(Y6, July 9th)
The petrol lamp had come in handy to light the house. There was just enough petrol for a couple of days, but Vantegaard had tucked in at dark the day before, so it was still full, and that was an occasion to use it before using the pack of candles. Besides, the candles wouldn’t light up the room like the lamp.
The side of the main room had a fire pit and a hole above in the slate roof. He’d picked some hedge kindling, enough for a small fire. Time to do culinary experiments.
The slices of Leopardus from yesterday were perfectly preserved in their wrapping. Like most meat, those would be perfectly safe to eat – Vantegaard knew almost by heart the list of dangerous meat, nearly all of which came from higher-ranking creatures. But what he didn’t know was the taste. Hopefully… it wouldn’t be unnoticeable, like the cat it came from.
The small cooking grid barely fit above the firepit, and it looked like he’d have to cook in two passes. Never mind. A small can of peas went next to the pit, and he started humming as the flames caught. Not too big, which would be a-ok for the meat.
“What do I smell?”
“Hey Quan. You’re first.”
“I can see that.”
“And I’m not going to make any joke about women and on time.”
Vantegaard peeked behind Quan before saying
“You’re safe. For now.”
Quandocor picked one of the four chairs and dragged it to the central table. This was a sturdy, heavy square contraption, with six legs.
“So, what’s you’re cooking? Smells like barbecue.”
They both settled in silence.
Quandocor felt like he needed to make small chat anyway. Try to get more friendly with the target. Both Gaters were good-natured ones, so far, but if he wanted more information, he needed to become their best friend.
“This house looks different than mine. A bit more square, I think. The one I’m in is longer.”
“I don’t think they have a floor plan. This isn’t the suburbs, they don’t make copies of the same house all over the development plot here. Or they didn’t, at least.”
“Do you have an idea what happened to the people.”
“No one knows. Ideas, plenty.”
“I’m all ears.”
“Most people think this is an artificial world. Maybe some gigantic simulation. You remember Setup, right?”
“Weirdest thing ever.”
“You were a disembodied consciousness. Nothing to feel, smell, hear, see. Except for the Interface.”
“Correct. And the strangest feeling.”
“No emotions. You didn’t have a body, and you possibly didn’t even have a brain. No sources of hormones, random neurotransmitters, nothing. A pure consciousness.”
“Are we killed when we go through a Silvergate? And resurrected after.”
“Maybe. But a common idea is that, after Setup, you’re still in Setup Space. It just creates virtual reality and drops you in, and starts simulating everything.”
“Then all this… the plains, the village, the tower. It’s all fake, you mean.”
“It’s real for us, but it’s all made up. Then this wouldn’t be a village, this would be a reconstruction of a village. Nobody would have ever lived here until we came.”
Birkathane’s voice came from the entrance.
“Loads of bullcrap.”
“Hey, Birka. Take a seat. Give me a couple more minutes.”
“I can do better.”
She pulled out a pile of smoky glasses and a flask.
“Where did you get… brought from Earth?”
“The glasses were in the house I picked. The flask, it’s Brännvin. Best brand. I brought it to party once I got to my friends…”
She deflated a bit. Vantegaard now knew she’d expected to find her friends’ home in Northworld. This empty wilderness was interesting… but not what she had wanted.
“So, let’s see what Viking rotgut tastes like.”
“Hey, that’s not rotgut. Absolut, now that’s rotgut. But this is good.”
She poured three glasses, slid the first to Quandocor, and placed the second at the edge of the table, next to Vantegaard’s post at the firepit.
“How do you do it in Vikingland?”
Quandocor swallowed the drink.
“Same stuff as vodka, in fact. Just a different preparation. Van?”
“I’m finishing this. Just a minute I think.”
Vantegaard slid the first two plates after putting his slice on the fire pit. The meat looked more white than red, an odd coloring that belied its feline origin.
Both guests poked a bit at the meat before Quandocor decided to take a risk.
“Feels gamy. Never tasted the like. What is it?”
“Leopardus Serpo. You know, the cats we saw running away from us today?”
“Wait? That’s cat meat?”
“Feline meat. Had one try to ambush me yesterday, and I thought I’d keep it around to taste. So? Better or worse than beef?”
“Different, at least. I thought cat meat was supposed to taste like a rabbit, but this is… unique?”
“Mine’s almost ready. Don’t wait, it’s going to cool down fast.”
He finally pulled his meat – rare – and settled at the table.
“Skål. Skååål. Ok, nevermind.”
“Do they have alcohol in Northworld?” asked Quandocor.
Vantegaard said “I bet. People with Alchemy skill probably use it to grind the skill when there are potions to brew.”
The plates were cleaned in no time.
“So, Van was saying it’s all illusion VR or something, and you said bullshit, Birka. What’s your take?”
“Sincerely? I mean, we get those swords back on Earth, and they’re swords. Perfectly good swords. You bring almost anything from Northworld, and there’s no problem.”
“And your stats gain here? They do apply on Earth. So, just because it doesn’t work with the same physics as Earth doesn’t mean it’s fake. It’s just a different dimension.”
“And the Interface?”
“Something built to facilitate dimensional travel. We’re just borrowing the stuff. And then, there’s adaptation sickness, because even the Interface doesn’t fit us completely well to the local world.”
Vantegaard injected “there’s also the time travelers, the secret Internet AI, the experimentalists, the…”
“All kinds of diverse theories about Northworld and Silvergates. Some of them are whacky, but… Northworld is whacky when you really think about it.”
“Has anyone found anything to explain it? Ever?” asked Quandocor.
“No. There’s no real archives, no written manuals. Just Northworld, the Setup, the Interface. That’s it. And we’ve been advancing blindly since.”
“It’s been… five years?”
“Going on six. In the beginning, it was like a hoax. A conspiracy theory. Wormholes that went into another world, one per person?”
“You can still find some of the videos. The authorities do whack-a-mole with them, but they always pop up after editing. But back then, they were just movies. With bad special effects.”
“And then Parathos climbed the Eiffel tower and jumped with a levitator item,” said Birkathane.
“One of the very few that ever worked on Earth. Complex magical items tend to fail there.”
“That +1% hit on the swords?”
“Yes, like that one, Quan. Of course, nobody can fully check if it makes you miss less with it on Earth. 1% is small. But there’s artifact level stuff. Bigger than Parathos’ levitator ring. If it worked on Earth… now that would be splashy. Remind me to tell you the story of the Storm Crown.”
“And it’s illegal.”
“Anything authorities don’t understand or can’t control, they immediately make illegal.”
Quandocor thought there were much better reasons why this should be strictly controlled. But he wasn’t about to launch on a spiel about why the FBI was right on this one.
“Contraband is terrible” he couldn’t leave unsaid.
“Not really. I mean, it’s all small quantities, as big as you can carry, and you do need to wait to respawn.”
“The problem is growing though.”
“People keep finding Silvergates all over Northworld. Not everyone does, and a lot of people keep at least one or two as spares. But yes. The number of Gaters on Northworld doubles roughly every four months or so.”
Vantegaard waved at the house.
“That’s why I think this will slowly fill up. This is newbie land, obviously. And there’s probably a thousand new Gaters coming in every day. So we’ll see more here. Soon.”
He added, “Which reminds me.”
“What?” asked Birkathane.
“Signs. We’re going to go around explore, and we should plant signs anywhere where newbies might notice, to point them here.”
“The tower is obvious.”
“The tower is obvious once you’re close enough. But even if we range out half a day walk, we’ll be too far to see it. Now, Birka can guide us back, but we need at least rough directions to get them close.”
“Tomorrow, we explore then,” said Birkathane.
“Yep. Breaking into the tower is good, but we must figure out everything about the area as well.”
“Well, I’ve kind of taken the lead…”
Quandocor said “no, you’re doing good. I mean, you know more than me, maybe even than Viking girl here.”
“So I’m saying, your ideas should be good. Want him for Mayor Birka?”
“And voted. The Mayor is elected.”
Vantegaard snorted “that’s a bit quick. This is a three-person expedition, not a city. This… is possibly temporary.”
“Until we find better. So, fearless leader, where to tomorrow?”
Vantegaard stretched on his chair.
“I did a check. The minor leyline intersects a major leyline here, probably just under the tower, by the way. The minor ends here, but the major… I think we should start by following it.”
“Eastward. We came from the west, going east, so why not keep going there for a while?”
“Sounds good to me.”
“Then see you tomorrow. In the first hour, we raid the orchard wood next to the village, try to have some planks from houses here and sticks. Then, we go east.”
His teammates gone, Vantegaard prepared for the night. Despite the lack of bedding, the bedroom was ok.
His disappointment came from the fact that the major and minor leyline intersection didn’t seem to count for a new configuration. He needed one last point anyway before being able to select the new skill, but he would have liked having one choice ready.
One Juggling was enough.
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.