The high-rank Knechts were the first to snap out of their confusion amidst the uncanny situation.
“Guards up!” Their heavily-armoured commander barked.
The man had been through countless battles, which trained him to stay calm even in the event of an unwarranted scorpiondrake. While the others steeped their dread, he rushed over to Angelina’s carriage.
The archers drew their bows and knights brandished their shields at the front. The casters in the centre of the convoy tightened their grips around their staff; some had even begun to chant defensive barrier spells.
“Stop!” Before Locke could even say anything else, Angelina’s light voice rang from inside the carriage. The archers stilled their movements, arrows still aimed at the huge monster. The knights watched the scorpiondrake in front of them with rising anxiety. Most of them were of low to mid-rank capabilities; letting the monster come into close charters would put them at a disadvantage. Fighting the base-rank scorpiondrake under normal circumstances was already difficult enough.
The casters, on the other hand, did not stop their casting and manifested three differently coloured shields around the princess’ carriage. The formation of the magic barriers rippled the surrounding elements, jolting the dazed scorpiondrake out of surprise.
It took a step backwards, vertical pupils staring intently at the uninvited guests of Morphey Forest. The base-rank major monster stayed vigilant, noticing that the humans were armed. Having lived for centuries, it could sense that these humans were potentially life-threatening.
Despite the absence of level-one Ritters or quasi-rank experts, this convoy comprised one-third of the kingdom’s higher combat forces. Annihilating a base-rank major monster wasn’t impossible but it would come at the price of many casualties. A numerical advantage was an advantage nevertheless.
Tension rose. It was a complete standstill; the base-rank scorpiondrake remained rooted at its spot and the convoy dared not charge forward. The monster was clearly capable of powerful destruction and the convoy was at its mercy since they could only wait for Angelina’s order. If the princess’ order was to bring her the monster’s crystal core, they’d execute it unconditionally.
Incidentally, the most direct way to advance Angie was to feed it crystal cores of its kind. The crystal core of the larger scorpiondrake certainly packed sufficient power to boost Angie through its current bottleneck situation. Generally, monsters with closer bloodlines would give more power; perhaps doing so might bring Angie closer to becoming a base-rank monster even. Yet, Angelina had no plans to kill off the base-rank scorpiondrake. She leapt off her carriage lightly and went to her familiar. She swatted its head. “Hey, wake up!”
While Angelina tried to rouse her familiar, Locke jumped off its carapace and took his spot beside her. Despite the lack of hostility and murderous intent from the scorpiondrake, Locke refused to drop his guard. He was determined to protect her from harm.
Angie roused at Angelina’s relentless pestering. It begrudgingly scratched its face with sharp claws. Angie’s eyes were filled with streaks of red, all it wanted to do now was sleep, which was a telltale sign of its impending advancement.
It lifted its huge head, Angie had come to understand its assignment through their mental link. It lazily turned around to stare at the scorpiondrake.
Two scorpiondrakes; one small, one large; one darker, one lighter. The monsters stared at each other blankly.
Locke felt caught up in the stiffness of the moment.
Angie’s vertical pupils began to enlarge once it noticed something weird about the larger scorpiondrake. The resemblance was uncanny.
Despite Angelina’s silence, Angie clambered over and circled the scorpiondrake.
To everyone’s surprise, the larger monster allowed it. Angie went in circles, trying to get ahold of the situation.
Locke whispered to Angelina, “What are you trying to do?”
“You’ll find out soon. Angie’s advancement will have to depend on this scorpiondrake’s reception.” Angelina smirked slyly. She’d learnt to utilise her resources under Locke’s influence.
Angie’s odd behaviour had seemed to irritate the larger scorpiondrake. It lowered its head to hiss, creating a sound akin to a snake but at the same time as guttural as a lion’s roar. This must be the scorpiondrake’s language.
Despite the unfamiliar language, Angie answered the darker scorpiondrake. It lifted its head and returned a hiss, which greatly surprised the smaller scorpiondrake. Angie had never heard nor spoken its language.
The larger scorpiondrake received Angie’s reply well. There was no longer anger but instead a hint of surprise in its eyes. Soon enough, it ignored the hostile presences of the knights and casters around and began a conversation.
Everyone was taken aback by the situation. The high-rank Knechts and casters gaped at the surprising turn of events while Angelina leaned onto Locke as they watched the ridiculous reunion.
While Locke couldn’t understand a single lick of scorpiondrake language, Angelina was able to comprehend the monstrous conversation through their mental bond.
In contrast to the scorpiondrakes’ eldritch appearances, their hearts were very pure. The wholesome exchange between Angelina and its brother had driven Angelina close to laughter.
Who are you? Angie shook its huge head, trying to make clear sense of the odd being that resembled it.
I’m your brother! The darker scorpiondrake opened its jaw and hissed. Pungent acidic fluids escaped its jaw, corroding the grass patch beneath it.
What is brother? Angie hissed back questioningly. Its pyro mane bull dinner last night was seasoned so well that its breath still reeked of beef.
Well, I’m older than you! As though suffocated by the heavy stench of beef coming out of Angie’s mouth, it sneezed before it resumed its explanation.
The interaction had lasted for almost ten minutes, causing the tensed archers to suffer from aching muscles. Their strings had been drawn taut throughout. Regular bows were futile against the scorpiondrake’s thick scales. These bows were specifically fortified and only used by combatants that’d trained in impetus. Its strength was strong enough to penetrate iron plates with a thickness of two centimetres.
Through their contract, Angelina had pushed Angie to make a simple negotiation with the darker scorpiondrake. After a short exchange of words, the larger monster finally agreed to bring them into the valley where the rest of the scorpiondrakes resided.
From the outside, it looked like Angie was the one in charge of the communication when in fact everything was orchestrated by Angelina. The scorpiondrake moved to the forefront of the convoy with huge strides while Angie tried to catch up. The ground rumbled at the scorpiondrake siblings’ heavy movement. It was hard to see why the darker scorpiondrake had managed to catch them by surprise. The knights and casters looked at each other in utter confusion as the scorpiondrakes began to pull a distance.
“Follow them!” Angelina ordered and tugged Locke into her carriage.
With explicit orders from the princess, the convoy began to venture into the depths of Morphey Forest. The only reassurance offered to the casters and knights was their failure to detect any malice off the scorpiondrake.
Despite the larger scorpiondrake’s nonsensical directions, it brought the convoy towards the northwestern hinterland of the forest. Locke, who had been to their nest once, could still vividly recall the large waterfall where the scorpiondrakes lived.
Locke watched the darker scorpiondrake hiss at Angie all while leading the convoy, heart drumming with excitement for his new adventure. Unbeknownst to everyone and even to Locke, everything went according to Angelina’s plan. She’d formulated this strategy long ago. Angelina had even made the point of releasing Angie out of its spatial pouch before entering Morphey Forest to attract the attention of its kind.
This time, they didn’t have Erdritters to lead them into the forest. Hence, the fastest way to reach the scorpiondrakes was to have them present themselves. Morphey Forest was vast and filled to the brim with high-rank major monsters; it was a place where even their considerably powerful convoy couldn’t afford to be mindless.
After all that happened, Angelina’s strategy had proven to be effective. They’d only entered Morphey Forest for less than five days and the base-rank scorpiondrake had already appeared as anticipated. Angelina had to attribute this success to Angie, though.
With increasing complexity of a lifeform came more difficult reproduction. The two scorpiondrake sovereigns were prime examples of that. As the lords of Akanasd, they’d lived for aeons and ruled the forest for centuries. Yet, they only managed to birth seven offspring. As such, the Faustian princess was certain that the Akanasd tribe wouldn’t harm them, especially when they were with one of their kin.