Michelle sat with three other students at the banquet. “Where do you think he’s from?” the girl sitting next to her asked. She wore a red dress with runes embroidered along the sides. The four of them watched Vur eat food with Lillian. The rest of the students gave the two a wide berth since Johann was curled up behind Vur.
“The girl’s from the Leonis household, I’ve seen her a few times,” a red-haired boy said. “I’ve never seen the freak before. His table mannerism is proper so he can’t be a bumpkin. Maybe he’s an illegitimate child.”
“I’ve never seen Johann act like that to anyone,” Michelle said as she put down her glass, “not even Rudolph.” She glanced at the prince who sat alone at a table with his eyes closed.
“You think he’s angry?” the girl asked. “I know I’d be angry if my lion acted that way to someone else. I feel bad for that girl who Rudolph’s going to fight tomorrow.” She sighed and shook her head.
“What about for me?” the red-haired boy asked. “I have to fight that freak just because I’m the strongest in our class. Sure, the administration’s going to rig the tournament and place the top seeds against the non-students, but that really doesn’t help me at all.”
“You don’t matter, Roy,” Michelle said and stuck her tongue out at him.
Roy snorted. “You don’t have to worry about anything. Everyone knows you’re going to win the healer’s bracket because of your dad,” he said.
Michelle laughed. “You sound jealous,” she said and smiled. “Why don’t you go make friends with him? He might go easy on you tomorrow.”
Roy’s brow creased. “You know they invited them to intimidate them, right?” he asked as he glanced at the students who were avoiding Vur’s table.
“And look what good that’s done. Two of the winners didn’t even show up and now they’re terrified of the person they wanted to scare,” the boy sitting next to Roy said. “Let’s go talk to them. Besides, the girl’s pretty cute.”
“No way,” Roy said as he shook his head. “I’m not going.”
Michelle snorted. “Coward. I’ll go,” she said as she stood up.
“Wait, you serious?” Roy said as he raised his eyebrows. Michelle ignored him as she started walking towards Vur’s table. “Damnit. We can’t let her go alone.” He grumbled and stood up, followed by the girl and boy.
Lillian sighed as she put her fork down. “Why would they bring a dragon to a dinner party?” she said. “I nearly pissed myself. And now no one’s talking to us. How am I supposed to make connections if every one of them avoids eye contact?” She glanced at Vur who continued to eat. His eyes were covered with a bat-shaped masked while his raccoon mask lay on the seat next to him. “Are you even listening to me?” Lillian asked as she pouted.
Vur shook his head and continued eating. He passed a piece of meat to the dragon waiting behind him. He ignored Lillian as she muttered a string of curses and grabbed another piece of steak.
“Is this seat taken?” Michelle said from behind Lillian. Rudolph’s eyes opened and he turned to look at Vur’s table.
“Does it frickin look like it’s taken?” Lillian spat as she turned around. Her face turned pale. “Er, I mean, no. It’s not, uhm, taken. You can sit here if you want, is what I meant to say.” Lillian’s heart raced. I swore at the pope’s daughter; Paul’s going to throw a fit.
Michelle smiled and sat on one side of her, while the girl with the red dress sat on the other side. Roy and the other boy attempted to walk to Vur’s side of the table, but decided to sit next to Michelle when Johann stared and growled at them. Vur cut his steak in half and slipped the bony portion towards Johann.
Michelle eyes widened as Johann licked Vur’s hand and took the piece of meat in his mouth. “I think he really likes you,” she said to Vur. “He’s never that friendly to anyone.”
Vur turned towards Johann. “Is that true?” he asked. Johann nodded and sighed through his nostrils.
“What’s your name?” Michelle asked as she retrieved a plate.
“Vurdurr Besteck,” Vur replied as he wiped the slobber off his hand. “It’s common courtesy to introduce one’s self before asking for another’s name.” The students looked at each other.
“I’m Michelle Heilig, the daughter of the pope,” she said. “You’ve never seen me before?”
“Nope,” Vur said and continued eating. “I didn’t know there was even a pope.”
“Where are you from?” Roy asked as his brow creased. “How can you not know who the pope is?” He turned towards Lillian. “Is he serious?”
“Huh?” Lillian asked as she flinched. “I’m Lillian Leonis. I didn’t catch your question. What did you say?”
The girl in the red dress laughed. “See,” she said as she poured herself a glass of water. “Now that’s a normal reaction to the pope’s daughter sitting at your table.”
Michelle rolled her eyes while Lillian blushed.
“How’d it go?” Paul asked as Vur and Lillian entered the living room of their suite in the inn.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” Lillian said and walked straight to her room. Paul tilted his head and turned to Vur.
“What happened?” he asked as muffled yells resounded from Lillian’s room.
“She spilled wine on the pope’s daughter,” Vur said. “And she used her as a shield to avoid dragon puke.” Vur muttered to himself as he walked towards his room. “I shouldn’t have fed him those plants…”
Paul sighed. “Well, it could’ve been worse.”
“Oh,” Vur said and stopped closing his door. “She also slapped the prince and called him an obnoxious twit before publicly denouncing the behavior of all the nobles present. I think that’s it. No, wait. She cursed at the pope’s daughter too.” Vur nodded and closed the door.
Paul’s face paled. “Wait! You can’t just tell me that and not explain what happened,” he said as he tried to open Vur’s door.
“Tired,” Vur said from inside his room. “Going to sleep now.” Paul’s shoulders drooped. What do I tell grandpa?
The next morning, three people exited the inn. Two of their faces looked haggard with dark circles underneath their eyes. The third wore a mask. Vur’s metal staff was strapped to his back, while Paul left his staff in the inn and carried a bag. Lillian had a longbow staff in her hand along with a quiver holding her arrows and string strapped around her waist.
“Lillian,” Paul said.
“Still don’t want to talk about it,” Lillian replied and shook her head. “I was hoping last night was just a dream.”
The three traveled in silence to the competition area. The stone arena platform was gone and the spectator seats were pushed outwards, making the center of the area larger. Fifty stone golems stood on the grass, all of them motionless.
“This wasn’t part of the competition,” Paul said as he frowned. The students stood around the arena, smirking at the trio that just arrived. Spectators murmured in confusion as they filled in the seats. The referee from yesterday sat on top of a golem with his arms crossed. The king’s and pope’s entourages arrived and the referee stood up.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the referee announced with his voice amplified through wind magic. “As you can see, there have been some slight modifications to the program. Many nobles have expressed their discontent with the tournament style. After taking their accounts into consideration, the administration have agreed their views.
“For the ranged bracket, the test is no longer a one-on-one tournament. Instead, we’ll be testing the competitors through these golems. As ranged attackers, it is their duty to stay behind and wreak havoc on the enemies’ frontlines. The three winners will be determined by the number of golems they destroy within an hour. This not only tests their strength, but also their accuracy and mana management.”
Lillian frowned. “Aren’t the golems physically sturdy? What if we don’t use magic?” she shouted at the referee. Paul sighed as the nobles around them snickered and commented on her interruption.
The referee smirked. “Oh? There’s actually a hunter competing as a ranged attacker. I didn’t realize we had such a backwater noble who still used a bow. You’ll just have to adapt, I suppose,” the referee said and shrugged.
Lillian ground her teeth and her bow staff creaked as she tightened her grip. Paul put his hand on her shoulder and squeezed. Lillian exhaled and nodded. Traces of tears could be seen in her eyes. Vur frowned.
“As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted,” the referee said while glancing at Lillian, “it’s only the person who destroys the golems that gets the points. It doesn’t matter if you were the one who weakened it.
“The healer competition is also going to be related to these golems. Once the golems are destroyed, the eight competing healers will restore them. Only restorations on a fully destroyed golem count. The warrior competition will continue as planned once the ranged and healing competitions conclude. I wish you all the best of luck.”