Chapter 26: let the games begin

Following the flow of traffic, and the arrows painted into the ceiling to guide us, I made my way towards the game area. The journey felt like it took nearly an hour, before I finally saw the nearest walls. When I arrived, I found a hall filled with doors, each door bearing its own label. One was ‘Gambling Room’, another was ‘Race Field’, and others were things like ‘Talent Show’. 

As I walked down the hallway, I saw Keepers casually entering through each of the doors. Through each door, there appeared to be a large room, something that should not have been possible, given that the doors were placed immediately next to each other. Keeper logic… 

Looking back at the entrance to the hall, there were five people that seemed hesitant to enter. Naturally, these were the other five new Keepers, who didn’t seem to know which door to go through. Slowly, four of them began walking forward, taking a peek into the various doors in the same manner that I had. However, there was one that was completely incapable of taking a step forward, the dragon with the title of Jugularnaut. 

The dragon looked through the hall, its eyes half closed and wings drooping. Its body was simply too large to fit through the hallway. I saw Seraphine approach from the side, attracting the dragon’s attention. Due to the clamor of the crowd, I could not make out the conversation they were having. However, he did not seem pleased with the ideas. 

After turning his head up and pretending to ignore the angel woman, Seraphine crossed her arms and spoke in what must have been a harsh tone. Something that she said must have worked, because he slowly looked back to her, before nodding. A few moments later, and his body began to shrink down. Once it was done, he looked like an eight foot tall, scaled humanoid. Although he still had his wings, he was at least able to enter the hallway. 

By this time, the other four new people had gotten halfway down the hall, around the same spot I was at. The centaur barely took a look around before entering through the door marked ‘Race Field’. The elf likewise went straight for the ‘Talent Show’ door. The human walked a bit further down, before entering through the door marked ‘Treasure Hunt’. 

Finally, the arachne and myself, having no idea which doors were best. She seemed to notice me standing a few feet away from herself, and waved happily. “Hi, there! You’re one of the new Keepers too, right?” She asked with a smile, her eight legs practically shaking in excitement. 

“Yeah, that’s right…” I said hesitantly. I know that there was no danger here, and that this woman actually seemed really friendly. Still, spider body, not exactly a widely accepted beauty aspect where I grew up. More likely to find spiders the subject of a horror movie. 

“Nice to meet you.” She nodded her head quickly. “I’m Kathy.” She introduced herself, leaning down and extending a hand in greeting. I hadn’t been able to accurately get a sense of her height before, but she really was tall. Nearly nine feet from the top of her head to her spider legs. After shaking my hand, she stood back up and looked at the nearby doors. “Guess you’re not too sure about where to go either, huh?” 

“Pretty much…” I looked a bit deeper into the hall, and found one door that was labeled ‘Simulation’. Seeing that, I began walking towards it out of curiosity. There was a very distinct clicking along the floor behind me, letting me know that Kathy was heading in the same direction. 

Glancing back, I saw her smile and wave as she continued following behind me, and soon we both entered the Simulation room. This room seemed almost as vast as the original lobby we met in, with me just barely being able to see the far wall from my present position. Scattered around the room were twenty wide platforms, each with two stands, one on either side. I saw two people take positions at one of the platforms, and after exchanging a few words, they activated the ‘game’. 

The moment their game activated, the stone floor of the platform seemed to shift, a translucent blue sky appearing in a dome above it. The platform itself seemed to shift like sand, forming mountains and ditches, which then began to fill with water to form rivers. Looking closely, I could see tiny figures begin to appear one by one on the platform. 

At the far wall, a figure stood on a lone pillar. His form seemed barely discernable, but definitely appeared humanoid. As he spoke, his voice echoed throughout the room, easily heard by everyone. “Today’s first Simulation tournament will begin in one hour. Anyone that wants to participate may take this time to practice and familiarize themselves with the rules. For those unfamiliar, each arena has a copy of the rules for viewing.” 

“Oooh…” I heard Kathy say from behind me, then suddenly felt one of my arms grabbed. “Come on, let’s go play!” She said as she practically dragged me to the nearest unoccupied platform. Not that it was hard for her, she was surprisingly strong. Though, I wasn’t really resisting that much. Honestly, I was curious about this game as well. 

When we arrived at the platform, she quickly scurried over to one end, while I stood at the other. Once we were both in position, a window appeared in front of me. Judging by the gasp of surprise from Kathy, the same thing had happened for her. 

You have chosen to play the Keeper Sim. Do you wish for an explanation of the rules before you begin?

Almost simultaneously, Kathy and I both said ‘Yes’. Looking at each other, there was an awkward silence before she giggled playfully, looking back down to her own window. 

Keeper Sim is a game designed and implemented by the Gilded Branch, in which Keepers can test their ability to command a world against one another. Each game takes place in a Size 2 world, totally 600,000km². Each player may select from one of the available races to play as, and start a kingdom based on that race. Each character in the game is a soul from Hell, who volunteers to participate in the game to earn credit towards freedom into the cycle of reincarnation. Credit is earned based on contribution, so they are always on their best behavior. 

There are multiple game modes for Keeper Sim: Battle, Culture, Tech Race, and Exploration. 

In Battle mode, the objective is to build up your forces, and wipe out the opponent’s base. In order to purchase units, you must harvest gems from near your base. Gems may also be spent to purchase buildings which your units can quickly construct, and upgrades for your technology. To harvest gems, you must assign units to the task. Each player starts with a set number of basic units, depending on their race. 

In Culture mode, the objective is to create a powerful civilization. In this mode, the two players are placed on opposite ends of the world, and must establish a strong culture. Points are awarded based on citizen happiness. While in Culture mode, time within the game is permanently set to 27 million times normal. Every minute of real time, a report will come in giving details of the progress made since the last report. The Culture mode game lasts for 30 minutes, and Keepers can slow down their civilization’s time in order to send messages to key figures, in order to direct advancement. 

In Tech Race mode, a randomly assigned piece of technology is the goal. The winner is whoever is the first to create that piece of technology within their civilization. As with Culture mode, the two civilizations are divided during this time, and time within the world is 54 million times normal. However, players may not choose to slow time. Instead, they are given tech trees to purchase from. Purchases are made with ‘Science Points’, a currency generated every time a player’s civilization gains a new understanding of a piece of technology. By purchasing options in the tech tree, players can slowly make their way towards the desired technology. However, some technologies have multiple prerequisites, and players are not able to see what advancements lie beyond their current options. 

Finally, in Exploration mode, the goal is to be the first to map the entire world. This mode is most similar to Battle mode, where gems are used to purchase units and upgrades. Units may also engage in battle upon meeting each other in this mode, but the winner will be whichever player gets 100% map completion.

After finishing my review of the rules, I looked over and saw that Kathy was still furrowing her brows as she went through them. A few moments later, she gave a content nod, looking up at me with a smile. “Which mode do you want to play? This is my first time playing any games like this, so I’ll let you choose.” 

Honestly, Culture and Tech Race seemed the most interesting to me. However, given that my own experience as a Keeper was lacking, I probably would not know where to start to get whatever technology ended up assigned to us. Likewise, with Culture mode, I’m still not really that good at directing civilizations yet. And, since Exploration mode functioned like Battle mode anyways, there was really only one choice. “Let’s go with Battle mode for this game.” 

Kathy nodded rapidly when she heard that, instantly agreeing. Immediately, the platform between us began to change. A blue sky appeared in a dome above it, complete with clouds. Mountains and rivers began molding themselves into place, and soon we were given another window. 

Please select your race from the listings below.

Following that was a truly massive list of races. I had to guess that there were around a hundred in total, ranging from everything between demons, beasts, humans, elves, and many different monster races. For this test, I decided to go with the centaur race. Their mobility should be able to give them an advantage, and each one is practically a mounted unit. 

On the platform in front of me, a screen appeared. In it, I saw a large wooden hut in the center of a grassy plain. Behind the hut were five pillars of blue gems, and surrounding it were three people. Each one of them had the lower body of a horse, and the upper body of a human. Of the three, two were male and one was a woman, though none of them were clothes. 

As they appeared, one of the men looked towards the sky, speaking out in a voice that I was sure Kathy didn’t hear. “How may we serve, supreme one?” 

I had no idea how to direct the units, so I tried to play it like I would any similar game in my previous life. Using my fingers, I drew a circle around the three units, after which they lit up with a yellow aura. Guess that means they are selected… I then poked the area on the screen where the crystals were, and the three centaurs immediately turned and ran for them. 

Although they were not armed with tools, that did not seem to stop them. Merely placing their hands on the pillars of gems was enough that they were able to draw out a small stone. Once each one had taken a stone, they ran it back to the hut, and I saw a number appear above the building. 


After depositing the gems, they ran back and repeated the cycle. Each time, the centaurs deposited one gem each. Once I had ten gems saved up, I took a look at the available units and buildings that I could purchase. The most basic ‘laborer’ unit cost five gems each, and seemed to be a requirement for any of the later units. In order to speed up production, I immediately bought two laborers, and watched as my income started increasing. 

Only allowed on

Roughly a minute later, I bought a ‘Cartography Hut’, which required a full twenty gems to purchase. However, doing so would allow me to train scouts that could map the terrain. After my purchase, wood and stones suddenly appeared on the ground. The five centaurs looked at the site, and then up into the sky as if waiting as they continued running back and forth between the central hut and the gem pillars. 

Having an idea of what I was supposed to do, I selected two of the male centaurs, and had them move to the construction site. Once there, the stones and wooden boards began flying into the air, performing the construction automatically. Did I simply need to assign units to trigger the construction? 

Ten seconds later, and the hut was complete. I chose to put one of the laborers that had ‘built’ the new building into it, upgrading that unit to a scout. The other one was sent back to work collecting gems. 

With my one scout, I now needed to figure out how to make him explore. I couldn’t manually direct him the entire time. Of course, there weren’t any obvious buttons I could choose from. Instead, I decided that the option must be there, so I went with the only thing I could think of. Poking the scout on the screen with one finger, his body began glowing with the aura of a selected unit. “Explore.” I spoke simply, and the centaur nodded, running off and out of my screen. 

I really hope I can find him later, or that there is some way for me to know when he finds something. I thought to myself, before continuing my base expansion. Given the size of the map, it should still be quite a while before Kathy’s units find my base, but I couldn’t bet on that. 

Seeing that I had another twenty-three gems waiting, I immediately bought four more laborers. Not counting the one I sent out to scout, this gave me eight people farming gems. Though, I soon found that only one centaur could harvest from a pillar at a time. This left the remaining three to harvest while the first batch were running back and forth to deposit them. 

Once I had enough, I purchased two final laborers to make a constant cycle of harvesting gems, and maximize my profits. From here, I should be able to slowly purchase what I need. For instance, the next thing I bought was an archery range, which would let me train my centaurs into archers. 

Following this pattern, I soon had a dozen archers ready, and a knight academy in progress that would let me train melee units. However, at the same time, the platform in between myself and Kathy gave a drastic shift. From the landscape of mountains and rivers, it suddenly shifted to a wide grassy field. In that field was the centaur I had sent out to scout, but he was not alone. 

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Charging at him from above were two winged humanoids. If I remembered their listing right, they were known as harpies. Their wings were a part of their arms, ending in three-fingered hands with sharp talons. On their feet were similar talons, proving to be deadly natural weapons. As they swooped down on the lone centaur, he let out a pitiful cry, the talons tearing through his body. 

Once dead, his body seemed to evaporate into mist, and the scene once again became that of mountains and rivers. “Oooh…” Kathy said from across the platform, then grinned sheepishly at me. “I just picked the scariest looking thing on the list. Don’t worry, there’s still more to go yet!” She called out, as if trying to cheer me up. 

Shaking my head with a bitter smile, I looked back to my screen. At least now I knew that we weren’t too far apart. And, I was right in training archers first, as they were the best counters for her airborne race. Selecting the main hut, I looked at the ‘technology upgrade’ option. In its description, it would allow me to advance the level of technology my units were equipped with. Such things as changing bows into crossbows, or creating computers. 

I chose the first upgrade, which let me advance my people into the ‘metal age’. As I did so, clothes began to appear on my people. For the men, they would get leather tunics, while the women received dresses that went down to the bottom of their human body. Now, in the archery range, there was the option to upgrade my bows to using iron arrowheads. Naturally, I chose that, since they would deal much more damage than normal arrows. At the same time, looking closely, I saw that the bows in the hands of the centaurs seemed to shift slightly, becoming more durable and larger. 

I could have upgraded to crossbows, but I felt that normal bows fit centaurs better for now. Back at the central hut, I chose to buy another upgrade, this one for my laborers. It was an obvious upgrade, and one that was sorely needed. After buying it with the last of my gems, pickaxes suddenly appeared in the hands of my laborers. Now, they were able to each mine two gems at a time, doubling my income. 

For every fifteen points I got, I bought one more centaur and upgraded them to become an archer, then worked on having my archers create an encirclement around my base. Each of those options cost me five points, leaving me one third of my income to save for new buildings and upgrades. Once I got to fifty points, I again upgraded my technology, this time to the industry age. This caused the most drastic shift yet for my buildings. 

The original wooden and stone buildings seemed to shift and contort, turning more steady, made primarily of stone with a touch of metal. There were even glass windows along the walls. And, at this point, I received a very welcome option. Instead of ‘laborers’, I had the option to buy ‘citizens’ or ‘mining units’. 

Unlike the laborers, these mining units were specialized engines that would automatically mine gems. I only needed one citizen promoted to an engineer assigned to all five units. The one I chose to promote was that first female centaur that had been there since the beginning. When I chose to promote her, a blue work suit appeared on her body, replacing the previous dress. 

After buying the five mining units, I now had a steady stream of income. More importantly, I could upgrade my archery range into a firing range. Doing so would promote all of my archers to musketeers. Though, at the time, I still did not have the gems for it. 

Just before I had the points to afford that upgrade, the platform ahead of me shifted. This time, it created a perfect depiction of my base. “Found you~.” Kathy said confidently, as the same two harpies as before descended from the skies in an automated attack pattern. “Wait, no, turn back!” She called out, flustered. However, it was too late. The archers guarding the base had already taken aim and shot into the sky. 

Although one harpy had been able to turn back in time, the other was shot through the chest, and began falling to the ground. Before he landed, his body turned into grey mist. Kathy looked down at her screen, pressing against it with one finger and saying something. Although I saw her lips moving, no sound seemed to be transmitted to where I was standing. I saw as the harpy on the screen flew up out of range of the archers on the ground, but still close enough for the platform to continue displaying the situation of the village. 

“My game, it looks like~.” She spoke proudly, likely working on sending other units over. However, by this time I had enough to upgrade my archery range. As I did so, the bows and quivers vanished from my archers, leaving Kathy surprised before the centaurs then lifted up long metal shafts, aiming at the sky. “Oh, not fair!” She called out, as puffs of smoke were shot out from each rifle, sniping the lone avian out of the sky. “I’m still coming, you know.” She puffed up her cheeks in a pout. 

I could only grin wryly, buying more archers and scouts. This time, I also bought an upgrade to the scouts that gave them binoculars, increasing their vision range. Meanwhile, I began counting the seconds in my head, timing how long it took for Kathy’s units to arrive. 

Thirty seconds later, three dozen harpies appeared in the sky above my base. This time, my people were well prepared. The scouts were able to spot them early, and the musketeers were easily able to take aim at those numbers. By the time the harpies finished their first round of attacks, their three dozen members were trimmed down to an even ten, and I had only lost two centaurs. 

They never had the chance to launch their second attack, as my musketeers quickly finished reloading their weapons and fired a second wave of attacks. The ten harpies all fell to the ground and became clouds of mist. I smiled as I watched the platform return to the scene of mountains and rivers. “My turn, I guess.” 

Given the time and direction of their approach, I roughly knew where Kathy’s base was. As such, I mobilized half of my musketeers and half of my scouts and sent them in that direction. Meanwhile, at my base, I purchased another upgrade to my technology to put my people in the exploration age, and one from my firing range to decrease the reload time of my weapons. 

Kathy appeared to be panicking slightly, her eight legs frantically tapping at the ground as she issued silent commands. However, by the time my units arrived, she had only managed to create another ten harpies. Maybe eight, if the two mining gems had been there from the start. Unlike my base, hers seemed to be a large nest. I doubted that she had bought any upgrades, and simply sent the harpies in to act as natural attackers. 

Her plan failed, though, when the platform showed her base being destroyed, her harpies killed and the nest trampled. She crossed her arms under her chest and let out a frustrated ‘hmph!’. Looking at me for a long moment, she let out a soft sigh. “Good game, alright?” She didn’t really seem that upset by her loss, more that it happened so quickly after thinking she was winning.

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