“We’re about a day away from the capital, my lady.”
“Haaa, still so far?” a girl asked as she exhaled. She had blond, shoulder-length hair and wore a white dress. She was in a caravan with three other people, two men wearing armor sat in the driver’s seat while a boy her age sat next to her. His hair was the same color as hers and he wore a grey suit.
“We’re already going as fast as we can,” the boy next to her said. “Have some patience.”
The girl pouted. “If grandpa would just let us ride the rocs, we would’ve been there already,” she said as she leaned back and stretched her feet forward.
“But you’re afraid of heights…,” the boy said.
“Shut up!” the girl said and kicked him with her heel.
“Ow!” The boy grimaced and grabbed his leg. “You better behave yourself when we get to the capital or I’m telling grandpa. He’ll be so mad at you if you get us kicked out because you offended the wrong person.”
One of the guards cleared his throat. “Young masters, there appears to be something going on in front of us. I suspect some bandits are harassing a poor fellow. Should we go around them or pass straight through?”
The boy rubbed his chin. “Let’s go aro-“
“Straight through!” the girl said and pointed ahead. “I’m not spending another half day on these wooden chairs because of some stupid bandits.” The boy sighed and shook his head, but didn’t say anything.
The caravan continued forward until it reached a group of people, five men with machetes stood in front of a masked monk. The caravan slowed down, but carried onwards as the bandits made no move to hinder its progress. “They’re not going to stop us?” the girl asked as she leaned over the boy to look out the window. “I wanted to get some exercise before the competition.”
One of the bandits waved his arm, motioning for the caravan to hurry on forward.
“Wait, why don’t they have to pay the toll too?” the monk asked. The monk wore a smiling raccoon mask that had narrow slits for eyeholes. “Isn’t the toll required of everyone?”
“They’re bandits stupid! There’s no toll on these roads,” the girl stuck her head out the window and shouted at the group that was now behind the caravan.
“Lillian! Don’t stick your head out like that,” the boy said as he dragged her back into the caravan. “What if they shot at you?”
Lillian stuck her tongue out at the boy.
“Should we stop to help him?” one of the guards asked. “Monks are good people. Th-“
Cracking sounds filled the air behind the caravan. Screaming filled the surrounding area as birds scattered from their perches in the trees. The screams were soon cut off by crunching noises. The guards looked at each other, while dismounting and unsheathed their swords as Lillian shoved the boy aside to look out the window. She shuddered and fell back in her seat with a pale face.
“M-monster,” Lillian whispered through chattering teeth. The boy picked himself off the floor and looked out the window. A raccoon face smiled back at him with blood spatters along its cheeks. The boy screamed and fell backwards onto Lillian.
“Hi! Thanks for telling me that they were bandits,” the monk said to the trembling pair. “They’re dead now. You can stop screaming.”
Lillian stiffened and nodded. She opened her mouth to say something, but only a squeaking noise came out.
“You killed them?” one of the guards asked as he stood on guard with his sword. He eyed the bloody metal staff in the monk’s hand.
“Yeah,” the monk nodded. “They tried to stab me after she yelled.”
The guard grunted. “I see,” he said as he retreated back towards the driver’s seat with his sword still out. “We’ll be going first then, if that’s okay with you.”
“Okay,” the monk said and strapped the metal staff to his back. He walked back to the bandit corpses and started rummaging through their clothes.
The caravan traveled onwards and the two teenagers looked at each other. “That was scary,” Lillian said as she bit her lip. “When he stood over those bandits and turned to look at me, I thought I was going to die. I’ve never felt that way before, not even when grandpa’s lion roared at me.”
“Do you think he’s going to the competition?” the boy asked as he scratched his head. “I don’t see why someone that strong would be traveling in this direction by himself. Adventurers travel away from the capital, not towards it.”
“Competition?” a voice said from out the window.
Everyone in the caravan stiffened and turned to their right. They saw the monk jogging alongside the caravan.
“Y-yeah,” Lillian said after a moment. “The competition for the Spirits’ blessings.”
“Oh. I think that’s where I’m going,” the monk said and nodded. “Are you going there as well?”
“Umm.” The boy’s face stiffened as he smiled. “Yeah, would you like a ride?”
Lillian’s face paled. “Are you out of your mind?!” she whispered.
“Sure,” the monk said as he jumped towards the window and slipped through with ease. “Thanks. I was getting tired of running.”
“Yeah, of course,” the boy said with wide eyes. “My name is Paul. This is my cousin, Lillian. She doesn’t know how to control her mouth, so please don’t get offended by anything she says. We’re from the Leonis household. What about you?”
“I’m Vurrrr…durr?” Vur said and nodded. “I’m Vurdurr. I’m not sure what household I come from. Hmm… I think it was the Besteck household?”
“Besteck?” Lillian asked as her brow creased. “Isn’t that the demon lord’s-”
Paul nudged Lillian in the ribs before she could finish her sentence. She glared at him.
“You’re really strong,” Paul said to Vur and sighed. “I really don’t want to compete against you in the competition. I’m a bishop and Lillian’s a hunter.”
“Why would we compete?” Vur asked as he tilted his head and rested his staff against the wall.
“You’re a monk, right? There can only be one winner for each group position,” Paul said. “There’s a tank slot, which is most definitely going to be taken by the prince. One healer, three attackers, and one support tank. We’d be competing for the healer position.”
“But I’m not a monk. I’m a black mage,” Vur said.
The pair stared at Vur’s half-naked body that rippled with muscles as he moved.
“What?” The pair looked at each other.
“Yeah. Black mage,” Vur nodded. “I cast spells to fight.”
Lillian’s brow creased as she stared at the bloody metal staff leaning on the wall. “But-“
“Black. Mage.” Vur crossed his arms.
Paul covered Lillian’s mouth as she was just about to speak again. “Sorry,” he said and smiled. “My cousin can be hard of hearing sometimes. I’m quite relieved we don’t have to compete against each other.”
He reached under the seat and pulled out a bottle of wine. “How about we share a drink?” he said. “In our household, anyone who shares a drink with us is a friend. What do you say?”
Vur grabbed the glass offered to him. “Sure,” he said. “Friends.”