“I know where to get some of those,” whispered Bond after pulling Locke aside.
“I’m not interested.” Locke pushed him away and returned to the group.
Blood essence was indeed very useful to mid-rank Knechts, but it had side effects as well. Locke had read that they would leave impurities in the body, which would be detrimental to his breakthrough in the future. There were many better ways to increase the success rate of his advancement, and he didn’t want to take the risk.
Seeing that Locke was uninterested, Bond chased after him and said, “They’re the kind with minimal side effects.” His words had grabbed Locke’s attention, so he turned to look at him.
“I’ll tell you more about it when we return home,” said Bond in a manner that kept him guessing.
They were now at the border between Aomar and Osdale. The knights were relieved when they saw the familiar rolling foothills and flocks of geese flying in the sky. The journey back home was much more relaxing than when they had set off for their mission. They weren't hurried along by their superiors like before. It almost seemed like they were returning home from a holiday.
Locke learned from the other soldiers that the Aomarian troops rarely left their country for battles. It only happened once in a few years and when it did, it was mostly to help neighbouring kingdoms to suppress rebellions, and only the elite troops like their own got sent out. Their unit was ranked among the top five in the nation. Locke wondered if Aomar would also interfere in the conflict between Faustian and Shalor if it had lasted too long. At the very least, he was certain that there was no way the Faustian troops could hold off against the Aomarian army unless it mobilized Ritters, but Aomar no doubt had its own as well.
Locke also didn't notice any Ritters participating in the recent battles. It was as if the stronger elites had something that was stopping them from engaging in wanton conflict. He was suddenly reminded of the Sanctum's rules and the Hall of Knights' oath. The more Locke advanced, the more he got involved with those two organisations. In the history of the continent, no faction had managed to control the continent more than them.
They crossed the northern mountains and the rapid Osdak River. Soon, the wide plains of Aomar were within sight. By now, the troops parted with the knights of the academy. After giving his subordinates some cheap potions as gifts, Locke waved them goodbye. Even though they had only fought together for three to four short months, they were comrades he'd trust his back with on the battlefield, after all. Not to mention, the potions were worthless to him, but immeasurably precious to these career soldiers.
There were healing and boosting potions which were hard for them to come by. They probably wouldn't be able to afford them even with a year's salary. As such, he gained quite a reputation for being generous. They didn't cost him anything anyways; Angelina was the one who made them. Thanks to that, he would be getting some unexpected benefits down the line for his generosity.
Rafael, Bond and Gauss didn't return to Princeton with Locke. They were from the Aomarian countryside and wanted to take the chance to go home, so they went their own way after they reached the city of Dietko by Osdak River. Rafael headed east towards the province of Dina, Bond went southwest to Mordecai, and Gauss took a boat westward along Osdak River to the city of Winsel where his family's dominion was. Locke would continue on with the rest of the troops south towards Princeton. Before they left, they had agreed they would meet up again during the seven month for the blood essence Bond talked about.
By now, Locke had spent more than two years in Aomar, but he hadn't had the chance to visit many cities even during his missions. It was known as the nation of ten thousand cities, but Locke had only gone to tens of them at most.
Then, he spent two days in the city of romance, Farez, and got a good look at the famous white flowers here. He bought some souvenirs before continuing his way back to Princeton. He finally reached home during the middle of the fifth month. Angelina, Glace, Billie and Irene all welcomed him back warmly.
The military excursion had spent half a month recruiting around three hundred knights from the academy back then, so all the students knew about it. It was too bad not many of them met the requirements to join it. Casters were not recruited as they were too precious to risk losing on the battlefield. On the day after his return, Locke was invited to another mission with Joaquin and the rest.
"A training mission during the holiday?" Locke said as he looked at the rest in wonder.
Princeton Academy held a training mission during each of the semester breaks. The spirit extermination mission Locke and the rest had gone on was one such mission, and it wasn't all too dangerous. As for the last winter break, he didn't join them as he was hunting down the bear monster that the academy had marked, though he did hear from Angelina that they managed to complete the mission to wipe out some vampire bat monsters.
Vampire bats were rather weak as they came and didn't have anything going for them apart from their numbers. It took only an afternoon for the party of five casters and two knights to clear out the entire cave, which wasn't surprising since Joaquin and Angelina's fire spells were really effective on them.