Lone quickly approached the monk called Eko and hugged him. Naturally, Eko returned the gesture and laughed.
"It's good to meet you again, Lone! I see you've improved greatly since our battle back in Milindo! To think you're a C-ranker now... I wonder if I can even fight you to a draw anymore?" Eko said loudly enough for everyone to hear him.
Indeed, this monk, Eko, was the very same one that Lone had met in Milindo during the fighting competition and lost to in a stalemate.
"You're scary enough as it is. Look at you, when we last met, you had just made it through the B-rank bottleneck, but you're already at the A-rank bottleneck!" Lone was excited and happy to meet an old friend who he hadn't previously offended for once.
In a very unmonk-like fashion, Eko laughed with pride. "I guess you're right!"
"So you're friends?" Letty clicked her tongue in annoyance. "Here I thought I'd get to see another interesting fight."
Eolande floated next to Sophie and quietly asked, "Who is that man? There's no way Lone was able to make a friend the same age as himself with his old attitude, right?"
"Mmm... Well, the monk almost killed Lone and exhausted himself during their fight a year ago. Lone's always liked fighting, so the two bonded over the experience... Though they've only ever met once I'm pretty sure. I have no idea why they're so chummy," Sophie replied with concern in her tone.
Fep commented from her side, "It's a man thing. Many words can be spoken without actually talking."
"Talking without ss-speaking?" Swind was confused. Such a profound statement easily flew over his head since his view on life was very simplistic.
"Okay, now that we're all here, I'll leave you kids to get acquainted. I'm not sure if the keepers living here will return tonight, but I need to help the council with setting up tomorrow's tests. Meet me outside of the manor at dawn. If you're not there, you'll get kicked off the world tree. Nehehehe," Letty giggled before her plump body floated off of Kyuubi and vanished.
"Finally," Eolande sighed in relief. She then quickly mounted the sleepy Kyuubi once more.
"Well," Lone said as he faced everyone, "shall we go inside and grab something to drink as we get to know each other? That overweight garden gnome did say we'd be in a team, after all," he added.
"I'd love to," Fep expressed in delight.
Eko nodded his head. "A great idea, Lone."
"What about you, Princess?" Lone asked the woman that was standing a bit awkwardly by herself a few meters away.
"I'm fine. I need to train regardless. I don't have time to waste on talking about stupid things." After saying that, she left the courtyard and entered the manor by herself.
"It feels like I'm dealing with a teenager back in high school... She's just embarrassed because I stole her sword and proved that she was wrong," Lone shrugged. He wasn't going to pointlessly make any trouble with the girl, but if she wasn't going to put in the effort to make their team work, then neither would he. Indeed, Lone could also be very childish at times.
Lone sent Kyuubi and Sophie back to the summoning room since he could tell that Kyuubi was tired and that Sophie was stressed after having met so many new people in such a short amount of time. Breena exited Lone's shadow and joined him, Eko, Fep, Eolande and Swind as they went to the manor's kitchen.
Several hours passed and everyone had been enjoying themselves. Fep had taken a particular interest in Swind and had been conversing with him almost the entire evening. Due to being a Changeling, he was naturally interested in all sorts of races and creatures, and Swind was more than likely one of the rarest beings on Altros.
Changelings only numbered in the hundreds worldwide and were near extinction, but Swind, he was literally the last of his kind, which ignited a certain flame inside of Fep. Much like Lone, he was heavily invested in learning about every race that he possibly could.
Eolande had been talking to Eko and asking him about his life while he conversed with Lone.
"So you were kicked out of your monastery? How did that happen?" the Elder Tylwyth Teg asked as her lips gently sipped the glass of wine she was holding.
Eko sighed before laughing. "My master- I mean, my former master, he expelled me for being too violent. he said that I was pursuing strength too fiercely, hahaha! 'Only when your heart is calm and your mind is at peace, may you return, my pupil,' he said before giving me two-thousand gold and a pair of spare shoes."
"Sounds like he cares about you," Lone said with a warm smile on his face. A few seconds passed and his smile quickly turned into a frown. "My master only gave me a few lessons and a pair of tools that she hasn't even taught me how to use properly yet."
"What kind of master is that? They sound horrible, hahaha!" Eko roared without thinking too much after he chugged down another tankard of ale.
Eolande's face turned red and she pinched Lone's side. "It's not my fault you're always busy tinkering with your gizmos or training your combat skills," she mumbled with discontent.
A rare smile could be seen on Breena's face even if she wasn't drinking or partaking in the two on-going conversations. 'Master's smile is beautiful. I need to take advantage of this opportunity to get strong enough to be able to protect that smile.'
Like that, the night passed peacefully. The Wanderers, Fep, Eko, Rachel and the Demon Princess were now lined up outside of the manor with the overweight Fairy, Letty, casually resting on Kyuubi's back again. "All here? Okay~ Let's go to the training grounds now. Make sure you all behave. There are other new keeper candidates there as well, though your group is the only one of outsiders, so don't embarrass me since I'm your guardian."
Everyone did as told and followed Letty through the world tree. It took them thirty minutes of walking, but they soon reached an open plaza that had roughly one-hundred High Elves and three-hundred Wood Elves in and around it.
"Here, take these," Leety said before she passed around a bunch of badges to everyone. These badges had numbers on them and they seemed to be fairly important. "When your number gets called out, go do what you're told. If I remember correctly, there should be five tests in total. I need to go talk to some of the staff and do some paperwork, so don't misbehave. I'm still responsible for you all, after all, nehehehe."
With that being said, Letty stroked Kyuubi's head one last time and then flew away towards a raised stage that was at the centre of the plaza.
Lone looked at the badge in his hand at noticed that it had the number '51' written on it. He raised his head and looked around only to notice that almost every other participant in the test was staring at him and his group.
"It seems we're rather popular, no?" Fep joked.
Sophie hid inside Lone's tails while everyone else either ignored the stares or pretended to not notice them. Only Fep was enjoying the attention. What surprised Lone about all of the glances, was that most of them contained disdain.
'I never noticed it with Her Highness and Al'ka, but are Elves perhaps elitists? Almost all of these people are looking at us like we're trash,' Lone thought to himself.
Everyone else noticed this, and only the Demonkin Princess seemed to be truly bothered by it. Were she not afraid of the consequences of her actions, she would have undoubtedly shouted at the Elves.
"Ahem, hello," a loud voice boomed across the entire plaza. Everyone turned their attention towards the centre stage and looked at its owner.
A tall and muscular High Elf was sat on a chair that was raised. Half of his face and one of his arms were covered in scars. Four young and slim-looking High Elves sat on either side of him while Her Highed was seated right next to him.
"That's the King!"
"It's really him... So it's true he's returned from his expedition in the monster lands."
Lone's interest peaked at this. He focused his gaze and he wasn't able to accurately determine the Elven King's level or rank, which frightened him. Unsurprisingly, Lone immediately recognized Her Highness. 'As I thought, she is royalty. So she's the daughter of the King, huh?'
"As you are all probably aware, I am High King Ele'hunda Ratolas, and it is my pleasure to welcome you all here today for this decade's keeper test. Some of you have tried this test before only to fail, while for some of you, this is your first time participating." When he said this particular line, Lone felt like the King was looking right at him and his group.
"Well, let us stop wasting time and begin the tests. There shall be five tests as usual. For those unfamiliar with them, they are as follows: Magic, Age, Skill, Character and finally, Combat Potential." After saying this, the King waved his hand and a small podium rose up from the stage to reveal a clear orb sat atop it.
"As I call out your numbers, approach the orb and place your hand on it. The first test shall probe you for your magical potential. A score shall be graded based on how much the orb illuminates upon your touch. First, number one," King Ele'hunda stated before his eyes landed on a fair-haired Elven man.
Most people stayed silent out of respect for the King, but Lone didn't hide his voice as he asked Fep, whom he assumed was more knowledgeable than himself on the matter, who that fair-haired Elf was since the King seemed to be paying particular attention to him.
"Ah, that's one of his daughter's, Her Highness', suiters, Falin. From what I've heard, it's been widely speculated that he'll get the best score for all of the tests today," Fep explained with a happy smile on his face. Clearly, much like Lone, Fep didn't care about the rough atmosphere he and Lone were creating by talking.
"Ah, that's a shame for him them," Lone commented as he crossed his arms and grinned lightly.
"What do you mean?" Fep was naturally interested in Lone's confident and odd words.
Lone smirked and replied, "Because I'll be getting first in every field except for maybe the character one and the age one depending on how that works. To be honest, Breena will probably get first in both of them, so Falin's gonna have to settle for second or maybe even lower, after all, Soph and Eolande are very talented too."
Of course, everyone present could hear Lone's arrogant words since no one else was talking, and looks of disgust and hate filled almost every other participant's faces. Falin himself seemed unphased and simply continued walking towards the stage.
The King's eyebrows arched up and he looked at his daughter. She, in response, shook her head and sighed as if to say that he wouldn't understand until it was Lone's turn to take the tests.
Falin reached the examination orb and placed his pale and dainty hand on it. A few seconds passed before it started to glow with a very bright shade of yellow.
A Fairy that Lone had never seen before bouncing around the orb before loudly yelling out, "ninety-two!"
Falin turned towards the crowd and stared at Lone before smiling somewhat provocatively.
"Well done, Falin of the Southern High Elf Tribe. Ninety-two is a score to be most proud of and guarantees your success in this test," the King praised.
Falin bowed. "Many thanks, Your Majesty."
After he left the stage, the King called up person after person and no one was able to come even close to Falin's score, which only boosted the man's confidence. He continued to send glances towards Lone as if to say 'Look, I am the best!'.
Lone completely ignored him. A few more minutes passed and finally, a number was called that concerned Lone. it was Swind's number.
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