"Let me get this straight."
Nox sighed as she leaned forward in her seat. Her piercing blue eyes locked onto James, but her expression was completely unreadable.
"You were a C-Class. You got your head fried in a game that lasted over forty hours."
James simply nodded as she spoke.
"You dropped down to D-Class, then E-Class... and then got hospitalised?"
"Yes, I had therapy and rehabilitation before being admitted to the Meadows Holistic clinic."
Nox snapped her fingers.
"Yes, the Dryksell fiasco!"
Smiling politely, James went over their whole conversation in his head. He still wasn't sure if it was wise to tell her everything, but he felt like he didn't really have much to lose.
Nox had bought a skyscraper in District 6 as a show of force. If he could get her on his side, then maybe he'd be able to leave the negotiation with good terms.
"So, after you went in there, they squeezed you dry and now you've fallen into a lot of debt... which you've been repaying by doing side jobs and by betting on yourself in Darius' slum arcades?"
James' attention snapped back to Nox, alarm all over his face. At no point had he mentioned Darius' name.
"Welcome back, Daydreamer."
Nox responded as she took the tablet in her hands. Her slender fingers tapped away at it for a few moments before she placed it back on the table.
The tablet in front of James vibrated suddenly, but Nox raised her hand to stop him from taking it.
"Before you do that, I want to understand something."
James just looked at the property mogul with an expectant look.
"Mr. Greenfield and Miss Clayton, why are you concerning yourself with them now that you've gotten into the big leagues?"
James genuinely had no idea who she was talking about.
A flicker of annoyance crossed Nox's face before an amused smile appeared on her lips.
"Billy and Milly... William Greenfield and Mildred Clayton? You requested them to be secondary sponsors."
Nodding his head, James was about to speak but Nox interrupted him yet again.
"I don't understand at all. They can't offer you anything. The Neophyte Bar? Charming name, but is operating at a loss for the last number of years... whatever he's offered you is a lie."
Nox's annoyed expression returned as she continued.
"DV8 has been operating illegal matches over the last six years. You've even confirmed to me that you've participated in them. Whilst their business is profitable, it's questionable at best and not sustainable."
James remained quiet.
Nox insisted as she pointed at her own tablet.
"Sorry, I thought you were going to interrupt me again."
Leaving that sentence hanging in the air, Nox leaned back and spread her hands as if to give him the floor.
James glanced at the tablet on his side of the table. She had already input a new offer before even bringing up Billy and Milly as secondary sponsors. He wondered if this was a negotiation tactic on her part.
"I would be dead without them. Simple as that. They don't know that I wish to have them as Sponsors. They don't even know I'm going to be a Wildcard in Abidden."
"So, you feel indebted to them?"
James immediately wanted to tell her that she was wrong and that it was much more than that. However, after thinking about it, he had to agree with her.
"Yes. I feel indebted to them."
The incessant tapping of fingernails that Nox insisted on doing throughout their conversation ended abruptly.
"Okay, take a look."
She gestured at the tablet that held her offer.
Before reaching for it, James looked at her squarely.
"How did you know about Darius in the slums?"
Nox's expression was back to it's unreadable state.
"Comprehensive background check. Got reports from the orphanage about your childhood and got an incredibly detailed report from Professor Lancaster. All above board, when he heard you were interviewing to work at Nox Holdings, he was incredibly excited for you."
James just stared at Nox, completely dumbfounded.
"But you didn't know who I was when I arrived?"
Nox shrugged dismissively.
"I carry this due diligence out on everyone, don't be flattered."
James tentatively picked up the tablet and opened the notification.
Sponsorship Partnership - James Sylvester & Nox Holdings
"You'll notice that I've given you ownership of your old accommodation. Having a long record of accommodation as well as stable employment will allow you to ascend to D-Class."
Nox advised as she pointed from her side of the table.
James placed the tablet down on the table and just stared at Nox in complete disbelief.
"Instead of just giving you an additional $280,000.00, I thought I'd incentivise it. I don't want a complacent investment. You'll meet with me weekly to discuss your progress, and if I find it satisfactory, the maximum reward you can get is $70,000.00."
Nox continued in an almost bored voice.
James couldn't help but laugh as he saw the name she gave to his royalties.
"Should I even ask how you know about Travesty?"
Nox smiled warmly for the first time in since he met her.
"I got to watch recordings of your games from ten years ago... it took me quite a while to understand them."
James laughed awkwardly.
"Dare I ask what your verdict was?"
Nox's eyes narrowed.
"Are you testing me?"
Her hand reached towards her own tablet, but James reached across to stop her.
"No, no... I wasn't, I promise!"
He backtracked in a panic.
Nox leaned back and gestured towards his tablet as if to tell him to hurry up and sign it.
James quickly read through it again, but everything that he saw looked to be incredibly in his favour. Yes, he'd have to work to earn the bonuses... but the fact that they existed was the key thing.
He was no stranger to adversity or hard work so the bonus system felt like an exciting prospect.
"If you're wondering about Mildred and William, I've stipulated that Nox Holdings is your primary sponsor... so you may offer additional, non featured sponsors if you so wish. They must be C-Class or lower. I'm only allowing it because I respect loyalty, and I know what it's like to feel indebted to people. Once you've repaid your dues to these people, cut the cord and start fresh. They will only become anchors to you after you achieve a modicum of success."
Nox added matter of factly.
James just smiled as he signed the contract in front of him, accepting Nox Holdings as his primary sponsor.
"You're truly the most terrifying woman I've ever met."
Nox laughed at the comment, it was a beautiful sound and so incredibly uncharacteristic of her that James was shocked.
When he looked back at her face, her piercing blue eyes were locked onto his.
"You're funny. I might just keep you."
As soon as he was a safe distance away from Nox's booth, James leapt into the air and let out an excited burst of emotion.
The sudden noise caused a number of people to look in his direction with either amused or confused expressions.
At that very moment, he didn't give a shit what anyone thought. He just landed the greatest deal of his life with Nox Holdings.
It was like he had been trapped in darkness for the last decade and now finally seeing the way out. Nox was his light at the end of the tunnel.
"Well now, someone looks pretty damn happy!"
Khance laughed as he hugged James suddenly from behind.
The overwhelming smell of whiskey caught James by surprise and his body practically buckled under Khance's weight.
"Whoa there, ease up, ease up! I'm not that strong!"
James chided gently as he tried to get out of Khance's wiry embrace.
"Oh man, I'm so sorry!"
Khance finally realised as he stepped back sluggishly, panic written all over his face.
"Did I hurt you?"
His tone was refreshingly genuine and James couldn't hold a grudge against him.
"Of course not, just a little surprised! Are you celebrating getting a sponsor?"
James gestured at the half empty bottle of whiskey in Khance's hand. The former Divine Healer guiltily lifted the bottle and shook it around a bit.
"Guess I got a little carried away... and nope, no celebrations. Drowning sorrows sounds a little closer to the mark!"
Khance admitted as he placed the bottle down on a nearby countertop. He looked at it sadly for a moment before turning back to James with a fake smile plastered on his face.
"Anyways, that doesn't matter! Looks like you got some good news, spill... tell me everything!"
His genuine happiness for James, coupled with whatever sadness he held personally was really worrying for the E-Classer.
"Alex, sit with me for a sec."
James walked to a more secluded area of the bar, and gestured for Khance to take a seat with him.
"It's nothing, really. Sorry if I concerned you!"
Khance began to apologise, but James cut him off.
Shifting around in his seat, the drunk man looked back at the discarded bottle of whiskey with a forlorn expression. Regret of leaving it so far away was all that coursed through him in that very moment.
"Alex, come on... what is it?"
Khance shook his head with a rueful smile.
"Quentin said it would be different this time and I genuinely believed him. The character... it's actually awesome. I fell in love with it the moment they showed me. Don't get me started on Varya... Her's is amazing too!"
James nudged him slightly with an elbow.
"Those sound like great things... Why are you gloomy? You looked like you were having the time of your life with Finbarr Clancy earlier! Did you sign with the Clancy Group?"
Khance's eyes hardened at the mention of the name.
"No. We had a conflict of interest."
"What type of conflict?"
James pressed cautiously.
"The type of conflict where he's too scared of another company to sponsor me."
Khance spat in anger.
James opened his mouth to ask what he meant, but the drunk man continued.
"Everyone wants the Divine Fucking Healer. Alexander Vance? Nobody cares about him. It's Khance... the one trick pony. The healer! That's all they fucking want."
Not sure what to say, James remained quiet as he placed a hand on the Paragon's shoulder.
"I thought the Clancy Group would be cool. I love to drink! It was like a match made in heaven, but no! I'm doomed to be tied down to fucking pharma companies for as long as I live."
A thought popped into James' head, and he really hoped he was wrong.
"Did the Dryksell Group warn off Finbarr Clancy?"
Khance turned around and looked at the E-Classer with wide eyes.
"How could you possibly know that?"
James gritted his teeth and made a decision in that very moment.
"Get up, we're going to see Sarah Dryksell right now."
The former Paragon got to his feet and let out a sigh.
"You're right, I need to stop feeling sorry for myself and just sign a sponsor."
Before James could say a word, another voice interrupted them both.
"May I offer a suggestion?"
James looked around and was pleasantly surprised to see the attendant from earlier that had given him all the helpful advice.
"A suggestion from the Prince of Deception? Of course!"
Khance clapped his hands, which confused James immensely.
"Alex, do you know this guy?"
Khance turned around to James as realisation crept across his features.
"That's right, you wouldn't have met him yet!"
The attendant took off his red jacket and extended his hand to shake James'.
"James, this is Kell Daystar. He's the Head of Media Partnerships and Public Relations for Abidden."
As James shook the blonde man's hand, a question popped into his head.
"Prince of Deception?"
He asked Khance jokingly, but the drunk man didn't return the smile. He was instead watching Kell warily.
"Yeah, he's also the third Wildcard."
Before James could say a word, Kell was moving.
"Sitting here crying isn't going to solve your problem, Mr. Vance."
Both James and Khance looked at each other before following after Kell.
"Time we paid Miss. Dryksell a visit."
"Ah, Mr. Daystar! I think I owe you a finders fee, you've delivered the very man I was looking for!"
Sarah Dryksell laughed warmly as she stood up to greet both Kell and Khance. When James appeared from behind them, the smile on her face grew even wider.
"I'm afraid you'll need to wait until I've concluded with Mr. Vance here, I'm sure you understand."
Her sweet voice added almost apologetically.
"No need to worry about me, I'm all sponsored up! I'm here to watch."
James added with a wide smile of his own.
"Mr. Daystar! Ha, I should have known it would be you to send that type of cryptic message."
A booming voice echoed out from behind the group.
Graham Dryksell, followed by Elvira Corbeau joined the booth. The only person that looked confused at that moment was Sarah.
"I'm afraid, I'm not just here to watch."
Elvira added as she took her own seat.
"Mr. Dryksell, I'm going to have to apologise for luring you over here..."
Kell apologised good naturedly.
"Luring me, hah... you have the E-Class Villain and the former Divine Healer with you. Seems like a boon to me!"
Graham Dryksell laughed as he took a seat beside his daughter.
The look on Sarah's face showed that she hadn't yet connected the dots.
"James, you've the floor."
Kell offered before raising his hand to silence Sarah who was about to protest.
"Mr. Dryksell, I just wanted to thank you personally for refunding my overpayments in Dr. Meadow's clinic."
James stared earnestly, making sure to keep his voice steady.
"No problem at all, young man. I'm genuinely delighted we were able to stop that charlatan with your help."
The beaming smile on the CEO's face was infectious. Under different circumstances, James thought he'd like the man.
"Thank you, Mr. Dryksell. Unfortunately, I didn't actually receive that money... it was instead placed against my medical loans."
The radiant smile faltered at those words and Graham's face darkened.
"That must have been a clerical error, I'll have my people look into it immediately."
He motioned for his daughter to hand him the tablet, but stopped when he saw the expression on her face.
Sarah sat defiantly with her arms crossed, staring at James in disbelief.
Before James could say anything, Graham Dryksell spoke in an abrupt tone.
"Sarah, is there something you want to tell me?"
A torrent of emotions surged through Sarah Dryksell, but it was frustration that won in the end.
Rolling her eyes and sighing in exasperation she threw her hands into the air as though it was obvious.
"He's just overreacting! It was a bit of playful teasing! Dad, it's $180,000.00... what's the big deal?"
Graham clenched his jaw before turning back to the Wildcards and Paragon.
"I sincerely apologise for Sarah's behaviour. If you wouldn't mind, I'd like to have a private word with her."
"By all means."
Kell answered as he stood up and ushered his group to the nearby booth. Silence enveloped the players for a few moments before Khance ventured a tipsy thought.
"Do you actually think she's that out of touch?"
Elvira laughed at the observation.
"I'm starting to think that she has no concept of how much money, $180,000.00 is."
Kell's expression didn't change as he watched the pair speaking in the next booth. After a moment, he gave his opinion.
"S-Classers believe they rule the roost. That the world owes them some form of reverence because they sit at the top of society."
Everyone listened to Kell as he spoke. His normally carefree attitude was replaced with a resolute tone.
"Most of them are inherited money and just want to be fawned over. They're mostly figureheads, and poor ones at that."
"Pfft, if that's the case... why the hell are they on the top?"
Khance asked as he looked at the bickering Dryksells.
"Because they're filthy rich and no amount of new money could possibly take them off their pedestals."
Kell answered lazily before turning back to the group.
"S-Classers are typically harmless. It's the A-Classers you need to look out for. They're devious, cutthroat and usually self-made."
James was confused.
"So you don't think that Sarah was trying to fuck us over?"
Kell just looked at the E-Classer before shaking his head.
"Honestly? No. I think that you just got caught in the crosshairs of a rich girl that has too much time on her hands."
"That doesn't explain why she'd limit the sponsors for Khance, though?"
James pressed, sure that he was right about this woman having it in for him.
"The Khance thing is different. She fancies him."
Kell responded matter of factly as though it was obvious.
Khance was suddenly deadly sober as he stared at the Wildcard.
"Yes. She's a member of your fan page and has a collection of your greatest Abidden moments on holodisk."
Khance shook his head in disbelief.
"She also created a hate-page against Varya Weaver. She's quite serious about you it would seem."
James could have sworn he saw a slight smile tug on Kell's lips as he delivered that final sentence to the former Divine Healer.
Khance sat there in the booth, not sure where to look or what to say.
"You okay, man?"
James laughed. As confused as he was, he was delighted by the fact that he wasn't in a private war with an S-Classer.
Khance paused for a moment as though he was conflicted about what he wanted to say.
Looking at James finally, he apologised.
"Man, I know she's a total bitch... but she is kinda hot."
Elvira shook her head in disbelief.
"I will never understand men."
Kell tapped their table to get their attention.
"Looks like we're back!"
He announced as he saw one of the nearby attendants signalling that the Dryksells would like to reconvene.
A few moments later, the Wildcards and Paragon were back in front of Graham and Sarah.
"Thank you all for your patience."
Graham Dryksell said briefly as the group sat back down around the booth.
Sarah remained standing, which drew a few glances.
"Sarah, I believe there was something you wanted to say?"
Graham asked gently as he gave his daughter a pointed look.
Nodding her head and giving her father a fixed smile, Sarah turned and looked at James.
"I wanted to apologise for my misappropriation of your rightful funds. It was wrong of me."
At no point did James detect an ounce of sincerity from the woman.
"Furthermore, I realise how my comments and actions have been damaging and hurtful. I would like to apologise for those."
Now that he was watching her, he could see that it was clearly painful for her to be saying all of these things.
"To be candid, I would like to additionally apologise to Mr. Vance... for using underhanded tactics to entice you to become our Player."
Sarah turned to look at her father as if to say, "Am I done?"
Graham Dryksell waved her off, and Sarah gratefully started to make her exit from the group.
Sensing that this was the most opportune moment, Khance burst out his response to Kell's earlier statement.
"Would you like to go on a date with me, Sarah?"
Graham Dryksell blinked in surprise. Elvira was gaping in horror while Kell covered his mouth to hide his smile.
Sarah tilted her head ever so slightly and narrowed her eyes as though she had just heard the question.
"At no point, would I ever... ever, date you."
With that said, the attractive S-Classer left the Platinum Bar, leaving Khance to stare daggers at the clearly entertained Kell.
"Alexander, I'd like to congratulate you on dodging that bullet."
Graham joked awkwardly as he watched his retreating daughter.
James was right about this man. He was very likeable.
The CEO of Dryksell Pharmaceuticals spread his hands across the table as he looked at the group.
"This isn't the proudest day for the Dryksells, I'm afraid. I hope that you'll accept my apologies for all of the slights my daughter has undoubtedly caused through her own ignorance."
James pondered for a moment, knowing that most of the attention was on him. A sudden thought occurred to him and he genuinely had to think about it twice.
"Looks like you've got something on your mind."
Graham suggested with a smile.
"Sarah mentioned you two had a bet, the prize for her was going to be the Penthouse in NuHype Plaza..."
The CEO's expression darkened slightly as he recalled that wager with his daughter.
"Maybe it could be given to Khance as a part of his sponsorship negotiation?"
Graham looked at the E-Classer for a few moments before he burst out laughing.
"If Nox didn't already have her claws in you, I'd be trying to get you myself!"
Khance was looking quite hopeful and cheered up at that point.
"Penthouse you say?"
"You'll absolutely love it!"
Graham said with a smile as he picked up the negotiation tablet in front of him.