In front of the rolling mountains stood a ten-metre-high fence. A unit of two thousand soldiers was stationed at Mojin Mountains Station. After presenting the mission briefing that was issued by the academy and paying the fee, Joaquin and the others were let in.
Although it was just a normal relay station in Salt Forest, their management was very strict, causing anyone who entered it to unconsciously straighten their backs and walk with their heads held up high, respecting the might of the empire.
Locke just found out yesterday that there were peak-ranked major monsters in Salt Forest. Aomar even had to dispatch heavy infantry to set up a perimeter around it hundreds of years ago. Those fences were built to prevent the major monsters from coming into contact with ordinary folk outside. Not to mention, the aura of powerful elites was constantly 'broadcast' from the station. No major monster would dare to cross the boundaries as they would only be killed.
Apart from Salt Forest, there were also lots of troops stationed at the northern Myriad Mountains, Southern Cross Forest, Moller Highlands and Baikal Coast. If high-ranked major monsters were powerful enough to wipe out an entire town, then peak-ranked major monsters could destroy the capital city of a province.
Locke and the others only had to carry out their mission at the outer ring of the forest where there would only be mid-level major monsters, so they wouldn’t encounter any high-level major monsters unless they were really unlucky. High-ranked and peak-ranked major monsters usually remained near the swamps in the center, which was very far away from the location of their mission, so they didn’t have to worry much about it.
The group set off into Salt Forest after resting in the relay station for a day. As there were a lot of swamps and marshes around there, they left their carriages at the station and entered the forest on foot, which was relatively stealthier compared to carriages, so they should be able to avoid most hazards as long as they were cautious of their surroundings.
Locke held a map that he’d just purchased from the station, stood on the tree and surveyed the terrain around him. After figuring out the directions, he jumped off the tree and said to Joaquin, “We have to head southeast for another five kilometres.”
Although they were heading towards the outer part of the forest, it still took at least a week for them to arrive. The several locations that had been marked on the map along the way were the campsites that they’d discussed last night.
“Alright. You lead the way, we’ll follow.” Joaquin motioned Angelina and the others to follow closely behind him.
Salt Forest was very different from the other forests that Locke had been to before. There were mostly cacti and shrubs on the ground level that were only as tall as his knees. The taller trees, on the other hand, were more than ten metres tall, and it took him much effort to climb them.
It was difficult for them to keep a low profile in an environment like this, and they’d already accidentally stumbled into the territories of two minor monsters packs. Minor monsters seldom acted alone as they mainly survived in packs.
Their first enemy were fire ants. When Chris accidentally stepped on one of their nests, a colony of ants suddenly swarmed out. Thankfully, there weren’t too many of them, and Daenie and Mina managed to dispatch all of them with their water and cloud spells while remaining on constant alert.
Fire ants were weak creatures, but their large numbers and strong fire resistance abilities presented a dilemma for Locke, Joaquin and Angelina. They didn’t know how to attack them effectively. But because of this, Locke had the chance to figure out why Mina’s progress was the slowest among the other casters in the group.
She specialised in cloud spells, which was one of the uncommon spells apart from substance and gas spells. These kinds of spells were unpopular among casters. There was also very little practical research on them even though there was a large collection of spellbooks in the academy, so she could only use trial and error to learn and cast them.
The second wave of attacks came from a small pack of scorch-salt wolves. Locke liked wolves a lot as the moonlight wolf that he’d previously encountered had left a deep impression on him. After he killed three wolves on the spot, the others immediately ran for their lives. The muddy and swampy forest was their home ground, so they were able to vanish without a trace quickly. The other party members were shocked when they saw him kill the three wolves. They weren’t afraid of the wolves, but they wouldn't fight them alone as they typically moved in packs.
Both of the attacks were just minor hitches in their mission. They had tosto at a leeward cliff before sundown. It was one of the campsites that they’d marked on the map last night. Angelina let Angie, the little scorpiondrake, out of its spatial habitat as well. Scorpiondrakes loved swamps and Angie was so excited it couldn’t stop running around, inspecting its surroundings curiously.
It’d only been in Princeton ever since it hatched and never left the residence before. So, this was its first time being exposed to a new environment, not to mention it being its favourite wetlands. Angelina initially wanted to put it back into its spatial habitat as it was making a scene in the forest, but it turned out that because Angie was a higher-ranking major monster, the lower-ranking major monsters and poisonous insects perceived it as a threat and no longer appeared near them. If it weren’t for the bones that were hidden under the bushes and the cobwebs around them, they would’ve thought that they were just in an ordinary forest.
Since the potential threats had all been driven away, they allowed Angie to enjoy itself in the forest. Its ferocious appearance and sharp, green stinger didn’t frighten everyone away, instead, they were intrigued by it. Joaquin and the other casters were very curious about familiars. They hadn’t found a suitable major monster yet, so they hadn’t contracted any familiar so far. On the other hand, knights Bob and Chris were fascinated by its appearance.
“It would be nice if I could ride on one of those.” Bob looked at Angie in envy. Locke couldn’t picture what it would look like if the 1.7-metre-tall Bob rode on the sub-two-metre scorpiondrake. Even Daenie went up to it and touched its head. It was already two years old and had the intelligence of an eight-year-old child and could tell if anyone meant it harm, so it just let them touch it. Locke and Angelina had also ordered it to not move as its venom was poisonous enough to kill a mid-level major monster.