There were twenty-three of them in total, which meant that there were twenty-one adult Majo Hanta to stand and glare at Raiyo and Kisaro. Already ruling them out. Already dismissing them as possible Tentai Kishi. Wondering why two seemingly insignificant Hanta were standing among them.
Kisaro had also already been called 'kid' by three of them, 'boy' by another five, and a 'child' by a further two. To say the least, he was losing his temper. Wasn't there meant to be an examiner here at midday? It was already two in the afternoon, and Raiyo was starting to really get on his nerves.
"Rai, shut up," Kisaro said again.
"But I'm bored, and I might as well talk to you!" he grinned in reply. Kisaro rolled his eyes.
"I'm not listening to you, so you might as well be quiet."
"Nah," Raiyo said, and continued speaking aimlessly.
And so it continued. Raiyo would speak, and, every so often, Kisaro would make another futile attempt to shut up his friend. It was pointless, he knew, but that didn't mean he had to accept it.
"Keep your dog on a lead, kid," sneered one of the other Hanta - a giant of a man with the distinct stench of beer lingering about him. Clenching his fists, Kisaro turned his back on the man, ignoring him. "Too scared to reply? Why're you even here, then?"
"The only dog here is you, drunkard," Raiyo said cheerfully, before returning to his completely irritating 'conversation' with Kisaro. The giant faltered, looking in disbelief at the two scrawny teenagers before him. With a distinctive snort of disdain, he stalked back to the corner he had previously been standing in.
Another man started to speak when the door swung open, and a short, powerfully-built man walked into the room, pausing in the doorway.
"Sorry I'm a little late," he grinned. "Welcome to the trials!" There was no cheering, just a room filled with irritable Hanta who had been forced to stand in the same place for far too long.
"A little?" demanded the same man who had just been mocking Kisaro. "You're three and a half hours late, dammit!"
The examiner merely shrugged, his brown eyes twinkling in a way that Kisaro could only describe as amusedly. "Well, aren't you a clever one? None of you seem to be dead, so that's wonderful. It saves me having to clear up the corpses before we even start. Let's introduce ourselves. I'm Hiroshi, your examiner for the trials. I've got a list of names here, so make sure I get your name, or you'll be disqualified."
"Nikumu!" declared the one who had only just been mocking Kisaro and Raiyo. The one Raiyo had called a dog. Hiroshi made his way to the desk at the back of the room, finding a parchment filled with names. Quickly, he opened up an ink pot, dipped a quill into it, and drew a neat line through Nikumu's name.
"Raiyo!" his friend added. "And this is-"
"Kisaro," he cut in. Hiroshi nodded, crossing their names from the list. Slowly, Hiroshi removed each name from the list, until only one remained.
"Mei?" he asked. "Is there a Mei here?"
Kisaro glanced around for any of the Hanta who had not yet spoken. There were three women here, though each of them had spoken already. Slowly, Hiroshi turned around, caution gleaming within his eyes. "Impressive magic, Hanta. I assume you're Mei?"
From behind him formed the vague shape of a body, wisps of smoke whirling within the shape, a vortex of constantly shifting black and grey. As the smoke dissipated, Kisaro could make out the sharp features of a girl. A squall seemed present within her eyes; her skin was so pale she could easily have been mistaken as a spirit of the dead. Jet black hair tumbled down her shoulders in tangled waves, almost like smoke falling down from her head.
"You assume correctly," she said, smiling briefly and bowing her head ever so slightly.
"Wonderful!" Hiroshi beamed. "Then you're all here. The first test begins now. I'll explain it when we reach our destination," he said, folding the parchment and slipping it into a pocket as he stood, gesturing to the door. "Let's go, then!"
"Rai, please shut up."
"Nah, that'd be no fun."
Kisaro contemplated strangulating his friend, but before he got the chance, Hiroshi announced,
He looked up from his hood. Before them was the start of a forest. Trees stood like sentinels, looming from the murky dark within. Low calls of animals rung through the trees, hauntingly eerie. By now, it was dark; the blue of the sky had faded to an inky purple.
"Alright, amateurs, your first test starts now, whether you're ready or not. Get into groups of four, will you?"
Raiyo clasped a hand to Kisaro's shoulder. "You're stuck with me!" he announced cheerfully. Kisaro rolled his eyes, but said nothing.
"That's hardly fair! They already know each other!" Nikumu, the giant, protested. Hiroshi raised an eyebrow.
"Oh? In that case, you can join them, if you think it's such a big advantage. No arguments, or I'll kick you out now."
Nikumu scowled at them, but said nothing as he trudged reluctantly to join them. Great, Kisaro thought. Two idiots - one who refused to leave him alone, the other a clumsy giant.
"May I join you?" Kisaro glanced to Mei - the girl who had appeared from the shadows. In other words: a useful ally.
"Sure!" Raiyo grinned before Kisaro could accept her. Nikumu started to growl in protest, but Kisaro turned and fixed him with a glare. Quickly, he shut up, glowering at the three of them.
"Thank you," Mei smiled shyly. Kisaro merely nodded, as Hiroshi ordered the rest of them into groups.
"Now," Hiroshi called out, "You'll go into the forest one group at a time. You need to reach the designated spot - all four of you."
At this, the Majo Hanta glanced at each other dubiously, as though doubting everybody but themselves. Raiyo - Kisaro knew could fight well; Mei seemed to be a powerful Hanta. But Nikumu...
"Why do I have to work with them? They'll make me fail the trials!" Nikumu spat. Hiroshi turned on him in a second.
"Not necessarily, but, if I had to judge, I'd say that you would be the one to fail the team." Hiroshi shrugged, before adding, "And your team will go first, just for your doubt in my authority. Each team will follow me to the goal, and then I'll come back for the next team. Understood?"
"Perfectly so," Kisaro replied, before any of the other idiots on his team could make Hiroshi dislike them even more than he already did.
"Wonderful!" Hiroshi announced. "In that case, follow me!"