"The Registry," Riley said, brushing his shaggy black hair out of his eyes as he looked to Isaac, "is where Collars report their location and activities. Collars who are inclined to fight can find everything here they need to live."
Isaac looked up as they entered the lobby of the Registry tower, able to see all the way to the top of the main atrium. On the ground floor, and on the balconies skirting around the edge of the atrium, countless Collars and Indicia milled about, some mingling, some headed to more specific destinations. The Indicia were in various states of undress, from simple loin cloths to nothing at all.
[You don't deserve to stand even here.]
And yet here I stand, the boy chided back.
"Everything they need to live?" Isaac asked, wondering what sorts of facilities the building contained. It was massive, possibly larger than InCorp HQ, and it was populated almost entirely by Collars and their Indicia.
[Indicia and their Collars]
"The Registry provides food, dorms, training areas, entertainment, and a Collar can even net a paycheck if they're willing to take on jobs and fight Thralls." Riley pointed out, leading Isaac to the center of the ground floor, directly at the center of the atrium. He spoke like a tour guide, one who took pride in their work.
"Yeah, my brother does that." Isaac said, still in awe at the number of Collars, and the size of the building. More specifically, it wasn't the size, but that he could see all the way to the top through the expansive atrium.
"Each floor houses a different facility. Commoners, if they have a Collar to vouch for them, can only go as high as the third floor. Past there is off limits unless you're a Collar or a Pre-Collar."
The noisy clatter of the crowd around Isaac threatened to drown out their conversation, though everything Tyloki said rang through loud and clear. Even alongside the cacophony of the atrium, when Tyloki was quiet, his mind seemed silent. Isaac glanced around rapidly, catching glimpses of Indicia of all different sorts. Almost any animal he had ever heard of seemed to be represented here.
[Indicia are a more diverse sort than you humans.]
"Is the Registry a company, like InCorp, or is it a branch of the government?" Isaac asked, silently wondering who footed the bill. He knew where InCorp's money came from, but the Registry was an unknown.
"Officially, the Registry is an unaffiliated with the government. It was instituted as a line of defense against the Thralls when the traditional military proved to be less than effective. I say unaffiliated because we can take the fall if there are any catastrophic Thrall attacks, and the government comes out blameless. Or as close to blameless as they can get. But the truth is more complicated than that. We operate as an individual entity, to keep it simple." Riley spoke quickly, with few breaths interrupting him, this wasn't his first tour.
Isaac merely nodded in response, not entirely sure that his question had been properly answered.
"So what do you want to see first?" Riley asked, stepping close and leaning in to Isaac's ear so he wouldn't have to shout.
The boy shook his head. "I don't know. It's a bit overwhelming. Where do you think we should start?" He yelled, over the din of the room.
Riley nodded. "I know, it can be a lot to take in. Lets go somewhere quiet first." He grabbed Isaac's hand and pulled him along.
Isaac followed, surprised that Riley would be so forward. He led them to what looked like a security checkpoint, similar to the ones Isaac was used to at InCorp. A scanner that you walked through, similar to a metal detector, could scan your DNA and confirm identity in the time it took you to go through. Alternatively, if you were not authorized, the scanner could place a Lightglass barrier in your way, barring your progress. This security system appeared to be similar.
In front of the scanner, however, was a podium, and atop the podium was a white light glass box. It spun slowly in the air, waiting to do its job, whatever that might be. Riley held onto Isaac's hand and stopped in front of the podium. A large security officer sat behind a nearby desk, and Isaac swore he looked just like the security at InCorp. It must be the uniform, Isaac assumed.
[That or all capable people look the same to you.]
Riley waved with his free hand and smiled brightly. Isaac smiled nervously. "He's with me."
After receiving a nod from the officer, Riley held his hand up towards the light glass box. Inside the box, a small sphere somewhat the size of a softball flickered alive. The sphere itself was see through, though it seemed to invert the color of anything that Isaac looked at through it. The light glass box blinked a few times, and then a chirping tone announced that they were cleared to enter.
"The scanners here are tied to each Collar and Indicia pair's specific magic signature." Riley said, letting go of Isaac's hand as they passed through the far end of the scanner. "That way, you can't fake it, and no one can steal your ID."
"It sounds pretty secure." Isaac said, glancing back at the scanners as Riley stopped in front of the elevators, pressing the up button a few times in rapid succession.
"As far as I know, no one has ever broken in. Also, if you have your Totem sealed, you can't use magic, so you can't get in anymore. Since they store sealed Totems here, you can't steal your own Totem back." Riley pointed out, beaming as the elevator doors opened.
[No one has broken in, I know that for a fact.]
"What is your magic?" Isaac asked, boarding the elevator behind Riley.
"That can wait til later." Riley pressed a button to go up. "Floor 2 is a mezannine, usually used as a waiting area for non-Collars who are after a meeting with one of the higher ups. Floor 3 is restaurants and lounges. You can even bring non-Collars with you to hang out there, if you want to enjoy a night out without actually going out."
Isaac listened, but most of his attention was paid to the outside of the glass elevator, looking down on the atrium as they rose up. He was still fascinated by the number of Indicia walking around. The elevator stopped at the fourth floor, and Riley held out a hand, gesturing for Isaac to go first.
Signs in the hallway pointed out that the floor contained various training rooms, exercise rooms, pools, and an arena of some sort. The hallway led in either direction, left or right. Isaac stood and pondered the sign, looking down both hallways. "So every floor has a balcony looking out over the atrium."
"Right. In the event of an attack, Collars could be positioned on the balconies of each floor, making a fight up, or down, a difficult one for someone to win." Riley stood next to the boy, hands on his hips. "So this is the exercise floor. When a Collar wants to train for combat, this is where they come." Riley started down one of the hallways, "Come on, I'll show you."
Isaac nodded and followed close to Riley, not wanting to be left behind in an unfamiliar place. Turning a few corners, Riley led them to a large door, and then went through it. On the other side was a rather large room, at the center of the room was a square ring, cordoned off by light glass bars. A crowd of Collars and Indicia had gathered, apparently there was a sparring match going on. The crowd cheered, both sides of the fight getting equal support.
One of the combatants was a tall man with dark hair who vaguely reminded Isaac of Rufus. He held a sword in his hand, and though it was a wooden sword, it looked to Isaac that he knew how to use it, but the boy wasn't particularly knowledgeable on the subject. He didn't have a shirt on, and Isaac could see the muscle definition in his chest. His pants looked loose and light, to allow for swift movements.
[Archer is a master with his sword, and he is a worthy opponent for any foe.]
"The one on the left is Archer, and that cat standing next to the ring is Alkaid, his Indicia." Riley pointed to the tall man, and then to an Indicia nearby.
The Indicia was around the same size as Isaac, making him one of the smallest he had seen. Setting him apart, as well, was the fact that he was wearing a cloak, with a the hood raised over his head. The hood had pockets sewn in for his large ears, and the bottom of the cloak ran to around the cats knees. With most Indicia going around naked, Isaac couldn't help but have the one wearing clothes catch his eye. He had black and white fur, and otherwise resembled a normal house cat, albeit on two legs. The boy felt his heart flutter, as when he looked at a cute kitten. The cat watched the match intently, studying the moves of his Collar.
[Alkaid is one of the strongest warriors I know. Don't belittle him by thinking he's cute.]
But he is cute, Isaac thought, wondering if the cat would let him pet his head like a kitten.
[You haven't seen him fight. He can be vicious on the battlefield.]
Archer's opponent was a younger looking fellow, pale white skin and brooding facial features. Isaac didn't see an Indicia standing around watching for him, like Alkaid was watching Archer. He also didn't have a weapon, instead his hands seemed to be conduits for power, one hand holding a flame, the other crackling with electricity. He wore robes that Isaac though would look more in place in a fantasy novel.
"That's Dominic, he's a powerful spell caster and a master of elemental magic." Riley said. "He's also relatively new here, so he's eager to prove himself. I guess that's how he ended up in a match against Archer."
"Can he win?" Isaac asked, watching the match. It had clearly already been going for quite some time, both warriors dripping sweat, even in the comfortably cool air of the arena.
"Not likely." Riley stated.
In a flash, Archer had moved forward. Dominic pelted him with bolts of scorching fire and sizzling lightning, but the swordsman appeared to deflect them with his sword as he approached. When he neared Dominic, he swept his blade swiftly across the spell caster's chest, stomach, and neck in three agile strikes. Dominic fell back, trying to avoid the strikes, and landed on his back. He coughed a few times, rubbing over his bruises gently as he remained on the ground, catching his breath. With the spell caster down, Archer had won the fight.
Isaac turned to Riley. "That was impressive." He admitted, having been surprised by the majesty of the magic that Dominic wielded, and the grace with which Archer used his sword.
"You ain't seen nothin' yet." Riley grinned, "Come on. I've got more to show you."
Isaac followed Riley obediently into the hallway.
[Why can't you listen to me that well?]
"Because you're insufferable, and Riley is nice." Isaac whispered, smiling.
[My mistake. I should have held your hand longer.]
The next room they went to was considerably more high tech. The walls were lined with AE circuits, making a complex grid pattern that spanned the entire room. Stepping in, their footsteps echoed metalically.
Riley held his arms out wide, "This is R&D's latest pride and joy, ARTS."
"ARTS?" Isaac wondered, touching his figertips to the walls. He'd never seen such a complex series of AE circuits, even working at InCorp.
"Augmented Reality Training Simulator. It's powered by a super smart computer that can formulate scenarios, locations, situations, even AI controlled duplicates of real people or Indicia." Riley grinned toothily, "Oh the things I could do in here."
"Is it safe?" Isaac asked, not picking up on Riley's suggestive comment.
[That's your first question?]
"Mostly. You might get a few scrapes or bruises, but otherwise, you're safe. Though, during the simulation, wounds are likely to hurt as badly as they really would." Looking down, Riley seemed slightly disappointed. "Though its never quite as intense as real life."
[He's not talking about pain.]
"This is incredible." Isaac whispered.
[I wonder if someone can break it by failing badly enough.]
"I had no idea something like this existed." Isaac said, turning to Riley. "Does the Registry have any more technology that I've never heard of?"
"That's a secret, if you're not registered." Riley smiled, patting Isaac on the shoulder as he exited the ARTS. The boy followed behind enthusiastically.
As they walked back towards the elevators, they caught Dominic heading the other way. The mage looked disheveled, his long hair unkempt and wet, bangs covering his eyes. There was a towel wrapped around his shoulders, and his skin was glistening with sweat. He waved and stopped to chat with Riley. "Hey Riley. Where's Rain?"
Riley nodded back at Isaac. "I've got a new reg here, and I wanted to get him situated before I introduced him to Rain. He can be a handful."
"Oh, a new reg." Dominic smiled, but even when he smiled, his face wasn't bright. It was still gloomy, in a way that Isaac didn't quite understand. He held out his hand to the boy, and Isaac shook it firmly. "Pleased to meet you, I'm Dominic. Call me Dom."
"I'm Isaac. I...uh...saw that duel in there. Tough break, huh?" Isaac attempted to make small talk.
Dom shrugged, shaking his head. "In a fight against Archer, I'm surprised I lasted as long as I did. That guy is legendary."
Riley laughed in agreement. "Even I would think twice before taking Archer one on one."
"So your magic is elemental?" Isaac asked, thinking back to the fights. "Is it just fire and electricity, or?"
"Fire, ice, stone, electricity. Whatever I need. That's why I'm known as the Elemental." Dominic half-smiled.
[His flame is weak.]
"No one calls him that. He is trying to make it his nickname, but I don't see it sticking. Dominic the Elemental." Riley explained with a roll of his eyes, to Dominic's chagrin.
"Oh, well, I don't mind calling you that. I'll help spread the word." Isaac said, and he realized it was the first time he had been friendly to anyone in two days. He used to think of himself as a friendly person, but lately he felt infected by Tyloki's flame.
"I appreciate it. Alright, I'm going to go get showered. I'll see you around, Riley. And Isaac? Welcome to the Registry." Dom waved as he walked past them.
Riley continued their journey to the elevator.
"He was nicer than I thought he would be, his face was kind of mean looking." Isaac said as they boarded.
[Some people aren't what they look like. You are. But some aren't.]
"Dom is a nice guy, most of the time. He can get pretty competitive, though. Watch out if he challenges you to a fight." Riley pressed another button to head further upward.
Isaac once again looked out over the atrium. "I don't intend to get into any fights, really."
"That Indicia of yours is going to get pretty restless." Riley warned, raising an eyebrow at the boy.
[I already am.]
"He already is." Isaac said, "Is there any way to make them be quiet?" Once again, he felt a smack on the back of his head, this time hard enough to make him accidentally bite his tongue. In the glass of the elevator, he could see Tyloki glaring at him in the reflection.
"Can a pet dog make their master stop talking? You signed up to belong to your Indicia, and you do. So there isn't much you can make your Indicia do." Riley said, "But have you tried asking nicely? Works for me."
"I have." Isaac said, tasting the blood from his bit tongue.
[Learn to obey me before you even think of making requests.]
"Didn't work." Isaac added.
"Didn't figure it would, not with Tyloki the Flame." Riley admitted, leaning on the side of the elevator. "To tell you the truth, kid, I think you're stupid."
"Sorry?" Isaac asked, turning around to face Riley.
"Tyloki is an incarnation of fire. Passion. Violence. You're not, how can I put this politely, anything like that at all. He's probably going to run you into the ground until you're dead, or you want to be."
[That is the plan.]
"How did Jin deal with this?" Isaac wondered aloud.
[He wasn't useless to begin with.]
"Him and Tyloki got along pretty well." Riley said with a shrug. "You're not Ty's type."
[And he could listen. Most of the time...]
When Isaac didn't respond,Riley continued the tour, as bright and energetic as he had been before. "Floors 5 and 6 are the library and cafeteria, respectively. The library has pretty much every book ever written, ever. And the cafeteria has some of the worst food ever made. But its free, for Collars, so you take what you can get."
The elevator stopped again, and the doors slid open to a quiet, comfortable hallway. "This is the first dorm floor, there's a few of them. Half of this floor is for Pre-Collars, the rest is Collars. Every other dorm floor is all Collars. I live on this floor, and help keep an eye on the trainees." Riley explained as he led Isaac down the hallway. The hallway in the exercise floor had been boring, white, like InCorp's hallways. This floor was warmer, with carpet and a pleasantly patterned wallpaper instead of cold metal walls and floors.
"Every few bedrooms share a single living space." Riley said, walking through a door into a cozy little room with a sofa, several chairs, and a TV. Not a light glass display, an actual TV set. An antique.
"Does that work?" Isaac asked, approaching the thin, flat screen device.
"It sure does. It took me almost a year of requisition requests to get my hands on it." Riley said, clearly proud of himself.
Overall, the room reminded Isaac of the living room in his old house, the one Rufus owned now. It was a bit small, but comfortable. "You requisitioned a TV?" Isaac asked, "How did you justify that?"
"I just kept writing 'to improve combat effectiveness'. And eventually, they got tired of my requests and a TV showed up on my doorstep. It was like Christmas." Riley laughed, and Isaac joined him.
Riley sat on the couch and crossed his legs, relaxing. "So what do you think? Not too shabby, eh?"
"No, it's all really nice." Isaac said, still looking around the room at all of the trinkets and trophies that lined the walls.
Before he could say anything else, he felt a gentle brush along his pocket, and glanced down to see what it was. He was startled to see an arm disappearing into his pocket, and that arm was attached to body with a grinning muzzle that was now uncomfortably close to his face. The myriad whiskers tickled his cheeks as Isaac grabbed at the arm, trying to pull the paw out of his pocket. Surprised, he stumbled back, his legs catching on the couch, causing him to fall back onto the cushions.
"Hi!" the muzzle said enthusiastically, grinning with large fangs at the side of his mouth.
"Uh, hi." Isaac said, slowly, still stunned. "Could you take your hand out of my pocket?"
Riley howled in laughter from the couch. "Isaac! Meet Rain, my Indicia."
Rain was slightly taller than Isaac, and was arching his body down to meet him face to face on the couch. Stepping his large paws up on the couch, Rain climbed above Isaac on the couch, crouching above him, keeping his paw in Isaac's pocket. He had a long body, with more torso than most, and squat, short legs. His feet paws were webbed, and he was wiggling his toes. He had a bright green loin cloth covering his waist (Thank goodness, Isaac thought), tied on top of rich, chocolate fur. Trailing on the floor behind him was a thick, muscular tail.
"I think that's the fastest you've ever gotten into anyone's pants before, Rain." Riley laughed, "Definitely a new record!"
Rain wiggled his paw around inside Isaac's pocket, winking at him. "I could. But I'm just being friendly."
"Nice to meet you, Rain." Isaac gave a fake smile, hoping that being friendly would encourage the otter to remove his paw.
Rain grinned, eyes glinting mischievously, and then he pulled his paw out, climbing off the boy.
"Rain likes to have fun." Riley said, "Sometimes a bit too much."
"Oh, sorry. Did you want this one all to yourself?" Rain asked, raising an eyebrow at Riley.
"Want me all to yourself?" Isaac asked, crossing his arms.
"That's not it at all. I was merely giving the boy a tour of the Registry." Riley stammered
"Don't lie to me." Rain said, grinning.
"Doesn't Rain know everything you're thinking?" Isaac asked
"Yeah, that doesn't mean he wont lie about it." Riley snapped, and Rain stuck his tongue out at him in response.
Isaac chuckled, feeling comfortable now. This place wasn't foreign, he had friends here now. He liked Dom, and Riley, and Rain. It had only been a few hours, but already his outlook had changed.
A faint chirping made Isaac turn his head to Riley. The LINK he wore around his wrist was ringing, so he raised his wrist and answered it. He gave a few nods, and gave a few non-commital responses. After a moment, he hung up the LINK. He looked at Isaac.
"Sorry, but I'm going to have to cut the tour short." He looked at Rain, next. "We've got a report of a Thrall in Mid-town. Fountain Square. Lets go check it out."
He jumped to his feet, and disappeared into his bedroom. When he returned, he had a leather band strapped around his thigh holding more small knives than Isaac could count. They were metal knives, with real blades. Did every Collar forego Lightglass bladed weapons for metal ones?
Pointing at Isaac as he headed for the door, he spoke with a different tone than before. He was serious now, and the brightness in his eyes had settled. "Stay here, I'll be back before you know it, and I'll finish the tour."
Rain had already vanished, and with that, Riley disappeared through the door.
Isaac sat alone in the quiet room, pondering how comfortable the couch was, and how nice a nap would be, before he sprang to his feet and followed after Riley.
[You still don't listen, even when the person is nice.]
"Quiet." Isaac growled as he clambered through the door.
[You always run when you should fight, and fight when you should run.]