Fifteen days passed quickly, and it was time for the Knight Academy’s enrollment test. Leon had given Charles some very basic instruction in handling a sword and dodging attacks, and he was certain it would be more than enough to see the first-tier mage through to a good score. Every day when they returned to the inn after training, Charles would meditate and perform breathing exercises for several hours, and his aura was significantly more stable. Leon guessed his power had increased by almost half of what it was before they left Teira.
When the two arrived at the assembly field where the test would take place, Charles wasn’t that confident, despite the advances he’d made. His body was bruised and sore, and he had barely slept the previous night. Leon was far more relaxed, as he was absolutely confident in passing the test. As for getting a good score, he couldn’t have cared less.
The field was large, so large that despite the several thousand people present, it still seemed fairly deserted. Most people were here with friends, so they had spread out around the field for some last-minute practice and warming up, though the wooden platform in the very center was given a wide berth.
There was a fence of iron bars that ran all the way around the field, and at the entrance were several dozen administrators where Leon and Charles signed in and were handed a blank scorecard. After that, they stood at the fence and watched the crowds for a while, waiting for the test to start. Charles eventually sat down to meditate, to make sure he was topped off on magic, while Leon leaned against the fence and closed his eyes.
More and more people arrived over the next hour until there were over ten thousand on the field. A few hundred workers began setting up a hundred stations around the field, which Leon knew was for the power test from the instructions he'd been given. There was a crystal on a wooden table, about the size of his fist, and every hopeful applicant would need to channel their magical power into it. The crystal would light up different colors for every tier the applicants had advanced through. This was the first test and would likely be where most of the applicants would wash out.
It was only when the stations were almost finished being set up that the nobles started arriving. There were a few lower nobles who showed up early, but the test was scheduled to begin around midday, and most nobles weren’t that thrilled at the idea of waiting with commoners, so they would usually arrive as late as possible.
Most of them walked right past the admin desks, sending their servants over in their stead. Of course, it was only to inform the administrators of their presence, rather than to finish signing up for the test. A few of the more vocally anti-commoner nobles even started pushing through the crowds that had started to form around the center of the field after the stations started being set up.
“Make way, you filthy peasants!” One of them, a young man with golden hair, an athletic build, and brilliant crimson clothes, went beyond just pushing, and even kicked at those in his way.
Leon frowned. He could sense that most of the nobles were of the late second-tier, but a few, such as this exceptionally ill-mannered man, were of the third-tier. Still, he found none of them to be that impressive, and his opinion dropped at their arrogant display.
One of the newer arrivals, a comparatively quiet lower noble of the second-tier, ran after the golden-haired man. He was easy to follow, given the curses and bruised shins in his wake. The new arrival approached the golden-haired man, bowed slightly, then went to whisper something in his ear. The golden-haired man’s eyes widened in disbelief and excitement before the new arrival hurriedly spoke a few more words. The golden-haired man immediately turned around and forced his way back through the crowd and all the way back to the gate, where he began to rather anxiously wait.
Leon had no idea who he was, but he seemed important, or at least related to someone important, as other nobles saw him waiting and went to wait with him. Soon enough, there was a group of two dozen young noblemen and a few servants all waiting by the gate.
This was a very curious sight, one that drew the attention of just about everyone that could see it. The suspense was lifted when a beautiful carriage arrived. It was painted sky blue, trimmed with silver, and pulled by a pair of magnificent white horses that almost glowed in the sun.
Leon’s eyes narrowed, he felt a slight magical aura surrounding these horses. They were undoubtedly absurdly expensive, so much so that all the other nobles that had arrived in carriages of their own felt horribly inadequate. The more Leon inspected the carriage, the more he felt its inhabitants were very special, as even from over a hundred feet away he could sense the magic within. This carriage was evidently very heavily enchanted.
Leon glanced over at the golden-haired noble and saw that he had walked to the gate and was waiting expectantly, with a look of pride at seeing the other nobles behind him not dare to move forward themselves. These other nobles had a slightly bitter look, but they didn’t speak up to object.
The carriage driver jumped down and reverently opened the door, stepping to the side and bowing slightly. The watching crowd went silent, almost holding their breath. Three women stepped out, each of nearly unrivaled beauty.
The first was a dark-haired woman with bronze skin and warm brown eyes, clearly a descendant of the people from the desert kingdom to the south of the Bull Kingdom, past the Gulf of Discord. She wore loose yellow clothing, which though plain, was made of the finest silks and studded with diamonds. Despite how loose her clothes were, they were held in place with a red sash around her waist, and her pants were tied to her ankles at the hem.
This exotic southern beauty warmly smiled and waved when she saw everyone at the gate, and for a moment, it almost seemed like the sun flickered in jealousy of her beauty.
The next woman who stepped out was the near opposite of the first. She had dazzling silver hair tied into a loose braid, and eyes like two sparkling sapphires. She was dressed all in tight blue training clothes, which hugged her body in all the right places. She had a cold and distant air about her, and she hardly spared a single glance towards the waiting nobles. Instead, she stepped down from the carriage and looked disinterestedly towards the horizon, while waiting for the final passenger to disembark.
When the third woman stepped out into the light, Leon almost had a heart attack. He recognized that lustrous red hair, those piercing green eyes, the seductive aura she seemed to project, but he didn’t expect her to appear here of all places. She was, of course, Elise.
Leon hurriedly averted his gaze, hoping he wasn’t seen. Unfortunately for him, when everyone else was staring at the three of them, anyone not looking their way was quite obvious. Elise saw his familiar figure plain as day, though she didn’t seem to react. She cast her devilish gaze around at the dazzled nobles with a smile that was half disdain and half satisfaction.
These three young women spoke a few more words amongst each other before Elise gave them both a brief hug and boarded the carriage again. Just as she was about to close the door, she looked over her shoulder to see that Leon had turned his own gaze back in her direction, and they made eye contact. Elise smiled impishly and winked at Leon, causing his face to immediately turn red and his head to turn away in embarrassment. She giggled coquettishly as the door closed and the carriage departed.
When Leon worked up the nerve to look back towards the entrance again, he was relieved to see that Elise had left. He couldn’t get that beautiful and confident smile of hers out of his head, though.
The other two young women fell in with the noble crowd, though they didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic about it. The woman in blue wasn’t even bothering to hide it, as she barely acknowledged anyone who spoke to her. The woman in yellow was much friendlier, speaking to everyone in turn, and allowing the golden-haired noble to walk with them, though his eyes kept turning towards the woman in blue.
The other nobles didn’t seem to say anything apart from greetings, which Leon understood as these two young women were both in the third-tier, head and shoulders above all but the golden-haired noble. Leon resolved to keep an eye on those three. He wasn’t too concerned about them, but a little caution was never a bad thing.
Over the next half hour, the rest of the nobles arrived, though none of them had quite the same impact as Elise’s group. Leon found that it was easy to see who was important and who wasn’t, as there were a few nobles who would receive greetings from almost all the others. There were two who even the golden-haired man sought out and spoke a few words with. However, those two young women didn’t seem to feel the need to give any greetings, themselves.
By the time a knight in fancy military garb ascended the platform, Leon counted three dozen third-tier mages among the thousands of hopeful applicants, including himself. None of the others seemed to be commoners, though, given their expensive attire.
There were also about three hundred second-tier mages, with perhaps two hundred and seventy-five or so being noble. All the rest were first-tier mages of varying quality.
When the knight arrived at the center of the wooden platform, he waved his hand and an iron rod appeared from his soul realm. At the top of the rod was a diamond-shaped iron plate, with a fingernail-sized opal set into the center and gently glowing runes along the outside edge. Thanks to this iron rod, when the man spoke, his voice was heard from one end of the field to the other.
“Welcome to the Knight Academy of His Royal Majesty, King Julius Septimius Taurus! I have confidence that you all know why you’re here, so I won’t waste time with a long-winded speech! Along the perimeter of this training field, you will see one hundred stations, each with a magic measurement crystal! If it’s found that you’re not solidly of the first-tier, you will be denied entry to the Academy! Next to each station is a sign with a number on it, the same number as should be in the top right corner of your scorecard. You will line up in single file in front of the same station as is on your scorecard! In. Single. File! When it is your turn, you will present your examiner with your card, and they will give further instructions as needed! Now get moving!”
The ten thousand people immediately began moving. Leon looked at his card, which said ‘26’. Charles’ was ‘57’.
“Hey…” said Leon, “If one of us finished before the other, let’s meet up at the burger place from the other day.” Charles felt like he might throw up from anxiety if he opened his mouth, so he simply nodded in response, and the two young men walked to their respective stations.
Leon’s station was all the way on the other side of the field, and he took the walk over there as an opportunity to observe the other stations. He noticed that they weren’t divided by tier, or at least, not completely. The first four stations were given over to the nobles, and all the commoners sharing the rest. The first station only had the thirty-five third-tier nobles getting in line for it, with the next three divided amongst the second-tier nobles. All the other stations had about one hundred and twenty commoners spread out between them. He saw that the few second-tier commoners were scattered amongst the other stations, too.
The stations themselves were identical, and the examiners were all of the third-tier. The sole exception was the first station, who Leon guessed was a fourth-tier examiner from what little he could glean of the man’s aura.
Leon arrived at the back of his line and waited. Those in front of him were all only first-tier mages, and the few that turned around to size him up noticed his incomprehensible aura and immediately turned back around with slightly ashen faces. Leon didn’t care, he just calmly waited for his turn, watching the others slowly undergo the exam.
Thank you to my Sixth-tier patrons:
Want to know what happens next? Head over to my Patreon, where you can not only read up to 5 chapters ahead, but also gain access to my Behind the Scenes posts where I talk about the inspirations and iterations the various elements of my story have gone through!
If you want to support this story further, please head over to Royal Road and leave a rating or review! It's free, and every rating helps!