The recruits groaned as they exerted themselves on the training ground. Following the increase of refugees, Mist City’s population had once again reached its peak. It used to be home to no more than a few thousand Botanians. Now, it housed a total of ten thousand and five hundred Botanians. The flood of refugees introduced chaos and instability to the city’s governance but had ultimately provided more manpower for their defence.
It had been three months since the invasion of Botania began. The Sanctum and Hall of Knights had taken the minor plane by storm, bringing unfathomable damage to Wilderia and Fertilia specifically. Botanians of those two continents harboured wrath towards the cruel invaders; most of them had lost a family member or two to the aliens. But really, what they feared more was the slave army.
This was only natural since slaves were the main gears of the current war, given that they were tasked with capturing lower Botanians. The most valuable asset of Botania wasn’t its elite Botanians but the larger population of its regular Botanians.
Vulnerable Botanians were seized every second and shoved into the suffocating depths of floating ships to be brought back to the spatial fortress. As an unknown future loomed upon them, they felt lost. Even so, it too had fanned their burning will to survive.
As a result, more Botanians had come forth to be city guards. Locke had received yet another leaf to be pinned to his shoulder in just two days of idleness.
“Do your best!” The watermelon leader walked the cherry Botanian to Locke’s team with practised ease and left after a curt encouragement.
Locke had no time to tend to these weaker Botanians. More of his human skin was exposed through the gaps of the magic robe; he must leave tonight.
“I’m going to the north for a while. Does anyone want to come with me?” Locke placed his spear down and turned to face his teammates.
Ari the tomato was too engrossed in his training. Azuang the potato scratched his scalp. He wasn’t sure if he should leave the training grounds with Locke. Adu the cucumber was the fastest to respond. “Brother Aurol, I’ll come with you.” Though he didn’t know Locke was up to, he wanted to build a better relationship with his leader for a better chance at survival.
“Sure.” Locke nodded. He was about to head north to investigate its defence strategy. The presence of a familiar Botanain would at least muddle the guard’s perception.
Locke pointed at the cherry. “Azuang, guide him through the training, yeah? Adu, let’s go.”
The cherry Botanian’s limbs were comically scrawny; Allie might even be stronger than him. Locke genuinely had no idea how the cherry Botanian made it through the selection.
Like Zauberians, it was routine for the Botanains to eat thrice a day. A typical breakfast would consist of some fresh dew and soft soil. It was still early morning when Adu and Locke wandered aimlessly in north Mist City. Many Botanians were enjoying their breakfast at home.
The cucumber failed to suppress a yawn. Locke had said nothing about their plans today so Adu could only follow behind him confusedly.
I should’ve stayed at the training grounds, Adu groaned internally. However, he couldn’t voice his complaints to Locke. He was on a mission to appease his leader.
“Hey, go ahead and take a look at the tower for me.” Locke pointed at a nearby watchtower. It was one of the three watchtowers in northern Mist City which overlooked more than half of the area beyond the northern city walls. Nearly twenty Botanian guards were stationed here; ten patrolled the grounds while the rest were responsible for the lookout.
“Hey, what are you guys doing here?!” Their presence quickly drew attention from a bunch of Botanian guards. They circled Locke and Adu.
Before Locke could do just as much as part his lips, Adu was already talking. “Brothers, we’re also members of the city guards.”
As Adu occupied their attention for the next few seconds, Locke quickly rolled the crystal ball atop his palm to all possible directions under the robe.
When he was done, Locke called to the cucumber. “Adu, it’s alright. Let’s just leave.”
The Botanian guards watched them leave with bewildered gazes. No one was alarmed because they were more curious. Locke’s uniform and rank had proven to be more useful than anticipated.
“Where are we going next?” asked Adu in an attempt to appease Locke. He had noticed a pattern; the pear Botanian liked to stop at places of higher elevation.
Well, the higher elevation provided a better field of sight since Botanian buildings were short. Locke could get a full picture as long as he was on higher grounds.
Locke tried to recount his footsteps, making sure he hadn’t missed anything before moving to the next location. They headed towards a huge treehouse at the borders of the north and east of Mist City.
It was long past sunset when Locke finally returned to the wooden cottage. What was left of the brilliant sun was a smidge of sunset red across the Botanian horizon.
By pure coincidence, he ran into Allie along the way. The peach Botanian had planned to visit him so they continued the rest of their trek wordlessly.
Allie seemed to be occupied with other thoughts because her cheeks were faintly red. Was her skin always this colour? Could it be the reflection of the sunset red instead? No one could tell what was on her mind.
“Aurol, do you want to come over for dinner tonight?” The peach finally spoke. She blinked her glassy eyes, faint strands of fuzz trembling ever so slightly across her entire body. She looked nervous.
“Sorry, I have plans tonight.” Locke refused promptly, oblivious to her intentions.
He was going to leave Mist City tonight. The magic robe’s effect was wearing off rapidly and he was fortunate that the peach was of lower capability. If a Botanian that was as strong as a high-rank Knecht were to appear now, they would’ve easily picked up on Locke’s alien presence.
“Oh.” Allie lowered her head in silence.
“Hmm?” She lifted her head with hopeful eyes.
Locke felt the inexplicable urge to utter, “Run towards the north if there’s danger, understand?”
“Huh? Why?” Allie was naturally confused.
“Just listen. Run to the north with your family if anything goes wrong,” Locke added.
“Okay.” Though she could barely understand him, she nodded anyway. The peach Botanian was quite the pushover.
Two Botanian silhouettes were elongated by the evening skies as they continued their walk.