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After gently laying down the unconscious Annika, Zaran sat down on his chair again. May quickly removed the scrolls concerning the maids and the cooks. Then she started to stack scroll upon scroll upon scroll on the table. After she was finished not even an inch of the surface of the table could be seen.

Zaran calmly stared at the massive stack of scrolls on the table. "How many?" Zaran asked without even looking at May.

"Two hundred and sixteen candidates." May quietly responded. 

Zaran let out a cold harrumph and grabbed the first scroll. After a brief glance Zaran threw it aside and opened the next one which was likewise thrown aside after a brief glance. One had never killed a single monster, had very little battle experience and had only been practicing the spear and shield for a very short amount of time. The other one sold out his own master and was only saved through becoming a blood contract. While the person was said to be skilled, Zaran had no intention of letting someone who sold out his own master become one of his own, even though becoming a blood contract would disable him from ever selling Zaran out, he might still sell out any of Zaran's friends.  

Ten minutes quietly passed and the vast majority of the scrolls had been threw aside for quite a few reasons and only thirty-four scrolls still remained on the table. 

Finishing the last scroll, Zaran put it on the table, let out a sigh and said "I will test these men."

"Very well. I will notify Bruno of your choice. Please wait here while we prepare the arena and the men you have chosen." May said as she collected the scrolls in two separate storage rings. She swiftly left the room and handed the scrolls over to Bruno.

Bruno quickly inspected the scrolls and before leaving to gather the potential guards, muttered "Interesting." 

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A quarter of an hour passed and thirty-five warriors stood in front of Zaran, each and every one of them equipped with wooden weapons that matched their real weapons. Zaran had taken a simple wooden sword. 

With a warm smile Zaran calmly said: "I will give each of you half a minute of time to fight with me. If you can touch me you are guaranteed a spot among my guards. If I still have open spots at the end of the rounds or if there are multiple people for the same spot, I will personally choose the ones I deem the most talented. Any complaints with the way I will test you?"

"No sir!" The potential guards all yelled at the same time.

Zaran nodded and then pointed at the man who looked much like a black leopard and was wielding an odachi. "You first!"

The man walked forward, politely bowed and said "My name is Roku Amenoki of the black leopard race!"

Zaran bowed in return and said. "You may have the first move. Give me your very best!"

"Huah!" Roku roared as he jumped forward and sliced at Zaran with a low sideways slash. 

"You will have to do better than that!" Zaran said as he easily parried the blow and knocked the blade aside. Zaran struck out with his sword but Roku had already disappeared from his view! "Swiftness!" Zaran quickly muttered. A flash of light burst forward from him as his speed instantly tripled! He quickly moved to the side and looked around to locate Roku.... yet the black leopard man's figure could not be seen on the entire of the arena!

"Shaaa!" A noise suddenly appeared from Zaran's back as Roku rose up from Zaran's shadow! Roku struck out with his hand and harshly struck Zaran's back. 

Zaran groaned and stumbled forward. Crap I have been had. That was a great move though! He turned around and asked. "What is that move that you just used?"

"Shadow lurk. It is a skill that every single one of our race is born with. It allows us to merge with the target's shadow and almost always assures a perfect back stab." Roku said. "If you think that was cheating I am more than willing to fight you without using it."

"Heheh. There is absolutely no need for that. If you did not use everything at your disposal I would be disappointed instead!" Zaran said with a warm smile. Although at fifty gold, Roku was the most expensive berserker, Zaran felt it was a rather good deal as shadow lurk was an incredibly strong skill that Zaran gave a very high rating as it would enable Roku to take out a single enemy almost immediately. Furthermore it was also a skill that caught the enemy off guard and could be used defensively if necessary. As for Roku's true battle skill, after reading Roku's report he had already valued him the most highly among the five berserkers he had chosen to test.

Roku lightly bowed and walked to the side of the arena. 

A few minutes passed and the four remaining berserkers and ten multiple shield and spear guards had been unable to touch Zaran and thus automatically failed unless the other candidates were also unable to touch Zaran. 

The next candidate was Gilian Trevo, a twenty-nine year old lion man who had devoted his whole life to the shield and spear and who had formerly led a small mercenary guild until he got his guild in a debt of a hundred gold which he was unable to pay off for over a year.

Gilian stepped forward and took up an offensive stance with his shield rather close to his body and his spear above his shield. 

Zaran briefly nodded, signaling to Gilian that he could start.

Gilian rushed forward and started off with a simple shield strike towards Zaran like all the other guards before him, which Zaran had always countered with thunderous fist.

Zaran already prepared to meet the shield with a thunderous fist. 

Gilian grinned and jumped backwards, striking forward with his spear at the same time. His spear passed Zaran's fist and headed straight for Zaran's arm.

"Tch." Zaran said as he slid his left foot back, causing the spear to barely miss his chest. He instantly followed up with strike of his own and tried to shatter the spear. With a swift pull at his spear, Gilian pulled back his spear which made Zaran's strike miss. 

A small light of excitement could be seen in Zaran's eyes as he kicked off with his foot and rushed forward along Gilian's spear. Gilian followed up with a sweep of his spear, turning his body to Zaran in the process.

Zaran shielded himself from being hit by the sweep by instantaneously switching his sword hand and pushing his sword against the spear.  

Determination filled Gilian's eyes as he pulled back his sword again and used a skill! Snake spear, which allowed his spear to slither just like a snake. His spear briefly flashed green and afterwards he followed this up with a simple stab. 

Obviously having noticed the flash of green on the spear, Zaran did not hesitate and used 'Flutter' to counter the spear's stab. The spear and the sword clashed and Gilian was pushed back ten steps. 

Gilian's next stab and sweeps were all countered with one of the moves of 'Dance of the Butterfly' and the remaining seconds swiftly passed.

At the side lines, Roku gave a nod of approval on seeing Zaran's real battle strength. At least the master he would end up with was not a good for nothing and was someone with actual strength! Because the battle between the two of them had ended rather swiftly through the use of 'Shadow lurk' and because the previous few candidates had been far from amazing, Roku had been unable to find out Zaran's real strength... until now. Gilian had been quite the strong opponent but had been unable to touch Zaran for the full thirty seconds and every single one of his stabs or sweeps had been quickly and easily countered by Zaran.

Even though the fight looked close to most of the onlookers, Roku felt that Zaran was just making it seem that way and that if he wanted the fight would have ended in the first few seconds. He now regretted using 'Shadow lurk' as now he was unable to find out Zaran's real strength in a real battle between the two of them and after he became a guard he might not even get the opportunity to have another fight against him. 

Wiping away a single drop of sweat, Zaran signaled for the next person to come forward. The next person was Asim Khalid, a young half man half jackal with heterochromia iridum, with his left eye being a clear sky blue and the right eye being hazel brown. By family custom, every first born of their family was to become a blood contract upon coming of age, which was the reason he was listed as a blood contract.

Asim simply walked forward upon Zaran's signal to start and lazily swept with his spear towards Zaran's right side.

Frowning, Zaran jumped to the right and easily dodged the sweep. He was about to say something when he noticed that Asim's shield was missing. Zaran's eyes went wide and looked to his right, seeing the shield homing in on his unprotected right side. 'Swiftness' instantly activated and Zaran both let himself fall back and pushed off with his heels to avoid the shield. 

Having missed Zaran the shield flew back to Asim, who grumbled upon missing the perfect opportunity to catch Zaran off guard. Now he would no longer have the chance to do so but it was not the only trick in his box. His spear flashed green, just like Gilian's had when he too had used 'Snake spear', followed up by a small gust appearing around his feet. This skill was 'Quick feet', a common skill which increased the user's movement speed by a fair amount, but was nowhere near as good as Zaran's swiftness.  Asim moved forward and stabbed at Zaran in quick succession, his slithering spear moving in on Zaran from every direction.

Zaran used 'Flutter' followed by 'Velocity' to deal with the myriad of incoming strikes and kept check on whether or not Asim still wielded his shield. Suddenly the spear flashed a bright yellow, temporarily blinding Zaran for five seconds. Zaran instantly put some distance between himself and Asim and counted down the time until he regained his vision.

All the while, Asim still had his shield in hand and quietly moved after Zaran. While the distance between the two of them had been increased, Asim had still been able to keep up to some regard. Just as Zaran's vision was about to return, Asim threw out the shield to the right of Zaran and delivered yet another myriad of stabs towards him.

With his vision recovered, the first thing Zaran noticed was that his opponent's shield was missing and the other thing he noticed was the spear stabbing towards him again. Zaran met it with 'Crashing Waves', causing Asim to take multiple steps backwards. Then Zaran stepped back on his own to dodge the shield that was homing in on him. As soon as the shield pass him, Zaran followed the shield as it returned to Asim again.

Asim smirked as he saw what Zaran was doing and he threw out his spear, sending it on a collision course with the center of his shield. Zaran frowned and stepped to the side, barely dodging the shield. Asim smirked and his spear slithered, causing it to miss the center of his shield, which caused his shield to collide with Zaran's elbow. 

The feeling of being hit by a lightning bolt ran through Zaran's elbow as he grunted and tried to shake off the feeling. With a wry smile he said "Well done Asim. You have earned a spot among my guards."

Asim smirked and went off to the side and stood along Roku. 

"You would do well to wipe off that smile of your face." Roku coldly said. "If he wanted he could've easily dodged your strike. Yet his intention is to have some guards at the end of the day instead of none."

"What trash are you saying. I clearly was better than him during that whole fight, I had him on the defensive from the beginning!" Asim angrily barked.

"Hmph. Just look at the next fights and you will realize why I told you to wipe that smile of your face." Roku coldly replied. He had seen the whole fight develop and had noticed that Zaran had intentionally given a few opportunities to Asim, just like he had done to previous candidates. After they failed to take advantage of the initial few openings he gave no further ones and they would be unable to touch him for the remainder of the fight. Thirty seconds... even ten seconds would be enough for him to determine someone's skill!

More minutes passed and Asim's expression drastically changed. What Roku had said was true. The first few seconds any candidate would get a few changes to hit Zaran if his skill level was high enough but afterwards there was not a single chance to do so and he was just playing around with them!

By now Zaran had tested every single candidate but the three candidates for the mage position. The remainder of the shield and spear guards had also been unable to hit Zaran. None of the archers had been able to hit Zaran, but during the thirty seconds they were given he had been able to choose two who he deemed to be of a higher quality than the others. 

"Now for the remaining candidates." . The first candidate among the mages started to step forward the instant Zaran started to talk. "I want the three of you to fight each other one by one and I will choose the one among you who I deem the most talented. Needless to say but if you kill, even if it is by accident, you are out."

The candidate who had stepped forward felt his face grow as red as a tomato and quickly stepped back.

The three mages, of which were two females and one male, fought against each other one by one and although there was a clear winner Zaran was far from interested in him. Instead the person who lost was the one who drew his attention the most. Zaran walked up to her and said. "You are welcome to join my guard."

"Eh?" The girl cried out in surprise. "Why me? I clearly lost?"

"..." Zaran shook his head in silence before replying. "I already knew you were by far the weakest before I told the three of you to fight and even though you lost both your battles... you did absolutely wonderful in both of them and your control over your limited amount of magic was a million times better than the other two."

The other two mages wanted to say something in reply but when they heard Zaran's praise they knew better than to reply. What Zaran had said was spot on and the both of them had been very annoyed during the fight with her. Moreover, due to her being a harpy she had flying in the air during the entire battle and had dodged some spells by dodging them because the ease she could move around with. Furthermore.. they knew better than to talk back to a potential master. If they had been selected as potential candidates now, they still might be chosen by him in the future and speaking up now might ruin that chance for them.

"Thank you. I will serve you to the utmost of my capabilities." The girl said.

"From your file I only gathered that your name is Ariel. Why have you never taken on a last name?" Zaran asked.

Ariel's answered with a light expression. "It is a family custom. Girls can only receive their last name from their master. If their master never gives them one, they will never have one."
 
Zaran nodded and turned towards the candidates who had been unable to touch them. "I will now announce who will fill the remaining seven spots!"

"Archers: Sevira Kalint and Duran Devon. Shield and spear: Gilian Trevo, Nico Terion, Kai Fox, Gunther Streep and Siegfried Higon."

The seven of them walked over and joined Asim, Roku and Ariel while the remaining candidates all had an ugly expression. They had all seen Zaran fight and all of them felt like they had missed a huge opportunity. Although they had never heard of him, just basing themselves of his skill they knew that Zaran would surely rise to great heights in the future. Who knew if they would ever get the opportunity to join him in the future? 

May took out ten blood contract scrolls to Zaran, who quickly signed them and handed one to each of his guards. The guards all signed them on his own and after ten minutes every single guard had become Zaran's blood contract. By concentrating on the image of the person in his mind, Zaran could faintly feel their presence, something which would only grow stronger in the future. 

After binding all the blood contracts, it was time for him to bring them home. 
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