The Mercenary Association, despite its immense prestige, was not one of Glorious Ground’s skyscrapers. It was surprisingly a rather unassuming, two storeys, wide grayish building that had across it a vertical tin sign with hollowed letters reading “Mercenary Association”.
“Did you except an extravagant structure?” Mendor poked the stupefied Zax with his elbow.
“Can this even be called a ‘branch’?” Zax gawked.
“The Mercenary Association has better use for its revenue than spending it on exterior design. It’s up for the mayor’s office buildings of every city to decide if they want to invest in their Mercenary Association branches to attract skillful cultivators and increase the popularity of their cities”.
“And Glorious Ground’s mayor doesn’t care about it?”
“How should I know? If it’s bothering you, ask Miss Xinia next time you will see her. Us who were born here and in the profession for several decades don’t have complaints”.
Zax nearly staggered when he first saw the building, but when the full scope of the surrounding scenery entered his field of view, he put his wondering thoughts to rest and raised his vigilance.
There were perhaps over two thousand cultivators around and more kept coming. Most of which were accompanying potential participants or just witness might be future Rankers. Cultivators aside, if counting the regular people that also came, influenced by similar curiosity, then there were over ten thousand people, assembling all in the same place.
“Open up a path!”
“Today, those who stand in the way are risking their lives knowingly! Don’t except city’s laws to protect you!”
Some men and women shouted for themselves, as they wished to register of the High Rankers’ trials and were obstructed by the masses. Others who grumbled and shoved people were friends, subordinates and even dimwitted lackeys of cultivators that waited to register for the trials.
“I cannot see Deejena”. Mendor told said as he stretched his head above the countless heads.
“Would have been easier to find her by using Soul Sense”. Zax stated.
“Don’t! Do you want to stir the crowd? Last time an idiot used his Soul Sense around so many edgy cultivators, someone snapped and things ended up with the mayor stepping out of his office. Let’s not do anything to invite the wroth of a Martial Mortal”. Romancing of that time, a faint pleading could be detected in Mendor’s voice.
“I get it. It was just a suggestion; I didn’t really think that you will follow it”. Zax tapped Mendor shoulder, smiling apologetically.
“Enough! It is not a day for jokes, especially if you are going through with participating in the trials!” Mendor berated Zax.
In a sense, although there still was a certain form of distance between them, in the past month and a half the two got to become like an uncle and his grown nephew who meet for the first time.
In Mendor’s perspective, he saw something unique in Zax due to his level of cultivation at such a young age, which in truth aroused his interest since he first saw him blowing to smithereens the Black Chrome Alligator.
And Zax himself was simply unfazed by Mendor’s rough around the edges personality.
“Anyway, you should start paving your way to the Mercenary Association’s building. Luckily, for the duration of the registration to the trials, only those who wished to participate allowed inside”.
“Well, then. If you’ll manage to locate Deejena, don’t say anything about me. If she will know that I plan to participate, she might not let me”.
“That is your fault for not showing your real strength and acting so reserved”.
“Is that so. Then it’s about time to make an impression”. An ominous glint flickered in Zax eyes.
“Your meaning?” Mendor probed.
Zax did not reply, instead, a change has occurred in his easygoing demeanor.
People in a radius of two meters from Zax began to breathe heavily as their limbs uncontrollably shook. Zax’s killing intent indiscriminately permeated into all who stood in its range.
One by one, regular people and weak cultivators fell to the ground, alarming those outside the range of Zax’s killing intent as women shouted in panic, children cried and men froze in their places.
Mendor, too, had tasted a portion of Zax’s killing intent. At that moment, being a Core Master he could hold his bearing, but in the depth of his sea of consciousness his soul and spirit were quivering.
“Oh… someone could not stay patient”.
“Humph, is that even the killing intent of a human or a predatory Deformed Being?”
There were also among the crowed those who were too far to be affected by Zax’s killing intent, but were sensitive, no less savage and even strong that commented in unperturbed voices.
Zax ignored the stares and the hubbub. No one took him for a villager anymore; since he purchased the light attire mercenaries like to wear underneath their armor. A long blue pants with sturdiness and texture like jeans that were made from the most durable denim, while still being comfortable to maneuver in and a long black shirt from some Deformed Being’s fur, buckled at the waist by a simple utility belt with little compartment and folded by the sleeves. It was not much, but sufficient for those who are used to burden themselves with metallic weapons and armors, not to mention maintain a constant keep of medicine on their person.
The ground floor of the Mercenary Association’s building was quite like a post office. There were eight desks lined next to each other and clerks in neat Mercenary Association’s uniforms sitting on high stools behind them.
On the walls were thin screens that were each connoted by a multitude of cables to those computer typewriters there were popular everywhere in Glorious Ground.
There was a screen for every matter that required the services of a mercenary or a band. However, at this moment, not one soul occupied any of the typewriter and screens.
Zax walked inside, proceeded by a feline humanoid beast, and followed her to stand waiting for the line to the desk to clear.
‘The sorrows of a world that lags behind…’ Zax sighed inwardly.
In Kingdom Earth technology provided convenience that was absent in this city of pipes, bricks, cables and gears.
The clerks were rapidly and proficiently identifying and registering the stream of mercenaries.
“ID’s number”. The short haired female clerk asked from Zax.
“I’m sorry, there is no history in your-” The clerk lost her breath as her eyes landed on a small line on the screen, “Sensensar family’s envoy”.
“First level trials. You will have to choose between a test of strength or an assignment”.
“An assignment”. A test of strength would have revealed him as none Mist User, exquisite bodily cultivator, whereas an assignment would allow him to contemplate over maintaining discretion.
“Take that”. The clerk handed Zax a finger width and length, paper thin red certificate that had glowing golden lines drown on it. “Return it at the end of the trials. Exit the building and wait outside”.
“Yo, brat, show me your certificate”. A one eyed, short and coarse looking man pulled Zax’s hand to his eye level as they both seemed on their way outside the Mercenary Association’s building. “Red and golden… Did you pick a test or an assignment?”
Drawing his hand back, Zax measured the short fellow’s facial scars and intent in his eye before answering. “An assignment. Why? What did you pick, old man?”
“Brat…” The man squinted his eyes, making unclear whether he minded Zax’s unruffled response. “An assignment”. He finally said.
“Fengar, here!” A deep and loud voice attracted the attention of the short man, Fengar.
Swinging his head back to Zax, Fengar said. “Greenhorn, it’s your first time in the trials, right? Yes. It’s easy to see on your tender cheeks. Come with me. Also, you heard my name, so give me yours”.
‘To follow?’ Zax asked himself before he realized that it made no different to him.
If Fengar planned some sort of trap to eliminate rookies to, somehow, better his own chances in the trials, Zax did not feel threatened and, regardless, not allowed himself to lower his defenses. Besides, a sideline glance showed him that other mercenaries who finished their registration were also grouping, whether they were familiar with one another or not.
“My name is Zax”.
“Greenhorn Zax, come”.
“Is this nickname going to stick?” Zax queried. He was not offended by Fengar’s approach or attitude when it dawn on him that he is just that type of person, but his first name alone was good enough for him.
“I asked you before and you did not answer. Is this your first time in the trials, right?”
‘You answered yourself before I could say anything’. Zax retorted in his head. He felt that giving this response outloud would only drag the way to the point he tries to reach.
“Then I never in my entire life heard about a rookie passing the trials. Since you are most likely to fail, maybe die, it doesn’t matter what you are called”.
Though Zax did not sense an evil intent from Fengar, he could swear the guy’s arse was chronically sore.
“Fengar!” Again, the same voice roared from beyond the crowd.
“Got it, give me a moment, Vouvik!” To the bitter Fengar, the people outside the Mercenary Association’s building were not just in his path, but also blocking his view. “All of you, bastards, get out of my way!”
A whirlwind of azure mist energy erupted, pushing more than lashing at the surrounding people.
“Good! Let’s go, Greenhorn Zax”.
A humanoid beast, about three meters tall, with a coat of flaming fur and a horned tiger head. The humanoid roaring beast was Fengar’s companion, Vouvik, who also had an earthy cape and a larger utility belt than Zax’s.
Another person, humanoid beast, was waiting next to Vouvik, the feline humanoid beast that stood before Zax in the Mercenary Association’s building. She, too, had flaming fur and was just as tall. But her tiger head was slightly smaller, more oval and had no horns.
“Who is he, Fengar?” Vouvik asked.
“A rookie. I got a vibe that he won’t hold our group down, so I brought him over. Greenhorn Zax, meet, Vouvik and Greenhorn Shouva”.
Both Vouvik and Shouva gauged for a silent moment.
“Did Fengar explain to you that we are a team for the trials’ assignment?” Vouvik checked to see if Fengar bothered to update Zax on the purpose of their group.
“No. But it’s easy to assume when taking a look around. I don’t might to join, if you guys don’t have problem with it”.
“…Father, if Fengar approves, then let it be”. Shouva told Vouvik,
“Vouvik, if you want to be the one searching for a fourth companion, then you better pick someone I can stand”.
“No. I concur. Welcome to our party, Zax”.
“Zax! Zax!” Mendor in breathless anticipation plastered on his face emerged from the crowd. “They are…?”
“My party for the trials”. Zax said and then showed his certificate. “We all picked to take up the assignment”.
Mendor gave a brief look to the red certificate. “Forget about it. They arrived!” He gestured with his hand at the horizon. “They used their Sublime Soul Sense to split the crowd for their arrival, Martial Mortal Rankers!”
Mendor’s words astonished the entire party and others nearby that heard him.
All people and beasts turned their heads to the sky.
Two distant figures were flying toward the Mercenary Association’s building with mantles of black and purple auras around them. Both, unexpectedly, were beasts in their animalistic forms, a giant rhino with a spiky armor and a giant ram with golden fur.
“Move away! Move away!” Officers of the city commanded.
A sonic boom reverberated in the sky as a third silhouette, also purple, appeared from the direction of the mayor’s office building.
“Mayor Rolo has arrived!”
The clear and excited voices of men and women informed the ignorant ones of the third Martial Mortal’s identity, a red haired man in a silver gray suit.
The three Martial Mortals converged tens of meters above the Mercenary Association’s building and the two beasts transformed to their human form, the rhino into a bald black skinned man and the ram into a man with snow white skin and long golden hair. A pair of same clothes appeared out of nowhere for each and covered their naked bodies.
“Mayor Rolo”, the two greeted.
Mayor Rolo indifferently responded. “Have you come for the second level trials?”
“Yes”. The two said respectfully.
“Follow me”. Mayor Rolo flew off, leading the two to his office building.
“These two were Rankers and Martial Mortals, yet they expressed reverence toward Glorious Ground’s mayor who, according to what I heard, isn’t even a Ranker…” Someone said in dismay.
“Fool! The mayor is one of the Lieutenant Generals of the Blessed Army, what need is there for him to become a Ranker?! Furthermore, so what if they are Rankers and Martial Mortals? Just a first level Martial Mortal cannot hold a candle against our mayor Rolo!”
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