Chapter 31
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“Then I’ll administer the first part of your exam. If you pass, I’ll tell you where you should go next. Agreed?”

Hadjar nodded.

“In that case, draw the hieroglyphs for ‘house’, ‘sword’ and ‘light’ in the air.”

Apparently, this was how they’d test his literacy. Hadjar drew the required hieroglyphs immediately. Even without the neuronet and its database, he was still a literate man. Well, as far as anyone can be a ‘man’ with a dragon’s heart beating in his chest.

That’s why Hadjar had chosen the dragon’s name as his surname...

“Tell me, what herb should I apply to a wound to ensure a speedy recovery?”

He wanted to answer ‘plantain’ at first, but that didn’t exist in this world.

“A leaf from the Yellow tree dipped in water.”

“How much will I have to pay back if I take out a loan from the moneylender at twenty percent interest?”

What a stupid trap. Nevertheless, the Scholars smiled, enjoying the free show. After all, what they saw wasn’t the Prince of Lidus, but an ordinary boy from some backwoods village, with a rusty sword as his greatest treasure. And, admittedly, with a decent level of cultivation considering where he’d come from.

He’d probably been lucky enough to stumble upon some rare plant or some other means of getting so far.

“How much would you borrow?”

“One gold coin.”

“In that case, you’d need to repay one gold and twenty silver coins.”

The Scholar nodded, wrote something down in the scroll and pointed toward the path leading to another parade ground. There was no queue there since it was five times bigger.

“Take this,” the Scholar held out a wooden plate with his name and ‘signature’ on it. “Good luck.”

“Thank you,” Hadjar nodded again.

Moving away from the table, the young man turned around. He saw a profusely sweating Nero holding a huge tub. Its weight was obviously more than one hundred pounds. Clenching his teeth, he straightened his legs and held the tub in the air for almost ten seconds, and then threw it back on the ground. The officer overseeing the exam roared something and Nero went to another section—some people had been paired up and were already fighting there.

Judging by his shrewd gaze, Nero was trying to join the queue in a spot that ensured he’d be fighting a woman, not a man.

Hadjar wished his new friend good luck.

Bypassing several tents, Hadjar approached the huge parade ground.

He was stopped by an officer in fairly standard metal armor, without any patterns or silly frills like the armor of ordinary privates had. The quality of the armor was also much higher.

“The seal,” he extended his hand.

Hadjar handed him the plate.

“The first stage of the ‘Rivers’…” The officer snorted with displeasure. “And you look scrawny. Will the wind carry you away?”

“Only if I don’t have breakfast.”

“Funny,” the officer nodded. “If you break your legs or arms, the army isn’t responsible. If you get cut and bleed out, the army isn’t responsible. If your guts fall out onto the sand…”

“The army isn’t responsible.”

“But we will provide a healer. Is that clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then throw your stuff away here,”  the soldier pointed to a bunch of the same ‘weapons’ as Hadjar had—rusty swords, sabers, knives, daggers, even a couple of spears. All this had been dumped into one pile of scrap metal.

Hadjar hesitated to part with the sword that he’d bought with honestly earned money. Even if it was rather bad.

“It’s actually worth a bit of money.”

“If you pass the exam, you’ll get a normal one. If not, privates also get something.”

Hadjar didn’t like the sound of ‘something’, but seeing the officer’s unyielding gaze, he decided not to argue. He untied his sword and threw it on the pile, shuddering from the metallic rumble that ensued. A small piece of his blade seemed to break off.

Well, he had been lucky enough to not encounter any animals on the way to town. Perhaps the sharpened dart had been a better weapon than what the merchant had sold him.

There were about a hundred people at the parade ground, which was the size of an ordinary square. There were also several officers. A senior officer was present as well. He wore a white cloak made from a mountain tiger’s skin, which was a beast at the ‘Awakening of the Mind’ stage.

Hadjar wondered if the officer felt hot under such a thick cloak. Or was demonstrating his high status more important than comfort?

“Now that there’s exactly one hundred of you, we can start.”

An officer with a truly great beard came forward. His beard reminded Hadjar of movie adaptations made based on Dumas’ work.

“First, we'll test your strength. This part of the exam is a little different from what the ordinary warriors have to do. Four of you step forward.”

Four people came up to stand on the sandy surface of the parade ground. There were three guys and one girl. It would be hard to call her frail or slim, but she didn't appear to be fat, either. Instead, the girl had a powerful build.

Weights lay before them, instead of the metal tubs Hadjar had seen before. Stone weights. They were ridiculously reminiscent of the ones that the villagers in the Valley of Streams used. However, they were much smaller, which was also true for the people themselves. During the month he’d spent in the village, Hadjar had gotten used to being a man of ‘average height.’ And now he towered above all of them, looking like a veritable giant.

The first examinee couldn’t lift even the smallest of the weights. He was immediately sent over to where the ordinary warriors were being tested. He asked for a second chance but immediately retreated as soon as one of the officers put his hand on the hilt of his sword.

Among the first four people, only the woman managed to lift the lightest of the weights.

The girl, after dealing with the first weight, immediately went over to the second one.

She gave up only when she got to the fourth.

The officers wrote something down in their scrolls and asked her to wait on the sidelines. The woman sank down on the bench made of boards, sweating and panting.

The queue began to thin out pretty quickly. About twenty out of a hundred failed to lift the first weight and they were sent back. Both the people sent back and the officers supervising everything seemed disappointed in the results.

How was it possible for people at about the same stage of cultivation to show such wildly different results? That’s because the stages were only a superficial measurement. Only if you dug deeper did the real differences become evident—talent, willpower and the effort put in.

Finally, it was Hadjar's turn.

He had been the last to enter the parade ground.

Spitting in his palms out of habit, he went over to the first weight.

He planted his feet, straightened his back and with a jerk... almost threw the weight into the sky.

It must’ve weighed more than two hundred pounds, and not long ago, that kind of weight would’ve been an issue for him. This time, he picked it up a lot more easily than he’d expected, albeit with some effort.

“Go on,” the officer hurried Hadjar along.

The Prince approached the second weight. It was the size of a soccer ball, but apparently made from a different material than the weights he'd trained with before. Weighing about three hundred pounds, it became a serious challenge for Hadjar to overcome.

Feeling his muscles straining so hard that his veins popped out, he first lifted it up to the level of his waist. After gathering all his strength and willpower, Hadjar raised the weight over his head and then immediately dropped it.

Breathing heavily, he came up to the next weight, without waiting for the command.

Four hundred pounds. It was an almost impossible task for his current body. And yet, he was still able to lift it. Well, not completely—he couldn’t get it above his head. Regardless, he’d been able to raise the weight to the level of his waist.

“You have fifteen minutes to rest and then we'll check your dexterity and reaction time,” the officer instructed.

While the rank and file warriors were setting up a portable obstacle course on the parade ground, Hadjar was staring at his trembling hands.

What the hell was going on with him?!

He had been sure that having one unit of strength meant he would be able to lift approximately 200 pounds. With the abilities he had, Hadjar shouldn’t have been able to lift the second weight.

“Status,” he ordered.

 

Name

Hadjar

Level of Cultivation

Bodily Rivers (1)

Strength

              1,1

Dexterity

                        1,3

Physique

                       1,01

Energy Points

                       1,7

 

After reading the message several times, Hadjar didn’t find anything new that could explain his feat. Then he looked at the girl sitting a good distance away from him, the one that had been able to lift the third weight.

“Scan.”

 

Name

           Ariel

Level of Cultivation

    Bodily Rivers (5)

Strength

              1,8

Dexterity

                        1,5

Physique

                       1,99

Energy Points

                       2, 3

 

Apparently, the neural network, which was constantly collecting information, had somehow managed to find the girl’s name out. She might have told someone her name, or it could’ve appeared in some scroll. Hadjar was always eager to get more information into the database so that he could increase the analytical abilities of his neural network.

At that moment, however, he didn’t understand whether he was being an idiot, or something had happened to the computing abilities of the network.

Why was the system that had worked so well thus far beginning to bug out?

He felt that it must’ve had something to do with the heart beating quietly in his chest.

“Continue!” the officer barked.

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