"Uh," Sev said. He glanced at the rest of the team, and they all seemed equally stumped. Except for Misa, but the expression she was wearing was her 'punch this problem until it goes away' expression, which more or less translated to being stumped. "I don't suppose I can convince you you have the wrong room?"
"With a mana surge like that?" Jerome chuckled. His tone was almost casual. "I doubt it."
The paladin wore an easy sort of smile — but it was a smile that carried with it an edge of danger. His stance was casual, with his legs crossed and his arms folded, and yet his sword was within an inch of his fingers. Sev had no doubt that he could draw his sword and attack them almost faster than they could react, and he also had no doubt that the sword wasn't Jerome's real method of attack. It was intimidation.
Attacking at all would be a terrible idea, of course. The Guild was enchanted against exactly that sort of thing, and while Jerome likely had ways around enchantments at his level, there was always some kind of backlash from ripping through high-level enchantments. He wouldn't get away scot-free even if he tried. Even a Platinum ranker wouldn't.
The threat was there, though. And the threat was more than enough, in most cases: The protection of those enchantments didn't extend beyond the grounds of the Adventurer's Guild, so they weren't completely reliable.
Whether that threat would work on this team was a different story.
Sev had no idea what Jerome wanted with them. Presumably, he wanted to learn who it was that had actually discovered the dungeon — and then... what, intimidate them into keeping their mouths shut about it? But he'd only found them after they'd joined the meeting with the Elyran delegates, so that didn't make any sense.
Then again, Jerome didn't have any way of knowing how the meeting went.
...Well, when in doubt, confuse the enemy. De-escalation 101!
"Well, alright then," Sev said with a shrug. "You wanna hang out?"
"Why do you thi—" Jerome started, clearly expecting a different response. He stopped mid-sentence as he parsed what Sev had actually said; the cleric could almost hear the gears in his brain slowly clicking into place. "What?"
"I said, do you want to hang out?" Sev repeated. "If you're going to be in this room you might as well, right? We were going to help Derivan here train a bit. Derivan, why don't you introduce yourself?"
"Hello," Derivan said. He didn't see a particular need to repeat what his name was, so he opted to wave instead.
The clang of his armor sounded awkwardly in the room as he did so.
"...Are you an idiot?" Jerome frowned. "That's not why I'm here."
"I had to give you the benefit of the doubt. Personal policy." Sev grinned, shrugging like he wasn't at all concerned about the very dangerous man in their room. There were four of them, and Misa had her skill... and if Jerome was a paladin, then he'd have a rather unique advantage. "It's not like we've actually spoken to you, so there was always the chance you could actually be kinda cool, you know? Are you sure you don't want to just hang out?"
The paladin paused. He frowned slightly, then straightened up so he wasn't leaning against the wall anymore. "...I am here to talk about the dungeon."
Almost at the same time, Vex blinked and furrowed his brows, staring closely at Jerome. Sev glanced at his friend. Good. He remembered.
"What about it?" Sev asked, raising an eyebrow. "And will you get more comfortable? I don't know about you, but standing in a closet and talking is kind of uncomfortable for me."
As he spoke, he was already climbing out, the rest of his team following suit behind him. Truth be told, he had no idea what he was doing — his heart was hammering in his chest. Where were Jerome's teammates? He was, in a way, grateful that they weren't here; they'd almost certainly be outmatched in a four-on-four fight. But he was also worried that they weren't here.
That said, four-on-one, they had a bit more of a fighting chance, depending on the specifics of Jerome's class. But he still didn't want this to get to a fight.
Fortunately for him, Jerome seemed to have no idea what Sev was doing, either. He'd been knocked-off balance, and was off his game. He actually let Sev and the others take up various seats around the room, like the premise of this entire conversation wasn't an implied threat.
Every single member of his team made sure to sit in a way that made their weapons still easily accessible, though. Sev was proud of them for that.
"You just came back from speaking with the Elyran delegates," Jerome finally said. "I'm sure you have questions."
"Like why you pretended you were the one that discovered the dungeon?" Misa raised an eyebrow, her voice challenging.
"I needed access to the dungeon, and political weight only carries me so far." Jerome shrugged. "They wouldn't even have heard me out if I hadn't said I found it. Which means we have a problem here, wouldn't you agree?"
"I'll say," Misa muttered.
"I'm prepared to offer your team a thousand gold to tell them you didn't discover the dungeon, and to give me all the information you have on it." Jerome's offer was straightforward; Misa promptly choked, a sympathetic Vex patting her on the back as she coughed violently.
Jerome waited patiently for her coughing fit to finish before he continued.
"Frankly, it'd do a lot of harm to my reputation if they find out that I lied about it," Jerome said wryly, which was such a blatant lie that Sev had trouble not snorting out loud. "You gain a thousand gold, and you get to not have a team of Gold rankers as an enemy. So, how about it? We both benefit from this deal, no?"
"Just to be clear," Sev said. "You're claiming that one of the benefits to this deal is that you won't be our enemy."
Jerome nodded. "Yes."
"That's a threat, not a benefit," Sev said flatly. "Just so we're on the same page."
Jerome frowned for a second, like he wanted to argue, then paused. "If that's how you want to look at it," he said with a shrug.
They'd been paid a hundred gold pieces for the grade 6 mana crystal, and that was a one in a million sort of mission. This payout would be ten times that; over a thousand times what they earned on a typical quest.
If money were the sort of thing they cared about, Sev mused, this would be the kind of deal that would have bought them over instantly.
"Unfortunately," Sev said — and Jerome tensed, a flicker of an ugly, vicious sort of anger crossing over his face. It was gone as fast as it appeared. "I don't think that'll work."
"And why the hell not?" Jerome's words were a half-growl; silver light began to coalesce around him, and Sev felt his team tense in response.
"They already know we found it," Sev answered. "And they believe us. If we go back to them now, they'll just get even more suspicious."
"They believed you?" Jerome looked outraged, though this time the anger was — thankfully — not directed at them. It was still unpleasant, though. "Fucking shit-pissing Elyrans. They need a truth spell to listen to me, but you newbies just blabber on and they believe you instantly."
Good fucking lord the man's mood had pivoted in an instant. What an asshole. He had a problem with Elyrans, clearly; he saw Vex flinching a little bit in the corner of his vision, and decided to end the conversation as quickly as possible.
No need to tell the paladin that they'd been under truth spell too. No doubt he knew about the enchantments in the upper floor; telling him that would no doubt lead to a whole slew of other uncomfortable questions...
"Fine," Jerome growled. "Just tell me what you know about the damn dungeon. You were there. That dungeon has a bonus room. I want to know what's in it. Or at least what it's based on."
"No?" He decided. "No. I'm not interested in your gold."
"I never said it was a fucking choice." Jerome glared at them, the paladin's body beginning to shimmer with silver power. Sev felt his teammates tense, ready to try to defend him; Misa could defend from a few hits with her skill, but after that...
Jerome paused suddenly, and a nasty smile spread across his face.
"Fine," he said. "You said you wanted to hang out? Help your armored friend train?"
The paladin stepped forward.
"[Divine Suppression], [Golden Aura]," he intoned, and the air around him flashed from silver into a brilliant gold. The same gold threaded out from the man's eyes, too, casting his face in an eerie, almost inhuman glow; at the same time, a weight pressed down on all of them.
Sev found he couldn't move. Couldn't cast.
Jerome stepped forward until he was right in front of Derivan, who didn't move. The armor seemed frozen, too. The paladin pressed a hand to the living armor's chestplate. "[Golden Geas]. You're going to tell me everything I want to know about the dungeon."
There was a flash of light that shot into Derivan's armor, suffusing it in a glow that slowly settled into motes of light. The moment seemed to stretch on entirely too long, and a beat of horror thrummbed in Sev's chest.
Then the paladin smirked. "I don't have to attack you to make your lives miserable. Don't think these wards are perfect. You'll have a few days to fulfil that condition, or your friend over there will slowly turn to gold."
Turning around, Jerome left, pausing just before he strode through the door. "Have fun with that," he said sarcastically, slamming the door shut behind him — and after another moment, whatever suppressive ability he was using switched itself off.
Almost instantly, Misa flung herself at the door. "That fucker—!"
"Don't!" Sev said, trying to pull her back; Derivan reached out for her, too, grabbing the struggling half-orc by the arms and hauling her away. "Don't go after him. It's not worth it right now."
Vex was pale. "Derivan, are you..."
Derivan cocked his head. "I am fine, I think," he said, sounding slightly... amused?
"You... don't sound worried," Sev said, furrowing his brow. The horror in his heart lessened just a bit.
The armor paused, glancing at the door. "Yes, well," he said. "I suspect that skill of his will not do what he believes it will."
"Are you sure?" Misa said sharply. "This is important."
"Not certain, perhaps," Derivan said. "However..."
He flicked them his status screen. In gold letters, hovering underneath Physical Empathy, was a new stat entry.
Golden Geas: 50
"I am reasonably certain that that should not have manifested as a stat," Derivan said.
"What," he managed.
"What does it... do?" Misa asked. The four of them sat on the floor, with Derivan in the middle. Vex hadn't stopped fretting, even knowing that whatever skill Jerome had used apparently hadn't attached correctly to the living armor. The wizard was casting all sorts of diagnostic magic even now, just to make sure that there was no trace of Derivan being forced to turn into gold.
Derivan had pointed out in turn that even turning into gold wouldn't necessarily harm him the way it would anything organic. He'd be a lot softer, which might have been a problem, but it didn't seem to be something they needed to worry about — even after waiting for a while, Vex could detect no change.
"I am unsure," Derivan said. "I believe it gives me a sense for where Jerome is."
"...I don't even know where to begin with that," Sev said with a groan, burying his hands in his face. "Are you serious? Why would it — I have so many questions."
"I think I understand, sort of," Vex finally said softly, though his voice was still timid and a little shaky. "I mean... I was checking Jerome over for magic while we were talking. Remember how Tarilex mentioned that to fool the truth spell, he needs some sort of mind-altering magic?"
"Right," Sev said. "Did you find something?"
"It was a little hard to tell underneath all his protective enchantments," Vex said with a frown. "But I think he was under some sort of geas, too. Maybe even the same type of geas. If he is, then that's probably what you're sensing."
Derivan frowned, then nodded. "This seems correct," he agreed. "I sense... other, smaller presences, I think. They are less noticeable than Jerome."
"So we have a Jerome detector now?" Misa said. "I don't know how to feel about this."
"I would prefer not to know where he is at all times, yes," Derivan said. "From a cleanliness perspective, you understand. From a tactical standpoint, knowing where he is is quite useful."
"We're really lucky he went for you," Sev said with a frown. "I'm sorry, guys. I feel like I kind of fucked up that whole interaction."
"I honestly feel like this is one of the better outcomes," Misa muttered. "Now we know where he is, and... I dunno. Is he under a geas? Should we worry about that?"
"Honestly," Sev sighed. "I don't know."