Once Locke entered the busy mission hall, he went straight to the reception. Most of the people present were also knights like Locke who were looking for missions to take on the notice board. Few actually came to complete their missions like Locke was. After all, academy missions weren't simple, to say the least. There were always all sorts of risks behind most missions. For instance, if Locke hadn't been armed with heavy armour and a sharp longsword, he wouldn't be able to deal with the steelbristle fang he killed a few months ago even as a mid-rank Knecht.
The one who attended Locke was a familiar face. Locke had counted on him to process his missions in the past few months. Smiling at him, the staff didn't ask too many questions and received the package Locke handed him to begin inspecting it. Within it were three-star herbs whose roots were still covered in some dirt. It was obvious they had just been recently picked.
"Not bad, the quality is really good. I can give you a good rating this time around," said the staff as he wrote down some notes.
It was no surprise the quality would be good; Locke had spent half a month living near the cliff and scaling them downwards from the top with a climbing anchor to search painstakingly for them. This was one of those missions that wasn't just about killing monsters or bandits. While fetch missions sounded easier owing to the lack of an obvious foe, they had their own difficulties too. There was a reason missions were made for those requests and it could only be completed with some measure of luck and patience.
Fortunately, Locke fared pretty well this time around. He had heard from Billie about the rough whereabouts the star herbs were located and managed to find it not long after. Since he rescued Billie, she often came to visit him. They had met by 'coincidence' a few times now at Perseverance after he returned from a mission.
After collecting his reward of three hundred gold moores, he put them into his pocket. He didn't want the fact that he had a spatial ring to be known in the academy, so he avoided using it in crowded areas such as these.
On his way to the cafeteria, the jingle he heard in his pocket put a skip in his step. Since it wasn't really mealtime now, the place wasn't too crowded. He picked an inconspicuous spot and sat down.
Having completed a couple of missions and earned quite a bit, he no longer skimped out on meals. Today, he was about to have a roast snow hare for lunch. It was a minor monster that lived out in the snowfields. While it wasn't physically strong, it was really quick and hard to catch, but it did taste rather delicious. Locke made a cut and pulled off the leg, dipped it in some sauce, and wolfed down on it.
"Whoa! A snow hare!"
Locke knew who it was without even looking. Irene was a fellow knight he ran into in the cafeteria often throughout the last semester. But this semester, Locke still managed to see her when he returned from missions from time to time. It almost felt like fate bringing them together.
"Just got off class?" Locke asked. It was only eleven, so that shouldn't usually be the case.
"Of course!" She made a goofy face at him. Women, especially those who studied in knight faculties like Perseverance, always drew quite a bit of attention. The disparity between male and female students was too high. Almost every knight that had some form of noble upbringing would treat their female colleagues rather well. It was likely that Irene was skipping class, though that really didn't matter. As long as she could pass the final test, her instructors and mentors wouldn't give her too much trouble for it.
Seeing her stare greedily at his food, Locke relented. "If you want some, go get your own utensils."
"I was waiting for you to say that!" She skipped off in a hurry to get some. Putting Irene aside, even Locke wouldn't order something like a snow hare if he hadn't just collected his mission reward. Even though it was a minor monster just like the salmon fish, it was ten times its price thanks to its juicy and delicious flesh that monster fish simply couldn't compare to.
Yet, his expensive meal was about to be disrupted by Irene. In actuality, Locke was not as generous as he liked to portray. Despite offering her to join in his meal, he was considering changing to another cafeteria next time. There were six in Princeton Academy, after all. Apart from the two reserved for casters, he had three picks to choose from.
Thankfully, Billie wasn't aware that he was returning today and Angelina had told him she was performing an important experiment, so he wouldn't have to worry about the awkwardness when they saw him messing around with Irene.
Locke took his leave first after finishing his food. He had to report to combat class, a compulsory subject for his current semester, but he wasn't too interested in actually taking part. He was just there to get the minimum attendance needed to pass the course. However, Irene didn't leave and followed behind him instead. Even someone as dense as Locke would know that she had something to ask him about after following him around for so long. "What is it?"
Now, the usual rambunctious and energetic Irene was as timid as a snow hare, tugging the corner of his shirt but not being able to let the words she so desperately wanted to say out of her mouth.
"If you're not going to, I'm leaving." He had planned to go to the library, so he wouldn't let himself be held back by her like that.
"I heard you've been taking on missions lately," she said.
"That's right." It wasn't really a secret, so he didn't see the need to deny it. The only reason he hadn't been expelled despite his long absences meant that he was taking missions under the academy.
"There's a mission to investigate the mines in the Ferris domain next month for two people. Can you join me for the mission?" she asked in a single breath.
"Investigating mines?" Based on her tone, it seemed she had already signed up for the mission but still lacked a party member. Considering the fact that he hadn't decided which mission to take next month, he decided he would tag along. A mission that a low-rank Knecht could sign up for wouldn't be that difficult; Irene had advanced to become a low-rank Knecht in the current semester, something which Locke only discovered during one of his trips to the academy amidst the missions.
"Then, it's a promise!" She seemed really excited and relieved as if a huge burden had been lifted off her shoulders. "Meet me in front of the academy entrance on the 25th of the month! Don't skip out on it!"
"Got it." He waved her away and continued his way to attend combat class.