It took me several long minutes to properly register that my surroundings had changed. In one arm, I had a trembling halfling, whimpering to herself. In the other, oddly Keliope had landed next to me. She didn’t seem so traumatized, more… annoyed? And past her was a frozen elf, her face white.
The bed that we were on was clearly not the same one that I used in my room. For one, it wasn’t as soft, and it was a different color, being a pale blue. White and blue striped wallpaper adorned the room, which appeared to be a common bedroom. At each of the four corners of the bed were tall wooden posts, a white canopy hanging beneath them.
By the time I was able to regain my senses, I heard the door to the room open, Sarah stepping through. She was wearing a simple white sleeveless shirt, and a pair of baggy blue pants. Her eyes widened when she saw the state we were in on her bed. “Oh god… was it the mimic? Or the slime? Those are both terrible ones…”
“M-m-mimic.” Aurivy stuttered out, another whimper leaving her throat. Something told me that she wasn’t going to stop dreaming about getting a mimic of her own after this… but she might kill a few in revenge to vent her anger first.
“Yikes. That guy is always terrible.” Sarah sighed, shaking her head. “Sorry, you need a minute? Getting eaten is never a fun way to travel.”
“I… think I’m good.” I told her, slowly rising from the bed. Aurivy next to me held onto my arm, clinging to it as if she were afraid the bed were going to eat her the moment I left. “Come on, Rivy. This is the place. You wanted to meet her, right?”
“Her?” Realization slowly began to dawn on Aurivy, her eyes turning to look towards Sarah, who offered a small wave. “Wait, she’s a human?” Aurivy seemed almost disappointed at that. “Here I was expecting something more… exotic? No offense, miss.”
“None taken.” She shook her head with a calm smile. “Natural with the job. And you can call me Sarah.” She nodded her head, her brunette hair falling over her shoulders. “You’re Rivy, right?”
“Short for Aurivy, yeah.” The halfling nodded, slowly starting to get over the trauma of being eaten by a chair. “Goddess of Love, Travel, and Dungeons. And yes, I know it’s an odd mix.”
“Not as bad as Sky, Names, and Time.” Sarah gave a somewhat bitter smile. “Sorry, long story. I’m sure you’ll meet him later. So, the other two have names?”
“Keliope.” The ursa rose up, bringing a hand up to wipe the spittle from her face with a disgusted expression. “Strength, Defense, and Fortitude.”
“A battle god?” Sarah tilted her head, processing that for a moment. “Alright, that’s a bit more normal, I guess. And last one… an elf if I’m not mistaken?”
“Y-yeah.” Ryone nodded, slowly rising as well, though her legs were still shaking beneath her dress. “R-Ryone. Magic, Merchants, and… Wealth. Pleasure to meet you… Sarah?”
“Pleasure’s mine, dear.” Sarah stepped forward, gently shaking Ryone’s hand without paying any attention to the disgusting fluids covering it. “Now, first… let’s get you all cleaned up.” She lifted her hand, snapping her finger as all the gunk vanished from our bodies. It felt so nice to be clean…
“Now, I’m sure you all have your questions. Some of you might be here just to play around.” She grinned mischievously towards Aurivy as she said that. “Some of you might be here to learn.” She turned her eyes towards Ryone. “And some of you might be here to fight.” Finally, she glanced towards Keliope, seeming to grasp a bit of their personalities already. Or, maybe she had just used a trick?
“Well, I mean, you’re not wrong.” Keliope grinned sheepishly, rubbing the back of her head. “I’d kinda like to have a spar with another Keeper’s companions. Get to see something new, you know?”
“It’s perfectly fine, Keliope.” Sarah shrugged her shoulders. “I’ve got a few battle maniacs of my own. After a few decades, you start to recognize them. But… are any of you system companions?”
All three girls shook her head, causing Sarah to let out a relieved sigh. “Oh, good. Sorry, it’s just that every time I let someone bring their system companion in, they start trying to tell my gods how they should be doing their jobs. I know each one has their own personality, but I swear they just do it to mess with me now.”
Aurivy gave a small giggle at that, before staring up at Sarah. “So you do have gods still?”
“Oh yeah, loads.” The confirmation was an easy one, the other Keeper shrugging it off. “You think I could manage everyone by myself? Yeah, sure, I might be stronger, but there’s also a lot more people in my worlds. You wanna visit my control room?” She leaned down, looking Aurivy in the eye as she asked that with a playful tone.
“Control room…?” It took her a moment to register what was being offered, before her head began to vigorously nod. “Yes, please!”
Sarah let out a light laugh, slowly standing back up and straightening her back. “Alright, let’s go. I think all of you will be able to get what you want there.”
She gave a faint nod of her head, and turned around, walking out of the bedroom. Once we had exited, I noticed an immediate shift in the style of the decorations. While the bedroom had cozy wooden walls, the hallway was pure metal, sliding doors lighting up as we passed them. Like we had come straight out of a countryside home, and onto a space station.
A comparison that didn’t seem far from the mark when we reached what appeared to be the control room. Nearly three dozen figures sat behind terminals, interacting with various screens with different configurations. Some were looking down at maps, others at graphs, and there was one that I was entirely sure was just playing a video game.
“Sammy!” Sarah called out indignantly, walking towards the one I had suspected to be playing a game. “We’ve been over this. No possessing the NPCs ‘just because’.”
“Hey, it was a legitimate quest this time.” The human companion spoke with an innocent smile. His hair was an unkempt, dirty blonde mess. His large spectacles rested on his face as he looked towards Sarah to defend himself. “One of the players was just reaching the end of a quest line, and I needed to have him in place for the finale.”
Sarah let out a long sigh, pinching the bridge of her nose. “Okay, okay… fine. Just make sure he gets back to his post when it’s all over. Last time you had an NPC wander around, everyone assumed that it was a hidden event.”
“Well, I mean, they were kinda right? Just not the kind of hidden they expected.” Sammy responded with a light chuckle, while I took a moment to look around at the different companions.
Out of the thirty or so present, nearly half of them were human, while the others were… far less so. There was one that looked like a goblin, their terminal being mounted on their wrist and manipulated with one hand while they leaned back in their chair. Another looked like a weird kind of… octopus thing, their eight legs nimbly controlling the different knobs in front of them.
“Why are all their screens blank?” Keliope asked in confusion, which only spurred my own curiosity. I mean, the screens were most obviously not blank. To me, at least.
“Sorry, safety measure.” Sarah explained politely. “When non-Keepers learn information beyond their rank, there is a risk of the Keeper being forcefully promoted. Hmm… Sammy, would you mind switching over to our Twilight server? I think that one hasn’t quite hit the games yet.”
“Are all of your worlds modeled after video games? You definitely called someone an NPC earlier.” I couldn’t help but ask, starting to worry that Sarah might be one of the hardcore game Keepers that Alkahest had warned me about.
“What? Oh, that! No, no, sorry.” Sarah shook her head, laughing as she did her best to explain. “You see, Sammy here is my God of Games, Reason, and Technology. We call the people living in his world NPCs because they are exactly that. When he creates a world, he personally designs each starting inhabitant. They’re not even recognized as proper races in the system because of how their logic is set up. Whenever one of his worlds meets his standards, he’ll pass it over to one of the others to let them hook it up to either their world or our primary. That world then becomes an online game for whoever it was passed to.”
By the time that she had finished, the male companion had already moved back to his seat, and swapped the screen over. As the name might suggest, the world that came up was far darker. Sarah gave a small nod when she saw it. “You girls can look at this one. It’s not scheduled to market for a few weeks. In fact… why don’t you three beta test it?”
“Oh, could we?!” Aurivy jumped at the opportunity, her eyes sparkling with excitement.
“Wouldn’t it be dangerous to go into a foreign Keeper’s world? How would it even happen?” Ryone, on the other hand, seemed more cautious. Though I couldn’t help but notice that her eyes had become glued to the screen as well.
“Oh, it’s fine. I couldn’t harm you ladies no matter what I tried. Now, maybe if there was a way for me to trick Dale into going down in his real body, I might be able to put him in danger. But the system automatically warns any Keeper before they do something like that.” Sarah waved off their complains, smiling towards them.
“As for the how, it’s easy. We have an interface room for guests, so that they can try out our worlds. Cost a small fortune, but I think it has proven to be worth it. Basically, once you sit down, someone from our side will choose which worlds to grant you access to. Then, you get to make an avatar to go explore them. For one of Sammy’s games, you’d be making a starting character.”
“I’m in! I am so in!” Aurivy was still hopping with joy, hanging on Sarah’s every word. Hearing the possibility, even Keliope seemed interested, while Ryone’s worries were lessened.
Everything that I had been told previously from multiple sources told me that companions were, indeed, immortal. There shouldn’t be any way that a system in another Keeper’s world could kill them. So, when Aurivy looked at me, as if begging for permission, I simply gave her a small nod.
She laughed happily, jumping up and wrapping her arms around me. The embrace lasted only a brief moment before she dropped, turning around to face Sarah. “Lead the way, please!”
Sarah nodded her head, looking around. “Xatu, would you mind getting them set up for Twilight’s Hold?” The goblin lifted his head up at the call, grumbling as he climbed down from his chair. “What, were you playing one of them yourself?”
“Marik’s Dungeon.” The goblin answered in a shrill tone. “This way, girls.” His short, pudgy body was contained within a black uniform as he walked off towards one of the nearby doors. I thought about going with them, but honestly I was more interested in seeing what the rest of this place had to offer.
“So, the design of this place..?” I looked around the control room, feeling that it was rather odd for an office.
“Hmm? Oh, you mean the theme? Yeah, everyone ends up asking at one point or another. I modeled it after my old ship, back before I became a Keeper. I wasn’t a captain, just a gunnery officer. But, because I pushed the button to kill the enemy vessel… and that vessel happened to contain the previous Keeper… well, the system gave me credit for the kill.” Once again, Sarah shrugged her shoulders, as if it didn’t matter to her too much.
I couldn’t help but question internally why a Keeper would even choose to remain on a ship actively engaging in combat. That seemed like they were just asking to get killed. “Ahh… and I suppose that some of these guys are your old crew?”
“Nah.” She shook her head. “By the time I figured out I could do that, I realized that I didn’t really have any friends in my old ship. I was more attached to the vessel than I was the people. Most of the gods here are people from my worlds that I took a liking to, and offered them godhood as a thanks for their service, or things like that.”
“Never told us about the damned voices, though.” Sammy grumbled lightly, earning a playful swat on the back of his head.
“Did, too. Just because you are a selective listener doesn’t mean I leave the details out. Though I may have under exaggerated just a bit.” Sarah gave a small, sheepish smile as she admitted that, earning a few laughs of agreement from those in the room.