Locke was covered in white smoke the whole time he circulated Falconim. Still, the distinct sound that marked a breakthrough was nowhere to be heard. Everything on the table was gone. Wooden boxes and tubes were strewn across the floor, with the blood essence and crimson potion within them having long been consumed.
It had been three hours since Locke entered the training room. It felt as if an invisible chain was shackled around his body. No matter how strongly his Falconim surged, he just couldn’t break out of it. His veins drummed from the pressure, streaks of blood eventually painted his being. His rampant Falconim was putting severe stress on his internal systems, presumably a side effect of consuming clif-fedge grass. Closing his eyes that were now swollen red, Locke willed his restlessness and discomfort away. His rich experience had trained his willpower to be exceptionally strong.
Another two hours later, his initially turbulent impetus began to weaken in intensity. Locke figured that the auxiliary potions were wearing off. Despite everything, the sensation of a breakthrough hadn’t arrived yet. A thick crust of blood had formed on his back's clothing.
As the pain brought by his raging inner energy faded away, another sense of fatigue emerged from the depths of his marrows. The symptoms of a failed advancement inched closer.
This was why many mid-ranked Knechts usually opted to avoid breakthroughs during the latter half of their lives. Aside from the low success rate, their biggest concern was probably a reduction in their lifespan. Locke hadn’t voiced this concern to anyone. He’d like to think that he was a young man of only twenty-three years old. According to the fifty-year-old average lifespan in Faustian, he would at least have thirty years to spare. Knights lived a longer life compared to ordinary people, so he wasn’t too scared.
Ten years off his belt was nothing. However, he wasn’t too keen on failing. He had a feeling that success was merely an inch away.
The night had been agonizing, the barrier between a mid-rank and high-rank Knecht was finally manifesting in front of Locke. All Locke lacked at the moment was one last push. He needed something more to get through this!
With the slightest movement of his fingers, he produced a wooden box from his spatial ring, within which were two bunches of cliff-edge grass. Locke had never heard of consuming two cliff-edge grass in one go. He knew better than anyone of what these pretty looking herbs were capable. The pain was excruciating; it hurt his heart and made his blood vessels feel like they were about to explode. The thick maroon scabs that formed a layer on his body was primarily caused by cliff-edge grass too.
“Come on!” Locke cursed himself.
Another box of blood essence appeared on his right hand. Since the blood essence’s effect had been depleted; he intended to consume more to counteract the cliff-edge grass’s ill effects in the hopes that the boosted blood production could help offset his blood loss.
Lifting a trembling arm, bits of hardened blood slipped off Locke’s limb. The gaps between his fingers were filled with grime, a gruesome mixture of blood and sweat. It had been too long since Locke last felt this flustered.
Perhaps his delirious state made him hallucinate. Suddenly, Locke felt like he was transported back in time to when he was fighting the Battle of Gordon Heights. Locke, who had only joined the corps for two years, was a trembling mess hidden in a pile of corpses. Back then, the concept of life and death wasn’t something he properly comprehended. The pain was his greatest fear. He shivered at the notion of his neck being cut apart and couldn’t even bear to imagine how it would feel.
Memories of his younger self made him chuckle. His arms stopped trembling and he stuffed another bunch of cliff-edge grass down his throat. His impetus surged again as he made a figurative final sprint for the finishing line!
By now, it was a little after midnight. Though it was summer, the chilliness of the night made the women outside shiver. Yet, none of them dared to leave. Their eyes were still trained on the heavy stone door, hoping that it’d open soon. Wrapped in the layers of blankets the guards brought her, Angelina continued to stare at the door. The night breeze blew at her exposed shoulder but she paid no mind to it.
Angelina thought, perhaps I should talk to Grandmother Parlina tomorrow. The Sanctum wasn’t her only option as she had someone far more important to prioritize. Parlina was Angelina’s grandmeisterin and one of the consultants of the caster faculty. She was a Magister and an extremely powerful hydromancer. Since Angelina was blessed with outstanding talent and a silver tongue, Parlina was extremely fond of her. The two of them were very close; Angelina would even call her Grandmother Parlina in private. Having no children of her own, Parlina was more than happy to consider Angelina as a granddaughter.
Compared to the Sanctum, Locke was much more important. Angelina felt almost as if she could see the man who survived the snowy night together through the heavy stone door. Just as everyone got increasingly worried about Locke, dawn arrived without them realising. A full night had just passed.
All of a sudden, the heavy doors opened to reveal a familiar figure with an intense husk of blood and sweat. Painstakingly, Locke dragged himself over with heavy steps that pitter-pattered with dripping blood.
“Locke!” Angelina exclaimed, quickly running over with all her might. Lia, Suzzane, Glace and everyone else followed.
“Are you alright?” Angelina hugged Locke, who had been limping. It felt as if he would give out any minute. She, Glace and all the other women paid no mind to the pungent scent at all.
“I won’t be going anywhere, okay?” whispered Angeline as she hugged him tightly.
No response came from Suzzane and the others for they knew nothing. Glace, on the contrary, stared at Angelina with an understanding look. She was the only one who truly understood the implication of Angelina’s words.
Enveloped tightly in their arms, Locke flashed his pearly whites. He strained to raise his right arm. Suddenly, his green impetus shined brightly. This was the proof of his advancement: he was a high-rank Knecht now! And with that, Locke slumped over.
It was supposed to be a September noon in Princeton, but it seemed as if warmth had nothing to do with this piece of land. There were no signs of autumn at all. The cicadas outside remained lively as ever. It was already September, so why were the screaming insects still around?
Locke was out cold and resting in his bedroom. Today, it was Angelina’s turn to tend to him. Glace had just left a few minutes ago. Though it had been three days since he broke through, he hadn’t even shown the slightest sign of stirring yet. All the women took turns to care for him.
Angelina had stayed with him for the first two days. No one knew how she was able to last so long with the frail physique of a caster. It was only under the strong insistence of Lia and Glace that she finally returned to rest in her room on the third day. But as soon as she woke up, she headed straight for Locke’s room again.
At the moment, Glace was off to fetch some food. Laffey had been in charge of making nutritious meals. As a young servant who grew up in a margrave’s family, her cooking was absolutely splendid. While out cold, the women had been feeding Locke liquid meals. There was plenty of major monster meat in her cooking, which made for invigorating and filling dishes.
Opening up his heavy eyelids, Locke took everything in with a confused look. Where was he?
It soon dawned upon him that this was his room and the people gathered around him were familiar faces. The women’s red and teary eyes reminded him of his dangerous missions. They seemed to be really worried about him despite his advancement and successful breakthrough.
Angelina clamped a palm over her lips, doubling over to sob on Locke’s body. Though he had been weakened by a few days of unconsciousness, he stubbornly placed an arm on Angelina’s shoulder to offer comfort.
“See, I made it,” said Locke hoarsely. Despite being well-fed over the past three days, he hadn’t been hydrated enough, so he felt parched as hell. Glace quickly passed a glass of water over.
Someone must’ve spread the word out somehow as soon, a crowd gathered in Locke’s room. Apart from Lia and Suzzane, Viscount Gage had arrived too. Kristin hugged his leg emotionally, screaming about not wanting Locke to ever leave her again. Locke’s three-day coma and horrible state after exiting the training room had frightened her deeply.
While Kristin could glue herself to his side and be excused for her young age, Angelina wasn’t given the same privilege. She was a Faustian princess and she needed to maintain her image in the presence of Faustian nobles. Angelina could only wipe her tears away and stand up straight. Though so, her swollen eyes had never once left Locke.
“Congratulations on your advancement, Brother Locke!” congratulated Gage. Clever as ever, Gage broke the silence in the room and went forward to grasp his hand. Being a high-rank Knecht was considered a big deal in the Faustian Kingdom. Those with sufficient family support and strong background could serve as a regiment commander in the army or even hold important roles in the palace. To Gage, Locke was bound to be a rising star among the Faustian nobles with Angelina’s influence. However, it was clear that Locke had some talking to do with his family. Gage was well aware that he shouldn’t linger long. After exchanging some pleasantries, he promptly led the other Faustian nobles away.
“Don’t you dare pull this stunt again!” warned Lia as soon as the others were gone. Among all the women, Locke was the most obedient to her.
“Sure.” He leaned back in the bed and stared at everyone who truly cared about him.