The outer perimeters of Giant Tree City were littered with Botanian corpses; it had morphed into a gruesome hunting ground for the hungry slaves. Locke’s palm glowed with faint green impetus as he struck the Botanian general ahead, using his fingers as blades. He drove his hand deep into the Botanian’s chest, pulling out its nucleus core that dripped with green blood. The Botanian general was as strong as a high-rank Knecht, which made it quite the catch. Locke was ultimately pleased since this had been his third nucleus core of the day.
He blew a harsh whistle into the distance, immediately answered by loud rumblings from the nearby hill. Grass and twigs were picked off the ground as a seven-metre scorpiondrake bulldozed over at top speed. Fermoss’ skin was darker than it was a month ago and hues of blues were peeking through the surface. It was definitely about to metamorphose soon. He leapt onto its back and tapped the handle of his spear against its flank. Fermoss quickly understood his intentions and began crawling towards Giant Tree City without further ado.
The Botanian resistance had fallen through badly. It didn’t require much effort from the contingent to breach Giant Tree City since it was a small place without a level-one lord. Locke ignored the scattered Botanians that tried to approach him as he made a beeline for Parlina, who was in the city centre.
“I need you to escort four thousand Botanians to these coordinates,” said Parlina as she handed him a crystal ball. There was a map projected within and an obvious mark placed on a certain corner of the continent. The Magister had often assigned Locke to various tasks following his return to the contingent. He was much more useful than the Lehrlings, after all.
“Understood.” Influenced by his earlier years in the military, he’d always taken every assignment seriously, which was why Parlina placed great trust in him and always appropriately rewarded him for his efforts. While he often said he didn't need anything in return, she’d always insisted on paying him. The selfless display had somehow earned him some brownie points from the hydromancer.
The contingent had only managed to capture four thousand Botanians from Giant Tree City. The result was lacklustre since a portion of its population had escaped as a result of the panic that spread following the fall of the Holy City and the World Tree. It was only natural for weaker Botanians to seek safety on the fringes of the continent, islands and the northernmost areas.
The four thousand Botanians were pushed forward by hundreds of slaves. Intimidation had worked best to subdue these prisoners; they’d feared the sharp-clawed monsters more than the ‘sophisticated’ casters. The monsters could turn into mindless bloodthirsty puppets on the battlefield, courtesy of their soul imprints. Having considerable intelligence made no difference as their souls were no longer their possession. It didn’t help that the enslaved army was starved regularly to ensure heightened performance, which further fuelled their ferociousness. Survivors were the only ones that reserved the right to fill their bellies with corpses deemed undesirable by the casters and knights.
The regular Botanians stumbled forward, taunted by the slaves in all directions. They grabbed onto their nearest friends and kept moving for they’d just witnessed the grisly end of a few unlucky ones that fell behind. The two Botanians had been ripped apart by hungry slaves in less than a second, the only thing that remained of their existence being a puddle of blood. Locke paid the chaos no mind; these slaves had placed their lives down for the casters and they deserved at least a little snack.
A huge batch of slave creatures had been directed to their contingent after the Holy City was defeated a few months ago. Their capabilities were better than the average slaves, consisting of four base-rank monsters. Apart from Fermoss, there was the addition of a brown urchin monster and an albino catfish that excelled at digging to their current lineup.
The urchin monster’s appearance was revoltingly peculiar. It was obvious that it wasn’t a Zauberian native and its origins were unclear. Locke hadn’t been able to communicate with the monster since it couldn’t understand a single lick of Zauberian. Yet, its gestures and noises had indicated that its mind was almost as advanced as a human's. Its intelligence reminded him of the Gulu leader, who’d been nowhere to be seen since Locke returned from Zauberia. As bleak as it may sound, this was to be expected since the slaves’ turnover rate remained high.
It was thirty minutes after they arrived at the designated coordinates that a bigger floating vessel had landed. The caster that alighted the vessel was startled to find out that Locke was a knight. Yet, the business carried on after a quick verification of each other’s identity and the Botanians were promptly loaded into the vessel.
All completed missions were recorded accordingly by the commanding division. Locke still wasn’t quite sure how the merit system functioned but the few Magisters seemed to value it a lot. It was later in the afternoon when Locke would finally rest after his daily training session. His capabilities were improving gradually over time, thanks to the Botanian essence he gathered and auxiliary potions supplied by Ashar privately. The shadowmancer had just given him a memory crystal that recorded the accounts of three quasi-Ritters on the time they made their advancement to become a level-one Ritter. He couldn’t help but link the offering to her prior absence, feeling incredibly indebted to her generosity.
His eyelids grew heavy. He’d been long accustomed to the cold, hard wooden bed since leaving home. The unique Botanian humidity barely disturbed his lull to slumber. Angelina had been busy learning from Carla recently. There hadn’t been any urgent or dangerous missions to tend to, hence the photomancer figured it was the right time to teach her all the necessary knowledge that a high-rank Lehrling should master. Ah. He still needed to collect some materials endemic to Botania for Ashar when morning arrived. He mulled about it, consciousness unknowingly drifting away to dreamland.