The three Magister’s discussion was heated as usual. Locke was waiting aside when Ashar suddenly summoned him.
Interactions between the shadowmancer and Locke were minimal since they landed in Botania due to her reserved personality and tendency to isolate herself. Yet, she remained the most familiar presence to Locke among the other Magisters. In return, Locke had always tried to prioritise her demands.
Surprisingly, Ashar had only uttered a few words of general concern. Unlike Parlina and the two male Magisters, Ashar and Carla weren’t fans of confrontation. Ashar may be ruthless when it came to experiments but that didn’t mean she was bloodthirsty. She would only take the lives of higher Botanians that were deemed useful to her. Regular Botanians were often allowed to walk away unscathed since she had no interest in them.
Despite everything, the final decision that silenced the room was made by Ashar. The shadowmancer had lost her patience amidst their relentless debate. She harshly interjected, “We’ll seize Mist City next.”
The battle yesterday had emphasised Ashar’s superiority. Since she could defeat a level-one Botanian alone without much difficulty, being the strongest among the five Magisters. Her outstanding capabilities had commanded everyone’s respect.
This was a war on a foreign plane and the effect of planar suppression had to be taken into account. Porscher, who narrowly escaped death, had a fearsome realisation: Ashar was perhaps the most powerful level-one Magister in the Sanctum. Not to mention, Parlina had mentioned Ashar’s living arrangements in the Sanctum tower in passing, which further confirmed Porscher’s assumption. Now that he was fully aware of her capabilities, he held nothing against her decision. This was also Reiner’s suggestion, after all. Parlina could only agree with a wry smile. Their friendship had lasted through a century hence the Magister understood Ashar’s temperament well.
It was settled. Their next target would be Mist City, a small city 200 km away in the southwest of Nimbus City. Their intel had stated that it was governed by two level-one city lords, which meant that the danger that they’d face wasn’t any different from Nimbus City. There was a catch, however. Mist City was constantly shrouded in a thick veil of fog, which was bound to be an obstacle to them.
Ashar’s decision was made based on a simple reason. Stick City, as suggested by Parlina, was protected by only one higher Botanian. There was barely enough to share among a few Magisters. Thorn City, on the other hand, was located 300 kilometres away towards the north. She thought that it would make more sense to venture northwards to Thorn City after seizing Mist City. The numbers of level-one Botanians present in the cities made no difference to Ashar. She could easily take on two Botanians alone anyway.
The contingent now had a direction and soon the atmosphere in the hall lightened up. Magisters rarely held grudges. Porscher and Reiner had a change of mind after a few rounds of engrossing discussions about magic. The topic of their discussion had even piqued Carla’s interest. It appeared that the photomancer had an unexpectedly deep understanding of pyromancy. With that, the four of them were gathered together. Like a stereotypical bunch of intellectuals, the Magisters exchanged their opinions and interest in the art of spellcasting.
Ashar seemed distant, though. Despite Porscher’s best efforts to include Ashar in their discussion, she refused to reciprocate. Her expression was disinterested and blank as usual. As she was leaving the city hall, turning around slightly only to face Locke. “Let’s go for a walk outside.”
But it wasn't just a mere walk. They took two rounds around the area before they eventually reached her wooden cottage, which was built atop a spiralling bunch of trumpet flowers. Locke gawked at the unique house as he stepped onto its sturdy vines.
The plant’s structure had elevated the little cottage to four metres of height. It was taller than the usual Nimbus City buildings, allowing Locke to catch a clear glimpse of the grey city walls in the distance from its door.
Locke felt a little frustrated. Why hadn’t he found this cottage yesterday? He really fancied the environment here. Cottages that were this lovely weren’t common around Nimbus City either; he could only spot another similar house with the elevation. Ashar hadn’t just brought Locke here for a house visit, of course.
There was a simple bed with white sheets under the dense foliage roof of the cottage that had a few decors placed meticulously on its headboard. At one glance, Locke could tell that some were brought over from the Three Western Isles while the others were of Botanian origins.
He quickly stopped his wandering eyes. The cottage had an area of ninety square metres. Apart from her bedroom, Ashar had turned the other room into her temporary laboratory.
“Here, help me hold this fella.” Strands of her hair floated and shaped themselves into a bunch that pointed at the laboratory’s entrance. Locke peered in that direction, finally noticing a green Botanian strapped onto an experiment bench.
“Okay.” Locke was in a daze. Ashar’s current state wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. The Magister had often dressed this way in her place back in the Three Western Isles. He also noticed another habit of hers: Ashar always preferred to be barefoot at home. Her pale feet were pressed onto the wooden floor.
The laboratory was hastily prepared through the night but the shackles that bound the Botanian were made of vines that were fortified by runes. The setup was alarmingly modest. Yet, Ashar had managed to imprison a Botanian that was as strong as a quasi-Ritter with the simplest materials, which was something only she could achieve.
The watermelon Botanian was at least three times bigger than Locke. He pressed his weight onto it and helped Ashar through her experiment with practice.
Slash! A few drops of red blood splattered against his lips. He licked it out of curiosity, tongue returning with a pleasant sweetness. Under the horrified gaze of the watermelon Botanian, Ashar began drawing her silver scalpel along its abdomen.