"Eat it? I guess we could," Angelina said.
After a week of fruit and salt crabs, even Locke, who was used to hardship, was about to vomit. Angelina ate it as if she was chewing wax. Accommodating to life after going from rags to riches was easy, but the opposite was certainly rough. Back in the battalion, the cook in the logistics department, Corey, had often prepared nice food for Locke. Locke was a person with a great appetite and a great palate. Ever since becoming a platoon jarl, he had much variety in his diet.
However, Locke didn't show it in front of Angelina. A princess definitely ate better than him. If a woman like Angelina didn't complain about the monotony of the food, Locke had no right to whine like a spoiled princess. He'd been putting up a very manly show in front of her lately. Yesterday, she frowned as she watched him remove the thread from the bloody, hideous suture on his arm. Despite the agony, Locke pretended to be calm and indifferent.
Since it was edible, Locke bit into a firecloud fruit and licked it with his tongue. The minute its juices reached his taste buds, his face contorted. He rushed towards the water source near the wall of the mountain like the wind, took many gulps from the spring water and gargled many times. It took a while before Locke finally stopped.
"What's wrong?" Angelina pursed her lips and stared at Locke. This was the funniest and most humiliating thing she'd seen Locke do over the past few days.
However, Locke did not notice it himself. After taking his last sip of water, he happily returned with a slightly confusing reply. "You're in luck tonight. I'm going to make barbecue for you!"
"Barbecue? Sure." Locke had been making barbecues quite often recently. Despite not having any condiments, Locke was able to make several varieties of salt crab dishes by playing around with the temperature and the cooking time. Medium rare, medium, and so on, all had different tastes, which was far richer than the 'meat and fruit' that Locke used to make.
A touch of spice, Locke thought excitedly. Chili had always been a precious condiment. It was a spice only the nobles or wealthy people could enjoy. Locke had tried it once when he was in the battalion. He'd noticed that Corey kept aside some chili for himself. In exchange for not reporting him, he'd asked Corey to let him have some too. That barbecue was the most delicious Locke had eaten yet.
However, the spiciness of the firecloud fruit was much more overbearing than the chili powder he tasted last time. It felt as if his mouth was in flames.
Both of them enjoyed their dinner greatly. The salt crab sprinkled with salt and firecloud fruit powder was far more delicious than the ones they had before. Compared to their previous attempts, this would've gotten an extra three points for flavour. If they weren't running low on salt crabs, they definitely would've grilled another portion.
Speaking of salt, he had to thank Angelina's wealth of knowledge. Salt was no stranger to even the common folk. Despite having eaten salt for 18 years of his life, Locke didn't know anything about how salt was produced. Angelina had asked Locke to boil some saltwater from the lake. Once it dried up, crystals of salt would remain.
"I used to help out a lot in my teacher's alchemy lab, so I know a little about extracting materials," Angelina explained.
Locke didn't know what an alchemy lab was. In short, he admired Angelina very much, just like how he admired Suzanne, who could count and write. Locke admired people with knowledge. He had never concealed the fact that he was illiterate. He often asked Angelina to teach him some writing. He'd learned how to write his name with Suzanne's help, and his handwriting was good enough for others to understand. Now, he wanted to learn how to write his mother's and sister's names. Hmm… Did I need to learn my father's name? It's Old Locke!
Without the apparatuses of the in the alchemy lab, Angelina didn't know how to extract the salt at that moment. Fortunately, Locke had a lot of ideas up his sleeve. They poured lake water into the salt crab shells that they'd saved, set up a simple rig on the fire and placed the shells on it to boil. Eventually, they managed to get salt. A salt crab was not too big; its shell was only as big as a palm. The end product of the refinement was very little, so they needed to repeat the process many times to get enough. Over two days, while Locke went hunting, Angelina would watch the fire and refine salt, a little bit at a time, until they'd eventually accumulated half a container's worth, more than enough to last them through a month. This was so much more efficient than his initial idea of collecting a container full of salty lakewater.
Speaking of eating, the claws of the salt crab that Locke had put aside earlier were very tasty too. They were very sturdy, and rocks couldn't break them, but a high-temperature flame softened the shell of the claw until a small blade could cut it open. This was what Angelina had told Locke. Although she had fewer hands-on experiences, she had amassed quite a wealth of knowledge thanks to her teacher's rich collection of books.
Salt crabs had the potential to become monsters. The only thing differentiating them from regular crabs was their hard and huge claws, which logically, should be the essence of the salt crab. The claw, which was half the size of Locke's palm, only provided about as much meat as a small thumb. Thankfully, he had plenty of them.
"Since there is a monster crab king among them, they should also be part of the monster species bloodline. I can feel a subtle magic in these claws," said Angelina.
The flesh of a monster? Can't hurt to eat it! This was the first time Locke feasted on the flesh of a monster.
There was very little meat, but Locke could taste the difference. He could feel a slight tingling all over his body, and his impetus was improving slightly, but not at a particularly shocking rate.
"In order to see the benefits, you'll need to eat monster meat over a long period of time," said Angelina nonchalantly. She, who could eat monsters every day in the palace, didn't bat an eye over the meat. She had had many chances to partake in such luxuries. This was one reason why Angelina had good stamina, despite the lack of regular exercise. A good physique relied more on the kitchen than the training field!
Magic lifeforms were only as strong as beginner-rank Knechts. It was no surprise to Locke that Angelina ate their meat regularly. In fact, she probably would have easy access to the meat of monsters as well. Low-rank and mid-rank monsters were only as strong as low and mid-rank Knechts respectively, which Wyr would be able to kill easily, not to mention the other masters serving with the royal family.
After another three days, Locke's injuries had almost fully recovered. With a shudder, the scabs that had turned grey fell off one after another, leaving behind faint white marks. His impetus had also been replenished to its limit, and the impetus vortex had become much larger than before. 'The experience between life and death is the most helpful in a Knecht's breakthrough.' Wyr would often say these words to Locke, when he first taught him about impetus.
Locke had become accustomed to wandering between life and death after many years of war. Still, he didn't like the feeling of life hanging by a thread; after all no one would want to dance with death if they could. Once again, he'd made it out alive. After all his mistakes, his impetus had taken a big leap forward, and his overall strength had also improved a lot. This was also in part due to the claw meat of the salt crabs. It was his first time consuming meat with elemental essences and magic power, so the effects were obvious.
Angelina's spiritual and magical powers had also returned to her prime. However, her physical strength and endurance were still not as good as Locke's. In the dangerous jungle, the magic in her hands was her biggest tool in ensuring her safety, because there was no guarantee Locke would be able to survive on his own. The brown wolf he met that day had already posed a big challenge to him.
The two planned to leave the Bering Mountains the next day. They were currently near the western junction of the Bering Mountains and Morphey Forest. The only way they could get out of the Bering Mountains was to walk eastward, cross the mountains, then join the Faustian army outside.
As for how they were going to do this, they decided on going northeast. The route to the southeast was the furthest, and although most of the southern part of Shalor had been occupied, there weren't many Faustian troops there. With the princess in tow and not much protection with them, it wasn't a great idea to go barging in there. Going directly to the east would have been great too, because it had the shortest distance, and they would spend less time risking exposure to monsters. However, their encounter with Blood Red left a very deep impression on them, and that was the area where the Falcon was residing. There was a fierce battle ongoing, and it wasn't safe to go there. In the northeast, they would meet Lion, who had now surrounded most of the city of Audis. The royal capital of Shalor was now struggling like trapped beasts, and the surrounding area was the least dangerous. Of course, another very compelling reason was that Kenzir was there. Angelina had not forgotten why she had suffered so much. She also believed that her brother would protect her well.
Locke of course agreed with the princess unconditionally. For the first time in a few days of getting along with her very amiably, Locke felt a disparity between them. If they succeeded in meeting Kenzir, he didn't know if Angelina would make him face the music. Kenzir might hang him on the grounds of him being an ordinary commoner who took advantage of his sister. Hanged? That would be too kind to Locke. Commoners who violated the nobles would be burned alive on the stake. Their relatives would be punished too.
Locke sneaked a peek at Angelina. Angelina's face still looked angelic. Her long, blonde hair was gently draped around her face like a graceful waterfall, and her azure blue eyes gave off a sense of wisdom and intelligence. Looking at her, Locke felt that Angelina would not let that happen to him. After all, she had chosen to hug Locke's arm on her own accord during several nights. Although the soft touch on Locke's arm would disappear in the morning, he still did not break it off. The two had been maintaining this ambiguous and warm relationship.
The old brown mountain wolf was surprised to see that the plants next to his nest lacked some red fruits. It was a monster of the fire attribute, as was evident from its brown fur. When it bit its prey, its teeth would erupt in flames, instantly cauterising the blood from the neck of its prey. Not only that, it was stronger than ordinary mountain wolves. As a monster, this was what set it apart from ordinary ferocious beasts.
Mountain wolves were carnivorous. They usually wouldn't eat fruits, but these red fruits had some fire elemental essence, which was very inviting to the old wolf. Monsters would usually nest near magic plants, not just to protect the precious treasures of nature until it ripened for consumption, but sometimes also out of comfort.