To be honest, suddenly announcing some kind of basketball competition amidst such intense studying didn’t sit well with the seven classes in the year.
The afternoon it occupied could have been better spent going through another examination paper instead.
They only had thirty days. Even an afternoon less was a matter of diminishing hope. No one wanted to waste precious time on some random basketball competition.
Yet whether it was a hard rule set down by the Education Board or otherwise, there must be photographs and videos taken, and there would also be high-level educators coming down on the day to observe the event.
The arrival of this news threw First High’s faculty staff into an anxious state of preparation.
Not only did the teaching assistants weed out the quadrangle, they even dragged large paint buckets across the area, drawing a basketball court.
Occasionally after school, trainees would watch from afar the paint buckets being poured over the quadrangle, covering the blood that once flowed upon the ground. The crimson red looked like old, sticky blood, while the dark green was like stale corpse grease, and the white dividing line was even more satirical.
Not only their comrades, but also the blood of countless others that dried up on this quadrangle.
Yet now, using this type of method, the atrocities were covered up, and apart from the tattered and yellowed paper trail, nobody remembered the skeletons of the past.
"There will be three basketball matches in total. Including substitutes, every class has to send out three students."
During afternoon classes, Mr. Nan with his gold-rimmed glasses made a rare trip to the classroom, performing his duty as the homeroom teacher.
Of all the classes, Class 9 was the most relaxed as they didn’t have to see their homeroom teacher as much as other classes had to outside of lesson time. At least they weren’t under the constant watch of a faceless teacher, so they felt more at ease.
The man ignored the worshipful gazes directed at him from beneath, saying evenly, "High-level educators will be coming down to observe. All students not participating in the competition must spectate around the quadrangle. On the day, all students must dress neatly and hold their heads high. No study materials such as papers or guidebooks are permitted. If caught by teaching assistants, it’ll be a minor infraction."
They all knew the routine by now.
Since higher-ups from the Education Board were going to be observing, everything must be made seemly, and the ones who suffered would end up being the students.
"The whole basketball competition would be filmed and recorded by the Education Board’s camera crew. It’ll be made into a video promoting the holistic development of moral, intellectual, and physical education. The school hopes students with outstanding appearances from every class can actively register to participate, and these students would also be commended in their semester-end report cards."
The moment these words were spoken, every trainee in class and the bullet chat silently turned their gaze to Zong Jiu, seated in the first row.
The Magician, inexplicably becoming the focus of attention: ?
[Frick, I’m going to die of laughter. The Magician is unanimously acknowledged as the class belle!]
[No! It’s the school belle! I dig it!]
[No contest. Who wouldn’t want to see a white-haired beauty play basketball? Just imagine it, the wide basketball uniform covering a pale, slender body, yet bursting with explosive power, omg nosebleed.]
[In the cold, impersonal infinite flow universe, only the Magician’s looks can bring me a sliver of comfort.]
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It was no exaggeration to say they put in all their effort to cross the 600-mark bar on this exam. The class with the highest average score was only just barely reaching 700, which was still a hundred points short of 800, let alone Class 9 which had a close shave this round.
Below the railing was a tragic mess of bloody limbs of Class 4 and Class 10. A mere look down dissolved one’s hope for the future.
It was only at this point that trainees glimpsed the true intention behind this instance.
If this went on, by the time the final exam rolled around, wouldn’t the cut-off score soar straight to one thousand marks?
For better or for worse, everyone was a B-rank trainee. Even under this high-pressure environment, they wouldn’t lose their minds.
However, in the beginning, everyone still harboured wishful thoughts that the instance wouldn’t be so cruel as to cut off their path to survival.
But trainees couldn’t achieve such high scores through their efforts.
Unless… there were more faceless people in their class.
Precisely. That was the only way out everyone could think of.
Elimination formed the basis behind collective instances. As long as the rest of the class, not them, became faceless, wouldn’t they be fine?
There were ninety-nine people in a class. To raise the average by 200, transforming twenty trainees into faceless beings would suffice.
Even if the final exam required one thousand marks to make it, having ninety faceless people to pull up the score would allow the survival of nine trainees.
The problem was, the faceless people had to convert of their own will.
Once grasping this concept, those middling classes were unable to sit still.
Class 5’s monitor privately contacted a few other monitors in room 101 and formed a team. Each of these class monitors then formed teams with eight other students performing well academically within their classes, putting pressure on the underachievers.
The students they were pressuring, however, didn’t just take it lying down either.
Nobody was a fool. The top-scoring trainees in each class might not be the most powerful. Who would be ignorant of the little ploys the better-scoring students were hatching; wasn’t it just sacrificing others to save themselves?
So these underachievers flocked together, pumping each other up and delaying their transformation into faceless people, explicitly opposing their class monitors.
With the two sides fighting for their interests, the conflict intensified like water splattering onto oil.
There were even small verbal outbursts in the hostel which gradually escalated into physical confrontations, which were marked as demerits when caught by the hostel caretaker.
Some of the trainees also remembered that No. 1 was in this instance. Those unafraid of death went to his office to seek help, but only received a sentence that NPCs had their NPC tasks, so he couldn’t offer any help before the trainees obtained critical clues.
At once, the situation reached an impasse.
However, this didn’t affect Class 9 much at all.
To stabilize everyone’s mood, Zong Jiu, unlike usual, disclosed his plans to the trainees in his class.
"I’ve already discussed it with No. 2. We’ve possibly found a way to break the game. The only bad news is even if we find it, we’ll have to wait until the final exams before we can bring it into play."
With this, Class 9 was immediately revitalised.
"It’s just a monthly exam. We managed to make it this time, and we can do it again!"
"Hear, hear. The whole class can take turns to tutor the little ones who aren’t doing so well. There’s nothing to fear."
"Hang in there, brothers. Us Class 9 gotta all make it through together. Study hard! We’ve all been through so many horror instances, and we didn’t die even when female ghosts jump scared us. It’ll be too embarrassing for us to meet our ends here."
"Heck it all, let’s do this!"
After conveying the task that the school set in a businesslike manner, the Devil didn’t stay for too long.
After No. 1’s silhouette disappeared behind Class 9’s door, the trainees in class then gathered around, putting their heads together. "Jiu-ge, what should we do?"
Van Zhuo was very efficient. He contacted Tsuchimikado immediately after Zong Jiu’s second meeting with him and surveyed the area with the Yin-Yang Master.
On another front, he’d even started reaching out to the underachieving faction in each class. After all, those performing well academically didn’t care about the survival of others; they hoped this instance could help to cut away more of their competition. Only the underachieving would similarly struggle to survive, thus could align their interests.
"We can cooperate, but you must wait."
All in all, the snitching in the first monthly exam was primarily a problem of interests not aligning.
That was the way humans were; each with his agenda, each with his schemes. Just like how even if everyone likes peace, there would always be someone who wants to start a war. Unless cornered by a similar predicament, cooperation was nothing but a pipe dream.
Having said that, Zong Jiu also ascertained that No. 2 was indeed a good man with foresight.
He had steadily led his class to the top of the year from the very beginning. A short-sighted person like Class 5’s monitor would already have started rooting out dissidents in the class instead.
Not only did Van Zhuo not go down that route however, he’d even proactively offered help.
By now, Zong Jiu noticed it too.
In fact, most of the S-ranks were quite decent. During the first monthly exam, Zong Jiu saw Tsuchimikado had even bloodied his palms, and after he heard from Black Shaman that it was a Yin-Yang Master’s blood ritual. If he ended up dragging his class down, he was willing to shoulder the blame.
Both Black-Robed Azan and the Holy Son were good people, but unfortunately being controlled. Black Shaman was not bad as well, and the Exorcist was a legitimate master at playing Switzerland. This showed there were still a lot of good people in the world, and it was quite shocking there was only one madman that was No. 1.
Zong Jiu massaged his temples. "This basketball competition is very important. We must infiltrate into the Corpse Pit."
He briefly outlined his plan and received a lot of input from the class, some of which were pretty good suggestions. So, they amassed their brainpower and stewed in thought for a long time, before Zong Jiu finally gave the nod of approval.
After the decision was made, he, index 99, and index 77 went to the office to register.
The office was full of faceless people.
At the arrival of Zong Jiu, the third in the year, the faceless people turned their heads to him in unison, with eager smiles on their glossy faces, giving them the creeps.
"Isn’t this Class 9’s monitor? Are you looking for Mr. Nan?"
"You did quite well in the recent exam. Do your best in the next one, we have great expectations for you."
It made the skin of the other two students crawl, but the white-haired Magician’s expression didn’t flicker in the slightest. He led the other two through the crowd, walking straight to Mr Nan’s office.
Index 99 kept his voice down. "Jiu-ge, is this the treatment top students get?"
Zong Jiu arched his brows. "Yeah. When you go close they’d even pat you on your shoulder in encouragement and call you over to give you special treatment. How about that, do you feel driven to study?"
Index 99, "…"
Nope, not at all. No one wants to get up close and personal with faceless people.
He saw the white-haired young man go up to knock on the door, seemingly with something to say.
At this time, a languid voice carried over from the office. "Enter."