One day, a cloaked stranger made his way to the Pana Falls of the Aomar Empire. Beneath the tall waterfall was a quaint lake half the size of a field. Despite the ripples and waves caused by the cascading water, the surface of the lake’s further end was calm. Though the undisturbed water was crystal clear, the bottom was devoid of life.
All of a sudden, a black mass appeared in the depths of the water.
“Here it comes!” Locke whispered under his breath. He took a step back and drew his sword. The long spear in his left grip had an exceptionally sharp tip, which, upon closer inspection, was the beak of a major monster. Then, he launched his spear towards the black mass in the water and quickly stepped forward to follow its trajectory.
“I hope my swimming skills haven’t gotten too rusty.” Then, he took a plunge into the lake.
At sunset, a campfire was lit on the shore where a thoroughly drenched knight rested. The dancing flames illuminated newly-formed indents on his froststeel armour. Indeed, major monsters of this rank had proven to be difficult for Locke. There was a bit of bloodied flesh clinging to the wound on his neck, but Locke wasn’t sure if it belonged to him or the huge beast beside him that had been dead for a while.
The humongous black fish three metres in length laid limply on the ground, its spine lined with thorns and barbs, an obvious indication of its aggressive nature. Each tooth lining its huge jaw was as big as Locke’s fist. They were terrifyingly sharp and had a cold glint to it. Yet, those were no longer important. The long slash along its posterior had brought it to its demise.
The underwater battle was merciless and fierce. Discovering the thornfish’s weakness had come with a risk of getting devoured. Despite its sturdy scales and thorns, there was a white line along its abdomen, which was its weakness. With no armor or protection there, all it took was a sharp longsword to end its life.
Locke’s eyes fluttered open after some rest. Now that his impetus was recharged, He produced a blood essence tablet from his spatial ring; the thornfish could wait. He swallowed it in a jiffy and brought his internal energy into another turbulence. It was time for his training.
Through sharpened senses, he could feel every fibre of his muscles becoming stronger. His inner energy was strengthening all his vessels further. His bones felt tighter and sturdier too. Most importantly, the impetus vortex in his abdomen was revolving. The sensation was stronger and the feeling of bottlenecking had appeared once again.
The flames continued to dance through the darkened night.
“I suppose I'll go for the rock frog of the southern swamp next...” He couldn't help but sigh.
“You’re going to the Sanctum?!” Viscount Gage said, dressed elaborately when he met Angelina in one of the mansions along Sachiel Street. He was Angelina’s noble escort appointed by the king himself and left in charge of all her affairs in Aomar. The fact that something as important as the princess’s decision to study at the Sanctum had flown over his head was a sign of his incompetence. He had only found out about it now.
“Is the king aware of this?” asked the viscount. It would take at least two months for the news to be relayed to the palace in Felor from Aomar.
“I’ve already contacted my mentor through flame transmission,” answered Angelina in a demure tone. The mentor mentioned was the only high-ranked Lehrling in the Faustian Kingdom.
“Oh, good to know.” Gage sighed in relief. Since her mentor was aware of this, it was almost certain that the king had gotten word of it. The Sanctum was typically out of reach for nobles of Gage’s tier. This was the reason why he had to acquaint himself with multiple Faustian elites that included Ritters and above, to escort the princess. The Sanctum and the Hall of Knights were the strongest organizations on their continent; Gage had heard plenty about them since stepping foot into Princeton. The princess’s decision to study there was good news.
As if reminded of something, Gage attempted to probe, “Is Herr Locke aware of your plans?” Among the nobles that came to study in Aomar, Viscount Gage was one of the only few that knew about Angelina and Locke’s relationship.
“...” There was a moment of silence before Angelina replied, “He knows.” But she did not offer further elaboration.
Noticing the shift in her emotions, Gage dared not question further. He hadn’t seen Locke ever since entering the house. After a few months in Aomar, he had managed to befriend Locke, the newly rising Faustian noble knight.
Meanwhile, Kristin was perched on Glace’s lap in another room. She asked with a small voice, “Where did Big Brother go?”
Locke usually told them where he was heading before departing for a mission, but this time he left without a word. Hence, all the women were understandably concerned.
“He’s off on a mission.” Glace answered plainly. While she was somewhat aware of the situation, Angelina’s involvement made it difficult to explain. Plus, Kristin was just too young to understand anything.
Lia, who was seated beside them, drew a sigh as she stared at the night skies outside.
A month and a half later, just one week shy of Angelina’s scheduled advancement, Locke was back in Princeton, disheveled and exhausted. Without even reporting to the academy, Locke dove straight into the alchemy room.
“You’re going to break through to become a high-rank Knecht?” Laffey, who was chased out of the alchemy room unceremoniously, was taken aback. It took a second to recollect himself. Almost as if realizing something unbelievable, Laffey sprinted for the house next door to call for Glace and the others.
Before long, Glace, Suzanne, Angelina and the others were gathered outside the alchemy room. Heavy doors had obstructed their view, there was no way of getting a glimpse of what Locke was going through inside.
If it wasn’t for Laffey, they wouldn’t have known that Locke was home.