“Hey, Aurol. Why haven’t you signed up to be a city guard?” asked Allie with a tilt of her head.
Aurol was an alias Locke created out of a whim. Despite the unfamiliar name, it had rolled off the tip of Allie’s tongue with surprising aptness.
“I’m not interested.” Locke’s eyes fleeted everywhere. He was close to figuring out all of Mist City’s defence points, thanks to his experience during the Shalorian War. But of course, he was a proud graduate of the Princeton Imperial Academy; his excellent competence was to be expected.
“Why so? I heard it pays handsomely.” Allie couldn’t wrap her peach head around his disinterest.
The alien invaders were hastening their pace. Botanian cities were seized at an alarming rate and more were losing their homes. A Botanian only needed some soil, space and water to live. Yet, many were dying of starvation while on the run every single day. It had been alarming to learn that not all soils were edible; Botanians needed to absorb nutrients from soils that were rich in specific elements for survival.
Mist City had always been blessed with an abundance of water, so soil and water supply was never an issue. However, its resources had given the city’s government more confidence to welcome more refugees. Without surprise, the Botanians of Mist City soon found themselves with a tight partition of resources. In Allie’s case, her parents needed to work in Mist City while she and her brother too were forced to take up gigs to secure their next meal.
Everyone was desperate so Allie couldn’t understand Locke’s rationale. However, they were mere strangers; it was best if she held her tongue.
“Let’s head over there.” Allie tugged Locke towards the city centre.
The Botanians didn't have their own currency system just yet, hence they were heavily dependent on the barter system. Locke was able to pay with seeds and leaves that were considered precious to the Botanians without flinching, causing Allie to think that he was from a rich family.
After serving its purpose as a trading tool, the seeds and leaves would then be added to soil as nutritional supplements. The added matter would introduce certain elements into their diet, which the Botanians could attain through ingestion. This was key to the Botanians’ advancements. Casters had hypothesised that their diet was tied closely to the quality of their Botanian essence.
In the heart of Mist City was a crystalline sculpture and a modest city square, where many Botanians were gathered.
“What is that?” Locke pointed to the sculpture. He had never encountered a Botanian like that.
“Oh. That’s one of our former lords, Lord Arbibo.”
“So he’s a city lord...” Locke’s expression hardened. It appeared that Botanians had their own hierarchical system as well. The lord title was only bestowed to level-two Botanians; Mist City wasn’t exactly what they made it out to be.
For some reason, the sculpture’s crystalline material and appearance reminded Locke heavily of the crystal-like plants outside the city.
“What was Lord Arbibo like?” He attempted to sound casual.
“He’s a crystal fruit Botanian. Our current lord is Lord Arbibo’s descendant.”
Crystal fruit Botanians were a rare minority in Botania. Mist City was the only place that housed a crystal fruit lineage in the area. As a result, Locke’s question wasn’t out of place. Allie merely thought that he’d never seen a crystal fruit Botanian before.
It became clear that the city lord and his species were the ones behind the thick layer of mist. Crystal fruit Botanians possessed an innate ability to communicate with the crystal trees outside the city, which was how the city’s famous fog veil came to be. Locke quickly made a mental note for this was the first time he’d heard of such a species.
As a result, Mist City had remained unknown compared to the surrounding Botanian cities. Their population had been pathetically scarce until the invasion happened. No one had expected that it’d one day become a Botanian sanctuary with hundreds of Botanians trying to seek refuge almost every day.
Allie’s heart sank at the thought of those that were suffering from the invasion. She was the only female Botanian in the patrol team but that didn’t dissuade her from wanting to do something for her kind.
She stopped in her steps to grasp Locke’s hands. “Aurol, come on! You should consider becoming a city guard!”
Locke couldn’t help but notice the soft peach fuzz that covered the length of her arm. He had killed countless Botanians but this was the first time he had seen something so human in a Botanian.
Maybe Locke didn’t have the heart to refuse Allie’s prompt or perhaps he was acting out of his decision; when the next morning arrived, he was off to the recruitment booth near the lord’s manor.
“Aurol, you can do it!” Allie waved at him through the fence. Though she had so kindly led him here, she needed to report for patrol duty.
There was much hesitation before Locke called out to Allie. “Hey! Try to avoid the southwest.”
“Huh? Why?” She turned around, visibly confused.
“Just… don’t go anywhere near that area. I came from that direction so I’m certain there’s something deadly there.”
His vague explanation riddled Allie with uncertainty. Though they had only known each other for two days, Locke found her to be a decent Botanian. He didn’t wish for any harm to befall the peach Botanian who had shown him much kindness.
Unbeknownst to the Botanians, the Sanctum’s camp was located in the southwest of Mist City. While the thick mist had shielded the city, it too had obstructed the Botanians’ sight of the outside world. They hadn’t noticed that calamity was near; there were nearly a thousand invaders in their vicinity already.
He watched Allie leave with her patrol team before getting interrupted by the recruitment officer.
“Aurol, the Pear!”
“Right here, sir!”