On the school grounds, nearly a thousand examinees gathered, presumably almost all of the students taking the examination this time.
I stepped onto the field at the same time as Kyrio.
For the record, we just happened to leave the classroom at about the same time, which resulted in us arriving together. Up until now, Kyrio and I hadn’t exchanged a single word.
Perhaps it was the excitement of the upcoming magic examination, but the schoolyard was dominated by a buzz of activity.
Even amidst this excited crowd, Kyrio remained the same.
Or rather, the moment I tried to check on him by glancing sideways, our eyes met, and he glared back at me. I quickly averted my gaze.
In doing so, I found Bob.
The curly-haired boy was chatting away, seemingly carried away with excitement like everyone else. However, when he saw Kyrio and me, he puffed out his cheeks, turning red, and started ranting about something with his lackeys.
He really is a soothing character.
On the other hand, Leo Baal was standing far away from the commotion.
Even amidst the crowd, his huge frame and mane of golden hair stood out. Leo stood straight, merely being present without speaking to anyone.
Yet, just by standing there, he exuded a presence more commanding than anyone else here.
“Now then, ladies and gentlemen.”
Suddenly, an old man clad in a black robe appeared, silencing the hubbub.
He had a raspy, low voice, but it carried well, bringing stillness to the schoolyard.
I had no idea when he had appeared or how he got there.
By the time I noticed, he was already standing in the center of the field, like a withered tree.
The man wore a ragged black robe that seemed ancient.
He had a long, white beard that almost touched the ground. Except for his beard, his face was completely hidden in the shadows of his robe.
He also held a long, unadorned staff in both of his thin hands.
His hands were emaciated and chapped, covered in countless wrinkles. His fingers were long, with nails thick and sharp like a beast’s.
It was Merlin.
It was my first time seeing him in person, but I knew his name.
He was the headmaster of the Military Academy, a teacher of magical studies, and the chief court sorcerer. Even the royal family paid him respect, and foreign countries regarded him with caution.
He was Shaark’s grand strategist and a first-class sorcerer—a man without a known past or real name.
Princess Victy, Leo Baal, and Merlin.
In the current Shaark, these three were more famous than the king.
“We shall begin the magic examination,” Merlin announced concisely. “Your tasks are to conjure ice and an explosion. We shall start with those near me. Make sure the explosions occur in the air.”
Ice and explosions, huh? A standard set of tasks for an examination.
There’s a reason I think so.
Both are perfect themes for assessing one’s magical skills.
For instance, ice.
Merely imagining lowering the temperature isn’t enough to produce ice. You could freeze water, but that’s it.
To create ice, you need to gather the moisture in the air while lowering the temperature. In other words, you need to use two types of magic simultaneously. The difficulty level of the visualization required increases.
On the other hand, explosions require a combination of fire and wind magic.
Without delay, confident examinees began to approach Merlin, handing over their exam slips and demonstrating their magic.
There were small explosions in the air, and some students created ice in the palms of their hands.
Most of the explosions were as small as firecrackers, and the ice created was about the size of a bottle cap.
After completing their tasks, Merlin silently wrote something on their exam slips and returned them.
About half of the examinees who received their slips back looked disheartened, while the other half tried to suppress their smiles, their faces flushed with joy.
Surprisingly, some students couldn’t create explosions or ice at all.
I wondered why they even took the exam when it was almost certain that these tasks would be assigned. Perhaps they were here just for the experience.
Regardless of the results, the students who had finished moved to the edge of the schoolyard. It seemed to be the flow for the finished examinees to watch the rest of the demonstrations from there.
As the field cleared, Merlin got closer and closer. My turn was coming up soon.
But before me, Bob handed his exam slip to Merlin.
Casting a scornful glance at Kyrio and me, Bob raised his palm to the sky.
A bang echoed, clearly a level above the previous explosions.
The crowd of examinees murmured in awe.
So, the chubby guy wasn’t just all talk; he actually had some skills up his sleeve. I misjudged him.
As for the ice challenge, he conjured a chunk roughly the size of a baseball.
Having had his exam slip returned to him, Bob looked over at Kyrio and me once again, not bothering to hide his triumphant demeanor.
Kyrio, glaring menacingly back at him, marched determinedly toward Merlin.
Meanwhile, Bob, with a sly grin on his face, moved to the edge of the schoolyard.
It seemed he intended to watch our results and mock us.
And then, it was Kyrio’s turn.
With a bang, an explosion erupted mid-air.
Kyrio had created an explosion of considerable size, ranking him high among the examinees. However, it was smaller than Bob’s explosion.
His ice creation was only about the size of a golf ball. It should be enough to pass but not enough to beat Bob.
Nevertheless, the surrounding examinees gasped in admiration. But Kyrio himself, his eyes burning red, stared down at the ground as if glaring at himself with murderous intent.
He was clearly frustrated, and that much was apparent.
Looking around, I noticed Bob laughing uproariously, clutching his stomach, talking animatedly with his cronies, and even pointing in our direction.
He sure has a nasty personality. I knew it, but still…
Biting his lip, Kyrio took his exam slip and walked over to the edge of the schoolyard, his eyes still ablaze.
I thought it was my turn next, but before I could move…
Leo Baal handed his exam slip to Merlin.
It wasn’t so much that he took the initiative to hand it over, but rather that Merlin had come to him, and so he naturally handed it over.
As Leo prepared to use his magic, all eyes in the schoolyard turned to him.
Unfazed by the attention and with a calm and composed demeanor, Leo raised his palm skyward.
With a bang, an explosion occurred, comparable in size to Bob’s.
The examinees exclaimed, and I caught a glimpse of Bob’s face, twisted in frustration.
Served him right.
Leo then proceeded to use his ice magic, but…
For the first time since the magic exam had started, Merlin spoke up.
Then, he handed Leo a piece of paper, something like an exam slip with some writing on it.
Taking it, Leo’s eyes widened for a moment, but then he grinned and made his way to the edge of the schoolyard.
What was that all about?
While I pondered the question, Merlin approached me.
Even up close, Merlin’s hood was a complete abyss, impossible to see into. Only the white beard poking out and his hands proved that there was a human inside.
I’m next, huh?
Okay, let’s do this.
Stay calm. Yes, I’m fine.
I handed my exam slip to Merlin.
I could feel the entire schoolyard’s attention on me now. The opposite kind of attention that Leo got. They expected a commoner who had no business being at the Military Academy to leave a disgraceful result.
Bob, especially, had that look on his face. But he was just standing out the most; almost everyone had the same kind of look in their eyes.
Fine, I’ll show them.
I raised my hand slowly skyward, palm facing upward, and glared at the sky.
Explosion. The key in this image was compression. Something compressed to the extreme, suddenly releasing and causing an explosion. That was the image I had in mind. Yes, compress everything to that point. I imagined my mana flowing from my hand, compressing something to explode there. Yes, it’s a substance that, when heated, expands hundreds, thousands of times its size. Such a thing is compressed to its limit there.
Imagine it. As vividly as I can.
I heard a grinding noise. Confused, I realized that it was my own teeth grinding together.
I’m going to do it. I’ll create the biggest explosion ever.
I imagined a bomb, compressed like a black hole, right there in the sky.
And then, I added intense heat to it.
It felt like a firework had exploded at close range.
There was a roaring sound, and the shock made my whole body shake. The flash filled the sky.
Even though I had done it myself, I staggered from the shock.
I tried to shout, but I couldn’t hear my own voice.
Why? What’s happening?
I realized immediately. Tinnitus. All I could hear was a ringing in my ears.
Looking to the side, I saw that most of the examinees were sitting on the ground, covering their ears.
Bob was there too, and his face, which usually turns red so easily, was now pale, and he was moving his mouth.
Did I go overboard?
Kyrio was standing, but he was hugging himself as if to protect himself from the tremendous shock. His sharp eyes were unusually wide open. Was he shocked?
Then there’s Leo, laughing.
Standing firm with a confident smile on his face.
He praised me loudly and even started clapping.
Stop it, it’s embarrassing.
I heard a voice and turned my gaze away from Leo.
Merlin was talking to me.
“How did you learn magic?”
That was the first question Merlin had asked since the magic exam started.
“Oh, I, uh, with this, sir…”
I hastily presented my Fundamental Magic Theory book, which I had been holding under my arm.
“I studied with this book, including the practical parts.”
“This… for studying?”
There was laughter in Merlin’s deep voice.
“Y-Yes, it was easy to understand for me.”
Was there something wrong? I felt anxious.
“Easy to understand, I see. Haha.”
Merlin finally laughed openly.
“Everyone said it was too complex, and in the end, there was no place left for Fundamental Magic Theory to be published. Hahaha. That book was one of my failures.”
So the author of this book is…
“You don’t have to conjure ice for me. Do you intend to be a scholarship student, young man?”
“Oh, um, y-yes, sir.”
“I thought so. Very well, you are this year’s scholarship student.”
With remarkable nonchalance, Merlin returned the exam slip to me—a slip that bore the word “Passed.”
I looked around and realized the gazes that had been focused on me had drastically changed.
Everyone was now looking at me with eyes filled with what seemed to be fear.
Even Bob quickly averted his gaze when our eyes almost met.
In the crowd of candidates, only two didn’t show a hint of fear on their faces.
Leo, who continued to applaud enthusiastically, and Kyrio, whose eyes were red and bloodshot as he glared at me intently.
And just like that, the entrance exam came to an end.
Did I really secure a scholarship? It didn’t feel real at all. But at least it was over. For now, I decided to head to the inn. Starting tomorrow, I will be studying at this school.
The other candidates started to leave en masse, heading towards the school gates as soon as the exam was over.
I followed suit but noticed that people were distancing themselves from me.
They were whispering among themselves, casting furtive glances in my direction. I couldn’t hear them clearly, but I caught snippets like “commoner,” “heresy,” and “cheating.” It was obvious that they weren’t saying anything nice.
Did it matter? I was the one who got the scholarship.
I tried to bolster my spirits with that thought, but it still stung.
“Well done. That was beyond my expectations,” a man exclaimed loudly as he approached me.
It was Leo.
The lion-like man casually walked up beside me and slapped me on the back with a hearty whack, causing me to stumble forward.
“The stunned faces of those fools who underestimated you because you’re a commoner were priceless.”
He was speaking loudly, uttering words that could only make enemies.
“My instincts about you weren’t wrong. Right?”
He looked at me intensely, making me involuntarily stop in my tracks.
“Yeah, especially the idiot son of Meagin. His reaction was the best. He got arrogant just because he has a bit of magical talent. Right, Kyrio?”
Leo called out to Kyrio, who was walking towards the school gates alone.
Hey, if you talk like that, the boy, sharp as a knife, will glare at us with murderous intent again.
I worried internally, but then…
“…It’s frustrating, but it feels good.”
Kyrio, while still looking sharp, surprisingly agreed with Leo’s opinion.
“I knew it, I knew it. Right, Kyrio? Van?”
With that, Leo gestured for Kyrio to come closer.
Kyrio, looking puzzled, approached Leo and me.
By the way, we three have been attracting a lot of attention from the other candidates since a while ago. And obviously, not in a good way. It might be partly my fault, but Leo making enemy-attracting remarks is also a big part of it.
Then, with Kyrio now close by, Leo made a suggestion.
“How about we grab dinner tonight, just the three of us?”