Chapter 178: Scheming
White Griffon academy, Headmaster Linjos' office.
From his desk, Linjos was examining the data coming through the academy's magical network.
Barely more than a day had passed, yet the number of groups taking part in the test was almost halved.
It was way worse than he had predicted, but looking at the reports of his subordinates he couldn't doubt that his method was the right choice.
- "Professor Trasque is right, too many students have no combat experience, I need to invest more manpower and funds in the 'Theory of Combat Magic' classes.
The mock exam helped the students only so far.
"The scenario was too simple, and without any real injury many of them underestimated the risks.
Next year I have to introduce humanoid monsters earlier and make the Professors let students get hurt a bit, or I'll be back at square one."– He thought.
His communication amulet drew his attention and so did the rune glowing because of the incoming call.
Linjos could not help but shiver whenever the Queen called him.
"Your Majesty, to what do I owe the honour of this call" He stood up, giving her a deep bow.
"Linjos, what's the meaning of these numbers Are you really going to flunk two thirds of the fourth year students" Queen Sylpha ignored etiquette, neither using his title or giving him even a nod of the head in response.
Her voice wasn't angry as much as worried.
"The answer to your second question is no." He replied with a firm tone.
"The first one though, is a complicated question and requires a complex answer.
I require your permission to speak freely."
"Granted." Sylpha nodded with no hesitation.
"The numbers tell us that two thirds of the students are cowards, ill prepared for combat, cheaters or all of the above.
Twenty percent gave up as soon as they knew their lives would be at risk.
"Such mages cannot be rated over B, because those who consider themselves to have too much to lose can be easily intimidated or convinced to switch sides.
Entrusting them with vital information or missions would backfire, since they would rather give up than fight and risk dying.
"Another twenty percent either froze at the sight of blood or refused to denounce their oppressors, despite the clear intention of using them as meat shields.
Both types are useless assets.
The first are unsuited for combat, the seconds are spineless cowards.
"The last twenty percent are those who attempted to bribe or threaten their supervisors to get protection and a safe way out of the dungeon.
Their behaviour speaks for itself.
"I don't plan on flunking them all, there is always the third test and the next year to prove themselves better than this.
My aim is only to give them a glimpse of real life.
Too many of these young master and ladies, except a few deviants, have never dirtied their hands, always delegating to their retainers.
"The problem with the previous teaching methods is that they emphasized theory and memorization over practicality.
In fact, the mortality rate of the graduates is always very high, no matter the academy they come from.
"The old methods created mostly parlour magicians, good only to attend social events and flaunt their superior instruction.
Mine will instead separate the wheat from the chaff.
It's not the destination that matters, but only what they learn during the journey."
The Queen pondered for a while before agreeing with him.
Lukart Household, Archmage Lukart's private quarters.
Before the second exam started.
"Are you sure everything is set up properly" Lukart asked.
"I am not sure about anything at this point." The voice from his communication amulet replied.
"After the mess you made during the plague, Linjos doesn't trust anyone.
He used fifth year students instead of Professors as supervisors, cutting us off from most of the preparations for the second exam."
"I'm tired of your excuses, Yurial Deirus has to die or we are both finished.
His father is onto me, it's only a matter of time before he corners me for good.
With Yurial's death, not only will Deirus be forced to focus on finding a replacement, but it also will divert his attention to Linjos, holding him accountable."
"And I am sick of your madness!" The voice retorted, burning with anger.
"I have no way to know what path Yurial's group will take, nor the ability to prevent his supervisor from using the bracelet Linjos provided to return to the main hall in case of danger or heavy injuries.
You have to pray to your ancestors that he meets creatures strong enough to slaughter his group before his supervisor can intervene."
The communication was cut off, leaving Lukart banging his head against his desk in desperation.
Once again, he had to stake everything on dumb luck, hoping for the fifth year kid to be as unlucky as incompetent.
Lith's mind accessed Soluspedia, instantly recognizing their new opponent from one of the academy's bestiaries.
It was a Kroxy, a rare form that crocodiles and alligators could achieve after evolving into magical beasts.
Instead of becoming just a bigger and smarter version of the original reptile, capable of using water and earth magic, a Kroxy would develop a humanoid physiology gaining the ability to use weapons.
Lith stepped forward, ready to intervene.
Linjos had warned him about the dungeon's wild and unpredictable environment.
The test was all about the ability to overcome the trauma of the first kill of a humanoid being.
The weak and magicless goblins were just an appetizer, followed by the much stronger and dangerous ogres, that yet used fake magic too, making them an opponent Phloria's group could still face.
- "A rare magical beast capable of using true magic though, isn't something on their league.
Heck, maybe is even above mine." Lith thought.
"In such a humid environment while being surrounded by rocks, there isn't much I can do.
Even going all out with fusion magic is useless.
That thing weighs at least half a ton, even with my enhanced strength it can swat me like a fly."
"Not to mention its bright cyan mana core." Solus pointed out.
"It's control over the most abundant elements is far superior to yours.
Please be careful."–
Phloria was still recovering from the fireball, helped by Quylla.
Yurial would never make it in time to cast another array, leaving Friya the only one ready to fight.
Lith round up his friends erecting a barrier around them and took out Linjos' amulet.
No exam was worth his life, Lith would never risk getting killed for a stupid reason like pride or a grade.
The Kroxy though, didn't pay the group any further attention.
Instead it kept collecting the ogres' corpses storing them in the dimensional amulets hanging from its belt.
The ogres in the quicksand were still alive and when they saw the beast walking toward them, they screamed in terror.
Ogres were much more similar to humans than goblins, their shrieks gave everyone goose bumps.
The Kroxy walked over the quicksand like it was solid ground, needing only one hand to lift an ogre before biting its head off.
"It's a pity I can't store them alive, I like my meals feisty."
"It talks!" Despite still being stunned, Phloria couldn't keep herself from expressing her amazement.
And I'm not a thing, rude hatchling.
My name is Phillard."
- "This creature is not afraid of speaking in front of humans." Lith observed.
"Either it's arrogant like Irtu and doesn't care, or it's benevolent like Ryman or Kalla."–
"By the way, what are you doing down here" Phillard continued.
"More exactly, what the heck is going on I mean, I'm not the type to look a gift steak in the bone, but usually there are no goblins, ogres or trolls in the dungeon, only humans.
And you don't smell like enemies to me."
"Smell" Yurial asked, incapable of relaxing.
"Yes, the Lord of the man-made mountain and the Lord of the forest have a deal.
When the Lord of the mountain catches an intruder, after he is done with them, he gives his enemies two choices.
A swift death or the dungeon, where they become our prey.
You have no idea how many pick the dungeon, hoping to find a way out.
And usually they do, it only takes up to five or six hours to get out of my a*s."
Phillard emitted a gurgling laughter, drooling all over the ground.
"But he usually marks them with a distinct smell to make it easy for us to distinguish them from his servants.
Are you his servants"
The whole group nodded furiously as one.
"If it's the truth and you are lost, just take the first left, the third right and then the second right after that corner and you'll find the door to the castle.
Someone will open it for you.
If you are lying, you'll be stuck here and I'll have you for dinner on my way back."
No one dared to move, Lith kept the barrier on and the finger on the escape button until the Kroxy disappeared from their view, its steps fading away in the distance.
Then, they started moving toward the exit, hoping for that to be their last hurdle.