The exorcism mission reminded Locke that he still had a dark mana book and a mystic crystal ball at the very bottom of his spatial ring. It had been from Monty Villa and an entry in the journal had suggested it belonged to a late quasi-Magister. It was unfortunate that dark casters were a despised existence even on the east coast so the two items were destined to remain hidden.
He cast the second mission aside to look at the first mission. The heart and antlers of an enchanted striped stag? The sheepskin notice warned that a mature striped stag may be as strong as a high-rank major monster but its agility and wind element attributes had made them as difficult as a base-rank major monster.
A base-rank major monster was no issue to Locke. However, the most concerning point had been that enchanted striped deers were social creatures. The appearance of a stag would always be accompanied by two or three does and several fawns.
“What do you think? Made your choice yet?” The ginger blinked her large eyes at Locke.
He considered the choices before finally settling on the first mission. “I’ll have this one.”
“Oh, this one?” She flipped the posting around. “This was posted by Mermerri’s Cottage yesterday.”
Mermerri’s Cottage? Something clicked in his mind. Ah, right. That was one of the strongest three caster factions in the Marharden Kingdom.
“This needs to be completed within a week so it’s understandably rushed. There’s no limit to the number of people involved, though.” She received a processing fee of ten gold sorres from Locke, which she subsequently pressed an enchanted stamp to the edge of the notice.
The reward was two hundred gold sorres and a bottle of Laurve potion, the latter of which had captured Locke’s interest. It was a power elevation concoction that would heighten a mid-rank Knechts strength by 30% and 10% for a high-rank Knecht. It had been difficult for him to see any improvement through cultivation ever since advancing as a quasi-Ritter, hence potions like such could be key to his breakthroughs.
Locke brought Kristin and Laffey out of the hall without a single nod to the ginger once the transaction was completed, which pissed her off greatly. The ginger attendant stomped and huffed behind their backs.
“Wow, Brother Locke. You’re killing it here with the women. That girl was obviously trying to flirt,” Kristin teased once they were out of the guild.
He slapped the back of her skull. “Now, that’s not very nice.”
“Oh, come on! I’m in my twenties! Can you please stop slapping my head? What if I go stupid from the impact?” She caressed her head indignantly.
Locke glared at her halfheartedly. “Then I’ll look after you.”
She pouted, masking a heart that melted at those words.
They could always come back to the exorcism and mushroom harvesting mission next time. The postings had been up on the board all year round and allowed a completion period of one month. Apart from that, phantoms and livor mushrooms had occurred in similar environments so they could be found within each other’s radius. It would be easy to find them both at a large burial. Even so, the missions were still quite risky so it was best to leave it for another time. Locke wasn’t in dire need of money at the moment, anyway.
They’d set camp beside a clear stream in Wooden Forest, which was located at the foot of the Eevier Mountains.
“Here you go.” Locke pressed around twenty silver donnes into the palms of two guides.
“That’s too much, Herr…” The guides were flustered to see so many donnes since they were merely regular hunters that lived at the foot of the mountain.
Locke was speechless. They were such honest people and this was the first time he’d encountered someone who’d refused a good payment. Locke had hired these hunters as guides since they were familiar with Woogen Forest.
“Woogen Forest is dangerous and you’re exposing yourself to risks for the job. That much is worth the payment,” Locke insisted, leaving no room for argument. The hunters looked at each other and finally accepted the coins. It was factual that Woogen Forest was packed with danger. The hunters had lived here for decades and kept to the fringes, where regular beasts were easily found. The enchanted striped deers inhabited the inner reaches of the Eevier Mountains, which required a day and a half worth of trekking to arrive. The back and forth journey would consume four days, which left Locke’s group with only three days to accomplish the task.
“Brother Locke, are you not going to sleep with us?” Kristin’s soft voice rang.
Locke sighed. “Just go sleep with Laffey, I’ll stand guard for the night.”
“We can take turns patrolling if we sleep together,” Kristin whined in an attempt to reason. It felt almost as if the young woman was here on a leisurely trip in the forest and not an expedition.
Locke had chosen to set camp upstream. They were still at the fringes of Woogen Forest so the danger was kept to a minimal level. Despite that, that didn’t mean they could afford to be complacent.
Kristin was generally untrained. She was simultaneously a mid-rank Lehrling and Knecht but her field experience was pitifully scarce, which was why Locke picked this mission. The decision was deliberate to train Kristin and Laffey. Even so, he hadn’t intended to have them stay up through the night; he’d guard the first few hours while Fermoss would pace around till dawn. The scorpiondrake’s larger size and intense presence had dissuaded most beasts from getting close to the stream. There was not a single insect that dared to come close even, so Locke’s newly bought mosquito repellent concoction had no chance to shine. The three of them ventured deeper into the woods when morning arrived.
“Brother Locke, why haven’t you summoned Fermoss out?” asked Kristin as she rubbed her ankles.
“High-rank major monsters and stronger creatures are lurking around these woods. Fermoss’ presence will only draw more attention to us and create unnecessary trouble,” explained Locke. Major monsters were known to be extremely territorial.
Kristin was just too green with no basic survival knowledge. Her ankles weren’t aching per se; she possessed the strength of a mid-rank Knecht so there was no way she’d be worn out from just two days of hiking. Locke sighed and bent over to place her weight over his spine. He could feel the edge of her lips curling up to form a forced smile.
“I’m only going to do this one last time. We’ll be arriving at our destination by afternoon and I won't spare you any thought,” Locke grumbled helplessly. He’d seen through her little tricks since earlier but had been kind enough to say nothing about it. She’d been raised on riches and he still lacked the resolution to subject her to harshness. It would’ve been an entirely different case if it was up to Glace since she was always strict with her niece.
It was evening when they finally spotted enchanted striped deers around the depicted area. However, those weren’t their target.
“There are two fawns over there. Kill one and let the other go, I’ll stand guard behind,” Locke instructed Kristin and Laffey. The fawns were only as strong as low-rank major monsters but the general public had often ranked them as powerful as mid-rank major monsters, which made them suitable practice targets for the girls.
“Be careful, okay? Make it fast,” He reminded sternly. Enchanted striped deers were social creatures and while the other members of the herd were nowhere to be spotted, it was natural to assume that the adult individuals were just nearby.
The metal element was known for its sharpness and Laffey's impetus was of that aspect. Its attributes were much more lethal than elemental impetuses, allowing effective direct hits. In the eyes of a brute like Locke, female knights fought like performers instead of combatants. Their techniques were flashy but not necessarily efficient. He had high hopes for Laffey since she was a well-trained metal impetus practitioner with enough vehemence for a direct kill. Yet, her battle had landed in an awkward push-and-pull situation. Her practical experience was understandably lacking since she’d spent years serving Glace and Kristin in the mansion. Thankfully, her fundamental techniques were solid and she’d placed a great deal of effort in her usual cultivations. The execution was unrefined but her ability to kill an enchanted striped deer was not to be doubted.
Kristin performed better than Laffey, which surprised him greatly. The young woman wielded a longsword that had scarlet enchantments carved into its blade and a fire element nucleus core embedded in its hilt. Locke had a feeling that it was one of Angelina’s handiwork.
Kristin looked like a war goddess with her impressive sword. Her techniques were fancy and aesthetically pleasing; flames had roared across the formation chain as Kristin drove her blade into the fawn’s spine at a moment of its vulnerability. The creature was set ablaze, letting out a harrowing screech before finally getting reduced into tough coal.
Laffey, on the other end, quickly caught up with the progress. Once Kristin had subdued her target, Laffey channelled impetus into her weapon, manifesting a cutting glow that allowed the blade to slide into the fawn’s muscle without hindrance. She dragged the embedded blade, almost removing the fawn’s thigh completely. Laffey had a sense of Locke’s plan so she left the fawn alive.
Overall, Locke was quite satisfied with their performance and he’d rate it a 7/10. They’d far exceeded his initial expectations, especially Kristin who displayed great mastery in the simultaneous exertion of mana and impetus. The nucleus core in the hilt required mental ability to activate the formation circuit while her impetus boosted the weapon’s vehemence. He had to admit that Kristin’s current competence was at least one level higher than when he was a mid-rank Knecht.
This must be the power of a Mystic Knight, thought Locke. The effort taken for its syllabus was time-consuming and mentally taxing since it required more effort than training to be a caster or a knight of the same rank even. The outcome seemed worth it, though.
Locke’s eyes followed the trail of blood left behind by the injured fawn, which pointed them in a new direction. The burnt fawn was left behind to be devoured by nature, the creatures lurking around would cover their tracks within a night. The enchanted striped stag was next.