(Y6, August 18th)
The bar list had multiple kinds of alcohol and non-alcoholic stuff, and, for once, beer. All three settled with a wooden mug full of a light brown liquid.
Earth-Hops Wheat Beer (lvl 10), lightly alcoholic.
“They even have munchies,” said Birkathane.
There was a small bowl with what looked like dried fruits and peppery nuts. The nuts were slightly larger than what they used to see on Earth.
“Earth hops?” asked Quandocor.
“Probably imported, yes” guessed Vantegaard.
“Unless there’s a hop equivalent around in Gamma, you would need to have it transit through Earth anyway. This is probably cheaper. Less efficient, but cheaper.”
Vantegaard added “You know, Birka, you can always ask around if they need help brewing. That’s always useful if you want to raise alchemy skills. There’s always the low-level stuff to make, and they can drop that onto quote-interns-unquote.”
“Depends on how long we’ll stay.”
“Which reminds me.”
Vantegaard pulled out the purse and started to divide the coins.
“What are you doing?”
“Now that we’re in the civilization, we should all pick our personal expenses. Common pot is good when you start, but we all need to spend based on our priorities. And that means having our individual budget.”
“Speaking of which… really? The largest room? I’ll have you know I’m from a country with equality, you know.”
“Birka, you also have the largest and heaviest pack for your skill grinding. Don’t tell me you don’t need to room to unpack?”
Birkathane settled down grumbling slightly.
“We’ll probably check the main store to sell the stones. There’s probably one or maybe two in the upper city. Then we’ll divide that as well.”
“And we’re rich,” said Quandocor.
“Not rich, rich. But good in Northworld terms. If we get 1 gold each, that’s like 130k in earth terms.”
“That’s like… 1million2 in Krona? Wow.”
“High tier stones potentially get you there. Good or unique tier 1. Not saying we’ll get 3 gold for the lot. But that’s possible.”
Quandocor gained an appreciation of what they had split that day back in Fanduk.
“Did we use… half a million? Each? For real?”
“Lol, no. Maybe all together. The price falls fast for more common stones. But don’t forget. If we hadn’t used those stones… I wouldn’t have had Mind over Matter. And we wouldn’t have all those skills that let us survive the trip. That’s priceless.”
“Hey, Mojitallus. What’s the general store around? We picked stuff when we left Fanduk, and we probably need to sell if we stay longer.”
“If you’re talking general, then you have Master Knickknacks. Buys everything including gear, sells some back if you need it. If you have skins, pelts, craft components, you can check the Exporium. Knickknacks won’t buy anything that’s not rare or higher when it comes to components.”
“We saw a stall at the tent city…”
“More scummers. They try to get the stuff for the lowbies who don’t know better. They buy your quality stuff at trash prices and sell you trash at quality prices.”
The barkeep laughed.
“Most of the time, they don’t even keep inventory, they come up and sell it the same evening. As long as you’ve got lowbies freshly arrived, they probably have enough clients to get some iron per day.”
“So where’s this Master Knickknacks?”
The barkeep gave detailed directions.
“So? Sell or keep drinking until evening?”
“I’d say sell. We’ve got a few hours until they open up the kitchen. I’d like to see something that’s not our own cuisine, for once.”
The upper city of Hilltop Samms wasn’t large enough to even get lost. The Knickknacks were two plazas away, a 4min walk. The front sign was an 8-spoke wheel with the name in gothic characters below… and a series of Chinese ideograms.
They entered with a chime sound. There were two persons in the store, talking quietly over half a dozen bottles. One was apparently the store operator, who did look slightly Asiatic. The other looked more like a customer, in full fur collar and a stave with glowing neon lines spiraling around its length strapped to his left side.
Quandocor looked in surprise.
“High-level stuff. I get 49 Aether, meaning it’s level 49 in practice” indicated Vantegaard.
“Let’s have a look while they finish,” said Birkathane.
The store was divided into two sections. The left side had mannequins, stands, and weapon racks. There were several of what looked like full outfits and a large collection of swords of all sizes, but only two staves. There were small signs under each item, detailing the stats.
Iron-Core Battlestaff: lvl25/20str:+2 dex
Heavyweight Straight Staff: lvl31/24pre: +1str,+1int,+1for,2% base damage
“They sound… good?”
“Zaccali said yours was 30, with 22 Resilience required for +2 Dexterity. These are high quality or better, they have lower requirements for a better bonus.”
Birkathane waved around the store.
“I presume he only sells good stuff. The common stuff is… probably common.”
“Yea. I think if you want common, you can check the crafters.”
“No prices though?”
“Haggling. If we want to buy, he’ll try to sound us before pushing the price up. Of course, if we sell to him first, he’ll know how high he can go.”
The right side was mostly bottles with labels, packed foods with a buff indication, and several other consumables. And a sign saying “Enquire for our current Skill Stone catalog”.
“Not on display, eh?”
“Too dangerous. Remember, you just have to touch them, and validate, and they’re gone. And it would be useless to show them under a glass counter since you can’t tell which is which without checking.”
The store owner, having completed the transaction, came over to them. He examined them quickly, before flashing a… Vulcan hand sign?
“Greetings. I’m Heishoudang, at your service.”
Vantegaard took the lead “Hello. We’re mainly looking to sell some of the items we got home.”
“It’s a town called Fanduk. Not on the maps right now, it’s brand new.”
“Well, it never hurts to see what is available from Fanduk. Although I normally deal only with good quality stuff.”
“We have a few skill stones to sell.”
“A few? Your town isn’t a newbie area, then?”
“It’s complicated. But we got some skill stones, and we want to sell the ones that aren’t useful for us.”
“I’ll get the catalog. How many stones are we talking about?”
Heishoudang whistled in a definitively American manner.
“Fifteen? Really? That Fanduk of yours is a rich zone. You probably have veterans flocking from all over Gamma.”
“It’s not in Gamma. It’s in fact midway between Alpha and Gamma.”
Vantegaard ended up explaining about the Cartographer and the expedition.
“Whoa. The Cartographers have been dropping hints about a big announcement for weeks now. I assume it’s that.”
He smiled “I look forward to the trade flowing through Hilltop Samms if we’re indeed the point where Alpha comes to Gamma.”
He went back to his normal storekeeper manners.
“So, what’s your skill stores.”
Vantegaard unpacked the stones from his backpack. Heishoudang eyed the stack.
“You were not kidding. That’s quite a stash. Any high…”
“There are three tier 1 and four tier 2. Plus others.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone bringing so many stones.”
“Ah. Of course. If nobody’s been around…”
“Way of the Bow. That’s a good tier 1. Not highest. 6 electrum.”
Heishoudang contemplated the description. Unfortunately, unless he acquired the skill, there was no way to find the exact details of what the skill entailed.
“It’s not on Honest John’s” injected Vantegaard.
“Honest John’s not even complete. I have a subscription to the Combine price site. They get every new skill discovered within days, and I get updates in Northworld. But… Warbound isn’t on it either.”
Heishoudang thought quickly about it.
“I’m taking a risk here. But I can get maybe 1 gold.”
He added quickly “Exclusively for the novelty, of course. It looks like a tank ability. Those are always hard to use.”
Heishoudang picked the next stone.
“Break the World? A tier 1 hammer skill?”
Heishoudang looked quizzically at the trio. Vantegaard elaborated on the unspoken question.
“Yes. A hammer skill. I know no one found any for tier 1, ever. The description hints that it… does more than just damage.”
Heishoudang contemplated the stone for nearly a minute before speaking again.
“You’d probably be better getting that sold in an auction in a major town. With advertisement. I’ll get you 1 gold and a half because no one has ever obtained a tier 1 hammer skill I know of, but I can’t really afford more.”
They all conferred and Vantegaard came back.
Heishoudang picked the next stone.
“Shape of the Sword? That’s… a tier 2? A swordmaking specialization in tier 2 form?”
Heishoudang looked oddly at the trio.
“If those stones are a common occurrence in your sector, you’re going to get overflown by veterans quickly. That’s too many new ones...”
After sorting thru the entire stack and getting wider and wider eyes as the six skills that Vantegaard hadn’t seen in Honest John’s – and which were also absent from the Combine catalog – the store owner finished his tally.
“I can get you… 4 gold, 2 electrum, 4 silver. No negotiations. Six unevaluated high tier skill stones are already a big risk for me if the skills are uncovered before I sell these and they end up duds. And I’m digging into my capital for that lot and your big hammer skill stone.”
“Can we get cash for three. We need to divide that amount among us.”
“Okay… that’ll be 1 gold, 3 electrum, 4 silver per person then. That’s good?”
“If you need to spend it, you can change the silver and above at the bank. The inn tends not to have much change. Bang is going to get apoplexy if you drop a gold coin on him.”
Vantegaard shook Heishoudang’s hand.
“We’ll be around. We don’t need supplies or gear for now, but we’ll see before heading out.”
When the trio reached the inn, they found a different man behind the bar. He introduced himself as Bangforbus, apparently the establishment’s owner. They dropped 3 coppers and took their new beer tankards to a table. The fireplace had been started, but the day’s menu wasn’t cooking yet.
“What’s this bank place?” asked Quandocor.
“All banking services. Well, except lending. Nobody lends you anything since at worst you can flee creditors back to Earth and live in exile. But they’re mainly for storage and transfer.”
Birkathane added, “My friends told me about the regular caravans, and how they’re used by those bank guilds.”
Quandocor turned to her.
“There are usually regular caravans between major towns and points of interest. They’re used to ferry all kind of goods because it’s usually more reliable than Earthside.”
“For one, you’re limited to what you can carry thru the Silvergate. If you want to transport 100 skins to a market… well you need to have people whose respawn are next to each other, then you need to have them have their spawn at each end of the trip, and then, you need 11-12 days for each batch, and probably do it twice because if you try to transit overburdened, sometimes you arrive with stuff missing.”
“Missing? Can we get our limbs or stuff cut?”
Vantegaard reassured his friend.
“No. Doesn’t happen. Or at least it never did. But if you try to carry more than your Strength, stuff will go missing on Spawn or Recess. So nobody does that.”
“So that’s why you get caravans. The logistics are less cumbersome that way. Light cheap stuff with an irregular schedule on Earth, regular heavy expensive on Northworld’s side.”
She added, “There’s one regular between Samms and Varionisia, going through five different towns.”
She hesitated, thinking about the trek to Mt. Talbor. But that was in the future. She and her Absolute Compass would be needed for her friend’s trip with the Cartographers to the Pyramid, and only then, she’d look for Talbor.
“One of the things is that the higher quality something, the more likely it is to lose its properties on Earth.”
“Like the skill stones?”
“Yea. But any very high-quality item will tend to lose its effects on Earth. You really don’t want to leave with a +8 Reflexes staff and return from Recess with a +2 one. So, if you want to move from place to place, either you transport everything yourself, or you contract the bank to move it for you.”
Birkathane laughed at seeing the glance thrown by Quandocor on his staff.
“Don't worry. Your staff already went through two Recesses. It's not going to end up decaying.”
Vantegaard added “There’s also local storage. Probably more here than anywhere else. You’ve noticed all the tents. There’s probably less theft than you would get on Earth, but if you have really good stuff, you don’t want to leave it in a tent while you’re hunting or dungeon diving. So you carry it, sell it or you store it in a safe place.”
“That’s why you wanted to sell quickly?”
“We’re safer in the inn. But eh. Better not to risk it, unless we want to keep everything with us all the time.”
“Hello, Bang. Come in, I’ll finish cleaning my stuff later. The sword is done, that’s what’s important.”
“Carmelli, there are people at the inn, they say they came along an expedition of your guild. They want to check with you, do I send them this evening or tomorrow? You’re probably tired after your expedition.”
“They’re there? Already?”
“Ah. So you were expecting them.”
“Yes. And no.”
“What does that even mean?”
“It means that the Guild isn’t happy with the story they tried to foist on us.”
“They mentioned running into problems and the rest of their expedition dying.”
“Well, I got notice before I left for the mapping session. They claim they were in a high-level dungeon of sorts and ran into elites 90. Everyone died, except, for some reason, the three levels 60.”
“Well, their level is 160-170 now.”
“60 to 160 in a month. Ok, that’s possible. But even then, the rest of the expedition was full veterans, 800+. They even had a Thousander Aetherist. All six veterans dead, and all three noobs without a scratch? Come on Bang.”
“That does sound fishy.”
“We have people incoming that can manage lowbies. But I need you to keep watch on them.”
“They’ve purchased three nights.”
“That sounds correct for the notice I got. They shouldn’t have hit recess yet.”
Carmelli added “They mustn’t leave the area. Not until we have the inquisition team here. I’ll check with regional HQ how far they should be.”
“What do I tell them? See you? You’re still away?”
Carmelli thought for a bit.
“No. Tell them to come tomorrow morning? I still need to check with regional HQ, but I’m curious to hear what they have to say. They always say stories are always too perfect, or that they can’t keep the stories straight anyway.”
The Communication Globe was a crystal ball, but full of a milky-blue liquid. Mid-level artificers made them in pairs. You could talk through one and be heard through the other, and vice-versa. The swirling liquid settled and became transparent.
“Hilltop Samms, online.”
He then waited until whoever was on duty at the end found which of the globes in the communication room had activated, and replied.
“Bern’s Berg, online. What’s up Carmelli?”
“The three I was warned about have shown up after all. Two men, one woman. The innkeeper reports levels of 160+.”
“They did? People were taking bets already. They got chutzpah.”
“They’re at the local inn, the Obvious Tankard. They’re supposed to stay three days they paid for. How far is the Inquisition?”
“There are two separate groups… let me check. One min.”
Carmelli settled for the wait, transcribing field notes into a pre-formatted version for future inclusion on the site on his next recess.
“Ok. The first group of three comes from Berg, they’re on a fast track. They should be there in two days, mid/late evening. The second group has more interrogation tools, but they’ve started from Zangrass. They won’t be there for at least five days.”
“Can the first group subdue them?”
“Yea. But in case, can you get your innkeeper to slip them a mickey? Do you have Bane’s Grip or Dream Lotus? Or equivalent?”
“No sleep potion around. I’ll check the store, but the right components aren’t around, so you need to import that. There’s probably enough stuff for some Bane’s Grip, I’ll have the alchemist make me a batch. At least a few doses, which will lock out their recess for five-six days. But they’ll immediately notice if respawn doesn’t come available.”
“Need to dose them. If you can lock them until the second group, that’s better. If not, the first group has control potions. I think.”
“Okay, will do. Hilltop Samms, out.”
“Bern’s Berg, out.”
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.