The Rebirth of the Hero’s Party’s Archmage chapter 31

Episode 31

On my way to the gathering place, I ran into a friendly face.

“Hey, Logan! Did you arrive early?”

The towering figure of Logan, who stood heads above the other cadets and was flexing his muscles as he walked, turned around and waved his hand in response.

“Oh, has the young master arrived?”

That’s when Gertrude Panton said with eyes wide in disbelief, whispering urgently.

“Is it appropriate to greet him as if you’re close friends?! Do you have any idea who that guy is? He’s one of the major rivals you should be wary of in this exam.”

“A rival? He’s my mentor. Gives me Magic-Protein every day.”

“Do you think someone is a good person just because they feed you? What kind of naive thought is that?!”

Revisiting his memories of being an orphan, Rein raised his eyebrows as if what he said was obvious.

“If they weren’t good people, why would they give food to someone they don’t know?”

Watching Rein laugh and walk into the auditorium with Logan, Gertrude felt so dizzy she had to press her temple.

Main Hall, Yoryun Hall, First Floor, Auditorium.

Finally, 233 freshmen had assembled in this antique space, but unlike during the entrance ceremony, none of them were bustling with noisy chatter.

“It’s eerily quiet.”

The reactions of the students waiting for the exam briefing were mostly similar.

Their complexions pale, feet trembling rhythmically, hands clasped in prayer… It would have been odd if they weren’t nervous.

At Rein’s comment, Krista responded.

“They call it midterms, but it’s really an event to sift through the worthless stones, the students without talent.”

The University department was known for expelling as few as 20 and as many as 50 to 60 students during midterms and finals.

“Don’t be nervous, Krista.”

Krista Warden calmed her trembling fingers with a deep breath.

It’s about being the best.

Just like yesterday, today, and even tomorrow.

As she clenched her fists, she could sense the malicious gazes from all around piercing through to her. She was used to it, after all.

“There they are, the scions of noble families.”

“This time, we’ll make sure to break them.”

“The useless young master is mine.”

The students from the Eight Great Academies and the sixteen established academies below them, the so-called Eight and Sixteen Middle (八大十六中), were there. Krista sneered as if amused.

“Don’t let your guard down, Rein. It’s me, Krista Warden, who will defeat you. If you lose to anyone else, you’ll hear from me.”

Just as she finished speaking, Professor Caroline, the second-year instructor, climbed to the rostrum, and even the faint murmurs quickly died down.

“Heehee, glad you could make it. The atmosphere is quite different from the entrance ceremony, wouldn’t you say? Let’s begin the explanation about the midterm exams.”

“…!”

“The exams will take place until Friday, meaning throughout this week. They will be conducted either individually or in pairs, and if your professor decides to expel you, you must pack up and leave immediately.”

Is this different from what I thought?

Rein smirked silently to himself as he thought he’d be sitting and solving papers… Really doesn’t give you a moment of boredom.

“Traditionally, first-year professors do not participate in official exams. They might get sentimentally involved, you see. Let me introduce the head professor who will oversee this exam.”

Before she finished speaking, the person who stepped onto the stage was definitely an impressive one, even by Rein’s standards.

A hunched white-haired old woman with her right hand behind her back and a cane in her left, whose very presence exuded an extraordinarily strong magical energy.

Just like a boat moving across the water, every step she took spread ripples of magical power, sending shivers down the spines of those around her.

Logan and Gertrude beside Rein lit their eyes up as though moved, while Rein alone tilted his head questioningly.

“Why? Who is she?”

“Do you really not know? Seriously? She’s Professor Marhena! The current head professor of and the former Grandmaster of the Magic Federation!”

“Hmm, the Grandmaster of the Magic Federation? That bent old lady?”

“After your grandfather, Skalzi Ludwick. She was the next to lead.”

Gertrude added with disbelief.

The Magic Federation was the organization that oversaw all magical affairs in the empire.

All major families and the Eight Great Academies were affiliated with the Magic Federation, and their members held important positions in it.

Having been the leader of the Magic Federation, she was a figure of the highest honor, recognized not only for her skill but also for having the respect of all magicians of that era.

“Quiet down, you brats!”

Marhena suddenly bellowed.

Her voice, empowered with strong magical energy, overwhelmed everyone who heard it, making them freeze in their tracks.

“Did you lot come here for a picnic, eh? Is this year’s freshmen all fools knowing nothing? Eh? This isn’t a test to show how talented you are.”

“…?”

“This is a test to see who among you is useless… Hehe, is there anything more unsightly than a powerless magician? Those who are useless to have no place in this world either. So, they will be promptly disposed of.”

The world of magicians was always a meritocracy… A smile crept onto the faces of the cadets from the Great Academies.

“This evaluation won’t involve the first-year professors who have been indulging you until now.”

Rein cocked his head.

Had Professor Owen indulged us?

“Those judgemental fools you will face are as cold as ice, ready to behead you at a moment’s notice. They are the second and third-year professors.”

At that moment, the teaching staff ascended the platform, and an extraordinary magic power triggered ripples throughout the hall. The cadets swallowed their saliva, struck dumb.

“Second and third-year professors…?”

“The elite teaching staff who train only those students who have safely passed the first-year curriculum…?”

A handsome professor with sparkling eyes, Kyle, stepped forward first, followed by the current rising stars of the magical community.

“Crazy, that’s Kyle! The genius of the 1378th class who graduated top of his class!”

“At twenty years old, he’s already built his own magical tower, Professor Jaron!”

“You’re here too!”

“And so is Elin Ludwick, who contributes weekly commentaries to the ‘Demon Echoes Daily’…!”

The clamor of the upperclassmen instructors aligning themselves on stage was swiftly followed by a hush that fell over the auditorium, a palpable tension that made heartbeats audible, a swirling heat of nervousness within, eyes of cadets trembled.

Marhena lifted the corners of her mouth, seemingly pleased with the reaction.

“Now that’s the expression of cadets taking an exam. Tsk, tsk, very good. I will now explain which examination hall each of you should proceed to.”

* * *

The Pages family has exercised vast dominion over areas north of the Red Mountains, including the “Golden Rose,” since before the establishment of the empire.

These mountains, a natural treasury, provided the Delightens with numerous environments: valleys, caves, mountainous regions…

Such diverse and expansive terrains were tailor-made for the instructors to test the cadets according to their individualities.

“Now that we’ve begun these enjoyable midterms, the examination method should be fun as well, right?”

Examination Hall G.

Near the main peak of the Red Mountains.

Associate Professor Kail greeted the forty cadets at the entrance to a cave, something more sinister than an ordinary cavern at first sight.

“Now, I would like for you to conquer this labyrinth. Employ all your magical knowledge and experience in full force.”

At this, the cadets exchanged fearful glances.

“A labyrinth…?”

“Can we get hurt?”

It wasn’t an actual labyrinth.

The Red Mountains, once the sacred realm of the Red Dragon Legion, could not possibly contain a labyrinth.

This was a virtually created maze, employing the entirety of summoning art and magical engineering.

“You might get hurt, but it shouldn’t pose a threat to your life, probably.”

Probably?

As the cadets blinked, Kail winked playfully, as if to say he was kidding.

“I’m in control of everything, so there’s no need for worry. Your real concern should be whether you face expulsion or pass, right?”

“!!!”

“In my examination, grades will be given on a differential basis. I prefer objective over subjective assessments. First place gets an S grade, and second and third place will receive A grades.”

Kail continued, fourth through tenth get B grades, eleventh through twentieth get C grades, and ranks up to thirty-eight are safe from expulsion with an E grade.

“From rank thirty-nine onwards, you’re eligible for retakes or even expulsion with an F grade. But since this exam pairs you in twos, two will receive the S grade.”

Objective evaluation…

It seemed fair but was an utterly cold-hearted method of grading. Rain, curious, raised his hand.

“How exactly is the grading determined?”

“By the time it takes to complete the maze. Oh, and there’s a forty-minute time limit. Exceed that, and you’re out, no retake, straight to expulsion.”

“!!!”

As Kail’s assistant poured mana into a mirror-like magical device, light spilled forth, casting text in the air.

“Here are the pairings for the exam. Please gather with the partner you’ve been assigned. Teams were arranged based on the average of entrance exam scores.”

Rain craned his neck to see who his partner would be when suddenly something zoomed into his field of view, obstructing it.

“…Clay?”

In an instant, the clay was flung to the ground and squashed flat underfoot.

Looking up at what caught his attention, there stood a beauty with hair the same hues as the clay.

“Heh, fate’s really indifferent, isn’t it? To run into Krista Warden, ranked provisional number one among the 1388th batch of freshmen, on the very first day.”

That was… Krista Warden.

Why is it that even thinking about her name now causes a sigh to escape?

“Be ready, Rain Ludwick. Your show of arrogance ends today. Like this clay, I’ll crush your pride underfoot.”

Such a fierce competitor…

As Rain sighed, a familiar and imposing figure approached with large strides. This time, a smile of relief spread across his face. It was Logan, successor of the Chaic family.

“We’re on the same team.”

“Really? What an amazing coincidence. I count on you, Master.”

“Hahaha!”

It wasn’t surprising.

Logan was within the top ten of the entrance results, while Rain was last, having only been accepted after additional examinations.

“Look at that.”

“Rain, the Scholar of Integrity, and Logan on the same team.”

“Didn’t they fight each other last time?”

As all the attention focused on them and she was left in the shadows, Krista stomped on the clay, her cheeks puffing out in slight irritation.

“You were talking to me first. Where do you think you’re looking now? Doesn’t seeing this clay stir anything in you?”

Did he really need to feel something about the clay… Rain looked confused and scratched his chin before looking up at Logan.

“Is this exam important for becoming the top graduate?”

“You aim to graduate as the valedictorian?”

“Seems that way.”

“Then it’s incredibly important. There are only four regular exams in a year.”

To be the top graduate, one had to secure the highest marks in every exam.

If he missed the top spot even once, it was a gap that could not be bridged unless his competitors made a mistake.

With the golden generation gathered this quarter, the competition was anticipated to be fiercer than ever.

Hmm, Rain gazed thoughtfully upward for a moment before finally scratching the back of his head and looking squarely at Krista.

“Really? Then, sorry to say, I can’t afford to go easy this time.”

A chill suddenly ran up her spine at the intensity, causing Krista to instinctively step back as emotions clashed within her.

The relief that this person, who had always faced her with a casual attitude, was now coming at her with full seriousness… and a sudden wariness, or perhaps even fear, towards the change in atmosphere.

“I need to graduate at the top no matter what.”

Rain concluded with a sorrowful smile, for reasons known only to him.

“My friend is waiting.”



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