People flocked to the spacious square outside Krimea City two days later. Old Korr wormed around the crowd to shout at the edge of the place. “Locke! Over here!”
Upon hearing that, Locke pushed away a few obstructing strangers and travelled towards the other man.
“What took you so long? The event is about to start,” grumbled Old Korr. His reanimated corpse, Lily, stuck close to protect her master.
Locke replied, “Sorry, I got too caught up preparing for the event.” There were indeed dozens of low and mid-rank mana scrolls in his spatial ring, which Kristin had rushed over two sleepless nights. Frankly, the quality wasn’t great but there was plenty to spare. Locke’s heart warmed at the thought of Kristin’s effort and he’d only rushed over to the venue after ushering her to bed.
“It’s good to be prepared.” Old Korr nodded. His tone took a sharp turn, “But I’m afraid we’ve got trouble this time.”
“That caster over there, the one with the green hood and dark staff, is the most famous quasi-Magister of the Bossi region. His name is Jerald and he’s the current hotshot of Mermerri’s Cottage.” Old Korr helpfully pointed at a caster that stood at the flank of the square. His gaze was only on the caster for a split second as casters were insanely sensitive with their honed mental abilities. It would’ve been awkward to be caught staring.
“That one over there is called the hope of the Viennerson Family. He’s a quasi-Ritter from the neighbouring Kester duchy and has killed a few base-rank major monsters. His shield is made with the skull of a base-rank berserk wind owl.”
“There’s also the three sisters of the Roland Family. Word has spread across the region that they’d just wiped out an entire nest of high-rank major monsters recently!”
Locke stared on in silence, only interrupting when it became apparent that Old Korr intended to continue his ramblings. “They’re not from Krimea City. Didn’t you mention that participants are only limited to within Krimea City?”
“They snuck into the city a week ago and the city’s Mermerri branch must’ve hid off the news!” Old Korr replied heatedly but quickly turned apologetic. “I’m afraid Mermerri has an iron grip over their resources. How about you focus on the prizes below fifth place? They’re not too bad either…” Apart from these elites that’d travelled from all over the region, Krimea’s Mermerri branch too had sent a few of their own prodigies. Old Korr wasn’t sure if Locke could stand a chance against them.
“It’s alright, I’m still going to try anyway. We can’t pull out of the event now, can we?” Locke chuckled.
Old Korr fell silent. He was right, Locke was here as part of their faction and they wouldn’t want their name to be tarnished by an unwarranted withdrawal. “There’s no need to force yourself, okay? I’ll compensate you with a scarlet potion once you’re out of the realm.” Even so, Old Korr couldn’t help but feel guilty. Scarlet potions were suitable for the cultivation of mid-rank Knechts so either Kristin or Laffey could use them.
Locke returned Old Korr a slight smile, hoping to reassure the other man. And so the event began. A few Magisters began blasting spells at the southwest corner of the square and soon the portal to the Enchanted Forest Realm was opened. They were level-one Magisters that were committee members of Mermerri’s Cottage tasked with supervising and safeguarding the event. Quasi-rank elites were the pillars of their future and the committee members would intervene if any danger was present. But of course, intervention would mean automatic disqualification. The same care wasn’t extended to those that weren’t associated with Mermerri’s Cottage, though. The others were left to fend for themselves.
The entrance glimmered with peeks of green as it swallowed up every participant into its dimension. The first to enter was Mermerri’s casters and knights. The rules of the competition were relatively simple. They would be scored with every slaughter of major monsters or the harvest of specific materials, which would then be recorded by the admission brooches. While things may seem linear, raidings of other participants’ scores were rampant, which made the competition more ruthless than anticipated.
“Go on. Remember, no need to force yourself!” Old Korr sent Locke off with a clap on his back.
Locke adjusted his armour plates one last time and stepped into line. He’d wait until the actual competition to gauge his chances of success. Even so, he was determined to not hold back to get ahold of his desired resources. Locke regulated his presence to its best form, unleashing its unhindered intensity that made him feel like an aggravated beast.
I might’ve underestimated him, thought Old Korr as he watched Locke’s back.
It had been a while since Locke could unleash his full potential after the planar war. The Botanian invasion that’d involved millions of lifeforms had been his most strenuous training thus far. The Three Western Isles’ executive decision had cost them a third of their high-rank Knechts and Lehrlings, no doubt a huge loss for their land. However, it did leave behind their pièce de résistance. Survivors of the war would rise in the next century, gracing the land with more level-one Ritters and Magisters. A resource as precious as the Botanian essence would be their key to the monstrous growth of the new generation.
“Since when did we have such a strong contender?” Elites attracted and repelled each other like magnets. The sudden switch in Locke’s demeanour had attracted surrounding interest.
“Sister, have you seen that knight around?” A group of three similarly-looking girls whispered among themselves.
“No, but I think he’ll be tough to handle. Look after our youngest sister when we get inside, okay?” The taller and relatively more matured female caster said.
“Got it.” The second sister, whose face was sweet and young, answered.
“I’ll do my best too. I don’t wish to be dead weight,” The youngest sister mumbled as she flailed her arms around playfully. She was indeed green and young at heart.
“Hmph! A quasi-Ritter.” The green-robed quasi-Lehrling at the forefront huffed as he tossed a quick glare behind.
“My, my. Looks like I’ll finally meet an equal.” A knight grinned. He was armoured and held a huge shield that was at least half his height.
Locke waited thirty minutes before it was his turn to enter the portal. Members of the Scar of the Death Bell were only allowed to enter a tad earlier than the unaffiliated adventurers. It was obvious that Mermerri’s Cottage held a significant grudge against them.
A long-haired female Magister studied Locke as he entered the Enchanted Forest Realm. Most casters preferred hooded robes but she didn’t mind putting her luscious raven hair on display. While the other quasi-Ritters and quasi-Magisters tried to figure out Locke’s rank, the experienced Magister had her eyes glued to the emerald flute around his neck.
The alchemy standards of the Three Western Isles were quite advanced. While the level-one Magister couldn’t pinpoint what creature resided within, she decided that this particular stranger had some potential.