Locke walked away from the recruitment booth with three leaves pinned to his shoulder. He had made team leader on his first day.
“These are your teammates, Azuang, Adu and Ari.” The watermelon Botanian squad leader gave Locke’s shoulder a firm pat as he introduced a few Botanians.
The watermelon’s heart was seized with inexplicable fear whenever he locked eyes with Locke. He felt a dire urgency to flee, almost as if Locke was a natural enemy. Thankfully, the sensation was brief. The watermelon couldn’t risk losing face in front of his subordinates.
“Understood, Sir.” Locke was inevitably reminded of the huge watermelon he enjoyed with Ashar days ago. Its taste was impeccable, making it difficult to forget. Locke gulped, shoving his thoughts of slaughtering the watermelon Botanian elsewhere.
The watermelon Botanian vanished quite quickly after he finished his briefing. There was still plenty to do at the recruitment booth since more Botanians had stepped forward to support the initiative. He was their leader hence his presence was demanded.
With that, Locke was left behind with a huge potato Botanian, a rod-like cucumber Botanian and a tomato Botanian that seemed to be in a daze. Their names were Azuang, Adu and Ari respectively.
“Hey, I’m Aurol!” Locke extended a palm and introduced himself. Since he was going to be their leader, a proper introduction was only appropriate.
“Uh, hello.” Azuang was a burly potato. Though he was only 1.6 metres tall, which was just a head shorter than Locke’s pear disguise, his arms were twice the size of Locke’s. Locke had a feeling that the potato was at least as strong as a low-rank Knecht.
“Nice to meet you, Brother Aurol!” Adu, the cucumber, was significantly better at conversations.
The tomato Botanian looked lost. Ari’s dazed expression had barely changed throughout the interaction, it was almost as if he had been deeply traumatised.
“What’s with him?” Locke asked the cucumber.
“Oh, uh… His whole family was captured by the invaders. I heard his wife was shredded and devoured by those horrible aliens right in front of his face.” Adu failed to suppress a shiver, pointing at his own head. “Now his mind has gone.”
It was obvious that Ari’s wife had suffered a horrible death at the hands of the slaves.
In comparison, knights were more disciplined. They stayed away from outrageous actions. Casters, on the other hand, were even more reserved when it came to slaughters.
Noticing Locke slipping into deep thought, Adu quickly added, “It’s best if you don’t mention the word ‘invader’ in front of him. Or else he’ll go crazy!”
Locke spared Ari a look before turning his back to them. “I’ll be supervising your training tomorrow as planned.”
He waved them farewell.
He hadn’t placed much thought in his 1.7 metres height, which had acted as a useful tool to prove himself worthy of a team leader role.
The Botanians of Mist City had constructed their own hierarchical system with their city lord as its core. Leaves were stitched onto their shoulders to represent military ranks and Locke had already received three leaves today. The watermelon squad leader earlier had two proud rows of leaves that spanned across his shoulders. The sixteen leaves he possessed meant that he was responsible for four city guard recruit teams.
“I can’t believe you’re already a team leader on your first day! That’s amazing!” Allie blinked her bright eyes, thoroughly blown away by Locke’s shocking accomplishment. Her patrol team had just ended their shift on time. It appeared that Allie had taken his advice to avoid the southwest and had even dissuaded her team leader, Azer, from going into that direction too.
Like humans, Botanians were equally afraid of death. It was their natural instinct to avoid danger as much as possible; survival was their priority. Allie’s patrol team wasn’t met with any danger and had even rescued two Botanians on their way.
Their efforts had earned praise from an authority figure and were promptly rewarded with a huge block of glacier soil. The peach Botanian had been generous enough to offer Locke a taste, to which he rejected.
Currently, Locke held equal authority as Allie’s team leader, Azer. This revelation had stirred much awe between Allie’s two other teammates, who’d helped transport Locke into Mist City the other day.
“Here, take it as my rent for the accommodation. It’s from my stipend.” Locke shoved a palmful of grey soil into Allie’s hands. This was his salary for serving as a team leader. He was offering one-third of his monthly stipend to the peach.
“No, that’s too much. I can’t accept this.” Allie frantically rejected him. She eyed the grey soil with extreme surprise; it was way more expensive than the glacier soil she’d just received. This was a food item that only Rank-One team leaders could enjoy and something Allie’s family would only have during special celebrations.
“Just take it, I have plenty.”
Allie finally relented at his insistence.
Locke had no need for the soil at all. He couldn’t eat it anyway since he wasn’t a Botanian. Though a high-rank Knecht was blessed with a stronger bodily system, eating soil would undoubtedly give him an upset stomach.
There were still plenty of energy potions left in his spatial ring so he wasn’t desperate enough to start eating dirt. If he hadn’t been worried about raising Allie’s suspicion, he would’ve given her everything. It was bound to take up storage in his spatial ring anyway.
He sent a delighted Allie off and shut the door behind him.
Night had arrived once again. When the polygonal moon was finally high up in the sky, the door of the modest wooden cottage creaked open. A striped watermelon Botanian slipped into the foggy city streets for the southeast city gates.
The watermelon Botanian was none other than Locke, who had altered his disguise. It was a conscious decision made to avoid attracting the city guard’s attention. The crystal in his palm glowed faintly in the dark as it recorded everything around it.
Apart from his nightly espionage, Locke planned to utilise his morning training to investigate the city front. Parlina had given him a deadline of five days and he was already halfway through; he needed to hurry up.
Yet, tonight was bound to be an eventful one.
“Who’s there?!” A voice barked out in the dark.
Locke started sprinting away. Soon, a lemon Botanian started to chase after him.