(Y6, July 9th)
The unlikely trio had decided to camp next to the house after all. Clouds were coming in, the day was almost over, and rather than risk getting wet under flimsy tents, they’d picked the house as their night stop. If there was too much rain, they’d probably retreat into the first cellar room of the basement – now clean of rats.
Their fears were not to pass. The morning was merely heavily overcast. It might still rain, but, for the moment, there was no need to break out the ponchos. Even Quandocor had one just in case.
“I hope we don’t run out of coffee.”
“I wouldn’t have taken you for a coffee drinker, Birka.”
“Believe me, coffee is the most important product ever to be imported in Viking land. Scandinavia could survive anything, but drop the coffee and we’ll bring out the Drakkars and raid Africa again.”
Quandocor snorted, “Did your ancestors really raid Africa?”
“I think so. I mean, there were Vikings on Sicily. So raiding Africa must have happened often. Probably for coffee alone.”
Vantegaard rose and stretched himself. The morning breakfast wasn’t yet a routine, but there was something intrinsically satisfying to have people around, going through the motions to fully wake up, and get ready for a day.
Speaking of which.
“Ok, plan for the day? We keep moving and trying to see what comes up next?”
“Nothing better to say.”
“I’m following you. You know better than us, I’d say.”
“Then it’s settled. I’d follow the leylines around. If nothing else, I can recharge a bit better if we get attacked.”
“How do you find those leylines by the way?”
Birkathane smiled, like the kid that knew the answer “Mostly luck. Once you’ve got one, it’s easy to keep track of them with your Interface. Van’s power will fluctuate if he moves out of the leyline, so he can correct.”
Vantegaard was somehow happy that he didn’t have to explain exactly how he found the leylines. Maybe it was well known among the geomantically inclined, but it was definitively a secret from the general public.
“That, and they’re, well, lines. They go straight across the land. Sometimes you can spot them once you know. In the forest, the trees didn’t grow that thick over the leyline, so it was almost like a path.”
Camp packed, they started along the leyline that crossed the ruin’s location. They were going north-northeast. Without the sun visible, it should have been difficult, but apparently, Birkathane had an Absolute Compass.
Tier 4 Intuition
You are never truly lost in the world. The four winds always blow for you.
Perceive north, east, south, and west with absolute precision. Relative precision only in enclosed, covered areas.
Relative precision indoor: +/- 41 degrees
Skill level 9 (base 5)
After what felt like half an hour, Vantegaard started to notice a major leyline… but strangely his skill experience seemed stuck. He then realized that this must be the same major leyline he’d encountered earlier.
So, he would need to be an explorer if he wanted to grow the skill. Well, it wasn’t as if he didn’t need to be one already for the skill interference they provided. But, more information on this secret ability there was, the better he felt.
Twice, they saw an ocelot, retreating. The day before, those ambushers were always trying to take advantage of the travelers, but seeing them in a group of three meant too much risk for the wary cats. They were too hard to spot when they came for you, but apparently, they didn’t care to be seen going away.
Quandocor noted, “Safety in numbers, eh.”
“Well, I wouldn’t be against a fight or two. Once you have healing, even with just sped-up regeneration, it’s better to raise skills.”
“They grew pretty fast in that dungeon on yours.”
“Yea. Speaking of which, how many levels you got? Did you get good skills?”
“Oh, shit, I totally forgot.”
The last was true. Quandocor tried to remember the parts of his briefing saying about getting new skills or improved his stats to survive. The expert that briefed his fellow Swordfish had opined that getting better stats would be conductive to survive the immersion on Northworld. But this local expert… expected him to purchase new skills first. Like the Consume Dead one.
“Ok, so, level 7. I get… Skinning? Is that for real?”
Tier 5 Dexterity
The fluffier the skin, the more it sells. The sturdier the skins, the stronger they make.
Harvest skins of any living animal. It does not work on non-living or plant creatures.
Max level of skins: 4
Chance of successful harvesting above max: -9.6%/rank
Chance of higher quality: +3.8%/rank below max
Skill level 4 (base 1)
“Well, it should be useful. Good skins fetch good prices. Most people wear various leather clothing in Northworld since you can get good stats from well-crafted ones. Only maniacs – with high Strength – wear metal armor.”
“Like the swords we got?”
“Yep. All kinds of stats. But you need to have some kind of leathercraft as a skill to make them.”
“You can still sell that. Too bad you didn’t take it yesterday. You might have practiced on the rats and bats.”
He pressed Quandocor.
“Level 7 means you can get a third skill. Hey, Birka, did you get one?”
“Not after the fight. But training at camp after, I got to level 21. Got Effortless as a skill. That’s a self-Strength temporary boost. I’m stacking those boosts. If only I could keep the Meditation effect when I use the Effortless.”
“Well, I got the lion’s share so far, got 5 levels out of the fight, I’m 25 now.”
“Oh, great. Did you get a nice skill?”
Oh shit. That was true. He’d got enough points for a skill. But he was saving those for his next leyline configuration… which might be soon, if the minor leyline they were traveling on intersected the major.
Too bad. He’d get the next points soon anyway. Hopefully.
Tier 5 Reflexes
Anything that goes up goes down. Until it goes up again.
Catch anything you’ve thrown intending to catch it again.
Chance to catch up to 2 items: 99.9%
Chance to catch up to 3 items: 51.9%
Chance to catch up to 4 items: 13,5%
Chance to catch up to 5+ items: <1%
Skill level 5 (base 1)
That was… bad. Okay, not objectively bad, but useless bad.
Birkathane clapped her hands.
“Juggling? Really? Show me!”
Vantegaard settled in to try to juggle two stones. It didn’t matter what he was juggling, but… after 5mn, his skill was 5%. It looked like the skill simply grew at a fixed rate while juggling. Trying with 3 items – and missing a lot – didn’t speed up this. His hope of getting an easy boost for the Reflexes stat was dashed. Sure, it was grindable, but… it was almost as bad as real-world Juggling. And about as boring.
The only fun bit was that he could simultaneously juggle and sprint without dropping his two stones. Now that was impressive. Useless, but impressive.
He had… already forgotten what it was to pick skills at random. His leyline interference had fed him skills he wanted for a build he was making. But normal Gaters on Northworld didn’t have that advantage. They did what he did, every time, rolling the wheel of fortune. And the lottery was giving him a lemon this time.
He wouldn’t roll again. Not unless he had far too many points to count.
There was something just over the horizon. This time, Perception didn’t come into play; it was obvious.
“Is that… a tower?”
“Looks like it’s far away. But yes, I agree, a tower.”
“Any chance of finding people?”
“We won’t know until we find them. But the leyline goes straight toward there.”
The tower grew, even if it remained distant. Quandocor surprised them by suddenly saying
“I think there’s... a town there.”
“A town? Can’t see more than the tower, but…”
“There’s a skill I picked at Setup, and it apparently tells me stuff. I couldn’t figure out how it worked with that ruin yesterday, but I’m more focused now.”
Lay of the Land
Tier 1 Intuition
You can figure out, with a simple look, where the best opportunities await for whatever activity interests you.
Will give an automatic sense of the area or specific sub-areas. The rank, average item level, number of occupants can be obtained with increasing precision.
Current max range: 17 km
Precision for sub-areas: 843 m
Max hostile rank felt: 8
Max player level felt: 51
Max item level felt: 17
Occupancy incertitude: +/-42
Skill level 17 (base 1)
“Oooh, I had that skill offered to me during Setup as well. I didn’t know what it did, so I skipped for a magic one.”
“Yea. So, yesterday I had this feeling about items, that was probably the swords. But I didn’t get the critters. They were probably too high a rank for my skill, I guess.”
“I don’t remember what’s the usual ranks for Rattus Bromosus or Chaerephon Spuo but they’re not that high. But yes, probably above 8.”
“Chaerephon… Spuo? What the?”
“There’s an entire bestiary online. Well, multiple bestiaries, but everyone updates the same wiki in the end. Don’t know where the tradition comes from, but Northworld critters are given names like Earth ones.”
“So… Chaerephon means… bat?”
“It’s one of the genii of bats, yes. Don’t know what exactly the Earth ones are, sorry.”
“And Spuo means?”
“Spitting. Well, these were more like drooling, but that’s the official name for those acid bats.”
“You have a full Wikipedia in mind.”
“I almost flunked out of my Ph.D. because I was spending all my year reading everything on Northworld. And I’ve got near-perfect memory, which helped. Both the Ph.D. and Northworld.”
The ruins were basically the tower and a small village around it. The tower itself was huge. It looked like something 20-25 floors high, depending on the ceiling. There were a bunch of large buildings and a hundred-ish small homes.
The whole thing looked in a reasonable condition. A quarter of the homes looked like they had damage, crumbled ceilings, pierced walls, but the rest looked okay. All in all, a typical settlement village that could be found everywhere in Northworld. The only notable feature was the bewildering spire... towering over the village.
The trio entered the village. The city’s plan was a series of circles around the central tower. There were alleys all over the place, but the main thoroughfares were circular streets centered on the tower. The largest was the innermost one, there was at least 25m between the tower and the nearest building.
Vantegaard remarked, “Now, that’s a good spot.”
“How so?” asked Birkathane.
“Because it’s notable.”
Seeing Quandocor’s baffled look, Vantegaard added
“That’s the kind of notable location, even if it’s not currently in use, that the Cartographer’s guild would know about. If, in fact, they do know about it.”
“So you’re saying we can find where we are?”
“Kinda. I mean, if it’s a known unused settlement, sure. If not, they’ll be happy to pressure me into making maps for the next year.”
Birkathane asked, “And how would they do that?”
“They carry a lot of prestige and power. Knowledge is power, and the Cartographers do have lots of knowledge. And I’m in debt with them, so they’d call in that debt without missing a beat.”
Quandocor steered the discussion to that.
“How do we trade this information? If it’s useful for them…”
“I have access to the first layer of the guild. I can probably get you access, but that’s a lot of hassle for you guys.”
“Not that much Quan. They’d ask for favors if I get you some account keys. Better to limit that.”
Birkathane changed the topic.
“And if we’re really out in the boonies, and you get rich selling data to the Guild, then?”
“Then I’d suggest we make this our city.”
Quandocor was baffled “Our. City?”
“Why not? If we’re not in any known location, then it’s virgin territory. But people have started spawning in here, which means it’s going to have a local population before long. We can make this the local main city, and get the prestige.”
Birkathane thought about it.
“And if it’s all newbies, then we’ll get to be the local elders. Even by a week.”
Quandocor looked upward to the tower’s top.
“Assuming this big tower is safe.”
“Well, it could be a dungeon.”
Vantegaard pointed to the side.
“But the door is walled. Someone put stones all over it to prevent anything from going in. So, maybe it’s a normal tower. Maybe some stuff leftover, but no critter holed up inside. Anything from your skill, Quan?”
Quandocor shrugged “nothing. Well, it says there’s stuff nearby, but I can’t figure out any critter. Just like the basement. Anyway, if it’s walled, how do we get in to check?”
“I have Door Knocker. Even if it’s a stone door, it should open.”
It didn’t, of course. Or if it was, the level of the door was much higher than his skill allowed. All his tries yielded a miserable 1% skill gain and a mildly sore leg.
At one point Birkathane simply gave up. She dropped her backpack and announced her intentions.
“Leave it. I’m going to climb and see if I can find a window entrance.”
“You can do that?”
“I got Surface Climbing as one of my skills in the lottery. I can finally use it. I’m just limited in how much I can carry when I do.”
Quandocor looked at the tower’s walls.
“It looks a bit better than the climbing wall at my gym.”
“It doesn’t matter. The skill will make it work, no matter how ‘hard’ this wall is.”
She stretched her fingers and announced.
She jumped a bit, grabbed her first handhold, and started crawling upward. Both Vantegaard and Quandocor watched her climb with assured ease that would probably have launched viral videos back on Earth.
Around mid-point, she rummaged in her pockets and brought out a candle she set on a window that seemed large enough to get in. She lighted it and took it back.
“Be careful,” shouted Vantegaard.
She waved back and slipped in.
After a short while, her head popped back.
“Empty. Well, mostly empty. Got a room, a door that looks locked, and a stair going down. There’s even some furniture. No sign of any occupancy, no noises.”
“Don’t go too far. No noises mean little. There’s all kinds of critters that won’t make noises that might love to settle in a tower. Flying ones. Like the spitting bats.”
She disappeared again.
“I don’t know how you guys can be so callous about all that” remarked Quandocor.
Vantegaard thought about it for a bit.
“It’s… different here. First, if you don’t get killed or cursed, anything heals back within days. You can get your leg cut off, and it will grow back.”
He raised a second finger.
“Two, it’s not a high danger area. There are always rumors that some newbies will spawn in high-rank areas… but if that happens, no one ever hears about it. Sill, we do know it’s a low level.”
He added, “So she should be safe from anything inside that tower unless she gets a lot of enemies at the same time.”
He raised a third finger.
“Three, we all love the idea of the adventure. That’s the thrill that calls everyone in Northworld. It’s simultaneously easier to live in than Earth, and more interesting. All of Earth is tame and explored. Here, it’s the frontier.”
He waved around.
“Nobody but us has probably seen this. Ever. We’re possibly the first humans to see this. Everyone will be coming in after us. That’s something you can’t buy on Earth.”
He watched Quandocor.
“You look unconvinced.”
“It’s different for me.”
Quandocor quickly thought how he could frame this without giving away his identity.
“Did I tell you about the gym? That’s how I got involved in this Gater thing. There was a group at the gym, and they were all in together. They told me it was like a sports holiday. Even if I didn’t like it, I’d come out stronger, faster, healthier, all that.”
“So you were not a groupie?”
“Not really. That’s why I didn’t pay attention to the forum they shuck on me to teach me all about Northworld.”
Quandocor quickly rebounded on the suggestion “All about how you get better at the sword and you make moves that even Hollywood wouldn’t dare, for real.”
“I can imagine the style. Didn’t get a pass for those. I tried to get the more general ones. Those specialists, it’s good once you’ve got a build and you need to learn more about it.”
Noises above interrupted them.
“Ok, more closed doors. Visited three rooms on two floors, all empty. There’s a chest in one, but I'm afraid of it being trapped.”
“Good. Now we still have to open the door at the entrance.”
“What you’re doing?” shouted Quandocor.
“Climbing to the top. I’ll see what’s around from there. Don’t worry, I’ll be back.”
“You can see dozens and dozens of kilometers. There’s a stair coming up, but, a door again.”
“Getting in will be hard work, but once we do, we’re good. If Quan says there are items inside, there’s stuff we can use. Hopefully unguarded.”
“So, what do you say?”
“What do you say about settling in here?”
Birkathane grimaced, “I don’t know… I mean, that’s true. There seems to be no one around. I would love to find my friends, but…”
“We can still explore around. I’ve got a week until I can return and contact the cartographers. Two days less for you, a day more for Quan.”
“I vote we stay for now,” he said. He added quickly
“But I’ll follow wherever you guys want to go, anyway.”
“Okay” finally said Birkathane.
“Then it’s settled. And guess what?”
“All those houses are waiting for us. I suggest we look at them, pick one we like, and then come back here to attack this tower!”
They all ended up picking a house on the inner ring. The house looked slightly larger, probably more prestigious at a time. Despite that, Vantegaard’s new home in Northworld was small. Not as small as his apartment, but smaller than his parents’. He had a large main room, what looked like a pantry to the side, a room that had two very large bed frame still there, something that looked like a toilet and two small rooms of no obvious purposes off the side of the main room. The window openings were large, with shutters still affixed.
He didn’t kick the door. Skill progression be damned, he wasn’t starting by busting his own door. Besides, none of the doors looked like they were locked.
Vantegaard had no idea who – or what – had lived here. If any. There were theories about Northworld being an artificial world made for their entertainment, of course. But the house felt like it was a real medieval home. The large beds… the family beds, one for the parents, one for the kids? People slept in the same room in the old times.
He dropped his backpack in the corner of the main room, got the windows wide open to let in the fresh air. But settling in would wait. For now, the tower beckoned.
They all met back at the walled door.
Birkathane asked “so what’s your plan? Your skill doesn’t do anything. Are you going to grind on the town?”
“Nope. I think we’ll have to do it the slow way. The stones are mortared, so we dig out the mortar, pry out the stones, and then go in.”
“How do we dig the mortar?”
Vantegaard looked at his knife.
“Now that I have a replacement for my old knife, I can afford to wear it down.”
“We could use the swords we found?”
“I’d rather not if I were you. They’re probably more useful as weapons than tools, and we have nothing to sharpen them again if we dull them too much. Which is what will happen if we use them on this door.”
“Ok, then we watch you work.”
“Don’t know how this works without a skill.”
It turned out that, despite no skill being used, the stamina regeneration dropped, then reversed. It wasn’t very pronounced, and their Meditation restored it quickly, but they ended up trading places every half hour. After two hours, they finally pried up one large stone.
“That’s going to take ages,” said Quandocor.
“It’s easier now that we’ve got a stone out,” countered Birkathane.
“It would go faster if we could all work at the same time.”
Quandocor’s eyes lighted.
“Hmmm, do those houses have kitchens? Maybe there are knives in there?”
“Good idea. Search the village while I try to drop this one.”
By the time Birkathane and Quandocor came back, Vantegaard had managed to remove a second stone and bottom his endurance. Peering inside, he still only saw darkness. But there was progress.
Birkathane’s finding was a large blade. It looked like a hybrid between a standard kitchen knife and a cleaver. Quandocor had found a smaller, sleeker knife, more like a skewer than a classic knife.
They both started on the wall while Vantegaard regenerated his stamina.
With three people going at it, the progress was significantly faster. They started to remove two-three stones per hour. Still, the hole in the wall didn’t grow that fast.
With the cloud cover still heavy, it was hard to figure out where the sun was, but the light was definitively dimming.
They contemplated their work. Something like 15% of the door was removed. Enough to put your head in, and maybe, if you twisted right, your shoulders if you were not afraid of getting stuck.
“This is boring,” remarked Birkathane.
“Yea, but this tower is here. And remember than Quan says there are items inside.”
“I think we should still explore. As you said, maybe it’s just an unused settlement.”
“Someone would have opened the tower.”
“But okay. Let’s say, we alternate days. One-day exploration, one-day door work.”
“At the speed this works, we’ll probably have it cleaned in two days.”
“So tomorrow's exploration, next day door, then another exploration in a different direction, then finish the door.”
Quandocor opined “sounds good to me.”
“Night’s coming. Why don’t you come to visit me for dinner? My treat.”
“Your treat? What cans do you have?”
“It’s a surprise. Meet me in half an hour. And bring your tableware, I’ve got just for one.”
“Such a host you are, my.”
Vantegaard shrugged at Birkathane before heading “home”.
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.