(Y6, July 8th)
All three gathered around the stairs going down. Seen from above, they went down under a small rounded vaulting, then turned into the darkness.
Vantegaard was the first to voice the conclusion.
Quandocor snapped his head “What?”
“Well, ok, any place that’s enclosed, and likely to contain enemies is technically classified as a dungeon, even if it’s not a medieval prison or fortress. But you know what I’m talking about.”
Quandocor didn’t, but he wasn’t about to tell everyone that.
“Do you think there are enemies down there?”
Birkathane smiled, “Probably a bunch of rats or bats.”
“Does not sound dangerous.”
“It depends on which kind of rats. Even if we’re on lowbie land, some of them can be nasty, notably if there’s a mischief.”
“What’s a mischief?”
“You boys know nothing,” she said, eliciting a snort from Vantegaard at the reference.
“A mischief is a group of rats. Like a pride of lions or a pack of wolves.”
“Oh, didn’t know that.”
“Live on a farm for a while. You pick up all kinds of interesting stuff.”
Vantegaard cut the discussion.
“So, shall we?”
“You got lights?”
Vantegaard dropped his bag and rummaged, pulling out a bunch of cotton squares, sticks and a bottle of oily stuff. Quandocor looked at the label.
“Petroleum jelly, to be precise. Great stuff for burning.”
Vantegaard pulled one of the cotton squares and started rubbing it with some of the jelly. Once satisfied with the soaking, he wrapped the square around the stick and pulled out his lighter.
“Why not use a lamp?”
Quandocor knew he’d probably made a mistake when both Gaters looked at him.
“Sure. But the battery is going to be dead within an hour. Batteries lose their charge so fast here, you can use a lamp maybe once if you’re quick.”
Birkathane shook her head.
“Don’t tell me you’ve packed lamps?”
“Lamp, singular. Batteries, plural.”
“Well, now I’ve made the torch, I get to use it. Next time, we’ll use your lamp. No sense letting it go to waste; the batteries will lose their charge even when not used anyway.”
Quandocor filed that away for reference. If Swordfish ran for long, and more agents went onto the field, they’d probably be prepared better thanks to him.
The stairs were not that tight, but they were too small to go two at a time. After a quick consultation, Vantegaard had decided to open the way. Torch in the left hand, right hand ready to cast. Quandocor came behind him, and Birkathane ended the procession.
After the turn, the stairs went down for a meter before stopping at another vaulted opening. Squeaky noises came from there.
“Looks you were right Birka. I hear something that sounds like rats.”
The torch gave more light than it would have on Earth. Not as much as a local-made torch would, but still better than one would expect.
“Ok, I’m assuming that the rats will not like it. Oh, just in case…”
Birkathane noticed the feeling of solidity. The Interface just told her she’d gained some damage reduction in psychic attacks.
“Hey, why that?”
“You’re the closest we have to a healer. Even if it’s a regen boost. Always make sure the healer’s protected.”
Quandocor didn’t like taking stupid-sounding risks, but he kept playing along.
“So, what’s the plan.”
“I enter, move right, you go in, move left, Birka comes in. Hopefully, they haven’t attacked yet. If not, well, start using your abilities. Oh, and get ready to retreat if they’re too high ranked. Shouldn’t be, but just in case.”
The torch barely lighted the room. The rear was still covered in shadow, but the group of 4 rats to the left turned their heads when Vantegaard entered the room.
They were still deciding on whether or not to attack the intruding biped when the remaining Gaters filed into the room. The squeaking rose to a furious pitch as the mischief broke up and the rats came.
Given the tight quarters, Vantegaard gave up starting with the Impose Load. Better throw at least one Rock Dart first, then only, try debuffing the rats. As the first rat got pierced by the dart, he noticed the pungent smell coming out of his targets.
“Stinking Rats. Fuck, these things interfere with our stats.”
Sure enough, the Rattus Bromosus closing in had reduced their Fortitude, Dexterity, and Reflexes by 14%. Not too hard, but still a noticeable impact of those skills that used them, with high tiers being the most affected. Melee skills would suffer quite a bit.
Birkathane found it funny that her regeneration had increased significantly, from the rats’ presence. She did not have too many druidic offensive skills, though. She bent down and simply punched the first rat that was coming to bite her, with a satisfying Pierce Defense giving the rat a big chunk of health dropping.
She added an Interrupt, just to practice the skill. These didn’t seem to have an ability attack, besides their distracting smells. She deflected the second rat’s strike and focused on the first foe.
Quandocor found it completely ironic that he was in a basement, fighting rats. The biggest one had run for him and was trying to tear holes in his pants. Time to test those “combat skills” that entering Northworld was supposed to have given to him. The Deadly Punch came underwhelming. For such a big name it didn’t kill anything. At least not outright. Unless the mention of staff meant something? Dodging the rat, he switched to the Cold Grasp. The rat didn’t seem to like that, slowing down, before biting again.
Trying Drain Life next, he found it a bit lacking as well. It did increase his health back though, so it wasn’t as if it was nothing. He kept punching his rat. Looking at Vantegaard, he was starting to regret not having a weapon like him. The guy seemed to slash with his commando knife like a maniac.
Vantegaard, for himself, was Jab-bing. The rat he had was though, but his health was dropping. Unfortunately, its stink was increasing. His stats were reduced by 18% now. That did a visible impact on his health maximum. Any healing would be somewhat reduced. Still, nothing too dangerous.
The rat made a final squeak before the knife slice across his maw. Turning, he quickly spotted the fact that two rats had engaged Birkathane, and moved to pick the one she wasn’t punching at the moment.
At that moment, Birkathane finally bypassed her rat’s defenses and dropped it. She took a second to start a Rooted Existence cycle, refreshed the Draw on the World, and switched her attacks. Vantegaard was coming to her help. Hopefully, they would get this done quickly.
Quandocor punched his rat one last time, with a mild crunch. He turned to his combat mates and saw them wailing on the last rat. He threw a Cold Grasp, and barely had time to slip in a Drain Life before the rat expired as well.
“Whew. Didn’t knew rats could be that though.”
Vantegaard commented “Those aren’t just rats. Stinking rats would probably eat earth rats for breakfast.”
Birkathane commented “Whoa. That’s a good amount of experience. Not enough for my next skill, but goody goods.”
Quandocor looked at his Interface.
“Got… two levels?”
“I suggested you take your first skill. You have an ‘unknown’ skill, but since you have necromancer skills… go ahead, pick it.”
Tier 2 Presence
The Dead feed the Living. In multiple ways.
Draw Death Residue from defeated enemies.
Death Residue: enemy rank+7
Skill level 7 (base 1)
“Consume Dead, right?”
“Yes. How do you know? Oh, Magic 101?”
“Yup. Some magical builds, like Necromancer, automatically give you a specific skill to help with regeneration once you unlock the Death skills.”
“I thought Meditation was giving me that death energy.”
“For you, maybe. Normal necromancers rely on this one. Or they wait for days.”
Birkathane added, “go ahead, consume those rats.”
For a second, Quandocor thought she was asking him to eat the rats. But as he looked at them, he found out that the “consumption” was simply him putting its hand over the corpses. He could even tell that somehow the rats ended up… empty.
Vantegaard picked up his torch, who had kept burning even after being dropped on the ground. The basement looked, well, like a basement. A set of shelves running along the side. Lots of rough-cut boards stacked on the wall.
Birkathane nearly ran to the shelves.
“Dibs on the bottles!”
Vantegaard looked at the dark, soot-encrusted bottles laying on the shelves.
“Think they have something?”
“Don’t know, but that’s some materials for my future brewing operations. If I get skills in alchemy, I’d better make some potions and not waste it.”
Quandocor perked at this brewing mention. Potions were on the list of forbidden goods from Northworld. Right next to cocaine. Some of these were far more dangerous than cocaine. A potion trafficker could be a nice cooperation bonus to slip to Europol.
Then he noticed the rear of the basement room.
“I see a doorway at the end of the room.”
Vantegaard looked up and saw that Quandocor was right. Another arched passageway opened to the left of the far wall.
“Ok, so, more rooms. Definitively dungeon.”
“I’m putting the bottles in my bag upstairs, I’ll be right back.”
“I’ll take the rat’s tails. Just in case.”
Quandocor was revolted.
“What do you want those tails for? Rat tails? Seriously?”
“That sounds like the kind of components some exotic crafters like. Any RPG player will tell you.”
“Next thing, you’ll want to eat them.”
“It’s not like it’s dangerous. No parasites and the like. But no, not stinking rat meat. That one gives you the same stinking debuff, except it lasts a day or more.”
Vantegaard gave him the torch as Birkathane was coming back.
“Ok boys, a bit regeneration, a bit meditation, and we should be good to see what’s in the next room. Same configuration?”
Vantegaard agreed “Same plan. Immutable Mind on you, incoming.”
The passageway was about two meters long, before opening into a second basement room. Vantegaard risked a quick look and saw nothing.
“Ok, let’s get in. It might be…”
A loud screech coming from above told him that the room wasn’t empty.
“Bats! Ok, some of those can be very, very dangerous.”
Rock Dart and Impose Load fired away. Vantegaard didn’t count the bats before the first dropped on his face, and he sliced.
Quandocor slipped in the room, picked one of the twisting shapes and fired a Cold Grasp debuff. The bat very obviously didn’t like it, coming overhead, slobbering over the arrogant biped.
“Heck! That stings! Those things spit stings like acid.”
“It is probably acid. Chaerephon Spuo version then. Spitting bats. Thankfully, it’s not fire bats.”
“There’s fire bats? Bats that spit real fire?”
“Not here! Not here! Focus!”
Birkathane had it easier. There were only three bats, seemingly. Two of them were on Vantegaard, so she punched upward, successfully Piercing Defense on one and drawing it to them. She scored three times in succession, and the bat simply dropped to the ground, having barely spat on her.
Vantegaard’s knife had difficulty hitting the flitting shape who also had started to drool its acidic spit on him. The Impose Load had to have slowed it, but apparently, not enough to prevent the bat from flying. This was the part where his torch was also a weapon, as the bat tried to evade it.
Then Birkathane came, fists twirling and the bat tried to evade her, only to get a wing sliced by a Jab. The two of them finished the crippled bat quickly after that. Turning, they saw the last bat crashing on the ground, as Quandocor exhaled deeply.
He fingered his shoulder, wiggling the index tip into a hole.
“Those flying rats did my shirt!”
Vantegaard looked and noticed a long discolored streak that ended with a red rash on the arm. The seam looked frail.
“Got a bit damage, but not as much as you. The acid hit on my arm will heal, but the shirt won’t, that’s sure.”
If the first room had been a pantry, the second room was different storage. There was a mannequin shape to the left, and a bunch of rotted boards crumbled on the right. Neither had anything else on them, but the end of the room had a long rack.
And there were four sword shapes on the rack.
“What is that? An armory?”
“Sounds about right, Quan. Can I call you Quan? Goes faster.”
“Good. So dungeon. Door, monster, treasure!”
“It’s a cliché because it’s usually right. On Northworld, I mean.”
Birkathane replied “yea, but that’s even more cliché here.”
“Virgin dungeon. Untouched by man’s hand since… whatever. Lots of mobs, lots of remaining stuff. At least for a newbie.”
Quandocor had knelt in front of the rack, checking the swords. There was one huge bastard sword, a one-meter monster, but with a shorter handle. There was a 30cm long one, more of a long dagger than a real sword. The other two were intermediate in size, clearly one-handed versions of the big bastard one.
They had a relatively plain handle, with no jewelry inset or anything, but the four had a swirling pattern sneaking along the length of the blades. Quandocor had no idea about swords, except the ones that you saw at the Olympics. But he would have bet those four were coming from the same maker.
Tempered Bastard Sword (lvl ?), quality crafted item?
Tempered One-Handed Sword (lvl ?), quality crafted item?
Tempered One-Handed Sword (lvl 17), requires 24 Dexterity; +1% hit
Tempered Long Dagger (lvl 16), requires 25 Dexterity; +1% hit
Quandocor was surprised when Vantegaard told everyone about two of the swords. He hadn’t spotted anything special about them.
“Unless you have an appraisal skill, you can only spot something if you both have enough Perception compared to its level, and the correct stats to use it. And you get only the barebones. Skilled examiners give you every little detail about how to use it.”
Vantegaard added quickly.
“Dibs on the dagger. The one-handed sword is possibly better, but it’s a bit too long for my tastes. Plus, I’m probably not a real swordsman.”
Birkathane asked, “How do we share?”
Quandocor interjected, “Do we want to keep them?”
“Well, it’s our swords now. We won them with sweat, tears, and acid shirt holes.”
“They’re lowbie equipment, but they still might get a good price if we find a settlement after all. And if anything else fails, we might sell them on Earth to pay for recess.”
“Yea, really. It’s one of the gray market items, it’s illegal to get them since it’s Northworld, but it’s not illegal to own one. They try to label them as contraband though.”
Vantegaard tried to estimate.
“Earth-made swords sell for anything from 250 to 500$, more for custom jobs. But real Northworld steel – when it’s steel and not exotic – that’s usually triple even for lowbie ones. Collector items.”
“I assume there are fakes.”
“Any Gater that holds a Northworld item can spot the difference. Even if you’re on Earth without the Interface, there’s something different about Northworld goods. Those feel more right than anything Earth made. Probably because of the stats requirement.”
Birkathane added “I can carry all anyway. I have a skill for Carry Loads, and I’d like to use it to progress.”
Once back on top, Vantegaard noted.
“We have to find you a staff, Quan.”
“My skills are pitiful without one, you mean.”
“Yea. If you’d been good with swords, like your pals back on Earth, you’d be ready to rock now. But even a simple staff will work.”
“I’ll take kendo training at the gym when I’m on Earth.”
“Don’t bother. It might shapes a bit your skills during Setup, but that’s done. And your skills will grow faster in Northworld. You can be a real terror with a staff in a few months here; it would take you years or decades on Earth.”
“How are you so knowledgeable with all that?”
“Try having nothing but Gater forums to devour for a year. I got so many access codes, I could tell you the price of jewel craft from the best. But until yesterday, I hadn’t a Silvergate of my own.”
Bingo, though Quandocor. That’s the guy I need to identify so we can arrest him once he’s on Earth. If he has all these access codes, he’s the entrance we need. The Viking girl is ok, but he’s the real priority one.
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.