice, the tension around one's body, the swallowing of the saliva, or a twitch of an eyebrow, all these small details became more noticeable when Ayuki's Fes was activated. If it weren't for this whole Dark nature mess, perhaps Ayuki would've been a detective, she wondered. It's still questionable whether her ability has a benefit in combat or dangerous circumstances, but when it comes down to understanding the people around her—it works great.
Working like this, they managed to gather eleven borels in total. Before eating a borel, Ayuki wanted to make sure it was safe to consume. She grabbed the jar that hung on the side of her backpack. The cynthius was in there, playing a bit with a little twig Ayuki put in there to keep it occupied. It rolled the twig around back and forth and chewed on it from time to time. Ayuki only had humans to test her Fes ability on for a while, but that was no longer the case thanks to the fortunate event of all the recruits receiving this cynthius.
Ayuki wasn't sure whether she could gain much from the little beetle with her ability, but that thought changed after a few days of examining it. She decided to name the little beetle Chew. From all the names Ayuki spoke out, Chew was the one name the beetle responded most at. The name fits well with its character too—it chews a lot. It's a bit saddening to see Chew in a jar all the time, but it didn't seem to mind its current lifestyle in that small glass world, receiving free food without putting an effort to stay alive. Ayuki put a piece of borel inside the jar. As always, chew carefully inspected the food before approaching it. It looks like it judged the borel as safe. Just before every meal, Chew raises its two front legs in the air before it devours its food in delight. This behavior felt similar to a prayer that some recruits do before a meal. Chew had a certain sense of gratitude towards receiving food.
You would think that chewing is Chew's favorite activity in that bottle, but that didn't seem to be the case. Whenever Ayuki would walk, Chew would lift up its head very slightly as if to observe the area. Ayuki wrote this behavior down in her small notebook as scanning. Chew's antenna has an acute sense of smell and chemicals, being able to recognize and differentiate objects and surroundings. For some reason, Ayuki could feel that Chew enjoyed this activity the most. She'd feel a small sensation or tingling feeling very similar to that of excitement. This excitement significantly increased when Chew was scanning around—it would even eat less when scanning.
It's interesting what a little study can do. First I didn't feel any connection to Chew, but now I do feel more attached to it. Unlike certain people, Chew doesn't complain about its circumstances nor does it show any signs of aggressive behavior. I can hold Chew in my hand, and it won't try to attack me or even escape. It really is just a peaceful and cute little beetle. Some people would say that an insect has no feelings or conscience. I thought the same, but now... I'm not so sure about that. At least, I feel I can learn a few things from Chew. I hope that I even might be able to communicate with it someday.
My ability works on an insect, that much is confirmed. Next question would be whether it works on the Dark nature too. Perhaps not any creature might work, but ever since yesterday, a suitable creature presented itself—the creature in the Insanity Forest. If it truly spoke, that would make communication even easier. The fact that we can't communicate with the Dark nature might be the reason why we're at war against it in the first place. Imagine if we could talk with our greatest enemy. Perhaps, just perhaps, some kind of consensus would be possible. Even if it isn't possible, the least I want to find out is how to keep humanity safe from the Dark nature. That might be something I could achieve with that ability of mine.