Zhang Lexuan said, "Alright, everyone has finished their introductions, so let me allocate our formation once we enter the Great Star Dou Forest. I will be scouting the path ahead, and Li Yongyue and Wang Qiu'er are responsible for the left and right flanks respectively. Ruoruo will be positioned in the center towards the front right behind me, and she'll be the main control-type soul master. Mo Xuan will be positioned behind Han Ruoruo, which means you'll be near the center - do pay attention to cooperate with everyone's movements. Huo Yuhao, you're the secondary control for flexibility, and you will be behind Mo Xuan. You're responsible for providing support for whoever needs help. Wang Dong'er, you'll be all the way at the back, and you're responsible for sweeping. Dean Cai will be following behind the group, and she won't make a move other than as a last resort - we're all students from the inner courtyard, and it will extremely humiliating if we need a teacher's help to obtain our own soul rings, so I hope that doesn't happen. Alright, let's proceed if nobody has any more questions or objections."
Nobody had anything to dispute about her arrangement. There was no doubt that the central and anchoring positions were relatively safer - there was no need to mention the center, and Cai Mei'er was all the way at the back.
There was a deeper meaning to arranging Wang Qiu'er and Li Yongyue on the two flanks. Wang Qiu'er's martial soul was the Golden Dragon, and she stirred up quite some disturbance when she successfully enrolled in the inner courtyard. She was said to have impressive fighting strength, as the Golden Dragon was the Ancestor of Strength, and thus assigning her to one flank was also a test. Li Yongyue's strength would also be greatly boosted with Zhang Lexuan around, so assigning him to guard the other flank was the optimal choice. Huo Yuhao and Wang Dong'er's positions, along with Mo Xuan's, were considered protected. The academy still had some bias after all - the truth was, Cai Mei'er wouldn't have been with them in this operation if Huo Yuhao hadn't registered for it.
Everyone belonged to the inner courtyard. Even if they weren't that familiar with each other, they would definitely not hold each other back. They got in line with Zhang Lexuan's formation once they left Shrek City, and went straight for the Great Star Dou Forest.
Nobody deliberately attempted to display his or her speed on the way, and the formation was maintained impeccably under Zhang Lexuan's deliberate control.
Just as Cai Mei'er had said, this wasn't the first time these students were going inside the Great Star Dou Forest. Everyone was extremely familiar was this place, and nobody really interacted with each other along the way. Everyone just hurried onward.
Wang Dong'er glanced at Wang Qiu'er beside her from time to time, and even Huo Yuhao couldn't help but throw a few glimpses in her direction.
Wang Qiu'er looked very quiet, but one could see from the side that her eyes were exceedingly cold and plain, as if she were wearing an outer layer over herself at all times. She could definitely feel Wang Dong'er's stares, but she never once looked back to return her gaze.
She didn't release her martial soul when they travelled, she just simply ran along. However, she bounced up with bewildering speed every time she touched the ground with her feet, and one could tell upon closer inspection that there would be a groove in the ground after every step she took, while the ground around her footprint seemed to have cracked. She was dashing forward with pure strength, yet she looked like she was floating. She lived up to her name as the Ancestor of Strength and the owner of the Golden Dragon martial soul.
Shrek City was quite close to the Great Star Dou Forest. They didn't unleash their full speed, but still reached the forest before midday.
"Let's take a break and grab something to eat, everyone. Adjust yourselves to your optimum condition and states - we will proceed into the forest after one hour." Zhang Lexuan's instructions were short and concise.
They were near the Great Star Dou Forest's Peripheral Region. They would be inside the forest once they passed the danger signs that dotted the road.
Huo Yuhao felt a sense of nostalgia as he stared at a danger sign hanging from a tree not far from him. He could clearly remember what it was like during his first trip here, as that expedition had changed his destiny - he met the Skydream Iceworm, Electrolux, his senior brother Bei Bei and Xiao Ya.
Following the passage of time, Electrolux was gone, and there was no news about teacher Xiao Ya, while he had grown up as well.
Everyone came by the roadside. Their cultivations meant they were far from fatigued, but slowing down and relaxing still felt good anyway. Zhang Lexuan said to Huo Yuhao with a smile on her face, "I hear from Bei Bei that your culinary skills are exceptional, Yuhao. I remember you selling grilled fish outside the academy a long time ago. What do you think about showing us your skills?"
A thought came to Huo Yuhao's mind as he said, "There's a small river nearby, eldest senior sister." This place was close to the small stream where he had first met Bei Bei and Tang Ya.
Zhang Lexuan smiled and said, "I know. I'm not sure how many days we'll be spending in there once we head in, and the living conditions are going to be harsh inside - we won't get good food, and we'll have to sleep in the open. Everyone should enjoy a good meal before we enter. How about this - Li Yongyue will follow me to catch some fish, and Yuhao will be responsible for preparing and cooking them. Are you two okay with that?" She was a lot more familiar with the landscape of the Great Star Dou Forest's Peripheral Region than Huo Yuhao was.
"Yes." The two of them acknowledged at once.
Zhang Lexuan stood up and said, "The others will help Yuhao prepare the firewood needed for the grilled fish. We will get to enjoy our food earlier if we work together."
Cai Mei'er didn't hide herself as she followed behind the students. She came forward at this moment, and a faint smile appeared on her face as she watched the students bustle around. She thought to herself, these youngsters are so full of life and energy! It's nice to be out here to walk around.
They were all high-level soul masters, so how easy was it for them to collect firewood and catch fish?
It didn't take long before Zhang Lexuan and Li Yongyue returned with more than ten huge fish skewered on vines. It was clear that these two didn't really know how to cook, and Huo Yuhao immediately returned to the riverside with the fish that they had brought back.
The first step to grilling fish was to process the fish properly, and then to grill it directly - would that actually work?
Zhang Lexuan followed Huo Yuhao back to the riverside with a tinge of curiosity as she watched him take the fishes from the vines. He washed them again inside the crystal-clear river as he cut them open, took out their organs, peeled off the scales, and extracted the tendons.
Extracting fish tendons was a special technique, as most people who steamed fish didn't do that, so the fish they made would have a strong fishy smell. It wasn't hard to remove the tendons - one would use a sharp blade to cut the fish below the gills before cutting the fish near the tail, and then one would look carefully look for a small white dot on the wound's cross-section before using the back of the blade to tap lightly on the fish's body. If appropriate strength was applied, it wouldn't take too many hits before a small white tip that looked like the tip of a needle would emerge, and then one would pinch it and pluck it out, and the tendons on that side would be extracted.
Every fish had two long tendons, and one would have to follow all these steps to consider even simple preparations complete.
Both Zhang Lexuan and Wang Dong'er were watching by the side. They wanted to help, but they were clumsy and confused when they actually tried. Their formidable cultivations were useless at times like these, and they could only sit by and watch.
Huo Yuhao picked the things he needed from his surroundings. He found some spices and herbs that he was relatively familiar with and picked a pile before he returned to camp. He placed the washed fishes and the herbs onto some large clean leaves, and Chef Huo finally got to work.
Perhaps it was because his life had been tough and difficult as a kid, but he always carried his cooking tools with him; bowls, ladles, tubs, all sorts of seasonings - he had everything. When he took out all these things from his Starlight Sapphire storage ring, the other students stared unblinkingly.
Han Ruoruo couldn't help but laugh as she said, "Are you preparing to be a chef in the future, Yuhao? This is the first time I've seen someone place cooking tools inside a top-tier storage item such as the Starlight Sapphire."
Huo Yuhao chortled and said, "I used to be very poor, and it wasn't easy for me to fill my stomach. It's become a habit for me to bring these things when I come out, and even non-soul masters won't go hungry."
These simple sentences embodied his childhood experiences. Everybody else was relatively well off, so everyone grew silent for a moment after listening to his words. Even Wang Qiu'er glanced at him a few times.
Huo Yuhao was explaining with his mouth, but his hands didn't stop. He laid out two piles with the firewood that everyone had brought back before he lit one pile and planted four thick branches in the ground and hung a large wok over the top. The wok contained clear water that had previously been collected from the small stream.
He finished setting up the wok on one side, and the grill that he always used, which was supported on both sides, was set up on the other side. He was even more familiar with this thing.
He applied and stuffed all kinds of seasoning and spices into the fishes' stomachs. He opened a hole on both sides of the fishes' bodies before he skewered them with a clean wooden stick and began to grill them.
He began to slather oil on both sides of the fish. This would give the fish a denser taste, and they wouldn't burn so easily.
The fragrant smell of grilled fish wafted over in no time. Everyone retrieved their rations and were sitting around, but they stared at the dry rations in their hands while they smelled the aroma, and suddenly everyone didn't feel like eating their rations anymore. Only Wang Qiu'er was sitting to one side as she nibbled quietly on her rations. She didn't even look at Huo Yuhao.
Zhang Lexuan was also sitting nearby as she watched Huo Yuhao. Her eyes rotated to the other students, and a subtle smile appeared on her face. She was the team leader, and her task was not only to command and protect her teammates - more importantly, she had to break the ice between this impromptu group and to glue them together, so that everyone would feel closer to each other, and they would feel more like a team. This was the only way she could enhance their chemistry in the fights that were to come, and this was the only way to make them feel more intimate. Her choice to ask Huo Yuhao to grill fish was partially because of this, as a nice meal would easily pull everyone closer together.
He was closely monitoring the grilling process with his spiritual power, and the first grilled fish was finished in no time. There was no question that seniors had priority, so Huo Yuhao took this first grilled fish to Cai Mei'er.
"Thank you." Cai Mei'er took the fish with a smile on her face as she took a huge bite. The yellowish-golden fish skin was crispy and slightly salty, and there was also a tinge of spiciness. The fish was tender and juicy, and just one bite left a delicious taste behind.