Chapter 8: Intermission
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"Hey." A deep voice resounded in a dark room full of monitors' lights.

"Oh, hey." The other man, who had a laid back voice, replied the greetings without turning towards the deep-voiced man.

The guy was sitting on a wheeled chair with both his feet up the desk and hands behind his head, looking lazily towards the multiple numbers of screens.

"So, how is it? Any good prospects?" The first man asked.

"Maybe, I mean... I don't think this part of the test is really definitive, you know?"

"You can learn a lot about a man from seeing how they act under pressure." The first man calmly explained.

"Pressure's kind of a stretch. They were given 10 minutes to finish their lunch, what more do they want? A tea party?" The laid back voice snorted.

"The time is not the primary factor to the pressure." The deep-voiced man stopped explaining as he neither want to waste any more energy explaining the design of the trial, nor was he inclined to defend the examinees.

Without asking anymore questions, he approached the chair of the laid back guy and pushed it slightly out the way to rewind the footage back to the time the written exam had just finished.

"Hm..."

He watched the fast forwarded footage with the utmost focus for a couple minutes before finally turning the footage back to real-time.

"Interesting, thirteen people, this year might be our best year yet." The man finally showed a smile from his beard-covered mouth.

"So thirteen people wasn't rushing, what does that signify? Maybe they're just too dumb to understand the importance of meal for the next exam."

"I don't think so... At least not from their expressions."

The bearded man with the deep voice could see that although these people were quite composed for the most part, they still showed a hint of tension on their faces. Proving that they made a conscious decision to adjust their mental state and eat slowly despite the built-up exhaustion from the tests and the pressure from the practical exam to come.

Well, all of them except for one.

The one person who, not only didn't rush to eat his meal (mostly because he had prepared energy bars for lunch), but also didn't show even the slightest tension on his face.

"I can't get a read on him." The man muttered.

Following his line of sight, the laid-back guy also noticed the man and smiled.

"Oh, him! Yeah, he's interesting alright, I almost burst out laughing when I saw him took out those energy bars~" He laughed as he remembered the scene.

"Well, guess he's the only one with enough brains amongst the lot." The laid back guy shrugged his shoulders and continued to lean against the chair, this time with his arms crossed.

'Either that or he's just lucky? There's no chance that the content of the trial is leaked since we've only finished designing it 2 days ago."

"So? You have the files, what's he called?" The bearded man asked.

***

2 Months prior

"So Alter, have you decided on a last name for your identification paper?" Sister Mariabelle was seated on the orphanage's dining room with Alter sitting across from her.

"Of course." Alter slowly took out his registration form that was already filled in and handed it to the sister.

"Let me see!"

Maria quickly took the paper with curiosity evident on her face.

*FLIP*

'!'

When she flipped the paper, she could only widened her eyes in surprise.

"Oh, Alter... You know this isn't gonna make looking for job any easier right?" Although she said that, anyone could see the apparent gratitude on her face.

Alter smiled gently with closed eyes and replied, "Well, it's a family name. I thought I'd pick the only one I have."

Sister Maria finally couldn't hold it anymore and hugged Alter from across the table.

"!"

"...You've truly grown-up, haven't you." Her eyes became moist as she rubbed the back of his head.

Alter returned the hug as he thought back to his first past.

He hadn't always had the same last name, at first he'd chosen something normal off the top of his head to register.

Only after the tragedy that befell the orphanage that Alter decided to once again go through with the lengthy procedure of choosing his last name for the second and last time.

For the him at that time, it was a form a remembrance.

"..." When he finished reminiscing, he realized that sister Maria was still hugging him and decided to tap her shoulders and ask.

"Sister, is your maternal instinct finally shooting up? But I think it's still too early for you to think about having kids." He joked.

*BONK*

"Get lost!" Hearing Alter's teasing, Maria finally let go of him, but not before giving him a hit on the head.

***

"Alter Norn." The laid back guy took out some files from his drawer and handed it to the bearded man.

"Norn? As in the orphanage?"

As the orphanage was a government funded one, although it wasn't the largest of them all, it was still quite well-known for people related to the government.

"Yep, it seems he's been there almost all his life." The guy replied.

"You used to be one of the orphans there, right Luke? You know him?" The bearded man asked as he flipped through the folder.

The laid back guy who was called Luke shrugged.

"I was only there for the better half of a year before I was adopted by my current family, so..."

The bearded man continued to flip over the files. The data recorded was mostly the data that was collected the previous month when the Institute held their comprehensive physicals for the applicants.

The current participating examinees were actually the small percentage of people whose physics were considered adequate or above for the Institute's standard.

The rest of the people applying didn't pass the minimum requirement of the Institute in terms of physics and were rejected from participating in the entrance trial from the start.

"Muscle density, lung capacity, stamina... His results were good. Very good in fact." The man spoke as he caressed his whitened beard with one hand.

"Let me see." Luke stretched out his hand towards the file and took it off the man's hand.

"Hmm."

"Wow, you don't say. He's easily one of the best in recent years. Must be one of those fitness freak."

"I don't think a normal fitness freak would have a body like this. If he were fond of training his body would be shaped more like that guy." The bearded man pointed at Arthur on the monitor.

"But his body is carved just enough to not sacrifice flexibility and agility. This couldn't be achieved without careful training menu. I don't think." The man carefully contemplated.

'Am I thinking too much in my age?'

"There could be millions of possibilities as to how he achieved his current physics. Wouldn't mean anything if he can't utilize it." Luke shook off the man's concentration, he knew when the man became like this he'd go further down the rabbit hole and not come out for hours, so he promptly put a stop to it.

"Let's just see how he fares for now. Plus, he's from the Norn Orphanage, his entire life is practically an open book to us." Luke patted the man's arm.

"I guess you're right, and it does seem like this year has a lot more interesting people beside him." The bearded man showed a rare glint in his eyes as he shifted his views towards a couple other candidates.

***

After the second assembly at the class building's entrance, the time was approximately mid-noon.

As soon as the examinees were gathered, they were prompted to run and follow one instructor who had stood in front of them as he sprinted towards a certain direction away from the class building.

"The last five people to arrive will be eliminated from the trial! Now, follow!" The instructor shouted behind.

*STOMP* *STOMP*

A large number of footsteps resounded following the direction of one man heading towards the green forest outside the living area.

.

*STEP*

At the edge of the forest, the instrunctor firmly planted his foot on the ground and turned back.

"Alright, good job. First and foremost..."

"...You, you, and you. The five of you have been eliminated from the trial. You may leave the Institute's premise anytime before the day ends."

The five people's face had distorted from pain after running nonstop at full-speed from the campus ground. They didn't even have the luxury to be disappointed as they were busy catching their breath.

"As for the rest of you, I will now explain the rules of the practical exam so listen carefully!" The man shouted and pointed behind him with his thumb.

"Inside the forest behind me there are exactly 10 entry points to 10 seperate underground bunkers scattered all around the place."

"Each bunker is equipped with almost every form of military equipments ever used by Calistran Kingdom's army, each of them work and weigh the same as the original, the only difference is that they have been replaced with non-lethal ammunitions!"

The instructor took a single deep breath before continuing.

"After this, each of you participants will start at the same time to explore the forest and locate the bunker. After which you'll arm yourselves appropriately before descending from the elevator within the bunker to the 'real' underground battlefield where you will truly begin your practical exam."

The crowd of examinees went silent for a while before they started murmuring.

"Underground battlefield...?"

"What?"

"So it's not inside the forest?"

Some of the examinees started looking to the sides for answers.

"SILENCE!" The instructor shouted.

"Listen, under this surface area, even deeper down than the bunker, is the Institute's [Second Warzone Simulated Field]."

"All area within the simulated warzone are heavily monitored, your objective is to survive within the time limit as you collect points from eliminating other examinees or the magical beasts below. Yes, we have released a controlled amount of weakest tier magical beast into the environment."

"!!" Half of the examinees started showing concern upon hearing such revelation.

"Now, take a look at this." The instructor put down his backpack and took out what seemed like a tight fitting black body suit that covered every area of the body except the front-side of the face, it was also equipped with an indicator light on each of the shoulder area.

"This is a pressure sensitive sensory body suit, each of you will be required to wear this underneath whatever additional clothing you'll be wearing in the exam." He continued.

"This suit is shock absorbent and will keep you relatively safe in the environment below, but the main feature of this suit is not for protection. This suit is pressure sensitive and will trigger the lights and alarm on its shoulders to go off if they receive or accumulate a certain amount of force."

"The sensitivities are different for different areas of the suit, which serves to simulate the fatal area of a human body. For example, the backside of the neck and head will accumulate more damage and react more easily to force than the shoulderblade area."

The instructor took out a handgun and racked the slide before letting go of the suit and shooting the back of the neck area.

*BANG* *BANG*

Almost immediately, the red lights on top of the body suit's shoulders flickered brightly and sounded an alarm towards the surrounding.

*BEEEEEEEEP*

The instructor quickly disabled the alarm with the remote controller from his side and continued his explanation.

"When this happened, it means you're dead. You're eliminated from the trial. And also keep in mind that even though this non-lethal bullet wouldn't really kill you, it still inflicts a certain amount of damage especially in close range."

"The examiners will tally the points of each individual through the monitoring system until the exam concluded. Now, as for the rules."

"1. There will be no attacking other examinees until all sides have taken foot on the simulated warzone.

2. There will be limitations to the number of equipments you can wield when arming yourselves inside the bunker. In each bunker will be a supervisor to help you specifically regarding such rules.

3. You may only rode the elevator down from the bunker when you've gained the clearance from the supervisor regarding your chosen equipments.

4. Inside the second warzone simulated field. The elimination of either the other examinees or a magical beast will gain you 1 point each.

5. There will be no killing allowed during the exam.

6. ...

7. ..."

***

After the announcement of rules, there were a brief Q&A session for those who were unclear on some of them.

This went on for a little while until there are no more questions from the examinees.

"...Then that'll be all!" The instructor took out a starting pistol and point it towards the sky before sidestepping from the examinees.

"This trigger will officially announce the start of the practical exam! Your sensory suit will be provided to you in the bunker!"

"Best of luck to all of you."

"3..."

"2..."

"1..."

*BANG*

"! Ah." At the same time of the sound, Alter finally opened his eyes from their closed state.

He was truly listening at the beginning, but since he pretty much remembered every contents of his first entrance trial which he failed, somewhere along the way he found it really hard to focus and decided to enter a sort of meditative state.

It was not really sleeping since he was roughly aware of his environment. It was a state that only took in the minimum amount of information from your surroundings in exchange for preserving energy.

'Finally!'

He rushed in at full speed towards the forest as soon as he woke up, overtaking some of the more cautious examinees along the way.

He was quite oblivious to the fact that his sleep-like state had attracted quite a bit of attention and sideways glances during the briefing.

'Good grief...'

Even the instructor didn't know what to make of such behaviour.

'Recklessness begets failure. Even though he has a great mental fortitude, it seems like it comes at a cost.' He thought regretfully.

 

Here's the next chapter! thanks for reading, and, as usual, any feedbacks will be very much appreciated!

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