Book 7 – Ercas Mir
Chapter 9 – High Rankers' Trials
“High Rankers' trials?” Zax probed.
“For the sake of being accepted into a Geared mercenary band and gaining proper status”. Xinia proceeded.
Mendor also mentioned to him about being a Ranker mercenary, but that was as far as their conversation on the matter went.
“On the twenty eight of every fourth month the Mercenary Association upholds trials for mercenaries to improve their rank through special assignments or tests. It is up for you to choose, but to participate in the trials you first need a certain level of cultivation and to have a passible record of successive complete jobs or assignments. Unless you do, the only other method to get approved for the trials is if you participate as an envoy of a high class family”.
“And I suppose, the Sensensar family will appoint me as its envoy for the trials?”
“That’s the idea, you as one of my family’s envoys. As the holder of the Czar Seal, we can send up to five participants. Apart from you, I’ve already met, some time ago, with another brilliant cultivator who were offered and accepted the same arrangement”.
“You called it a ‘proposition’, now it’s an ‘arrangement’?”
“You are looking it the wrong way because you have yet to appreciate the amount of shortcuts and future benefits I place before you. The High Rankers’ trials are held every four months, and true, there is no shortage of veteran mercenaries like the guy waiting for you downstairs, but you are underestimating the type of qualification for becoming a Ranker mercenary, much less a High Ranker!”
“Okay, then last question. How I joining a ‘Geared’ mercenary band will correlate to forming an alliance with your family?” Zax asked, emphasizing the word “Geared” as he still has no idea for its meaning in the said context.
“Well…” Xinia sweetly smiled. “Position and status, position and status. Have them first by passing the trials, and then it will be worthwhile to explain. For now, let’s end here all business related talk and just enjoy each other company”.
“This is your foreigner ID, sir. If you are asked by an officer to identify yourself, it is enough if you will just provide your ID’s number”.
“Thank you”. Zax received the small, rectangle shaped metal plate.
It mostly looked plain silver with only the ID’s number carved to it, but when positioning the flat side in front of the eyes, a picture of Zax’s face was reflected along with his name and Glorious Ground’s and Blessed Army’s insignia.
“Sir, there is another thing. The man who arrived with asked to leave this note for when you return”. The receptionist handed Zax a sealed enveloped that belonged to the mayor’s office building.
Since it took over three hours to finish the meal while being forced to entertain the charming Xinia, when he returned to the reception desk, Zax did not expect that Mendor will wait for him.
At the front of the mayor’s office building Zax hide his ID in his bag, opened the enveloped and read the letter.
A minor issue has arose for my men in the Business Centre. I have to leave to take care of it and afterward I plan to retire for the day. You are welcome to borrow a bed for the night. My apartment is in Penerwoodrem St. 534. You can get directions for the receptionist in the mayor’s office building.
Looking up, Zax stared at the darkening sky, put away the letter and returned to the mayor’s office building.
Penerwoodrem St. was quite far from the mayor’s office building, near the left mountain that arched over the city. The area itself was mostly populated by loud and boorish residents. There were bars, food stands, hostels, trading houses and hidden brothels occupied by fierce men and women, all of which cultivators, even a few second level Core Masters.
The vicinity somehow made Zax feel at ease. It was far from looking like a safe place for regular people to hang around, regardless of Glorious Ground’s laws, but to cultivators, especially strong ones, it was a much more lively location than any other in the city.
Penerwoodrem St. 534 was an old building complex with more than two hundred apartments. Luckily for Zax, it had a decent lobby and reception, all managed by an elderly couple.
“Excuse me, grandma, can you tell me where I can find a husky man who lives here named Mendor?” Zax asked.
The old woman was reading a book. Beside her she had a thick booklet.
The old man was messing with random small parts. He gave a bored look to Zax, and judged his wife’s shoulder.
“Eh? What is it, Som? Mm? A new renter?” She wondered after noticing Zax.
“Grandmas, I’m looking for a man named Mendor”.
“Mendor…” The old woman put the book aside and opened the booklet. “Second floor, apartment eighteen”.
“Thanks for the help”.
The doors of all the apartments were made of steel, giving the feeling of being inside a sophisticated, giant tin can.
It slid into the wall as it opened. A hand had to be keep holding it; otherwise the gears and springs inside will shut it automatically.
“Hey”. Zax raised his hand.
“You decided to come after all”. Mendor smiled and let him in.
“Old man, did the guy you talked about arrived?”
“Bring him here, old man”.
Two voices sounded past the short corridor from the entrance to the rest of the apartment.
Mendor passed Zax. “You two, keep your voice low at someone else’s home!”
Zax crossed the corridor and saw, at the left side of the apartment, two men, beside Mendor, sitting next to a wooden table, drinking and eating salty snacks.
“Zax, let me introduce”. Mendor gestured at a red haired man with a full mustache. “This uncle here is Toja, captain of Toja’s mercenary band”.
Currently, Toja allowed himself to get drunk. However, when he first crossed eyes with Zax, a hint of clarity and strong spirit could be detected in his expression.
“And this uncle”, Mendor pointed at a small and thin man with black, spiky hair and a nonchalant look to his face. “Is Zenar Lar. Despite having the capacity as a Core Master, he doesn’t work as a mercenary”.
“Kid, don’t listen to these two. Being a mercenary, like them, is the least rewarding profession a cultivator can pick while living in a city”. Zenar Lar retorted.
“Tell that to a Ranker”. Toja countered. “And, kid, go ahead and call us ‘uncles’, just don’t forget to give the proper respect to your old man here, and refer to him as ‘grandpa’”. He pointed with his thumb on Mendor.
‘A merry gang of old men’. Zax though in amusement. He never saw Mendor behave so casually around his men, even when they walked alone in the city.
“Uncle Toja, uncle Zenar Lar, nice to meet you, I’m Zax”.
“A polite young lad… I take you haven’t been in the circle of men like the three uncles here for long”.
“Zenar Lar, Toja, Zax and I met only several days ago, today is his first visit to the city and he had not been to any of the others”.
“Oh… A foreigner. Mendor just told us that he met a talented young cultivator”. Toja stared.
“I came from a faraway place”. Zax affirmed. “Glorious Ground is my first major stop in Selivereb”.
“Zenar Lar, Toja, you got my liquor and eaten what little crumbs I have. Go find someplace else to couch at or go to your homes”. Mendor took the bowl of salty snacks from the two’s reach.
“Tsk! Mendor, afraid that we will rob from you a new recruit?” Toja grumbled.
“Go!” Unless he spoke in a harsh tone, Mendor knew it will be impossible to send off the two.
“Yes, yes”. Zenar Lar said and turned to Zax. “Kid, forget about becoming a mercenary. If you want an easy and profitable life and you do have the skill, come looking for me”.
The two finally left and when Mendor locked the door behind them, Zax got a chance to see the full scope of the apartment.
The left side was the kitchen and dining room. At the same was also a door for the shower and bathroom. The right side was the sleeping area, not even a proper separate room. Mendor kept there a pile of mattress and his mercenary equipment.
“The mattresses are clean. A little bit dusty in the corners, but that is all”. Mendor said.
“It’s fine. Did you handle your issue?”
“It wasn’t anything serious. Some new punk at the Workshop was insisting on talking about purchasing the alligator’s Pure Core before buying the body parts. Danus did not want to start a commotion that will affect the price for the parts, so I had to go and settle the matter”.
“So you ended up selling it?”
“The Pure Core? Not over my dead body, to that bastard. The Workshop is the biggest buyer of Deformed Beings’ body parts in the city, and here is not even the main branch. But when it comes to Pure Cores, there is only one place that you should keep in mind, the Broodlin Siblings Auction House”.
Picking a mattress and using his azure mist energy to clear away the dust, Mendor asked. “You actually were invited by Miss Xinia Sensensar”.
Zax received the mattress, put it on the floor and followed Mendor to sit were he been before with Zenar Lar, Toja.
“I gather that she has a known reputation in Glorious Ground”.
“Glorious Ground… the other cities and clans probably also heard about her. She is the youngest daughter of the city’s mayor and famous for being the first face of the Sensensar family. Did she try to recruit you?” Mendor took from the fridge and put on the table an opened case of beer cans.
“Since I plan to become a mercenary, she offered me the position of the Sensensar family’s envoy in the next High Rankers' trials”.
“The Rankers’ trials!” Mendor nearly suffocated. “Do you really believe that you can pass them? They are nothing like a juvenile Black Chrome Alligator or a bandit group like the Gray Lords”.
“Well… actually, she didn’t elaborate about the trials. But if it they will help getting by in Glorious Ground-”
“Glorious Ground? You really have no idea what you are talking about, try the entire Western Continent!” Mendor rubbed his forehead, put down the beer can and turned to Zax grimly. “Zax, the High Rankers’ trials are gathering participants from all over the continent and send them on some impossible assignments or put them through death and life tests. You can go ask around, there was a staggering number of forty thousand participants in the last trials, two and a half months ago, and only a small percentage made it back alive while an even smaller percentage passed!”
Zax drank out of courtesy, but found Mendor’s explanation a good excuse to rest his beer can.
“What is the level of cultivation required for qualifying to the trials?” He asked, starting to sense the pressure of the trials.
“The trials are divided to two levels. First is for Core Masters and the second is for Martial Mortals, but the Mercenary Association warns that to have fifty percent chance of passing the first level, a cultivator should be, at least, at the Advanced phase of the third Core Master’s level or equally strong”.
‘Advanced third level Core Master…’ Zax mused. ‘This level of strength is not a problem to me, but for it to count as only fifty percent chance of passing the trials…’
“There is more than a month and a half until the next trials. I suggest that you should rethink participating in them. If by then you will be steadfast in doing them, then I wish you good luck”.
After talking about the trials, the two discussed about everything Zax experienced and witnessed in his first day in the city.
Eventually, Mendor drank himself to sleep and Zax sat quietly by the apartment’s front windows, savoring the brimming night life of Penerwoodrem St.
During the month and a half before the High Rankers’ trials, Zax stayed a few days at Mendor’s.
When Mendor went to sell the Black Chrome Alligator’s Pure Core to the Broodlin Siblings Auction House, Zax also sold the one he picked up from the first Gray Lord leader’s corpse.
The Broodlin Siblings Auction House was another of Glorious Ground’s skyscrapers and the procedure for buying Zax’s near Peak second realm Pure Core warranted him to a king’s hospitality and treatment.
The Broodlin Siblings Auction House had to open Zax a bank account in Glorious Ground to pay him the seven thousand Splinters for the Pure Core.
Splinters were Ercas Mir’s currency. They are coins and bills that are specially made from a splinter shaped mineral that is very rare and sought for its unique properties that allow it, in any form, absorb the world’s energy.
Fair to say that after learning about Splinters, Zax solved his problem of slow bodily cultivation. The downsize was that he needs millions of Splinters to make a dent in the last gate of the Seven Stages Of Bodily Refinement.
Completing the deal for his Pure Core, Zax rented a place in the active Penerwoodrem St. and spent his time getting to know people and steampunk culture. He mostly got accounted with mercenaries and cultivators like Zenar Lar who were dealing in stuff similar to Kingdom Earth’s Basement Floor…
In the following months and a half, Mendor mercenary band were hired for three jobs, while Zax continued on his own.
As for training, before to imminent day of the High Rankers’ trials, Zax tried to cultivate his body and soul, but something obstructed him, the connection to the two Black Cores he was missing.
“Tomorrow are the High Rankers’ trials. Wonder how many will make it alive this time”.
Zax sat on a stool in a bar five minutes’ walk from his rented hostel room. The food served was delicious, so he came couple of nights a week.
People in the bar knew him and some were even friendly, but Mendor was the only one to know, partly, about his arrangement with Xinia.
“Zax, Deejena is the only regular that will participant in the trials. Bid her good luck when she come tonight. She has to potential to pass the first level trials, and when she will imagine the type of reputation it would bring here!” Luis, the middle aged barwoman, instructed him.
“I will”, Zax smiled, raising his bottle of beer.
It was actually tasty when giving time and being in good company.