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Brandon was going to make Kayden pay twice-fold for the humiliation he had caused him. Not only did his reputation take a hit, but he himself also took a beating from the local A-ranked adventurer. Suffice to say, he was not having a good day.

He stared ahead at the tall man, his knives out and ready to fight. Brandon didn’t pay much attention to him before but, now that he was assessing his opponent, he could tell that Kayden looked quite young.

‘Sigh, someone this young dared make a complete fool out of me.’

Now how did it all start? Right, when he had joined that damned woman’s party. When he had arrived at Dragonsteel city to take part in the new dungeon’s exploration, he obviously needed a suitable party to do so. With only him and his lackey, Ryan, despite both of them being B ranked, they were looking to die if they wished to explore the dungeon solely by themselves. After all, the Adventurer’s Guild had already classified the dungeon to be a C to B ranked, which was indicative of its difficulty.

When a dungeon is classified under a certain rank, it meant that any adventurer outside the specified grade cannot participate in the exploration. That includes the A and S-grade adventurers, who surpass the difficulty rating by one to two grades. What this meant for him is that the competition for any treasure within the dungeon will only be at around his level.

The reason that they forbid A and S ranked adventurers from joining in for the fun was due to an incident that happened a long time ago. As dungeons were avenues for huge profit, one particularly maniacal S-ranked adventurer went around clearing dungeons left and right, leaving nothing for others.

This left many adventurers unsatisfied as many money-making opportunities were lost and they, understandably, confronted that particular S-ranked adventurer. Long story short, they died. With so many lives meaninglessly lost, the Adventurer’s Guild revoked the S-ranked adventurer’s license and imposed this new system where adventurers outside of the difficulty grade cannot enter the dungeon.

Of course, many tried to circumvent this rule, sneaking into dungeons by faking their adventurer ranks, but the Adventurer’s Guild was harsh. Anyone who dared bite the hands that fed them would have large bounties set on them, which were profitable enough to stir a frenzy among A-ranked adventurers, making them hunt the perpetrators like ravenous sharks.

Anyway, less competition meant more treasure to be had, and a full team of B-ranked adventurers would theoretically be the strongest force within this dungeon. Brandon sought to join the strongest party to obtain the largest possible advantage he could have over others.

Naturally, he asked around, or at least, he forced his lackey to and gathered information on the strongest parties in Dragonsteel city. One party particularly stood out to him, a party whose leader was named the Crimson Menace. A party made up of B-ranked adventurers, a party leader with a reputation, and to top it all off, they were missing two party members after two members had left.

There would never be a party that suited his needs more perfectly than this, and thus, he tried to join in as soon as possible. Ah, he remembered that fateful day when he joined that particular party, and how he oh so regrets it, even until now.

***

Ryan was currently leading the impatient Brandon towards a specific bar where some people were waiting for them. He had managed to arrange a meeting with a party that Brandon seemed very interested in joining, and they were now going to go through some sort of interview.

After a long walk from the inn where they resided, they had arrived at their destination, the Tense Lady. It was a cozy little tavern that occupied a spot in the southeast area of the inner city.

“Alright, this is the spot. Now, remember, Brandon, try to keep your head cool. You don’t want to antagonize our potential future colleagues.”

“Yeah yeah… Let’s get it over with.” Said Brandon as he swung open the wooden door. The door slammed open with a bang, which announced their presence to the patrons of this establishment. Many pairs of eyes scrutinized them from their seats, silently admonishing them for disturbing the quiet atmosphere.

Brandon didn’t back down from a challenge and stared right back, and many turned away immediately. Unfortunately, their eyes turned to Ryan instead, especially since he had such an odd appearance. His clothing was the same style as Brandon’s, old, tattered clothing with studded leather armor, but that wasn’t the unusual part. His face was elongated forwards, very much like a lizard, which was only accentuated by the long, forked tongue that hung outside his mouth.

His appearance was a result of a mixture of his blessing, the Blessings of a Reptile, and his bad luck, which let him be born like this. But it didn’t matter, throughout the years of his life, he had already gotten used to the looks he got from people.

Ignoring the looks from the patrons, Ryan spotted an occupied table in the far-right corner, which was the table where the meeting would take place. With the confident gait of a B-ranked adventurer, he strutted towards the table with Brandon trailing close behind.

The table was filled with several mugs of amber liquid, and it was occupied by three people. One of the three was a man with a dark blue hood that covered most of his features, except the very prominent tattoo on his face. His name was Conner, and it was him that Ryan got in contact with to propose the meeting.

Conner sat across another man who Ryan didn’t recognize. The man had light brown hair that was tied into a ponytail, and he wore complicated robes with many beads incorporated into his outfit. His neck hung a necklace of beads, his waist a belt of beads and each of his limbs had several bracelets on them and they were made of… you guessed it, beads. The beads were of many different colors which made him stand out colorfully among the crowd.

Sitting in between them was a woman that he also didn’t recognize, though Ryan could guess right away that it was the Crimson Menace. It wasn’t a difficult guess considering her hair, eyes and outfit were all a crimson red, and Ryan noticed that she looked quite cute.

‘Oh no… Brandon’s got a thing for cute women… This is going to be a problem. And what’s with her outfit? How do you even protect yourself from attacks on your vitals? S-she’s doing this on purpose, isn’t she?’

Ryan elbowed Brandon and gave him a look that said, ‘Stay cool’, and raised his arm in greeting.

“Conner! What’s up! Glad you could arrange a meeting for us!”

“Ah. Ryan! Glad you could make it,” Conner looked at the man standing Ryan, who was ogling at their party leader with zero sense of shame. “This… gentleman… here is the other party member who would like to join us, I assume?”

“Yes! Conner, meet Brandon. Brandon, this is Conner.”

Conner held out a hand for a handshake as he said, “Nice to meet you. I hope we get along well.”

Unfortunately for Conner, Brandon was barely listening and, in a daze, gripped his hand a little bit too hard. Ryan’s worst fears were being confirmed as it was clear for all to see that Brandon had been completely charmed by the Crimson Menace. As his grip tightened, Conner began to wince, and Ryan had to quickly put a stop to it.

He kicked Brandon in the shins, which quickly snapped him out of his daze, and before Brandon could shout out in pain, Ryan coughed lightly and pointed at his tightly-gripped hand. Brandon noticed his mistake immediately and let go.

Bowing, Ryan quickly apologized for his partner’s behavior. “I’m very sorry about this—”

“No, it’s fine,” Conner quickly waved him off. “Many men have fallen head over heels for our leader. It takes a true man to look past her pretty face.”

That was a very obvious jab at Brandon, and Conner quickly earned a quick glare from him. However, he spoke no words to defend himself. After all, he was enamored.

‘What’s there not to like? A cute face, curvy body, a B ranked adventurer just like him, and with a fearsome reputation to boot. She’s the perfect woman in my eyes.’

Ryan laughed half-heartedly and sat down; another kick in the shins and Brandon followed suit. The five of them sat comfortably around the small table and it was Ryan that spoke up first to begin the discussion.

“Alright, I know we got off on the wrong foot, but let us introduce ourselves. I’m Ryan, and my role in a party would be either a scout or a ranged attacker. I’m also quite nimble and can climb all sorts of surfaces.”

The Crimson Menace looked at Ryan’s face curiously before speaking up for the first time. “You’re a reptilian Beastperson, right?”

Ryan gave a polite smile, but with his features, it came off more as a menacing grin. “No. Contrary to what I look like, I’m still a human.”

“Alright then, what about you?” Aisha looked to the right and her eyes landed on Brandon. Seeing that it was his turn, Brandon puffed up his chest.

“I’m known as the mighty Brandon the Barbarian. I can construct a weapon with solidified mana and am stronger than most people,” He flexed his muscles as if to prove his point. “I’ve heard of you Crimson Menace… Why don’t you be my—”

“That’s it?”

“W-what do you mean?”

“Your abilities… is that all you can do?”

“You… Are you making light—”

“Okay let’s calm down for a second,” Ryan held Brandon back from blowing up in anger, “My partner here is really skilled with a sword, and his blessings allow him to grow stronger the more injured he becomes. I assure you that his capabilities in a fight are very high.”

“Skilled with a sword? Are you even half as skilled as our leader? We won’t know until you prove it.” said the man with many beads.

“I don’t see why I have to prove anything to you.”

“Alright guys, stop!” Aisha had to step in as well, which Ryan shot her a grateful look for. She looked at each of her party members. “Why are you guys antagonizing them? I was just asking a question,” She gave an apologetic smile, which made Brandon’s heart flutter.

“Besides, we do need new party members, and a ranged attacker and tank would be perfect.”

And so, the pair managed to join the party of B-ranked adventurers and began their preparations for the new dungeon. During their preparations, they went on several goblin hunts to test their coordination, and Brandon found out the truth.

‘They were weak!’

Back in the present, Brandon was smacking his forehead in regret. The party members were incompetent, and the Crimson Menace herself was, at best, mediocre.

What did I even see in that woman!”

Ryan, who was beside him at this moment, gave him an exasperated look. “You’re still hung up over that? Just get over it already!”

“The adventurers of this city are all garbage! The only thing they know is fighting goblins! I was a massive fool for wanting to join a local party.”

“Well, not all of them…” Ryan shuddered visibly, and so did Brandon too, but even worse. Both of them remembered the one adventurer that played with them like they were nothing.

Ryan had been knocked out completely in one blow, and thus, didn’t get as harsh a beat down. Brandon, however, was tough and had the ability to grow stronger the more injured he got. This didn’t mean that he couldn’t feel pain though.

Brandon recalled those bright-yellow eyes that glowed in the dark, her footsteps echoing throughout the silent alley, and the unnerving smile on her face. Chills ran down his spine as he remembered the humiliation, she had caused him.

“I didn’t think that some people could be so dumb… You were warned, weren’t you?” said the A-ranked adventurer, the eerie smile still plastered on her face. The sounds of footsteps came to a stop, but it was followed by the sounds of a cocking gun. “Don’t you worry, these are just rubber bullets. They won’t kill you”

And what followed was a world of pain. Brandon could still feel the stinging pain of multiple bruises all over his body.

“But that all ends today! That damned woman, I’ll make her regret messing with me!” A straight glowing blade with no guard formed in his right hand as he readied himself for combat.

“Look, I’m not very eager to die anytime soon, so you’re on your own.” Ryan shook his head and stood rooted to his position. He didn’t wish to antagonize someone so blatantly powerful.

“Haha! That’s fine… Beating up two C-ranked adventurers is gonna be a cakewalk.” He said, brandishing his sword. With a loud war cry, he charged forward to meet his adversary.

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Kageko

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