“While this is karst terrain, there is still a possibility that the Botanians are hiding in the underground cave systems,” reminded Parlina, sharp as ever.
Locke had no clue what karst even meant. He looked at the other three Magisters, confusion obvious.
“Indeed.” Ashar pressed a finger against her lips and pondered. “Nevermind then. Even if there are Botanians nearby, there won’t be many of them. Why don’t we continue forwards instead?”
“True.” Parlina nodded. There were five level-one Magisters in this contingent. Ashar normally stayed out of everything but she was undeniably the strongest among them all. There was no need to question her rationale.
Jella had made Parlina the leader of the contingent based on her seniority. Even so, Parlina was intent on taking Ashar and Carla’s opinion into consideration. Apart from their close bond, Parlina held Carla in high esteem as she was the sister disciple of the faceless Magister, Charles. Charles was very famous in the Three Western Isles’ Sanctum and was hailed as the best Magister second only to Banam; everyone knew his name. With an impressive record of annihilating two alien demigods of similar calibre, he was someone that even level-three Magisters looked up to.
Frankly, Carla couldn’t care less about the Sanctum’s current progress. Much like her magic, the photomancer had a heart of gold. Her experiments rarely involved endangering lives and the worst she’d do was to have her subjects lose a limb, which wasn’t a big deal as long as the head and heart remained intact. Carla could easily heal wounds that were inflicted within a thirty-minute frame with photomancy. It was a widely accepted fact that photomancers were the friendliest casters.
Among the few level-one Magisters, Locke felt most at ease around Carla. The others felt distant and unapproachable; Ashar was wildly bipolar and Parlina was difficult to read.
“How far is the nearest Botanian city?” asked Parlina. She had gotten used to ordering Locke around throughout the past few days, pleasantly surprised by his competence. Locke had helped make coherent battle arrangements since Parlina wasn’t well versed in warfare.
Locke was indeed a token member of the Hall of Knights. Compared to the casters who’d rather stay in their laboratories to read, knights were more accustomed to the battlefield.
“We’ll reach the nearest city in two days,” answered Locke. Who would’ve thought that the leader of less than a hundred Faustian soldiers could one day command an army of nearly a thousand slaves and dozens of Lehrlings? Life was truly full of surprises.
Locke refused to let his newfound authority get to his head, but that didn’t stop the Lehrlings’ attempts to appease him. However, his humble disposition had pleased Parlina immensely. The grandmeisterin had been observing him from afar and was all the more relieved to have him handle the contingent.
“Grandmeisterin Jella requested that we meet her in the center coordinates of Battlezone 17 in half a month. Do you think we’ll make it in time?” Parlina asked Ashar and Carla.
Ashar was quiet, attention occupied by the little green soft crystal between her fingers. Carla with her white robes and silver hair was the one who answered instead.
“I think we should be fine. Grandmeisterin Jella should’ve taken care of the stronger Botanian ahead. We just need to stick to our schedule better.” Carla tossed her silky hair over her shoulder. Her lovely silver hair had always been her proudest possession. Sadly, there weren't many at the Sanctum who appreciated its beauty.
Locke stole a quick glimpse at her silver locks. He quickly lowered his head and pretended to be in deep thought. His hair was silver as well but it wasn’t as immaculate as Carla. It was a messy interweaving clash of black and white; a clear indication of his peasant bloodline. Peasants would only have either black or white hair.
The silver in Carla’s hair was softer and more graceful than harsh ivory. It appeared that the photomancer had a fondness for anything shiny and pristine. Ashar, on the contrary, had dark inky hair.
Locke peeked at Ashar, who was toying with some Botanian essence at that moment. Other than her highly unpredictable mood swings, Locke had no complaints about the powerful Magister. She had treated him with surprising kindness and helped him become stronger than average high-rank Knechts through generous offerings of wind element energy crystals.
Strictly speaking, the wind element crystals were accumulated through exchanges but Locke was still very grateful nonetheless. He was a person that’d remember every kind deed. Perhaps Ashar’s peculiar experiments were getting to him; Locke had the boldest idea to rank the appeal of Ashar, who was widely perceived as dangerous and creepy.
Ashar was a good nine, having lost a point in the personality department. She would’ve been a ten if she had a fraction of Carla’s gentleness. As Locke’s mind threatened to wander further, he broke out of it with a jolt. He couldn’t help but shiver as he retraced his thoughts. He glanced over at the three Magisters, immensely relieved that they were occupied with discussions. It appeared that no one had picked up on his little daydream.
Just as he rejoiced mentally, Ashar tossed a pointed look at Locke. As an occultist, the Magister had profound sensitivity towards thoughts and mentions of her name. Her senses were stronger with a shorter distance. While she couldn’t read Locke’s thoughts, she could tell that he had no intent to harm her. However, she would need to use tools or spells should she wish to pry into his mind.
“Grandmeisterin Jella has placed seven level-two Magisters in the middle of Battlezone 17 to serve as bait. Since we’re part of the lower legion, it’s best if we hurry and meet them as soon as possible.” Parlina laid the ultimatum.
“Locke, go make necessary arrangements. We must seize the Botanian city in two days.”
“Understood!” He quickly exited the carriage to relay orders.
Jella had divided tens of thousands of slaves and nearly a thousand Magisters into groups as part of her strategy whose sole goal was to disrupt the Botanian resistance forces and help capture more low-rank Botanians for essence.