Chapter 1: Robbie and Angelo
"Oh man, I feel so out of place..." the plain looking boys green eyes darted around the room, taking in all the faces of the various teenagers standing around the lobby of the testing center. He had light brown hair stylized in a fade, and his physique was slim with little muscle. "Everyone looks so confident and self-assured, I bet they all have amazing stories..." the boy mumbled to himself, walking through the room with his eyes down "And then there's me, nothing special whatso--"
The boy fell on the ground, slightly stunned by the impact. He looked up to what he just collided with, and it was another student applicant, like himself, as evidenced by the sticker on his shirt. The boy he ran into was tall and handsome, with an athletic physique and long dark hair that slightly fell over his piercing red eyes. They were eyes that seemed to cut to the very soul, and they were focused on the plain boy at his feet.
"Ah, I-I'm s-s-sorry!!" the plain boy stammered out Oh man, he's intimidating!
The dark haired boy's hand moved down towards him
Shit, I'm toast! the plain boy closed his eyes in fear
"It's alright, but you should try and look where you're going"
The plain boy opened his eyes, surprised. The dark haired boy was extending his hand down, to help him up. And his tone of voice wasn't angry or irritated at all, it was polite and friendly. He took the dark haired boys hand and rose to his feet. "Yeah, I'm sorry, I should've been paying attention. But thanks for the hand."
"No problem. You're an applicant just like me right? We're competing in the exam, but there's no reason why we can't be friendly now. What's your name?"
"Oh, uh my names Robert, Robert Attelio. But my friends call me Robbie."
"Good to meet you Robbie, my name's Angelo" the dark haired boy's words were warm and friendly, in contrast to his somewhat dark and cold exterior
"Uh, good to meet you too!" Robbie was a bit nervous. He had never made friends easily and he expected all the other applicants to be hyper-competitive and unfriendly.
"Looks like there's still about 20 minutes till they call us in, so you wanna sit and relax a bit?" Angelo gestured to a nearby bench
"Sure" The two of them sat down on the bench "I'm not sure I can relax though, I'm so nervous for this exam"
"Nervous? How come?" Angelo inquired
"You mean you're not? Well, that's why I guess. Everyone here seems so confident and amazing, and I'm just...average."
"What? How can you say that?" Angelo seemed genuinely surprised
"I mean, just look at me-"
"I am and I see a sticker on you, which means you're an applicant, just like the people you just praised. You're one of only 100 people in the country who get this chance. That's pretty amazing if you ask me"
"It's true that I'm an applicant, but it was probably just a fluke. I mean, all you have to do is write an essay, answer a few questions, and provide some vitals. Nobody knows the criteria for the essay so it could be anything, even random, and sometimes what's on the vital sheet can be misleading-"
"For someone who's accomplished quite a feat, you sure are down on yourself. What could be THAT misleading on the vital sheet?"
Robbie looked down at his hand "My Virtue sounds a lot better on paper than it actually is. They probably assumed a lot out of me based on the description, but my power is actually really weak."
"What is your power?"
Robbie held his hand out, and a small flower emerged from his palm "I can generate and control the life energy of plants"
"You think that's a weak power?! That's amazing!"
"That's probably the same reaction the judges had. But it's not as good as you think. For one, I can only control the plants that I create, not ones already in nature. And I can't make them very big or very sturdy." Tree bark started to envelope Robbie's hand, forming a rough, gnarled gauntlet. "This is about the limit of what I can do. And this isn't even very strong, see" Robbie tapped on the gauntlet with his knuckles, and a sound indicating it's hollowness was heard. Robbie lowered his arm and the gauntlet receded back into him.
"That's still amazing though, your potential is through the roof! You just need some training to hone your skills. And that's probably what the judges thought to, don't assume too little of them. They are part of the faculty for the greatest school in the world after all" Angelo's words were encouraging.
He's actually a really nice guy after all Robbie found that he was actually uplifted a bit by those words. "Maybe you're right, thanks Angelo. By the way, since we're on the subject, what's your Virtue?"
"Mine? Take a look" Angelo held out his hand, and without warning, a roaring current of electricity erupted all around it, shooting off sparks. Robbie could tell the energy was highly concentrated, as even the air near it was filled with static.
Robbie's eyes were wide with amazement "Holy crap, that's a lot of power! You're amazing Angelo!"
Angelo grinned and dissipated the electricity. "Not bad right? I can create and control lightning, it's proven to be pretty useful"
"I don't doubt it! With an amazing power like that, I doubt you'll have any trouble with the exam!" And I'll look even worse by comparison Robbie thought sullenly
"I wouldn't go that far. I'm certain that everyone here is amazing in their own way. This definitely won't be easy. But I have confidence in myself, and I'm going to give it my best"
"You're awesome Angelo, unlike me" Robbie found himself admiring Angelo. He looks intimidating, but he's really friendly. And his power is incredible, but he's modest. I bet everyone here is great like him. How am I supposed to measure up or stand out among people like this?
Angelo caught Robbie's troubled expression. "Listen, I know I'm not going to magically be able to talk confidence into you, we just met and I don't know your life experience. But just remember this: despite what you think, some important and qualified people thought you were fit to be here. You can either make the most of the opportunity, or throw it away because you refuse to accept your own accomplishment. I don't know what you'll do, but something tells me that despite your lack of confidence, you're not the type to just give up." Angelo extended his hand to Robbie "So I'm looking forward to attending the academy with you!"
Angelo's eyes were serious, but he also wore a warm smile. The absolute sincerity behind his words lit something in Robbie. He took Angelo's hand and returned the smile "I'm looking forward to it too"
"Applicants! Please report to the auditorium immediately! Failure to do so within the next 5 minutes will result in your disqualification from the exam!" the voice rang out loud and clear from the speaker
"Looks like it's time. Let's go Robbie!"
The two boys made their way towards to central auditorium of the building.
Chapter 2: What Makes A Paragon
The central auditorium was dark, with the only lights being all pointed at the stage. Rows of seats extended in front of the stage, with almost all of them occupied by the applicants for the exam. On stage, a tall, muscular, dark-skinned man with a bald head stood at the podium, with several other adults seated behind him.
"Good evening, potential students. I'm Elijah Raveno, principal of Arcadian Academy. It is my great honor to welcome you to this year's entrance exam for the Arcadian Academy Paragon Course! As I'm sure you're all aware, every year we select 100 preliminary applicants out of thousands to take the exam and be admitted to our prestigious program. So first, I'd like to congratulate you for making it this far, as it means you'be displayed exemplary promise. However, don't think that the worst of it is over. No, in fact you've barely begun and things will only get more difficult from here on out! I hope you're all prepared."
Not even 5 minutes in and he's already putting on the pressure Robbie thought nervously. To his right, Angelo started ahead at the principal, listening intently.
"To be a Paragon means being a servant to society and to the public. It means being a role model, and using your unique abilities for the benefit of everyone. It is not a title one takes on lightly, or with little thought. That's why the preliminary test is a written one. It provides an opportunity for us to see who's taking this seriously and who's not. It lets us see who has the ability to truly to stick out and be excellent. Some call this unfair, because we don't reveal the criteria we use, but I think it's as fair as it gets. Everyone is put on an equal playing field this way, and it us up to the individual to prove to us that they're worth the effort. Here at Arcadian, we don't just train Paragons, we train the cream of the crop. We train those who want to excel, those who want to make a difference. I hope that all of you are striving towards these goals!"
This is intense, he's not just reading off a teleprompter or anything, he's passionate about what he's saying! Robbie thought, feeling the pressure intensify in response to the blazing energy of the principal.
This is the place for me, it can't be anywhere else. I'm going to pass this exam with flying colors! Angelo thought, determined. He couldn't help a smile from forming on his face I live for this intensity!
"There are a large number of factors that come together to form an exemplary Paragon, too many to individually test for. As such, we've whittled down the criteria to three basic but all-important concepts: Combat Ability, Intelligence, and Cooperation. Combat Ability is self-explanatory, it's how well you perform in battle scenarios. But it's not a measure of simply pure power, no. What makes a good fighter is far more than brute force. You'll find that out for yourself in due time if you don't already know. Intelligence is a measure of your general wit, ingenuity, and logical reasoning. And lastly, cooperation measures how well you perform in a team-setting. Team-settings comprise the vast majority of Paragon actions, so it's obvious why being able to work well with others is of significance. Now that you understand this, let me explain the details of the first phase of the exam."
First phase? I didn't know it was broken down into sections like that, but I guess it makes sense.. Robbie's nervousness amplified at the new information
"The first phase of the exam is an individual exercise, and will eliminate half of all applicants by it's end."
This information sent a jolt through the crowd.
"Half of us gone after one round?! That's insane!" "What kind of crazy exam is this?" "That's way too strict! That means there's only a 50% chance any one of us will still be here after one exercise!"
"1 out of every 2 gone.......this is crazy, there's no way I'm gonna be able to pass" Robbie was dejected at the improbable odds in front of him
"I think it's great, it really pushes you to give it your all right out of the gate!" Angelo didn't seem surprised or distraught at this revelation at all
I really wish I could have a positive mindset like that. I don't know how he does it honestly Robbie thought to himself
"Quiet down everyone! Don't start complaining now, you knew what you were getting into with this!" The principals thunderous voice quieted the room.
"Now, let's get to the details of the exercise. It will take place within a designated testing ground. Each of you will be given an emblem, which you'll wear on your right breast. In order to proceed to the next phase, you have to bring at least 2 emblems to the designated tower in the middle of the testing ground. Simple as that. The exam will end either when all the emblems are returned, or after 3 hours have passed. Use of Virtues is obviously allowed, as is using any means necessary to acquire an emblem. The only thing that will get you disqualified is killing or purposefully maiming your opponent."
An applicant raised their hand
"You said 'at least 2'. Does that mean you could bring more if you wanted?"
"Yes, it does. Thought there's no incentive for doing so, aside from removing more potential opponents from future phases of the exam"
Another student shouted out "But you said that only half of us will be eliminated!"
"I meant that as a best case scenario. At best, half of you will make it through. It's theoretically possible that only one person could make it through this phase, but it's never happened and it's not likely to. Regardless, it's possible, and if you want to aim for attaining as many emblems as possible, feel free. Future rounds are designed to accommodate any number of candidates making it through."
The crowd was stunned into silence. So a 1 in 2 chance of making it is a best case scenario. Oh god, I'm not ready for this exam. There's no way I'll make it through with such terrible odds, I'm sure the best of the best here will try to eliminate as many people as possible and I can't possibly hope to stand against the elite of--
Robbie's train of thought was broken by Angelo's hand on his shoulder. Angelo shot a re-assuring look into Robbie's eyes, and it said enough. Calming down, Robbie steeled himself as best he could, even if the jitters were impossible to fully halt It doesn't matter the odds, I have to at least try. Even if I don't make it, at least I'll know that I gave it my all!
"Now that you know the details, prepare yourself. My colleagues will escort you to the testing ground, so please move in a calm and orderly fashion"
Chapter 3: Preparations
The testing ground was underground, and far vaster than Robbie could've imagined. Encased in a massive dome, the arena was split into 5 subdivisions, each housing a different setting. There was an urban city, a dense forest, a large body of water with several islands, a group of tall mountains, and a mostly flat desert. In the center of it all, there was a circular grassy plains area with a large tower straight in the middle. The dome had many entrances, all around the entire circumference of it.
"Once you enter the arena, you'll have 5 minutes of prep time. In that 5 minutes, no conflict will be allowed. Use it however you please, but I'd advise finding a suitable location to start from. A panel of Academy faculty will be viewing everything that happens within the arena, so know that you are being observed."
Principal Elijah looked at his watch, then back to the applicants "With that, head to your entrance of choice and prepare for the exam to start"
"So it's finally about to begin." Focus, you have to stay focused "What's your plan Angelo?"
Robbie turned to Angelo, but he was already staring at him solemnly.
"We've known each other for only a short while, but I like you and consider you a friend. That probably sounds strange but it's true. However, despite that, we're still competing against each other in this exam. I don't want to have to fight you, but I want to pass this exam even more. In the arena, we're enemies. You understand right?"
Angelo's words were not confrontational, rather they were as if he was discussing a sad fact of life. Robbie knew this was coming, as it was completely in-line with Angelo's personality thus far. Still, he had harbored a hope that they might work together, since the exam didn't expressly forbid it. "I totally understand Angelo. This isn't a team exercise, we're against each other for now"
Angelo nodded, then smiled "That doesn't mean you get to go and lose though! I fully expect to see you on the other side. Don't disappoint me!" For the first time, the true competitive edge of Angelo shone through clearly to Robbie. It was not hostile, but it was intense all the same. Robbie nodded and returned the smile, albeit a more shaky smile. With that, Angelo gave a wave and then turned to walk to a different entrance of the dome.
With everyone in place near an entrance, the air grew tense. Angelo looked forward confidently. Robbie soothed his nervousness the best he could and prepared himself. Then, piercing the air through the loud intercom "BEGIN".
All the entrances to the dome opened, and the applicants rushed in. Robbie had chosen an entrance that led into the forest. This area will probably give me the best cover. I'm going to need any advantage I can get, so stealth is the best option. Perhaps a surprise attack will let me swipe an emblem quickly and escape. I probably can't beat anyone in a fight....
Angelo chose the desert entrance. Not many people will take this route, considering the wide open nature of the desert. But that means that the people who do will be the most confident, and the ones I can observe and fight head-on!
In the forest, Robbie found a large tree with a lot of leaf cover. This will be a good vantage point to scout out the surroundings and look for other applicants, whilst also providing me with camouflage he thought to himself
Angelo was right, there were only 3 other people who went in through the desert, at least that he spotted. One of them, a boy with spiky white hair looked like he had not a care in the world, as he moved at a leisurely pace with a bored expression. Another, a large and extremely muscular rugged looking boy seemed to find a spot he liked and simply sat down on the sand, a clear sign of extreme confidence. The last was a short haired and rather unassuming girl. She also looked unperturbed and wore a smile. They all positioned themselves with a good amount of distance between them, but clear lines of sight I knew it, the only others here are those with high confidence. Not a bad thing really, considering I'm here too, but that confidence can also be a weakness Angelo found a dune in the desert that gave him a good view of the other 3 people, and steeled himself This is about to be a tough fight, but I'm not wasting any time. I'm going to get one of their emblems and get to the tower, as quick as possible. It's risky but.... Angelo couldn't help but smile ...also exciting!
Finally, with everyone in position, a voice came over the intercom "Your 5 minutes are up! Begin!"