Terra and Aurivy were waiting for me back in the Admin Room when I arrived. Well, Terra was waiting for me while having a flailing Aurivy in her arms. “Put me down~!” She cried out pitifully as she struggled, though Terra only grinned broadly and held her even closer.
Seeing that I had arrived, she turned her attention to me with that same smile. “So, how’d it go?”
“Pretty good, I think. I got a reward for setting them up like that, and the balm worked perfectly.” When I saw that Alchemist was in my list of classes that the world had already unlocked, I had decided to get a quick lesson from Terra on how to unlock it. She was only too happy to teach me how to create a healing balm that could potentially save my life. Although it only healed a maximum of 50 health, that was still enough to completely save anyone in the current world.
I had also learned during my training that the distance for Blink Step, the actual name of the ability I learned at 5th level, was dependant on the amount of Chakra used for it. I could only hope that those Felyn I left the Ninja class with would be able to figure out some of its secrets. However, Terra seemed to be interested in something else that I said.
Closing her eyes, she made a brief sound of exclamation. “Oh, nice. You got the Trainer’s Talent? That should come in handy in the future for you.”
“Uhm… explanation please?” I asked, doing my best not to mind the pleading expression of Aurivy, who was reaching her arms out as if begging me to save her.
“It’s a basic Keeper reward. Any time you try to train someone from now on, your words will carry extra weight to your ‘students’, to help them absorb the knowledge more easily. Most Keepers get it after training a few people in their world.” Terra explained, moving over to sit down on the bed, placing the halfling goddess in her lap.
“I see. I don’t suppose you could help guide me towards other good buffs?” I asked with a knowing smile.
Terra just giggled lightly, shaking her head. “Sorry, rules are rules. There should be a few listed on the forums, or you can ask the Keepers in the meeting for advice.”
I nodded, having already known that she wouldn’t be able to help me with that. “Alright, I guess I should get ready. I should pause my world, though, before I go.” Not wanting to come back to any unexpected disasters, I walked over to the computer, quickly finding the button to pause the world at its current time. Then, looking back, I asked Terra, “You going to be coming with me?”
Again, she shook her head. “I’ll stay here and play with little Rivy for a while.” She grinned mischievously at me, before continuing. “Give you a chance to meet some people when I’m not looking over your shoulder. Just be careful not to get distracted~.”
With a sigh, I could only nod my head in response. Really, this was the first time that I would be without Terra since I started this whole Keeper business. I mean, even when I descend to the world, she’s only a prayer away. “Just to confirm, these meetings are completely safe, right?”
Terra nodded, smiling gently to me. “They’re safe, Dale. From what I know, they are always held in the Admin Room of the host Keeper, where no harm can come to any of the participants. Even if you duel someone for one of the games, there will not be any real damage.”
That reassured me, a little at least. Walking over to the wardrobe, I opened it to look for something nice to wear. Inside, I found a black tuxedo with a white undershirt, and matching black pants. To be more accurate, those were currently the only things in the wardrobe. In front of it were well-polished black dress shoes. Seemed like Terra had already picked out my outfit for the occasion.
While I was getting dressed, I heard Aurivy let out a light gasp, and turned to see her cover her eyes. I chuckled lightly, earning another giggle from Terra as I finished changing into the outfit she had chosen for me. “Try not to break her while I’m gone.” I said as I moved over to the computer, sending the message to Alkahest that I was ready for the meeting.
“No promises~!” Terra called out, at the same time that I received a message from the system.
Durandor has invited you to her Administration Room with Guest privileges.
Do you wish to accept? Y/N
Figuring that this must be the host for the meeting, I quickly accepted the invitation, closing my eyes and waiting for some terrible mode of transition. However, nothing happened. Ten seconds later, I opened my eyes, looking around to make sure that no magical door had silently appeared for me to step through. “Well, that’s not ri-”
Suddenly, a pitch black hole opened up on the floor beneath my feet, and I let out a somewhat girlish scream as I fell into it. I felt the wind rushing against my face, my nice suit fluttering in the wind. And I just kept falling through the black abyss. And falling… and falling.
I lost track of just how long it had been, but eventually, I saw a speck of light below me. Thankfully, by that time I had regained control over my vocal chords, and I was no longer screaming my lungs out. Though, the sight of ground rapidly approaching did not inspire me with much confidence.
Raising my arms protectively to shield my head, I found myself suddenly stopping in mid air, just above that circle of light. Beneath me, I could hear several indistinct voices chatting casually. I hovered there for just a brief moment, before dropping through the circle and landing on a rough wooden floor with a gasp being forced out of my mouth.
A few of the people around me looked with pitying gazes, while others chuckled playfully. It seemed like most of them knew all about this travel method I had been subjected to, and some even found entertainment in watching. However, I quickly saw a familiar face walking towards me. Alkahest, no… Grimor was walking towards me, in a scaled down version of his normal three-eyed, two horned body.
“Ah, glad to see that you made it on time! Was worried when you didn’t show up right away, but I guess it made sense if you got that one.” He laughed loudly, shaking his head. “Anyways, welcome to your first Keeper gathering. We’ll be starting the formal event in a few moments, since it seems like everyone has arrived now.”
Really… I had tried to get here early… I thought to myself, looking down at my disheveled suit. “Well, is there somewhere I should go for this?” I asked as I looked around.
The Administration room I had been brought to this time was truly massive. I could not see any of the walls beyond the horizon, and the ceiling was a full thirty meters above us. Decorating it was a mix of red and gold artwork depicting various mythical creatures, some of which were present in the room.
For the Keepers themselves, almost half of the ones I saw appeared to be human, while the others were a variety of other races. Some had two arms, or three arms, or even ten arms, while others had a horse body, a spider body, or snake body. There was even one Keeper I could see that looked like a dragon!
Did he eat the previous Keeper to get the job? I mused inwardly, before noticing that Grimor was shaking his head.
“No, just stand wherever. We can’t exactly make seating arrangements for such varied body types, can we?” He asked with a bitter smile, before another voice reverberated through the crowd.
“Attention, everyone. The 271st semi-annual Keeper meeting, hosted by the Gilded Branch guild. For those of you unfamiliar with these meetings, I am Seraphine, owner of the title Durandor. I will be your host for the day.” Craning my neck, I managed to make out an absolute angel of a woman standing on a high altar, so that she could see and be seen by everyone. No really, she was an angel. Complete with the white wings, a radiant aura, and a glowing halo above her head.
“Now, as the first order of business, I would like to extend greetings to the new Keepers among us, those who have been discovered since the last meeting.” She waved her hand, and six pillars of light descended from the ceiling, landing on six individuals. Naturally, one of these was myself.
With the lights shining on them, pillars also rose beneath their feet, ensuring that all of the Keepers present were able to identify the new people. Taking the chance, I decided to look at the other new Keepers as well. They really were quite varied in appearance.
First of all, the dragon that I had noticed earlier was on the pillar closest to myself. He assumed a proud stance, lifting his head into the air. His scales were a deep red, his wings nearly touching the ceiling after being raised on the pillar.
The next two closest to me appeared human, though on a second glance one was actually an elf. They were a man and a woman. The man, a black male dressed in a long red robe. And the woman, an elven beauty with red hair going down to the small of her back. She wore a loose fitting toga with golden decorations, and a crown of leaves on her head.
Next, there was what appeared to be a centaur. With the body of a horse covered in black fur, turning into the body of a man wearing a white shirt. It was easy to see his muscles through the shirt, even at this distance, and he waved sheepishly to the crowd.
Finally, at a distance I could barely make out, there was another woman. Though this one… I’d rather not get to know too well. It’s not that she looked mean or anything. Quite the contrary, she was happily waving at the crowd as if she was excited to be here. But… she was an Arachne, a woman with the body of a giant spider. Her lower, spider body was as big as a horse, pitch black with red markings. Meanwhile, her upper body was wearing a brown dress that clung tightly to the curves of her chest.
Giving everyone plenty of time to see the new Keepers, Seraphine again called out. “These six have joined our community, and have shown no ill will towards us. As such, I ask that everyone be courteous towards them. Anyone found breaking the rules of this gathering will be punished to the full extent of the laws set forth by the Gilded Branch.”
“These rules are simple. Do not try to extort points from other Keepers. Do not try to bully others, or force yourselves on the Companions brought by fellow Keepers. When it comes time for the games, do not cheat using whatever extraordinary powers you may possess, because we will be watching. If you feel that you have an unfair advantage in a particular game, due to an ability you can’t disable, it is suggested that you find a different game.”
“And finally…” A small smile broke onto Seraphine’s face before she finished. “Do try to enjoy yourselves, everyone.” After she said that, she allowed the pillars and light to recede, lowering the new Keepers to the ground. However, of the veterans, none made a move yet, still watching Seraphine.
“At this time, I would like to call Grimor to the stand, to deliver his regular report.” Looking to my side, I saw as Grimor nodded, before using a single jump to cover the distance between us and Seraphine, cleanly landing on her platform.
Turning around, he gave a polite bow to the woman that was presumably the leader of his guild, before he faced the crowd. “Recently, there have been several Keepers lost to us. Some were removed by the Dread Eye, others by the Virtuous Virtual, and still more by independent Keepers. These men and women are no longer with us, and their worlds have been returned to the system.”
At that point, Grimor began listing off Keeper titles, none of which I had previously heard of. However, there was one that caught my attention. Not because it was familiar to me, but because it caused the dragon to abruptly raise its head in shock. Most likely, it had been the Keeper that he replaced which had just been mentioned.
After listing roughly thirty names, Grimor finally finished. “In honor of those that have fallen, we carry on. To beat the system, and find the True Keeper!” He raised his hand as he said that last part, causing many of the veterans to mimic his motion and shout out in unison.
““For the True Keeper!””
The hell is the True Keeper? I asked myself, confused. I guess that would be added to the questions I would ask once the ‘official’ part of this meeting was over.