Volume 1: Never judge a book
"Are you sure this is where they will be passing through?" A tall, thin man wearing ragged clothes hiding in a bush was whispering to his comrade.
"Yeah, the scouts we sent are sure." The old, bearded man beside him donning padded armor replied with conviction in his voice.
"I'm asking you, though!" Hints of irritation and nervousness can be detected in his complaint. It was understandable due to the silence permeating inside the forest.
Situated on a path towards the city of Treshour, the Forest of Danger was appropriately named and perfectly situated for the plans of the men hiding in the bushes. Monsters roam the lands of Chrona, a fantastical world of creatures and magic, but for some reason they do not enter this particular forest.
"Quiet! I see them coming. Alert the others." The man in armor then moved from his position while his comrade went to a different direction.
One by one, there were rustling in the bushes. Then, figure upon figure of armored men wielding all sorts of weapons emerged from those bushes and behind the trees. There was only one way this scene could be described: An ambush.
A short distance from where the ambush was awaiting, there was a group of people walking towards it. They were casually talking with each other, not aware of what was about to happen. Upon reaching the ambush site, the armored man stepped out in front of their path.
"So, this is the infamous party who can't be defeated?" He breathed a sigh of disbelief. "How the hell did you get your bounties so high? Are the other mercenaries really that weak?"
The other members of his mercenary group showed themselves. The man in ragged clothing approached his comrade.
"See? There was nothing to worry about!" The confidence in his voice was a far cry from how it shivered mere moments ago.
"That is why we shouldn't trust rumors! How can an ordinary party like them beat hundreds of mercenaries? I mean, even monsters can't kill them? Look at them!" The guy in armor started to feel like having brought about forty of his men to ambush the party in front of him was a waste of time. He could identify their job classes because of their clothes and weapons. There was a cute girl with shoulder-length blue hair, having an eerily cheerful smile in her face and donning a mage's hat. The other beautiful girl, with long pinkish hair and pale skin, was wearing clothing from the clergy, thus making her a priestess. There was a lean guy with brown hair wearing bluish metal armor that seemed too heavy for him and the mercenary decided that guy was a knight for sure. The slightly taller guy, with combed back green hair and a vacant look on his face, had a bow behind his back so he definitely must have been an archer, he thought. Then the young looking man with golden hair and a scared expression was perhaps a merchant in the mercenary's mind.
He stared at the priestess standing in front of the party, wondering why they would let their healer be in the most vulnerable spot. Then he looked at the mage who was vulnerable as well, standing slightly apart from the rest of the group. He was also baffled why the knight that was with their group was hiding in the middle, between the archer to his left and the other guy to his right.
"Let's just finish this and get our money." The armored mercenary raised his sword to signal his men. "Kill—" The mage suddenly ran towards the woods. It took the mercenaries by surprise. "Huh? Where is she going? Go after her!" About ten men followed after her.
The other party members dispersed to different directions, except for the priestess. The remaining mercenaries followed them. The armored mercenary was left behind to deal with the priestess.
"I get it now. Every member runs for their lives when you're attacked. No wonder you survived this long. I guess those other mercenaries were too ashamed to admit they let you run, so they just claimed to be beaten. How pathetic!" He was inspecting his blade as he spoke, ensuring its sharpness was enough to cut through his prey's flesh. The priestess posed no threat to him. "But still, your comrades are heartless, leaving you alone. They just let their healer die like that? I sort of feel pity for you. Too bad you're a looker, such a shame I have to kill you here." The priestess was just looking at him silently. "Not even a prayer, eh? Fine." He dashed and swung his sword upward to cut the priestess. "Die!"
The mage kept running until she reached a clearing in the forest. She stood in the middle, waiting for her pursuers.
"We got her cornered! Surround her!" A mercenary shouted to direct his comrades. The mage didn't flinch. "You know, it was a bad idea to run on your own. With no one else to protect you while you cast your spells, you're as useless as a dead body, which you will turn into in a moment."
The archer stopped running after a while. He sat in front of a tree, saw a rabbit and started to pet it. The mercenaries were able to catch up to him and surrounded him closely.
"Why the hell did this guy stop running? And what's with the rabbit?" One mercenary asked his comrade.
"Who the hell cares? Just don't let him use his bow and arrows and we'll be fine. This close distance should be no problem!"
The archer stood up and let the rabbit run away from the crowd. Before it could get away, one of the mercenaries shot an arrow at the rabbit and killed it.
"That's what is going to happen to you!" They all laughed. The archer bowed his head. He walked slowly towards the rabbit, and then kneeled down as if to say a prayer. He then stood up and pulled the arrow from its body.
"Well, will you look at that? This guy is not even carrying any arrows with him! What kind of archer are you?" They all laughed more loudly.
The knight started to slow down after running for some time now. He had his hands on his knees as he was catching his breath. The mercenaries caught up with him.
"I've never seen a knight this cowardly." One mercenary exclaimed.
"He looks weak, too." Another one commented on the knight.
The knight then stood straight and shouted, "This freakin' armor is too heavy!" The mercenaries were surprised. "That's enough running for me." He then turned around at the mercenaries. "What? Only you guys followed me?" He clicked his tongue.
"You think you can take all of us? We're about fifteen strong here! We carefully planned to take on a slow knight with this much manpower. There is no running—"
"Shut up already! I just said that was enough running for me. Also, don't worry your little heads about a slow knight. Okay?" He smiled at them.
The other guy from the party was running out of breath, holding a knife in his hand. He could hear the footsteps of those chasing after him getting nearer by the second. His body wanted to stop running, but his mind kept telling him to run. While running frantically, he tripped. His body rolled around and hit bushes and exposed roots. His instincts told him to immediately hide behind a tree as soon as he could. He stayed hidden behind the tree, clutching his knife with his shaking hands, ready to attack anyone who would come. His anticipation was at a fever pitch. But no one came. After a few more moments, the only noise he could hear was from that of his racing heart beat. The footsteps of his pursuers were nowhere to be heard. Let alone the mercenaries themselves. He went out of hiding and looked around.
"It happened again, huh?" He wondered to himself.
"Run for your lives!" One mercenary was shouting in desperation.
"Earthquake!" The mage shouted to the air. She then punched the ground and it cracked open. Some mercenaries fell into it.
"That's not magic!" A mercenary complained to her while grabbing on the edge of the crack.
"Shut up!" The mage then uprooted a tree and proceeded to 'cast' her spell. "Whirlwind!" She swung the tree and it created a strong wind. Some mercenaries flew and the others fell into the cracks in the ground.
When she saw there weren't any mercenaries left standing, she planted the tree back by thrusting it into the ground.
"Never mess with the greatest mage alive!"
"Stop! Please! Don't kill—" The mercenary's throat was cut open. The archer sliced it with the tip of the arrow he had in his hand. He also was dragging the body of another mercenary by the hair as he was walking closer to the rest of the mercenaries. There were already bodies lying on the ground.
'What the hell happened? Wasn't he supposed to be an archer? Why isn't he using his bow?' These were the questions some of them had before they died. The fear crippled them and they weren't able to run away. All they could do was regret killing the rabbit in front of the monster that was standing before them.
"Where is that knight? Where did he go?" The mercenaries were frantically looking for the knight. One by one, they fell. They had no idea what was happening. They were being picked off slowly.
"The heck is this? I counted and there were only thirteen of you! I even looked around to check if there were others hiding, but no one is!" The knight reappeared in front of the mercenaries.
"Where did you go? Did you do this to them?" One mercenary demanded answers while pointing his sword toward the knight, his hand shaking all the while.
"I was just here. I never left. Didn't you see me?"
"Stop messing around! What did you do?" There were only 5 remaining mercenaries standing.
"I." One guy fell down. "Was." Another guy fell down. "Standing." Two guys were left. "Here." And the last guy was left standing.
"Huh?" The mercenary pointing his sword to the knight realized he was the only one left. "What is happening?"
"Nothing, really. By the way, I haven't seen that slow knight anywhere? Do you have any ideas?"
"But you're—" The knight suddenly appeared in front of the mercenary.
"You're not talking about me, are you?" He smiled at him, and then punched him in the stomach.
"What is… going on?" The armored mercenary was huffing as he kept on swinging his sword, slicing the priestess' head and neck every time. "Why… can't I kill you…" He fell down out of exhaustion. "What… are you?"
"That was quicker than expected. I suggest you exercise some more. It'll be good for you." The priestess was a little worried. "But, maybe that is the limit of a lowly mercenary such as yourself." Only for a moment, though.
The rest of the party members came back to where the priestess was.
"What took you so long?" The priestess asked everyone. "This poor man was exhausted from attacking me. You could have shortened his suffering by knocking him out earlier."
"You seem fine to me, as always." The knight remarked while seeming to fix his armor properly in place.
"What happened… to my men?" The mercenary lying down still hasn't lost consciousness. "And why did you run away… if you were really strong?"
"I didn't run away." The priestess answered.
"I was scared." The young looking guy said with a straight face.
"…" The archer was just silent.
"We wanted to see who would be chased by the most number of people. If more people followed you, it means you're the strongest." The knight proudly answered.
"We wanted to see that?" The mage asked.
It may be the exhaustion or the confusion, but the mercenary finally passed out. When he woke up after that, the legend of the strongest party in the land of Chrona only grew bigger.