(Y6, September 22nd-24th)
Vantegaard said, “Ok, I’m going to do a short Recess to see how we’re doing for the Brethren. Since Randgridda here told me how not to trigger the AS if you come back after at least half an hour on Earth. On my next Recess option, we’ll all be closer to the sickness trigger and we’ll all purge it that time. But until then, I’ll be fine.”
He spotted Quandocor looking dubious. He waved around.
“No enemies nearby. No dangerous critters. And I’ll be gone an hour max.”
Birkathane came and gave him a quick kiss. Vantegaard’s smiled.
“Come back safe.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not even leaving the apartment.”
“Officer Chastabulous here.”
“So, what’s your final answer?”
“We considered your information, and, we’re willing to work with you. Your information worked out, by the way. We purchased a couple of the cheapest tier 5 Aetherist Skill Stones to unlock that new vital and three of our Mages took up Aether. They ran the lottery in the Courtyard.”
“And got a skill.”
“And all three of them got Physical Aether. That’s a tier 1 not on any compendium so far. They’re looking toward what’s at Tarquar now, and there’s more interested in dual-specialization now if we can find more Aetherist locations.”
Tier 1 Strength
Energy and matter are equivalent. So are Aether and energy.
Condense Aether into a temporary sphere. Interacting with the sphere causes immediate burn and lingering damage.
Maximum sphere: skill × 5 Aether
Dissipation: 0.99skill Aether per second.
Damage: 1.01skill × 2 per Aether
Lingering debuff: - skill / 3 to highest stat for skill / 10 minutes.
Skill level 0
“So we’re good to go, then.”
“We got a few days ago a message through Earthside. From the Cartographers.”
“The message said, quote, it has come to our attention that you may have information regarding the whereabouts of three fugitives wanted by our guild. We would be extremely happy to confirm that, unquote.”
“How do they know? Did someone…”
“I have no idea. They did not elaborate on how this ‘came to their attention’. Just that they seem to be aware you’re looking for us.”
“That does not sound good.”
“Yes. I would not be surprised if we got visitors soon. A bunch of people camping next to the Keep for a while. Just friendly adventurers, don’t pay attention to us.”
“No. We can guarantee your safety inside the Keep. I don’t think they’d be so mad as to take us on straight just for you. Guild wars between small guilds are already bad enough. Upper thousanders duking it out is worse. Probably just political pressure instead, just like the original message. But we’re not ready to clash by going to meet you and escort you safely. I’m sorry.”
“No. You do your best; I understand.”
“They will probably have trackers with the right skill combos. If you get within a dozen kilometers of the Keep, they’re bound to locate you. You’ll never slip in unnoticed.”
“We’ve got had by those before. Thanks for trying to help.”
Chastabulous added, “if you make it, stock on skill points. We’ll charge everyone if we ever open up, but you’re welcome to the Courtyard.”
“That’s going to be expensive in points.”
“Moar skills. Gimme moar,” joked Chastabulous.
Jasper tried to appreciate the joke but found that quite hard.
“What? The Cartographers are making a siege of the Earth Keep?”
“Not yet, but apparently, they know we’re coming. And they’re not going to give up that easily. They’re not going to go against a massively powered guild like the Earthen Brethren, but they’re not going to trust their neutrality,” confirmed Vantegaard.
“Once you’re looking for hidden plots, you can find them everywhere, and everyone is an accomplice,” said Randgridda.
“Are they really that paranoid?”
“You heard the Cartographer goon. He’s Russian, like Vasili, and paranoia is in their genes,” she said.
“But how could they know we’re coming to the Brethren?”
Birkathane realized immediately.
“The only ones who knew are the Valkyries. That means they’ve moved against the guild.”
“Yes, the fuckers! What have they done? How do they dare do that!!!” screamed Randgridda.
Birkathane tried to placate her boss.
“Hey, we don’t know what happened. Maybe someone talked.”
“No Valkyrie would brag on such an important matter. Heads will roll, and not ours,” glowered Randgridda.
“Just be calm, and we can figure this…”
Birkathane looked at the empty space where Randgridda had been staying.
“Did she just…”
“I think she immediately started Recess,” said Vantegaard. “She’s gone Earthside to check for information. If someone moved against your guild, there’s probably some message left to warn her.”
“What do we do?”
“What you think? We wait. She needs half an hour of Recess at least.”
“So, we’re back to square one. They’re not going to accept anything but them in complete control of their so-called Inquisition,” grimaced Birkathane.
“Then we try something else,” said Quandocor.
“What? Do you want to go back to the Pyramid? What could we bring from there?”
“Then what?” asked Tarenasala.
“We go find the aliens,” offered Quandocor.
Birkathane was floored. But Vantegaard immediately saw the plan.
“I don’t remember the exact map. But the blue-coded aliens were not that far from Beta.”
“From the look, it seemed barely more than the interval between Gamma and Beta,” confirmed Quandocor.
Birkathane jumped on the idea.
“500km? Around that. And we don’t need to go to Beta, we can try to cut through the wild in a diagonal.”
Vantegaard fished out his small world map outline. He offered silent thanks to Maelia before looking. Tarenasala pulled out her copy of Randgridda’s Gamma map, placing it next to it to check their location.
“So, we’re three days south from Vasimir Red, which puts us… right there.”
Birkathane checked the relative shapes, then made an estimation.
“Ok, elementary geometry means… we have something like 1100km to go in… that direction.”
“Six weeks? Five at best for you,” grimaced Falunjul.
“We can probably keep up speed by going along the normal path to Vasimir, then we angle.”
Tarenasala looked dubious.
“That cuts a day? Two? That’s still long. Then we have to find them.”
“That’s where I come in. Lay of the Land, remember. If there’s a settlement around, I’ll find it once we get close,” said Quandocor.
“And then, we’ll have to hope they are friendly,” said Falunjul.
“I just hope they don’t mistake us for funny Northworld critters.”
Randgridda spawned back on the half-hour mark, fuming.
“Got a message. They moved against the Talbor guildhouse as soon as they spawned after their Recess. There was only Hlonhyldde there, and she got overwhelmed fast I suppose.”
She added, glowering, “she’s a wreck. Whatever they were using, they were not gentle. San found her at half health and nearly unresponsive, which is not good by Northworld norms. She had her Recess available, so she immediately reported through Earthside before getting her back to the Keep.”
“But if they were fresh from spawn, how could they notify…” started Quandocor.
“Maybe they worked through their local agent. The gal is a thousander with a resilient build, she spends all her time including AS in Northworld. There are also new communication devices for Northworld.”
“Someone made phone works?” asked Vantegaard.
“No. It’s kind of walkie-talkies stuff, only more complicated. It’s expensive so far, so only big and rich guilds get them because they monopolize the production. We were looking to invest in one to link Valhalla Keep and Mt. Talbor as soon as the price is right.”
Malika Sascha was poring over a dead body report. Normally, the FBI wouldn’t get involved in that kind of case, but the investigative team had found a Silvergate next to the body, which meant it was referred to Rosenby’s task force. Nobody had noticed the absence of the apartment occupant, one Marcus Wisuza. Neighbors were used to the man being “away”, which was obviously “away on Northworld” in retrospective.
The body had taken a very long time to start giving enough smell to trigger a visit. The coroner’s report had been referred to Malika to see if she could make sense of the oddities. Despite being left dead for nearly a month in a hot Miami suburb, the body had been literally mummified, as if it had been drained of something. The cause of death was tentatively made to be from massive injuries, as the man had been slashed repeatedly by some sword-like weapon that wasn’t found, but the coroner couldn’t rule out other causes like the burns on the left arm.
Inventory of the deceased possessions didn’t provide much more hints. The man had worn heavy leathers, a wicked-looking ornate knife that screamed Made-in-Northworld and a bag full of glass marbles with gemstones embedded. The apartment itself looked barely lived in, and the computer forensics led to encrypted messages, for which the key wasn’t cracked, and bookmarks to a few Darkweb dot-onion sites. She’d looked at the sites themselves, which did feel like Gater sites, devoted to spellcasting. At least one was registered in the FBI database as associated with the Cartographer’s Guild, which she remembered from her experiences as some kind of big, hotshot gang.
She was making quick notes of her ideas about how the deceased had tried to recess from a life-and-death situation when the phone rang. Mozer told her that Rosenby was calling an unscheduled meeting and she was to attend.
So, Malika, Oskar Mozer sat in Sammael Rosenby’s office. Then, Vernon Balder came in and that gave Malika a hint. A former Swordfish agent in Northworld, the Silvergate specialist… that smelled another Silvergate-related problem. The Atlanta bureau was doing more and more of them, instead of concentrating on the local “normal” problems. But Rosenby, Special Agent in Charge, was trying to keep all things Silvergate within his domain, betting probably on a favorable outlook for his career.
“People, we have a problem.”
“Yes. One that I have a hard time dealing with.”
“What is it?”
“We’ve pulled four people now from Swordfish, over half of our agents. Not everyone can hack getting into that fantasyland.”
“It got me two weeks’ vacation after. Even if I’m not cut for that kind of job, that’s a bonus in my opinion.”
“Well, Hank had a bigger problem, so I gave him four, and an appointment with psych to deal with having six people die on him.”
“I heard that one. He could have been killed.”
Oskar asked, “So, what is this problem with Silvergates?”
“I asked psych to schedule an appointment. That one was five days ago. He didn’t show up, so psych rescheduled and sent me a notice.”
“What did Hank said?”
“That’s the problem. Hank said nothing. I didn’t get through his phone at all, straight to the answering machine.”
“Uh? Where did he go on holiday?”
“I got someone to make a check at his house, but no answer either. Then I called the Office of Professional Responsibility, and got them to check his credit cards.”
“Zero credit card activity for nearly two weeks. Not a grocery, not an ATM withdrawal, no gas tank filling, nothing. Zero, nada.”
“But… didn’t he turn in his Silvergate?”
Vernon Balder intervened, “He did. But Silvergates are not tied to anyone. You can use any, multiple people can use the same. As long as it’s not two persons at a time for a given one.”
“So, you’re saying… he’s got an illegal Gate, and he’s gone back to Northworld.”
“That’s what it looks like. But he was back two weeks later.”
“So what do we do? OPR may have to arrest him…”
“The problem is that the first credit card activity that occurred after two weeks of zero is a plane ticket purchase for Sweden.”
“That’s… not allowed. I mean, every FBI agent has to get authorization for traveling into a foreign country, whether for the Bureau’s business or himself,” said Malika.
“Yes, I know,” said Sammael.
He added, “Now, you probably don’t know is that, on his op, he was mainly with a group composed of a man from the East Coast and a woman… from Sweden.”
“Holy smokes. He’s deserting. He’s gone to join her,” realized Oskar.
“Sweden is currently a country that doesn’t have much in the way of legislation regarding Silvergating. So, not only does he have incentives to get to her, but it also makes sense.”
“There’s no double criminality for Silvergating then.”
“It will be impossible to extradite him if he gets there,” concluded Vernon.
“And that happened three weeks ago. I found out about the plane tickets only an hour ago. By now, he’s been there for weeks, and there’s little we can do about it.”
“So what do we do?”
“Oskar and Malika, I want you to work with OPR to get this rolling. We need a warrant. An international one. Maybe we can get Sweden to prosecute for illegal immigration and deport him so we can make the arrest. Worst case, you may have to go to Sweden to investigate, find him, and negotiate with him. I’m sure it’s an impulsive action, and he’ll realize how much he’s goofed later. But that’s why you’re in that team, Malika. You’ve been in Northworld, and you’re probably the one who will be able to understand him and talk to him.”
“Do we know… what his build is?” asked Malika.
“According to his previous reports, he’s, quote, staff, necromancer, ritualist, wizard, unquote. Whatever that means.”
“What?” asked Vernon.
“The way it’s said, it means an Archmage combat build. Northworld is pretty much a kind of merit-aristocracy, with ‘strong builds’ on top, and the rest – like me – second zone Gaters. So he’s probably considered one of the potentially best Gaters in Northworld.”
“Not at the moment. I pulled him because one of the top organizations there…”
“Guilds,” supplied Malika.
“… declared him an outlaw and put a bounty on his head. Which makes his move even stupider.”
Oskar laughed, “Hank never makes things half-way, does he?”
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.