Just as several freshmen walked out of the forest of huge trees, chatting and joking between themselves, they suddenly heard the sound of a heavy object falling on the ground.
“Isn’t that Ayrin?”
“Why’s he in this state?”
They looked toward the source of the noise. These freshmen who were about to go to the commercial street looked with astonishment at Ayrin’s body covered in mud and dirt, looking as if he’d tumbled down who knew how many times. And, looking at the constant, twitching-like tremble of his body, it was very apparent Ayrin’s endurance had already exceeded its limit. His wounds didn’t seem light either.
“Ayrin, what’s the matter?”
“How are you?”
The freshmen stared blankly a moment, then they abruptly rushed forward, chills coursing through them.
But when they rushed to Ayrin’s side, Ayrin had already stood up, trembling from head to toe.
“I’m fine… Almost there…”
The faces of these freshmen became snow white, because they could see that Ayrin’s eyes were even a little out of focus. He seemed almost in a state of unconsciousness.
“His back and chest are both swollen, what on earth happened?”
These freshmen followed Ayrin toward the dorm, a little lost as to what they should do.
Ringel’s strength wasn’t something any previous opponent of Ayrin’s could match up to. Especially toward the end, the impact he suffered was even greater when he nailed his body on the ground so he could give Ringel a heavy strike. He was already hurting from head to toe as if his bones were cracked back when he left Divine Shield Academy. With each step he persevered with, it seemed there were ten thousand ants biting his innards. Every step challenged the limits of his fortitude.
His consciousness was indeed a little blurry when he came back to Holy Dawn Academy. He had no idea how many times he tumbled and fell. Under the escort of these freshmen, he fell asleep as soon as he lay down on his bed and passed out, unconscious.
These freshmen observed Ayrin for a while, making certain his breathing was very smooth and steady. It seemed there shouldn’t be any problem. Then, not long after they went back out of the gates of the dorm, their heads filled with questions, the news about Ayrin going to Divine Shield Academy and challenging Ringel already spread to Holy Dawn Academy.
“Moss went together with him to Divine Shield Academy?”
“He went to challenge Divine Shield Academy just because they insulted Chris, not caring for anything else?”
They stood not far away from the gates to the dorm. Freshmen were coming back in twos or threes, and when they heard from them that Ringel not only had condensed arcane particles long ago, but could also be counted among the powerful elite senior students of Divine Shield Academy, heard again that Ayrin knocked the opponent out by trading blow for blow, to the point a member on the team of the opposite academy made an appearance and told Ringel to apologize, these freshmen who’d escorted Ayrin back to his dorm fell completely silent.
“He fought himself into such a state just because the other side looked down on our team, looked down on our academy.”
“He’s only a freshman, but he still had the guts to go to Divine Shield Academy, to go to someone else’s territory, and go challenge someone like that! What are we, compared to him?”
“He undertakes extra training in class on his own initiative, he ends up more tired than any one of us every single time…”
“Let’ go! We’ll do another set of foundation exercises!”
These freshmen stayed a long time on the roadside outside the dorms, then they all screamed out at the same time and rushed to the forest of giant trees.
“We can’t let other people look down on us either!”
“We have to try harder!”
More and more freshmen, previously preparing for their rest, rushed inside the forest of giant trees instead, hot blood coursing in their veins.
“Belo, you came back?”
Early morning. Someone woke up an Ayrin who slept like a log when the first strands of daybreak had yet to fall on Holy Dawn Academy. He subconsciously thought it was Belo who came back, but then, after spending several minutes and finally recognizing who the one who stood in front of him was, he dumbly asked, “Moss, why did you come here. The sun isn’t up yet, why did you wake me up?”
Moss rolled his eyes right on the spot. “You’ve gone dumb from the blows? You forgot everything, you’re the one who told me you might have opened the first arcane gate and condensed arcane particles. That’s why I hurried back home and got the dwarven benchmark tool.”
“Dwarven benchmark tool?”
Ayrin finally understood after staring blankly for a minute. “That’s right, you got it?”
“Are you awake yet or not.” Moss speechlessly took something that glittered with light and waved it in front of Ayrin’s face. “Don’t you see the thing in my hand?”
“So that’s the dwarven benchmark tool?”
Ayrin observed the thing in Moss’ hand. This was an artwork made of crystal, a transparent disk with many scaling marks etched on it. There was a small hole going through it in the middle. There were many beads big and small sandwiched between the two outer layers of the disk, constantly rolling along the grooves inside.
Now entirely awake, Ayrin felt that, although he was still hurting from head to toe, it was already within the limits he could endure. On top of that, he indeed felt the existence of some dazzling particles inside the arcane gate in his head, hence he immediately became excited, excitedly asking, “How do you measure it?”
“You just need to stick your finger inside the hole of this benchmark tool.” Moss breathed in a deep breath, watched Ayrin, and said with some solemness, “You might feel a little pain on your finger. You can wave your hand, but don’t smash this benchmark tool anywhere, or else you’ll break it.”
Ayrin then stretched his index finger toward that hole in the middle of the dwarven benchmark tool, then poked it and poked it, then he looked very helplessly at Moss, saying, “I can’t stick it in.”
“You’re an idiot!” Moss shouted, his face filled with black lines. “Don’t you know to use another finger.”
“Oh.” Ayrin smiled awkwardly. He slipped his little finger inside.
A sharp pain immediately stung his little finger. The hole in the middle of the benchmark tool seemed to shrink all of a sudden, about to squeeze his finger off. He yelled miserably, desperately flinging his hand.
“Alright alright, stop moving.”
Moss forcibly pressed his hand still. “The benchmark tool is precisely creating a momentary sense of pain. When all of your spiritual strength gathers inside your finger, and your entire body is desperately trying to shake the benchmark tool off, it’ll use the opportunity to measure your spiritual strength. Don’t move, it’ll loosen straight away, and the pain will be gone.”
“You call this a little pain?” Ayrin thought even his tears were soon going to fall on their own.
“Alright now, stop your nonsense.”
Moss immediately took the dwarven benchmark tool in his hand.
There was a circle of faint green light shining like a miracle on the surface of the benchmark tool.
Then Ayrin saw the scale lighting up.
“Twenty! Your spiritual strength is actually at twenty already!”
“See I told you, you haven’t yet reached the level to condense arcane particles!”
Moss suddenly let out successive exclamations.
Ayrin suddenly felt a little uncertain about his intelligence. “What does twenty mean? First you say the spiritual strength’s actually at twenty already, as if it’s very awesome, then you say I haven’t reached the level to condense arcane particles. What on earth are you talking about?”
“This benchmark tool scales up to one hundred, do you see?”
Moss took in a deep breath, trying his best to calm down, but he still couldn’t resist looking at Ayrin as if he were looking at a monster.
“Thirty’s more or less the level at which you can condense arcane particles. Usually, you can only open the second arcane gate after reaching around fifty. Your spiritual strength’s at twenty right now, it’s not enough yet to condense arcane particles, but it’s still already very strange. Because usually, spiritual strength will be a bit over ten at most for people like you who Awakened only recently. In other words, on the road from Awakening to condensing particles, you’ve already traveled two third of it. Whereas I’m certain that almost every freshman in our grade traveled at most one third of it.”
“It’s not enough yet?” Ayrin looked blankly at the benchmark tool in Moss’ hand. With the green light in the background, he could see even clearer the hundred scale indents circling around the surface of the benchmark tool. Right now, the indents lighted with green light numbered precisely twenty.
Moss nodded. “It’s not enough yet, but it’s already very weird. Your spiritual strength surpasses what’s normally considered strong.”
“Could it because of the training old Ginns gave me?” Ayrin mumbled in his mind, remembering despite himself the scenes of his everyday struggles in Cororin. “Then that means that I’m going to condense arcane particles faster than expected?” He immediately turned excited once again.
“The progress of spiritual strength accumulates during painful training or battles exceeding your limits. The frequency determines the results, but teacher Huston and the others must also surely think your spiritual strength’s only a little bit stronger than ordinary students, at most twelve or thirteen when measured on this benchmark tool. They surely don’t imagine you’re already at twenty!” Moss said, his mood a little heavy, “Following common sense, teacher Huston believes that even if you train twice harder than every freshman, go through twice as much painstaking training and fighting, then it’d save you at most half the time. Good students usually condense arcane particles in two years, so you’d need a year at least. But your spiritual strength is at this level already right now… You can at least halve the time.”
“Half a year?” Ayrin asked blankly.
“That’s right.” Moss hung his head down, crestfallen, looking like a withered eggplant. His self-confidence had suffered a great blow. It was probably difficult to find more than a handful of people who condensed arcane particles within half a year in the entire history of Holy Dawn Academy.
“Six months? So long?” Ayrin had absolute no idea about his state of mind however. He gloomily shouted instead, “That can’t be, it looks like I still need to train as painstakingly as I can. I can’t train just twice as hard as them, I have to train at least three times as hard!”
Moss had the urge to spit out blood when he saw Ayrin’s appearance, then thinking that he had no idea how much time there was left before he himself could reach the level to condense arcane particles,
“Could this benchmark tool be off? I clearly feel I already opened an arcane gate, there are arcane particles there!”
Ayrin was still shouting however, anxiously shaking his body. “Moss! Moss! You try it too, see if it’s broken or not!”
A miserable “Ah” rang.
Moss listened to Ayrin and really measured himself.
Then Ayrin snatched the benchmark tool and observed it.
“Thirteen…” Ayrin counted the dents. He asked a Moss with a face full of black lines, “Moss, you’re thirteen… Is this benchmark tool accurate accurate or not?”
“Acccurate! More accurate than anything!”