A few minutes earlier.
Inside the examination chamber a hologram appeared the moment the door sealed shut.
A countdown was initiated, and an emotionless, mechanical voice rang out upon hitting zero.
[The examination will begin at any moment. Please confirm your ID!]
"Student Michael Fang, student ID number 53632-29," Michael responded calmly even though he was a little excited.
'Once this shit is over, I am finally free!'
He had expected a lot from the most prestigious school in the Golden Sun province when he got accepted, but he quickly noticed just how fake and partial the entire school was. They didn't really care about students with little to no background, or they just didn't care about him specifically.
Even if some classes were quite interesting to Michael because they were about the Origin Expanse, school life was boring as hell.
Most students didn't bother trying to befriend Michael because they couldn't gain benefits from him, but it was not as if Michael was concerned about that.
He would rather be a loner than popular with countless fake friends who were after connections, wealth, and opportunities. Genuine friendship was hard to come by, especially in a prestigious elite school where most students were descendants of powerful and influential families.
Everyone was told to give their best and be the top performer in class to bring honor to their family. This was only given in an era where families competed against each other every day, creating a cutthroat competition. Unfortunately, the pressure these families put on their children was unhealthy, creating an unhealthy rift between their classmates.
Groups were formed early on, and what ought to be healthy competition turned into a small-scale warzone.
In his first year, Michael made a big blunder. He thought that nobody would feel offended even if he were to get good grades. His hope to make friends by studying together and talking about their school life motivated him to work even harder.
Unfortunately, he ended up taking the first spot in class, turning him into the number one bullying target. Being an ordinary student without noteworthy background was certainly not helpful at that time. It made things worse as his classmates grew jealous of him.
It didn't take long before Michael gave up trying to get good grades. He chose to ignore his classmates and stay under the radar while working for his own good. Attending the most prestigious elite school in the Golden Sun province was something he had done to expand his knowledge and prepare for the Origin Expanse, not to make friends.
[Student ID of Michael Fang has been verified. Iris-scan and fingerprint-scan will start at any moment. Please be patient!]
A dim light shone into Michael's eyes and a small holographic screen manifested in front of his hands. Michael pressed his hands against the holographic screen and waited.
[Match confirmed. Commencing the graduation exam of Student Michael Fang.]
[Student, prepare yourself!]
In response to the emotionless voice, a dazzling light flared up. The light filled the entire examination chamber, forcing Michael to shut his eyes tightly.
Several seconds passed before he opened his eyes once again and he saw himself standing in front of a huge mountain.
'I cannot even see the tip of the mountain. How high is that?!' He wondered while trying to gauge its height as the clouds hovered above the mountain peak.
Cold gusts brushed against his face, carrying forth the howls and roars of monsters. Michael bend down to touch the wet soil. Afterward, he took a deep breath and inhaled the chilling air.
His senses weren't restricted at all.
'Is this really an illusion? This feels so real!'
Over the course of the last centuries, the graduation exam of high-school students had undergone some drastic changes. The most important change was the appearance of the illusionary land of examination that was created by the examination chamber.
The land around him was a sight to behold and Michael was curious to further examine it, but time was of the essence.
He composed himself and walked forward before starting to climb the mountain.
A path led up to the tip of the mountain but the whole track was filled with countless dangers and traps.
His graduation exam score would be calculated by measuring how far he made it through the track, and how he solved the problems that would be thrown his way eventually.
[Choose a weapon.]
The mechanical voice rang out the moment he made it to the well-trodden path.
"Give me a thin longsword, please. Double-edge, straight blade, and pointed tip," Michael requested instantly.
Swords may not be considered the best weapon in every area - whether it was their destructive force, range, and so on - but they were certainly one of the most versatile weapons one could use.
In unknown territory, they would be extremely helpful. Furthermore, his brother always chose to teach him to wield a sword whenever he came back from the Origin Expanse. It was only obvious that Michael chose the weapon he was the most familiar with.
lightsΝοvεl ƈοmAn ordinary double-edged longsword materialized in front of him, and Michael grasped it tightly.
"Let's make good use of you, buddy!" He mumbled, swinging it a few times to familiarize himself with the sword's weight and balance.
Soon enough, Michael had to make use of the longsword not even a minute later when he paced through the mountain's open track.
The faint sound of something cutting through the air reached him, and his head flicked upward. Several thick clouds covered the bright sun, and amid them, a pair of Emactyls dived down at him!
Emactyls were commonly known as prehistoric pterosaurs with large wings and sharp teeth. Their bodies were emerald green with elongated wings. They had claw-like projections at the tip of their wings and a short, triangular-shaped tail.
Despite their size being on the smaller side – like a mid-sized dog – they were dangerous creatures that shouldn't be underestimated, especially their speed!
'A Low Tier-0 Monster with an elevated level of intelligence, right off the bat? Seems like graduating won't be that easy!' Michael snickered before he prepared himself for the incoming attack.
Most people wouldn't know much about Emactyls but Michael had studied all volumes of the Monster Index he could find in the school's online library. Others did not pay much attention to Tier-0 Monsters because they would be able to reach a higher Tier with the resources, they would receive upon entering the Origin Expanse, but Michael was different.
He knew that his survival depended on the knowledge and skills he had procured over the years.
Observing every inch of his surroundings was one of the skills that had been imprinted into his mind. It had now become an instinctive act.
He readied himself and launched himself to the side when the pair of Emactyls was about to reach him.
His timing was impeccable. It was just a split second before the Emactyls would reach him, their razor-sharp teeth about to dig into his shoulders.
Michael's lightning-fast reflexes were enough to evade the two monsters and, furthermore, hit one of the Emactyls who were incapable of changing their directions in an instant.
Emactyls were assassins, not meat shields. Their bodies were fragile, and primarily designed for ambushing, not fighting an opponent head-on.
In a single clash, Michael was able to sever one of the Emactyls. The other Emactyl tried to flee but it had dived down too fast before, restraining itself from quickly changing direction, and ascending back into the air.
Michael dashed forward, piercing the Emactyl's back when it was about to soar into the air.
The Emactyls' bodies disintegrated into particles. Meanwhile, the examination chamber added points to his score after careful calculation of his actions.
'I feel a little lighter. Is the illusory land even capable of replicating the energy influx from killing monsters of the Origin Expanse?'
This was interesting, and it changed his perception of the graduation exam a little.
After reorganizing his thoughts and strategizing for a minute, Michael continued to climb the mountain.
Not even twenty minutes later, he had already killed more than ten Low Tier-0 Emactyls.
The examination had just begun, but Michael could tell that this was nothing more than a warm-up. He felt that the difficulty would increase soon enough, otherwise, the horrifying rumors revolving around the graduation exam wouldn't exist, in the first place.
But before Michael encountered the horror of the final examination, he had to answer a bunch of questions.
A holographic screen appeared in the air in front of him, revealing several questions. Michael had to answer them before he could proceed to climb the mountain.
[1) What is a War Rune? (60%)
2) What is the Origin Expanse? (20%)
3) Name the key factors Lords must pay attention to when they build their territory? (20%)]
'The questions are pretty…simple, aren't they?' Michael stared blankly at the questions for a while.
He knew that most questions at the final examination were designed to be quite easy to solve though they might be a little tricky at times. Otherwise, they would take up way too much time due to their complexity, leaving no time for a student to climb the mountain.
Nonetheless, one should never skim through the questions and answer them half-heartedly to climb the mountain.
After all, the percentage of correctly answered questions would be multiplied by the final deciding factor, precisely the altitude he reached before the countdown hit zero.
There were a bunch of additional factors that were considered but ignoring the questions was never a good thing.
'The percentages denoted the importance of the question. The second and third questions are not that important. That means no details needed, good.'
"I will answer number three first," Michael mumbled to himself before reciting what he had learned, "As Lords of territories, their main priority should be to ensure the security, economic development, infrastructure, natural resource management, social welfare, and…proper management of relations with other territories. This will ensure the well-being and prosperity of their people, and make sure that they will be loyal to their Lords."
Michael felt that this recitation was good and spot on. However, he figured that he missed something when he re-read the answer he had given.
"Of course, it is important not to neglect Military Power, provide good education to their subjects, and make sure that their people will strive for innovation and cultural Unity to promote stability and cooperation within the territory!"
'That should be enough…'
"The second question is a little bit more difficult to answer because we don't know the truth yet. The Origin Expanse was created by an existence unknown to mankind, for an unknown reason. It reached out to mankind 511 years ago and has become a part of humanity's daily life.
The Origin Expanse is a mythical realm that possesses boundless treasures and habitats for countless races. It's said that all intelligent races in the entire universe can enter the Origin Expanse, which means that the entire universe is connected through the Origin Expanse!
It's a place that allows humans to exceed their natural limits and become much stronger. It is a place where opportunities and dangers await one daily. Life and death are much closer in the Origin Expanse than anywhere else!" He explained more thoroughly than he had initially intended.
He then took a few deep breaths to collect his thoughts.
Michael finished answering the second question without any significant issues. He was about to answer the first question when he noticed a group of six Emactyls materializing in the sky above him.
They took note of him at once and dove down without any hesitation.
'Just leave me alone and let me answer this fucking question!!'