Lily moved to the room labelled 153 and knocked on the door politely.
“Um… it’s the client. May I come in?”
“Ah, please, enter.”
A deep male voice rang out from within the room in response to her question.
With a tentative touch, Lily eased open the unassuming wooden door,and was greeted by the sight of 5 people.
One, a large man, looking to be in his early thirties. He had fair skin framed by messy black hair. He wore a heavy-looking set of armor, dyed an earthy brown. On his back was a large kite-shaped shield, and on his hip was a shortsword.
On his left and right were a pair of elven women who looked identical to each other, down to their armor. They were both wearing light armor with a leather breastplate that was adorned with leaf motifs. Their legs were clad in tight-fitting leather leggings that ended in a pair of cloth shoes. Their identical green eyes and golden hair watched Lily with interest.
Standing a bit behind the pair was a Nekoi man with black hair and yellow eyes. His cat ears twitched back and forth constantly, with his tail casually sweeping around behind him. Dressed in light leather armor accented by a simple shortbow slung across his torso, he gave a little wave and a smile as Lily entered the room.
Finally, standing to the side apart from the rest of the group, was a grey-eyed girl of Lily’s age, with black hair tied into twintails that extended to her waist. She wore only cloth on her body, with a formfitting black shoulderless blouse adorning her upper torso. At her hip, the blouse extended out to form half a skirt, covering the back and side views of her legs, leaving the front view exposed, allowing one to see that her legs were clad in a pair of black metal boots that extended to just above her knees, with an array of grooves running along their length. Her hip was covered by a secondary miniskirt within the half-skirt, allowing the white skin between the hem of her skirt and the top of her boots to be clearly visible. At her hip was an ornately decorated scabbard, partially covered in green rope. Peeking out from the scabbard was the hilt of a katana.
It was to this last individual that Lily directed her first greetings.
With a loud shout, Lily threw herself at the katana-user and wrapped the other girl in an embrace. Hina merely smiled and returned the hug.
“It’s been too long. I think the last time we spoke was… a year ago? When I first joined this party.”
“I knew it! I knew you would be here. But, wow. Gold already? Isn’t that incredibly fast?”
The large, heavy-armor wearing man answered on Hina’s behalf.
“Yes, it is. A year to get to Gold is almost unheard of. A testament to Hina’s ability, I suppose. In any case, nice to meet you, Miss Voirgaire. I’m Gorin. Gold-ranked adventurer, First Vanguard. Defence specialist.”
Lily hurriedly shook the outstretched hand, then bowed her head in greeting.
“Ara, a polite one. That’s nice, isn’t it, Anya.”
“Yes, it certainly is, Enya.
“Hina did say she was well-educated, but having such a cute childhood friend… uuu, I’m jealous.”
“Indeed; friendship is a wonderful thing.”
“Well, since we’re doing introductions, hey there! I’m Enya, Gold Ranked adventurer. I’ll be in charge of healing, so leave it to me to keep you healthy!”
“I am Anya. Gold-ranked adventurer, barrier specialist. I look forward to working with you.”
The elven twins were the ones to speak this time. Anya and Enya. Appearance-wise, they were impossible to distinguish, but their personalities were… rather different. Reeling slightly from the torrent of words addressed to her, Lily mumbled out a quiet greeting, as she turned to the Nekoi man.
“Ah, my turn, is it? Nice to meet you. Name’s Christopher, but call me Chris. Gold-ranked adventurer, and I hold the rear guard.”
Christopher offered Lily another wave, to which she replied with a smile.
“And of course, you already know me, but formalities need to be followed. Hina Sakamoto. Gold-ranked first vanguard, and offensive specialist. It’s nice to see you again.”
Lily giggled a bit at being re-introduced to her childhood friend and hugged her again.
“Eh~ why does she get to hug Hina? I want to hug Hina too~ It’s not fair~”
The complaints of an elf could briefly be heard, but nobody really paid it much mind. Anya patted her troubled sister’s head in consolation.
Gorin cleared his throat to get Lily’s attention.
“Ah, I’m sorry if I’m interrupting this reunion, but… could we perhaps hear the details of the job now?”
Lily seperated from Hina, cheeks flushed.
“Oh, o, of course.”
She coughed and patted herself off while regaining her composure.
“So… the request is to escort me to the newly discovered 33rd floor, opened last month, and protect me while there. The request will be completed upon my safe return.”
Gorin nodded, then continued.
“Yes, that’s what the request said, but for what purpose are you going down to the 33rd floor, and how long will you be down there?”
“I’m going there to try and find new types of ore that I can use in my machines. I will be staying down there as long as it takes for me to locate and excavate the ore I require. Thus, I might need you to accompany me down for several days. That said, I don’t expect it to take more than 3 days, at most.”
Gorin rubbed his chin with his thumb and forefinger.
“Hm. That is acceptable.”
As if to punctuate his agreement, a voice resounded throughout the complex, carried by a <<Resound Jewel>> embedded in the wall of the room.
[[Attention all adventurers. The Labyrinth of Azoria is now active. Please use the transfer circles located in the waiting rooms to access the Labyrinth. Thank you, and stay safe.]]
The <<Resound Jewel>> was an expensive crystal that allowed for sounds in one jewel to be broadcast from another linked jewel. Linkage was done by touching two crystals together for five to nine seconds while submerged underwater, and it was possible to link multiple crystals to one central jewel.
As the announcement ended, a <<Magic Circle>> of the <<Transference>> magic type appeared in a corner of the room, apart from where the party was standing. Soft white light diffused from it, bathing the room in a subtle glow. Presumably, in each of the other 159 waiting rooms, a similar scene was taking place.
The five members of <<Battleforged>> casually stepped onto the glowing white circle. Hina stretched out her hand to Lily with a smile.
Returning the expression, Lily took the outstretched palm graciously and stepped into the circle. Ascertaining that all members were in the circle, Gorin took off one gauntlet, held out a small knife to the back of his hand and drew it across. As Enya silently healed the miniscule cut, Gorin put his gauntlet back on and held the bloodstained knife above the <<Transfer Circle>>, pointed down. A drop of blood fell onto the etched surface, and the white glow of the circle changed to a soft, red light. And then they were gone.