There was a pear Botanian on the hard surgical bench, limbs held down by shackles. It writhed and struggled, a pressure unique to level-one lifeforms forcing cold sweat out of Locke. He was going to assist Ashar through her experiment today.
The restraints were engraved to the brim with mysterious patterns. It birthed strong repulsion forces that counteracted the pear’s flailing. The level-one pear lord was rather powerful, yet it could only watch the glinting scalpel and pincers work their way into its abdomen cavity.
“Rangin grass.” Ashar’s curt instruction came, cold and aloof as always during work. Locke quickly passed her the mentioned material.
“Get me two skull blossoms,” She instructed again.
Locke reached into a semi-translucent bottle on the side, gingerly retrieving two stalks of flowers whose petals had an uncanny resemblance to human skulls.
“Desert hawk blood.” It didn’t stop there. “Inky grass ring.” And the list went on...
Half a day was gone when the experiment had finally come to an end. Locke felt incredibly worn out. He dared say that this was more exhausting than fighting on the frontlines. This was to be expected since he’d always given full effort for every chore, be it experiments or field missions. Ashar’s goodwill and generosity weren’t without reason, after all. If it wasn’t for his lack of affinity for magic, Ashar would’ve already made him her apprentice.
The pear Botanians had lost all signs of life with its chest completely open. Its organs were covered in greyish fuzzy plants that resembled moss. Locke was no stranger to the herbs since he’d cultivated them for Ashar multiple times in the past. These fuzzy plants turned black upon maturation, which would then be harvested. They were uncommon magic plants of the shadow attribute, their value apparent from how Ashar was using a level-one lifeform as their nutrient medium. These plants would serve as the base material for her auxiliary potions.
Locke dabbed away the sweat that dotted across his forehead, noticing that Ashar too was perspiring from the corner of his eye. Utilising level-one lifeforms to nourish magical ingredients was difficult, but it was no surprise that Ashar was the only one capable of such. The magical engravings slashed into the pear’s veins and organs were meticulously detailed. It was a sight to behold and Locke’s assistance had barely played a part in this session.
There was a beat of hesitation before he’d settled on retrieving a towel from his spatial ring. He brought it closer to the shadowmancer with careful steps, a wordless offer to rid of her sweat. Snap! Locke wouldn’t expect less from Ashar. Before the proffered towel could even come close, it’d left his grip at the snap of her fingers. The towel floated over to dab at her forehead via telekinesis. The shadowmancer had no intention to return the fabric, opting to set it ablaze after she was done.
“Have you finished the potions I gave you?” Ashar’s voice broke the silence. Her tone was icy, it was surreal that she was related to the gentle photomancer Carla.
“No, I still have about a quarter of it left,” answered Locke. He’d gotten familiar with using fractions under the influence of the casters.
Ashar nodded with narrowed eyes. “It’s not easy to advance as a level-one lifeform, I'll tell you that. My breakthrough happened when I was forty years old so take it at your own pace.”
That was rare. Ashar had always been a woman of a few words and she was comparatively talkative today, much to Locke’s surprise. Regardless, he nodded in response to her sincere concern.
Three months later, two thousand slaves were gathered at a certain corner of central Fertilia. Ahead of them was a Botanian city protected by a tall wall. Half of Fertilia had fallen helplessly into the Three Western Isles’ grasp within six months. They were progressing faster than during their time on Wilderia. It was likely that Botania would be under the Sanctum and Hall of Knights’ full control within the next year.
“The headquarters is urging us to hasten our pace,” announced Parlina to the few Magisters in the tent.
“In that case, should we split up?” Porscher suggested.
“I can handle the northeast and north by myself,” Ashar was straightforward.
“In that case, I’ll take the southeast,” added Porscher.
“I’ll handle the south then,” said Carla. Carla’s voluntary participation spoke volumes of the Sanctum’s direness. She had tended to stay away from the frontlines since combat was never her forte.
“Very well, then everything’s settled.” Parlina thumped the ground with her staff and tied up the meeting.
The Botanian city barely resisted the breach. It was thoroughly overwhelmed as soon as Parlina motioned her contingent forward. The chaotic elemental tide manifested by the level-one Magister was lethal to the regular Botanians who had no city lord for protection.
While that was happening, Locke led a hundred slaves into the city. The few base-rank major monsters that flanked them had helped grant a smooth journey into the heart of the city. By evening, the city was declared a lost cause. The city was vulnerable even when the contingent’s scale was a quarter of its initial size.
Angelina was away with Carla to invade a different Botanian city. It had been a while since she advanced as a high-rank Lehrling, so Carla was determined to prepare her to get one step closer to becoming a level-one Magister. Parlina had made the deliberate decision to send Shiva with them since the nature of photomancy would be a deadly disadvantage under certain circumstances.
Locke’s routine for the last six months had been returning to training after settling down the slave creatures and rounding up the helpless Botanians. Chaos ensued when night fell since monitoring was made difficult with more than half of their slaves depleted. Even so, a few hundred slaves were insufficient to keep a close eye on more than tens of thousands of Botanians. Five hundred of them had escaped their watch during the night and it was fortunate that Parlina still found the mishap acceptable.