Finally, the time had come for our meeting with Alkahest. Although the actual meeting between Keepers was still some time away, it was good to get this over with. This was the first time that I had been to another Keeper’s domain… And speaking of which… “Hey, Terra?”
“Hmm?” She asked, slipping into a leopard spotted dress that clung tightly to her figure. “Something the matter?”
“Ah… yeah. How are we supposed to get to Alkahest? I don’t remember seeing any options for traveling to another Keeper’s world.” I hadn’t really looked that closely, but something like that would have stuck out.
“Oh! That’s easy! He just has to invite us. Anyone that has been in the Keeper games can freely invite other people to their worlds, whereas new Keepers have to pay for that privilege. Think of it as a way to keep a new Keeper from getting free help with their world until they have gotten a bit of experience themselves.” She explained, though really I wish the option was there from the start.
“Alright…” I nodded my head nonetheless, and got myself a black tuxedo from the wardrobe. I have never actually worn one of these before, but thankfully it seems to fit me perfectly. No doubt with help from a certain administrative catgirl. “Ah! Right, before we leave…” I walked over to the computer, and clicked on the button to pause the world. “Don’t want anything happening while we’re gone.”
Terra nodded with a small smile on her lips. “Good idea. Now, shall we?” She held out a hand, which I accepted. After closing her eyes for a few moments, a blue screen appeared in front of me.
Alkahest has invited you to his Administration Room with Guest privileges.
Do you wish to accept? Y/N
Mentally, I hit the accept button, and things started getting weird. Aside from myself and Terra, the area around us began looking like an oil painting. The colors began to drip down along the walls, the bed, everything fading into a prismatic liquid at our feet.
“Gah, I hate this one…” Terra said with a tone of mild disgust as the world around us reduced to sludge. Finally, the goo at our feet surged up around us, enveloping our bodies for a few long moments.
“Welcome, welcome… ick… got the water color transition…” A gruff male voice spoke out from near us. “Here, let me help with that.” I felt a hot wind blow over me, before the goo seemed to evaporate from my body.
Looking around, I saw Terra still standing next to me, shaking slightly with a look of mild nausea on her face. The two of us seemed to be standing on a large, white marble floor that spread out for dozens of meters in every direction. At the edges of the circular floor were twisting and spiraling columns rising up in a circle, with clouds extending beyond them allowing in golden rays of light. The columns continued upwards, disappearing into another set of clouds which hovered over our heads.
Our host stood near one of the borders of the floor, a giant that seemed ten meters tall. He had three eyes on his head, as well as two horns. His skin was a deep brown, with an overly muscular build. If you saw him in other circumstances, you might think he was a boss monster or something.
“Ah, Earth is still running humans as the default race, huh?” The giant spoke. “Since you’re new to this, I’ll try to make you more comfortable.” After closing his three eyes, I waited speechless for a long moment, before a golden light shined from his body, forcing me to look away. “Alright, I’m decent now.”
Confused, I turned to look at him again, only to see what looked like a normal african man. Dark skin, short black hair, and two completely normal eyes. Although he still wore what seemed to be a white toga, he definitely did not look like a fantasy monster anymore. “So, you’re the new EarthForceOne, huh? Glad to meet you.” He stepped forward, extending a hand.
Letting go of Terra’s hand, I extended my own to shake his, although a bit hesitantly. I still wasn’t entirely trusting of other Keepers, especially since I didn’t know if he had any powers over me or anything while I was here. “Nice to meet you. So… this is your world…?”
He seemed to misinterpret my silence as a request for an introduction. “Ah, you can call me Grimor. Keeper titles are more of a formal thing, so not a lot of people use them outside of initial meetings or official business.”
I… did not know that. “I’m Dale, and this is Terra.” I took another glance around, verifying that there was nobody else here. “You don’t have a companion?”
He looked at me with slight confusion, before his eyes widened. “Ah, you thought this was the whole place? No, this is just the reception area. I have a different space I use for living.”
I nodded my head at that. I would probably do something similar as well. “I see… so, what was it you wanted to talk about?”
Grimor glanced at Terra, almost questioningly. She simply raised her hands defensively with a bitter smile. “You should know I’m not allowed to tell him that kind of thing.”
He simply sighs, accepting that. “True… it has been some time since I was new to the game. It is easy to forget the restrictions you face.” Again, clueless newbie Keeper here? “Anyways, I wanted to go over some basic stuff with you. Maybe shatter some illusions you might have had about the ‘game’ or the world that you manage.”
Seeing me nod in agreement, he began. “First, let me ask you a question. In your opinion, what is the difference between you yourself and the people you manage?”
Eh? “Uhm… well, I guess I’m… sort of a guide to them?” I wasn’t really sure how to answer that. Philosophy was never my strong point… And that seemed like a very philosophic question.
“Hmm… well, I suppose you aren’t wrong. But I meant in a more literal sense. In truth, you are no different from them at all. Even if they are of a different race than you, or more primitive.” Grimor had a serious look on his face as he said that.
“Huh?” Wasn’t that obvious? Or am I missing something?
“Think about it. You yourself came from the Earth before you. That meant that, before whatever incident led to your new life, you were just one of the countless people the former Keeper was managing--”
“Not managing.” Terra interrupted with a wry look, getting a confused glance from Grimor, before he regained his composure and continued.
“Either way, every Keeper was once one of those ‘countless individuals’. Right now, there is not a single exception. There is no ‘Alpha Keeper’, none that was around since the very beginning. If there used to be, they have all been ‘retired’.” I took in a sharp breath as the meaning of that last word was abundantly made clear to me.
“Now, any one of your countless individuals could end up being the one that replaces you. No matter what, you can’t think of them like a program in some machine, or mindless and nameless spirits just passing through time. That is the number one problem with most new Keepers. They always fail to grasp the seriousness of the situation.”
Saying that far, Grimor took a deep breath, shaking his head. “Those that don’t figure it out fast, sometimes never do. There’s a whole guild of people that treat this like some online game, using their people as game pieces. Even when one of them dies, the others just treat it like that person experienced a ‘game over’, and go on with their lives.”
I nodded my head in understand, thinking I saw where he was going with it. “I admit, at first I thought this whole Keeper thing was just my own little afterlife. Part of me still does, I think.”
Grimor and Terra both seemed to share a knowing look and a small smile, before the host Keeper spoke again. “Good, that’s usually the first step. Now, your lovely little lady here is probably a default companion, right? Most new Keepers aren’t bold enough to make their own custom ones.” When Terra gave a nod, he continued. “Good. So, she probably already told you about the games, then?”
“That’s right.” I answered, looking between the two of them.
“Even better. That means that there is less that I need to explain. Still quite a lot mind you, but every little bit helps. Now, Keepers in the games can be separated into several different types. Many of them are fairly peaceful, and only fight when provoked, but there are a few that you need to watch out for. These kinds of Keepers can be divided into three types.”
Grimor held up his hand, lifting fingers as he began counting off and explaining the different Keepers I would need to keep an eye out for. “First, the ‘Game’ types that I mentioned before. The ones that see this as nothing more than a game. They won’t hesitate to throw everything they have at your world, even the entire population in order to win a game. Because afterwards, either they win your worlds, or they have to quickly reset their own and build it up before they are called again.”
As he lifted another finger, he named the second type. “Next are the ‘Tyrant’ types. They are similar to the Game type Keepers, except they are fully aware the seriousness of this. However, they tend to think along the lines of ‘I should be the only one with this power’. Out of the three types, they are likely the least threatening, if only because they rarely work together.”
With a deep sigh, he lifted the third finger. “And finally, the ‘Monster’ types. These are truly the most terrifying enemies to face for any Keeper, and they specialize in the games. Monster Keepers don’t raise civilizations, they don’t guide their people. They spend their time and points building the deadliest, most powerful monster race they can. Think of them like…. Ah, mind helping me out with this one, miss?” He looked over to Terra, who nodded.
“You know the Alien movies, right? Where just a tiny number of aliens, sometimes even just one, can spread fast enough to quickly destroy a world? From the records, that monster race was inspired by one of the races in the Keeper games.”
“Gah, his world had that kind of thing as entertainment?” Grimor grimaced. “Anyways, she’s probably right. Companions like her know everything from a set number of Keepers of their world’s history, as well as knowledge of system mechanics. They just can’t directly tell you a lot of stuff, and have to let you figure it out for yourself. Sometimes, they’ll go out of their way to guide you to find it out, and other times they’ll just let you fend for yourself.”
Terra smirked slightly, crossing her arms under her chest “It’s good for him to struggle now and then.” She then cast an apologetic look my way. “Sorry… but it’s true. Plus, you’re cute when you’re confused.”
Grimor laughed loudly at that, shaking his head. “Anyways, no matter what, you should always know whether the Keeper you are fighting belongs to one of those three types. When possible, use the forums or contacts to look up their information, because it could be the difference between life and death. At the same time… against those three types of people, there is no reason to hold back.”
“Uhm… you mean, killing their Keeper?” I asked, a bit hesitant on the matter.
“That’s right. Those kinds of Keepers are the types that this whole system are better off without, yet they are inevitable products of it. I’ve personally killed five of those Keepers in my time in the games, and the number of worlds I have gotten from those kills are eighteen. That alone should tell you how they operate.”
I gave a slight nod. I might be willing to let a small portion of my people die to a natural disaster, but killing a Keeper meant killing every world that they control. Which reminds me… “If this has been going on so long, how is it that there isn’t just one Keeper ruling all of the worlds by now?”
Grimor blinked in surprise at my question, before giving a small grin. “People usually don’t question that so quickly. Actually, there has always been the exact same number of Keepers, with even the same usernames. Most likely, in the past someone had defeated EarthForceOne as well, maybe even multiple people.”
“Every time a Keeper dies in the game, their world goes to the victor. However, unlike their beginning world, the Keeper can rename this new world. That is because the original world is still out there, being reborn with a blank slate Keeper. These blank slates start off like custom companions, with no knowledge of the system, and only a random personality to dictate their actions until they die and a different person steps into their shoes.”
“But either way, there have always been exactly nine thousand, nine hundred, and ninety-nine Keepers in the system. And you have no idea how many people complain about there needing to be just one more.” He let himself grin again at that. “Now, tell me a bit about your Earth, I might be able to offer some suggestions.”