After catching up with the three who had gone ahead, Rakna had briefly summarized what he had been doing after they asked him what had taken so long.
“Slave dealers, huh?” Allan muttered darkly. “This System seems to be more… ‘real’ than I would have liked.”
“I see what you mean,” Flavia nodded. “We need to be careful and not just make the assumption that this place doesn’t go beyond just Hosts and their System.”
“Indeed. Though, this kind of situation will probably not just involve Locals. It’s a certainty that even Hosts might partake in such crimes,” Nyx added.
Rakna stayed silent but the three of them didn’t need him to say anything to know that he agreed if his speech about humans at the party was anything to go by. He was one of the people who knew very well how ugly people could be.
“Looks like we’re here,” he changed the topic as they arrived near the Pavilion, a massive building with an oval shape and an arched glass rooftop. The walls were carved and seemed to be made of various materials aside from the several rows of tinted glass.
The area around the direct boundaries of the building was cleared of any urban structure and the front side was an entire plaza with a fountain in the center. The entrance of the building had at least five big revolving doors and a sizeable stream of visitors going in and out.
“Well, this definitely looks like an important place,” Allan commented as the group made their way through the plaza and around the fountain.
They got to the entrance and then inside without any trouble. They took a moment to admire the hall that they stepped in. It was a circular hall with a very high ceiling. Above them was a sort of giant sophisticated gyroscope that floated in random directions. The walls were constructed with mechanisms resembling gears that were spinning very slowly.
The floor seemed to be made out of granite and with two different shades. The brighter shade defined paths that led in three directions. Two of them being the extravagant staircases to the sides and the last one leading to an imposing reception counter.
Allan whistled and looked around at the people going up and down the stairs with only a few of them heading to the reception. Oddly, there didn’t seem to be as many people as he expected after seeing the traffic outside.
“Ah, you’re here,” the recognizable voice of a certain clown made the group look to their left where Gray was approaching them with an ever so bright grin. Though, his attire was different. It was not as… ‘clowny’ before.
The color scheme remained the same but his clothes currently were more akin to a business suit. He didn’t have the clown nose this time and his cybernetic face had no obstruction. He also wore a red top hat now and a quite eye-catching pocket watch hanging from his tailcoat with a silver chain.
“I praise you. You’re quite early all things considered. Many new Hosts tend to sleep more due to over-exhaustion,” he commended as he stopped in front of them. “So? Did you enjoy your brief exploration of Black Steel?”
“Fairly,” Rakna responded. “We did enjoy having a small chat over noodles.”
Gray blinked. “Well, that’s quite a cozy thing to do although you’ve been pretty much kidnapped and thrown into a perilous world which you have no information about.”
“You’re talking to Rak, you know. He could be dying tomorrow and he wouldn’t give a shit if he could not do anything about it,” Allan commented and the clown cackled.
“I see. Anyhow, Rakna Xiorra, I’m here to guide you through the Pavilion. Your friends should also go meet up with their guild members. Normally, you should be asking the reception where your guild is, but I’ll tell you myself as a service,” he said and pointed at the staircase on the right of the hall.
“To get to the Madness Guild’s meeting, it’s straight after going up those stairs until you find the room numbered 045. I think they will start the meeting in about thirty minutes. As for the Wiccan Guild’s meeting, it’s a bit after that. You’ll reach an intersection; go to the right and search for the room numbered 077,” Gray finished and turned to the three concerned people.
“Got it memorized?”
“Yeah, no problem,” Allan said.
“No worry,” Nyx said and Flavia nodded agreeingly.
“Sweet!” Gray clapped his hands. “Let’s go then, Rakna. My guild doesn’t have a room because we knew we would be getting only one member; if any. We can go straight to the left staircase and proceed to the awakening of your magic. I’ll explain a few things on the way too.”
“Sure,” Rakna replied. “Though, I trust I’ll be able to regroup with my friends over here, right?”
“Of course. This won’t take long. Then, you will be mostly free to do whatever you want when we introduce you to the underground railway,” Gray stated. “You’ll see what I mean in time. Follow me.”
“See you later,” Rakna waved his hand at the three who replied with a curt nod. Allan then followed Gray’s directions and separated from Nyx and Flavia who went for the Wiccan Guild’s room.
* * *
When Rakna took a step on the second floor of the Pavilion, he was mildly surprised by how quiet and empty it was. What the stairs led to was a spacious lounge room with sofas and even what appeared to be a TV on the wall.
“Are you wondering why the place is so vacant?” Gray asked as if he knew what he was thinking.
“Yes. How come there isn’t anyone here although there were so many people going up and down the stairs?” Rakna inquired as the two continued to walk toward an open corridor.
“Well, the Pavilion is quite special. It is a place filled with what we called ‘Filter Dimensions’. First of all, when you enter the building, it will separate Hosts and even Locals from anyone that they don’t know or have never interacted with before. Have you ever played an RPG? You can see it as a sort of lobby.”
“I see. What about the second floor then? What kind of filter is there in place?”
“Guild, Friend, and Party filter. People that don’t have any of these in common can’t enter the second floor together. You and I can because we’re in the same Guild, obviously. And, if we consider how small our Guild is, you can guess why this ‘lobby’ is so empty.”
“This is more thought out than I expected,” Rakna remarked as they passed by several doors with plates saying things such as Training Area 2, Vault, Personal Area, etc…
“Yes, I’m sure you noticed that the System is quite thorough from many aspects. Well, while we get to the Awakening Room, let me explain to you a few things you can do in the Pavilion.”
“Back to the beginning; when you take the stairs to the right, where your friends went, you’re led to a place that serves as a sort of hub with no second Filter Dimension. There are meeting rooms there for Guilds, leisure lounges, the Venue, as well as access to Board Quests, something we’ll get to later.”
“Then, there’s the left staircase, what we just used. What you have access to here is a lot of things. There’s the Vault, where you can store items and money if you want since you do have a limit to how many Talys you can have at once. Pets and mounts can also be left to the Vault where they’ll be taken care of in another dimension for a fee.”
“After that, we have the Training Areas composed of stuff like gyms, arenas, gravity rooms, etc. In the same kind of spirit, there’s what we call Personal Areas. It’s generally used by Hosts who want to train alone and be protected from any sort of spying. I swear on my hat that nothing could even intrude that room once you’re in. Not even the guy sitting at the top of the Rankings.”
“Then, we have the Guild Shop. There’s not really a point in you going there for now since you need a special currency that is only obtainable by doing Guild Quests or Raids,” he said and mused for a moment. “That’s the gist of it, I think,” he concluded then turned to the right as they reached the end of the corridor.
“The only things left to tell you about are these,” he said as he pointed at two double doors facing each other in front of them. He pointed to the right, “This one leads to the Main Shop. It’s where you went after the Initiation. The other door is what we’re here for; the Awakening Room.”
Rakna glanced at the doors of the Shop and thought of something. “Hey, does the shopkeeper stay the same as the Initiation’s?”
“Hm? No, usually not, since most of the Initiation’s shopkeepers are Hosts from higher Plateaus needing to do it in order to complete their Trials.”
“Their Trials? Those even include things like keeping the shop for new Hosts?”
“Yes, Trials are very varied, honestly,” Gray shrugged. “Why are you asking that question anyway?” He asked then displayed an even wider red grin. “Do you have a crush on the Lady of the Nine-Tailed Clan’s Fox Branch? She was your shopkeeper, wasn’t she? I heard she was a stunning woman. Did she get through you?”
“Shut up, clown,” Rakna replied indifferently as they stood in front of the Awakening Room. “Hurry up and open this.”
Gray chuckled and simply tapped on the door with his finger. The doors instantly slammed open as if pushed by an invisible force. Rakna inspected the room as he entered after Gray. It was quite small compared to all of what he had seen in the Pavilion.
The walls were dark gray, the lighting was dim, the ground covered in carpet, and the ceiling was dark blue in color. It felt very confined overall and the only thing present in the room was an orb hovering above the ground in the center.
“Well then, it is time,” Gray said as he closed the doors behind them. The room was now drowned in darkness and the only source of light was the faint glow coming from the orb. “All you have to do is simple. Touch the orb and channel your mana into it. If you focus, you should be able to feel your mana going throu-”
“No need to explain. I already have Mana Control,” Rakna interrupted him.
“Oh,” Gray exclaimed. “Guess I should’ve expected that. In that case, go ahead. The magic that will resonate with your very existence and carry you through countless battles from now on will be uncovered here,” he declared then stepped back to the corner of the room.
Rakna breathed in and placed his hand on the orb. He closed his eyes and slowly guided his mana inside of it. The effect was immediate. The orb started shining and the room’s very atmosphere became heavy. The ceiling lit up with hundreds of small blue dots and Gray felt a shiver coursing through his body.
His eyes became wide in shock as he watched what was happening. The ceiling and the walls were continuing to light up with dots of cold blue light. Then, these same dots were all suddenly linked together by lines like constellations before something manifested itself above the orb along with a wave of cold air.
“Ice…? No, this is…” Gray muttered then he got a proper look at what had just appeared above the Awakening Orb. He first let out a chuckle, then a few more, and finished with a laugh.
“Hahaha, honestly…” He smirked. “You really have talent to spare, don’t you?"