“PIPE DOWN!” The 3-clawed guardsman yelled.
“None of you children are being to cross the entirety of the process. You frogs couldn’t make it more than a mile! Hah! Shut up and listen!”
Even with his shout the entire crowd was in a frenzy even though it was silent for a moment, as the fear had crept into many of their gazes. The entire crowd slowly broke back out into whispers amongst each other with complaints and incredulity clear on their expressions. One of the boys to first speak out in a whisper even dared to ask the obvious question “How can the academy hold this exam in such a dangerous place!”
Even though it was only a whisper the 3-clawed guardsmen heard it, even though it was only a whisper amongst the crowd. “We will be traveling on foot. It is 100 miles away. Once we arrive we will split off into groups. We have 9,004 applicants who have made it this far this year. We expect that at least 20% of you won’t make it there. Once we enter we each have different destinations we will be heading towards. We expect to lose another 30% of that number before reaching there. Once there the goal for each individual will be to slay a Class C monster. If you can’t do it then you don’t pass. We expect to return with maybe 25% of you. Of those that return maybe 10% of you will pass. You should all make your decision as to whether you will be going or not.”
The crowd went from whispers to loud murmurs as everyone was shocked by these stringent conditions. It was not only harsh but felt like overkill. Even as the murmurs continued one the 3-clawed guardsmen heard a complaint and answered it while the crowd was talking among themselves “No. If you choose to give up now it counts as a failure. You will no longer be allowed to take the exam for the academy again.”
The faces of a lot of the children fell. There were a lot of children within the ages of 12-14 who thought themselves geniuses. Some were feeling confident, perhaps even arrogant of their chances within the exam. Others were feeling extreme apprehension. Regardless of whatever talent they may possess. They were still children being thrown into a very precarious position.
Both Marcos and Leo were in the back of the crowd and although they’d been surprised by the stringent conditions placed on the exam, their confidence never wavered. They were resolute in their choice to take the exam. There was no backing down now.
Turning to each other, they gave each other the same shit-eating grin thinking the same thing. They were both enjoying the show of watching a lot of the others in the crowd waver. After all… The more of them that gave up now… The easier the exam would be for them.
After waiting a few minutes for the news to settle in the prompter at the front continued “No need for names to be called, the rest of the city guards and teachers who will be coming are assembling as we speak. Therefore those who want to come, come. Follow my team as we walk towards the outer barrier. Keep in mind that once we leave, none of us will escort you back. Once we reach the forest. We will assign the exam teams.” After saying as much the 3-clawed guardsmen walked down off the stage and two his teammates paved a way in the crowd without much effort. Everyone was moving aside and letting them through too afraid to offend them.
The crowd slowly started moving, everyone walking at a steady pace. Even as Leo and Marcos walked they were caught in between one person or another. All they could see were the backs of others or the heads of numerous other participants who were either pale and contemplative or hyperactively speaking to others about what might happen during the exam.
After walking for half the day at their current moderate pace they finally made it to the edge of the city and they could actively see the border of the barrier. Some of the people had stopped walking as others pushed them aside giving them derisive looks as if they knew that those were the ones too cowardly to actually leave the city.
Outside the city there was open fiends and hills, but it seemed to go on forever. While it seemed safe, looks could be deceiving. The areas right outside the barrier still had some inhabitants. Not everyone could afford to live within the city, not everyone had value. Moreover as time passed, the city was now experiencing a problem with over population as more and more people desired the comforts of the city without putting in the risk to their lives of exploring the outside world.
These were the people least valued and looked down upon by those with any semblance of power. Even so, they had huddled together and created homes outside the city. They were poorly constructed, made of the worst materials. The better ones were made of wood. No one bothered to put any effort or real expense into these homes because at any given moment, a monster or swarm could attack decimating everything. Everyone who lived outside of the barrier had the constant state of mind to retreat back to the city should anything appear that they were unable to handle.
Leo could only stare at some of these people as he continued forward with a little bit of sympathy and disdain.
It must be terrible to come this far and lose so much pride in front of everyone… But if you didn’t want to be embarrassed you shouldn’t have come in the first place.
Marcos didn’t pay them too much attention, he figured it was too early to even bother trying to weed out the competition. Too many people in the crowds.
Leo was thinking the same thing, except he was taking it a step further.
I know Marcos is trying to figure out who we should keep an eye on but there’s no point. The competition won’t start until after we pass the test. The rest of the people who pass are the real competition.
Leo was confident in himself and he had his eyes set on a greater goal than just entering the academy.
The first crossing point for the lot of these participants was the barrier. A few people stayed behind and no one even bothered with them. No point sneering at cowards they all thought.
The second boundary was as they were walking out of the boundary a few miles away. It was at that point that some of the ones who didn’t have the courage decided to go back while they were still close enough to the city and it’s safety.
Seeing some of these people turn tail and go back Leo stopped to look back. He’d never been miles outside of the city. Staring back he could only see a portion of the city but it looked massive. The portion of the academy still stood out the most. Even more so than the formal royal castle. The academy had two large towers that had 100 floors. This encompassed two of their most important buildings. They were made of bricks but had seals on each floor giving it a purple hue. It was even more spectacular this far from the city.
Marcos noticed Leo stopping and for a second he hesitated as he wondered whether Leo was having second doubts… “Hey you coming? What’s up?”
Leo glanced back at him and noticed the look he was giving him as he rolled his eyes and turned back to look at the city “I’m admiring the view. I’ve never seen the city like this from the outside. It’s pretty amazing actually. Even more so… I guess everyone finds the city so safe because of the barrier but… It’s so weird since it’s invisible. From here, the whole city looks so massive and vulnerable all at once doesn’t it?”
Marcos thought about his words but didn’t read too much into it “Let’s appreciate the view on the way back after we’ve passed the test” as he threw his arm around Leo dragging him away.
Being dragged away Leo gave Marcos a couple of light jabs at his ribs trying to get him to let go “Jeeze man drop it. I’m coming alriiight”
They proceeded walking for the rest of the day, just talking lightly about what they might see and what it would be like to go into a real forest.
Eventually as the sun was setting they’d walked for over 10 hours and most of everyone was exhausted. The city guardsmen only took 3 short breaks in-between the entire day and anyone who couldn’t keep up was left behind. So everyone had to keep pace, it wasn’t easy for everyone but still the first day.
It was a long first day, but everyone was glad to finally get a chance to rest. It was their first night camping out in the wilderness, for most it was their first time ever.