[Saint’s indolence] : A Saint’s duty is never ending. Halves the Saint’s need for sleep. Part of a seven piece set. Item level : 60. Grade : Ancient. Restriction : class must be [Saint]. Current set effect (2): Recover 1 health per second when sitting or lying down.
“Wouldn’t it b- be better for the Empire’s Saint to have this?”
“Nyeheheh, Arin? She’s the one who gave it to me!” The guildmaster laughed by herself. She puffed her chest, put her hands on her hips and started talking in a deeper voice with a constant deep frown on her face. “Get rid of this wretched thing! Merely having it nearby is destroying my sleep! Please, for the love of all that is sacred Ki, smuggle it away and burn it in a hole so that I never have to see it again!” she recited, playing out a scene long past. Then she came back to her regular self. “That’s more or less how it went, so don’t worry about a thing, you can take it.”
Alith interjected, “Are we really going to forget what just happened?!"
The guildmaster sighed. "Ah... Listen, this isn't my proudest moment either, I said I'm sorry, I am, it really shouldn't have hurt her nearly that much. But. This is nothing, if you're going to face the trials, you need to be ready for far worse. And it is a lesson all free Saints have to learn. A necessary evil. Heroes don't ask to be summoned, you should know that very well.
"This is how it feels. What happens to you when you're going about your daily life, and suddenly, congratulations! You have unlocked the class [Slave]. Here's a traumatic experience you will never forget, with an added foreign world and your family gone as a bonus. If you're a Saint, summoning people, then this is something you need to know. To experience it at least once before you force it on others. I'm genuinely surprised you would defend her so. I wonder how your third member must feel about it. Then again, I went overboard this time, and I'll make it up to you, Sofia."
Alith was fuming."You're the one inflicting traumatic experiences! What right do you have to go around doing that exactly?! Can you see with your eyes? Do you think she looks fine right now?!" she yelled.
She was met with the guildmaster's contorted, weary, rueful smile. Kuli was looking at the sky through the windows.
"I've tried a lot of things in my time... More than I ever thought would be necessary. Saints; I've met quite a few, not all one and the same to be sure. This is the only way that has never failed to get the message across... A necessary evil... If I knew of a better way...
"And this is just a drop in the bucket. I have done worse things, unspeakable things, and I will keep doing so. Blame me if you will. If someday you get there too, you will learn that there isn't ever a way to make everyone happy. It's a foolishness I gave up on centuries ago."
Sofia wasn't all that disgruntled about the whole experience, although she still felt like the world and her thoughts were a bit shaky. Her summons didn't work like that, and she was glad for it. It wasn't her first share of the world's cold unfairness and it wouldn't be the last. Physical pain, at least, was quick to heal. And whatever she just drank was, it had helped immensely on all fronts.
This whole 'guildmaster' of an enemy empire was a risky deal from the start and she knew it. In the back of her mind, she was almost glad this had been what had come for her, instead of being sold back to the church as a war hostage. Just two people doing what they have to do...
Comparatively, Alith had been much harder to get to calm down, and even when Sofia insisted that it was fine, it took her a while to be fine with it. Even suspecting that Kuli had drugged Sofia, and not relenting until she was shown the drink's system description.
"Anyway, don't worry about the bracelet, the potion you just drank was worth several thousands too," she added, patting Sofia's head. “Now, two level 99 youngsters seeking advice… I assume you were here to learn about the towers and trials? I see that got your attention, want the long or the short version?”
“L- Long, please.”
“Ah… I’ll go for an in between then. Can you stand up? Neh, I’ll carry you, hup,” Kuli said. She lifted Sofia like she was a weightless paper sheet and laid her down on a couch that was already overflowing with all sizes and shapes of crochet turnip plushies.
She then sat down in a small rocking chair and explained, “The filters are exactly what the name entails. They’re trials to weed out the 'weak and the unworthy'. If you fail, you can never level up again. If you pass you’re good to go until the next filter comes up. There is no first filter acknowledged by the system, some people think it’s getting a class, I think it’s birth, it doesn't matter much. Every other filter that we know of are trials. There’s one at level 99, one at 199, one at 249, one at 299 and it goes on with a trial for every fifty levels. This is what stops most high level people from going even higher.”
It was Sofia that interrupted. “Does everyone need to go through that?”.
“Yes and no. You could choose to never do it. But every sentient being has to face the trials to go through these level breakpoints, unless they were born at a high level. Most elves, vampires and such are already over level 100 at birth. It’s like this for a lot of the more intelligent magical creatures,” Kuli answered, sounding a bit jealous.
“Is it dangerous?” Alith pressed on.
“It is extremely dangerous in most cases. Failure does, not always, but often, result in death. But I can’t tell you what exactly your trial will be. No one can. It’s different for everyone, except for the general theme. In your case, the theme for the first trial is : the past. That’s it. It can be anything, but it will be related to the past. Yours, someone else’s, the world’s, it could be any of that and more. You can’t prepare in advance so all I can say is, just go. The level 99 one is the easiest, about two thirds of the people make it, and very few actually die from it.” Her tone suddenly got darker “It’s when you’re at the next one that you should worry…”
Is it bad that I’m getting a bit excited at the idea of this trial? It makes my blood boil thinking about it. Fighting for your life and your right to become stronger.
Alith had more questions. “You said you can’t level up anymore if you fail, does that mean you can only try once?”
“That’s right, once per filter, no redos. Even if you change your class afterwards and have to come back from level one, you will never be allowed to challenge the trial again.” She seemed lost in thought for a second until she added, "Oh, and if you want to change class... wait no, neither of you can do that... Well, just to say you can't anymore after the second filter."
“Sorry to ask, but then, are you stuck at a filter too right now?” Sofia inquired.
Kuli didn’t mind, she showed no shame in her answer. “I am. I’ve stagnated at level 299 for a long time. I just can’t find the strength to go… You’ll understand if you reach this point. The trials, they… hammer you, to fit a new mold, the shape of a stronger you. It’s… intense. Not something someone sane wants to go through. I will go, when I’ve done all the things I need to do…” the tiny guildmaster started brooding for a second, then suddenly changed subjects.
“Do you both know how to read a map? Use a compass? Make a fire? Nothing can prepare you for what’s in there but survival skills can be needed depending on the trial. Also you should invest in better gear, and level up your skills as much as possible before going in. It won't help you in there but that likely won’t be wasted, whatever happens,” Kuli advised.
“Can you tell us about your trials?” Alith asked Kuli in a curious mood. It seemed that since Sofia really didn't want to press the matter about the 'unrequested lesson', she tried her best to accept it.
“No. And most would answer the same way. Think of it as a private event, tailored both for and against you by the system.” Kuli shifted in the chair and adjusted her robes. “That’s it for the general information on trials. Anything else?”
Alith and Sofia had a lot of questions about a lot of things from the rewards of the trial to the best classless skills. It was impossible to find anything that the fuzzy-eared guildmaster wasn’t knowledgeable about. They also went over a lot of more mundane things with her help, from what books they should read to become better at certain things to which shops were the best to visit in the capital. There were things that she was a bit reluctant to give too many details on, such as how everyone else leveled up or who were the strongest people on the human continent. However when questioned by Sofia about them she did hint at Vampires being a very strong bunch.
Despite the rough first contact, the tense atmosphere of the start had been slowly but surely replaced by the heat of petty gossip. When all serious questions had been answered and Sofia had fully recovered, the counseling devolved into a relaxing tea party. It seemed that no matter how strong, no one was immune to small talk and ranting about their life and opinions.
That was until Sofia remembered to ask about a very particular thing she hadn’t mentioned yet. “Oh I forgot to ask, do you know anything about the Deep, I-” she was cut off by Kuli, who had rushed to place her hand on Sofia’s mouth at an incredible speed, flinging the table aside on her path. Sofia had heard the deafening ringing of a gong, and everything had stopped. The table stopped in its flight, hanging in the air, the whole scene absolutely still, Sofia couldn’t even breathe. Immobile, Kuli’s eyes were centimeters away from hers, staring. She heard the guildmaster’s voice in her mind.
‘Are you crazy! Do you want us all dead!’ yelled a frightened Kuli in Sofia’s head.
‘Some things are better left untouched!’ her panicked voice added.
Everything turned back to normal. No flying table, no tea spilling everywhere, Sofia could finally breathe again. The only trace of what happened were the tense muscles on the guildmaster’s face.
Oh… ok, well, it does answer the question in a way… Did this ‘fighter’ casually stop and turn back time? I thought I had a strong trump card with [Angel’s bolt] but I’m starting to really doubt my capabilities. Can I also stop time and teleport before I reach level 300?
The discussion was soon back to pointless prattle about sewing between Alith and Kuli as if nothing happened, apparently she had hand-crafted all of the plushies in the room. They kept chattering all the way until the receptionist knocked on the door, worriedly suggesting to the guildmaster to prepare for her next meeting.
The group left with the agreement that they would come back and have another talk at some point before they challenged their second trials at level 199. Kuli even gave them a letter of introduction to pass to a certain artisan.