“What do you think of the margrave?” Locke asked Angelina once they exited the giant manor in the bustling Gondorian capital, Drissel City.
“Margrave Chergussy sure is one hell of a businessman,” commented Angelina, which tickled Locke’s funny bone.
Who would’ve known that the notoriously difficult Margrave Chergussy was a sharp-minded businessman? Locke found the concept intriguing. Was Faustian’s support a well-timed remedy to soothe their differences? Or had Gondor seized the chance to rope Faustian into conquering the Andora Basin together? Regardless, it had the potential to turn into an icky situation.
Locke and Angelina cautiously relayed King Kenzir’s goodwill to the current King Gondor when they were finally called into the palace a few days later. The Gondorian aristocrats had welcomed their presence warmly and the king had even wanted to hold a ball for the envoys, which Locke gently turned down.
Drissel City was almost a third larger than Felor but without as many taller buildings. The difference was very much associated with local Gondorian customs and geography. Their people preferred spacious courtyards over towers and their substrate was mainly eroded rock sand; it just wasn’t the best substrate for elevated structures. They admired everything Gondor had to offer over the week, coincidentally just in the season to taste their local sweet wine.
Locke swirled the jug begrudgingly. “It’s sickeningly sweet. Only indulgent noblemen could enjoy this.” The sweet wine was what its name suggested and severely lacked the characteristic bite of typical booze.
“Hey now, Prince Consort Locke. Let’s not forget that you too are an aristocrat.” Angelina smacked Locke's chest teasingly.
“In that case, princess, I’d like to propose a refined activity we can partake in together.” He grinned weirdly as his palms roamed around Angelina.
“Hey, we’re in a carriage.”
“And? There’s enough room.”
“There are servants outside.”
“You can just cast a soundproofing spell, no?"
"It’s still daytime too.”
“Haven’t you heard that a switch of environment makes it better?”
Locke captured her lips before she could mutter another rebuttal.
The Faustian envoy that’d left Felor in the dead of winter had returned just in time for spring. The trip home had taken two weeks and it had since been two months since their departure. The fields were starting to sprout and Locke was now thirty years old, his youth had transitioned into yet another new chapter of life.
“Ah, your beard is growing again!” Kristin rubbed her head against Locke’s chin to feel the scratchy sensation of his peeking stubble.
“Hey, itchy.” He shook his head in discomfort. His body was covered in sweat, having just completed a round of physical training.
“Shall I help you pluck them out?” Kristin offered mischievously.
Locke promptly rejected her. “It’s alright, your Aunt Glace will help me with it later.” The girl had plenty of ideas up her sleeve that never failed to catch him by surprise.
“Hmph, all you care about is Aunt Glace.” She huffed indignantly.
Locke was calmer and grounded now that he was in his thirties, which proved to be quite the charm for young girls. Kristin wasn’t the only one fawning over him; the entire mansion was crawling with swooning maids that hoped to catch his attention. It was common among aristocrats to bed their servants, after all. Hence why many peasant families would try to send their daughters to noble families in hopes of a shot at glory.
He changed into something comfortable and left for the cultivation room. There were many cultivation and meditation rooms scattered across the prince consort’s residence to give everyone adequate space and tranquility. Locke and his women hadn’t stopped cultivating ever since returning to Faustian. Kristin sent Locke off to one of the cultivation rooms. “I’ll be waiting for you outside, Brother Locke,” she said sweetly.
He simply acknowledged her with a wave. There used to be a time when he’d pestered her to hone her impetus and spellcasting knowledge. It turned out that his concerns were for nothing, for Kristin’s innate talent had shined bright as both a knight and caster. While her progress wasn’t as remarkable as Locke and Angelina's when it came to the respective specialisations, it was still rather impressive for a simultaneous pursuit. Kristin was a mid-rank Knecht that hovered before the benchmark of a mid-rank Lehrling. All that was left at this point was to polish her techniques and accumulate her mana. Kristin was seeing better progress in her impetus since Locke provided consistent guidance (read: she had practically glued herself to him all day long).
The ceiling of the cultivation room was adorned with specks of fluorescent lights, courtesy of dozens of embedded fluorites. The decadence of aristocracy was evident. Locke sat cross-legged on a silk mat and stared at a half-filled potion vial. He sighed, watching the fluid’s kaleidoscope of colours. “I’m only left with half now.”
His numerous spatial rings were stocked to the brim with auxiliary potions when they’d left the Sanctum. The institute was indeed where all the best casters gathered. Concoctions that were otherwise unattainable and rare were all made available there. The Stellar Mark potion in his grip was incredibly expensive too; he’d bought it specifically to overcome his current bottleneck. Despite his extensive potions and collection of training manuals, the path to becoming a Ritter had proven to be much more difficult than anticipated. His lack of progress was startling.
Maybe I should visit the royal treasury soon, thought Locke. It was prime time to grow his power through sheer diligence and available resources. Quantity could trigger qualitative changes; Locke refused to believe that his accumulated resources could do nothing to resolve his issue.
It became apparent that the discipline of his impetus was the biggest concern. His Falconim was a mid-rank impetus at best and that was all there was to it. There was an array of other impetuses that were far superior to the Falconim across the Kingdom of Faustian, let alone the whole Missia Continent. A switch of discipline came with great risks and disadvantages. The only ones that could do so at the smallest expense had been the beginner Knechts. Locke wanted to change his impetus. Yet, he’d have to wait till he’d obtained the full motor control and toughened body of a Ritter to do so.