All the first-year pupils-- novices and students alike-- of the Black Isotta School of Sorcerers had gathered at the large square where they had assembled three years ago, when they were admitted to the school.
The only difference was that there were far less pupils this time. Many of them must had been murdered "accidently".
At the time, a sorcerer was motivating the crowd of students in excitement.
"Today, you are going to take the First-Years Sorcery Test, and there are a total of 1,577 pupils from the Black Isotta, along with all the other first-years from the schools in Section 12 of the Holy Tower. The maps being handed out to you will guide you. Your goal for the test is to spend a month of time on an enclosed land in the Bramble Forest and come out of it alive. Then you will be considered to have passed."
"A month? Is it that easy?"
"What has changed? The test was said to be a terror!"
Pupils on the square buzzed.
On the rightmost of the throng, Glenn, Lafite, Chris, Nina, Robinson and a girl named Robin, who was in a relationship with Robinson, were standing close to each other. Robinson was the first to express his confusion:
"It's said that we are the best ones in commanding sorceries and the biggest in number among many batches of pupils coming to the Isotta school in recent decades. For these reasons, a rumor has been circulating that the school has decided to ratchet up the test's difficulty. Then I'd wonder why only 'come out of the enclosed place' would make us pass."
"Maybe the place is inhabited by monsters that only real sorcerers could take down." Robin pouted.
"Stop that! There is no way it's going to be like that." Robinson cut in.
"I doubt it, too. If that was the case, I bet no more than one tenth of us would be able to get out of that place, and even those three..." Glenn pointed to Kyrie, Bionna and Sam. "Even those three may fail."
Chris calmed the rest of the group: "Don't fuss. Just wait for the map, and things will clear out."
On accepting the map from the map-handler's hand, Glenn noticed a chain-shaped drawing inked in the top-right of the map. Then the chain got off the map and onto Glenn's forehead before being carved into it. And the chain retained it former shape.
Glenn frowned, but he was not in the mood of lingering on it as all the other pupils with the map in hand were clamoring. He stared into the map, too.
The testing ground was a 300 square kilometers area marked off in the Bramble Forest. It was forbidden to breach the frontier, or they would be warned by sorcerers who would be guarding them.
Attached on the map was a booklet explaining the details of the contest. According to its rules, there would be mirror (where the Sealing Sorcery was applied) deliveries on three specific days during their 30 day stay.
The first delivery of mirrors was on the first day of the survival match and a total of 100 mirrors would be planted in different places within the area. Within a mirror was buried one student-level Magical Tool. The second batch consisted of ten Magical Tools that were a lot more powerful than the previous arrival and would be set on the tenth day. The last one would arrive on the 20th day. Only one mirror arrived that day, and the bonus were medicines and sorcery notes that were thought to be able to spike up the receiver's mental strength.
Besides the clarification on the mirrors, a few words were written on the attachment: "For every contestant who is killed, the chain mark on hisher forehead would then be transferred to the killer's. For every additional chain one gets, 500 magical stones (an amount that would certainly sweep the contestants off their feet) would be conferred to himher as a reward."
Glenn had thought that pupils in the Black Isotta were not supposed to kill each other, but it seemed that people had to kill to live now.
If the pupils were in luck, they might find a place to hide until a month later, but everybody was aware that go to the hiding, or relying solely on luck, was not an optimal option. They needed to be in extensive search of the mirrors and to power themselves up to be a hunter, rather than becoming a prey.
Glenn had an enhanced level of mental strength now and was armed with loads of Magical Tools, which put him in a good position to be in the match. And nobody except for the few pupils with innate talent such as Kyrie and Bionna had a chance to beat him.
"Consuming magical stones for the purpose of elevating my power was wisdom, I believe." Glenn recalled the huge amount of stones he had earned and had used in exchange for a variety of Tools, including his mask and symbolic insects, among other treasures.
But it would be a mistake to underestimate any enemy; in particular, the second batch of mirror supply on the 10th day might pose a real threat.
"We are being cornered. There is no way out," Robinson cried out after reviewing the map and the attached booklet.
His cry was met with a grim laugh. Chris then spoke:
"This is the time when we can have a real fight, like we did back on the ship. What is the point of working so hard at sorceries in the past three years if we are not going to fight? Unlike before, when we were weak setting foot here and when Lafite was protecting us from..."
As Chris was referencing Lafite, the rest of the group's attention was focused on her. She was wearing leggings, with the medial part of them cut away and showing her snow-white thigh.
She moved her head away from the map and looked at Chris: "I was doing my part. Now we work together to get us through this trial of fate." These words were uttered in a tone that could not be challenged.
"And I'd say we will be sent to the forest randomly. Nina, Robinson and..." Lafite stopped as she was listing the ones who should be looked after by the other team members. She then turned to Glenn:
"Nina, Robinson and Glenn. You three might not be that strong enough to jostle for the mirrors on the first day since it would be quite competitive. So protect yourselves. And the rest of us will try our best to knock down some mirrors to get the upper hand. After that, all members meet at here." Lafite pinpointed a place on the map.
"Lafite, you don't have to. I can take care of myself. I've got..."
"Don't." Lafite said softly, still regarding him as the one who knew nothing at all beyond that Olfactory Mapping or something. She held back her desire to say things like "for the sake of you" and instead she said: "The Twelve Superiors of the Death Sail League and Sam are having a brief meeting. I will be back in a minute."
Before Glenn said anything, Lafite held her arms around his waist and kissed him fervently.
People surrounding them looked with their eyes dilated and mouth widely opened.
Lafite handed Glenn a ring as she asked him to take care and left.
The ring was a Magical Tool of hers, the one that she used to produce the vine. It was called the Heart of Vine. Glenn put it on, and it matched the Gold Ring on his other ear.
Glenn sighed. In Lafite's heart, he had always been the one that required constant care and protection. But being cared for really made him feel wonderful.
Half an hourglass of time later, contestants began to be led by over ten sorcerers onto a huge scale. Each of them stood on one side of the scale and the other end was loaded with many magical stones. As the magical stones decayed into gray stones, the pupil's figure obscured and then disappeared.