After spending his break with Angelina in a simple room and some mediocre lunch, the couple resumed their work.
Zone B138 was just too large and there was much to do. If they wished to finish their chores on time, Locke and Angelina could only enjoy two hours of freedom apart from their lunch break. Thankfully, this hectic life was temporary. It didn’t make sense for them to be the only ones in charge of such a huge area. More technicians would be joining them in this zone and once the handover was done, they would be maintaining the elemental pool instead. The elemental pool was comparatively easier to handle than their original tasks.
The corridors hovering above the captured Botanians had windows that gave Locke a peek into their miserable lives. As he looked on, the red crystal rod hooked to his belt began to gleam. The angry red glow quickly commanded Locke’s attention. He held the tool up and a ray of red was directly projected towards a certain spot among the sea of desperate Botanians below.
The Botanians jolted in fright at the sudden appearance of the red light. The gullible prisoners had associated the alarming light with impending magic attacks. There was defence magic placed inside the fortress’ interior and the lack of space had often pushed the Botanians against various surfaces in the fortress; they’d been on the receiving end of these painful punishments for a while now.
The red ray pointed Locke to a watermelon Botanian. The watermelon was about 1.3 metres tall and was half-kneeling on the ground. From Locke’s perspective, the watermelon’s awkward posture had hidden its face out of sight. It was difficult to notice that something was off with it.
There was no need to doubt the crystal’s judgement and there was no need to keep observing the watermelon. Locke paced to the nearest controls and ignited a metal mechanical arm. The mechanism came out of the ceiling and began moving heavily towards the watermelon Botanian.
The arm picked the watermelon up and its face was finally observable. Locke lifted his head and studied it. Indeed, the watermelon’s complexion was ghastly and red was dribbling out of its lips. It must’ve been dead for hours.
Locke manoeuvred the arm to land the dead watermelon into a specific disposal box before driving the machinery back to its spot. The Sanctum had given all technicians a red crystal rod. It was capable of detecting dead beings within a hundred-metre radius, and from what Angelina had supplied, its mechanism was heavily based on the study of souls. The red light could illuminate souls that’d been dead for no more than twenty-four hours.
To Locke’s surprise, there was a stark difference between souls and ghosts. Or to the very least, he hadn’t noticed any odd shadows hovering around the dead bodies pinpointed by the crystal rod. The tool may be convenient but its sensitivity was limited. Some of the dead Botanians might escape its detection and Locke was still required to rely on his sight from time to time.
The sight of the dead watermelon failed to stir any emotion in Locke. He wasn’t even interested in learning its cause of death. Locke felt increasingly numb as he spent more time in Zone B138. His daily routine remained the same and Locke was positive he would’ve gone insane if Angelina wasn’t around.
The Sanctum was determined to keep Botanian deaths low since they were doing all they could to transport these ‘living Botanian essences’ back to Zauberia. A few level-one and two Magisters were tasked with the soil feed formulation with clear intention to keep the Botanians alive but pliant. The soil was nutritious but not to an extent where the Botanians would have enough energy to try anything funny. As a result, many of the Botanians were starting to look a little bloated.
Most Botanian deaths were caused by stampedes since they were only fed one meal per day. It didn’t help that the portion was extremely limited too. The soil was meant to keep them alive but it didn’t mean that there was enough given to satiate every Botanian’s hunger. Soon enough, the Botanians grew desperate and quickly abandoned their innate kindness to embrace true savagery for survival. It came to their realisation that this world was ruthless to the weak.
Locke honestly couldn’t be bothered with the gradual depletion of Botanians. It was mostly self-inflicted anyway. Plus, he’d been told that keeping Botanian deaths within the 10% mark was good enough. Locke would be fine as long as he could keep it at a thousand deaths out of a total of ten thousand Botanians. He was still in the clear since there had been no more than a hundred Botanian deaths under his watch so far.
The spatial fortress’s return to Botania was faster than when it had departed for Botania despite the same distance. They’d grown familiar with the path and the acceleration was deliberate to avoid any alien encounter. Though three level-three lifeforms were escorting the journey, it was better to be safe than sorry.
The fortress zoomed across the astral realm, leaving behind a blazing trail in the pitch darkness. The stars were radiant, eager to show off their beauty openly to the world. The spatial fortress would reach the Zauberian atmosphere in four months.
One day a month later, Locke and Angelina headed to the fortress’ thruster area. More than hundreds of elemental pools had powered the propulsion. Here, Locke could only watch Angelina work on a pyro pool in absolute confusion.
Explosive application of pyromancy caused a noisy roar in the elemental pool. The fire elements scattered around their vicinity were so intense that a single lighted match would birth a terrifying blaze that was on par with the output of high-rank spells. Locke’s deft fingers loosened two buttons on his leather armour. The fire elements were positively roasting him alive.
Angelina was dressed aptly in red. With one hand grasping her crystal ball, she brought out various materials from her spatial ring with the other. Red gold, shiny compressed energy blocks, muted grey moxie grasses and so on; all of which were highly-priced treasures. Locke watched her in silence as she continued to pull out more materials from her ring, as she was allowed to; these resources were registered in the records. The technicians were allowed to use as much of these as they required. As Angelina tossed blocks of red gold into the pool, Locke felt his heart clench. Those were worth one high-rank crystal core each!
As soon as the red gold chunks bubbled into the pyro pool, they began to show their value when paired with other materials. The initially muddy yellow pool had morphed into a brilliant red in just a matter of minutes. Soon enough, it settled into a stunning shade of gold.
“Alright, I’m done! Let’s go.” Angelina demanded Locke’s attention with a small clap.
“Nice!” Locke shot up.
Locke would have to depend heavily on Angelina for their job. He understood nothing about magic ingredients and he didn’t wish to screw up the elemental pools.
But of course, it didn’t mean that Angelina was forced to run a one-man show. Locke had made sure to tag along for every job. Since he couldn’t help her, the least he could do was to keep her company.