PLEASE READ THE BEGINNING AUTHOR'S NOTES BEFORE READING
The bright morning sun blinded Alex as the two of them left the outpost, causing him to squint and raise his hand to help shield his eyes. Stretching out before them was a lush field of short, dark green grass, and knee-high soft ferns, still covered in fresh morning dew. “First things first, we should find a source of water. There should be a well or stream nearby so that shouldn’t be a very hard task.”
Rose nodded and they starting walking around the outside of the building. Now that they could see it properly in the daylight, the outside of the building looked almost as bad as the inside. Lots of random debris had piled up on the roof such as piles of leaves and sticks, desperately in need of a good cleaning. Thin, light green, vines crawled up the walls and through the broken windows. Overall it looked as if it had been years since they last trained a batch of scouts out here, considering the recruits were meant to clean the place up.
The clearing around the building seemed to stretch about fifty meters out most of the way around. ‘Likely to give some nice open space for physical training and to make it harder for something to sneak up on anyone staying here.’ Alex thought to himself as he looked around. As they made it around to the back of the building they found what they had set out to find.
“Ah, there we go!” Said Alex as he broke into a light jog in the direction of the small meandering stream that was winding through the clearing. Both ends of it came from and went back in the direction of the woods. Rose was right behind him, easily keeping up with his pace.
The stream was maybe four meters across at its widest and as the two of them made it to the bank, they could see that it was just half a meter or so deep, depending on the spot, of course. The water looked to be crystal clear though and should be good for all of their drinking, washing, and cooking needs. A few fish of varying sizes could be seen flitting about, weaving under rocks and catching bugs that landed on the surface of the water.
Alex lifted the strap tied to his canteen over his head and unscrewed the cap before dipping it into the stream, refilling it with some nice fresh water, before slinging it back over his shoulder again where it usually sat if he wasn’t wearing a backpack to stuff it into. Next to him, Rose did the same after taking a few good swigs.
“So what’s up next, then?” Rose asked curiously as she took a moment to kneel down on the bank so that she could splash some water on her face and scrub some of the grime off of her arms. Alex was doing the same next to her and enjoying the feeling of being slightly cleaner again.
“Well…” He responded, hand on chin. “We got water covered and we have food for another two days.” He held up one finger and then another while mentally checking off what they would need to stay here for a while. “Why don’t we check out the other side of the building real quick and then get to work on finding a bit of firewood?”
He was on a roll now, moving his hands animatedly as he explained, and was sounding more confident and assured as he continued speaking. “After that, we can spend the rest of the day trying to make the place a bit safer and more livable. Then tomorrow we can work on food and inventorying the rest of our supplies and whatever is in that supply room.”
Rose put one hand on her slender hip and lightly tapped her lips with the index finger of her other hand in an exaggerated thinking pose. After a moment she just shrugged, “Sure, sounds fine to me.” Then suddenly she bolted away! “Last one there is a rotten egg!” Alex could hear her laughter float back to him as she ran toward the side of the building they had not been to yet.
“Oh no, you don’t!” He jovially yelled and took off running after her. Unfortunately for Alex however, Rose had nearly double his strength and only slightly less agility so he didn’t have much of a chance at beating her in a fair race. That wouldn’t stop him from trying his damnedest though.
Legs pumping, heart pounding, Alex sprinted across the field for everything he was worth. ‘Alice, I’m actually catching up! I’ve got this!’ Just as hope was regained, Rose turned around with a bright smile on her face and faltered for a moment, nearly tripping up when she saw how close he was to her. Smile vanishing, she faced the correct direction again and put on another burst of speed, showing that she had only been playing around before now.
‘What was that Alex? I didn’t hear you before.’ Came the snarky comment from within his head shortly followed by bell-like laughter.
Eventually, Alex caught up to where Rose had stopped to wait for him, right at the corner of the building. She was smiling and had both her hands on her hips and trying hard not to look like she was breathing hard from the sprint. Alex could see the perspiration dotting her face though and the way her shirt stuck to her body.
“Hah! I win!” She declared loudly while pointing a finger dramatically in his direction. “Bow down! Mwahaha!”
“Yea, yea, laugh it up.” He took a pause for a few deep breaths. “You just wait till I have a handle on my magic and we’ll see how things go.” He said before taking a swig from his canteen and finally beginning to catch his breath.
“Hah! By that time I will have a better handle on my Ki. This time we were both running normally, but next time it will be a real race.” She turned around and started walking along the side of the building and continued their objective to scout out the surroundings.
For the most part, everything looked identical to the other side, big surprise there, but to the delight of both of them, there was one helpful difference. Attached to the side of the building about halfway down was a small lean-to with a small pile of wood and a large stump with an ax sticking out of it.
The lean-to appeared very well constructed and even had a black tarp lining on top to help be sure the wood stayed absolutely dry. It was rarer to see stuff like reasonably intact tarp these days, although not uncommon to find plastic in general since the stuff seemed to be capable of lasting basically forever. The lean-to was somewhere in the ballpark of four by three meters with the long side built onto the side of the main building.
The ax they found had seen better days for sure, but after Rose took a few practice swings and split some of the existing wood into smaller pieces for kindling, she deemed it “good enough” and decided she would do some cutting for a bit since there was not a terrible amount of wood already there.
“Alex, think you can cut me down a small tree and get it over here with that fancy magic of yours?”
“Hmm… Probably, I have a few ideas that could work. How do we get it over here though?”
Rose simply smiled devilishly at him and didn’t say a word.
Alex sighed sarcastically and turned toward the forest and began walking in an exaggeratedly upset way, stomping slightly. “Come on, let’s pick out a small one. We don’t even know how long we will be here so there’s no point in cutting down the biggest tree we can find or something.” After a moment of thought while walking he suddenly added on, "Maybe we can even find one that’s already fallen instead of cutting down a new one.”
So off they went once again trudging through the underbrush and into the woods, albeit this time not intending to go far at all. Rather than going in deep in a single direction they planned to walk around the edge of the clearing just a short walk into the tree-line.
“There!” Rose shouted in excitement. They had been out here walking for close to an hour looking for a dead tree so that the wood was dried out already and they could more easily burn it right away, and she had finally spotted one. “You see it, Alex? Right over there!” She pointed and began walking in the direction of the tree.
“Good eye Rose, this one is perfect.” The tree was long dead and looked plenty dried out. It had already fallen as well but got hung up in one of its neighbors, which should make things a bit easier for him to knock down with his magic. It wasn’t too massive either and he estimated it to be two and a half meters tall. “Ok, stand back Rose. Here I go.”
After noting that she had indeed taken a few steps back in the opposite direction of the tree Alex began focusing on his mana but quickly stopped. ‘Wait a second. Alice, what kind of magic do you think I should use for this?’ He asked curiously. ‘I can’t decide what to try first. Wind magic and try to blow it down? Try to launch a ball of rock at it hard enough to knock it aside? Hmm…’
‘We aren’t in danger at the moment, so just try them all.’ Came the response from Alice. ‘It’s not like it matters if you damage the tree a bit extra after all.’
‘Oh, yea! Let’s go with a rock blast first then!’ He decided and began concentrating again.
Rose watched on in awe as a small ball of rock the size of her fist slowly formed out of nothing. It was dark gray and looked to be solidly carved. It was clear that Alex had attempted to create a smooth ball but it was very bumpy which showed his lack of practice.
“Rock Blast!” He said aloud and the small projectile launched away from him so fast it was a blur! The two of them waited expectantly for the results, but the tree didn’t budge. In fact, Alex had entirely missed the tree and the rock went flying off into the woods. His cheeks reddened as both Rose and Alice laughed. “Oops… Let’s try that again.”