The first thing Rakna saw after the light finally faded away was a flying figure that wrapped around him only to block his sight again. Pronos who was in his scarf was also suddenly pressed really tightly.
“Idiot! I was worried!” A voice shouted.
Rakna immediately recognized the voice and struggled for a few seconds to get her off. But he was afraid to hurt her by mistake so he rapidly gave up.
“…Flavia. I’m overjoyed. Really. But can you get your breasts out of my face so I can breathe?”
At his words, she pulled back with a pout on her face and a mildly flushed expression. He took a deep breath and so did the little snake. He passively noticed that she also had changed clothes like him. Overall, she still had the same style but the quality of the clothing had become a lot more good-looking and her skirt was longer while being open on one side to allow more movement. She also had a pendant hanging from her neck.
“It’s not my fault you’re so late! The Initiation ended yesterday but you weren’t there,” Flavia said while gradually calming down, knowing he was safe.
Rakna snorted internally. He had in fact known Flavia for nearly five years. She actually was his neighbor and when his uncle went missing, she had been the one to help him get through and settle things with society.
‘Well, as happy as I am to reunite…’ He thought and looked around him. He was currently standing in the middle of the school’s yard and almost every surviving student and teacher seemed to be gathered in it, spread across the area.
Some were staring at him in wonder for his late arrival, others were being condescending, thinking he had done poorly during the Initiation and the remaining ones were jealous because of him being hugged by the very popular teacher.
But all that aside, there was something that confused Rakna. All of them were visibly waiting for something or, to be exact, they seemed to be waiting for him. Aside from that, most of them were looking at something in the sky. As he was about to follow their line of sight, he heard a chilling voice.
“Everyone is here, finally.”
His eyes widened and he quickly looked up. He spotted a silhouette floating in midair. It took his eyes a few seconds to get used to the sunlight before he could discern what it was exactly. This time, in contrast with Kaelith, he was utterly confounded by this being.
The silhouette was a humanoid robot standing tall at three meters. It held a cane in its hand and wore a red and yellow attire that Rakna didn’t fail to recognize as a clown outfit. From the comically big shoes to the butterfly knot and the red nose… It was a weird sight. Additionally, the robot’s mouth was a screen that displayed a full-blown grin.
The clown looked back at him and the color of that very screen turned from white to purple. It whirled its cane and pointed it at him. “What took you so long? Did you fall asleep while hiding from the kobolds?” It asked with the obvious intention to taunt him. Some of the students even snickered.
The clown robot expected an outburst but what it got instead was a completely blank face, devoid of emotions, and a non-comical reply: “You could say that.” His words caught the attention and curiosity of a few individuals in the yard but the clown’s grin switched from a grin to a flat line.
“What an unfunny brat you are. I prefer when you humans get upset. Your faces when you see blood is hilarious,” it exclaimed with a black-colored smirk before returning to a more pensive looking expression. “Well, I’d truly be disappointed if you actually were like them. I do have to say your kind is harder to intimidate,” it added which raised the eyebrows of many people.
Rakna easily picked up on the hidden message in his words. This robot seemed to be someone in a similar situation to Kaelith and had obviously seen through his illusion. It probably wanted him to panic for his amusement.
However, Rakna stared back with an impassive face and the clown harrumphed.
“Anyway, it is time.”
Instantly after, everyone received a prompt from their System.
❮ ◈ ❯
Tutorial Mission: Escape
Description: This is the second and last trial offered to newcomers. Those who succeed will be able to enter the Seedling Plateau and officially become a Tiered Host.
Objective: Wildlands are surrounding you. Explore them, survive, and overcome the danger to find the exit of the dimension.
Note: You have as much time as you require.
Additional information: The three first contestants to find the exit will be granted the title ‘Crowned Seedling’.
Default Rewards: Access to the 1st Plateau, 1 000 Talys.
❮ ◈ ❯
“On this note, humans, survive well,” the clown uttered and disappeared with a swirl of its cane.
Afterward, everyone scattered in their own groups. Rakna looked around for a few seconds before turning toward Flavia. “Well, mind filling me in? Looks like I’m the only one lost here. Who was that stupid-looking Pierrot?”
She smiled wryly and reminisced a little before speaking, “Well, the only thing he said about himself yesterday was that his name is ‘Gray’ and that he’s the caretaker of our group from this batch.”
“Our batch, huh?”
“Yes, you also were filled in in the shop about the System, right?” She asked and Rakna nodded. “From what he told us, every year a new batch of Hosts with high potential is summoned by the System. Apparently, the current batch only concerns the Earth and we are divided into groups. I suppose our school isn’t the only place that was taken away.”
“I see...” Rakna muttered then felt a pair of eyes on him. He looked over his shoulder and met the stare of a black-haired girl. Her red irises surprised him a bit at first but his focus then shifted to something else, ‘I don’t remember this girl being in our school...’
As he was getting suspicious, someone’s arm abruptly wrapped around him. “Hey, buddy! You're alive after all! I was worried for a second.”
Rakna groaned as he glanced at the newcomer next to him. It was a blond teen with blue eyes and an athletic stature. He was a perfect fit for the description of the stereotypical popular kid.
“Allan… so, you survived, huh?” Rakna muttered with no change in his tone. “Why didn’t you let yourself get eaten? It would have made my life easier.”
“Now, now, I’m sure you’re happy to see me,” the teen replied without batting an eye. He too was one of the very few... acquaintances Rakna had. Allan was a special character; he was orphaned at the age of ten after a car accident and that’s around the two of them met.
The blond had been the most accurate description of ‘depressed’ at the time but his encounter with Rakna had somehow turned him into the most popular guy in his school years after a few months. The truth of what happened between the two of them was a secret of theirs that even Flavia didn't know.
“Well, jokes and you being a tsundere aside,” Allan continued and Rakna had to resist the urge to elbow him in the gut. Instead, he glanced at his old friend to see that he had a dreadfully serious expression on his face. “I’m really glad you’re alive,” the blond uttered with a grave expression and Flavia took on a saddened look.
Rakna noticed how the mood had changed from a happy reunion to something vastly darker. Allan’s fists were also clenched and trembling. “...who?” He asked with a composed and very calm voice that made Allan smile wryly, finding relief in the fact that his friend was the same as always.
“Kelly, Hurbert, Bea, and Kyle,” he listed grimly and Rakna closed his eyes. He remembered the faces attached to those names. He never talked to them per se but he often saw them hanging around Allan.
He opened his eyes and turned toward Flavia. “What about the rest of the school? How many?”
She lowered her head a bit. “We haven’t properly counted the missing students yet but... I’d say around half of them are missing.”
Allan sighed and took his arm off from Rakna’s shoulders before looking at him. “What are you going to do, Rak? Whatever you decide, I’ll follow.”
Rakna scowled at him. “Don’t trust-”
“-me too much,” Allan completed while waving his hand. “Yeah, yeah, I know. You’ve told me that many times already but there wasn’t a single time where it was a bad idea."
Rakna grunted and Flavia giggled, noticing that the mood had brightened up a lot. “I have to agree with him,” she added. “We both know what kind of trainer you had. There is probably no one more reliable than you in this school.”
“I’d bet on that too,” Allan laughed.
Rakna sighed internally. “For now, let’s get away from here.”
Flavia tilted her head. “What do you mean?”
He was about to answer her question when a voice interrupted him, “Miss Jeina, you’re here!”
He turned toward the source with a raised eyebrow. Rakna saw a group of students led by a few professors walking in their direction. The one who had called Flavia was a slim-looking teacher with a wide smile.
‘That guy...' Rakna squinted. ‘What was his name again?' He thought and Allan smiled wryly since he knew perfectly what he was thinking just from his expression. After several years, the blond teen had learned to decipher his friend’s thoughts just by looking at his eyes.
“Mister Herts?” Flavia exclaimed in a semi-surprised voice. “Were you looking for me?”
“Yes, I was,” the man nodded and stopped in front of the trio with his group following him.
Rakna and Allan’s attention immediately zeroed on the firearms they were carrying. They looked at each other and quietly stepped to the side while Flavia talked with Herts.
“Well, is there something I can do for you?” The former inquired.
“I wanted to invite you.”
“Yes, my group and I were going to explore the forest together. The more we are, the better our chances. What do you think? Would you join us? Of course, the two students over there can come as well,” Herts stated politely but neither Rakna, Allan, or even Flavia missed the obvious ill-intent hidden behind those words.
Allan sneakily took a look at the others behind Herts and frowned at the disgusting stares thrown at Flavia. “Look at them. Do they really think that we can’t notice?” He whispered.
“Those with borrowed power tend to misunderstand its limits,” Rakna replied in an equally hushed voice and Allan glanced at him.
“You mean their guns?”
Rakna nodded and continued to observe the ongoing conversation between Flavia and Herts.
“I’m quite fine, I prefer to stay with these two young men,” the latter declared. “In this situation, I believe the trust between the members of a group is more important than their number. Due to my being acquainted with the relatives of these two boys, they are probably the ones I trust the most here.”
Herts’ eyes widened at the firmness in her tone. This conversation wasn’t going his way. She had clearly decided to refuse his invitation no matter what he said. His eyes got a little darker and the armed individuals behind him raised their weapons a bit, making it barely noticeable.
Allan clicked his tongue and was about to ask Rakna what to do when he saw that the usually cold and uninterested purple eyes were significantly more focused. If it wasn’t Allan, very few people would have realized that the teen was glaring.
“Pronos,” Rakna uttered to seemingly no one but he was loud enough that everyone looked at him. He then walked toward Herts and stood a head taller than him. The teacher stepped back a little with a cautious expression.
“You are… Rakna Xiorra, right? The infamous indolent top student,” he said with a smile. “We would be happy to welcome you as-”
“Shut your mouth.”
Herts immediately quieted down and his expression sunk.
“Unfortunately for you and me both, these two idiots have decided to follow me,” Rakna spoke evenly and Flavia made a crooked smile while Allan sighed exaggeratedly. “So, I’ll be taking over from now on. My answer to your invitation is… scram, bastard.”