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A note from Vincent Archer

Time to introduce the second of our main characters.

The next chapter bloc is brought to you courtesy of those authors:

The Middle of Nowhere, © 1995 David Gerrold

Mutually Assured Survival, © 1984 Jerry Pournelle

An Armory of Swords, © 1995 Fred Saberhagen

Glory Road, © 1963 Robert Heinlein

Relic of Empire, © 1992 W. Michael Gear

(Y6, July 8th)

 

The attack came out without warning. Vantegaard was making progress toward his Major leyline goal when a weight landed on his back. He fell and tried to roll as a claw tried to swipe at his head.

Turning on the ground, he saw a large cat, without visible ears. The fur had multiple spots that seemed… to move on their own. The description matched Leopardus Serpo, the prowling feline of the plains. An ambush predator, Serpo was close to impossible to spot until he attacked you.

Vantegaard managed a big kick pushing the cat away from him. The beast gathered and jumped back as he was shooting his Rock Dart while trying to get back on his feet. The Dart did damage the lynx but didn’t turn him away, so he landed on Vantegaard’s leg.

Another kick failed to connect. Without a skill, that was a long shot. But the respite had given him enough time to draw his knife. He slashed vertically, trying to slice the paws that were doing their best to destroy his pant leg and the flesh inside.

Serpo growled in a low tone, barely audible. The ambush thing seemingly extended to his combat noise.

Vantegaard managed to get himself in a prone position and brought his knife to bear, blocking – at last, one Bladed Parry – the cat’s attack. His Jab did damage but did little to deter the cat’s assault.

The human and the cat traded a quick flurry of blows until his knife sank deep into the cat’s side. This time, the yowling was clearly audible.

Vantegaard ended the fight with a double-timed strike. The knife entered the cat’s maw, ending Serpo’s life at last.

 

He breathed hard. The combat had taken a fairly big chunk of the health he had almost finished recovering from yesterday. The cat was very obviously of a slightly higher rank than his previous day’s opponents, but the ambush attack was what made him dangerous. If he’d seen him coming, he’d have dropped the beast's health a bit before things got close.

A meditation restored some of the stamina, although the spent Power would not come back now that he wasn’t on a leyline anymore. Until he got to his target, his Power would drop every time he used Earth Magics until the lower normal maximum.

 

He finally contemplated the corpse of his enemy. Skinning the cat was out of the question, but he might get something to use later… ah, Serpo’s eyes were supposed to be good for night vision potion. Hopefully, his Night Sense skill would eventually mean that he wouldn’t need those, but the market would exist.

A few knife twists later, the twin eyeballs were wrapped in paper, which would be enough to preserve them – unlike Earth where they would have rotted fairly fast with such a flimsy wrapping.

Then, on impulse, he started carving the flanks of the cat. The beast’s corpse was far too large to keep around, but the meat might make his first local meal. He wouldn’t stop too long at noon to make a proper camp, but the evening camp would allow him to see if the “cat tastes like rabbit” proposition applied to local equivalents.

Assuming he’d catch some rabbit to compare.

 

The feeling of the leyline steadily increased until he managed to reach a small furrow in the plains.

 

Warning! A Major Leyline overwhelms and replaces your normal skill selection with an ambiguous Tier 3 Earth Magic skill. Resolve the leyline interference to prevent recurrence of this difficulty. Other leyline configurations may still cause further problems.

 

Major Leyline skills

Impose Load. Tier 3 Presence. Your enemies may have to overcome a heavy load before reaching you.

Earth Map. Tier 3 Perception. Anything can be mapped. That includes the inner spaces of the ground.

Grasp of the Stone. Tier 3 Strength. There is no obstacle that cannot be removed by the application of strength.

 

A debuff, an informational skill and… something about obstacles? Vantegaard had an offensive build in mind, so the debuff was the obvious choice. Another Strength skill could work, but… no. He couldn’t fire more than 2 Rock Darts before an enemy reached him, so a debuff that slowed his opponents might let him fire more.

And it would raise his Presence. And maybe make Sculpt useable at last.

 

Impose Load

Tier 3 Presence

Action

Your enemies may have to overcome a heavy load before reaching you.

 

Reduces Dexterity and speed.

 

Power cost: 95

Duration: 15s

Movement speed: -15%

Dexterity: -11%

Skill level 5 (base 1)

Advancement: 0%

 

Now, his skill and build were starting to grow nicely. A normal Newbie would have more skills, but his leyline-purchased skills were making a more focused build. Still, it galled him to see that many unspent free points.

 

Vantegaard

 

Health: 498/657 (recovers 144/day)

Stamina: 676/676 (recovers 2.1/s)

Power: 633/1168 (475+693; recovers 1.7/s)

 

Reasoning: 29 (11%)

Dexterity: 26 (26%)

Resilience: 24 (79%)

Strength: 21 (37%)

Fortitude: 21 (66%)

Reflexes: 19 (18%)

Perception: 17 (2%)

Presence: 14

Intuition: 13 (98%)

 

 

 

 

Absolute Meditation 23 (32%)

Sense the Leylines 15 (96%)

Door Knocker 11

Sprinting 9 (75%)

Sure Strike 8 (34%)

Evaluate Minerals 6 (71%)

Rock Dart 6 (22%)

Bladed Parry 5 (90%)

Jab 5 (1%)

Impose Load 5

Night Sense 4 (16%)

Sculpting 3

--unknown--

Level: 14 – 63%

Unused points: 7

 

He had enough points for the next skill, and would soon have enough for another. He needed to find another leyline. He still didn’t know what exactly counted as “other leyline configurations”. Did that mean just a new leyline? Or something different.

At least for now, he had a simple choice. Which direction to take following the major leyline. From the sun’s position… it was running east-northeast to west-southwest. Since he had already started toward the east in the forest, there was little point in going back to the forest border. Eastward it was.

 

He had fished a couple of cereal bars for lunch break, along with some ham. Not exactly a balanced diet, but on Northworld, this did not matter. Either you had enough food, and you were ok, or not enough, and got Famished after a while. But now, there was a faint feeling… a new leyline. There was a minor leyline somewhere to the side, slightly toward the south of his major.

However, there was something more to the south. There looked like.. a biped. Too far in the distance to distinguish anything… but maybe he had finally found the local Gaters.

 

Birkathane was starting to get antsy. Three days ago, she’d spawned at the center of, well, a tree circle. Nine trees, in a roughly circular formation, with a minuscule depression in the middle that had some wet mud. It had looked like it could have been a pond. She could have used some water when she’d finished puking, but there was none left.

All her Swedish friends had warned her that she’d probably be far from them, but once she’d figured out where she was, it would be just time to travel and meet up.

That, of course, required that she figure out where she was. Seemingly, that was in the middle of nowhere at all.

 

It seemed that the Setup had played her strengths. A chemistry major, tae-kwon-do brown belt, and the childhood on the farm near Arvidsjaur, and… she’d been promoted to Monk. Or maybe Monk/Druid/Alchemist now? She’d picked 5 new skills over the three days so she’d made progress. Not as much as she could have done, but real nonetheless.

Of course, she had joke skills. The alchemy ones required materials that she hadn’t. Except for plants, which she’d started to collect once she’d been able to identify them. Her Strength skills… were useless at the moment. At least, the druidic skills wove themselves well, giving her already a point in Resilience. But that Surface Climb

 

Birkathane

 

Health: 638/656 (recovers 132/day)

Stamina: 674/674 (recovers 1.8/s)

Lifeforce: 719/772 (bare/desert outdoor: recovers 0.16/s)

 

Reasoning: 28

Dexterity: 27 (55%)

Reflexes: 22 (30%)

Resilience: 22 (9%)

Fortitude: 21 (70%)

Strength: 18

Intuition: 17 (77%)

Presence: 16 (18%)

Perception: 16 (12%)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meditative Cultivation 23 (41%)

Draw on the World 13 (10%)

Rooted Existence 10 (89%)

Purify Tincture 10

Pierce Defense 9 (59%)

Absolute Compass 8 (12%)

Brew 8

Deflect Strike 7 (54%)

Interrupt 6 (20%)

Steadfast 5 (90%)

Carry the Load 5

Evaluate Flora 4 (92%)

Night Sense 4 (77%)

Surface Climb 4

--unknown--

Level: 16 – 80%

Unused points: 0

 

There was something to break the plain’s monotony, besides the occasional hyper-aggressive cat. A silhouette. She stopped, peering in the direction. Looked like someone in the distance.

The person stopped and started waving her arms.

Looked like she finally found civilization. Or one of its representatives.

 

The biped silhouette had been recognizably a woman once Vantegaard had come close enough. From close, she was a tall ash blonde, wearing shorts, hiking boots with thick socks and a men’s cotton tee-shirt with some university logo with too many scratches all over the ‘o’s.

“Hiya!”

“Greetings!”

“Are you…”

“Do you know…”

Both stopped. The woman was the first to start again.

“I was starting to worry about seeing no one. I just spawned three days ago…”

“Me too. Ok, yesterday, not three days, but that’s my first spawn as well.”

The woman grimaced.

“Ok so… you have no idea where we are?”

“Nope. I spawned in the forest to the west. Walked a bit, left it, and have been trying to check the land.”

“I thought I saw some trees to the west. I’m Birkathane.”

“Vantegaard.”

“Dutch?”

Vantegaard hesitated. Some forums drilled you – in Northworld, do as Northworld, not Earth.

“American, in case my accent didn’t give it away.”

Birkathane laughed “I’m Viking myself, in case the name didn’t give it away.”

“The tee did.”

“A former boyfriend. He moved away very fast after I caught him, and he didn’t have the time to pack. I forgot to throw this through the window after him.”

“So, what’s the Etiquette… ah, yes. Greetings Fellow Gater, I am Vantegaard, level 15… Earth Mage.”

Birkathane’s eyebrow rose.

“Geomancer? Got a build coming up already?”

“Three… no, four magic skills building on Geomantic Power. Sounds like a strong build base. I thought I’d be a Swordsman, but I picked that magical stuff first, which probably means I’ll end up mostly finger wiggling, not sword slashing.”

“I’m level 16 myself, and a jumble. Looks like I’m part-Monk, part-Druid, and lots of useless additions.”

“Monk? Whoa. I had a monk skill offered during Setup, but it didn’t synergize. So, Druid, eh? Lifeforce… you probably have problems here in the middle of nowhere. Lifeforce regeneration requires some significant number of plants and animals if I remember right my Magical for Dummies.”

“Yea, it would be a pain. But get this… I have… a TIER 1 Meditation!”

Birkathane struck a heroic pose. Then smiled as Vantegaard did a double-take. Now she’d impressed the guy. Eat this, Geomantic boy.

 

A tier 1 meditation? Another? How was that even possible. The only tier 1 meditation known was a rarity and his own was unknown as far as he knew. How did she get it… or did she get it?

Boundless Meditation or Absolute Meditation?”

Birkathane answered “It’s not Boundless… it’s a new one, I think. It’s called Meditative Cultivation. It regenerates everything, like Boundless, but it also regenerates Health first time I use it during the day, and get this… I gain 20% to each of my stats until I use an action that relies on that stat.”

 

Meditative Cultivation

Tier 1 Resilience

Action

You draw upon the energies of the world, enhancing your own.

 

Mental, magical and physical energies recharge at an accelerated rate while you are meditating. Health regenerates at an accelerated rate once per day. Each of your stats is increased until you take an action that is based on that stat. Meditation is interrupted if you move or take an action.

 

Maximum meditation period: 23s

Cooldown: 476s

Vitals recovery: 5.7/s

Health recovery: 2.9/s on the first Cultivation of the day.

Stats: +20% each until used or 1h.

Skill level 23 (base 2)

Advancement: 41%

 

“That’s… nice.”

“Nice? It’s awesome. Plus it’s a massive plus for Druids. They always have regeneration problems.”

She smirked.

“Confess. You would like to have it, don’t you?”

Vantegaard decided to confess, but not exactly how she expected.

“The reason I mentioned Absolute Meditation… is that it’s the tier 1 I have.”

“What?!?”

“Something’s fishy. Getting a brand new tier 1 meditation, when there is only one known. And only 4 Gaters known to have it, it’s awesome luck. Two completely new ones, when we spawned next to each other…”

“What’s an Absolute Meditation?”

Vantegaard explained “Standard high tier. Regenerates every vital except health, and it also purges mind-related debuffs and I can use it on the move.”

“I’d say mine is a bit more versatile, but I have to stay in place.”

Birkathane waved her hands.

“I know, that’s not a factor at our skill level, less than 30s wait. But in some dungeons at high rank…”

 

Vantegaard thought about it.

“Anyway, two data points do not a conclusion make.”

Birkathane snorted.

“Once is happenstance, twice coincidence, thrice…”

“Enemy action? I wouldn’t go to that point. An enemy giving you tier 1 ultra-useful skills?”

“Then intelligent design.”

Vantegaard opined “You know, people do think the Interface has to be run by some kind of ultra-AI. It plays too much into our zeitgeist. And it uses the SI for everything, from kilometers to seconds. I mean, the duration of the day on Northworld isn’t even an exact 24h!”

“Then it has decided that we need those skills.”

“If we’re going to need those skills, then we should be ready. Want to join forces?”

“The local fauna isn’t too dangerous, but there’s really no one around.”

“Then let’s keep exploring.”

“Sure, but where to? I was going north, you were going east…”

Vantegaard hesitated to tell about his leyline system, then decide to tell only part of the story.

“The reason I was going east is that I’m trying to pinpoint a leyline.”

“Oh, right. You geomancers are always about leylines.”

“It gives a very good power max. I found a minor earlier in the forest. As soon as I was getting close, my max power shot up.”

Never mind that his max power hadn’t even existed as a vital prior to the leyline and its interference.

“So you’re looking for a new one to recharge?”

“Yes. And once we’ve found it, we can move along it, so I can top up if we get attacked by a plains cat.”

“I had a bunch of those sneak on me.”

“I had one Leopardus Serpo jump me on the back. It’s a pain if all your magic skills are ranged ones when you start fighting at close range.”

“I can punch it. Probably better than you.”

Vantegaard pointed to the commando knife at his belt.

“I don’t punch, I slice.”

“Those cats don’t stand a chance. Skin them?”

“No way, I don’t have a skill for that.”

“If you try it, then maybe it will show up in the lottery.”

 

The minor leyline didn’t show up on the ground. But it was definitively there. Not only did his sense tell him he was just on it, but his power max had the bonus.

And, not too unexpectedly, there was no sign of “interference” from the leyline. Unless the unknown skill…

 

Focused Sight

Tier 4 Perception

Triggered

If you know where to look, the smallest details always make sense.

 

Reduces chance to miss with any skill.

 

Chance to miss: 4.9% reduction

Skill level 5 (base 1)

Advancement: 0%

 

That was a nice skill. A nice skill indeed. There were several variants to reduce misses or resistance to combat skills. Some applied to enemies – which required you to hit them first – while others applied to you. Not the best stat synergy, but… that’s what normal Gaters dealt with all the time. Vantegaard had almost forgotten that people couldn’t force a build as he did.

Anyway, it looked like he had definitively “resolved” the minor leyline interference. It would be a bummer if he did only have 4 opportunities to pick Earth magic skills, one per leyline type… his hopes of being the biggest Geomancer on Northworld would be dashed.

Birkathane asked, “Now what?”

“We follow the leyline? It looks like it moves northeast anyway.”

“I was going north, you east, that looks a compromise.”

“Yea, best not to retrace our paths. I still hope we’ll find some signs of people.”

“We need to find a distinctive location. Because going back to Earth and saying ‘ok I’m lost on a plains east of a forest’ is going to help. Like, a lot. My friends are going to laugh themselves silly because I’m the one who never gets lost back there.”

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A note from Vincent Archer

Don't worry, this isn't turning into a cultivation novel. This is just a humorous take on the concept.

Birkathane's handle comes from the skeleton of a female major war leader of the Viking era, exhumed at the archeological site of Birka. Go look at her history (well, the history of the dig - she's still very much an unknown), which is interesting.

Glossary time? Glossary time.

Leopardus Serpo (Prowling Ocelot) – A stealthy mid-sized feline predator, nearly impossible to notice unless it is currently attacking you. Typical ranks 7 to 15.

Druid – A sub-build of Mage, based around Lifeforce. Druids’ vital regenerates based on the amount of life around. In dungeons, that means their enemies; it’s not uncommon for a Druid to start a fight at low Lifeforce and end up near max.

Famished – A debuff that comes when you haven’t eaten for a while. It reduces quickly your stats, but not directly your skills. You can last 10 days maximum while Famished.

Healer – General name for mage Builds based on regenerating vital statistics for oneself or others. Healer Archmages are extremely rare and powerful. Main healers are druids, then necromancers and aetherists.

Lifeforce – A vital characteristic. It fuels Druid’s skills and regenerates based on the amount of – complex – living things around.


About the author

Vincent Archer

  • France

Bio: Vincent Archer wrote his first story around age 11. On a mechanical typewriter, with carbon paper for a mimeograph to distribute in class. His teacher knew enough to make vague encouraging noises rather than really tell him what she thought. He wrote more stories afterward, but Time has thankfully managed to erase every trace of them.

Now that his career has settled in a mix of routine and insanity and that he's figured out that herding cats would probably be easier, he's finally started to write stories again on a media rather than inside his brain. Some of those are even potentially good enough to show to other people.

Silvergates is his first attempt to finish one rather than admit defeat against the usual writer's block.

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