Felor saw the heaviest snowfall of the year when winter arrived. The chilly air was filled with pale white dots and everyone had rather stayed home around the fireplace. There was barely anyone out on the streets for the first time in a while.
While everyone pulled their coats closer for warmth, Locke bustled around the snow-covered garden in all topless glory, adamant about sticking to his daily training regime. A knight’s cultivation approach was repetitive and boring when compared to the casters, one could say that it was excruciating even. There was no doubt that the emergency of every powerful being was the fruit of their blood, sweat and tears. His body was steaming from the vigorous exercise, manly pheromones filling the air. Locke reached out for the shirt and towel brought over by a blushing maid, finally calling it a day.
“Darling, would you like to go on a trip to the south?” Angelina asked affectionately once she spotted Locke entering the main hall.
Locke had been away at Glace and Suzzane’s quarters last night. Angelina, on the other hand, occupied the laboratory all night long, much to her delight. There was an interesting phenomenon in the prince consort’s mansion. Glace would bring Kristin to meditate or run some experiments whenever Locke stayed with Angelina and when Locke would stay with Glace, Angelina would have the laboratory all to herself. It was an unspoken arrangement that worked for his women despite the inevitable jealousy. Even so, everyone had to admit that Angelina had the best position since she was Locke’s official wife.
The women’s recent diligence was spurred by a singular source; Locke had finally found the answer to his fertility problem. Their largest obstacle was the gap in capabilities since quasi-Ritters were built differently from regular human beings. Their bodies possessed the strength and resistance akin to a high-rank major monster, which meant that these knights were basically walking humanoid beasts. The major key to successful childbearing with knights of this level required some luck, apart from the consistent nightly efforts no doubt. The chances were low with regular women, and it was almost impossible between casters and knights.
Due to the nature of their cultivation, casters had evolved differently from knights. As they focused on honing their mental abilities, the mana that flooded into their systems would inevitably redesign their bodies to permit a larger capacity of mana.
Locke’s estimated success rate with regular women was around 20% so his probability with a caster was not even close to 0.5%. This was simple math that a knight could comprehend, he’d been following the Sanctum casters around for years, after all. It appeared that Suzzane was the most likely woman to bear his offspring, all things considered. Kristin was a potential candidate too but Locke dared not even entertain the thought with Glace and Angelina around.
He’d looked into the royal family tree and asked around among the knightly clans, finally arriving at a slightly reliable solution; he should consider procreating with a woman of equal power. This was difficult, though. Locke was currently a quasi-Ritter and there were barely any female knights of the same calibre. Apart from Angelina, who reserved a shot at catching up in due time, the other women were far too behind. Plus, he wasn’t sure if the same concept would work between casters and knights. Even so, He reckoned that having a direction was still better than nothing.
“The south? Where exactly?” asked Locke.
Angelina replied, “The Ligia Union. My brother has coincidentally entrusted a task to you.” There was a cunning glint in her eyes. The favour was a front for her selfish intentions. There was no way Locke could bring Glace and the other women along on an ‘official’ trip with the princess.
Locke considered the offer. His progress had been stagnant and his bottleneck situation had yet to be solved. Perhaps a change of environment would do him some good; he might even find a surprise among the new things he was bound to see. “Sure.”
Angelina rejoiced in her mind. She would have Locke all to herself again for two months! The only regrettable aspect was that the envoy to the Ligia Union would leave before New Year; it appeared that he wouldn’t be home to celebrate new beginnings with his family.
Soon enough, a large group of a hundred members began their march to southern Faustian. The temperature turned warmer as they went further southbound. The snow had begun to melt in Dor province, leaving behind only a sheet of thin white on the ground. Despite that, the horses’ hooves still needed to be wrapped in sackcloth to prevent slippage.
The border that separated Dor from the southern kingdoms was guarded by Locke’s humble beginnings, the Falcon corps. Soldiers and commanders of the third division were quick to welcome the envoy warmly, allowing them a comfortable place to spend the night. They’d even sent a few cavalry squads with them through the borders for added protection.
The southern kingdoms were heavily influenced by two major forces: the Ligia Union and the Kingdom of Jose in the west. The Ligia Union spanned dozens of dominions of various sizes. The smaller territories were inevitably swayed by the superior influences while the larger dominions would nominate the most powerful among themselves to lead them forward. All in all, it was a messy group with an equally complicated system. Internal fights were never-ending and there were always new conflicts on the rise. Yet, the members were incredibly united in the face of outside threats.
Locke and Angelina’s first destination would be the most powerful territory within the Ligia Union, the Kent domain.
“By the way, where’s your stepmother? I haven’t seen her in a while.” Locke drew a long yawn. The scenery had been rather interesting while it was new, it soon became dull when all there was were unchanging foliages. It couldn’t be helped since the Ligia Union was surrounded by dense forests, most of its plains were further south and the Kent domain was located in the central north. All Locke could see were pine trees with a veil of snow.
“Well, let’s just say that she’s rotting away in the palace,” said Angelina with mirth. She had never had fond thoughts of Queen Consort Kent who’d tried to harm her.
Upon his rise to the throne, Kenzir had initially proposed to sacrifice Kent to offer their late father a companion in death. However, her limelight years were spent increasing the royal family’s influence and she had the loyal support of her brother, Margrave Kent. With that, the court had decided to lock her away from the outside world. Given the new king’s aggressive approach to leadership, this was likely the best outcome for her.
The world beyond the palace walls was messy and Locke wasn’t too keen on learning more. Angelina was well aware of his distaste regarding the topic so she swiftly changed the topic. “I heard that Lake Luna in the Ligia Union has great scenery. Shall we drop by on our way out?”
Lake Luna was most famous for its native low-rank magic material, which was widely known as moonstone. The lake was one of the most famous attractions in the union.
Margrave Kent welcomed the Faustian envoy with open arms as soon as they stepped into the capital city of the Kent domain, Freley City. The older man had a slim stature, spotting a brown patch of hair beneath his hooked nose. He’d brought his guards of honours to greet their guests, dressed in an aristocrat outfit that looked far too loose on him. He led both Angelina and Locke into his castle enthusiastically.
Locke gulped. He couldn’t believe that a beautiful woman like Queen Consort Kent was related to a man as plain-looking as Margrave Kent. The siblings shared some resemblance, but only in the personality department; both Queen Consort Kent and Margrave Kent were gloomy and very calculative people.
Regardless of Margrave Kent’s intentions, the older man needed to be respectful and accommodating. The couple standing before him was none other than members of the Faustian royal family, after all. He settled Locke and Angelina down in the castle, promptly assigning servants and guides to ensure them a pleasant stay in the Ligia Union.
“I have a feeling that Margrave Kent is after something.” Locke raised a brow once they were given the privacy of their room.
“Who cares. All we need to do is pass him the decree and my brother will handle the rest.” She plopped down onto the soft plush bed, rolling around without an ounce of care. “I have to say that the Ligian aristocrats sure do know how to enjoy life. I’ve never slept on a bed this soft despite living in a palace,” Angelina said with a pout.
Locke pressed a palm into the mattress and gaped at the texture. “Wow. Maybe this is attributed to their special weaving technique? Should we buy some on our way out?”
Angellina sunk further into the duvet. “Hmm… Maybe?” She winked at Locke. That was all it took to have his self-restraint out of the window.
The official visit ended two days later despite Margrave Kent’s generous invitation to prolong their stay. Locke and Angelina had to bid him farewell; they still needed to visit the central territories next. Adamant to offer the best hospitality, Margrave Kent had so kindly dispatched a platoon of heavy cavalry to escort their envoy to the next destination.
“So this is the famous Ligian armoured cavalry,” muttered Locke as he studied the men around their carriage. Their full-body armour looked sturdy and each of them was equipped with a broadsword. Their equipment was heavy and only moveable by Ligia’s native horse species, which had a lower centre of gravity than regular horses.
The overall competence of the armoured cavalry could certainly crush a vast majority of troops, especially on the plains. The Ligia Union had managed to persist for centuries as a scattered collective system for a good reason, after all. That was all there was to it, though. The union only had enough for self-defence so they couldn’t expand their influence further. The sovereigns were busy fighting among themselves, which was already a huge challenge itself for their leader.
“I heard that the light cavalry of Jose is as strong as the Ligian armoured cavalry,” commented Angelina out of the blue.
He pondered about their route home. “Can we head to Jose on our way back?”
“Of course,” replied Angelina with smiling eyes. She was happy as long as she had Locke.
Admittedly, Locke was slightly excited about visiting Lake Luna since it was said to be breathtaking. In reality, it couldn’t be even more underwhelming, most likely due to the season. The spot was best visited during the summer and autumn; Lake Luna in the winter was nothing but an uninteresting span of icy white.
They watched several people cross the frozen lake, gingerly shaving away the frozen layers with the tip of their skates to reach the moonstone beneath. These were veterans and while the harvesting looked dangerous, it was actually far from risky. They worked eagerly since a dozen moonstones would promise them a comfortable six months.