As I watched Bihena play through her rounds, I began to get more of an appreciation for her talent in strategizing. I could tell that she hadn’t learned some of the secrets of the game yet, like how you could unlock special types of items by finding different resources. Even I hadn’t been aware of that until another Keeper told me.
Yet, even without that she was always a step ahead of her enemy. In every game, I saw a pattern from her. She would sacrifice a single troop at the start as a scout to locate the enemy and identify their racial characteristics. After that, she began to create and enact plans to counter that specific type of enemy.
Like this, she managed to win match after match. The only time that she seemed to struggle was when she met an opponent with a similar style of play. Both had sacrificed a scout in order to check the enemy’s race and location. And this led them both to playing on the defensive until they had built up their forces for a frontal clash.
Out of all twenty of her matches, or at least the ones that I watched, she played the Battle Mode for all but two of them. In one, her opponent agreed to the Culture Mode, which Bihena won by a narrow margin. And in the other, she suffered her one loss when playing the Exploration Mode.
Because Bihena still chose to use humans, her opponent had an easy victory in that match by playing the Arachne. With their numbers and speed advantage, it only took them a few minutes to explore a hundred percent of the map, before Bihena had even sent her troops out.
In the end, Bihena solidified her first place lead with a total of nineteen wins, and one loss. The second place went to someone with only one less victory, while third went to Kathy. I could see a proud smile on Bihena’s face as she stood on the podium, shaking hands with the companion that had hosted the event.
Alkahest’s Custom Companion Dinmor wishes to transfer 1000 points to you through your Custom Companion Bihena. Authorizing transaction… Transaction approved by host. Do you wish to accept the transaction?
Naturally, I chose to accept the prize, as there wasn’t even a better reward that we could get from this game. Alright… that makes fifteen hundred points that we have gotten here. We’re making good time. I small smile appeared on my face as I thought about that, and I found myself transferred back out to the Keeper Sim room.
When I noticed my surroundings again, I was once more in the room with nearly two dozen other Keepers. “Dale?” Bihena’s voice spoke up from next to me, and I saw her glancing at me with a confused expression. “I thought you would have been at a different game by now.”
I shook my head, chuckling slightly. “No, I came to watch this tournament after I was done with mine. You did really good.” As I complimented her work, I saw her proud smile once again returning, before another sound made her face pale.
“Daaaale! Bihena!” Kathy shouted out as she rushed over, her sharp pointed legs clicking against the ground with every step. “What’s next, huh?! You guys are always so much fun!” As she said that, she beamed down at us, her smile wide and energetic.
And… spider girl aggro has been reacquired. I did my best to hold in a groan while Bihena’s shoulders sagged. Glancing up towards Kathy, I shook my head. “Well, you know these meetings better than us now. Are there any other fun games?”
Kathy tilted her head in thought, her legs excitedly clicking against the ground in a fast rhythm. “Hmm… The treasure hunt isn’t really that good if you don’t know about the host world. Racing always makes me sick… There’s a fighting tournament, but I didn’t really like it when I tried it…”
“Oh!” Kathy’s head suddenly shot up as an idea struck her. “We can go play Keep the Keeper!”
I was fairly certain that Bihena and myself shared the same confused look, because Kathy simply giggled playfully. “It’s this fun little hiding game. A group of ten people get sent to a tiny world populated by the same kind of people as the Keeper Sim games. One of the ten is randomly chosen to be the Keeper of the world, while the other nine are competing invaders.”
“For the Keeper, the goal is to remain hidden for as long as possible. Meanwhile, the invading forces have to find and identify the Keeper, and catch them. Whoever catches the Keeper becomes the Keeper for the next round, and it goes until one of the Keepers has kept their position for one standard hour.”
Bihena and I listened to the description for the event, and looked at each other. “It doesn’t seem like an event where we can both participate.” I mumbled softly, before shaking my head. “I’ll handle this one. You can go take care of another game in the meantime.”
Bihena had a look of relief wash over her when she heard that she wouldn’t be part of this game, so I could only imagine how much she was hoping to get away from the eccentric spider girl. She gave a brief nod and rushed out of the room before I could even tease her about it.
Kathy’s legs audibly slowed their tapping as she watched Bihena go. “Aww… didn’t know you guys had that kind of restriction, or I would have picked something else.” She muttered almost sadly.
I shook my head with a knowing smile, deciding to change the subject. “Well, lead the way. By the way… how did you even become a Keeper in the first place? I can’t really imagine you killing someone…”
“Hmm? Oh, well, I could say the same for you Dale!” Kathy spoke with a grin while she began walking towards the door, and I followed alongside. “And to be honest, I ate him. Had no idea he was the Keeper at the time, though.”
I felt a cold shiver run down my spine as she said that. “You… ate him?”
“Yup!” She nodded her head, showing that I did not misinterpret her words. “Or I started to, at least. It’s always best to eat your mate quickly, so that the babies can grow up nice and strong. Unfortunately, you can probably guess what happened when I got started.” Kathy’s shoulders slumped down, as if it were a rather depressing memory.
Should not have asked! I could only force myself to nod my head. “Y-yeah… I can guess.” Poor guy… Got lost in the moment and forgot to ascend before she took action.
We walked the rest of the way in silence. Well, aside from Kathy humming happily and her legs chittering against the ground. Sure enough, the door that she had led us to was labeled ‘Keep the Keeper’.
Once inside, we found the room… almost empty. All except for one person along the far wall, who was no doubt the companion managing this game. This one was a male, dark red skin with sharp horns poking above his black hair. “If you give it a few minutes, they’re almost done.” He said as we entered, briefly glancing up at us.
I returned his advice with a nod, moving to rest against the nearby wall as Kathy simply stood in place. Sure enough, it was roughly ten or so minutes later when a blue light filled the room, and ten Keepers emerged from nowhere. “Alright, everyone, we got a winner!” The red-skinned companion called out.
“Everyone, a round of applause for StarKiller!” As he said that, he pointed towards the crowd, which parted to reveal a small girl. She looked embarrassed by all of the attention, and her cheeks turned a light red. Her race was very clearly not human, with white fur covering her from head to toe. She had digitigrade legs, long whiskers, and tall white ears poking up over her head.
That’s right… she looked like an anthropomorphic rabbit girl. “T-thanks.” She whispered out, slowly walking towards the companion to shake his head. “I-it was really fun.”
A few of the Keepers gathered gave bitter laughs, shaking their heads while the companion transferred the prize to her. “Alright… now, how many of you are sticking around for the next round?”
Only one prize? I blinked in confusion, before remembering that this was a game for only ten players. It wasn’t odd for it to only have a single winner per round. And it wouldn’t be strange for the prize points to be fairly low either.
Thankfully, none of the other Keepers seemed interested in leaving. However, this actually made things difficult for the companion. “Eleven people… this is supposed to be a ten player game. Ugh…” He had a complicated expression on his face, before closing his eyes. “Just a second, everyone....”
When he opened his eyes again a moment later, he gave a quick nod. “Alright. Looks like we have approval to run the game with an extra player. Doesn’t change the rules any. Hider, keep yourself hidden as long as possible. Seekers, find the hider. Whoever stays hidden for a cumulative hour first wins five hundred points.”
The terminology was a bit different to how Kathy explained it, but it seemed that he had simplified the rules to avoid repeating himself too much. Either way, when the window appeared in front of us, itt gave an explanation closer to what Kathy had said. It also gave the option to choose what we looked like when we competed in this game.
There were options to adjust hair color, height, even race. You could even set it to randomize each time to keep people guessing. Naturally, I chose to randomize everything but my race and gender. While it might be a bit disorienting to adjust to a new height, it wouldn’t give myself away as much as if I had to adjust to a completely new race.
Once everyone had finished going through their selections, blue light filled the room again, forcing me to close my eyes. When I opened them, I found myself standing on top of a tall concrete building with at least twenty floors. Across from me was another identical building, but nothing else could be seen.
Rather… there was nothing else to be seen. A patch of street connected the two buildings, but everything else was a black void. Endless darkness as far as could be seen.
You have taken the role of Invader 5. Find the Keeper and capture them in order to advance to the next round.
I raised an eyebrow as I saw that description, before turning and looking around the roof. There were a few people wandering around, almost aimlessly. Some like myself were humans, others looked like elves, dwarves, harpies, even an arachne or two. The only way down into the building was a stairwell behind an open door, which had people slowly coming and going through it.
Okay.. so I have to identify which of these are the other invaders, and which is the Keeper. I thought to myself, before looking down at my own body. Currently, I was in the form of a teenager, short blonde hair with calloused hands, likely a farmer. My height would make it harder for me to read the expressions of the people around me, but would also help keep myself hidden.
Giving a brief nod, I walked calmly towards the stairwell, doing my best to keep my expression neutral like the throng of people around me. This was going to be a very different kind of game. And to be honest… I wasn’t all the confident in my chances at this one. At least, not when it came to finding a single Keeper out of a crowd of hundreds of random faces.