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A note from Vincent Archer

This new batch of chapters is provided courtesy of: 

Alternate Routes, © 2018 Tim Powers

Obelisk, © 2016 Stephen Baxter

Broken Devices, © 2016 Karen Myers

End of the Beginning, © 2005 Harry Turtledove

Destiny Road, © 1997 Larry Niven

Home At Last, © 2018 Alex Sapegin

(and that will conclude Part 1: First Spawn)

Crunchy chapter, by the way.

(Y6, July 12-13th)

 

Best laid plans, et cetera, et cetera. The day was going to be completely lost, in Vantegaard’s opinion.

They had a good evening with the new Pole resident. After Birkathane’s pulled out her signatory Brännvin, Szalowca had run back to his home and brought not one, but two bottles of Polish vodka. To compare, he said. Between wolf steaks, vegetable mix contributed by Quandocor, and the flowing spirits, the night had ended later than previous days.

Which, of course, meant a morning headache. It cleared slowly – faster than he remembered on Earth – but still a bit too slowly for his tastes. Bacon and eggs would have helped, but those were not in his supplies.

 

The first surprise of the morning was a tent. Early last night, a newbie had spawned 200 meters from Fanduk. With an overcast night sky, zero stars or moons visible, he’d made camp immediately. So, when waking up, the tower next door was a gigantic surprise.

He introduced himself as Basmark, brand new level 1. Loaded with blunt weapon skill, a smith skill, mana skills… and a Meditation of Mana to continue the Fanduk tradition of Meditation skills.

 

Meditation of Mana

Tier 4 Fortitude

Action

Mana leaves an imprint. By focusing on it, you can do better.

 

Mana energy recharge at an accelerated rate while you are meditating. You gain a bonus to your Mana skills for a short time. Meditation is interrupted if you move or take an action.

 

Maximum meditation period: 6s

Cooldown: 564s

Mana recovery: 2.0/s

Bonus skill: +1 to all Mana skills for 66s

Skill level 6 (base 1)

Advancement: 6%

 

So, they had introduced themselves, explained the new town and their lack of knowledge of the area. Seeing as he had a blacksmith skill, Basmark had wanted to check if there was any place to set up, “in case”. A more thorough exploration of Fanduk had followed, with a possible smithy location – lacking actual smith tools, but with a setup that did suggest one – finally found.

Which was when Dadanlong showed up.

 

The Chinese Gater newbie had spawned yesterday, next to the gorge. He moved north, following it until he reached the bridge and discovered the signpost. He’d then traveled for the rest of the afternoon toward Fanduk, briefly stopping for the night.

A Hong-Kong based Chinese guild was trying a hypothesis that Gaters were spawned according to when they used the Silvergate for the first time. Dadanlong was part of a large group of newbies that had been synchronized to the clock.

The “all spawn at the same place at the same time” effect failed to apply.

Unsurprisingly, the local meditation effect applied, as Dadanlong had no less than 4 sword skills, no magic to be seen… and Meditative Cultivation, like Birkathane.

The Chinese Gater was very surprised to learn that not only his unique and undiscovered skill was not unique anymore, but everyone there had meditation skills. His first joke was that they should establish a Buddhist monastery immediately.

 

Facing this invasion and doubling of Fanduk’s population, Vantegaard had given up on their scheduled exploration trip. Dadanlong had seized upon the idea of creating a city from the ground up and started bubbling ideas. He dragged everyone around to get their opinion on which building should be set aside for which use. Protests that Vantegaard had been already elected mayor were seized upon to get him to come and validate the grandiose ideas.

            

“So, tower again?” said Quandocor.

“Why not. The day’s shot anyway” was Vantegaard’s laconic answer.

Birkathane had left just after the lunch break with Basmark and Szalowca to see if anything was interesting to hunt to the west. They said they’d be back before night and don’t worry, it’s all lowbie land anyway.

Dadanlong was already poring over notes and stuff and declined to go to explore. “At least today. Next time, I explore.”

Both men went up to the fourth floor, which is where stuff started to appear in the tower. Then, they set up to explore thoroughly everything.

The chests opened yesterday remained empty. The thorough search turned out a bunch of half-rusted tools, half a dozen shears, and a keyring with seven completely identical flat keys without the slightest indentation on their blades.

The sixth-floor armory yielded nothing special. They took inventory of the weapons.

“Do you think we should ask the newbies if they want a weapon?”

“Dunno. We discovered it. We did the work” was Vantegaard’s opinion.

“Then we should move it. Kicking doors open was good for you, but the tower is unprotected. If more people show up, they’re going to visit and find all this.”

“Where’s the bank vault when you need it.”

“Busted open. By you.”

Vantegaard snorted.

 

The rest of the tower yielded a surprise they’d missed. On the other sixth-floor room, among the detritus was a small felt bag. Upon opening it, Vantegaard was greeted by several small eight-sided copper and bronze coins.

“What’s that?”

“That’s Northworld cash. That’s what is mostly used as money within Northworld. Despite the appearance, it’s impossible to counterfeit – Gater-made coins always feel off. Even if an Earthside laboratory can’t find a difference, Gaters can.”

“Are we rich?”

“Not that rich. It’s copper and bronze. There are six denominations found, copper, bronze, iron, silver, electrum, and gold.”

“Electrum?”

“That’s an alloy of silver and gold.”

“So we only have the lowest denominations.”

“Yes. The frequencies are all kind of weird, but people have agreed to call them pieces of 8. Like the pirate coins. So it’s normally 8 copper to 1 bronze, 8 bronze to 1 iron, and so on. Usually, a meal is 1, maybe 2 coppers.”

Vantegaard counted.

“I see 14 coppers, 29 bronze… and 1 iron, 1 silver. Fanduk now has its municipal funds!”

 

The keyring didn’t seem to work on the top door. They went back to the entrance, and without anything better, set out to continue clearing the stones from the entrance. Dadanlong came around and offered his help. But when they mentioned the armory, he became highly excited.

So, up they went, and the Chinese swordsman picked a long, curved, katana-like sword.

     Filleted Curved Sword (lvl ?), quality crafted item?

“Good, good! Nice sword. Balanced. No stats?”

“Can’t see them, meaning it’s above level 17. Unless you have a good Perception?”

“No. I have 17 like you. But got two skills with it. Will grow soon.”

 

The hunting trio arrived just as the cloud cover was starting to disperse, lending some light to the evening. They’d gone to the forest’s edge, which was running south-southeast, so it wasn’t too far from the town. They’d met a Curiosus and a pair of Serpo, but nothing else. Birkathane remarked that Quandocor had missed an opportunity to get skinning up, but the man replied he’d had a good time at town anyway, and those skills weren’t going anywhere.

Basmark and Szalowca went to the armory and picked a weapon each. Basmark found a small flail, that would be ok for now. Szalowca had an enormous bow that was level 15, but good. 

     Yew Double Bow (lvl 15), requires 20 Strength. +1 Dexterity.

They would make arrows somehow, and the Pole could begin to be a real hunter.

             

The next day, Birkathane, Vantegaard, and Quandocor met up just after dawn. Basmark had decided to figure out if he really could make a smithy, both Szalowca and Dadanlong had decided to check the forest again, and thus, the trio found themselves on their northbound expedition, with just one day of delay.

 

This time, they relied on Birkathane’s Absolute Compass to keep their heading. Fanduk’s tower receded in the south as they began their day trip.

“So, what do you think of our new citizens?”

“They sound ok. The Pole guy is crazy I think. The American is already trying to prepare for business. He said he was a plumber back on Earth” said Birkathane.

“A plumber?”

“Yea. He’s asked me if there are horses around so he can shoe them. I told him to ask you, Van.”

Vantegaard laughed “no horses around. Well, not exactly, but Equus Esuriens is not something I’d try to mount up.”

“I’m afraid to ask,” said Quandocor.

“They’re flesh-eating horses. Think a pony with sabertooth canines. We’re more of a feast for them, rather than riders.”

 

The pack of large orange lizards sunning on the only rock outcroppings visible was a nice spectacle.

“I count six of the bastards,” said Birkathane.

“They look like Varanus Luteus. Not too bright, as lizards go. Oh, and their skin is very useful”, added Vantegaard.

“How so?”

“Properly treated, you get fireproof leather.”

“Does that mean they’re fire-breathing lizards?”

“Surprisingly… no. Just biting ones.”

“Sooo… fight?” concluded Birkathane.

“New menu tonight, nice skins, levels. What else could we want.”

 

The Impose Load and Cold Grasp brought two lizards running, while the rest of the group tried to figure out what had riled their comrades. That didn’t last. As the first Earth Dart fired, the hiss of pain from the lizard raised the alarm, and the four remaining beasts started turning toward the group.

The first Grasped lizard reached the group and took three simultaneous strikes by dagger, staff, and fist and went immediately down. His comrade didn’t fare much better, trying to bite Quandocor for revenge.

At that point, the four remaining lizards had reached sprint speed and were bearing down on the trio. Each of the fighters spread out, giving the others room to maneuver.

 

Quandocor fell into a rhythm that was starting to be familiar. The silver staff in his hand felt right, and deflecting the monster’s head came naturally. Which, he reflected, felt odd, since the only time he’d tried fighting with the staff was when he was 8, and his school had tried an initiation to bojutsu. That was the only time he had had that kind of weapon in hand, and it had been an unmitigated disaster.

Was it… four days? Four days to change him from an FBI agent ready to infiltrate outlaw gangs to a necromancing martial art fighter. Yet, here he was, bashing giant lizards to get their skins. That was a major dissonance.

 

Birkathane was trying her new skills. The Weak Point passive guided her strikes, and Immutable Skin gave her a big resistance to the biting and clawing.

She laughed wildly as her palm struck yet another lizard in the neck, causing him to break the leg bite and try to take out the annoying hand.

For the moment, her brooding thoughts about her absent band were dismissed as the combat flow took her along.

 

Vantegaard was focusing on the slicing. His magic skills were good and nice, but once combat was joined, they were mostly useless. Sure, Jab and Sure Strike did a number on the lizards, but he felt weak compared to his comrades.

He did have several helpful abilities. But if he was to achieve his geomantic build… he needed to step up his game. And find those damned leylines.

 

“Now, those were terrible” was Birkathane’s conclusion.

“All bark, no bite?”

“Quan, is that a joke? Because it’s the wrong joke. They don’t bark.”

“All hiss and no bite doesn’t sound right.”

“Skill and levels are good. Now, what do I get for…”

She went silent. Then started pumping her fist.

“Jackpot! I win!”

“What?”

“I got Infuse Vitality. My first real healing spell!”

 

Infuse Vitality

Tier 2 Presence

Action

The vital essence is yours. Yours to give, yours to withhold.

 

Increase current health.

 

Health granted: 18

Cooldown: 2.7s

Lifeforce cost: 32

Skill level 9 (base 1)

Advancement: 0%

 

“Only 18?”

“That’s a low skill level. I’m sure I can get it much, much higher. I can meditate away, and get you healed after combat faster anyway.”

True to her words, she announced that the skill was already upped after a handful of casts.

 

Quandocor has set up to skin the lizards, after draining their corpses. They felt easy, and as a bonus, one of the beasts got him a

     Complete Monitor Scales (lvl 16), uncommon material.

He also got another necromancer skill. Pull Mastery seemed to be a combination of buff and debuff.

 

Pull Mastery

Tier 4 Strength

Action

It does not matter what an enemy is best at when it can be made worse.

 

Reduce the highest enemy stat and increase a friend's by the same amount.

 

Stat drained: -3.9%

Duration: 66s

Death cost: 70

Skill level 6 (base 1)

Advancement: 0%

 

Vantegaard looked at his skills and got a surprise.

 

Vantegaard

 

Health: 471/738 (recovers 150/day)

Stamina: 221/785 (recovers 2.2/s)

Power: 1030/610 (recovers 1.7/s)

 

Reasoning: 29 (23%)

Dexterity: 26 (87%)

Resilience: 25 (15%)

Fortitude: 23 (99%)

Strength: 22 (52%)

Reflexes: 19 (95%)

Perception: 17 (41%)

Intuition: 14 (74%)

Presence: 14 (18%)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Absolute Meditation 29 (87%)

Sense the Leylines 18 (60%)

Door Knocker 14 (7%)

Sprinting 12 (93%)

Sure Strike 11 (38%)

Bladed Parry 9 (31%)

Jab 9 (19%)

Rock Dart 7 (78%)

Evaluate Minerals 7 (42%)

Immutable Mind 6 (30%)

Impose Load 5 (50%)

Focused Sight 5 (75%)

Night Sense 5 (59%)

Juggling 4 (55%)

Sculpting 3

=ambiguous=

Level: 40 – 74%

Unused points: 17

Copper Unadorned Ring (lvl ?), common-looking item?

Tempered Long Dagger (lvl 16), +1% hit

 

The unknown skill had morphed to ambiguous.

Now, he had sworn not to take the lottery and get another Juggling piece of shit. He still couldn’t manage to practice it for more than 20mn without being bored to tears. But he had enough points for two skills… no leyline in range… and a choice between three skills.

 

Ambiguous skills

Aetheric Sense. Tier 2 Perception. The magical world is unseen by all and plain to some.

Evaluate Flora. Tier 5 Intuition. All of the vegetable life has its uses and dangers.

Weak Points. Tier 4 Perception. Every enemy has one.

 

That was unexpected. The magical skill… was not an Earth magic at all. He had also a potential combat help. The informational skill wasn’t anything he wanted anyway.

Given that he had a beast of a tier 1 meditation… becoming an Archmage was a strong possibility. Although Aether mages were weirdos, usually. And didn’t need much regeneration, if what he'd read was true.

 

Aetheric Sense

Tier 2 Perception

Passive, triggered

The magical world is unseen by all, and plain to some.

 

Perceive the exact amount of Aether in locations, objects, and entities, rather than using clumsy evaluations. Any magical entity will have Aether, regardless of its magical abilities.

 

Aether sense: 90 max

Skill level 9 (base 1)

Advancement: 32%

 

Whoa. Well, it would have been obvious, but his two companions did count as magical entities. With 80 Aether for Birkathane and… 83 for Quandocor? He had no idea what those amounts corresponded to in practical terms, or why Quandocor had more, despite being lower level. Or was he?

Oh, he had 69 Aether base and 690 max? That was another topic he would need to research when he came back to Earth. Aether mages were notoriously tight-lipped when it came to discussing their particular brand. Of course, currently, he didn’t seem to have a way to spend Aether either.

Surprisingly, he felt 16 Aether from his dagger, 18 from the copper ring he wore and 30 from Quandocor’s staff. Did this mean… that the ring was level 18 and the staff 30? He’d have to check for the items back in town.

 

As if to taunt him, not one, but two standard leylines started to register less than 100m from the slaughter spot.

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A note from Vincent Archer

This time, it's not his fault. Besides, he did get a useful skill.

It's been a while since we had any glossary entries:

Varanus Luteus (Orange Monitor Lizard) – A mid-sized sauroid with a yellow-orange skin that is highly prized for its fire protection. Typical ranks 7 to 12.

Equus Esuriens (Hungry Horse) – A pony-sized equine with two pairs of large jutting canines. Hunts in packs. Typical ranks 22 to 35.

Pieces-of-8 – The name of the Northworld currency. Found in copper, bronze, iron, silver, electrum and gold versions. Given the name, 8 of one make one coin higher. Range from an earth-equivalent of about $4 (copper) to $130,000 (gold).


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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