(Y6, August 13th-18th)
Birkathane had barely made it to the sticks when Vantegaard appeared at his spawn point. She waved, then waved at Quandocor who was 1s later.
“No need for sticks.”
“No. The ‘go’ on your chat application is perfect,” remarked Quandocor.
“It’s overkill in normal situations…” said Vantegaard.
“… but that’s no normal situation,” completed Quandocor.
“True. But we’re almost there now.”
“So, Van. How did it go.”
“No idea. I sent my reports, then got back an ‘under investigation’ reply, then nothing. I think… it’s probably like anything else in a big organization. It’s working its way upward until someone makes a decision.”
“So, no instructions?”
“None yet. Hopefully, we’ll be at Samms when recess comes back, then I’ll check back on Earth how it goes.”
He eyed Birkathane’s backpack.
“Your bag looks… fairly big.”
“This time, I have enough to start with Carry Loads active at least for a couple of days before I have to find stones to fill it.”
Vantegaard turned to Quandocor, who was doing some katas with its staff.
“You know, it’s not the same on Earth. You can feel the skills, it’s just…”
“Frustrating, because the Interface isn’t there.”
Birkathane called out, “let’s go. With the time difference, we have a bit more daylight today, but we have lots of distance to cross.”
The World Leyline had grown steadily in his sense since just before recess. There were three World Leylines known, all three of them intersecting in Beta. But based on Vasili’s map, Vantegaard had guessed that the Southern Line would essentially skim Gamma, and cross their itinerary at one point. And well, a World Leyline registered from very far on his Sense skill.
Up to then, there had been this nagging worry that Vasili had been a scammer or something. Even with the added privilege layer on the Cartographer site. But maybe he was wrong. Maybe Alpha, Beta, and Gamma were in different worlds. Maybe the globe was a fake by… whatever… to mess with them.
But the Leyline was close to where he had expected it.
Vantegaard had stopped putting points in skills and stats to prepare for the upcoming stage. He could still defer it – the World Leylines were well mapped, and if he got to Beta, he could pick any for “interference”. But the temptation of a new skill was irresistible.
Warning! A World Leyline overwhelms and replaces your normal skill selection with an ambiguous Tier 2 Earth Magic skill. Resolve the leyline interference to prevent the reoccurrence of this difficulty. Other leyline configurations may still cause further problems.
World Leyline skills
Empty Wind. Tier 2 Fortitude. It is hard to breathe when the air is no longer there.
Repel. Tier 2 Strength. Stone walls have always kept the enemies at bay. Except when they use magic.
Call the Stone. Tier 2 Presence. Call on the Stone and the Stone answers your call.
Vantegaard fished his copy of Honest John’s and thumbed to the index. Repel was listed. Turning the pages to its description, Vantegaard saw that it created a barrier of translucent stone-like blocks that required breaking to physically cross.
Empty Wind was described as an attack, an area of effect that caused depletion of health while inside the zone while it lasted. Useful, but tricky to use as it affected anyone, including oneself.
Honest John’s listed no less than seven Call Something. In practice, it had Call the Stone indexed, but it was shown as “not skill information known”. But every Call described brought a manifestation. Call the Stone… almost certainly meant he would be summoning some kind of Stone elemental creature in battle.
Quandocor was looking oddly at him reading the book.
“Just a sec, checking something. Don’t worry about me.”
Call the Earth was a tier 3 summoning of some kind earth golem-style creature. Vantegaard assumed that the Call the Stone was a bigger version.
Call the Stone
Tier 2 Presence
Call on the Stone and the Stone answers your call.
Raise from surrounding stone animated construct(s) that will attack your current foe. That construct is Lesser Elite and uses one of your Geomantic skills at random. Constructs will fight until no foes are attacking you anymore before breaking down.
Rank of construct: 5-6
Number of simultaneous constructs: 1 (until skill 100)
Cost: 73 power (locked until the end of Call).
Skill level 8 (base 1)
So… yes. Call the Stone was essentially better than the other version. A higher tier and the construct was a Lesser Elite for having one human-type skill. The cost was minimal, but it would raise along with the skill and the rank.
“Guys, we’ve just crossed the World Leyline.”
“Yea, I felt the boost. So, that means the map is correct, you said,” asked Birkathane.
“Yes. And that means we’re about 60-70km from Hilltop Samms.”
“Which means tomorrow, we’re home.”
“Not home,” corrected Vantegaard, “but safe, at least. Yes.”
“Finally,” said Quandocor.
“But I have something to show you.”
“Uh? Like what?”
Vantegaard tried to use his new skill and then realized the problem.
No foe. With a “current foe” to attack, the Call would not activate.
“Ok, never mind. We need to find something to attack.”
“I thought we said, I quote, stop grinding, keep going.”
“No, but you are going to like that.”
“What the fuck is that thing???”
Vantegaard had no idea if other people could see the information, but his skill window listed “Animated Stone – rank 6 – uses Armored Earth”. It looked like a pile of stones, roughly sculpted into a humanoid shape. At the moment the Animated Stone was trying its best to wail on the aggravated Ursus Jubatus.
Unfortunately, at rank 6, the animation didn’t last longer than a swipe of the claws. And Jubatus kept on coming toward the annoying biped that did Impose Load on him.
The trio moved to intercept, dropping debuffs on the hapless bear. Despite a 30ish ranking, the bear received a dose of ranged attacks enough to reduce its health to half before he managed to attempt to claw Vantegaard. But the rest of them was pumping more attacks and the bear didn’t have a chance.
“Ok, so… what was that thing?” asked Quandocor.
But Birkathane had the correct conclusion.
“Did you… got a pet? A pet skill?”
“Yes. Just at the World Leyline. I kept points and tried to get one skill there. And that’s what I got. Call the Stone.”
“Wait a minute? What you mean, you got a skill at the leyline? You can do that? I mean, I checked the 101 for my builds, and that’s nowhere.”
Secret busted, thought Vantegaard. I spoke too fast.
“I’ve got a skill that interacts with the leylines. I mean, in addition to the geomantic boost. Apparently… on some leylines, I can get geomantic skills rather than lottery ones.”
Birkathane’s brow furrowed.
“So… that’s why you left me all those skill stones for Earth Magic. You knew you’d get more when you wanted.”
She flipped him a finger.
“Well, thanks for the second choice skill dump, boyo.”
“Hey, it’s not that. It’s just good sense. You benefit more…”
“Keep digging, Earth Boy.”
Quandocor looked at Birkathane’s turned back as she resumed the trip.
“Well, that could have gone worse. You sure know how to explain how you chose your gifts to women.”
Thankfully, Birkathane had mollified by the time they broke camp in the morning. Apparently, morning coffee really did wonders to her mood.
As they resumed the last leg of the trip, she started to pester him questions about how that skill of his worked to give him geomantic skills. Upon learning that he paid full price for all of his skill, she winced a bit.
“It’s not the end of all things. It means I can afford the lottery since I’m cheating it. Sure, the skill stones would be cheaper… but let’s face it, it’s still better if we all have full archmagi builds.”
“And how many skills do you think you’ll get?”
“At least 8, I think. So far, I have one for every type of leyline, and it seems that one for every intersection of two of the same type. I’m hoping you get some for triple intersections, or more if that exists. Apparently, you don’t get any for mixed types. Maybe a full mix?”
“And you have learned…”
“Five so far. I missed the opportunity on a standard during the trip, and I’m also missing the intersections of major and world lines. But I hope there are more. I could be not only an archmage but also one of the biggest geomancer. I probably need to keep spare points from now on, once we find those configurations.”
“You’re going to seek the Earthen Brethren?”
“If we get to Beta, yes. Their keep is legendary with all the intersecting leylines. Don't know how I'm going to negotiate entry, though.”
One hour before lunch break they stumbled on a small cairn with a large stone sign and an arrow above.
Sponsored by Hunter Plus Inc.
“We made it!”
“We’re there! At last!”
The fist-bumping came nearly automatically, although Birkathane hesitated for a second.
“So. Early break and we finish it, or we try to get there and skip lunch?”
“I know we don’t strictly need to eat three times a day to avoid Famished, but…”
“I’d say, let’s eat the last Jubatus steak in honor of the ‘Hunter Plus Inc.’”
“I didn’t expect to find advertisements.”
“Why not? Not every guild is world-famous.”
“I thought this was the extreme border of Gamma. Who are they advertising for?”
“Hmmm. Good question. We’ll ask when we’re there?”
“Sounds good to me.”
Once they pushed past the last hillock, the sight that greeted the trio was entirely surreal.
Hilltop Samms got chiefly the name from the next hill and a set of tall buildings on it. The structures evoked a dark gothic and medieval construction, with dark stone battlements and multiple floors. But what they hadn’t expected was the riot of tents around said hill. There were all kinds of tents, mostly earth-normal. The whole affair gave the location a kind of holiday campsite feeling, which contrasted with the definitively medieval buildings dominating the site.
“That’s not… what I expected” summarized Birkathane.
“I checked the Cartographer site first thing upon recess when Vasili said we were coming there. It says that the town is fairly recent, less than a year. It has enjoyed a recent growth with veterans and lowbies alike coming.”
“Uh? Why? What?”
“Apparently, the area is good hunting for lowbies. Remember the Luteus we hunted back in Fanduk, Quan?”
“Yes. You mentioned that the skins are good for fireproof clothes.”
“The area has lots of those and their bigger brothers Lathanotus Luteus and the rarer Saniwa Luteus. All skins are appreciated. If there’s an export from here, it’s that.”
“And the veteran part?”
“There’s a dungeon complex west of here, at half a day march. It’s huge, and not even completely mapped, apparently. So you have veterans who try to find virgin rooms for better loot. While the rest keep it clear of occupancy.”
“A dungeon complex?”
Vantegaard cringed in advance.
“It’s called… the Bad Necropolis.”
“That’s what you get when some Gaters get to name things.”
They started toward the town.
“So what about the tent city?”
“The original town got probably too small. Don’t forget that you get hundreds of newbies spawning every day all over Northworld.”
“So, it’s getting crowded.”
“Not completely crowded yet. But the most interesting spots get the bulk of the lowbies.”
The tent city was a semi-random spread, tents packed in clumps with several alleyways between, snaking around the whole setup.
A group of four was heading southwest and waved as they passed. At the border of the tent city, a bunch of crates and planks delimitated a kind of stall. The “Ye Adventurer Shoppe” sign above would have been more convincing if it hadn’t been made of laminated plastic. A pair, man and woman, were setting up the whole affair and turned to the approaching trio.
“Newcomers?” asked the woman.
Vantegaard answered “yes. And we’re happy to arrive.”
Birkathane asked, “isn’t it a bit late in the day to open a store?”
The man laughed “well, we do some hunting around in the mornings. Business is nice, but you don’t get much XP doing that.”
The woman pointed to the signpost stating, “Buying, selling, appraisal”.
“We trade in skins, loot, raw components. We got everything you need for your supplies.”
She eyed the three, in their mix of Northworld weaponry, and mismatched earth-local clothes.
“That is if you have pieces-of-8 around. We don’t do earth cash.”
“We’ll probably check the prices. We have a few coins, but we’re going to sell some stuff first before we buy.”
“Depend on what you have? The price of the local skins has been fluctuating downward these days. You get people who heard about Samms and are showing up daily, so the hunting is becoming fierce.”
Vantegaard hesitated, but Quandocor cut him, “we just have a few low-level skins, but we probably need an inn first if there’s one.”
“You can set up your tent anywhere, no need of the inn.”
“We only have travel stuff, and we don’t have recess yet.”
“Ah. I can probably sell you some tents if you need any.”
“We’ll check the inn, then decide.”
The man kept a jovial face, but his speech was slightly less cordial.
“Look for the Obvious Tankard, next to the tall square tower. That’s the name of the inn. The actual sign is the usual pig on a spit.”
“Thanks. We’ll check around.”
“What was that for?”
Quandocor replied, “obvious scam. They’re set up so they’re the first shop you see when coming back, so they probably shortchange you when buying stuff.”
“I bet the real store or stores are in the established part of the town.”
“Yes, we’re probably going to have better prices there. Plus, I don’t think those two have the capital to buy our skill stones.”
Vantegaard thought about it.
“You’re probably right.”
“Do you need to check with the Cartographer Guild? Do they have some offices around?”
“The website mentioned just an affiliate agent, which means someone just one rank above me. He probably doesn’t even have an official location. I assume the innkeeper will know more.”
The Obvious Tankard was obvious, in its way. Hilltop Samms proper was about forty large buildings, and nearly half of them sported signs. Most of those followed what passed for standards across Northworld. There was a set of scales with stacks of coins indicating change and banking services, a set of blades crossed over an anvil for crafting – with the accompanying hammering indicating the owner was at work – and more. The buildings were arranged around small plazas, with short alleys between them. The tower was to the side with a weird sign on it, but next to it was the promised inn.
< OO >
“What’s that?” asked Birkathane.
“Looks like a guild registry. The tower must be the equivalent of the local town hall. If you have a guild presence, then you go there and post notices about your guild.”
“Probably. But inn first!”
The Obvious Tankard was mostly deserted in this mid-afternoon. There were two people seated not far from a fireplace that was still empty, and a single, slightly bored man next to the counter, who perked seeing three people coming in.
“Hello! Newcomers? I can’t recall seeing you around.”
“You might say that.”
“I’m Mojitallus. Assistant innkeeper; the boss is out hunting for the next menus.”
They dropped their bags next to the bar and shook Mojitallus’ hand.
“So… levels 160? What brings you to Hilltop Samms? You look a lot under-leveled to risk the Necropolis.”
“We’re from far. Actually, we didn’t start in Gamma.”
“Eh? What do you mean, not in Gamma?”
“We spawned in Fanduk. That’s a new settlement, 600km southeast from here.”
“Southeast? That’s completely off the charts.”
“Completely. We spent the last month traveling to reach Hilltop Samms.”
Mojitallus turned pensive.
“If you were so far out, how did you know to find this place?”
“We had help. The Cartographer Guild. They have placed all the major landmasses relative to each other, and it turns out that Fanduk is in the middle of the shortest road between Alpha and Gamma. So an expedition went thru, and we tagged along.”
“Oh? There are more Cartos with you? I presume they’re going to stay at Carmelli’s place.”
“Well, we had a major problem on the way. Hell-level problem. We ran, but the rest didn’t make it.”
“Aw. Shit. So that road isn’t safe?”
“Possibly, if you know what to avoid.”
“Well, I think Carmelli’s away with a group from Reformed Ones to map more of the Necropolis, but he’s supposed to be back this evening or maybe tomorrow.”
“That’s the local Cartographer? We’ll need to contact him when he’s back.”
“I’ll tell the boss you’re looking for the Carto. He’ll know if he’s back.”
“Anyway, we need to unwind. Three rooms if that’s possible, then drinks I think.”
“How long are you staying?”
“That depends on the Cartographers. We might have an expedition back to where the wipe occurred. But at least three days.”
Mojitallus pointed out to a board with a grid on it. About one-third of the squares were covered by a small wood block, but the rest had a roman number and a “5c” to “1b1c” listing.
“Prices there. The higher, the larger the room. You pay in advance and you don’t Recess in the rooms. Although if you’re from a new settlement…”
“Don’t worry, we have pieces-of-8.”
The trio conferred, and Vantegaard pulled out the purse from his backpack.
“Paying for all three. We’ll take VII, IX, and XIV. Three days.”
Mojitallus mentally counted.
“One iron, 2 copper. Want the drinks now?” he pointed to a list behind him. “Or after unpacking?”
“We unpack first. We did recess on the trip, but it’s still good to be somewhere decent.”
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.