After half a month’s rest, Locke finally showed up at the academy’s mission hall again. Today, he was here to submit his report.
“Herr Locke! This way, please.” The staff brought him to a room on the second floor. Locke had only been to the second floor once when Joaquin accepted the exorcism mission some time ago. However, things had changed. Locke was now a high-rank Knecht with extended privileges.
Though the mission hall was filled with knights, there weren’t many high-rank Knechts among them. Only those whose ranks were on par with Locke were allowed access to the exclusive room.
One after another, Locke produced the spoils of his missions from his spatial ring--the skull of the moni greatowl, thornfish eyes, the heart of a rock frog, the paw of the green arrow monkey and the horn of a ridge rhinoceros, materials he'd obtained in the past two months. The only thing missing was the burrowing pangolin’s hammer tail, which Locke had allowed to escape. Despite that, his efficiency was considered the best among the knights.
“As expected from a high-rank Knecht! You’ve managed to accomplish most of the tougher missions,” complimented the staff member. The man had been the supervisor for Locke’s missions for the last two years. He was certain that Locke’s capabilities were still of a mid-rank Knecht two months ago and the missions were clearly completed prior to advancement. It was noteworthy that these missions were tough even for high-rank Knechts. The staff was genuinely impressed, making a mental note to supervise Locke with more care.
Locke merely chuckled and awaited his reward. Sure, the missions had been life-threatening, but the rewards were the highest he had ever received over the years. None of the individual rewards were less than a thousand gold moores. But of course, it came with a hefty sacrifice; Locke’s blood essence was used up so much he only had twenty grams left.
“Your total reward is six thousand one hundred and fifty gold moores!” The attendant smiled and handed over six golden cards and a sack of money.
Locke received them but didn't leave right after, deeming it a good time for a chat. He asked, “Is there any mission befitting a high-rank Knecht?”
“Yes, of course.” The staff was well aware that Locke was a workaholic, so he had a feeling he was about to take up missions again. There was a good number of missions that demanded high-rank Knechts in the lobby downstairs. However, they numbered relatively few. If one wished to receive more comprehensive briefs and access the full selection, they’d need to visit the exclusive room on the second floor; which was why the high-rank Knechts were given this platform.
Locke was given three whole lists of missions, each sheet filled to the brim with information. At a glimpse, there seemed to be at least one hundred missions in total. Locke’s previously completed tasks like hunting down the moni greatowl were included as well, but it appeared towards the bottom of the list. Locke paid attention to the first tasks listed on the top of all pages, which were: A group mission to slay a quasi-major monster, a mountain lizard; a mission to steal some salivary leaves from the lair of a quasi-major monster, the wandering heron; and a mission to capture soulfish at Phantom Blue Valley.
As Locke read the information given, he felt the corners of his lips twitching. The concept of slaying major monsters and stealing from under the nose of a monster was unfathomable to him. As for the third mission, Locke had never heard of a place called Phantom Blue Valley, much less knew what a soulfish was. But it was probably nearly impossible to complete like the first two missions.
“What’s the matter, Herr Locke? See anything interesting?” The staff prompted, perhaps noticing the odd expression on Locke’s face.
“Not yet.” Locke shook his head when he suddenly noticed a mission related to him.
“Capturing a cave dweller from the Feris domain?” Locke blinked in confusion. If he remembered correctly, his mission with Irene had taken place in Feris some time ago.
“Oh. Speaking of which, this mission has got something to do with you!” The staff smiled. “After you brought back the remains of a cave dweller from a mission in Feris, the academy determined the presence of more of them in the area.”
How could Locke forget about that? He had even sold the cave dweller’s location to Billie’s family and earned some big bucks.
“Are you interested in taking this up?” The staff commented, “This mission seems to be rather popular among high-rank Knechts recently.”
“I’ll pass for the moment.” Locke returned the lists to the staff. “But I’ll be back again when I wish to accept missions.”
“Alright, sure.” The staff thought that Locke needed a break since he had just broken through recently.
Exiting the mission hall, it dawned upon Locke as he watched the bustling crowd of knights that he hadn’t seen Irene in a very long time. Thinking back to the time when Irene had fooled him into becoming her fiancé, the ghost of a smile appeared on his lips. So, he strode over to the Perseverance faculty. It was still time for classes hence the training grounds outside and academic buildings were still flooded with junior knights. Most of them were first and second-year students, which mainly consisted of lower to beginner rank Knechts.
He made a lap around the premise but failed to spot any familiar faces. It was then that he decided to go to the nearby canteen.
Two years may have passed but Perseverance's canteen had remained pretty much the same. The third and second floor remained uncharted territory for Locke, however, he was no longer interested in exploring it anymore despite possessing the finances and qualifications to dine there.
He picked up his order of salmon and went in search of a spot by the window. Suddenly, his eyes lit up.
“Aren’t you supposed to be in class?” Locke flashed a cheeky smile at a female knight seated next to the window.
It was Irene. Her lunch was the same as ever: the cheapest meat mince on the menu.
“Locke?!” Irene was in disbelief, slapping his shoulder hard. “Hey, it’s been a while!”
Locke grinned. “It seems that you’ve gotten stronger.”
“Of course!” Though Irene was still a low-rank Knecht, her improvements were significant since their last cave mission. Their conversation flowed easily.
Irene remarked, “I heard you became a high-rank Knecht recently.”
Locke shrugged. That was no secret. Most of his classmates had visited him while bedridden. Oddly enough, Irene didn’t show up.
“Man, I’m so envious!” Irene huffed, “We enrolled into the same batch but you’ve surpassed me by leaps.”
“Hey.” Locke’s lips curved into a smile. He asked, “Are you done eating?”
“Of course not. Isn’t it obvious?” Irene pointed at her plate, which was mostly untouched.
“Come on then, let me treat you to something else!” Locke tugged on her arm.
The sudden movement caught her aback, but soon she relented and relaxed.
“What’s on the menu?” Irene questioned.
“Salmon!” Locke let out a hearty laugh.
“Jeez, you’re so stingy!” She pouted.
There was a moment of silence.
“Say... Locke, will we still be friends in the future?” asked Irene.
“Of course.” He answered without hesitation.
But it was difficult to feign ignorance. As Locke continued to hone his abilities, the gap between them would grow. Locke wouldn’t be showing up at school as much as before, as high-rank Knechts were granted a high degree of autonomy by the academy. No one knew when they’d meet again. Yet somehow, neither of them brought the topic up.
“Do you like swallowtail fish?” Irene asked.
“I’m fine with it, I guess.”