A Monster Who Levels Up
Although there were countless cadets who chose to take the evaluation exam immediately after graduating from the Academy, the number of them passing it the first time and then becoming a Knight were quite low.
That was because most of these new graduates simply lacked in ability compared to the so-called repeat test takers, who were sometimes referred to as 'Nth takers', and were eliminated during the preliminaries.
So, after graduating from their respective schools and the Academy, quite a few cadets received further private education or trained alone by themselves while continuously applying for the exam for the period between one to four years. Beyond that point, it was tacitly understood the applicant was unable to pass and had to give up there.
And those who were able to attain some form of enlightenment - or even "awaken" a Trait, although possibility of this was extremely low - would pass the exam with a good grade and enter famous a Knights Order such as the Dawn, Raven or Goryeo, etc, etc. But if not, then they would have to give up on being a Knight, or be satisfied with a life as a Low Tier ~ low Mid Tier Knight in a small Order based in some rural backwater towns.
With this backstory in mind, the groups present here at the examination grounds were separated accordingly to the age of the participants.
As the policy dictated, one-third of the test takers were fresh cadets straight out of the Academy's graduation ceremony, but the rest were the repeat test takers who could understand one another's hardship and loneliness.
But for Kim Sae-Jin, who was an existence that didn't fit into either category, all he could do was to sit alone and eavesdrop on other people's conversations.
Initially, cadets busily berated and mocked Jin Seh-Hahn/Kim Sae-Jin as a person who didn't even go to the Academy but relied solely on his Trait to pass the preliminary, but soon enough, stopped caring about him and became lost within their own conversations.
As Seh-Hahn (Sae-Jin) was about to get bored of listening in on these kids, Joo Ji-Hyuk appeared with a good timing and announced the beginning of the examination proper. All the participants got up and paid him close attention.
"Follow in the groups of 50 as assigned before. We will be heading to the 3rd floor for your first test."
Speaking up to here, Joo Ji-Hyuk led the groups forward, while three instructors who had seemingly appeared out of nowhere began silently following them.
The first day's evaluation was 'measurement'.
The purpose of this was to measure the current abilities of those who had passed the preliminary and to establish a ranking of the participants, which would prove important moving forward. It would serve as a basis to decide which cadet should go through and who would be disqualified.
Although having a high talent didn't mean one would be great at the actual combat situations, still, all the cadets' attitude towards this measurement was very serious, as it was definitely better to start off somewhere near the 'top' rather than at the 'bottom'.
"Today will be different from the preliminaries when your physical capabilities, talents with Mana, etc, etc, were measured. Today, your actual combat ability will be put to the test." (Joo Ji-Hyuk)
Hearing Joo Ji-Hyuk speak, Sae-Jin fell into a slight dilemma. Since he was in the 'Human' form, he was much weaker compared to the 'Lycanthrope' appearance, but still, his raw physical strength would easily match a upper Mid Tier Knight.
It was this massive power level that was the cause for his dilemma.
Even though he was trying to become a Knight of Eden… What Eden looked for from a cadet wasn't the current set of abilities, but the potential for growth and talent. However, wasn't being a upper Mid Tier from the get-go a bit too much? Sure, their evaluation criteria for the
ability of an applicant was higher than most other Knights Orders, but still.
"And that is the Monster you'll be facing off today." (Joo Ji-Hyuk)
While he was thinking, the exam got under way. A Wizard on the 3rd floor balcony, tasked with lending an assistance to the exam procedure, summoned a Monster.
*SFX for a dog's bark*
A Monster that sat on the boundary of between a "normal" difficulty and "slightly hard" within the Low Tier, a Heavy Gnoll was summoned to the testing arena.
Cadets all tensed up, but for Sae-Jin, all enthusiasm left him, instead.
A hollow chuckle even broke out of his lips, after he realised once more the fact that he was in the middle of a children's playground.
"Who'd like to go first?"
Joo Ji-Hyuk scanned the cadets, smiling. And there was this one girl who energetically reacted to his calling.
"Lemme do it!!"
Hair vividly dyed in vibrant orange brown; razor-sharp eyelines and a nose that could slice a person. A hardened expression as if unsatisfied by something - but she's was a girl whose beauty could make those features as a charming "plus", instead.
"Name?" (Joo Ji-Hyuk)
"It's Cadet Yi Yu-Jin."
"Oh-ho." (Joo Ji-Hyuk)
Sae-Jin could see that this girl must have been quite a famous future prospect, judging by the way Joo Ji-Hyuk was reacting towards her.
"Alright. Then go ahead." (Joo Ji-Hyuk)
While her long hair danced with each step taken, Yi Yu-Jin enthusiastically walked towards the prepared stage.
"No need to wait for the signal. Just start whenever you're ready." (Joo Ji-Hyuk)
She stood before the growling Gnoll and carefully surveyed her surroundings and the Monster itself.
And after maybe three minutes had passed, she finally unsheathed her sword. Funnily enough, though, her well-crafted weapon was an item Sae-Jin was rather intimately familiar with.
'…Isn't that one of the training swords I made?'
The sword Sae-Jin made in order to use during training; out of ten Knights he had asked to come and spar with him, eight showed much interest in the weapon, so he told them to take it home… There was this rumour he heard that the swords were being sold in the second hand markets. Must've been a true story.
Right away, Yi Yu-Jin let out a short shout and rushed towards the Gnoll.
Her swordsmanship was extraordinary enough to even make Sae-Jin let out a light gasp of exclamation.
Her sword seemed to aim at the Gnoll's neck but then, took a sudden turn and swung towards the Monster's chest. Her style of wielding the sword, where she would sometimes switch the grip on the weapon and aim for the Gnoll's ankle, was completely unconventional, to say the least.
Indeed, it was as far from prescribed on the textbooks as one could imagine, but perhaps because of that, her swordsmanship style was lot more valuable than normal.
*SFX for a strange death howl*
A small sweat drop flowed down to Yi Yu-Jin's chin and fell, and at the same time, Gnoll, with a hole in its chest, ceased breathing after letting out a weird cry.
"Good, very good."
Joo Ji-Hyuk clapped his hands and spoke in admiration after getting charmed by her skills.
"That was commendable. Alright, then. From now on, no more volunteers and the person with the name I call out will go up to the arena." (Joo Ji-Hyuk)
His admiration lasted only for a short while. Joo Ji-Hyuk resumed his duty as a proctor and began calling out different names.
And after around twenty people had their combat abilities measured…
"Next, Jin Seh-Hahn!"
Finally, Jin Seh-Hahn/Kim Sae-Jin's turn had arrived. Maybe it was due to his already eye-catching outer appearance, all the gazes present focused on him the moment the name left Joo Ji-Hyuk's mouth.
While tensing up slightly at the possibility of Joo Ji-Hyuk getting suspicious of him, Jin Seh-Hahn/Kim Sae-Jin walked up to the arena.
*SFX for a dog's growl*
Right away, the Heavy Gnoll showed a particular reaction. All because his nice scent having been blended with that unpleasant odour.
*SFX for a dog's louder growl*
The Monster stomped on the ground with both of its feet and showed signs of rushing forward. Meanwhile, Sae-Jin was leisurely deliberating on what to do next. How should he win this - act like he was fighting a desperate battle and then pull out the hidden trump card? Or, like Yi Yu-Jin before him, overwhelm the creature from the get-go?
*SFX for a crazed, mad barking of a dog*
Well, he couldn't stay undecided for a long time anyway. The frenzied Gnoll had already rushed forward and was about to arrive in front of him.
With a pair of deeply interested eyes, Yi Yu-Jin gazed at the homeless bum that had walked up to the arena, Jin Seh-Hahn.
'He's got a good physique.'
Although the lengthy beard connected to his sideburns looked rather unfashionable, the muscles that could be spied from the gaps of his training suit looked better than excellent. Yi Yu-Jin didn't want to admit this, but in all honesty, even Knights would struggle to obtain such a body.
A body that wasn't heavy enough to restrict one's movement, but also not light enough either - the perfectly balanced, so-called 'Iron Body'.
'Is his Trait related to his physique?'
Unless it was a Trait, it'd be quite difficult to explain how a homeless bum could possess such a body - plus, seeing that he was empty-handed as well, it just had to be a Trait at work here. That's how Yi Yu-Jin had figured, but still, as a woman herself, she found it hard to tear her eyes away from that broad and sturdy back of Jin Seh-Hahn.
"Oi, what's the matter with that Gnoll?" (Goh Yun-Jong)
As she was looking at the unfolding situation with interest while not caring much about the character of the person in question, her childhood friend Goh Yun-Jong suddenly began raising a fuss. That made Yi Yu-Jin to divert her attention as well.
And she saw the Gnoll angrily growling and threatening, its eyes bloodshot - which was quite unlike before, as if it also intensely disliked that homeless bum or something.
"This is getting interesting, right? I wonder how he will react?" (Goh Yun-Jong)
At Goh Yun-Jong's words, Yi Yu-Jin shifted her focus back to Jin Seh-Hahn.
"He's panicking." (Yi Yu-Jin)
She could tell just by seeing the back of him hesitate ever so slightly.
"Look, you can see quite easily. He has no idea how to respond when the Monster is rushing at him. And you know why? Because Traits don't teach you stuff like that." (Yi Yu-Jin)
She clicked her tongue and commented on what was happening up on the arena.
"I've said this before. Relying on only your Traits will end up ruining you. That is why…" (Yi Yu-Jin)
"*SFX for a loud martial art shout*"
Almost at the same time, with a loud shout, a powerful explosion resounded in the arena.
And afterwards, a scene beyond the scope of her ability to understand unfolded right before her eyes.
It was nothing more than a single punch, yet the Gnoll's body flew away like an emptiest of all empty cans in the history of mankind. (TL: Hahaha, One Punch Man reference, right here.)
*SFX for steam rising up*
Before long, the Gnoll was embedded deeply on the wall opposite side, leaving behind only its outline, and from the path it flew, hot steam slowly rose up.
A single punch, one fist, caused this absolutely overwhelming scene. The only thing filling up the space was a deafening silence.
"…Keum. That's a Trait, alright. Looks like a nice Trait, too." (Yi Yu-Jin)
Even Yi Yu-Jin was dumbstruck by what happened, but recovered her wits quickly after sensing Goh Yun-Jong's gaze on her. She nodded her head as if it was all within her expectations.
"I thought you were lecturing us on about panic and whatnot just now?" (Goh Yun-Jong)
"…What are you on about? It's true that he was panicking. It's just that, his Trait is powerful enough to overcome it, that's all." (Yi Yu-Jin)
Too bad for her, a drop of cold sweat traveling down her forehead was incomparably more honest than her words.
And now, after the end of the combat prowess measurement, the time was the lunch break, to fill up the empty bellies and wait for the next part of the exam.
As expected, Jin Seh-Hahn was eating alone while sitting far away from the other cadets. But unlike before, he wasn't saddened by this. When he thought about it, he had no reason to feel depressed because others avoided him. Better still, no minor annoyances would bother him like this. Definitely not a made-up justification, it was. Never.
"Mister Jin Seh-Hahn?"
Suddenly, he heard a smooth and beautiful voice coming from his back. Taken by surprise just a tad, he turned around to look, and found a pair of boy and girl staring at him.
They were… the ones he memorised as the 'handsome couple', and their names were Yi Yu-Jin and Goh Yun-Jong.
"Is it fine if we sit here?" (Yi Yu-Jin)
Since it was not a crime to do so, Jin Seh-Hahn/Kim Sae-Jin lightly nodded his head.
"By the way, your Trait seems really great. How amazing." (Yi Yu-Jin)
As soon as she sat down, Yi Yu-Jin began speaking to him. The way she spoke was open and refreshing, as if she was a man among men or something.
"It's uncool to ask about another person's Trait, you know." (Goh Yun-Jong)
And Goh Yun-Jong stopped her with a friendly, gentle voice as he sat down next to her. It was kind of like, the role of a boy and a girl had reversed somewhat…
"I know that already. But like I'm saying, if he gives us just a tiny bit of a hint, then the rest of us cadets would be grateful…" (Yi Yu-Jin)
Stopping her words temporarily, Yi Yu-Jin shoved a quarter of rice on top of her food tray into her mouth. What a truly manly man she was.
"Gulp. So? How about it? Surely, there will be team assignments coming soon, so if you let me know, we'll help you out." (Yi Yu-Jin)
Jin Seh-Hahn/Kim Sae-Jin silently studied the confident girl before slowly opening his mouth.
"What do you want to know?"
"Oh~. How refreshing, just like your beard. The thing is, it's nothing much, really. That punch that blew away the Gnoll before - is that a one-time use thing, or can you use it nonstop?" (Yi Yu-Jin)
After figuring that Yi Yu-Jin was wishing it to be a one-time use attack…
"It's the former." (Sae-Jin)
…Sae-Jin replied thus. Since it didn't matter even if he answered differently anyway.
"Oh, what a relief… No, that's not what I meant…" (Yi Yu-Jin)
"Mhm. So this was where all of you were."
Out of the blue, yet another person approached the table. This time, it was a devastatingly handsome and graceful young man, his black hair slightly dancing in the air.
"…And what the f*ck do you want here?" (Yi Yu-Jin)
As if their relationship wasn't good, Yi Yu-Jin sharply shot back at this guy.
"We are all cadets here, right? So, we can share a meal together."
However, the man whose name was Kim Myoung-Hahn, let out a slick smile and sat down on the empty seat.
"Well, then. You are Mister Jin Seh-Hahn, yes? My name is Kim Myoung-Hahn. I saw your Trait at work just now. Wow, that was quite something else. Even I was really surprised by it."
He spoke in a somewhat polite tone. Although there were traces of jealousy and wariness hidden in his words, to Sae-Jin, it was not much more than this boy acting rather cute.
"….Is that so?" (Sae-Jin)
"Indeed. And so, that is why… if it's not too much trouble, whether that punch is a single-use or not…" (Kim Myoung-Hahn)
Even this guy was asking about the exact same thing as Yi Yu-Jin. After making a half-hearted reply, Sae-Jin let out a long sigh.
He realised once more that these kids weren't even proper Knights yet; they were still a bunch of little chicks.
'They wouldn't even be able to open their mouths if they met the real me out in the society…' (Sae-Jin)
He found it a bit tough getting used to talking to these little chicks, after having kept company with big shots like Kim Yu-Rin, Joo Ji-Hyuk, Kim Yu-Sohn, Yi Hye-Rin, Yu Sae-Jung, etc, etc…
'…But, watching them fight over their rankings like this is kinda adorable, too.' (Sae-Jin)
"Oi, why do I need to stare at your ugly mug while I eat?" (Yi Yu-Jin)
"But that isn't a problem, no?" (Kim Myoung-Hahn)
Having an uncomfortable expression as she glared at Kim Myoung-Hahn in front of her - Yi Yu-Jin. Receiving her hostile stares with much gracefulness and leisure, Kim Myoung-Hahn.
"…You shouldn't fight during a meal, you know?" (Goh Yun-Jong)
And Goh Yun-Jong, who was busy trying to stop the two.
It was kind of interesting looking at these three. As they once said, among all the fights out there, the most fun one to observe was the one about food, after all.
< 29. Eden, The Tower of Knights (1) > Fin.
(TL: There will be one extra sponsored chapter tomorrow.)