(Y6, October 29th)
The place looked like a small encampment that had been smashed. Pieces of lean-to strewn, firepit with ashes spread all around. There was dark residue, like dried black blood. And there were corpses. Four of them.
They looked more or less similar to the holographic view from the Pyramid, simply more solid. Deep blue skin, with very little visible variation of tint that any of them could feel. Tall and thin, probably 2m. Hairless, without even eyebrows. The eyes were open… and looked terribly human. A white sclera, a green striated iris, a black circular pupil.
Vantegaard thought he could see a deep surprise and reproach in those. But that was certainly his projecting.
All of them wore some kind of leathery clothing, with boots and an open sleeves jacket. One of them wore lighter clothing, without any jacket or anything. There were weapons strewn. A staff that looked almost like a copy of Quandocor’s. A pair of long steel-looking swords with curved blades and a too-long handle. A wicked string of chains with blades attached to a set of brass knuckles.
It took a few seconds for Vantegaard to realize what was bothering him.
“Look. The knuckles have four plus two rings.”
“Well… they do have six fingers.”
“Yea. I was expecting some more… exotic gear.”
“Why? I mean, our technology doesn’t work well here, and we just use locally made crafts or dungeon stuff. So… if they’re Gaters, then they’d use the same kind of stuff. I mean, there are only so many ways you can make a sword blade.”
Birkathane was the one to remark, “All of the corpses have a Silvergate next to them.”
“That’s the same thing as when people die. You find their Silvergate next to the corpse. Until some critter decides to take it later, I presume.”
“So… they’re really Gaters.”
“From an alien world. But I don’t think it looks like Pandora.”
“I could have told you that,” said Quandocor.
“What do you mean?”
“Sense of Life and Death, remember? They’re still relatively intact. And they don’t have a rank like the local critters. They’ve got a level. Like us.”
“They look like highbies. All are in the upper 400. Save for that one who is almost 550.”
“The local sector doesn’t look high enough rank to wipe a group of 4 near-veterans.”
“That assumes their levels are roughly equivalent to ours. They might have different stats. Maybe different skills. Or maybe there was a special monster that came around.”
“Have you looked at the items?”
“What do you mean… oh.”
The six-fingered glove he held in hand was unusual, to say the least.
ǡćƃⱪȟⱰ ⱷɍőṧⱯ ⱴȜồẵḆ (lvl 21); Requires 17 Reasoning, +1 to elemental skills.
“Ok. That’s definitively alien.”
Birkathane remarked, “The Interface is always in Swedish.”
“Or English for me. It automatically translates. But not in this case. Whatever language the Alien Gaters use, it’s not one we know.”
Tarenasala said, “We need a name for them. We can’t keep calling them Alien Gaters. Even worse if there are also three more species of those.”
“Well, we can’t call them N’avi. They look only very vaguely like them, and I’m sure Cameron would sue for copyright.”
Birkathane snapped her fingers.
“Let’s call them Deva.”
“Deva? What’s that?”
“That’s the mythical creatures from India. Blue-skinned humanoids. Almost the gods and goddesses in Hinduism are supposed to be from that stock, which is why they get blue skin.”
“Why not? Sounds good.”
Quandocor swore. Vantegaard turned and stared, goggle-eyed.
There was a 2m sphere of blackness in front of Quandocor.
“It didn’t take precaution when picking it. I mean… they’re not supposed to activate on Northworld. But this one did.”
Vantegaard looked at the whole battle scene, taking it in a new light. He reached, but Birkathane reached first, squeezing lightly the nearest Silvergate next to her.
It inflated in its active state.
“They’re all active.”
Birkathane said it first.
“Because they’re not Silvergates for Earth-Northworld. You can’t activate one on Northworld because we already have one active, inside… the Interface, maybe. But these… they lead back to their own world.”
“Does this mean we can…”
“Maybe. But I’m not risking it.”
Birkathane gestured toward the black sphere.
“They’re at neutral. We don’t have a fixed spawn there. If we go thru… we’ll end up somewhere at random. Like the Northworld spawn. Split up. And I assume with 9 days until we can go back to Northworld.”
Vantegaard made a snap judgment.
“Take all. Take all of it. The Silvergates. The alien’s gear. Everything. We have proof now. We finally have proof that the Five Gaters are real. That we did see them in the Pyramid.”
“What about the aliens themselves?” asked Tarenasala.
“They died. And in combat,” said Falunjul.
Randgridda added, “We should make them a pyre, to honor them.”
“As much as I’d say ‘bury them’, this is probably more practical”, admitted Quandocor.
“We shouldn’t stay for long. I have no idea what killed them, and even if we’re more numerous and we have possibly slightly more levels, whatever did that killed them all. I’d rather not meet it,” said Vantegaard.
Quandocor felt it. The Sense of Life and Death reported a mid 55 creature… under him. Deep in the ground. Coming straight up.
“It’s underground. 50-60ish.”
“Sounds doable…” said Birkathane.
Randgridda took charge.
“Move. Let’s clear the camp, I don’t want to get bowled over when it… Falunjul, I said move… Fal?”
The Valkyrie was staying rooted to the spot, sword half drawn.
“There’s no time for heroics. Clear, assess, fight in that order!”
Falunjul turned her head to look at the Valkyrie chief. Quandocor immediately paled, because she was no longer registering as a 600ish level… but a 55 creature.
“Fuck! She’s not Falunjul.”
“What? What you mean?”
Falunjul started swirling her sword tentatively, looking at the group.
“She registers as a ranked creature, not a leveled Gater. Anyone knows if… creatures can possess someone?”
Randgridda shook her head.
“Never heard of it.”
Vantegaard made the link.
“That’s how they wiped. They were not fighting an ultra-high rank creature… they fought themselves.”
“I bet it moves to another person even if we defeat her.”
Falunjul jumped over the firepit and raised her sword. Randgridda raised her shield and moved to block the strike. There was no grunting, no effort, no bluster. The possessed Valkyrie seemed totally dispassionate, detached from the fight. This would make sense for a possessor entity with no stake, and possibly not even intelligence in a real sense.
“How do we neutralize her?”
“Debuff. And drain her stamina until we can bind her… any of you?” proposed Tarenasala.
“I’m the necromancer. And I drain life and stats, but no other vitals.”
“Shit,” said Randgridda, pushing back the woman.
Quandocor started with his staple debuffs, Decay Strength, Pull Mastery and Cold Grasp, while Birkathane debated on adding an arcane Weakness. She didn’t want to do more damage… but she might have to. And she couldn’t see how they would win otherwise.
Falunjul noticed Quandocor and turned her head toward him while pummeling her friend. He saw her blank gaze… and felt her push. She was trying to counter him with some psionics, from the notifications.
“She’s switching to psi.”
“What? She doesn’t do psi. She’s arcane,” said Birkathane.
“Then that’s the creature’s doing.”
Vantegaard immediately put an Immutable Mind shielding on Quandocor, stopping the attack.
“We’re still fucked.”
“I don’t want to kill her, but she’ll eventually wear us down.”
“If you can avoid too many strikes… I can keep you topped. With Meditation running, I can keep healing indefinitely as long as you don’t get too much damage.”
“Defensives will wear out, my own stamina isn’t infinite. At least she’s not switching targets.”
The rest of the group was slowly spreading, trying to avoid fighting. That was the strangest fight Vantegaard had ever seen. Stranger than he would have imagined. A fight in which you didn’t want to kill the enemy. And horrible, because that kind of creature would decimate entire groups easily.
“There has to be a vulnerability. A way of getting into it…”
Quandocor shook his head.
“The original creature is still like 6m underground. It’s moving along her, so it’s not a tunnel or something. It’s some kind of ghost.”
“You can target it? Do your debuff work?”
Randgridda yelled. A sword strike had managed to slip past the shield, hitting the side of her hand. Birkathane immediately healed her back, but it was obvious that the tanking wouldn’t go forever.
“Quan, try draining the creature. Maybe damage will interrupt it?”
To his horror, the Drain Life targeted underground… dropped Falunjul’s life.
“No can do. It’s reflected to her own life total.”
Quandocor checked, but the debuffs bounced as if he was trying to debuff her again.
“You can’t affect it. At all. Everything is applied to its host.”
Birkathane had an inspiration. Would Pacify…
Falunjul stopped looking curious. For a fraction of second, she thought they’d won, but the Valkyrie resumed her attack.
“Fuck. Pacify didn’t neutralize it.”
The Cold Grasp debuff dropped suddenly, far too early. Quandocor reapplied it immediately. If the creature could clean the debuffs, they might have an even hard time. They needed a strategy.
“Guys? I’m starting to get low on Stamina.”
“I can do that,” countered Birkathane, as she started Infuse Stamina. The skill was lower and less leveled than her main Infuse Vitality, but it still worked. It was probably better if Randgridda sustained all of her active defensive skills rather than healing her.
Tier 3 Presence
The body’s reserves are yours. Yours to give, yours to withhold.
Increase current stamina.
Stamina granted: 44
Cooldown: 2.4 sec
Lifeforce cost: 71
Skill level 22 (base 8)
“How do we defeat it?”
“I have no idea. Maybe the possession ends after a while?”
“Then what? Does it jump to the next? What do we do if it takes control of Rand?”
Birkathane paled. That thought didn’t bear following up.
“That thing likes psionic. She… it just hit me with a progressive stat debuff. Need your help Birka!”
Quandocor started thinking. The creature seemed to be confined in the psionics area… it didn’t make use of the arcane abilities of Falunjul, just its own…
“Van? Can you put an Immutable Mind on her?”
“On who? Rand?”
“Uh? But she’s hostile… oh. You think it’s using psionics to control her?”
“Mind-based ability set? Use only psionic attacks and no other abilities? I bet so.”
Falunjul stopped mid-strike and stepped back.
“What the fuck is happening???”
Birkathane’s fist collided with Quandocor’s head. The combo of Weak Points and Pierce Defense that fueled her unarmed strikes was not so good once you were on the receiving end.
“Van! Shield everyone, then her.”
“What about me?”
“She has Immutable Mind as well, right? She’ll do you once she’s back in control.”
Quandocor deflected two strikes in quick succession, then Birkathane moved back, shaking her head.
“Fuck. It does jumps targets.”
“Birka! Shield Van with Immutable!” said Quandocor as Vantegaard started running toward him, just before being intercepted by Randgridda. Then, he blinked twice.
“We did it?!? We did it!”
Quandocor could feel the presence climbing. Without targets for the possession ability, the enemy had no recourse but come to the field. Most enemies didn’t run away on Northworld unless they had to.
The smoky presence that came out of the grass looked like a blob of bouncing water. But the smoke appearance was belied when Randgridda and Falunjul simultaneously struck their swords.
“Got some drag. It’s not entirely solid, but material enough.”
“If you can cut it, you can kill it.”
This time, without a possessed target, the debuffs stuck. So did the Drain Life, Disrupt Action and the wailing staff. The rocky elemental sent by Vantegaard plunged straight inside the oily darkness and the stream of Rock Darts tore into it.
Then Randgridda stopped and turned… but both Birkathane and Vantegaard were ready for it, and they nearly simultaneously reapplied an Immutable Mind, breaking the possession. Randgridda barely lost health from the redirected damage.
The creature switched to physical combat, but it was obvious it wasn’t really equipped for it. On the purely physical side, it didn’t do even half of what Birkathane could achieve.
Then Quandocor felt a blink and found himself moved a meter or so. So, that how it felt, he thought.
The creature’s last health dropped and the smoke vanished. There was a thunk sound as the core of the creature solidified and dropped on the ground.
“Pfew. That was nasty.”
“I don’t know how you could fight that without a double defense as we had,” said Birkathane.
Vantegaard was the first to remark.
“There’s a… lingering debuff. Psionic Residue. It doesn’t seem to do anything, but… I guess it might be preventing re-possession immediately.”
“Noticed that, but it was only 30 seconds,” said Falunjul.
“Uh? Mine was 1 minute?” said Birkathane.
“Let me guess. Van was 1:30, Rand you had 2 minutes… since mine started with 2:30,” said Quandocor.
“I think that’s the real strategy to defeat the creature then. You endure, the possession switches, and each time you have longer protection until everyone is protected. Then you kill it. It’s probably worse the more people are in the fight.”
“That’s a real boss fight,” said Randgridda. She added, “never fought something as hard as that. Greater Elite levels of badness.”
“And it wiped them. They didn’t manage to survive the possession rounds.”
“What happened to the last one standing?”
“It killed him? Or her?”
“No, him. The four bodies all look male to me. Maybe it forced suicide on him.”
Vantegaard knelt. The creature had left just a silvery ball, but that one wasn’t a Silvergate.
Psionic Core (lvl ?); ultra-rare crafting component.
The Aether sense reported it to be level 55. Vantegaard had no idea whatsoever who could use that. Something for the future.
Birkathane said, “and now, we can give them a proper funeral. Their enemy is dead, they are avenged.”
They ended up placing the four bodies next to each other. All Valkyries picked items from the camp itself and placed one on each body. Then they stepped back and Quandocor started with Wizard Breach, a well-placed fireball. True to intent, the fire started immediately, burning fiercely. Even though it was useless and unrelated, he added a Dawn of Light ritual.
May the Fortitude brought to the area be the companion to the deceased.
They placed the various items taken from the camp on their backs and turned westward.
“Now, we can return. And we can talk to the Cartographers,” said Quandocor.
“Yes. With real proofs, they will listen. At last.”
“That’s how adventures are supposed to end.”
“Well, it’s not entirely over. But I think we won,” said Vantegaard.
“It’s not over though. The rest of them are still there. And I hope they don’t find our burial customs too strange,” countered Quandocor.
“I think it’s going to be hard to talk to them. If the descriptors are any indication, they don’t speak English, obviously.”
“We’ll cross that bridge later. And hopefully, we’ll have the entire Northworld behind us to help.”
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.