The convoy waiting outside the valley geared up to leave. Angie stared longingly at Locke, to which he returned a wry smile. “Oh, don’t worry. We’ll be back for you. You’ll see me and Angelina ten days later!” He comforted the now high-rank scorpiondrake with a firm pat on its head.
He’d initially expected to peel Angie away from its family by force but a week’s worth of observation had told him otherwise. After all, their bond was seven-years-old; Angelina and Locke had been with Angie throughout its life and the scorpiondrake had viewed them with equal importance. Plus, Angelina had been the first it saw upon hatching and Locke was the next. If imprinting was a factor, this would naturally mean that Locke and Angelina were its parents.
Now that Angie had successfully become a high-rank major monster, its stride was filled with apt intensity and power. The possession of such a strong familiar was no doubt the most impressive thing as a knight.
Their separation would only be temporary. Locke bid Angie farewell and took one last look at the scorpiondrake’s nest. Four had remained out of the six base-rank scorpiondrakes; two had left earlier on a hunt.
Lord Adamrys, the Akanasd sovereign, had taken a rare break from patrolling its territory. It had decided to stay with its mate in the valley to keep an eye on its children.
Despite Locke’s efforts to prepare the right farewell speech for the Akanasd, the words had morphed into an unexpected question when it reached his lips. “Lord Adamrys, have you thought of joining the Sanctum?"
Regret instantly bit at him. The question was completely unwarranted and Locke had no right to invite the Akansd on behalf of the Sanctum. Yet, he’d been so impressed with Adamrys’ power that the thought slipped.
There were six base-rank major monsters here alone. A troupe led by five Magisters were only allowed four base-rank slaves to use. Though there were a few quasi-Magisters in their contingent, they were incomparable to the more savage slaves. The slaves’ ability to break through Botanian defences were more important than spellcasting in actual battle. Alternatively, the outcome of the battle would have to weigh on how fast the Magisters could defeat the Botanians’ leader. Truth to be told, there was nothing to doubt about the Magisters’ capabilities. However, it was just best if they could breach into the Botanian cities as soonest possible.
Adamyrs and its mate’s powers were remarkably eye-catching. The male Akanasd was a major monster that even Erdritter Romm had to take seriously. While it was nowhere as strong as a level-two Erdritter, it was at least on par with Magister Ashar. Adamyrs was certainly at the pinnacle of its rank.
To no one’s surprise, Adamrys was quick to reject Locke’s invitation after recovering from shock. Locke wasn’t surprised either. The Akanasd had seen everything life had to offer over aeons and there was no way it’d willingly endanger itself at Locke’s command. Even if it did, Locke would still refuse to believe it either.
Locke took the cue and halted the conversation. After all, he and Adamrys weren’t on the same level. If the offer had been made by Romm or an actual Sanctum representative, the Akanasd would’ve been more inclined to give it some thought.
He saw hope amidst his slight disappointment. The scorpiondrakes might just be their last resort if the planar war had reached a critical point. Apart from this particularly powerful monster family in Morphey Forest, there was bound to be more across the Three Western Isles that managed to escape the Sanctum and Hall of Knights’ radar.
Anyhow, these major monsters weren’t slaves so the organisations could do nothing about them. Locke was immediately struck with an idea. What if I gave them an incentive?
He was sure that no monster could beat the lure of Botanian essence. He reached into his spatial ring to retrieve a purple walnut-sized nucleus core.
“This is something I got during the planar war. I hope you’ll receive my humble gift, Lord Adamrys.” Locke placed the nucleus core on the rock ahead and backed away gingerly.
An invisible force lifted the nucleus core and moved it closer to the Akanasd sovereign. Crack! The core was shattered by sharp claws. Adamrys flexed its claw to inspect the shards, finally noticing the uniqueness of the nucleus core.
“Its lifeforce is so strong!” Its mate, Shiva, commented instead. The sapphire Akanasd stretched its huge head over Adamrys’ shoulder to study the nucleus core with equal concentration.
“This is a high-rank Botanian’s nucleus core, equivalent to that of a high-rank major monster,” replied Locke.
This should do the trick; the rest would have to lie upon the Akanasd sovereign’s decision. Locke had only brought along five high-rank Botanian nucleus cores when he’d left the minor plane, which happened to be his biggest loot from the war so far. Between the five, two were given to Angelina as an aid for her advancement while the rest was reserved for himself. Adamyrs had received an incredibly expensive gift from Locke.
Yet, he deemed it worthwhile. Angie’s family had helped its breakthrough immensely and the benefits they reaped were worth more than a single high-rank Botanian nucleus core. With that, he waved at the scorpiondrakes and left. The convoy promptly received him and began their journey to Felor.
They were scheduled to leave the kingdom in ten days, which meant that Locke would have to advance before then. It was peak time for his breakthrough and if he’d postponed it further, the environment at the Sanctum or even Botania would pose extreme drawbacks to his plans.
On the other end of the kingdom, Angelina teased her nephew in the elaborate Felorian palace. She was finally reunited with her brother, Prince Kenzir. The siblings had much to fill in since they’d been separated for years. It had been a while since they could speak so freely.
Angelina told stories about new friends and mentors she’d met at the Imperial Academy and Sanctum along with interesting tidbits from her time on Botania. While the Sanctum had given explicit orders to keep details of the war confidential from the general public, Kenzir’s princely status was far from regular.
“I’d have to take a closer look at this Locke of yours once he returns from Morphey Forest.” Prince Kenzir hugged his shoulders with a cheshire grin.
The name ‘Locke’ had clung stubbornly on Angelina’s lips, making Kenzir all the more curious about this peasant soldier. He needed to know how this common soldier had managed to charm his sister. Prince Kenzir refused to believe that her infatuation was born out of gratitude alone.