As we were leaving the restaurant, I caught sight of two figures standing in the distance. Well, it was honestly hard not to, as one was a towering giant standing over five meters tall, while the other looked like an angel. Grimor and his guild leader, if I had to hazard a guess.
I pulled Irena gently with me as we moved over in that direction, at which point we saw that the angelic woman had a troubled expression. When she noticed us approach, she shook her head, reaching up to pat Grimor’s arm before saying something. Given the distance, we couldn’t make out what it was, but it caused the corners of his mouth to sag down.
Just as we approached, she turned to leave, leaving us alone with Grimor. Alone as we could be on a crowded street, at least. “Everything alright?” I asked curiously, causing the large man to look down at me, though his eyes seemed a bit lost.
“No… no it’s not. Sorry, Dale, but now’s not a particularly good time.” Grimor said gloomily. “I’ve got a lot of work to do now, it seems.” As he said that, a black door opened up behind him, which he slowly turned to step through. My guess, that is how someone leaves the Meeting Area.
“What was that about?” Irena asked curiously from next to me, reminding me that she had never actually met Grimor in person.
“I’m not sure… he’s a friend of mine, but he seems really upset about something.” I couldn’t help but glance in the direction that the angelic woman had wandered off in. Through the crowd of wandering figures, I could no longer make out her shape anymore, meaning that I couldn’t ask her what was wrong.
I recalled Grimor saying that she had been stuck in an invasion for the last couple of meetings. Given how all worlds froze for this meeting, it was likely that even those worlds being invaded would have a chance for a brief respite.
Unfortunately, there was nothing that I could really do about that right now. As I quickly discovered, I couldn’t activate the messaging system. I could still feel my connections with the gods and goddesses of my own world, but I could not contact other Keepers.
“Where would you like to go next, Dale?” Irena asked in a small voice, tugging lightly at my arm to pull my out of my thoughts. I was quickly reminded that I was still on a date with Irena.
Glancing around, I quickly spotted the same Entertainment building that Aurivy had rushed into. “Well, we had dinner… why not go see if there’s any fun to be had here?” I asked, nodding towards the nearby building.
Irena blinked briefly, before I saw her lips tug up in a smile. “Okay…” After saying that, the two of us walked alongside one another until we reached the door of the building.
When we stepped inside, the place seemed to be arranged like an arcade, with stairs ascending to another floor. Above each of the various games was a list of prizes achieved upon reaching different scores. Naturally, these prizes came in the form of points, though a few offered something special…
For instance, there was one game I saw, which seemed to be a sharpshooting game. The highest level prize for this game was a ‘Force Attack Ticket’. In the meantime, another game nearby, which seemed to be of the resource management type, had an ‘Attack Cancel Ticket’ as its main prize.
Seeing someone that appeared to be a staff member walking by, casually checking on everyone, I approached him with Irena. “Excuse me… Are you in charge of this area?”
The man, a human-looking fellow with pitch black skin and wearing a red jacket, nodded his head. “That’s right. I’m the moderator in charge of the first floor. Is there something that I can help you with?”
I pointed out the two games that had the odd prizes, and when I asked about what they were he gave a knowing nod. “Yes, of course. This is your first time here, so you haven’t been told yet. As you have guessed, those two items are just as their name implies. One forces an invasion on another world, outside the regular circulation, and another can be used to automatically defend against an invasion, to either end one early, or to call it off in advance.”
My brows knit together as I thought about that. “Wouldn’t those items become a bit too common, if that were the case? Or, couldn’t people just jointly attack one world?”
“Ah, I see what you mean.” The man gave another nod. “However, you need not worry. The prerequisite to use a Force Attack Ticket is that the target world must not already be engaged in a battle, and that they must of course be of the same Rank as you, or higher. Similarly, each ticket can only be earned once every year. If people attempt to play multiple games that offer the ticket as a prize, they will only receive the first one. Furthermore, these tickets expire after one year, and cannot be traded. So no Keeper will ever have more than one of each ticket.”
I let a relieved sigh out when I heard that, thanking him for the information and letting him get back to work. Some of these Keepers had been at this for decades, maybe even centuries. If there weren’t restrictions on these tickets, then it would be possible to receive an attack from anyone at a moment’s notice, and lose any of my preparation time. If I had to guess, people generally saved their cancel tickets to defend themselves against an attack.
A short distance down the rows of games, I saw two familiar faces. The two of them were playing at side-by-side dancing games, each playing to the same song. These were among the games with normal prizes consisting of points, but I couldn’t help but notice that the two seemed to genuinely be enjoying themselves.
The first was Aurivy, so there was no surprise that she was having fun playing a dancing game, while the other was Balu. Every now and then, they would turn and face each other, singing along with the music. They would even stretch out their hands to hold them together while they danced together.
I shook my head, moving towards the stairs with Irena. As we walked, I finally caught sight of an angelic figure. The person shared many similarities with Grimor’s guild leader, so it was likely to be one of her companions, or a member from her world. She was playing at one of the games near the back, her eyes locked on the screen in front of her. I could see the sweat dripping down her face, and things began to make sense once I saw the prize for that particular game.
So that’s what happened… This angelic woman was desperately trying to win an Attack Cancel Ticket. Given how that Keeper had looked earlier, and how Grimor reacted, as well as the information I had been given… It seemed that Keeper didn’t think she would survive this invasion. Surviving long enough to try to get this ticket must have been a last ditch effort for her, because if she could get it then she could call off the invasion immediately.
I wanted to go over and offer words of encouragement, but I knew that would only distract her. And if the concentration she was showing was any indication, these games weren’t easy to win the grand prize, even for an experienced individual.
Irena and I kept moving until we had reached the stairs, before ascending upwards. The next level appeared to be where the competitive games took place. Some, like the ones below, were more arcade-style. Others had tables laid out, or stages set up.
The two of us simply kept going, ascending another flight of stairs. This time, we found what we were looking for. Here, there was only a single stage, and a wide seating area for an audience. As I was wondering about the exact purpose of this floor, a message appeared in front of me.
Welcome to the Grand Stage, where anyone can perform!
Here, one person or many may choose to enter the stage, so long as it is not currently being used. Once on the stage, they may choose to perform in any manner that they so desire for the rest of the audience.
At the end of their performance, they will be given a reward based on the satisfaction of the audience. The more people you please with your performance, the greater your prize! If you manage to achieve a high enough satisfaction rating, special rewards may even unlock.
Note that all abilities which show different performances to different individuals based on their personal tastes will be disabled to preserve the fairness of the stage.
As Irena and I moved to find our seats, we saw down on the stage a wizened old man. He sat with his eyes closed in the middle of the stage, his hands brought together. However, above him an illusion was playing out, one that seemed to encompass the entire room. If I had to describe it, it was similar to watching a movie at a theater, but in truly perfect 3D.
Thankfully, the meeting was still newly started, and the movie had apparently not been going on for long. When Irena and I sat down, the world around us almost literally shrank away. We could no longer see the people sitting in front of us or beside us, as if it were just the two of us and the performer. Though really, this would explain why nobody paid any attention to us when we were making our way to our seats.
“This is all… amazing.” Irena said quietly as she watched the movie being shown in the illusion. As one might expect, it was a movie about magic. Islands and entire worlds converted into flying vessels to travel the cosmos, fueled by the mages controlling them. Great battles against gods and devils, where the universe itself became the ultimate enemy.
This movie lasted for over an hour after we had arrived, before the old man silently stood up and gave a small bow. From the smile on his face, it seemed that he was satisfied with the reward. Next to take his place were a pair of young girls. One had skin as dark as night, while the other was pure white. Both had a single blue gem in their foreheads.
“We are the sisters Sho and Clo.” They spoke together, though each stopped so that the other could say their own name. “And we have prepared a very special performance for you all.”
With their words finished, they each stepped forward, their left feet tapping on the stage. In front of our vision, the stage seemed to expand infinitely, stretching out in all directions. More importantly, this didn’t seem to be an illusion, rather a feature of the stage so that they had room for their show.
“We call this, Harmony of Light and Shadow.” The two sisters began, speaking in unison despite being on opposite sides of a stage that had grown large enough that I was struggling to watch both at once.
Sho, the white-skinned girl, dropped to one knee, raising her hand to the sky. A low hum could be heard from her, echoing across the platform. On the other side, Clo had clasped her hands in front of her chest, and began to match the humming with her own.
When Clo stretched her hands out, darkness rose around her body, creating a black pillar that rose up into the sky. When Sho lowered her hand, a blinding column of light fell to the ground. These two pillars began to move towards each other slowly, no doubt with their summoners inside.
As they moved, the musical voices within seemed to be amplified by their respective elements, softly flowing over Irena and myself. And the moment the two pillars touched, they seemed to intertwine. The conflicting elements of light and dark sent out bursts of sound along with the music, as if it were an accompanying instrument itself.
Slowly, the two pillars became a single spiral of black and white, the top of each spreading out to form an arch at a far point in the ground. These tips gradually came closer and closer, until they formed a link with the spiral in the center. The spiral slowly changed, shifting into a pair of twin interlocking circles. At the center of the circle, each surrounded by the other’s element, were the sisters Sho and Clo, floating high above the ground.
Their voices had gone beyond humming, lifting into a melody that echoed out above the clashing of their energies. With every note, they danced through the skies, every movement triggering another class of light and shadow. Irena and I sat, spellbound as we watched the show. I could feel her hand tightly gripping my own, and knew that she was enjoying herself.