A parrot-like avian major monster inside the huge cargo container watched on with a tilted head as Locke loaded it onto the transport belt.
“Locke! It’s lunchtime!” Harris’ shout came ringing from a nearby pile of cages.
“Alright!” Locke answered and approached the parrot monster. Before the bird could react, he plucked two out of three strands of its proud pink crest. Squawk! The unexpected assault had it stumbling away, wings flapping frantically.
“Two scarlet feathers.” Locke quietly jotted down in a small notebook that was produced from his spatial ring. He then placed the feathers into a wooden box.
To everyone else, a job at the transfer zone sounded like a tough time filled with sweat and grime. They needed to face countless major monsters and aliens on a daily basis, after all. To Locke, on the other hand, it was a gigantic gold mine that promised filled pockets.
Putting away his belongings, Locke changed into a set of clean garments to join Harris for lunch. From their time together, Molly and Harris could see that Locke was a very generous person. He had never mistreated them since they were always given a portion of each completed transaction. Perhaps this could be considered bribery to keep their lips zipped. While their gig wasn’t the most legitimate, it was common for those working in the transfer zone to leech off their jobs; almost everyone here was guilty of something. Locke was merely doing the most among them. After all, he was the only one who dared to extract organs off major monsters that were still conscious.
The scarlet parrot earlier was a mid-rank major monster. Despite its soul imprint, it wasn’t something that casters could effortlessly meddle with. They’d need to weaken it further with spells before any action could be taken.
“Where shall we have lunch today?” Locke looped an arm around Harris’ shoulder with a boxy grin. They had grown chummy recently and there was no friction between them.
“How about we have it on the academy’s second floor?” suggested Harris.
“Sure.” Locke licked his lips, thinking about the secret recipe warthog leg served only on the second floor. The Sanctum’s welfare for the casters was so splendid that it got him green with envy. Apart from accommodation, meals were subsidised and consisted of nutritious ingredients like mid-rank major monster parts. Most importantly, they could eat as much as they wished; Locke’s huge appetite appreciated the welfare a lot.
Most of Locke’s restrictions were lifted after he started working Grandmeisterin Ashar. He could now move around the Sanctum tower freely and enjoy access to the other buildings. At this point, no one would question if he was a Lehrling if he changed into standard caster robes.
The wartime transfer zone was most busy in the morning as the slaves would arrive at the break of dawn. Afternoons were reserved for registration tasks so Locke’s presence wasn’t exactly needed; Molly and Harris could handle it themselves.
“I need to visit Grandmeisterin Ashar this afternoon, thanks for covering my part at the transfer zone,” said Locke.
“Don’t sweat it.” Harris nodded. He and Molly were made aware that Locke was working for a certain Magister. But it suddenly came to Harris’ mind that Locke had never told them who he was working for. “Oh, right. Whose assistant are you again?”
“It’s Grandmeisterin Ashar.”
“Wait, what?” Immediately, Harris choked on his caviar and went into a violent coughing fit. “Come again?”
“It’s Grandmeisterin Ashar. What’s wrong?” Locke was baffled.
Harris remained silent, merely tossing a pitiful look over. “Best of luck, Locke.”
“Hey, what do you mean by that?” Locke reached over and grabbed his collar. Was Grandmeisterin Ashar that notorious among the Lehrlings?
“They say that she never had an apprentice, merely sticking to hiring experiment assistants all this while.” Harris continued solemnly, “Her assistants all barely last two months.”
“Why? Was she harsh on them?”
“No. They just couldn’t stand being transformed into literal freaks,” Harris replied earnestly. “An unlucky fellow had his legs removed by Grandmeisterin Ashar to be replaced with the roots of an ancient tree. The poor dude was dead in less than a month!” At the memory of the shocking tragedy, Harris could feel himself losing his appetite. He placed his spoonful of caviar down on the table gingerly.
Locke’s scalp began to tingle. Ashar did express her intention to use him as an experimental subject. The thought was harrowing, causing him to shiver involuntarily.
“Did the Sanctum do nothing about that?” While exploitation of Lehrlings by Magisters was typical around here, the incident was very severe. Surely, the Sanctum couldn’t afford to be blind to that.
“Of course measures were taken, they couldn’t ignore it. I heard she was fined a huge sum of energy crystals in the end,” answered Harris.
Mere minerals as compensation for a living soul? Reality sure was ugly.
“That was to be expected. Grandmeisterin Ashar is one of the most powerful level-one Magisters here so she’s bound to enjoy some special privileges.” Harris had long accepted that fact. He had been at the Sanctum for about ten years now; he had seen a lot and was ultimately desensitised to everything.
Perhaps Angelina too hadn’t realized the dangers that came with the task. She hadn’t expected that since Ashar was her mentor’s sister.
Now aware of Ashar’s tainted record, he didn’t dare to be tardy. Locke left for the tower straight after lunch. Ashar had given him a copy of her keys but that was all to it. Locke was forbidden from entering the laboratory, her meditation room and the element pool without permission; he could only stay in the living room.
When he entered, Ashar immediately noticed despite having been meditating.
“You’re early. Did you bring the items I asked for?” Still clad in the same black robe, Ashar padded out of the meditation room.
“Yes! Here it is.” Locke quickly pulled out most of the materials in his spatial ring. Some were specifically requested by her but some were from his collection. It just couldn’t be helped. In the face of dying at the hands of Ashar or wealth, Locke had chosen to live. He could always earn all his money back again but there were no second chances at life.