Without realizing it, four years had passed since Locke came to Aomar. It was the new year and his residence was livelier than ever today thanks to all the guests that came to join the celebration. His classmates from the academy, friends and a few Faustian nobles were gathered here.
Through time, everyone eventually learnt that Angelina was a Faustian princess. While their friends hadn’t reacted strongly to it, Chris and Bob, the knights who joined them on many missions, felt incredibly envious of Locke. The general opinion was that the princess of a small kingdom was about the same status as the daughter of a count in the empire. Regardless, Locke and the others were determined to make the start of the new year an occasion to be remembered.
For Locke, the new year meant that he was turning twenty-four; an age that was neither too old nor young. Angelina was turning twenty this year, which meant that marriage was something she should start to consider. If she wasn’t headed for the Sanctum, she would’ve been planning to tell her family about Locke soon.
As for Kristin, she was turning eighteen this year; the once gullible girl had finally bloomed into adulthood. It wasn’t appropriate for Locke to ruffle her head like a brat any longer.
Amidst the joyous cheers, everyone raised their glasses and gave a toast to new beginnings.
“Suzzane, your brew is marvellous!” praised Angelina.
“Laffey’s cooking is amazing as ever!” Lia giggled.
“But I still like Sister Lia’s congee better!” Kristin gobbled down a bowlful, tossing her reputation as a lady to the back of her head.
“Miss, please eat more!” Laffey found it difficult to break away from her servant role.
“You have some too!” Glace swiftly picked up a piece of steak and placed it on Laffey’s plate.
Locke noticed that the dynamics at home had turned more pleasant after he became a high-rank Knecht.
At the northeast of Missia, the Sanctum held a meeting on Floor 436. It was attended by members of the higher brass. The Sanctum’s internal committee, which currently consisted of only ten level-three Magisters, was once again summoned by the black-robed elder.
“Is Harrison coming today?” A single mental swipe was all the elder needed to assess who was present. This was an ability every Magister possessed.
“Sigh, it sure is difficult to be a summoner.” An old man with a grey long brimmed hat blew his beard and chuckled.
“Speak. Why are we gathered here?” asked a peculiar Magister whose body was half flames and half ice. As soon as the question fell, all nine casters in the hall turned to look at the black-robed elder.
The black-robed elder tapped the end of his staff against the floor audibly. He languidly began, “There are two things on the meeting agenda today. First and foremost, Meister Odis has begun to make his move.”
Everyone was surprised. What followed next was utter joy, seen especially in the absolute thrill of the half ice half fire Magister. The polar opposites of solid ice and brazen flames on either side of his body had affected the surrounding concentration of elements. It was an impressive display of his powers.
“Second, we’ve received news from Meister Banam asking to dispatch some casters from the Sanctum to aid Meister Odis’ efforts in conquering Botania.” The black-robed elder continued.
“No problem! I’m in!” the frost-fire Magister, Brandt, interrupted, volunteering himself impatiently.
“Anyone else? They requested six level-three Magisters.” The black-robed elder glanced over to the remaining eight.
“I’ll go,” said one whose right arm had been replaced with the red claws of some creature.
“Count me in!” An effeminate male Magister volunteered, his serpent tongue peeking out the slightest bit.
“I’ll join too. I'm lacking some materials nowadays,” said a weird-smelling one clad in a black robe.
The outcome didn’t surprise the black-robed elder. Most of the level-three Magisters that remained to guard the Sanctum were willing to accept the quest. There were many benefits that came with conquering a new plane. The production of Botanian essence alone offered sufficient resources to prolong the glory of Zauberia.
“Did Meister Banam say anything else?” asked an old female Magister whose face was wrinkled and pigmented.
“Well… Meister Banam mentioned that he might join the latter expeditions on Botania,” added the black-robed elder. This seemed to have comforted everyone present. The first attempts to conquer a new plane were always met with harshest resistance from the natives. Though it was just a minor plane, the level-three Magisters could find themselves in a pinch if they weren’t cautious enough.
Unexpected variables were ever-present threats in foreign planes. It wasn’t uncommon for stronger invaders to find themselves defeated by seemingly inferior natives with strange abilities. After all, the plane was their turf. However, Meister Banam’s possible involvement in the latter stages provided the assurance that everything was bound to proceed smoothly. The level-four Magister was capable of catastrophic destruction; something that those uncivilized low-level natives couldn’t imagine. As a matter of fact, many level-four lifeforms were worshipped as deities on various planes.
“How is it going with the two Centaurian gods?” the old female Magister asked again.
The black-robed elder’s expression relaxed. “Lately, it's said that one of them had been severely injured by Meister Banam and Meister Gaia.”
“It’s quite impressive that the Centaurian gods managed to last that long!”
“Indeed. I believe the last planar war lasted four hundred years and started almost a millennium back.”
“With Meister Banam, Meister Gaia and Meister Zachary, the fall of the Centaurian gods will happen in no time.”
Everyone in the hall felt comforted by the good news.
“How long would it take to conquer Centauria?” questioned one of the Magisters.
“We can’t be sure.” Despite the black-robed elder’s expressed uncertainty, everyone already had their own thoughts regarding the matter. With one of the Centaurian deities injured, nothing could stop the onslaught of Meister Banam’s army. Victory was expected in fifty years later at most.
“What is the progress on our recruitment of expatriate casters?” The black-robed elder asked a younger Magister sitting beside.
“We’ve been recruiting since last year. All Magisters on missions at Missia, Dressa and Ingrid received our message and responded,” replied the younger Magister.
“Very well.” The black-robed elder nodded. He asked again, “Any word on the Hall of Knights?”
“It seems that Meister Odis has issued an order to the high-rank Knechts," said a young Magister after a moment of hesitation. He got the news from his knight friend.
“High-rank Knechts?” The black-robed elder left his seat to stand by the window. From the top of the four-hundred-metre tall tower, the elder studied the Lehrlings who were shuffling about near the spherical buildings below.
“Say, should we send out some younger Lehrlings as part of their training?” asked the black-robed elder.
“I think it’s best to ask Meister Banam about that. There hadn’t been anyone below level-one involved in the planar war before,” replied the younger Magister with knitted brows.
“What do you mean by that? We're already sending Knechts there who aren't even Ritters!" The black-robed elder was referring to Meister Odis’ order.
“Plus, most of the slave soldiers are just about as strong as high-rank Knechts.” The more the elder entertained the thought, the more plausible the unconventional idea sounded.
“So… We’re sending out high-rank Lehrlings too?” The young Magister sought confirmation.
“Nope.” The black-robed elder shook his head. “We’re sending out the mid-rank Lehrlings as well! We must not fall behind the Hall of Knights!”
Indeed, in terms of destructive power alone, mid-rank Lehrlings were comparable to high-rank Knechts. This was why casters were stronger than knights of equivalent rank.
“But...” The younger Magister was at a loss for words. Didn’t that mean that they’d risk losing a huge number of the Sanctum’s young prospects to war? Could this actually be Meister Banam’s true intention? The younger Magister felt like he was getting at something.
While the black-robed elder was unconventional, there were rarely any casters that were willing to break out of their moulds, especially elites that walked in the forefront of truth and righteousness. The black-robed elder had typically been one to stick to the books. Was his age getting to him? Why would he issue such a ridiculous order unless he had sufficient backing? The biggest influence here at the Sanctum would no doubt be its owner, Meister Banam.
But truth to be told, if the junior prospects of the Sanctum were dispatched, they could minimize their losses in the event of an attack from the east coast. Plus, they’d get their hands on a highly lucrative Botania.
Eventually, the younger Magister was convinced. He’d wilfully ignore all possible threats that Lehrlings might face during war. After all, strength was a byproduct of constant exposure to hardship and death. Take the younger Magister as an example: though he looked young, he had lived for more than nine hundred years. While his age was considered young among level-three Magisters, it was also an indication that he had become a Magister at a very young age. Typically, a Magister’s appearance would freeze at the age they broke through. Younger looking Magisters implied bigger potential. But of course, this logic wasn’t all that applicable to female Magisters who often modified their appearance in the pursuit of beauty.