“Fail.” The stern examiner glared at the young man, and he withdrew his hand from the crystal. The young man looked like he wanted to say something for a moment, to try and argue with the examiner, but the crystal had only flickered with an incredibly faint red light. He was only sixteen, young enough that he still had at least four more tries to enter the Knight Academy, so he shut his mouth and dutifully left the station, making for the field’s gate.
Charles saw the whole thing and was just about drenched in sweat. It was almost his turn, and out of the forty-five people who had tried their hand at the crystal, only seven had passed.
The next applicant stepped up. He walked straight to the crystal without even waiting for the examiner to call him forward. So confident was he that he seemed to forget to give the examiner his scorecard. He placed his hand upon the crystal and began channeling his magic power into it. But, his confidence was all for nothing, because the crystal pulsed with a red light that was barely brighter than the previous man.
“Fail.” said the examiner.
“What? No!” The young man’s confident façade shattered, and he turned to the examiner. “Let me try again, I can do this!”
The examiner was having none of it, though. “You failed. Get lost.” The man ignored the examiner and extended his hand to the crystal again, but before he could touch it, the examiner lunged forward and drove his fist into the young man’s stomach. The young man collapsed, and the examiner kicked him to the side before grabbing his scorecard and tearing it to pieces.
He glanced back at the line, and growled, “Next.”
The next man came forward. He did like all the others had before him and placed his hand upon the crystal. Again, the crystal flashed a dull red light, not enough for the man to pass. An extremely dejected look appeared on his face, but when the examiner said ‘Fail’, he didn’t stick around.
It was now Charles’ turn. He tried to swallow his fear, then stepped forward. He held out his scorecard for the examiner with trembling hands and approached the crystal. Before stretching out his hand, he took a few deep breaths, giving the mana in the air time to be absorbed by his lungs.
He couldn’t wait too long, though, and reached for the crystal. When his fingers came into contact with it, he channeled every drop of mana within him into his hand as quickly as possible. For a moment, there was no response. His magic power flowed into the crystal like a tiny river into the Endless Ocean, and his heart rate skyrocketed in panic.
But then, a tiny red light appeared in the crystal. It grew in brightness until nearly a quarter of the crystal had turned red. He kept going, but the crystal didn’t grow any brighter. He looked to the examiner and braced himself for failure.
Charles released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. A smile broke out onto his face and he had to fight the urge to laugh in relief. The examiner quickly wrote down something on his scorecard and handed it back to Charles.
“Go over to the building over there…” The examiner gestured over his shoulder with his thumb. “… and show this card to one of the examiners behind the desk.”
“Thank you!” Charles was giddy with excitement and had to force himself not to pull the examiner in a hug. The examiner just scowled at him, then turned his eyes back to the line and shouted, “Next!” Charles got the hint and hurried off.
There were three relatively small two-story rectangular buildings on the edge of the field, one on every side of the iron fence with the gate on the final side. On the way to the building the examiner pointed to, Charles looked at his scorecard. Below his personal information and the crystal station number, there were three large boxes in a row. In the left-most box, the examiner had written ‘028’.
He needed a score of at least twenty in each test in order to pass. A twenty-eight wasn’t that great, but he passed. Next up should be the combat test, then the written test.
‘I wonder how Leon is doing… Has he passed yet?’ Charles thought as he pushed the door to the building open. There was no doubt in his mind as to whether Leon would pass this test or not. ‘Probably not. His station was further away, he’s probably further back in line…’
Charles wasn’t wrong, Leon was still waiting in line. There were still about forty people or so ahead of him by this point, but he wasn’t paying even the slightest bit of attention to them. Instead, he had been watching the third-tier tests.
They hadn’t lined up but rather had formed a large group and began egging each other on, treating this test as more of a game amongst themselves than anything. Leon was too far away to hear what they were saying, but they seemed to be having a great time. Despite being stronger than them, the examiner didn’t disturb them, allowing the young nobles to undergo the test at their own pace. Consequently, only about half of them had gone through in this time.
Leon watched as the golden-haired noble decide that it was his turn to go through and stepped forward to the cheers of his peers. When he touched the crystal, almost immediately it glowed red, then orange, only stopping when the entire core of the crystal had turned bright yellow. The other nobles cheered, but Leon saw that the golden-haired noble seemed a little disappointed in his performance. Even from this distance, Leon could tell that there was a slight tinge of orange that clung to the edges of the crystal.
The golden-haired noble joined the ranks of those who had finished the test, and one man in particular, a tall and lean man, slapped him on the back in congratulations. The golden-haired noble smiled rather meekly in response, as this was one of the men that Leon had noticed him go out of his way to greet.
The nobles stopped cheering and grew deathly silent when they saw who was going to take the test next, the woman in blue. She walked towards the crystal so gracefully that she almost seemed to glide. She gently pressed her hand against the crystal, which responded by quickly glowing bright yellow, with no hint of orange. Her cold emotionless face didn’t so much as twitch as she stepped away from the crystal, though the group of young nobles clapped and cheered.
Next came the woman in yellow. The crystal was made to match her clothes just as fast as the woman in blue, to the celebration of the noble crowd. The woman in yellow was very happy with the result, and ran straight to the woman in blue, happily hugging her friend.
The woman in blue cracked a very brief smile, then the two began walking towards the building opposite from the gate, completely ignoring the other nobles. The golden-haired noble called after them, asking them to wait with everyone else, but the woman in blue didn’t even acknowledge his presence, and the woman in yellow just waved to him with a smile on her face, and they kept walking.
Leon noticed that they would pass close by his station, so he hurriedly turned his gaze away from them. The woman in blue wasn’t paying any attention to the other people around, but the woman in yellow’s head was on a swivel, taking in everything that she could.
Inevitably, as they passed Leon’s station, she noticed him. He wasn’t trying to stand out, but he wasn’t exactly hiding his aura, either. The woman in yellow’s radiant smile faltered for a moment in surprise, then she leaned over to whisper to the woman in blue. The latter’s eyes briefly narrowed in suspicion before whispering back to the former. They nodded to each other, then proceeded towards their destination. They didn’t bother thinking more of Leon, because if he were truly third-tier, they’d meet very soon anyway.
After those two and the golden-haired noble had taken their power test, Leon rather lost interest in continuing to watch the other third-tier nobles. He calmly waited until it was his turn to approach the crystal.
As with all the other examiners, the one running his station was a very humorless man who was only concerned with keeping the line moving in an orderly fashion. He would hurry the applicants forward by almost yelling ‘Next!’ at them while giving a glare filled with killing intent. Perhaps it was because he was so unnerving that out of the hundred or so applicants who went before Leon, only nine had passed.
When it was Leon’s turn, the examiner was about to do the same as he had with all the other applicants, but as soon as his eyes met Leon’s, he caught himself. He shut his mouth and gave Leon a respectful nod, which Leon returned. The examiner could tell from Leon’s aura that he was a strong third-tier mage, perhaps even stronger than he was. It wouldn’t do to make enemies of one with such strength at such a young age.
Leon walked up to the crystal and casually placed his hand upon it. It immediately flashed red, and seconds later to orange. The examiner watched in near awe as the orange gave way to yellow, which filled the entire crystal.
“Out of curiosity, how high can these crystals measure?” Leon asked the examiner, clearly not caring much about the test.
“The fif... They can reliably measure up to the fifth-tier. Sixth-tier and up would likely make it explode.” responded the examiner. Now, it wasn’t just Leon’s aura that shocked him, but his fairly dismissive attitude towards the test. The examiner was only used to dealing with first-tier commoners who would give the test their all, so Leon’s casual attitude really threw him for a loop.
“Alright, you passed.” the examiner said after a few more seconds. He would’ve said so sooner, but Leon had thrown him completely off his game. In fact, as Leon removed his hand, the examiner could’ve sworn he saw a tiny hint of white in the core of the crystal.
He wrote ‘100’ down on Leon’s scorecard and passed it back to Leon as quick as he could, then pointed him towards the same building the two third-tier women had gone to. Leon frowned a little but began walking towards it anyway.
Glancing over his shoulder, he noticed that the third-tier nobles had also finished and left while he hadn’t been paying attention. Not that it really mattered to him, though.
The administrators in the building entrance were packing up their things when Leon pushed the door open. Most of the first-tier administrators didn’t do more than give Leon a casual glance, not even trying to examine his aura. The one who seemed to be in charge, a second-tier mage wearing a green military casual uniform, did a little more than glance at Leon. She noticed his third-tier strength and immediately walked over to greet him.
“Hello, Good Sir, what brings you over here?”
Leon looked around in confusion for a second or two before answering. “… I was told to come here for the enrollment test…” he said quietly.
“Y-You were?” The woman was so taken aback she stuttered a bit. All the third-tier nobles had already arrived, so she wasn’t expecting another applicant to walk in, which was why all her people were busy packing up. “… May I see your scorecard?” she asked politely.
Leon obliged, handing her the card. When saw his name, her panic receded. For a moment, she had thought he was another noble, but she didn’t recognize his name, so she relaxed. If he were noble, it would be very hard to explain why her people were getting ready to leave so early, but since he wasn’t, this would be much easier to take care of.
“I’m terribly sorry, we weren’t expecting anyone else to come in. Just give us a few seconds, and we’ll get this sorted out, ok?”
Leon nodded, and she quickly handed the card to one of her subordinates. It took a few more minutes, but she came back to him with the card and directed him to go through the only other door in the room.
“… Thanks…” he muttered, just loud enough for her to hear. She hoped it wasn’t sarcastic, but it didn’t seem to be so.
Leon left the administrators to their business and walked towards the next set of doors. When he pushed them open, he found himself in a huge nearly empty room. It was big enough for at least five hundred to exercise in, but it was filled with only thirty-five others. These thirty-five people were now staring at Leon, and most of them didn’t bother hiding their hostility.
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