Chapter 121 – Final Hurdle
Some of them jumped for joy at making it back alive while others were finally letting the occasion sink in as they realized they stood a very strong chance of having made it not only back alive, but into the prestigious ranks of Lumea Academy!
While mostly everyone was screaming or at least verbalizing their relief and joy at being close enough to see the city now, there were two people in the crowd with solemn expressions.
Crimson and Lydia had both received a message once they were within sight of the Lumea Tower. It was the tallest structure within the Academy and the city in general and was designed differently from everything else in the city. While simplicity, practicality and elegance were a feature of most of the structures that still stood and that hadn’t been modified since humanity discovered Lumea. The Lumea Tower was special in that it was the only surviving structure that seemed to hold cultural significance to the society that once created the city. It was adorned in a style that left someone stunned by its beauty.
While Crimson and Lydia were making solemn expressions, Daichi had stopped as he marveled at the sight of Lumea in the distance. He triggered his <mana sense> and immediately used it in a straight line to get a better idea of the city. In his sight he could see the City. It was everything he’d expected it to be and yet much less. Even though he could see the city, he realized he couldn’t sense a thing inside. In fact, it was as if he was stuck outside looking in.
It took Daichi a moment to realize that perhaps it was somehow due to the barrier that prevented non-humans from entering the city that was preventing him from delving inside of the city with his mana sense. He was only momentarily surprised before that feeling was washed away. ‘If even demons and strong beasts can’t physically enter the city, why would it be so surprising that I can’t enter with mana. The barrier itself must also be utilizing mana somehow.’
Instead of being frustrated, Daichi was enthralled at being able to see human structures again. It made him feel nostalgic like an old man seeing something from his long forgotten past.
Just as Crimson and Lydia were starring at the Lumea Tower, so was Daichi. His gaze was drawn to it. It was the tallest structure within the city and it was also the most notable structure. It was a tiered tower that seemed to be at least 50 stories tall towering above everything else with eaves. Daichi couldn’t be sure but it seemed as if it was even a a squared design that almost looked like a pentagon due to the shapes on the eaves. The tiers started with a larger foundation and became smaller and smaller as the floors got higher.
Everyone who was cheering or had mentally checked out at seeing Lumea in the distance was drawn back to reality by Crimson’s stern tone.
“Celebrate later! We need to move faster, from this point forward it is the final test of the exam. No one rests. We will run to Lumea. Anyone who gets left behind and can’t keep up with me is eliminated!”
It was only as Crimson spoke that Daichi regained his focus on his current surroundings. He’d been far too focused on seeing the city if only from the outside to catch the first part of Crimson’s sentence.
Crimson had only finished speaking before he began jogging towards the city. Everyone was stunned by his words but even though they suddenly felt an unexpected pressure after believing they had already passed, everyone wanted to get back as soon as possible. Rushing back wasn’t a bad thing for anyone there!
Everyone began to jog behind Crimson keeping up with his pace, no one minded as he wasn’t going particularly fast. Noticing everyone was keeping up with ease, Crimson gave Lydia a glance as she nodded back. Both of them still had the same solemn expression they’d made when they’d seen the tower in the distance.
Daichi had found it strange that there was a sudden urgency in Crimson to return. A few of the more keen participants had been able to calm their hearts and pay attention to the silent eye contact between Crimson and Lydia and noticed their expressions and even more stern demeanors.
No one was having a problem keeping up with Crimson and so his moderate paced jog turned into a moderate paced run. The general speed nearly doubled as Crimson tried his hardest for everyone to keep up. It was still a ways away from Lumea and while everyone should have been in good condition, they’d all suffered some loses in Bull-Wind forest. Both Lydia and himself had received a message once they’d gotten within sight of the Lumea Tower revealing the urgency of their return. Although originally they believed that the reason they’d all been summoned back to Lumea was in regards to the strange occurrence during the exam, the voice was the headmaster. He would not have concerned himself with the exam. Lydia knew this better than Crimson and the moment she showed urgency, Crimson who’d known her for a long time had immediately understood the importance of the message.
That moderate paced run was something that everyone could still keep up with. In regards to the people in this group, every single one of them was someone who had shown some potential, enough to have Lydia include them in her group. Throughout their time in the forest, they had all been faced with some life or death dangers, some more than others but they had all grown stronger to some degree. A simple run, with no danger, with a prize, the destination being the home they dearly missed in which they’d all be received with pride and joy. Not a single one of them wasn’t motivated to try their hardest, to push themselves. Even if they had to run at a full sprint using every single bit of their willpower and energy they would have all been willing to do so!
All of this was reflected in their expressions and all of it was seen by Crimson! After an hour or so of running at what to him, was an extremely slow pace… Crimson increased the difficulty again, that moderate aced run turned into a full sprint for every participant!
At this point, Crimson was imbuing mana to physically enhance his speed. While the concept was simple enough to understand… There were an innumerable number of ways for someone to accomplish that feat. It could be simple… Or extremely profound.
This speed, and with this method was still something Crimson could do with ease. He didn’t bother to turn around and gaze at anyone behind him anymore. This was the pace he was aiming for from the beginning, and knowing that everyone could keep up with him to this point, Crimson’s goal was to push everyone to their limits and force them to keep up with a speed he considered possible for everyone there. He didn’t want anybody to fail after what they had been through, but he also didn’t want to simple give them a prize without some extra effort.
This was Crimson’s first lesson to all those there ‘Reward is a reflection of effort’. He’d already measured everybody up before increasing his speed to this point, and he knew full well that while not easy for some, or any… This was something every single one of them should be able to do if they put in all their effort to accomplish.
The immediate increase in speed was a shock to everyone who was already running at what they considered a fast pace (considering they’d been running for hours) and now that Crimson’s speed had increased so notably some of them turned numb at the possibility that they might not keep up and fail after coming so close!
‘I’… how can I keep up with this ridiculous speed!?’
‘I’m so exhausted… What…What are they doing…!? Are they trying to weed us out!?’
‘How long can I keep this up for…!’
Even the participants who’d stood out throughout the exam were straining themselves. Sweat glistening on Leo and Damien’s foreheads. Two sword practitioners who valued increasing their physical strength were still being pushed by this speed.
Every single one of them endured this full out-sprint for 2 hours before some of them began falling behind bit by bit.
Lydia had stayed at the back the entire watching them all. She knew what Crimson was doing, after all if he wanted to leave them behind he could have done so in a heartbeat. She felt like he was treating them with kindness, even if none of their expressions reflected a ‘thank you’ but rather a ‘screw you’.
Once she began to notice some of them slowing down, she felt like it would soon be her turn to step in and throw out a few words of motivation. She was clearly biased towards Leo and Haeru, who were keeping up regardless of the strain. Except to her, everyone of these participants would be a useful soldier for Lumea. Even if that was all they ever accomplished, it was more than most could achieve.
Some of the previous people who excelled and grew to become strong pillars of support even happened to be people who didn’t shine until they got their hands on the knowledge within the Lumea Library. After all a genius can only shine once they are taught. The ability to comprehend and utilize knowledge where still things that required knowledge to begin with.
Three hours into the full sprint mark and they had already made great strides. The group covered the distance they would have covered in a couple of days had they walked. Lumea was getting closer and closer within the eyes of every participant and it was motivating them to push themselves.
Four hours into the full sprint and not a single one of them had been left behind… Except how the labored breathing of everyone there would have been evident to any one even remotely close. Everyone was pushing themselves to the limit and slowly the whole group that had been following Crimson at 30 or so meters was now following at around 90 meters. They were all slowly getting left behind.
Lydia was now making a very contemplative expression as she stared in surprise ahead of her. She had been pleasantly surprised that up to now, she hadn’t uttered a single word of motivation and these “children” had all pushed themselves this far without assistance. They were more strong-willed than she’d originally thought, although it was but a mild feeling.
The true surprise to her was that there was a single person following behind Crimson at the original 30 meters from Crimson. Not a single drop of sweat on his body, he was even grinning as if he was going to the candy store about to get a treat.
Lydia knew that Daichi wasn’t ordinary, but to of sweat after while every single other talented participant here of the same age were struggling with labored breathing and a strained will…