Chapter 23:

Volume 2, Chapter 3, Exam

Don't Worry, We Have the Best Supporter in Our Team

The exam the group had to go through takes four days. That was the norm of Adventurer Academy, specifically for Alice’s class, as they had to learn everything outside of their vocation. Bookmark here

Three weeks of self-study was enough to cover every subject of their semester. The exam was scheduled in such a way that they could develop a discipline of “There was no such thing as over-prepared.” Bookmark here

The group exchanged glances and looked at Aiden. They were worried about him more than themselves. However, with the exam was about to start, they entered the classroom and hoped for the best.Bookmark here

Aiden walked further ahead, toward the next room. A room where Aiden could provide his answers to his examiners verbally. He took a deep breath and opened the door. The room was similar to the training rooms from their dorm: soundproofing materials on every side of the room. The room was five metres by five metres with four metres height. There were two chairs in the room— Bookmark here

RustleBookmark here

A sudden movement came from his left. Until now, Aiden couldn’t sense or detect anyone in this room.Bookmark here

“Sorry to keep you waiting.”Bookmark here

Even though Aiden arrived early by ten minutes, he still had to apologize since an examiner was waiting for him in the venue.Bookmark here

“That is fine, Aiden. Please, have a seat.”Bookmark here

“Is that you, Stacia?”Bookmark here

Like Nora’s social standing, Stacia was a legendary assassin class adventurer with the title of “Azuline Phantom.” Bookmark here

From what Aiden had gathered from Jayce, Stacia had the ability to camouflage every part of her except for her pair of azure eyes with darkness. Even though her blue eyes gave her position away, the enemies couldn’t land a hit on her. It was as if she didn’t have a physical body, to begin with.Bookmark here

Stacia usually instilled fear and despair into her targets to a point where she could reach their blind spot and land a killing blow. Everything was done to strike her opponent down in one hit. Surprisingly, Stacia took the role of their Herbalism lecturer to them. Bookmark here

She had taken an interest in Aiden because of his circumstances and took him as an apprentice by beating him in a battle. When Aiden and his friends met Stacia for the first time, they thought she was a student. Bookmark here

But that wasn’t the case. Stacia told them her actual age to clear the misunderstanding they had on her. Her exact age was sixty, and she looked like an eighteen-year-old girl. Bookmark here

Alice and Irene were struck in awe by her beauty. She looked like a doll. Irene did ask what her secret was, but Stacia wasn’t sure about it. Bookmark here

Age wasn’t the problem. Not that Aiden was into Stacia. The main issue was that he couldn’t perceive the outline of her body. Which means he couldn’t detect her presence unless Stacia chooses to reveal herself.Bookmark here

“Yes. Please take a seat. We can talk for a bit before the exam begins.” Stacia gestured toward the chair that was positioned about two metres away in front of her.Bookmark here

Strange… Stacia hadn’t moved a single muscle, and her breathing was calm. That distraction wasn’t enough for Aiden to ignore a thin wire linked to the chair he was about to sit on. Bookmark here

Too easy.Bookmark here

A dagger appeared in his hand, and he crouched down. He took a deep breath and positioned his knife to the string. A slight touch to the trigger with the blade creates a vibration, tracing the medium back into the floor underneath the chair. Bookmark here

He knew they are currently on the second floor of the Academy. Judging from the steps he had taken earlier, between floor levels and from top to bottom, it comprised wood, acoustic insulations, cement and acoustic insulations.Bookmark here

After processing everything he had gathered in this situation, that led to one question: is the string a diversion? The line was placed vertically still. Aiden could hear the slightest movement from the string, not enough to trigger whatever lies below the floor. In addition to that, Stacia’s breathing seemed to be extremely quiet.Bookmark here

We’re surrounded by traps. Bookmark here

Remaining in a crouch position, he activated his blade gauntlets to cut the string, then dashed past Stacia toward the wall behind her. He planted his feet to the wall and kicked off.Bookmark here

There were no structural changes to the walls, floors and ceiling, but he could hear the arrows launched from the walls as if they were fired out of nowhere. Every single one of them was aiming for Stacia, his master and an invigilator for his exam.Bookmark here

This was probably the first part of this exam: Protect Stacia. He assumed his stance in midair. Bookmark here

“Assassin skill: Twin Crescent Moon.”Bookmark here

He swung his right arm in a wide arc, hard enough to direct his momentum up in the air. He then used his legs and another blade to strike the remaining arrows. After landing in front of Stacia, he stood up, brushing the specks of dust off his shoulders. Bookmark here

“Not bad. Thought you might fail that one.”Bookmark here

“The way you say it sounds like you want to die. Unless you want me to do the honour to put you to an endless sleep?”Bookmark here

“Ahahahahaha. With your strength, you won’t be able to land a hit on me.” She crossed her slender legs with a smug on her face.Bookmark here

He dashed toward her. His cold steel was a hairbreadth away from kissing her neck. However, Stacia didn’t even do so much as a flinch from this.Bookmark here

“What are you waiting for? Aren’t you going to land a hit on me?”Bookmark here

“Tch.”Bookmark here

He knew she was provoking him to damage her mana shield and fail him on the spot. Bookmark here

“Awwww. What’s wrong? Are you going to let that one slide?” said Stacia as she covered her mouth with her hand. But that didn’t hide the twisted smile from Aiden’s hearing.Bookmark here

He retracted his blade and turned around, making his way back to the chair and sit down. Once he took a seat, Stacia cleared her throat. A piece of paper appeared in her hand. Bookmark here

Here we go.Bookmark here

After the oral exam, Aiden stood up and left the room. Judging by the temperature, if he had to guess, it was 5:30 PM. Summer was approaching at this point.Bookmark here

Even with the temperature rise, Jayce’s runes had provided thermal comfort at the small cost of his mana.Bookmark here

“Aiden.”Bookmark here

He turned around. Stacia stood a few metres away from him.Bookmark here

“There will be a training session on the day after your last day of the exam.”Bookmark here

Hearing that, Aiden laughed menacingly. “I’m going to defeat you this time.”Bookmark here

“Oh, ho. You better do your best because you can’t catch up with me,” laughed Stacia, holding a malachite dagger decorated with silver linings at the sides with leather handles onto his neck. “I look forward to training.”Bookmark here

That made his hair stood on their ends. He couldn’t hear her movements at this range. Azuline Phantom’s skill remained unknown to most of the adventurers, including himself. Bookmark here

“I-I look forward to it, master.”Bookmark here

“How nice of you to listen to your master. Good luck with your exams,” She stored her dagger back to her magic gloves and resumed walking down the hall.Bookmark here

Aiden placed a hand to his neck where the dagger had touched. Strange, the mana shield at that spot didn’t even dissipate. That means…Bookmark here

“That was a fake!” He stomped his feet to the ground.Bookmark here

Meanwhile, Stacia was hiding in the shadow, outside of Aiden’s hearing range, laughing at his reaction.Bookmark here

____________________Bookmark here

Before the young adventurers realized it, four days flew by.Bookmark here

“Congratulations, everyone!” said Nora as she clapped her hands together.Bookmark here

On the last day of their final exam, Nora had invited them to her place to celebrate their hard work. This time, they ordered takeout from restaurants under Nora’s tab.Bookmark here

It wasn’t difficult to order takeout from home. This could be done by summoning familiars or messenger birds to deliver their orders to the designated restaurants. Depending on their requests, the restaurants will either let the customer’s familiars or have their workers and familiars do the delivery. Bookmark here

Nora had summoned a few of her familiars, including Snow, her feline familiar, to deliver a list of written orders to their designated restaurants.Bookmark here

“Thank you for inviting us to your place to celebrate,” said Alice, thanking her on behalf of the guild.Bookmark here

The others gave their thanks in turn. Bookmark here

“Your welcome. While we’re waiting for the food, I would like to discuss something with everyone.”Bookmark here

The young adventurers turned their attention toward Nora. Bookmark here

“As you all know, you have a one-month holiday. That is why I’m asking a favour from all of you here.”Bookmark here

“What kind of favour?” asked Alice, placing her cup of tea back to the saucer.Bookmark here

“I need help tracking an elder gryphon that has been causing trouble to travelling merchants and villagers who are delivering supplies to the mountain villagers. This is a B-rank quest, and the rewards will be distributed to your party evenly.”Bookmark here

““An elder gryphon?”” Bookmark here

Irene and Aiden asked the same question simultaneously.Bookmark here

The group had learned this from their Bestiary class. Elder gryphons were rare these days. It was more of a title bestowed upon gryphons that mastered the art of magic and could transfer them to anyone. Bookmark here

“Nora, you’re an S-rank adventurer, but why do you need our help in this particular quest? I’m sure other adventurers are more capable than us. You can summon spirits to search it for you,” said Jayce.Bookmark here

“Yes, I can do that. However…” Nora averted her eyes away from his cold gaze.Bookmark here

“However?” repeated Jayce. His eyes narrowed at her hesitation. Bookmark here

Jayce had taken Nora’s quests sometimes. In most cases, he almost got himself killed by rare monsters and unknown herbs. Even if he had prepared for the worst, there were problems that even he couldn’t avoid.Bookmark here

“My spirits weren’t able to track it down precisely. I had informed Lucius about this a few days ago. He recommended your guild.”Bookmark here

“We’re still D-class adventurers. Are we allowed to take a B-rank quest?”Bookmark here

“I have asked HQ for special consideration for this quest, and they have given their permission for this quest. Anyway, be sure to prepare everything you need for three weeks of camping.”Bookmark here

“Did you just—?”Bookmark here

“Foods here, nyan!” Bookmark here

They heard Snow’s calling, and they went down to get the food. The said dishes were starters and main courses. The desserts were about to arrive at their doorstep according to Nora’s spirit, so they decided to wait until everything was ready.Bookmark here

“Jayce, you should get some sleep.” Alice noticed Jayce’s rubbing his eyes more frequently.Bookmark here

For the past three weeks, he hadn’t gotten enough sleep. He had to tutor everyone and spent some time developing a new rune for Aiden.Bookmark here

“You don’t have to worry about me.”Bookmark here

Alice sometimes wondered whether her expression gave away her thoughts, but it could be Jayce’s Instinct came into play. Deep down, she thought the role of the guild’s strategist meant for Jayce because of his passive skill: Instinct. Maybe his passive skill was incomplete due to the nature of his magic circuits.Bookmark here

“How strong is an elder gryphon?” Bookmark here

Aiden brought the question to the table, sounding eager to fight against it.Bookmark here

“It’s a B-rank quest. We’re going to have a difficult time dealing with it,” replied Alice.Bookmark here

“Aiden, are you seriously thinking about fighting against the elder gryphon by yourself?” sighed Irene.Bookmark here

“Yes—Owww!”Bookmark here

She swung a fist at Aiden’s head.Bookmark here

“You couldn’t even detect long-range magic!” Bookmark here

Irene crossed her arms, holding back her tears from the pain in her hand.Bookmark here

The two began arguing with each other about an elder gryphon. Alice smiled wryly, and Jayce casually drank a glass of water, watching their friends going at each other’s throat.Bookmark here

“What do you think?”Bookmark here

“Isn’t that supposed to be my question?” chuckled Alice. Bookmark here

“To be fair, you are the guild’s strategist.”Bookmark here

“You know when to present a challenge to me, huh?”Bookmark here

“Every experience can be gained from challenges and situations. Not through the imagination alone.”Bookmark here

Alice placed a finger to her chin and thought about it carefully, drawing out a list of risks and benefits of partaking in this quest. Jayce’s instinct, Irene’s keen eyesight and Aiden’s sharp sense of hearing. Thinking about it, the team’s skillset did go well together for this quest. She opened her eyes and looked at Jayce in the eyes, and nodded.Bookmark here

“We will discuss this at another time.”Bookmark here

“Understood. We will continue to discuss this later.”Bookmark here

The group had pumpkin soup, radish salads, grilled steak with rosemary and mint sauce, and mixed vegetables for the main course meal. As for desserts, strawberry cheesecake and fruit tarts glazed with honey. Bookmark here

“Well. What are you waiting for? Dig in!”Bookmark here

They thanked Nora for the dishes and began. Bookmark here

The pumpkin soup was smooth and savoury; it left a sweet aftertaste. Alice could feel her taste bud became clear and sharper for some reason. As expected from a restaurant selected by Nora. Although radish salads served raw and cold, they gave Alice warmth. Bookmark here

The steak didn’t require much effort for her to cut it. It was cooked medium-rare and perfect! The moment she ate a small cut of steak, it melted almost immediately. Umami assaulted her taste bud along with the herb and sauce to make it more intense and pleasant.Bookmark here

The mixed vegetables could counteract the heaviness of the steak with a punch of their own through texture and bitterness. Bookmark here

This dish might go well with mushrooms, but it could hinder other ingredients, thought Alice.Bookmark here

The sweet strawberries' sweetness and the quality of the cheese and cookie crumbs were in a different league from what Alice had in mind. Alice could tell the cheese took the many days to create—no, months of labour to reach its peak flavour. Bookmark here

Judging by the presentation, she could tell that the execution to utilize the cheese, strawberries and the bread crumbs to create such a dish gave her the impression that the pâtissier was careful with their ingredients and skills. Bookmark here

The fruit tarts’ main hero was the honey itself as it harmonized the fruits and pastries together and brought a whole new flavour. The crusts were crunchy from the outside and fluffy from the inside. But how did they make such a crust for a tart…?Bookmark here

They used croissant pastry as a crust?!Bookmark here

Alice had tasted many desserts in the past, but no one had ever created a tart like this. She asked Nora about it, but all she got was, “It’s a secret.” Nora might know these ingredients' location and made custom requests to restaurants or pâtissier by providing the acquired elements.Bookmark here

Once Alice and Nora had their fill, Alice poured tea into their cups. Aiden, Irene, and Snow were enjoying the rest of their meals.Bookmark here

“Any idea why Jayce stopped from the main course meal?” asked Nora, who sat beside Alice.Bookmark here

“He barely eats sweets. Sorry for ordering too many desserts for all of us.”Bookmark here

“No, no, it’s okay. It was my fault for not asking before ordering,” Nora waved her hands to brush off her apologies. She didn’t mind about this. After all…Bookmark here

“But still…” Alice lowered her head.Bookmark here

“No buts… On the bright side, you can bring them back to your place anyway. You’re still young, so eat to your heart’s content, but only in moderation.” Bookmark here

Nora was happy that they enjoyed the food, including the desserts that were base on her recipes.Bookmark here

Alice gave a wryly smile to her response, thinking there was nowhere to get around her. Outside the Academy, Nora was more of a friend and less of a teacher to her.Bookmark here

“Speaking of gryphons, do you want to try summoning a familiar?”Bookmark here

“Huh?”Bookmark here

Nora’s sudden question surprised Alice. She hadn’t taught the young adventurers on the topic at hand. She mercilessly gave a ludicrous amount of assignments to the group regarding the nature of elemental magic. So Summoning spell is new to them.Bookmark here

Monsters or spirits became your familiar if they accepted you as their master and formed a contract. There were some cases where familiars didn’t need to create a contract, and they were called Bondless. Bookmark here

Listening to Nora’s short lessons further, Alice found out that Bondless familiars placed their complete trusts toward their masters. At the same time, these familiars could leave their masters if they ever breached their contract. Snow was a Bondless familiar.Bookmark here

“Let’s start with an initiate type summoning spell. Most spellcasters have at least one Initiate type familiar. Noir was Jayce’s Initiate type familiar.”Bookmark here

Alice stood up and pushed her seat to the dining table to make some space for the summoning. Nora told her a spell of this calibre didn’t require a large area. Following her instructions, Alice began her incantation. Mana was coursing through her body. Then a magic circle appeared in front of her. Bookmark here

“Open Summoning Gate! As your master, hear my call!”Bookmark here

Everything went smoothly until the magic circle acted strangely. It expanded and compressed in size until it shattered and melted into the air. She dropped down to her knees. Her breathing became ragged, experiencing mana deficiency.Bookmark here

Nora crouched next to Alice and gave her a mana potion. She was surprised by this development.Bookmark here

“Snow,” called Nora.Bookmark here

“No sign of it.”Bookmark here

That was all Nora needed to confirm the result. Bookmark here

“This is new. I have never seen someone experience this after a perfect incantation. What do you think, Snow?” said Nora.Bookmark here

Nora and Snow turned their attention to Jayce, who was still asleep, thinking he might have the answer to this.Bookmark here

“Snow, could you cast ice magic on him?” asked Nora.Bookmark here

“Sure.” Bookmark here

Snow flew at Jayce and began her spell quietly. Bookmark here

“!”Bookmark here

When a small piece of ice was in position, Jayce’s left hand suddenly grabbed Snow’s throat. He wasn’t strangling her. Just enough to keep her stationary. He opened his eyes and blinked a few times before looking at his left.Bookmark here

“Oh, it’s you. Sorry about that. Is there something you need from me?”Bookmark here

Beads of sweat form around Snow’s temple, thinking: I could have died from this! She sensed a millisecond of bloodlust from Jayce just now. What made it worst was that he wasn’t conscious at that moment. Bookmark here

Calming down, she told Jayce everything about Alice’s summoning magic session.Bookmark here

“Alice doesn’t have an Initiate type familiar.”Bookmark here

Not having an Initiate type familiar was an extremely rare case. It wasn’t something that was part of the adventurers’ knowledge. Although the Capital Headquarter did hold records of specific individuals experiencing a similar issue such as this, the list of names couldn’t even fill a quarter of a page.Bookmark here

“That means she has to search for a familiar to form a contract then,” said Nora, who seemed to be disappointed.Bookmark here

“Yeah…” Bookmark here

Alice got herself up after recovering a decent amount of mana, thanks to Nora’s potion. Bookmark here

“Jayce, could you summon Noir?” Bookmark here

She wanted to see the difference between his summoning and her attempt. In all honesty, she was using that as an excuse to play with Noir. The last time she saw Noir was a few weeks ago during their exploration quests with Aiden and Irene.Bookmark here

With ease, Jayce summoned Noir just like how he had done during their quest for the Moon Village.Bookmark here

“…Jayce. Is that really Noir?” Bookmark here

“Yes. This is Noir.”Bookmark here

“But he’s—”Bookmark here

“I know.”Bookmark here

Noir was now a puppy. Alice picked up Noir without thinking. Noir seemed to be sleepy, just like how weary Jayce was. Just looking at Noir was enough to soothe her heart from its cuteness. Instead of bothering it too much, she placed it back on the table.Bookmark here

“That’s what happens when you don’t give your familiar enough mana,” said Nora while crossing her arms. Bookmark here

“How’s it going, Noir?” asked Snow.Bookmark here

Noir responded to Snow with a yawn and went back to sleep.Bookmark here

“Guess he isn’t interested in a conversation.” Snow landed next to Noir.Bookmark here

Alice could sense mana flowing from Snow toward Noir. She petted Noir in the head gently.Bookmark here

“Jayce, what was your first encounter with Noir like?”Bookmark here

“He tried to kill me by placing his blade close to my throat.”Bookmark here

He replied with a straight face.Bookmark here

“But it all went well after I restrained Noir for a few hours to calm him down.”Bookmark here

“Do all familiars try to kill their masters?!”Bookmark here

“Not always. There are some gentle familiars. Although they are weak, they are good at providing defence and support for their masters.”Bookmark here

“I see.”Bookmark here

“Well, it’s getting late now. It’s time for you guys to head home.” Bookmark here

“We should help you clean…”Bookmark here

Before Alice and the others could offer their assistance, Nora snapped her fingers. The empty plates began to gather together and headed toward the kitchen across the corridor. Bookmark here

Bookmark here

“I can handle this.”Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.