With an arrow using three streaks of Stigma, I took away the arm of a peak intermediate-rank monster.
It was a decent explosion, but I didn’t have the energy to watch the outcome. In an instant, drowsiness flooded my brain, and the sky and ground switched places.
I had fallen down the tree from sudden dizziness.
I looked at the battlefield in this state. I could see a sword of magic power shooting up. It was Chae Nayun.
Her greatsword, which was half the size of the Black Ogre’s arm, swung down. Struck by this domineering slash, the ogre staggered on its feet, during which countless attacks of other cadets poured in.
…In any case, the recoil from using up a large amount of Stigma seemed to get stronger the more streaks of Stigma I got.
It was probably because my body couldn’t withstand the emission of magic power.
Feeling dizzy, I closed my eyes.
Boom, boom, boom.
The battle was getting fiercer, but the sound entering my ears only got softer.
Eventually, I gave my body to the drowsiness.
When I opened my eyes, Chae Nayun was right in front of me.
Soft skin and an expression full of curiosity.
I was once again surprised by her otherworldly beauty.
Chae Nayun flinched and took a step back.
“Y-You, You’re awake?”
What was she doing to be so surprised? I asked as I rubbed my face.
“…Did you do something to me?”
“W-What do you mean? I was just surprised to see you sleeping so peacefully when everyone else is fighting!”
Chae Nayun sat down next to me as she yelled nervously.
“Oh, sorry, I was just tired.”
“…Kuhum. But what you did was awesome. Was that your finishing move? You know, like an ultimate ability.”
I nodded silently. What I wanted it to be was irrelevant. It seemed using it made me fall asleep for an hour or two, so it could only be a finishing move.
“What happened to the Black Ogre?”
“We killed it. It was easy thanks to you.”
“That’s good to hear.”
At that moment, a hologram window popped up in front of us.
[You cleared the stage!]
[Contribution points will now be awarded. The top three contributors are as follows.]
[Chae Nayun: 68 points]
[Kim Hajin: 39 points]
[Yi Jiyoon: 33 points]
[The bottom 30% of contributors will immediately be moved to a lower stage.]
[The top 30% of contributors will be moved to a higher stage after 2 hours of rest.]
[The remaining 40% will be given a chance to try again.]
Seeing the alerts, I finally understood how this Tower worked.
By repeating stages like this, cadets would either go up, go down, or stay on the same level. Grades should be given out accordingly once the exam ends.
“Ah~ so this is how it works.”
Chae Nayun seemed to have understood also as she clapped her hands together.
Then, she poked my shoulder.
“Hey, team up with me.”
“Yeah, there’s a party function. Look.”
Chae Nayun showed her smartwatch screen. Just like the last final exam, cadets were given exam smartwatches to wear during the final exam. At first, I thought that this exam’s smartwatch could only tell time, but there was now a ‘party’ function available.
“Let’s team up.”
I looked at Chae Nayun. Pressured by her sparkling eyes, I dodged her gaze. Chae Nayun then grabbed my sleeve.
“I want to team up with you.”
“Let me go.”
“Come on, let’s team up. Please~?”
Pulling my sleeve here and there, she was trying to act cutesy… but I could feel my brain shaking, like she was grabbing and shaking me by the collar.
“Hey, wait, let go. I’m going to puke.”
“I’ll let you go if you agree. Hurry up.”
She shook me with enough force to rip off my shirt.
Without a choice, I nodded.
Chae Nayun’s tussling didn’t stop until we officially partied up.
Afterwards, I went through two more stages with Chae Nayun.
In a forest, we protected an NPC from monsters, and in a colosseum, we fought against other cadets or giant monsters.
To be completely honest, Chae Nayun was carrying me. That was how overwhelming her display of skill was.
In the first place, Chae Nayun’s speciality was prolonged fights. Because of her immense magic power capacity, not even Kim Suho could stand up to her recovery speed. Naturally, Chae Nayun shined in stamina-heavy tasks like climbing a Tower.
Of course, even though Chae Nayun was carrying me, grades were given out individually.
I raked up points whenever I had the chance and constantly stayed in the top 30% of every stage.
[This is the final stage.]
Eventually, we reached the final stage, which was a cave.
Only the cream of the crop cadets should be present at this stage.
Chae Nayun nudged my shoulder and spoke.
“Hey, this must be the boss fighting stage. Try to see if there’s anything in front of us.”
I opened my eyes wide and focused.
My line of sight expanded, flying past the ground with nothing noteworthy.
Then, I caught sight of someone.
There was a girl squatting in front of a stone wall and yawning.
It was Rachel.
I smiled, happy to see her.
“There’s someone there.”
“Yeah, it looks like you can’t go in alone. Let’s go.”
Chae Nayun and I ran forward.
Hearing our footsteps, Rachel immediately shot up. Then, she took out her rapier and stood with her guard up.
Chae Nayun suddenly stopped running. Meanwhile, Rachel put away her rapier and began running toward us.
It didn’t take long for us to meet up.
Rachel called my name with a bright expression, which stiffened slightly when she saw Chae Nayun standing next to me.
“What, why is the princess here?”
Chae Nayun and Rachel exchanged displeased looks.
I reached out my hand to Rachel. Rachel shook my hand, then returned to glaring at Chae Nayun.
So this was what it meant to have a rival.
For the next five years, the press would be constantly comparing them and encouraging them to fight. They had the same gender, the same age, and now they even had the same role as swordsmen. Naturally, they would be easy targets for Hero reporters, who were more extreme than typical celebrity reporters.
“So um, Rachel-ssi, why were you alone?”
“Yes? Ah, it said I couldn’t enter alone, so I was waiting for someone else.”
This final exam was dangerous for Rachel. Since Lancaster’s influence was still relatively small, monsters above high-intermediate rank wouldn’t suddenly pop out, but Rachel was certainly in more danger than other cadets.
“That’s good to hear. Then let’s go in together.”
“Yes, follow me.”
When Rachel touched the stone wall blocking the path, it suddenly rose up, revealing a corridor. Rachel led us in, and I walked along next to her. Chae Nayun glared at us from the back, then ran up and joined me.
After walking for about three minutes…
After staring at Rachel for some time, Chae Nayun finally opened her mouth.
“You didn’t team up with anyone?”
“…Yes, I was alone the whole time.”
Rachel replied briefly.
“Oh, really~? Teamwork should be part of the exam’s grading criteria. You’ll probably get a zero for that then.”
Chae Nayun snickered and provoked Rachel, but Rachel remained silent. Then, Chae Nayun placed her hand on my shoulder and spoke.
“But you and I should get a perfect score.”
“What do you mean.”
“We were together from the first stage. Plus, I’m a warrior and you’re a sharpshooter. It’s the perfect combonation.”
“Oh… well, sure.”
Rachel glanced at Chae Nayun.
“It’s combination, not combonation.”
After walking silently for three more minutes, Rachel clapped her hands together, as though she suddenly thought of something.
“Oh right, Hajin-ssi, would you like to come to England over winter break with some other team challenge members? There’s a huge festival in Clancy Islet.”
“In Clancy Islet? Sure, that sounds great.”
I’ve been wanting to go back for some time, but couldn’t because I had no invitation. Although I felt a bit sorry to Rachel, I wanted to make some more money until I got blacklisted from the casino.
“Great, then come with Hoseung-ssi, Bokgyu-ssi, and Jamer-ssi.”
Hearing Tomer’s alias for the first time in a while, I suddenly grew curious how she was doing. At that moment, Chae Nayun muttered from the side.
“If you only play around, you’ll fall behind~”
For a moment, Rachel’s eyes narrowed sharply. However, people like Chae Nayun only enjoyed such reactions. Just as I expected, Chae Nayun smiled triumphantly.
“Have you heard of Yoo Sihyuk, Princess? What about the Yoo Sihyuk Camp? It’s the camp that heirs of Hero clans pay billions of won to try to get in. That’s where I’ll be going over winter break. I might surpass you in swordsmanship soon.”
In response to Chae Nayun’s sneering, Rachel exhaled and retorted, while pretending to talk to me.
“Hajin-ssi, there are ways to be efficient in training too. Stupid people are often bad at comprehending what they’re taught, so they aren’t as efficient.”
“…What? Did you just—”
“In that sense, I think I’m a very efficient learner.”
Rachel was obviously not talking to me.
“Recently, I’ve gotten close to elementals elementals quite a bit.”
Perhaps provoked by Chae Nayun’s words, Rachel even emphasized the word ‘elementals’. Just how Evandel called me Hajin Hajin, she said the same thing twice.
“Yes, elementals elementals.”
“What? What does she mean?”
Chae Nayun furrowed her brows. I could see her eyes burning with a sense of rivalry.
“Ah, my bad. That was supposed to be a secret.”
Rachel put her hand over her mouth, with a somewhat proud expression. The cheeks were puffing up, like she was holding back her laughter.
…She usually wasn’t like this.
I guess Chae Nayun had the tendency to make people around her just as childish.
“Did a hamster enter your mouth?”
While Chae Nayun was murmuring mockingly, we arrived at another stone wall.
We didn’t have to waste energy trying to open it. When the three of us walked up, it opened by itself.
“This is it?”
What lied beyond the stone wall wasn’t any different than what was outside.
But rather than a straight corridor, it was a circular room that was much larger.
I held my arms up and made the other two stop. It was because I could see someone in the distance.
He couldn’t look more suspicious if he tried with a black robe covering most of his body.
“There’s someone there.”
The man approached us first.
“I am, Heuk Jeon, the exam overseer in charge of the final stage.”
I met his eyes, specifically his squirming black pupils.
No matter how much I thought about it, the aura he gave off wasn’t that of an exam overseer’s. More specifically, I could sense a ghastly aura and the smell of blood.
By the looks of it, Chae Nayun and Rachel seemed to share the same suspicion.
“Are you really an exam overseer?”
“Of course. But before you participate in this stage, I will pick someone to stay behind. Only two people can participate at a time.”
The self-proclaimed exam overseer took out a die.
“1 and 4 for the male cadet, 2 and 5 for the short-haired cadet, and… 3 and 6 for the blonde cadet.”
The die rolled on the ground.
“If your number is shown on the die, you won’t be able to participate in this stage.”
The result of the roll was 5 as expected.
Chae Nayun furrowed her brows, and the exam overseer spoke up.
The overseer flicked his finger. Then suddenly, a cage fell down from above, pulling in Chae Nayun with a powerful magic power.
“Ah! What’s this!?”
“Stay up for now. It will end soon.”
“Ah! Wait! Ah, uaaaaah….”
The overseer flicked his finger again, and the cage quickly shot back up.
Seeing this, Rachel muttered nervously.
“Hajin-ssi, that person…”
“Yes, I also think he’s a Djinn.”
Rachel shook her head and corrected me.
“…He’s from Dark Moon Society.”
“Yes, look at that symbol on his robe.”
A black goblet and a faint moon above it.
Dark Moon Society.
Rachel clenched her teeth.
“…Sorry, it’s because of me.”
“Yes? Ah, no…”
Was Dark Moon Society that amazing?
I furrowed my brows.
I felt like it was part of the setting I wrote, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
“Now then, shall we start the test?”
However, my thoughts didn’t continue for long.
Heuk Jeon raised his magic power, staring at us.
Suddenly, the earth began to rumble.
Crevices began to appear on the ground, which slowly grew bigger.
“The test is simple.”
Behind Heuk Jeon, dozens of daggers shot up.
The killing intent he was emitting was real.
“There is a dueling arena below.”
Heuk Jeon jumped down a crevice. As the ground continued to break into pieces, Heuk Jeon’s voice rang out from below.
—If you can last up there for the next 10 minutes, you will have cleared the stage, and the test will end.
In that instant, a heavy pressure pressed down on me. At the same time, the ground I was standing on sunk down, causing me to lose my footing.
Rachel immediately jumped and grabbed my hand.
“Hajin-ssi, are you okay!?”
“It’s a gravitational field. Come… up… uk.”
Rachel tried to pull me up, and I tried to climb up.
In the next moment, however, my body became heavier. Since even Rachel was struggling, the pressure was undoubtedly immense.
As for me, I could hardly breathe.
—But if even one of you falls down…
Heuk Jeon’s voice echoed out.
—I will kill that person.
The intent behind this word was chilling and honest. Fear spread across Rachel’s face.
—Ah, but don’t worry, the gravitational field will disappear once one person falls down. For the record, the chance of both of you surviving 10 minutes in that field is 0%. The gravitational field will continually get stronger until even I can’t withstand it, so one of you should just give up.
Just like he said, the gravitational field was getting stronger, and more and more of the ground was breaking apart.
Rachel and I exchanged glances.
I finally understood what his intentions were.
He wanted us to fight each other to survive, or fight each other to sacrifice ourselves.
Suddenly, Rachel’s expression turned serious.
“Hajin-ssi, don’t have strange thoughts.”
“…What, strange, thoughts.”
Seeing that I was on the verge of falling down, Rachel used both of her hands to hold onto my hand.
“Don’t try to let go. Put strength into your hand. Hurry!”
‘No, you see… unlike you, I can’t not let go out of my own volition.’
While I was inwardly laughing at myself, the gravitational field grew unbearably strong. Weight tens of times our own pressed down on us, and it was getting harder to keep my eyes open.
“Ah, ah, Hajin-ssi, don’t have strange thoughts and come up—!”
Rachel was screaming my name desperately.
But feeling like I would die if I stayed up here any longer, I let go of Rachel’s hand strongly.
“Ah, aah, no!”
I fell down.
Rather than heading to my death, I felt like I was being liberated.
Screaming my name, Rachel also jumped down. However, a transparent barrier appeared out of nowhere, blocking her descent.
Rachel slammed the barrier with her fists, staring at me as I continued falling.
My back hit the ground, but like a déjà vu, I wasn’t hurt thanks to Aether.
However, the situation was different this time.
I quickly shot up.
I could see the self-proclaimed exam overseer standing a fair distance away from me.
“So you came, just like I expected.”
If what Rachel said was true, he should be from Dark Moon Society. Although I couldn’t remember much about this organization, he should at least be at the level of an intermediate-rank Hero.
I felt my heart tremble.
I had an ominous feeling from the beginning of the exam. It seemed my intuition wasn’t wrong.
“…So I have to fight you now?”
But even if I couldn’t defeat him, I was confident in not losing.
He didn’t know about the Ghost Wolf hiding in my chest.
There was a reason that surprise attacks were favored. As soon as he approached me with his guard down, the Ghost Wolf should bite off his neck.
“Are you confident?”
Heuk Jeon asked.
Without answering him, I fired the cadet handgun.
Tang, tang, tang, tang, tang.
I emptied the clip in less than a second. However, not a single bullet managed to reach him. The daggers hovering behind him had all cut them down.
“Unfortunately, I really will kill you.”
He was quite talkative.
And that was exactly what I wanted.
I threw the cadet handgun at him. One of his daggers flew forward, cutting the handgun in half.
“You’re abandoning your weapon? It’s too quick to surrender, don’t you think?”
I stretched my arm out.
Magic power shot out of my upper arm, forming a handgun in my hand.
“You see, I’m the type that’s quite overgeared.”
First, I transformed it into its assault rifle mode.
Since he didn’t show signs of approaching me, I had to make him do so.
Heuk Jeon was still smiling.
I smiled back, provoking him some more.
“Don’t hold anything back. You might regret it.”
As I thought, his smile stiffened.
After clenching his teeth, he threw off the robe he was wearing and unleashed his magic power.
However, what caught my attention was the strange tattoo on his upper arm.
A black goblet and a faint moon.
Now that I saw this symbol again, I felt like I recognized it.
“Dark Moon Society….”
“…Oh? Looks like you’re quite knowledgeable for a brat.”
The man made a proud smile. He seemed to be happy knowing that his organization was famous.
I pondered over these three words.
What role did they fill in the original story…? I felt like it was on the tip of my tongue.
A light bulb went on in my head.
Simply put, these guys were… one of Chameleon Troupe’s many lackeys.