There was a rocky mine cave in the depths of the Eevier Mountains. The area was enclosed by rocky cliff walls and measly green plants sprouted pitifully from between the jagged cracks. There was a gentle stream that gushed from the top of the southeastern wall, passing through the dry rock walls to provide the greens with much-needed hydration. Locke watched the cave below from atop the west cliff. He hadn’t expected to find the enchanted striped deers here.
Two does hovered over the injured fawn, whose femoral artery was severed by Laffey, beside the stream. They began to lap at its body worriedly. The fact that it managed to survive thus far spoke volumes of a major beast’s resilience. The stag that spotted a pair of fan-shaped antlers stomped over anxiously. It watched its surroundings with unrivalled concentration, irritated by the strong feeling of impending doom.
One of the striped does left for a nearby wall for a stalk of the green plant before returning to feed the injured fawn. Locke frowned at the action in confusion, turning to look at Kristin for a semblance of an answer.
“It’s tarragon grass,” mouthed Kristin. She was half a caster so her knowledge of botanicals and animals was much broader than Locke's.
He studied the area again, finally noticing the abundance of tarragon grasses around the mine cave. Ah. That explained the enchanted striped deers’ choice of settling down here. There wasn’t much food around to graze but they were surrounded by enchanted plants that were beneficial for the development of major beasts and monsters.
Locke signalled to Kristin and Laffey; a hint to prepare for battle. He would handle the stag while Kristin and Laffey occupied the female does. There were still three fawns, though.
A scarlet magic scroll that radiated warmth manifested in Locke’s palms. This was one of the most powerful items in his possession, capable of releasing high-rank Explosive Clouds of Blaze spells but was, unfortunately, a single-use scroll.
The battle began. Locke charged into the valley at an unfathomable speed, tearing up the scroll and scattering it all over the deers. The brutal action unbound the magic scroll’s explosive nature, immediately birthing screens of flames across the area.
The spontaneous combustion had the fawns burning like torches and their hardy protective coats served to aggravate the assault. Locke’s ambush had caught the does completely off-guard. They leapt around haphazardly, panicked by the fire that took form on their bodies. The air was thick with the stench of burnt matter.
The stag’s immediate response saved it from the heat, owing to its impeccable perception and sense. The blaze had only licked a corner of its hind leg so its overall condition was still excellent.
Locke hummed, pleased that his expensive high-rank pyromancy scroll hadn’t gone to waste. The outcome of the ambush was satisfactory; the three dawns were burnt to near death, which distressed the does.
The stag’s eyes glowed red as soon as its gaze fell on Locke, immediately understanding that the man was the reason behind the intense feeling of impending doom. Under normal circumstances, the stag would have avoided any confrontation since their steadfastness allowed them to cross the woods effortlessly. It wasn’t easy to capture them without similar capabilities. Unfortunately for the stag, escape wasn’t a choice. The hierarchical sense imprinted in its cells had made it extremely protective over its mates and offspring; it would defend them to death.
Locke had anticipated that much; the stag’s behaviour was not unlike the many monsters that he’d slain for hunting missions. Anyhow, the stag’s resolution fell right with his plan. He unsheathed his longsword to receive the deer’s retaliation.
Kristin and Laffey’s battle had long started on the other end. The does were similarly strong but Locke’s pyromancy scroll had weakened them by half. This was their first time challenging an opponent of comparable power, they fumbled a little at first but the balance of the battle was tilted in no time. They were stronger than the does, to begin with.
The stag had proven to be more difficult than expected; its speed was a force to be reckoned with. Locke’s wind impetus made him nimble but the enchanted striped stag was driving him into a corner. It was only supposed to be as strong as a high-rank major monster!
He growled, “Your nucleus core will be mine!” Locke fed impetus into his longsword, letting a sharp glow form around its tip. The light continued to grow as he intensified the output; an act that would consume one-fifth of his impetus. Locke lunged forward once it reached three feet in length.
The stag was horrified. It could sense the impetus’ impenetrable attribute at a distance away. It knew that its tough muscles and highly protective coat wouldn’t save it from the assault. And that much was true.
It took another half an hour for Locke to finally sink his blade into the stag’s abdomen with difficulty. The opening had come at the cost of letting the frantic stag drive its tough antlers against his chest.
“Ugh! You’re a tough one!” He pushed the dense corpse away from his body, panting roughly as he tried to straighten up. The deer was dead as soon as his longsword was driven into its body, which acted as a bridge for his impetus to course through the stag to shred its organs apart.
Locke wasn’t in good shape. The enchanted striped deer had attacked with great desperation and the resultant impact was considerably devastating even with his three layers of protection; the outermost being a tough half-body armour, the second layer being his leather armour and the innermost being a soft plate.
He hissed in pain, “I think I punctured my lung.” Locke was ultimately displeased with his current performance. Enchanted striped deers were herbivores that weren’t built for fighting. The one-year rest following the planar war had definitely weakened his combat skills.
He slit the stag’s head open with a dagger to retrieve an emerald green crystalline core from between its brain. This was his biggest reap of the day.
Kristin and Laffey were on their last legs. The death of the stag had dimmed the does’ will, which fed their vulnerability and allowed the women to land a few more slashes. The female deers were in a pinch. There was an angry red swelling around Kristin’s wrist, seemingly the work of the female deer’s horns. Laffey’s armour plates were knocked astray; her ability a tad weaker than Kristin but she’d been the first to land the kill. The end arrived a few moments later, marked by the sound of dropping bodies. Laffey held herself up with her longsword and Kristin slumped to the ground in exhaustion.
“Well done, Laffey. Kristin, you need to work more on your combat skills,” Locke commented. He’d been watching them once the stag was subdued, choosing to stay out of their way since it was meant to be proper training. Locke couldn’t guarantee that he’d always be around to protect them so they needed to grow stronger.
Kristin pouted, unhappy that Locke had only praised Laffey but quickly dropped the display as soon as she noticed the dent in his chest plate. She quickly went over to check on him. It was then that Laffey noticed his condition, to which she cast a concerning glance over.
“I’m alright. The injury will heal with two vials of recovery potion and some proper rest,” answered Locke nonchalantly. His injuries were internal damages and it was true that he could heal within days with the regeneration speed of quasi-Ritters. The process when aided by potions was impressively efficient.
They began clearing the battlefield. They’d rounded up six enchanted striped deer carcasses, which gave the three of them six nucleus cores of different attributes. Locke went further to isolate valuable body parts while Kristin left to harvest the magic materials lying around in the valley.
“This must be an abandoned coal mine,” Locke deduced from the substrate. There were a few obvious signs of manmade manipulation. It was unknown how the mine had been abandoned and ended up as a gathering place for the enchanted striped deers. Locke didn’t require much to deduce that the only ones powerful enough to excavate a mine in a forest full of beasts were either domineering caster or knight factions.
Forests were dangerous places to stay so Locke quickly stowed away his spoils and led the two women away. They were still in the depths of Woogen Forest and summoning Fermoss remained risky. The three could only suppress their presence and leave the forest as fast as they possibly could.
It was two days later when they finally returned to Morrington Harbour. Locke enjoyed a two-day rest that rehabilitated his body to decency before entering the caster guild to complete the transaction. The mission had requested the antlers of an enchanted striped stag and its heart at peak vitality. The antlers were in lovely condition despite relentless attacks from his impetus-fuelled longsword, save for some faint scratches.
However, the same couldn’t be said for the heart since Locke’s impetus had straight-up shredded all organs in the deer’s abdomen. While its heart was located in the chest cavity, it hadn’t been lucky enough to escape the abrasion. Its condition wasn’t too great so Locke was forced to use a drop of Botanian essence.
“I’ve fulfilled my mission,” announced Locke at the counter. The attendant wasn’t the ginger from a week ago but an older blonde with a gentle face.
“Ah, lovely. Please follow me to the cubicle for your transaction.” The woman extended an arm forward to usher Locke into the intended direction. High-rank missions were the hardest postings available to the public. As such, its transaction was always done in private rooms and rectified by an appraiser.
The powerful sure can have anything they wanted. Locke sighed wistfully. The blonde was twisting her hips enticingly as she brought him to the left corridor; an obvious seduction. She was dialing the effort up multiple notches than the ginger’s attempt.