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294 Companions Part 2

    After the incident in the bar, Der, Alesia and Gai'ha left in a hurry. In the previous few hours they had witnessed how, similar events, had started massive brawls amongst the cultivators, and they did not want to have any part in they. So they left a few coins on the table, and went back to their tents.

    Peace did not exist in Sand and Blood. The very idea that people could live peaceful one next to another was deeply frowned upon, and the reason for it was very simple. The leader of the faction had categorically prohibited for any form of government to be formed in any of the planets that were part of their faction's domain. Whenever a group managed to organize long enough to create one, they would mysteriously disappear in a matter of days.

    Ironically enough, Sand and Blood was also one of the safest planets of the universe, as violence was strictly forbidden outside of the forms of formal conflict between cultivators. For example, a cultivator would be forbidden from traveling around the planet while robbing and killing normal humans, while he would be allowed to kill any other cultivator that looked at him or her the wrong way.

    This system was set so that new cultivators could come out from the human and beast civilizations, but that only the strongest would survive. Once the numbers of the cultivators were large enough, they would split into two, and a war amongst the two parts would take place. That, was the hardship of living within the territory of the faction called 'Dominion of the War God'.

    Der, Gai'ha and Alesia had to learn the rules pretty quickly, as ever since the first five minutes of reaching this planet, they had had to battle against a group of cultivators that had found interest in the two girls. Luckily, their cultivation was not higher, and contrary to their opponents, they had the advantage of knowing how to use immortal essence.

    The complete lack of spiritual essence in Sand and Blood made its ecosystem extremely similar to Gai'ha's home planet, so for once, she felt completely at ease with her surroundings. Her body was different from the race of humans of which Der, Alesia, and the majority of the universe were part of, and her Aura was vastly different from their Ki. It allowed her body to be refined, and therefore, to be closer to a beast than an immortal cultivator, just like the elite members of the Dominion of the War God, or the other factions that focused on the cultivation of a person's ki.

    After they had defended themselves right after arriving in Sand and Blood, the three had been noticed by the commanders of one of the two armies and forcibly enrolled into the war that was set to take place only months after their arrival.

    At first they had tried to refuse the invitation, but apparently, the uses of the planet forced all cultivators to join either of the two factions in the war, and if they did not accept to join one side, they would be killed in other to prevent them from joining the other side.

    Months had passed, and the war was now only days ahead. The battleground was the enormous valley in between the two military camps.. A terrain of grey and reddish dirt and gravel which, by the end of the week, would be soaked in blood and covered by the lifeless bodies of tens of millions of gored warriors.

    This type of war was called War of Survival, and it was an event that had repeated itself more than once in the faction's history. After a hundred years, enough for a new wave of cultivators to grow out of the human population, the war would take place one again.

    There were only two rules in the War of Survival, and they were 'Battle until the other army has been exterminated', and 'No survivors, no prisoners, no mercy'.

    Two days later, the day of the war had finally arrived.

    Gai'ha, Der, and Alesia were standing next to millions of warriors, mercenaries, and soldiers. There was no particular attire that could distinguish the members of the two armies aside from the general color of their clothes, which were dark red, and black.

    Numerous leaders of the divisions walked back and forth the frontline of the two armies, while spending a few words of encouragement in order to lit up the fighting spirit within the hearts of the warriors. The main focus of their speeches, was the fact that there would not be any surrender, and that if they attempted to, they would die dishonorably by the hands of the warriors they were surrendering to.. So if they had to die anyway, they might as well not make it easy for their enemies.

    While Alesia, Gai'ha and Der were powerful enough to be confident about their survival, only Der was truly ready to battle. He had been a general in the past, and his demeanor and ability to command had allowed him to gain a low leadership rank amongst the army.

    On the other hand, Alesia and Gai'ha were looking at the sea of enemies that stood courageously on the other side with anxiousness, and were emanating an oppressive killing intent. Both of them had fought in the past, and Gai'ha had even had some battle experience, but she had never faced a true army of warriors, so even she couldn't help but be nervous.

    A few hundred kilometers away, right at the top of a reddish mountain, two men sat at the edge of a cliff. Both of them were middle aged men, and both of them were covered in scars, but while one had lost an eye to a sword slash that split his eyebrow and cheek in half, and sat next to a two meters tall greatsword, the other one was bare chested, showing a cross shaped scar on his chest, and sat next to a massive hammer which seemed impossible to lift.

    The two were using their incredibly sharp sight to look at battle that was about to start a few hundred kilometers away from them.

    "Same bet?" Said the one-eyed man.

    The bare chested man quietly observed the size of the two armies, felt the power of the strongest warriors within them, and hummed for a few moments in consideration, before saying "Alright. Five gems."

    "Awesome.." Said the one-eyed man before standing up from the ledge and picking his greatsword with his right arm. He then used his thick and muscular arm to point the sword right in the middle of the territory between the two armies, and without a single warning, a raised it up to the sky.

    Following the motion of the greatsword, the thick clouds that covered the sky split cleanly, signaling the beginning of the war.

    -----

    Zetta, Planet Khron, Universal government territory.

    A few months had passed since the 'Army and Explorer Preparatory Academy' had been founded, and today, was the day of one of most important, as well as the first of the many tests to which the members would be forced to participate to in order to graduate.

    The test consisted in a series of obstacle courses and problem solving exercises which the students had to solve any way they could. The way they decided to solve these problems, along with their results, would dictate to which group they belonged, and the ranking within the Patriot Academy.

    The entire planet had been reserved for this test, and in order to keep an eye on the tens of thousands of students that were going to participate in it, hundreds of members of the army, as well as a few explorers had been tasked with observing, and evaluating.

    One of these observers, was Krit, and ever since the beginning of this test, he had been keeping his eyes glued on a single one of these young warriors. One that ever since the very beginning of the test, instead of forming teams and collaborating with the others,  had separated from the rest of the group and had solved one problem after the other while solely relying on himself.

    He was now standing alone at the finishing line of the test, while the majority of the other cultivators formed large teams with chains of command, and pushed their way through the tests by using their numbers, and collective intelligence.

    "His behavior has been that of an exemplary soldier.. He is more fit to the army" Said a heavily armored cultivator that suddenly appeared next to the sniper. His tone was serious, and it was clear that he was trying to convince the explorer that Jerigh, the person who had just finished the entire course by himself, was more fit to be part of the army, than to be an explorer.

    "His talent will never be wasted obeying to commands.. The explorers will have him." Responded Krit without moving his eyes away from Jerigh. He had been thoroughly impressed by him, and his talent in cultivation could not only be compared to that of the candidate elites that the various factions were allowed to keep, but he appeared to be above them.

    If amongst these tens of thousands of people there were a few that truly resembled young explorers, Jerigh was one of them. For Krit to even consider letting him join the army, was simply absurd.

    At the end of the test, those who were able to complete the course were split into three levels. Those who followed orders and allowed themselves to be lead by the ones they believed to be more capable than they were, people that took the roles of leaders of their groups, and lead them to the end of the test, and those who would challenge themselves, and refused to collaborate with others.

    The first two ranks were reserved for people with the temperament of soldiers and officers, while the third level, was reserved for people who had the temperament of explorer.. However the test was far from over..

    Only minutes after the last of the students had either failed or succeeded in their test, a ranking list of the students had been filled in with the names of the participants.. But while most of them were considered to belong to the levels reserved for the army, the top hundred on the ranking list had been filled with those who had demonstrated to have the quality of explorers.

    This action had enraged many of the participants for a simple reason. Nobody refuted that somebody like Jerigh, who was the first person to complete the test and was first in the ranking list, did not belong to the top ten, but a few of the 'explorers' that were ranked in the top hundred were amongst the last to finish the entire test, and many of the teams had managed to finish before them.

    "Why aren't we even in the top hundred?"

    "This is unfair, forming a group was a good decision, why is that a bad thing?"

    "You never said that forming teams would penalize us!"

    At first only a few group leaders complained, but soon after, the groups they lead, as well as the rest of the cultivators who felt wronged by the decisions of the testers, joined in in expressing their discontent.

    Krit, which was in charge of the entire academy, appeared right in front of the massive slab of stone where the hundred names had been carved, and said through his bandages "Very well, if you want a higher ranking, you are free to challenge any of those in the top hundred."

    As soon as Krit finished speaking, the majority of the cultivators backed away. Not because they did not wish to be in the top hundred of such a prestigious academy, but because they were aware of their lack of power when compared to the leaders of the teams they had joined, not to mention the cultivators that had actually managed to finish the entire test by themselves.

    Kirt quickly noticed that only a few had found the courage to come forth, so after looking at Jerigh one more time, he smiled and said "Tell you what.. You can form a group, and you can choose any one of them as your opponent. The one who manages to give the last hit keeps the rank, while the rest are ranked right after. How does that sound?"

    Suddenly, the eyes of hundreds of cultivators moved towards the figure of a quietly standing Jerigh.
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