Chapter 77 – Leo (Part 2)
Leo pondered the difficulty of the exam as he unintentionally balled his hands into fists. I need to pass. This is it, only one chance!
The qualifications to the enter the academy were simple, but not so easily met. An applicant had to be within age range of 12-20, no younger and no older. The age range was decided by the elders of the school to prevent talented children from dying before their time. Part of the responsibilities of the students involved risking their lives and doing battle with enemies of the city outside of the barrier. The teachers would protect their students but they would not coddle them, as such in the past plenty of children with a lot of promise had entered early but had died far too young. A child’s mentality wasn’t ready to face the horrors of the world.
The cut off was also 20 because those who did not meet the other requirements by that age were deemed not talented enough to enter. After all with limited resources, space and talented individuals willing to teach and mentor the students the academy wouldn’t waste their time on someone whose potential seemed limited.
The second requirement involved a candidate’s potential or talent. A candidate was allowed in their preliminary interview to either perform some sort of skill that required mana control or to test within a crystal the amount of mana they had. The test was in it of itself biased. Only those whose families had taught them meditation or skills since they were young could know these things, but as time had passed most people could learn meditation by themselves. It was no longer the secret it had once been. Regardless of how common the ability to meditate and gather mana had become, to self-teach yourself how to manipulate elements or even the finer touches of controlling mana was something few could do by themselves without someone guiding them.
Those who passed these two requirements which were not only based on whether someone could but rather only the top 10% of the applicants were admitted past this point. The last requirement was the final exam, and it required the applicants who’d made it this far to actually go with a group of applicants out into the wilderness in order to prove themselves. Only those with enough bravery to do as much were considered worthy of being admitted. Of course… Even if everyone managed to do as much, that still wouldn’t guarantee admittance. Bravery was only part of it, the rest was subjective to the examiners. It came down to who they thought had the potential to grow based on what they saw.
There was only more rule. Regardless of the age someone applied to take the exam, they only had one opportunity. The academy would not accept anyone it had already previously failed or rejected.
Both Marcos and Leo’s families didn’t let them take the exam as they’d been worried they wouldn’t be strong enough. Moreover considering that an applicant only had one chance… This put some people in a difficult position. They could send their child to take the exam younger… The more talent and the younger an individual was, the more of a chance he had of rising up in the ranks of the academy. Simply entering the academy meant having a qualitative change of life for their future, but there was a huge divide between those that were in the academy and those valued in the academy.
Therefore there was a huge choice to make, send a child earlier and hope for the best or prepare a child as long as possible and send him at a later age.
Most families who could afford to teach their children enough to continually let them improve their strength and abilities and sent them in younger.
Those who had little they could teach their child even if they showed promise chose to send their children in older. After all, if there was little they could teach their child, then they could at least let them meditate and accumulate as much mana before taking the exam, and then being older and more likely to perform during the practical exam.
It was a tough decision to make regardless of what someone chose, there was no wrong choice.
Leo hadn’t been able to apply when he was younger and he decided that he was ready this year. Even though he had a good grasp of mana control. He had no idea of how to interact with the elements. It was something he wasn’t naturally gifted at. Leo’s skill came in the form of the sword. He had been trained in the way of the sword since he was 3. His grandfather would pound sword technique into him, beating him silly as he taught him with a wooden sword.
Unlike most children at that age though, Leo didn’t mind. Well, he minded getting beaten up without even a chance at getting some pay back… But he enjoyed his training. He enjoyed learning the use of the sword, it felt natural in his hand. Moreover he’d had one desire since he was young. He wanted to become strong!
Even as he walked with Marcos, they had to walk for 20 minutes before reaching the little noodle place they wanted to eat at for breakfast. Even though it wasn’t a great place, and the noodles weren’t that cheap or amazing. It held a special place in their hearts. It had been a place they had cherished in their childhood with another friend.
Even as they entered the little shop, both of them stopped at the entrance as they seemed to reminisce about the same thing. When they were children, Marcos, Leo and Lily all used to eat here. It was where they had met Lily and continued to eat. They came here often so they could take a look at the academy gates and talk about how they were all going to be amazing warriors when they grew up.
Now years later, they were still pursuing that dream. Except they were pursuing that dream for Lily too. She had tried to train herself by leaving the city’s barrier last year and run into a wild beast. A city patrol unit had found most of her body and both Leo and Marcos had been there when her parents had found out. They had broken down into tears and nearly melted down. It was a huge shock to all of them when it happened.
Except in this world. Death was only a step away from a mistake or foolish action. Leo and Marcos had learned from Lily. Regardless of how hurt and shocked they’d been at first, they were warriors who had been taught since early on that death was a way of life. They’d moved past in and decided to honor her in the only way they knew how. They would follow their dreams and achieve what she never had the chance too.
They stood in the doorway smiling. Instead of thinking of her death, they thought of her dream, of her ambition and of the good times they’d had together. They’d come here to share a meal in her name before taking the entrance exam. It was Marcos who’d actually suggested it and Leo had no objection. He figured that Marcos was just being a considerate guy, but didn’t realize how considerate he was being. Marcos had suggested it because he did want to pay tribute to Lily’s dreams and memory, but he’d suggested it because he understood Leo’s impulsiveness all too well.
He knew telling Leo to be calm and to value his life more than making a good impression with the examiners wouldn’t get through to him. So he’d brought him here, hoping that Lily’s memory would be the reminder that Leo would need in order to keep himself alive. It was just one of the shop employees who greeted them and served them. They ate in silence as they prepared themselves mentally.
They were both a little grateful that her parents weren’t working this morning. It may have been more than they’d bargained for if that were the case. After eating their meal and bowing at the door, they made their way back in silence. They weren’t saying anything but they didn’t need too. They were both thinking about the exam and where they would be going and hoping they’d be in the same group.
When they reached the academy gates again, the city guards had already showed up and and everyone was gathered waiting for the information to be called out. Even with thousands of people in front of the gates, the large gates still towered over them. The walls and gates of the academy which closed itself off from everyone were over 50 feet high, and they ranged around the entire academy grounds. It was like a small inner area within the city.
One of the guards walked up to a small platform that had been put up in front of the gates. Using a magic stone to amplify his voice he spoke out enough that everyone within the vicinity could hear him as their voices were drowned out “Alright! SHUT UP! Listen up. I will now inform you all of where we are going, who is going with who and what the requirements for this exam will be.”
The entire vicinity of students all quieted down, not a single person was speaking. Everyone was anxious to hear what he had to say as it regarded their futures. Some of the people had even noticed this guardsman had an emblem with three claw marks. That represented a huge position of power. Although not everyone knew exactly what it meant, they knew that to have even one claw mark on their emblems signified that they were special amongst the city guards.
“This year we had more applicants who passed the first two basic requirements. It was an unexpected turn… The academy has too many applicants and need to weed out the lot of you. Moreover we have had a population surplus recently, so the academy much less the city itself won’t be too broken up if a chunk of you don’t make it back.” pausing for his words to sink in, a lot of the faces in the crowd had grown pale from his words already.
“The exam will be dangerous. If any of you believe you don’t have what it takes to fend for yourselves than I’m telling you now. Stay. Don’t waste our time and don’t go, or you’ll end up dead. Now with that said, I will now tell you the destination of the exam, we will be traveling to the Bull-Wind Forest.”
The moment he’d said the destination the entire crowd that had previously been filled with silence, now held a crowd filled with boys and girls whose mouths were all agape. The Bull-Wind Forest was not only not close from the city itself, but it was normally a training grounds for academy students and new city guardsmen.
It was a place wrought with danger and no one had investigated the entire forest. It was a terrifying place. One of the participants even squeaked out “How are we even going to pass this test!? It was said that only the queen of death has ever managed to cross the Bull-Wind Forest!”