Princeton was a huge city that housed nearly four million residents, a population twice that of the Faustian kingdom. As such, the mass gathering of high-rank Knechts in the northeast of the city brought little to no surprise for the imperial capital.
However, Princeton Academy felt relatively quiet today. Most students weren’t back from their holiday yet and most of them were still busy with their respective missions. The Hall of Knights’ recruitment order also had a role in this. There were a total of six faculties in the academy, four of which were knight faculties while the remaining belonged to the casters. Knights made up the majority of the academy’s members; if there was anywhere else apart from the Hall of Knights with the most high-rank Knechts, it would have to be in the academy. Still, it wasn’t exactly deserted either. There were a few weirdly dressed and demure casters wandering about. The quieter days of the academy made them stand out more than usual.
The concept of a holiday was close to non-existent among casters. Many remained on campus throughout the year, spending most of their time in the library, classrooms and laboratories. Students were assigned dormitories by the academy; most rooms housed two students, though single rooms were an option too, obviously costing more. In this aspect, Angelina was perhaps the most privileged among most Lehrlings in the academy. She had rented a huge house on the busy Sachiel Street and managed to build a custom alchemy laboratory inside. Plus, there was an impressive collection of books in her spatial ring. She had never needed to stay in school too long for there were so many things to do at home.
However, today was an exception. Angelina had to pack for her upcoming journey to the Sanctum. While she didn’t live on campus, many of her textbooks and materials were left behind in her mentor’s tower and laboratory, all of which she needed to retrieve before her departure. Apart from that, she had also made an appointment with Grandmeisterin Parlina for a visit later. As a teaching staff at the Imperial Academy, her grandmeisterin was given a relatively comfortable tower of her own. It had been a breeze for Angelina to live and conduct experiments there.
Bored out his mind while waiting for Angelina, Locke entertained himself by looking around. Without the caster faculty’s badge, Locke wasn’t permitted to enter its grounds, let alone approach the alchemy laboratory and magic tower where Angelina was.
The creature guarding the gate was a huge eyeball. It was the size of a washbasin and there were a few grey tentacles attached to its bottom. It was a complete mystery how they were able to stay afloat. If Locke hadn’t known better, he would’ve been frightened by the sight. The creature’s dark pupils had been staring at Locke through the gates, giving him a faint sense of dread. Though it was only a mid-rank major monster at best, it was more than capable of intimidating high-rank Knechts. Through that, Locke guessed that it was a monster with great potential like Angie the scorpiondrake.
The little scorpiondrake was currently a mid-rank major monster, and she was catching up to Locke in terms of defence, agility and attack intensity. The venom in its stinger was lethal even for a high-rank major monster.
“What is this creature called again?” Locke rubbed his chin, jogging through his memory for the right name. Angelina mentioned this creature when he last passed by the faculty. “An evil eye?” He stared at the floating creature uncertainly. If he remembered correctly, this creature wasn’t native to the Missia Continent nor was it from Magion on the east coast. This monster was captured by casters off a foreign plane and brought here to be a guard.
“What are you looking at?” Angelina’s crisp voice rang from a distance. Dressed in a white cotton dress, she looked innocent and ethereal under the winter sun.
“What is this monster called?” He waited for her to come closer before pointing at the floating eyeball.
“It’s an evil eye. Why do you even care about this lowly slave?” She grabbed his hand and tugged him forward. “Come on, we still need to pay Grandmother Parlina a visit!”
It seemed as though Angelina wasn’t keen on explaining more about the monster; her condescending tone and emphasis on its enslaved status didn’t go unnoticed by Locke. Even so, Angelina wasn’t an isolated case; most of the faculty’s casters had mostly treated the evil eye coldly. It was obvious that they felt superior to the pitiful creature.
“What does it usually eat?” Locke couldn't help his curiosity. He hadn’t noticed any sort of organ that resembled an oral cavity on the evil eye. Plus, they still had plenty of time before they needed to be at Grandmeisterin Parlina’s place. This was Locke’s first encounter with a creature from a foreign plane and he was genuinely interested. Until now, he still hadn’t gotten a hang of distinguishing between native and alien monsters.
“Hehe.” As if amused, Angelina giggled lightly behind her palm. “It doesn’t need to eat!”
“Huh? Then how does it sustain itself?” From what Locke had learnt in basic magic and impetus classes, energy in a living being could be circulated through impetus, magic and innate blood vigour. Impetus and magic were cultivated through external training and mostly absorbed through the air. Blood vigour, on the other hand, could only be sourced from digested food. If the evil eye didn’t feed, how could it maintain its mid-rank capabilities? How was it able to stay alive?
“It absorbs light energy through the eye. Its tentacles are capable of absorbing loose elemental energy too,” explained Angelina. She was bound to be a great mind in the future, at least in Locke’s opinion. Angelina always had answers to all of his questions.
“What else?” Locke pressed on. He knew that the evolution of most major monsters was passive. Unlike casters and knights who could advance themselves using impetus training and meditation, a major monster’s powers were largely influenced by general growth and diet.
“Perhaps magic crystals would do it some good,” supplied Angelina.
“Hmm.” In a flash, an ochre-coloured terra crystal core the size of his nail was produced from his spatial ring. He had obtained the crystal while passing through the northwestern Aomar desert during a mission. Extracted from a low-rank desert rock snake monster, the crystal core was only worth around five gold moores; an amount he no longer cared much about. After all, the golden cards in his spatial ring were at least worth eight to nine thousand gold moores altogether.
Playfully, Locke tossed the terra crystal over. It travelled in a parabolic trajectory before hitting the monster on its head accurately. But really, calling it a head didn’t seem right; the evil eye was a simple creature composed of only a huge eyeball and a few tentacles. Locke’s aim was pretty good, not to mention they hadn’t gone far from the monster. After all, he had practised archery for some time when he joined the military in his teens.
The evil eye had long noticed Locke; he looked incredibly suspicious to it as he snooped around the faculty’s gate. Back at home on the Agean Plane, the evil eye would’ve taught this irritating human a firm lesson. Sadly, it was forced to mellow down ever since it was sold to Zauberia thirty years ago. It couldn’t afford to be aggressive at all, for it had seen too many of its kind mercilessly executed by the academy’s staff after being accused of ‘hurting’ the spoiled Lehrlings.
There were four entrances to the caster faculty building where Angelina was, each under the watch of an evil eye. This monster was naturally gifted with an all-seeing eye, a trait deeply loved by the casters of the academy. Mid-rank major monsters possessed significant intelligence that was comparable to a teenager's and based on Locke’s actions, the evil eye realized that the man meant no harm. Its attention was plastered to the ochre-coloured crystal.
As a slave, it hadn’t touched a crystal core in decades; the mentors of the Princeton Imperial Academy weren’t too interested in investing more thought into a slave’s diet. The evil eye didn’t require actual food as long as it had sunlight; it could even absorb starlight in the dark, just with lower efficiency. If they were unlucky enough to be met with a few cloudy days in a row, however, they’d become incredibly vulnerable as they had no other channels to replenish themselves. The tiny crystal core was no doubt a feast to the evil eye. A second before the crystal hit the ground, the slow-moving light-element major monster hovered over and caught it with its tentacles.
“Whoa!” A strange howl escaped Locke. He was surprised that the monster managed to keep a height of twenty centimetres off the ground while doing so. Wingless monsters that were capable of flight were very rare. This had been a great eye-opener, so it wasn’t a total loss on Locke’s part. Yet, the altitude of the evil eye’s flight was nothing significant as a mid-rank monster; it was better off not flying even.
“Hurry up! Grandmother Parlina is waiting for us!” Angelina wasn’t in the mood for Locke’s childish antics. They had an appointment with the grandmeisterin and it was better to be early than tardy.
“Coming!” Noting Angelina's urgency, Locke quickly hooked an arm around her waist and headed towards the other end of the academy.
The evil eye’s tentacle grasped the terra crystal holding it up as if questioning Locke’s intentions. But as it watched Locke walking away, it gingerly placed the crystal in the intersection between its tentacles and eyeball--there was a digestive tract there. The image of Locke was seared into the evil eye’s memory.
“Why did you feed it a terra crystal? Isn’t that a waste?” asked Angelina once they were out of earshot. Her arms were wrapped around Locke’s arm tightly.
“I’m feeding it so that it’d stop seeing me as a threat next time.” Locke laughed out loud.
“It’s not a dog, you know.” Angelina rolled her eyes.
“Well, just consider it a little treat,” answered Locke.