“So these are the heroes of Silvergrove, huh?”
A man that had been sitting at Blake’s table got up and strutted over to us. His companions immediately followed after him, keeping a small distance behind from him as they made their approach.
“Equipment seems rather mediocre— shabby, even. Levels are decent, but nothing particularly impressive. I’m surprised you three managed to take out that so-called Destroyer that rampaged through Falisfield.”
The receptionist shrunk in her desk as he came to a stop just before us. He wore the same clothing that Blake and the others wore, however it was different somehow. It seemed more… decorated? As in he had jewels adorned into parts of his vest, and the crest on his chest had a helmet added in between the pickaxe and the sword. He produced a gleaming silver badge and smiled.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Salvos. I’m Stephen, a Platinum Rank adventurer from the Iron Champions Company.”
I blinked and identified him.
[??? - Lvl. ???]
Does he have a Necklace of Obfuscation too? No— I didn’t see anything hanging around his neck. I had a feeling his level was just too high for me to see.
“I had heard about the havoc this Greater Demon had been causing to my home province, so I rushed back as quickly as I could. But it seems I arrived a little too late, since I came back to hear only the singing of praises for the three adventurers that slayed the [Djinn].”
He brought a hand forward with a smile and I stared at it. It took me a moment to remember Edithe’s lesson on Human courtesy and how you should always shake an outstretched hand, but I quickly recovered and took it.
“Hi, I’m Salvos.”
Stephen’s lips twitched as he brought his hand back after we shook. He gestured at us, then back at the group behind him— adventurers who I assumed were part of his company with Blake.
“I’ve heard many things about you, Miss Salvos. Nothing good, really. That you’re rather brutish and prone to violence, causing trouble in the guild even though you weren’t— and still aren’t— an adventurer. Especially your unpleasant run-ins with some of my… company members.”
He gave Blake a sharp look at the tall adventurer flinched.
“However, I’d like to confirm such things myself: are any of these rumors true? Did you, perhaps, hit my friend here in a rather demeaning place when you two first met?”
I nodded and replied simply.
Stephen quirked an eyebrow, looking me over.
“And why exactly did you do such a thing?”
“He deserved it, that’s why.”
The Platinum Ranked adventurer turned around, evaluating Blake who blanched at the offhand remark from him. Then he faced me.
“Such things are possible. I do admit that our criteria for accepting new members aren’t very strict. However, I’ve heard other things about you too. For example, you broke into our company building here in Hazelbury and stole a rather important resource to us and distributed it to the public. Is that true?”
I opened my mouth to answer, but Edithe stepped in front of me and brought an arm out.
“Alright, cut it out. What do you want?”
“Hrmph, Miss… Edithe, was it? Gold Rank adventurer from that annoying Valiant Dreamers Company. I take it that that theft was your doing then?”
“So what if it is? Hoarding the location of dangerous Dungeons is not something the guild likes.”
“But it isn’t banned by the guild either, is it not?”
He chuckled as Edithe just glared at him. At this point, Daniel thought to join in.
“Just because it’s allowed, doesn’t mean it’s right.”
“And the knight in shining armor decides to step in to save his ladies. Tell me, Mister Daniel, how many people do you think you’re fooling with that artifact of yours? Or did you think hiding your level also hides that Necklace of Obfuscation hanging around your neck?”
Blake’s eyes widened and Daniel clenched his fist.
“Leave us alone. We’re just minding our own business.”
“Ah, but your business is my business, you see?”
Stephen walked around Daniel and Edithe and approached me with a smile. He gestured at me before turning back to the two.
“What you have here is someone special. Someone extremely rare. Or did you think no one noticed how she has doubled her level in the span of two months since she first came here?”
A susurration broke out in the crowd of adventurers watching this scene; Edithe grimaced and Daniel glanced around with a frown. Stephen continued, ignoring either of their reactions.
“Of course, leveling at such speeds is only possible in the lower levels. However, to do so requires a level of risk and talent, something which over 99% of adventurers at even Gold lack. So I’d like to offer this deal to you, Miss Salvos: join the Iron Champions Company, and not only will all your past transgressions to us be forgiven, but you’ll have access to all resources we can offer. Locations of Dungeons, Medium Grade and even High Grade equipment, and even the best mentors anyone can offer. It will all be free, specifically for you, as long as you decide to join our company here and now.”
I stared at the Human man, blinking as he went on.
“It is a generous offer, Miss Salvos. Something we don’t give everyone. We’d be treating you as we would a Platinum Rank, despite you having only just reached Gold. It’d be wise to accept this if you truly wish to reach such high levels in no time. Additionally, if there’s anything you might want, we’ll be able to pool together our vast resources to help you get it. We might not be one of the Honorable Companies, but I’d say we’re getting close to their size.”
“In your dreams. The Iron Champions Company is nowhere near large enough to stand amongst those three—”
“Was I talking to you?”
Stephen spoke over Edithe and gave her a dark look. She flinched, instinctively raising her staff. He did nothing else, turning back to face me.
“So Miss Salvos, what about it? Will you join us?”
I looked at Stephen’s outstretched hand, before directing my gaze over his shoulder. Edithe was chewing her lower lip, and Daniel had nothing to offer me either: both seemed resigned, unable to say anything.
I turned back to the Platinum Rank adventurer. If I join the Iron Champions Company, I’d be able to level faster. And maybe I can make them find a way to reach the Netherworld. There was almost no downside to this offer; everything about it seemed right to me.
So I smiled, raising my hand and accepting the proffered handshake by Stephen. Daniel sighed, and Edithe averted her gaze. Stephen was smirking, while Blake had a look of terror on his face. I opened my mouth—
Stephen lowered his hand as I brought my hands back to my hips. I spoke again, slower this time.
“I said no.”
“Uh, but you took my hand—”
“Because it’s common courtesy to do so, of course. However, I do not want to join your company.”
The Platinum Ranked adventurer slowly blinked. He sputtered in indignation.
“But why? You have only things to gain from joining us! I am literally offering to give you a VIP treatment that only the closest friends of our founders get. What sane reason could you give to reject such a deal?!”
“My companions don’t like you, and I don’t like you either. Also, I’d probably have to leave them if I joined your company. I don’t want that.”
He opened his mouth in fury— then slowly closed it. He shook his head, resting his forehead on the palm of his hand.
“I should’ve known you would say this from the way I saw you act. You’re like a child. A petulant, bratty child.”
“I am not a child. I am a Gr—”
Daniel and Edithe snapped their gazes to me. I quickly corrected myself mid word.
Stephen stared at me as I shook a fist at him. He just sighed.
“Alas, such potential is wasted on a fool such as you. Unfortunate.”
He turned around and began to stalk off. However, he paused right at the edge of earshot distance and craned his neck fractionally to face us.
“You will regret this decision, Miss Salvos. And as for you, Miss Edithe. Your Valiant Dreamers Company will get what’s coming for them. Or did you really think our company will take all your interference in stride?”
Edithe grit her teeth, biting back a reply. Then the Platinum Rank adventurer and his group left the guild hall. And all that was left was silence.
“So, uh, how do I sign again?”