The players inside the Mystical Realm Palace waited anxiously. The majority of them had been waiting for an hour or longer.
"It's already been twenty minutes since the last person entered. When will the owner of the Mystical Realm Palace make his appearance?" One of the players questioned.
"This can't be everyone, right? There were a thousand players out there! A thousand! How can it just be us?" One player frowned.
"Isn't it weird, though? All this time and we still have not been asked about our professions."
"Yeah, the point of a competition is to find the strongest or most skilled people. But, hundreds of people were turned away without so much as a chance to display their talent."
"Hey, you were the first one to enter—do you know something we don't?" One of the players asked as everyone turned their attention towards Maeva.
Maeva leaned with her back against the wall. She had her arms folded, and her eyes closed. Among everyone here, she had been waiting for the longest as she was the first to gain entry into the Mystical Realm Palace.
"No," Maeva replied straight-forwardly; however, her quick response caused everyone to frown inwardly. From what they heard, she was the only participant to gain entry into the Mystical Realm Palace without having to take the first challenge. It was evident that she was hiding something. Maybe she personally knew the owner of the Mystical Realm Palace?
But, just as the atmosphere inside the 1st floor of the Mystical Realm Palace was becoming tense, two individuals walked through the entrance. The two players immediately became the center of everyone's focus the moment they appeared. It was none other than the owner of the Mystical Realm Palace himself, Izroth! By his side was the same woman who was with him since the first challenge first started. While they did not know her name or identity, if she was next to Izroth, then it was surely not something they could take lightly.
With Izroth's appearance, everyone understood one thing—the first challenge was now officially over.
"So it really is just us then." One of the players muttered to himself.
"Follow me," Izroth said without halting his steps. He was headed towards the staircase that led up to the higher floors.
No one dared to lag behind as they quickly followed after Izroth.
Many of them had been to the Mystical Realm Palace before to purchase pills; however, most of them had never paid a visit to the 2nd floor. That kind of place was reserved for wealthy players or guilds. Therefore, they were shocked to discover that the Mystical Realm Palace had not one, but three additional floors! However, none of them appeared to be open to the public, and no one was able to gain a clear look into the floor due to the barrier restrictions in place.
A few moments later, Izroth, Worldly Skies, and the group of participants reached the 5th floor of the Mystical Realm Palace. The layout of the floor had been changed as the room that housed the young Trephasia was no longer there. Instead, the floor was completely open, with numerous tables and items spread throughout the room.
Some of the items included cauldrons, furnaces, and processing stations. As for the tables, they contained various materials that ranged from herbs and reagants to ores and beast hides. If this room were to be described, it would be like a melting pot of crafting rooms!
"Amazing... To think a room like this existed in the Mystical Realm Palace..." One of the players commented in awe.
"Heh, do we finally get to display our skills? I'm kinda excited now."
Izroth rose the palm of his hand as the participants fell silent.
"This is the second and final challenge. For those who pass, they will become an official member of my Mystical Realm Palace. The promised benefits will also be given at that time. As for those of you who fail—I'm sure there is no need to explain." Izroth stated.
He then continued, "I have provided everyone here with the basic materials for every profession. The final challenge is simple. You have one hour to create anything of your choosing using only what you find on this floor. Of course, you are welcome to cheat and use outside materials to craft your item if you'd like. However, if you are caught doing so, then it will be considered your loss. To pass this challenge, you must present an item you created that is of acceptable quality. As for those with no item in their hand when time runs out, their attempt will automatically be deemed as having failed."
Izroth then pointed towards Worldly Skies and said, "She will be joining you. Should you successfully craft an item before she turns in her item, you will be granted an additional 50 gold coins when you join, as well as a doubled monthly salary."
What?! Everyone became fired up after hearing Izroth's words. That was a 100 gold coins joining bonus and a 150 gold coins monthly salary! What player would not be blown away by such a generous offer?
However, there were a few players who had become more cautious instead of excited. One of these players was Maeva. If Izroth was confident enough in that person's skill to finish before them, then they were bound to be incredibly skilled. But, there was something else that bothered Maeva.
"Could it be...?" Maeva muttered to herself as a thought suddenly crossed her mind. Just as she made a sudden discovery, the competition had officially gone underway.
"You have exactly one-hour starting now. Begin." Izroth announced. The instant he made that announcement, the participants rushed forward! They all wanted to grab the best ingredients possible and begin crafting before the others. After all, there was a limited amount of crafting items available for use. Therefore, the first person who claimed one would have a massive advantage over the other participants! But, more importantly, it increased their chances of finishing before that woman and obtaining a huge bonus!
However, not everyone was in a rush despite the enticing bonus Izroth offered. Maeva, along with 18 other players, stayed back and observed.
Besides the 19 players, Worldly Skies also had yet to make her move. It was Worldly Skies' inaction that caused a handful of them to stay back. But, there were a few players who kept their eyes on Maeva instead of Worldly Skies. Even if she would not admit it, they believed that Maeva was aware of how to pass this challenge! If that was the case, then they just needed to wait for her to make her move.
As time quickly passed by, the players who had been observing and waiting were starting to become restless. Only 45 minutes were remaining, and yet the people they were waiting for had not made their move!
"Forget it...! I can't afford to fail...!" One of the 19 players hurried to join the other players to begin crafting.
Not too long after he did so, two more players who could no longer wait trailed after them.
When it reached the 30-minute mark, not a single person had completed a crafted item! There were Apothecaries, Alchemists, Blacksmiths, Cartographers, Inscriptionists—none of them had been successful.
"This is right... It has to be right...! So then, why isn't it work?!" One of the players expressed his frustration. He was a 1st ranked Apothecary who attempted to craft a grade one pill using the same materials he always used. But, whenever he tried to do so, the cauldron who shake violently before expelling the contents he had placed within it. This ultimately rendered the materials useless and left him with unfavorable results.
The most bizarre part was that he had done this countless times before and never had this issue!
It was a similar story for the others. Whenever they were one step away from finishing, something would go terribly wrong!
"Hey! Something is wrong with the equipment you provided us!" One of the players who went by Just Havoc complained to Izroth.
"That's right! Is this even a fair competition? Isn't everything here rigged for us to fail?!" Another play chimed in.
There were those who agreed with Just Havoc but did not dare to voice their concern as they were afraid of offending the owner of the Mystical Realm Palace. However, they were grateful that Just Havoc spoke up as their level of frustration was reaching its limits.
"I can assure you, the equipment I have provided is not faulty. Of course, if you feel that you are not up to the task, you are always welcome to leave my Mystical Realm Palace whenever you please." Izroth stated nonchalantly.
Just Havoc wanted to protest, but he quickly swallowed his words. He gritted his teeth and chose to try again, hopefully, with a different result than last time.
"This challenge is quite cruel, wouldn't you say?" Worldly Skies said as he watched the players scrambling to gather ingredients as they failed again and again.
"Is it? I felt that I was far too lenient in these challenges." Izroth responded.
"This is you being lenient?" Worldly Skies gave a helpless smile; however, she only received a carefree smile from Izroth in response.
She sighed and continued, "Still, I'm afraid that even I would have had some difficulties with this second challenge. Well, that is if I were to take the difficult route as the majority of them chose to do."
Time continued to tick away for the participants as the overall pressure to finish was increased.
There was one remaining. But, oddly enough, Worldly Skies had still not moved one step from where she originally stood since the second challenge first started! As for the Maeva and the other 15 players who stayed back, they too had not made an attempt. It was almost as if they had no intention of trying to win the second challenge!
"You have ten seconds remaining," Izroth announced. His words caused the heart of the participants to drop. 10 seconds?! An hour had already gone by so fast?!
"Over... It's over...! Ah, my monthly salary...!" Just Havoc grimaced.
Just Havoc was not alone in his despair. In one hour, a total of 57 players failed to craft one item! If one included the 16 players who did not even try, then technically, all 73 players had failed!
"The final challenge is over. I shall now announce the results." Izroth declared.
"Results? What's the point?" One of the players who were displeased about the entire situation muttered under his breath.
"Does this mean that out of almost a thousand players, no one was able to pass? How absurd...!" One of the players complained. What was infuriating was not the fact that he failed, but that he had no idea how he failed!
However, for some reason, unlike the players who struggled to craft an item, Maeva and the 15 players who had not lifted a single finger the whole time had a calm expression on their faces.