91. Company War
Or more specifically, a company war. It wasn’t the same as a war between countries or city-states— armies didn’t march out to meet each other on the battlefield. There weren’t battles over city or territory.
Instead, company wars were smaller in scale. They focused on stealing the resources of another company, siphoning members away from a company and secluding them from the Adventurers Guild. And most importantly— killing each other until the other company was destroyed.
Because at the end of the day, war was war. Even between adventuring companies.
And Edithe had never thought it would come to this. Even a day later, it made no sense to her. The escalation from petty harassment to the cloak and dagger assassination attempts, to a direct attack on the Valiant Dreamers headquarters? No one would have seen it coming. At least, not so soon.
“To think they would go this far in retaliation for revealing the location of their Dungeons, when hoarding Dungeons is looked down upon in the first place? And we did not even take it from them, we shared it with the public. I never knew the Iron Champions Company was run by fools.”
“It doesn’t matter, Father. They’ve directly attacked us. Even if they disguised their own members as assassins, it doesn’t change the fact that they’ve killed four Gold Ranks and a dozen other Silvers. This is war.”
Baris snapped, glancing up from the large table showing a map of all the different locations the Iron Champions Company owned. And the various Dungeons and resources they had a monopoly over too.
The meeting room was occupied only by the top brass of the Valiant Dreamers Company— only Gold Ranks and above were allowed, and even then, only some were let in. Like Edithe.
And that was only because she was familiar with the Iron Champions Company, having been in Silvergrove, Hazelbury, and other cities where they had a lot of influence. Baris, despite having just recovered from a deadly poison, was here too. And he was in charge of this meeting.
His voice instantly drew Edithe to attention. They weren’t in the military, but she couldn’t help but straighten and face him with proper respect.
“You say that you recognized one of the assailants who tried burning down our headquarters, correct?”
“Yes. His name was Blake. And he had been a prominent member of the Iron Champions Company— at least, over in Hazelbury. I’m sure if you asked around many other adventurers or even civilians in the city can vouch for that fact.”
Baris raised a hand and shook his head.
“I am sure the Iron Champions Company has thought of this. They would simply claim that this Blake had been fired from the company weeks or even months ago and that he was acting out of his own agency. Same goes for any other member we can identify from the prisoners rounded by the city guards or the others killed by Gabriel— although I’m not even sure that’s possible considering the state he left them in.”
The [Alchemist] was not here in the meeting room; apparently, he had other matters to attend to. Edithe did not know what held precedence over the company being possibly embroiled in a war with another company that was even larger than theirs, but he was high leveled and usually left to his own devices. So, she did not question it.
Hadrian spoke up, voicing the thoughts that were not just in Edithe’s head but in many of the others in the room too.
“Father, I don’t understand. Why won’t you just let us declare war on them? They attacked us first. It doesn’t matter what the consequences of a company war are if we’re already in one.”
“You don’t get it, do you?”
The older man sighed and pressed his fingers into his eyes. He slowly pulled up a chair and sat back down, sweeping his gaze over the room. A few of Edithe’s friends were here. Ian, for one, had the privilege of being here as one of the higher leveled Golds in the company. And some Platinums Edithe recognized but did not often talk to— Jeremy, Celine, and Evelyn were the ones she could name.
Paige wasn’t here. She was back at the Valiant Dreamers Company training grounds, in charge of guard duty there today.
“What do I not get?”
“The reason why the Iron Champions Company is being so underhanded with attacking us. It’s because they want to goad us into declaring war on them.”
“Then let’s give them just that—”
“Stop and think for a moment, will you?”
Baris cut him off with a loud grunt. He folded his arms and spoke slowly, his words reaching everyone in the room.
“Why does the Iron Champions Company want us to be the ones to declare war on them?”
Hadrian frowned, placing a hand on his chin. Edithe slowly offered a hand, and Baris turned to her.
“Is it because they realize that they don’t have any proper reason for it? That if they declare war with us now, it’d be over us giving their hoarded Dungeons to the public? And that’ll earn them the ire of other companies that look down on that practice?”
“That is true. And if that’s their goal, what exactly would they do to ensure it does not backfire on them?”
The leader of the Valiant Dreamers Company blinked. His eyes widened as he turned to his father. The realization settled in for Edithe too— so did for many others in the room.
“They prepare for it. They won’t just sit around. They’ll make sure they’ve got every advantage they have. Such as stationing their members around our company, prepared to strike us the moment we declare war on them.”
So, it wasn’t war. The meeting ended, and Edithe left the room realizing that the Valiant Dreamers Company was stuck in a tough spot. If they retaliated now, they’d be struck down in an instant. Their enemy had already drawn their wand, prepared to cast a [Fireball] the instant they unsheathed their blade.
It was a preemptive strike— one which couldn’t be countered. What mattered now was how they reacted, and Edithe knew that if they just waited it out, they’d also suffer just as much from the whittling down and attrition caused by the Iron Champions Company and their ‘assassins’. Do they even have assassins? Have they been members of the company all along?
Edithe wasn’t sure. However, she had to clear her mind on these thoughts the moment she returned to the headquarters. Rachel was there, waiting for her in their room. Princess was wrapped in the little girl’s arms as she ran up to the red-haired woman.
She hugged Edithe’s legs and spoke in a muffled voice, her head buried in Edithe’s pants.
“I am. Sorry, I took so long. The meeting ran a little longer than I thought.”
Rachel drew herself back and looked up at Edithe with wide eyes.
“Is this about what happened yesterday? Those assassins that tried to burn down the building?”
Well, they didn’t try. They succeeded, if only briefly. And the [Enchanters] and [Mages] of the company managed to repair all they could. Even then, however, the building was still damaged and burnt in many places. Luckily, Rachel and Edithe’s room wasn’t one of them, having been guarded by additional protection wards the red-haired woman put in place.
Edithe corrected Rachel, running a finger through the girl’s hair.
“The Iron Champions Company.”
“And they are…”
“The bad guys who have been disturbing us for a while.”
Bringing herself down to meet Rachel’s gaze, Edithe spoke softly.
“This has nothing to do with you. It’s something that matters only to our company.”
The little girl nodded as Edithe took her hand and walked her out of their room.
“Where are we going?”
“It’s going to be a little bit dangerous around here from now on. And while I think it’s good to keep you here, safe from any bad guys that might be after you, I don’t think this place is the safest place you can be right now.”
Edithe stopped at the door and glanced back. Rachel had nothing— she owned nothing when Daniel and Salvos brought her here. Only the doll in her arms belonged to her. So, there was no need to pack.
“For now, you’ll be staying at a temple, with someone I trust.”
Rachel cocked her head just like Salvos would. Edithe nodded.
“Yes, the Sanctum of Elements. There’s a [Priest] I know there. William. I asked him to take care of you, and he said he would.”
Edithe spoke reassuringly as the girl took a hesitant step back, almost like she wanted to run back to her bed and bury herself under the blankets.
“He’s someone I trust. And Salvos and Daniel have met him before too. And I promise I’ll check up on you every day too.”
“Why can’t I just stay here with you?”
Rachel asked, her voice smaller than even she was. Taking a deep breath, Edithe tried to explain.
“Because it’s dangerous. The Iron Champions Company could’ve struck this place while you and I were here. If they did and you got hurt somehow… well, I’d never be able to forgive myself.”
Faces flashed through Edithe’s mind. People she couldn’t protect. People she cared for, killed by a rampaging Greater Demon because she insisted they pretend to be [Heroes].
“I made a promise to Salvos, Rachel.”
Trying to bring up the name of the girl’s idol, Edithe spoke softly and patted her head gently.
“I will keep you safe no matter what. And this is what’ll keep you safe.”
Rachel remained quiet for a moment. She stood at the doorway, unmoving, as a few people passed through the corridor beyond. Gabriel was one of them— however, he ascended the stairs at the end of the hallway, not bothering to even greet Edithe.
Finally, the little girl spoke. And it was a question.
“...when is she going to come back?”
Edithe blinked and watched Rachel reply with a small nod. The red-haired woman hesitated, then lied through her teeth.
“I’m sure she’ll be back soon.”
“Please take care of her, William. And call me if anything happens— no matter how minor.”
“I will, Edithe.”
The [Priest] warmly nodded back to her. He stared at her for a moment, his expression almost sorrowful. Edithe shifted her feet uncomfortably.
“It’s nothing. You’ve just grown so much now.”
“Right, uh, thanks.”
Edithe quickly waved back at William and then shouted her goodbyes to Rachel. The girl kept calling out to her, even as she disappeared amongst the crowds of people making their way through the large city square.
Apparently, most of them were unaware of what happened last night. If they had known that a company war was looming over the horizon, they would surely be a little more afraid. Because company wars were deadly, even if mostly to the adventurers in the companies. Collateral damage still happened— especially when it was two high-leveled individuals fighting.
Edithe was Gold Rank, considered already to be a rarity in small cities. Slightly more common in big cities like Viechester. And if she ended up in a duel with another [Mage] around her level, she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to avoid harming a passerby around her. And considering that Hadrian was at Diamond—
She really didn’t like that it had come to this.
The red-haired woman felt her hands shaking. Even now, while in the middle of the day, walking through a crowded street, she felt fear grip her to the very bone— the pressure from its grasp caused her knees to go numb. It splashed over her like cold water, making her tremble at what was to come.
And more than that.
She didn’t want to see her friends die again. Edithe still remembered hearing Daniel break the news that her team had died. And it broke her. Revenge had not fixed her. It did not fill the void in her heart.
Clenching her fist, Edithe took a few steady breaths, trying to calm herself. I need to relax. She had been asked by Paige to meet at the training grounds to tell her all about what happened in the meeting, but she did not want to think about that right now.
They had not arranged for a specific time, and Edithe really needed some time to just breathe for a moment. And when a woman complimented her on the ruby pendant around her neck— the one Salvos picked out for her— then invited her into the cafe she was standing outside of to try one of the delicious coffees they had…
Edithe decided it wouldn’t hurt to just give a quick taste test. Paige wasn’t impatient, after all. She was very easygoing and kind— although she would’ve teased Edithe for wasting time on coffee and not some good old-fashioned ale.
So Edithe made her stop. She stayed for a little bit. Maybe fifteen minutes at most. She chatted with the waitress who Edithe was pretty sure was flirting with her. But she didn’t swing that way— although with how pushy some men were, she sometimes considered it.
Then she took her leave. She started for the Valiant Dreamers training grounds, passing by the headquarters that looked worse for wear but at least wasn’t a pile of rubble on the ground. Then she reached the gates of the city. A familiar sight from the day before— but this time, it was day.
And there was no smoke billowing in the distance. No burning headquarters. No rush.
That was until Edithe saw the bloodied man stumble up to the front of the gates. The city guards gasped as the man— a trainee of the Valiant Dreamers Company sputtered, crying for help.
Edithe hurriedly asked, running up to him. However, she already knew the answer. She produced a healing potion and gave it to him quickly. The man— a young man, maybe in his early 20s— spoke, pointing back towards the training grounds.
But she expected it. She had feared the worst. And Edithe ran.
This time, she summoned Mistshard. This time, she was not going to be too late. The Greater Spirit appeared flying next to her, flapping her wings and soaring through the air.
“Master, what do you need of him?”
“Mistshard— the Valiant Dreamers training grounds. Go there, now!”
She ordered her Spirit— her summon— to fly ahead of her. Maybe that would have left her vulnerable, but—
“Stop those who are sieging it. Save anyone you can! Hurry!”
Mistshard obeyed. She shot up above the canopy of trees lining either side of the dirt road leading to the small settlement. The place full of new recruits— low-leveled adventurers who had not seen true combat just yet. And Edithe continued cutting through the trees, trying to get there as soon as possible.
By the time she arrived, Mistshard was already there. The [Elemental] was sending a hail of ice down onto a group of hooded individuals. Assassins? No— they had to be members of the Iron Champions Company, right?
The hooded individuals sent a blast of poisonous gas up into the air, pluming it up towards the Greater Spirit, however, Mistshard managed to fly out of the way just in time. Edithe raised a hand and sent a bolt of lightning towards one of the hooded figures— the one closest to her.
And the hooded figure fell dead in an instant, already injured…?
Defeated [Daggermaster Rogue - Lvl. 51]!
Less experience is awarded for defeating an enemy with the help of others!
Gold Rank? Or high-leveled assassins? But these assassins didn’t cloak themselves in the same shadow clothing the Harrowed Vindicators wore. Then who were they?
Edithe didn’t know. All she knew was that there were half a dozen of them. And their attention was now turned to the lone Gold Rank adventurer and her summoned Spirit.
One of the hooded individuals drew a crossbow and fired three bolts at Edithe. She took a step back, ready to dodge it, knowing full well that it was tipped with a dangerous venom. But the bolts doubled midair— then the shadows tripled.
Her eyes widened as she watched the oncoming volley. She began preparing a barrier to intercept it— but would it be enough?
Then a strong gust of wind blew the bolts aside, sending them flying back at the hooded individuals. Paige stumbled out of one of the damaged buildings nearby, wand raised with one arm and the other limply hanging on the side.
She exclaimed as Mistshard flew down once more, striking the hooded individuals with a blast of ice. They leapt back as Edithe ran to her friend’s side, sending regular Fireballs the way of the assassins to keep them busy.
“Paige— what happened?”
“These bastards— dozens of them— attacked us while we were in the middle of our lunch break. They didn’t discriminate, killing everyone they could. So many tried to fight back, but…”
Paige trailed off, glancing back slightly. Edithe’s eyes widened as she saw what was in the room the other [Mage] came out from. Bodies.
Littering the entire floor of the cafeteria were corpses. Members of the Valiant Dreamers Company, killed in a surprise attack.
“Every single one of them was Gold Rank, at least. Two above Level 70, but they were taken down because we singled them out first.”
Edithe hesitated. She reached into her Bag of Holding to grab a healing potion.
Mistshard was sent flying back by an explosion. One of the hooded individuals hurled bombs her way as another rushed forward, drawing two hidden blades and leaping up in the air. Edithe clicked her tongue and sent a spear made of ice at the jumping assassin as Paige fired her own spells at the way of the other assassins.
She caught him mid-air, killing him—
Defeated [Falenstriker Assassin - Lvl. 61]!
Less experience is awarded for defeating an enemy with the help of others!
Class [Summoner of—
She leveled up. But she didn’t get the chance to even register the notification before a spray of acid came her way. Edithe managed to create a barrier just in time, but when the barrier dissipated, she stared.
The woman beside her had been too slow. She had been casting spells too— fighting her hardest. But she had been injured. And now…
Paige’s skin was melting. She was writhing on the floor, screaming and clawing at her face.
Edithe stared at her friend as she cried out in agony. And for a moment, she couldn’t move. She couldn’t react. Fear gripped her just as it did before. When Paul saved her. When he died.
And another spray of acid came her way. She glanced up, still caught in a daze, stupidly staring—
But a barrier of ice formed around her. A dome covered her entirely, breaking her out of her trance. Edithe stepped forward, not knowing where this protection came from— if it was Mistshard or someone else who had cast that.
But she fumbled for the healing potion she held in her hand. She uncorked it and stood over her whimpering friend.
Edithe began to pour it, begging, pleading that it would work. That it would bring back all the skin that had been lost. But all that showed was bones. The white ivory underneath a Human’s skin.
The screaming face of a woman— a friend— on the skull that remained.
Edithe stared at her friend’s corpse. At what Paige had become. Then she dropped to her knees, weeping. Blasts resounded behind her. Explosions. The sounds of battle.
But she didn’t stop crying until it was over. When Baris undid his spell, receding the ice dome back into nothing. When he had killed the assassins that had sieged his training grounds, with the help of the [Ice Elemental].
He looked down at Edithe, crying on the floor, tears pouring out of her face, a deluge of rage within her heart. And she stared up at Baris, speaking through gritted teeth.
She said, meeting his gaze.
“This can’t go on.”
It was a statement. It was not a plea— it was clear what she meant. And Edithe knew that Baris agreed with her. They couldn’t hold out like this.
That something had to change with them and how they approached the Iron Champions Company, or something else had to happen.
Something else had happened.
It wasn’t something that I didn’t like. I leveled up! However...
Defeated [Horned Drake - Lvl. 68]!
Experience is awarded for defeating an enemy!
Defeated [Horned Drake - Lvl. 64]!
Less experience is awarded for defeating an enemy with the help of others!
Subspecies [Midday Changeling] Level Up!
[Midday Changeling – Lvl. 63] -> [Midday Changeling – Lvl. 64]
Gained 5 Stat Points and 3 Skill Points!
“Hey! That was mine!”
“What do you mean that was yours? It was chasing you down!”
I scowled and stepped over the body of the large monster.
“I was leading it on, so that I could finish it off with a Blazing Bolt. Their scales are tough!”
“It was only Level 64. Just admit it, Salvos. You’re tired and hurt.”
“So? You are too!”
The Human man wiped the grime and dirt from his face— he wore a withered expression. The type he usually had when he hadn’t slept for a week. However, we had only been traveling through the Drakes’ territories for a few days.
“That’s because you insisted we passed through here before going back. And unlike last time, we went straight past their Lair!”
I snorted and shook my head.
“At least we didn’t attack it. They attacked us and chased us here.”
“We didn’t attack it because there was that huge Level 90 Drake guarding it alongside a dozen others! We’d have died!”
“Not if you used your [Hero’s Slash] on her while I distracted them with my [Title Skill: Zealous Call]! Then we’d have taken them out easily! But no— you chose to run instead.”
I felt annoyed that we passed out on some good experience. It wasn’t our fault they got aggressive just because we came close. Even worse was how they chased us down even now, when we were far away from their Lair.
Wild, I thought, glancing down at the corpse of the Drake.
Daniel muttered and walked ahead, arms crossed.
“We’ll close to the roads now, Salvos. Then we’ll be heading straight back to Viechester.”
I huffed, following after him. He paused and turned back, facing me with an arched brow.
“You know what that means, right?”
I blinked. Then the realization hit me.
“Aw— please, no.”
“You have to, Salvos.”
“But didn’t you hear what Lily said?”
I petulantly stomped around him, throwing a fit like I often saw Human children do. Daniel just gave me a blank stare. Sighing, I stopped acting like a child— not because of him, but because Edithe had told me once before that I shouldn’t do that.
Then I steeled myself and met the Human man’s gaze.
Slowly, I felt my body shift. Pops resounded off my body— like short bursts of thunder. Or rocks being grounded into each other. And the world around me grew.
I shrunk back down, no longer taller than my companion. My claws disappeared as my skin turned to a less pale color. More olive, but slightly white even still.
Then I faced Daniel and spread my arms wide.
The Human man blushed and hurriedly faced away.
“What are you— not right now! Put on some clothes first!”