The main hall soon fell into chaos, the best students being fought over like they were cattle.
It didn\'t take much for the situation to devolve into an auction where people would attempt to bribe or blackmail their targets.
Friya sneered at all those that had previously acted all high and mighty, drowning her daily with their venomous words, now fighting among themselves without a shred of dignity, like hungry wolves over a slab of meat.
When Kippa, a girl that had been particularly obnoxious to Friya in the last month, had the gall to ask for her help, Friya gently smiled to her and politely refused.
Friya even gave her a small bow, right before punching Kippa in the face, smiling the whole time.
Our group may be quite unbalanced but I trust your skills, and more importantly I trust all of you as persons.
In a life or death situation, I couldn\'t ask for better teammates.
Phloria said extending her arm with the open hand in the middle of the group.
Indeed. Yurial was the first to place his hand above hers.
If there is no supervision, trust and teamwork are of paramount importance to survival.
That\'s what we learned from the mock exam.
Knowing the Headmaster, I doubt firepower will be essential.
It\'s probably another learning experience more than a test of pure strength.
The girls as always, remained flabbergasted.
It was like there were two Yurials.
One was a lady-killer, sometimes even a bit lecherous, that always appeared in the safety of their rooms or when flirting with girls.
The other was very similar to Lith, calm and calculating.
Yeah, but I will still miss Lith\'s hunter skills and battle experience. Quylla sighed.
During the last month her feelings for him had waned quite a bit.
After the caring attentions Lith had given to the crying Friya, she had expected him at least to ask her out.
Instead nothing had changed.
Wherever Lith\'s heart was, it was clearly devoid of everything but brotherly feelings, for all of them.
Linjos watched the events unfolding in the main hall with a big smile.
This will teach those snotty brats that commoners or not, in life talent and hard work are much more important than a piece of paper attesting their nobility. He said.
And also, that they cannot expect to receive help or cooperation by those they treated like inferior beings, right Lith asked.
Linjos nodded, while Lith curled up his upper lip in disgust, seeing how quickly things were escalating.
That will not prevent them from coercing others, though.
A leopard cannot change its spots. Linjos dismissed that observation with a wave of the hand.
You are underestimating me.
Besides, I didn\'t bring you here because I want your opinion on my plans, but to talk about your future.
Lith furrowed his browns.
He did not like being taken by surprise.
As you have surely noticed, after your return you have received special treatment.
That\'s because I have received several calls, from Professor Marth and the Crown.
The Crown Lith echoed, swallowing a lump of saliva.
Sometimes from the Queen, sometimes from the King, others from both.
Bottom line, all the three of them told me how splendidly you performed under a nightmarish situation, fighting against the odds like a professional.
At this point, you could sit on your hands until the end of the year and still get promoted.
Normally, I\'d just let you skip the second exam, since it\'s useless to you.
After how easily Captain Velagros was found and killed, though, I\'m certain we have one or more traitors within the academy.
Hence I\'m short of people I can trust.
And since I know you wouldn\'t like anything bad happening to your friends, here is my proposal…
The announcement of the second exam had been sudden, but its execution was delayed for a few hours.
First the students had to form a group, appoint a team leader, and then the leaders would bring their list to one of the Professors.
Unlike the past test, the members of each team were summoned one by one in a special room where they would be questioned to find out if they had been the victim of blackmail or coercion during the selection process.
Unbeknownst to everyone, the main hall had been constantly monitored the whole time.
Everything that happened after Linjos had left was recorded and had been examined for future disciplinary measures.
Those who denounced their aggressors were once again asked if they wanted to take part in the test.
In case of affirmative answer, they would be grouped together, forming new teams.
Those who didn\'t were automatically excluded from the test and sent back into the dorms.
Linjos had decreed that those who weren\'t able to stand up for themselves even when offered help and protection, couldn\'t be evaluated above Rank B.
Strength of character was universally considered a prequisite for first class mages.
A meek mage, no matter how talented, was bound to not get far in life.
While waiting for their turn, Phloria\'s group received an unexpected surprise.
Orion Ernas, her father, had come to pay them a visit.
My little Flower, come to papa! Before Phloria could even react, Orion lifted her from the ground like she was a doll, spinning her around the room.
He was over 1.96 metres (6\'5) high, he had to bend a little to walk through the door.
Dad, what the heck… Her protests were muffled by a hug as sudden as it was tight.
I\'m so sorry little Flower.
I was away dealing with the traitors; I had no idea your mother would do something like that.
When I learned what had happened, it was too late.
Phloria was red from embarrassment, but Orion didn\'t seem to notice, patting her head like she was still a small child.
So you two must be my two new daughters. He finally let Phloria go.
She really wanted to give her father a piece of her mind, for treating her like that in front of her friends, but she was too embarrassed for that.
Friya and Quylla gave him a small curtsy, not knowing how to react to the sudden intrusion.
I\'m really sorry for what my wife did.
I know you will find it hard to believe, but she is actually a good woman. He gave them a deep bow.
Orion had black hair and brown eyes like Phloria.
His physique was lean but muscular, his perfectly shaven face showed only honest regret.
He had some wrinkles around the eyes and temples, but every movement of his was full of vigour.
Don\'t worry about all her marriage talks, the Ernas household is mine, my opinion matters as much as Jirni\'s.
At least when I\'m home. He sighed.
Dad, what are you doing here How did you manage to enter into the academy
I have my connections. Orion winked.
And I couldn\'t let my daughters go empty handed. A rapier and a long knife materialized from his dimensional amulet.
Both had the Ernas household crest engraved on the handle, the blade and the scabbard.
I made them myself, using a secret family crafting technique. He gave the rapier to Friya, who only needed a few swings to appreciate its prowess.
It was light as a feather, cutting the air without emitting a sound.
And this is for you. Orion handed the knife to Quylla, who looked at it as at an angry snake.
I never used a blade. She said in embarrassment.
That\'s the easy part.
Remember, the pointy end goes in the other guy. He laughed ruffling her hair.
Little Flower Yurial asked, breaking the following embarrassed silence.
Yes, it\'s my little baby\'s moniker.
We named her after an ancient goddess of fertility.
Dad please, stop! Phloria was so red no one would have been surprised if she suddenly caught fire.
There\'s nothing to be embarrassed about, little Flower.
As I was saying, my little Jirni hoped that it would make Phloria grow delicate and graceful.
Instead, she resembles me a lot.
Orion had just started telling what was likely to be an embarrassing anecdote about Phloria, when one by one their names were called, transporting them into Linjos\' office.
Phloria had never been so happy seeing the Headmaster\'s long face before.
Your task is simple. Linjos explained.
I will send you in the dungeon below the academy.
All you have to do is come out alive.
The test has no time limit.
Whenever you feel you can\'t go on anymore, just tell your supervisor and he will take you back.
In such event, the exam will be considered as failed.
Since when does the White Griffon have a dungeon
What kind of creatures will we face
Where is our supervisor
Linjos ignored all their questions, opening a Warp Steps with a wave of the hand.
One after the other, they walked through the dimensional gate, finding themselves in a closed and humid space, devoid of any source of light except for two glowing red eyes staring at them in the dark.
You took your sweet time. Lith\'s voice echoed along the walls, making them jump.
Yurial used first magic, lighting the small cave they were in.
Lith squinted his eyes for a moment, but his eyes remained red.
The group could see him holding a wooden staff which ended in a half moon shape, with a red gemstone floating in its middle.
He also wore several bracelets and rings they had never seen before.
They were all presents the Crown had sent to him as a special thank you for his services during the plague and the exam.
- Between all these alchemical and enchanted items, I can freely use true magic.
Not even a Professor would be able to notice. He thought.
Lith Are you really our supervisor Phloria asked.
Your task is to get out of here alive, mine is to not let you die.
I don\'t know how exactly the grading system works, but I guess that every time you force me to action, your score will be lowered. He shrugged.
No, I mean you are a fourth year just like us.
How is this possible
Sorry, can\'t answer that.
Linjos\' story about no supervision was all a lie.
The so called fifth year students were actually elite alumni, young enough to pass for students, but with their loyalty already proven.
Phloria\'s group didn\'t need control, only support in case of need.
Linjos had estimated that because of the nature of the test, and with his new equipment, Lith was skilled enough to cover for the role.
Why the red eyes Quylla asked.
A personal spell to see in the dark without becoming a beacon like you lot. Years had passed since the last time Lith had activated his Fire Vision spell.
It granted him an improved version of thermal goggles, allowing him to see in the dark in a scale of colours according to the temperature of his surroundings.
Lucky for him, light magic didn\'t emit heat, otherwise he would have been blinded.
Meanwhile Yurial was racking his brain, trying to understand the purpose of the test.
The group started moving in a single line, with Phloria on point, followed by Yurial, then Quylla and Friya in the rear.
The stone corridor was large enough to allow two people to walk side by side, but they were mages.
They needed enough space to move without messing with each other.
- Think Yurial, think. He thought.
Linjos\' tests are all actually simple once you understand what he is trying to teach you.
I already have all the pieces of the puzzle.
Something that doesn\'t need a balanced team, something that a mage must learn.
But more importantly, something that Lith already knows.
That\'s the only possible explanation for his role.
What separates him from the rest of us There lies the answer. –
They kept walking for several minutes, the only sound beside their steps was the water dripping from the ceiling into small pools.
The humidity of the place made it a perfect environment for mushrooms and mosses of every kind.
Suddenly, a small head appeared behind a corner.
It looked like a deformed child, with skin made pale, almost translucent, by having spent its whole life underground.
It had huge eyes, a bumpy button nose and pointy ears.
Goblins! Phloria yelled while unsheathing her sword.
The creature rushed forward fearlessly, holding a club between its hands, quickly followed by a dozen more creatures, all armed with rudimentary weapons.
The goblins screamed in a frenzy; they hadn\'t had meat in months.
Oh f*ck me sideways! Yurial screamed, finally solving the riddle.
None of us has ever killed a human being!