Six months later, Locke walked out of the woods with a saw-toothed boar across his shoulders. He’d finally realised there was a good reason why many high-rank Knechts and quasi-Ritters had stagnated before becoming a Ritter. It was over six months of constant effort that he decided that practical battles were his best approach to advancement.
He thought back to when he’d travelled south with Angelina. Admittedly, he hadn’t been doing much during the trip but he’d still seen obvious improvements. That, in turn, had given him an idea.
“Brother Locke! Aunt Glace says it’s time to eat!” Kristin, in her yellow dress, screamed into the forest enthusiastically. She’d become a mid-rank Lehrling a few months ago and had quickly picked up everything necessary under the tutelage of both Angelina and Glace. Kristin had mastered Windblast and Featherweight, which permitted her a speed that was difficult even for Locke to catch up to. The forest in the outskirts was a great distance from the prince consort’s mansion in Felor. Even so, Kristin was more than happy to play the part of a messenger.
“Laffey made snake stew today! We should head back soon and have it warm!” She went to Locke as soon as she saw him.
“Sure, but allow me to dismember this boar first.” Locke panted slightly. The saw-toothed boar was too big to fit in his spatial ring. It was best if he cut it down to containable sizes to be carried in his multiple spatial rings. It was a pity that the boar was close to becoming a major beast. If Locke hadn’t slaughtered it, the Felorian outskirts would probably see the emergence of a great threat soon.
I should make soup with this for father and mother, thought Locke as he expertly worked his knife.
Kristin was chirpy and Suzzane was a great host as everl; the two never failed to lighten up the atmosphere in the dining hall. However, things were about to take a different turn tonight just as Kristin began showing off a certain piece of jewellery she’d purchased in the capital.
“I went home today. Father hasn’t recovered from that cold he caught last time and mother’s backaches have returned.” Lia’s eyes grew red.
“Not even with the royal healers’ treatments?” Angelina was concerned.
“No.” Lia thumbed her tears away.
The pleasant atmosphere was quickly dampened. Casters were experts in medicine in this world. If Lia, a mid-rank Lehrling, failed to remedy Old Locke and Tia’s ailments, what else could the royal healers do? Truth to be told, the old couple wasn’t suffering from any particular illness, per se. It was merely an accumulation of bad lifestyle habits that took effect in their sunset years.
Locke had tapped into their systems with his impetus last year. Everything had seemed well and fine and while he’d found a myriad of minor issues, such diseases often occurred without warning. Dinner suddenly didn’t look as appetising anymore. After a brief exchange with Locke, Angelina brought Lia along to Old Locke and Tia’s residence. She was his official wife and it was only appropriate for her to check on the old couple. Kristin and Suzzane promptly followed after them. Locke stared blankly into space, heart sinking further with the concerning news.
“Hey, I’ll support your decision no matter what.” Glace took a seat beside him, slipping her warm palm into his grip. Locke had shared the most intimate relationship with Angelina and Lia had grown up with him. Even so, Glace was the one who’d understood him the best. She was a bright soul whose intelligence not only shone in the art of spellcasting but also in managing the complicated nature of their relationships.
“But how could I when…” Glace shushed him before he could finish.
“There’s no need to worry about anything. Shouldn’t you be more concerned about your parents and Suzzane?” She calmly crossed her arms. “We can take care of ourselves.”
Locke continued watching the dancing candlelight, whose flames finally settled his heart. His final decision was made. He announced his intentions on the second day.
“You’re going on a journey? To where?” Angelina was ultimately shocked.
“We’ve been to many places across the Missia Continent so I’d like to explore the other continents. It’ll be great if I can get to Magion somehow,” replied Locke. Inhabitants of the Three Western Isles were the only ones who would call Missia a continent, which was nothing but a larger island in the eyes of others. The Three Western Isles was not even a-tenth of Magion.
“I’ll come with you!” The Faustian princess shot up.
“No.” He shook his head. “You won’t be able to advance much away from the Sanctum.” The accumulation of knowledge and education was extremely important to casters. It was true that Angelina would gain the benefit of exposure if she were to follow Locke. Yet, it was a given that her contact with mana knowledge would be pitifully rare since Magisters tend to keep information within their own lineage.
For the first time since they met, Angelina threw a tantrum. She pointedly ignored his calls, dashing to her room to be alone. The other women tried to comfort her but failed miserably. She couldn’t be faulted for it, though. They’d just settled down for no longer than a year and there was now another impending farewell. It was understandably difficult to stomach.
Despite that, farewells would give way to better reunions. Locke wouldn’t change his mind; he had pressing reasons that fuelled his decision. Old Locke, Tia and Suzzane were regular people who’d lived a normal lifespan since they didn’t possess the potential for cultivation. Angelina’s father, the late King Faustian, was a powerful high-rank Knecht in his youth. Even so, he’d only lived for sixty glorious years, which inevitably stressed Locke out. He couldn’t bear to lose his parents and Suzzane so soon.
Suzzane hadn’t been sleeping with Locke for the last few months. Her body could no longer withstand Locke’s wildness in bed. While she remained silent about the matter, her sorrow was apparent to him. Nothing could change the fact that she was ageing, not even the myriad of beauty products and the impressively potent Botanian essence Locke had brought back from the war. The average Zauberian lifespan was relatively short, partly due to the primitive advancements in hygiene and medicine along with the ever-present active elemental molecules in the air.
Locke had never been concerned about his fleeting life since he was a quasi-Ritter. Angelina and a handful of his lovers had dabbled in magic too. It wouldn’t be difficult to live till their eighties with their current capabilities and physical constituents but that didn’t mean that Locke could disregard the others.
Quasi-Ritters were powerful but they were powerless in the face of the constantly waning human lifespan. But what if he could learn more from the outside world and advance as a Ritter? Surely there was an answer to why Ritters and Magisters above level one could live for centuries. Reuniting with his family and the blissful domestic life that followed hadn’t numbed him. A harsh journey awaited him if he truly wished to be free of mortal woes.
Angelina finally came around when the next day arrived. She broke her silence. “When will you be leaving?”
Locke had initially decided to leave a month later but the sight of Angelina’s tear tracks quickly changed his mind. “I’ll be leaving in two months.”
Staying with his family a little longer wouldn’t hurt. It would be one full year since they’d returned from the envoy mission two months later. He couldn’t believe that a year had passed in the blink of an eye, feeling as though he’d owed Glace and the other women plenty of affection. He’d been away for the planar war and now he was bound to embark on another journey two months later.
Suzzane and Glace expressed their heartfelt support. They were the eldest among the women, which made them a tad more mature than Angelina. Lia only wanted the best for her brother and she had also begun her cultivation journey to chase after him ever since becoming his lover. She didn’t wish to stand in his way either.
“Don’t worry about father and mother. I’ll be here to look after them. Just go out there and do your best!” Lia tiptoed to peck his cheek. She had always been timid when it came to displays of affection and this was the first time she’d done this openly.
While Angelina had spent last night sobbing away, the Faustian princess was back to her usual composed self. When night fell and her head found a pillow in his arms once again, she uttered, “You know, I may have a way to get Glace and the others into the Sanctum.”
“Really?” Locke raised a brow. The Sanctum had only accepted outstanding mid-rank Lehrlings and young high-rank Lehrlings exclusively.
“Plenty of Lehrlings were lost in the planar wars. I’m sure the Sanctum would expand their search for more recruits.”
“You can go ask Magister Ashar for help if it doesn’t work out, okay?” reminded Locke. He’d feel much more at ease if Glace and the others could further their studies at the Sanctum.
“Don’t worry about that. I’m sure one word from my mentor can do the job.” Angelina chuckled melodiously.
Ah, right. Locke palmed his head. Magister Carla was indeed extremely influential in the Sanctum. Who could ever overlook that she used to share a master with the Faceless Masked Magister Charles?