This is… getting ridiculous.
But Evolet wasn't going to complain about it, at least it was amusing to watch. She was sitting down beside Bam, watching the unfolding scenes every time the blond Regular stood up with each Regulars' arrival. He was all fired up to take someone out of the competition, only to back off from attacking repeatedly with various excuses. Although he did snap on the little girl sitting beside her sister. The elevator opened again, revealing another regular participating in this test. It was a silver haired man with golden eyes who had an ominous aura surrounding him. Which came as a surprise when he proposed a truce first before the blond Regular could say anything.
Though clearly his words had a catch. The man swiftly suggested voting out two people instead of fighting. He voted for the youngest girl in the room before prompting the blond Regular to cast his vote next. Said girl's older sister didn't take it lying down, already shouting out words of protest. And while Bam wasn't voicing it out, Evolet could see that he disliked the way this conversation is heading to. Apparently the blond Regular was having none of it either, voting for the silver haired man in order to eliminate the stronger candidates rather than the weaker ones. The man just raised up his hands in resignation from the blond's words.
A large brunette man wearing a brown coat casted his vote next, choosing everyone in the room. Coincidentally it seemed to be Bam's breaking point too. Seeing how he abruptly stood up, albeit slowly to gather their attention on him.
"There's no reason to vote. Because you will all fail the test because of me."
Knowing the situation was down the drain, Evolet conjured a small Baang hidden in the safety of her oversized sleeves while keeping her eyes trained on Bam's soon to be opponents. The silver haired man already took his weapon out, a lance striped in black and white. Brandishing his weapon by Bam's neck as he asked if Bam was truly serious. Bam didn't answer the question, opting to push the lance away gently before switching to offense and forcing the man to retreat within a few moves. The coat brunette attempted to stop Bam, warning him that it would only be wasteful of his energy. That didn't succeed the least, Bam unwilling to back down even as the man readied his fist.
A blast of Shinsu was fired off from the lance, heading straight to the two brunettes. Only to disperse when it hit a Shinsu shield Evolet casted silently. The silver man who fired the attack narrowed his eyes at the failure, saying that it was simply an accidental mistake. Bam didn't waste the opening, already attacking the large brunette with well aimed kicks. Sharp golden eyes scanned the room briefly, as if searching for something before the owner aimed another shot with his lance. It was easily deflected with yet another Shinsu shield. The larger brunette actually stopped his counter attacks with the silver regular's shot, unappreciative of how he attempted to shoot the both of them twice now.
Instead of paying attention to the oncoming fist from the coated brunette, golden eyes locked on to Evolet's small figure. The silver haired Regular leapt off, dodging a fist as he strengthened his lance with Shinsu and making a beeline towards Evolet. She quirked up a small smile at the attempt, not moving an inch even as the man neared her with high speed. Shinsu started manifesting in front of Evolet, forming a shield in the nick of time just as the Shinsu crackled when the lance came in contact with it.
"As I thought… You were the one conjuring the shields."
The man was still trying to break the shield, forcing his lance to break through with no avail. Perhaps it would've worked with the man's strength if he was up against a normal F rank regular. A pity the shield he's trying to break wasn't that of a normal regulars' capability. Evolet smirked lightly at the man, still sitting calmly as if there's no one attacking her.
"I wasn't trying to hide it in particular but… Are you sure you should be attacking me… when he is still behind you?"
Coming into realization, the man hurriedly turned around. He found a hand to his face, Bam's golden eyes hidden behind his bangs as a burst of midnight blue Shinsu blasted out from his palms and hit the man squarely on the face. Evolet was unaffected despite being in the line of attack, unscathed behind her shield.
She could never fathom why Bam always seemed to be agitated whenever someone tries to attack her. It wasn't as if she was weak enough to get hurt by that. Or at least, when she's not off guard. There wasn't going to be a reenactment of the 14th floor incident if she could help it. The memories of Yunuen's overprotective tendencies and Bam clinging the whole time to her until she healed sent shudders down her spine. Well the Bam part was nice, but she wasn't having Yunuen doing that again.
The elevator dinged again, signalling the arrival of another regular. Evolet silently worded her condolences for the oblivious regular, already unconscious from Bam's Shinsu fist the moment he stepped out of the elevator. Bam was already engaging in the fight with the two men from earlier, completely disregarding their attacks and leaving his defense to Evolet. She could only smile fondly at the action. Wondering how many people would actually find it terrifying how Bam could trust her fully with his defense, knowing the unspoken consequences if her shields faltered or she decided to betray Bam. Though betrayal was out of the question since the start. Not when Evolet would rather die first before betraying Bam.
Although she was finding the spectacle in front of her quite amusing. The blond regular was running away from Bam, circling the room over and over as he kept throwing Shinsu bombs at Bam, all of them easily taken care of with Evolet's spontaneous shields. He ran out of Shinsu bombs with 50 seconds left on the clock. But he'll be fine, Evolet thought silently with a hunch. Though Evolet can't say the same about his wallet… Judging from all of the bombs he's used so far, and still counting, that were all useless in the face of Evolet's shields. How much money was he wasting with each throw?
They reached an anticlimactic end when the announcement sounded. At least no one was seriously injured, with the exception of that random Regular from earlier. Bam automatically stopped his attacks as soon as the announcement came, already walking towards Evolet and offering a hand to help her up. Lips curling up into a smile, Evolet accepted the extended hand and held it gingerly as they headed to the elevator. As expected, the others were too wary to ride in an elevator with them.
As soon as the elevator's doors closed, Bam was already searching for comfort from Evolet. Hands already encircling her waist as he pulled her into a hug and buried his head in the crook of her neck. Bam inhaled the soothing lavender scent, eyes closed relaxedly as the tension from the fight melted away. There was a ticklish sensation when Evolet felt Bam breathing down her neck, but she didn’t mind it at all. It brought about a round of stifled laughter from Evolet who was patting Bam's head to soothe him. Bam let out a perfectly content sigh, thinking that he'll never get tired of this.
The Regulars from each test area were now gathered in the hall, paying attention to the Test Administrator on the stage. There was an arcade punch machine with Quant’s face on it, the words “SHINSU CONTEST” written boldly on the stage.
“Congratulations to all of you for passing the first test. The 20th floor’s test consists of three parts, including the final exam. You just passed the first test. This is the second test. Your ability to reinforce your body will be tested using this Shinsu measuring device.”
Evolet’s eyes roamed over the room, gauging the Shinsu of each regular. At that point she already knew that Bam was going to come out on top, and there’s a big chance that Evolet herself will take the second spot. She could never win against Bam strength-wise though. Evolet was dead sure that even her full strength doubled with Shinsu strengthening wouldn’t be able to match Bam’s raw power. The blond Regular from earlier chimed in, voicing their thoughts on how the device strangely looked like an arcade punching machine.
“Well, it’s similar to that. Once you’ve reinforced your body with Shinsu and hit the machine, your score will pop up on the board and your rank will be shown. Nine Regulars will be selected after this test for the next exam. And now… Let’s begin the test. Please come up in the order shown on the board.”
A few Regulars could be seen panicking as their names were pushed out of the top nine. Evolet took the chance to memorize the Regulars’ names. The blond Regular from earlier was Wangnan, the young girl was Miseng and her older sister was Goseng while the silver haired was Arkraptor. A Regular with dark purple hair was kicking up a fuss, acting all mighty befitting his rich kid look.
"Ah~ This is boring. I thought there'd be something special on the 20th floor, like this is just a game for kids. This level is so lame. Are there only losers here?"
Granted, no one was exactly happy about his arrogant exclamation. The Yeon family girl beside him didn't seem comfortable either with his arm slinging around her shoulder. Evolet found herself unconsciously watching the scene, used to observing her surroundings for more information. She regretted keeping her eyes on said commotion this time. The rich boy's eyes met Evolet's observant ones before trailing to Bam standing beside her, trouble already brewing in his mind.
"Why don't we play a game?"
"Why not. But what game…?"
With a smirk, the guy walked towards Bam. Evolet truly lamented the fact that she actually paid attention earlier.
"Hey, ponytail guy. Let's make a bet. If I win against you, then give me that girl."
Evolet glared viciously at the offending finger pointing at her. She was about to speak up against it, mouth already open before promptly closing when Bam decided to cut in first with words coming out nearly as a growl.
"She's not an object to be bet or owned. LAY. YOUR. HANDS. OFF. OF. HER."
That… might have been the first time Evolet saw Bam glare with that kind of intensity and a dark look in his eyes. The Shinsu around him was fluctuating in black, showcasing his surge of anger as he gripped the boy's finger and stood in front of her protectively. Every Regular in the room could feel the rising tension, some even gripping their weapon out of instinct from the sheer pressure. It was a miracle that Bam didn't break his finger on the spot, and Evolet needed to stop him before he did.
Calling his new name worked like a charm. Her hands held Bam's wrist gently, the dark look in golden orbs disappearing instantly as if snapping out of a trance. Blue-violet eyes and golden ones having a silent conversation as she coaxed him to let go of the boy. The finger was let go, the boy running instantly as he shouted some profanities that went unheard by the duo who were focused on each other. Bam's head was tilted down, eyes showing signs of guilt. But Evolet was having none of that, lacing their fingers to tell him that everything was okay. Channeling her Shinsu while she's at it, knowing that it's a sure way to calm Bam down. True to her words, the Shinsu around Bam went back to it's tranquil state along with the tension in the room. She could still feel the traces of anger lingering around, so she just kept their hands like that.
They carried on the test as if nothing happened earlier. The regulars haven't forgotten what had just occurred earlier though. The large brunette from their test area in particular, said a few words of lecture to the boy. Sure enough, the boy disregarded it completely. He punched the machine, the score of 6350 as the name "Horyang" showed up on the ranking list. He sauntered to the boy once more, staring down at him.
"Your mom never taught you manners, huh? Brat."
It didn't deter the boy at all, letting out an unimpressed laugh. "You're better than I expected. This… won't be as boring as I thought."
The boy flicked his fingers, a signal for the notorious regular beside him to stand forward in his stead. Eyes that spoke of death with its black iris and yellow pupil. "Hey, Pal. Have you ever seen the devil? I'll show you."
His right hand morphed, the regulars saying that it was the Hand of the Devil as the arm transformed in a mix of black and cyan. The punch connected soundly, revealing a score of 11988 for Rapdevil. The boy clapped, claiming that Rapdevil was worth every penny he recruited him for. An arrogant look etched on his face as he turned to Horyang.
"What's this? I think you're the one who has to stop here… teddy bear?"
The next regular to go up was the Yeon family girl, putting on a clumsy display as she tripped but somehow managed to get a score of 22k, the name Yeon Yihwa written on the board. That stunned the rich boy momentarily, Yihwa already thinking that she was free of her debts now. The thought didn't last long when the boy, Prince was his name, broke the record with 25k. Yihwa asked for a retry to redeem herself, which was denied by the test administrator. She could only grit her teeth and accept her defeat against Prince– for now.
"Give up and just come back to me!" Prince said, arms open wide to welcome Yihwa back. She could only stare at him with displeasure.
Arkraptor could only laugh at the display, catching the squabbling duo's attention. Not getting what was so funny, Prince asked him, "Hey, baldy. What's so funny?"
He stopped laughing for a moment, staring straight at Prince. "Everything. You are all losers and you don't even know it."
That brought on narrowed eyes from some regulars. Their eyes followed Arkraptor's gaze which landed on Bam. "Look at him. He's the strongest regular here."
Evolet was already up the stage, fist drawn back and strengthened with Shinsu. The punch resounded throughout the hall, parts of the machine cracking although unbroken. She looked up at the scoreboard as the numbers travelled higher until it stopped at 87k, the name Yvette taking the top spot for the moment. Evolet’s lips curled up into a knowing smile, aware that in a few minutes the spot will be replaced by Bam's alias. The regulars gaped at the number.
"Stronger than that…?" Yihwa asked hesitantly to Arkraptor who just grinned.
"Stronger than that." Arkraptor said resolutely.
Instead of punching the machine with his whole strength, Bam just laid his palm on the measuring device and used the technique Jinsung taught him.
「Floral butterfly piercing technique」
The back of the machine broke instantly, enlarging the cracks from Evolet's punch earlier before shattering to pieces. Both the regulars and the Test Administrator were taken aback for different reasons. The numbers went higher, stopping at 134k and leaving Viole as the strongest regular in the room. Bam wasn't affected by their stares, already walking back to Evolet who was smiling proudly at him. It seems like a few people have finally noticed the symbols on their clothes, that FUG was among them.
"The test is over now. All the Regulars, please step forward. First place, Viole. Please come up here."
Some of the Regulars started crying, frustrated at the fact that they didn't succeed. It was understandable though, Evolet thought. They're desperate to climb the Tower. Everyone is climbing because they have something they desire. Well, almost everyone, that is.
"Ok, now. Viole, what you should do is choose eight teammates to take the test with."
Undoubtedly, the remaining top nine wasn't satisfied by the turn of events. Mostly Prince rather than the rest to be honest. "What the–!! Then what was the test all about?!"
"It was to choose the strongest of you."
"What?! You said you'd choose the top nine!"
"Shut up, I'm the administrator. Then, Mr. Viole. Choose eight Regulars."
Bam stayed silent for a while, eyes trailing to Evolet who was still smiling at him. The Test Administrator called out his name when he didn't speak up, urging him to pick eight teammates. He was just about to say his answer when Wangnan tried to make an appeal to be picked. The other Regulars followed suit, some of them going up the stage and nearly begged Bam to pick them with their own reasons. Evolet's smile started fading, knowing the discomfort Bam was feeling with the Regulars' pleas and their despair. Miseng even opted to hug Bam, which Evolet took no offense to since she was still a kid.
And then Yihwa walked in, trying to convince Bam that she'd be perfect with her strength as a Fisherman and a member of the Yeon family. Wangnan spilled the beans that she actually burned her previous teammates during a test. Evolet could understand where that reasoning came from, especially with the rampant flow of Shinsu in Yihwa’s body. But she definitely couldn't understand when Yihwa suddenly said that Bam should choose her because she had bigger breasts… And Wangnan was trying to redeem himself by showing his thing… That was thankfully stopped by everyone else. Evolet can feel the headache spurring on.
All of them went oddly silent after that, nervous for Bam's final decision. Said person took advantage of the atmosphere, going down the stage with deliberate slow steps and stopping right in front of Evolet.
"I only need Yvette by my side. The both of us will be enough. I won't choose any other teammates, Administrator. Let them all go home, please."
"The exam is for teams only. You must choose seven more members other than Ms. Yvette." The Administrator replied, burrows creased with Bam's answer.
"There is nobody else here who can be my teammate. I don't want to choose unqualified teammates."
Offended by his words, Yihwa stepped up to the challenge with her own words. "Wait. What do you mean?! Nobody else can be your teammate except that girl? Aren't you full of yourself?!!"
Evolet blinked at the pointing finger, and made confused noises. She doesn't quite understand the reason why she'd be dragged into this when she's sure they wouldn't have complained considering how she scored nearly quadrupled their score. Yihwa continued on with her protest without caring. "Oh yeah! The big gangster with the symbol of the FUG! How can you eliminate people who might pass with you?! How can you be proud with that fake symbol?! You should be embarrassed!!"
"It's not fake."/"It's not fake though…?" Bam and Evolet seemingly said at the same time, the latter sounding more a question.
"I'm Jue Viole Grace, a nominee for FUG slayer. Yvette is my one and only partner. We live to kill Jahad and his family."
"You… are you two really?"
"... You can't be my teammate. I'm your enemy."
Silence reigned the room once more, the Regulars processing the information in their mind. The Administrator coughed, bringing them back to reality.
"I understand you, Mr. Viole. But whoever you are, the rules of the exam can't be changed. It's the absolute rule of the Tower. And most of the Regulars here would be willing to make a deal with the devil to pass the test."
No one could argue with what he spoke. They all acknowledged that some of them were desperate enough to strike a deal and offer their soul for a chance. "So how about this? You and I… will play a game. If you win, I'll let you take the test with only Ms. Yvette."
Without any other option in sight, Bam reluctantly accepted his suggestion. A door opened up, leading to the dorm prepared by the Test Administrator. Those who wanted to participate in the game were told to take a break first while the Administrator prepped for the game he proposed.
Bam and Evolet hadn't expected that the rooms were already predetermined. And they certainly hadn't expected to be put in different rooms. The Administrator was already gone so they couldn't ask for a change of rooms either. Most of the regulars were already in their respective rooms with their paired roommate by now. Bam was roommates with Yeon while Evolet had a room all to herself.
"Uh… I guess I'll be going to my room now?"
She was just about to step away, but Bam was faster and took hold of her oversized sleeve. It was a repeat all over again. Fully knowing what was happening, Evolet steeled herself and miserably tried her best to not look at Bam while she tried to tug free her sleeve. Which… Sure enough didn’t work, considering the result from the “Strongest Regular Test” not long ago. Already half resigned, Evolet risked a glimpse at him. Bam purposefully set aside his bangs, showing the pure and innocent golden eyes Evolet could never refuse. She already knew she lost.
That's against the rules!!!
Evolet should've known she didn't stand a chance from the start. Words were stuck in her throat, so she just opted to give a small nod in resignation. Bam's grin was as wide as it could be and Evolet could only let out a soft incoherent mumble as Bam pulled her along to her room instead of his room where Yihwa was.
Those big doey eyes should be illegal… He knows I’m powerless whenever he uses those eyes, it’s CHEATING!
Not to mention she'll have to persuade Bam later to actually meet his new roommate for the time being. She slightly wondered why the Administrator didn't room her with a girl instead though. Technically speaking from genders, Bam should've had the room to himself while she should be paired with the Yeon girl. But… she can leave that part of the investigation for later.