"Um… beautiful, stately, caring, kind. Every man dreams of having a woman like this. Anfey, what about your ideal woman?"
Anfey hesitated, thoughts flowing into his mind. Back when he was an assassin, he had encountered many women. Some had left a huge impact on him, but in the end none of the relationships lasted. He had always prepared extensively for his missions, but his job was, in the end, high-risk. One wrong step and he would be nothing more than a dead body. There was no use wasting someone else’s life. On the other hand, Anfey was fearful. He was scared that another person would become close to him. Assassins were lonely. Anyone who found out about his real identity meant potential danger for him. Whenever a relationship developed, he would always end it before it became too serious.
Had he really loved anyone? What was the girl like? Does he still have any right to love? Anfey’s thoughts turned into a jumbled mess.
"Anfey? You alright?" Christian called. He noticed that Anfey’s eyes seemed lost, which came as a surprise to him.
"Nothing, nothing. Just some bad memories," Anfey said, instantly returning to normal. For him, negative thoughts were temporary, and nothing could affect his coolness for long.
"Did I hit a sore spot? Hurt by a girl before?"
"They are right when they say mages have active imaginations, but sadly, you’re wrong," Anfey said, smiling. "Let’s change the topic. How long did Zubin stay at Master Saul’s?"
"About two years after I arrived," Christian said. "Zubin has some… interesting stories."
The two sat there and laughed about the stupid things Zubin did when he was younger, while Zubin sat there vigilantly, unaware of what his friends were talking about.
When the first ray of sunlight fell onto the treetops, Zubin yawned and opened his eyes. He was rubbing his eyes when he noticed a dark cloud around the trees. He squinted, and when he realized what it was, he gasped, "What the…"
He kept his voice low, but it was enough to wake Anfey up from his light slumber. He followed Zubin’s gaze, and saw that outside their ward was a large swarm of dark insects. It was attacking the ward relentlessly, but causing no visible damage.
"Those are night mosquitoes," Christian said. "For normal animals, they are very dangerous. They can suck a grown mammal dry in seconds. They only come out during the night, though. Since their wings are mostly water, they will dry out under the sun and break off."
"Will they leave soon?" Feller asked.
"It’s easy to make them disappear," Christian said, extending his hands. Water gathered in his hands, and a few seconds later the insects began raining from the sky. Half the swarm was on the ground in the blink of an eye. Christian dispersed the magic and smiled, "Master has always said that there is no bad magic, only bad mages. A proper mage must incorporate magic into his daily life. Otherwise, he will not be a successful mage."
"Well said," Anfey agreed. There were similar beliefs in the art of Wu. That Saul could figure this out by himself meant that he was certainly very skillful.
"Anfey, are we leaving now?" Zubin asked.
"You and Sante should rest first," Anfey said, peering down from a tree branch.
There was a story about four blind men trying to understand what an elephant looks like, and they ended up coming to completely different conclusions. This story showed that people who had not seen things with their own eyes should not have the right to express their opinions in contradiction to others. None of the students had been in a magic beast forest before, and unconsciously they considered magic beasts and orcs to be their worst enemies. However, Anfey had experienced forests like these before, so had insisted on sleeping in the trees, since there were fewer deadly animals living up in the trees. He had also told Christian to set up a ward to further guard against attacks from wild animals.
He peered down from the tree and instantly noticed a disturbing picture on the forest floor. A spider the size of a pot crawled out from beneath the forest floor, grabbed a nearby snake, and disappeared again beneath the ground. Just the small sequence of movements showed Anfey that the floor of the forest was not solid, but muddy. A wide wasp landed on a nearby flower and was immediately captured by the flower. The petals closed in on the wasp, and when it opened up again the wasp had completely disappeared. Not only the flower itself, but its stem was moving as well. It moved towards another bug, but the latter shot out a light blue mist from its body, and the flower dried out quickly. The bug walked through the flowers, which all made way for the little creature as if it were a king. A white leopard approached quietly, the spider-like creature appeared again, hoping to capture another meal. The white leopard, however, sensing approaching danger, roared sharply. The spider was thrown back by an invisible force against a tree trunk, its body smashed. Dark green fluid dripped down from the trunk of the tree, and from where Anfey stood, he could see the undigested body of the small snake.
"That’s a spark leopard," Christian said. "It’s a dangerous magic beast. Very powerful. It’s also very cautious, and rarely attacks anything that would not bring it harm."
"Spark leopard," Anfey said, nodding. "I know them." Yagor had lost his lover because he was trying to find a magic crystal of a spark leopard.
"Spark leopards are strange," Christian responded. "Sometimes they prefer to be alone, sometimes they live in packs. Packs tend to be more dangerous. They are among the more intelligent of the magic beasts, and know how to cooperate. It is fascinating."
"It’s normal," Anfey said. "Spark leopards must have mating and birthing seasons too. They need to gather together if they want to protect themselves." This was common knowledge. Anyone could understand it after watching a few episodes of National Geographic.
"Mating, mating," Christian stumbled, blushing. "Anfey, that is an… interesting choice of words."
The spark leopard noticed the two men above. It lifted its head and glanced their way, making eye contact with Anfey. It turned around and disappeared into the trees.
"Christian, is this what the entire forest is like?" Anfey asked. He was disappointed. He thought maybe he could find a safe place in the forest and settle down, then slowly begin figuring out how to contact Saul. Under these conditions, however, there was no place to settle down. They could not hide in the tree forever. Not just the others, but even Anfey could not be certain whether he could live in the trees for long.
"Not the entire place," Christian said. "There are some scenic places here. We are in the swamps, though, where it’s the worst."
"Is it…" Anfey said. "Christian, can you go with Riska, Blavi, and Feller to find a place where we can settle for a while. Don’t go too far though. Stay within a five-mile radius. Come back whether you find a good place or not. If you hear something on the way, don’t go down and check it. We will go together. Understand?"
"Of course," Christian nodded.
"Alright. You should head out immediately. Everyone else should get up and eat something," Anfey called.
The four given the order did not hesitate. They discussed their plan, and immediately used levitation and headed out. They dispersed in the air while the rest scrambled to get up and began organizing their belongings.
Zubin and Sante were both laying where the others had lied. They were exhausted, and although it was not much, it was better than not resting at all.
Sanchez began distributing food among the group. This time Niya did not reject the meal. She accepted the food and began eating heartily. After a night of rest, she was looking better, and the red mark on her face had begun to fade as well. Luckily, Niya did not have time to look in a mirror. She had forgotten to bring a mirror when she fled the city; otherwise she would have stirred up a storm if she found out that Anfey had injured her face.
After a while, Christian returned with his exploration team. It was easy to tell the difference between their magical abilities. Christian was the first one back, then Riska and Blavi. Feller was the last one back.
The exploration had yielded results. Christian and Riska had explored deeper into the swamps and found no proper camping ground. Blavi and Feller both found good spots to camp. Christian had the four eat a quick meal before deciding with the group that they would head towards the southeast.