(Y6, December 11th)
Armangest contemplated the view from the open window. The fabled Earth Keep Courtyard was gleaming from encrusted precious stones mosaics. It was easy to see why it held such a promise of near-endless skills, based on what Vantegaard said. Which the Brethren confirmed it did. Like everything Vantegaard had claimed so far.
After the… debacle of the expedition survivors… there had been no political way to hold this meeting at Cartographer’s HQ, where he would have liked. All parties said that the Cartographer’s reaction was understandable, under the circumstances… and then added ‘but’. So, instead, as one of the first involved parties, the Earthen Brethren had decided to hold this conference. The five biggest guilds with a Beta presence were attending.
He turned back toward the room. Save for the stone walls, and hanging heads of high-rank Northworld creatures, it could have passed easily for a high-end corporate directory room back on Earth. A massive wood table, plushy chairs, glasses, and pitchers, etc.
He passed his hand on the table.
Enhanced Large Meeting Table (lvl 78), +16% to all vital regeneration in range
A Barcillonas original. He had one at HQ, a nearly identical but slightly newer one of level 81. Barcillonas was one of the four Woodshapers known in all of Northworld… and the only one truly obsessed with the skill. His furniture was literally the best in the entire world. Or even both worlds. A handful of minor pieces had made their way to Earthside, where each had fetched monstrous prices at private auctions. Even if the effects wore away, the alien wood, made stronger than steel by Barcillonas’ skill, and his craftsmanship…
The delegation of the Cotton Road Mercantile entered. The Cotton Road covered all of Northworld’s sectors, even if their main base was in Beta. They even dealt with trans-sector Skill Stones. The highly magical artifacts lost their power on Earth extremely fast, but they managed to organize ultra-fast turnaround transfers. At enormous prices. But if you wanted that unique Skill Stone found in a different sector, you dealt with them. Or rather, you would have to deal with them. Inter-sector caravans using Cartographers’ routes would be slower, but cheaper.
No wonder the Mercantile liked to see the Cartographers humbled. It might not be their biggest moneymaker, but no merchant ever liked losing market share.
The Great Delvers Anonymous guild was there. Ramon Palacio himself. The second human to ever use a Silvergate. He might not be in the top levels anymore, but the two-thousander swordsman was a force to be reckoned with. He had a lot of influence, and not all of it due to his association with the First Gater, Arnoldo Fontana.
The legend himself wasn’t there. His initial spawn had been in what was now the Alpha sector, nearly two thousand kilometers from here. And while the path would soon be open, it was still a long trek.
Because of this, there would be other such conferences. Both in Northworld’s other sectors, and virtually using Earth’s Internet. But this first conference would be where the real policy would be shaped. If not by him, at least with him.
Armangest sometimes wondered how the hell he had ended having to make the decisions for the fate of a world. Or maybe six.
Vantegaard looked across the room. By instinctive decision, he and his nominal ‘boss’ had ended up at nearly opposite places in the room. Oh, the Cartographers had apologized for disbelieving him and submitting him for nearly 3 months of relentless pursuit and harassment that could have ended him with nasty side effects.
Being on Northworld meant that everything physical would eventually fade with regeneration, but the threat of alchemically-induced tortures wasn’t something easily dismissed or forgotten.
Although, to be honest, he also guessed that Armangest still held him somehow responsible for Vasilikulik’s death. A perverse kind of reverse survivor’s guilt colored his interactions with the head of the Cartographers’ Guild to which he belonged again.
The Beta second-in-command, Vastragal, probably knew that. She’d mostly taken over the task of re-integrating Vantegaard into the Guild. He almost refused, but his friend Quandocor had pointed out that it offered him far more opportunities, as long as he buried his feelings. The utter pragmatism of the former FBI agent won in the end.
“They’re going to bend over to compensate for our treatment. Plus, it’s going straight to the stratosphere of politics, or what passes for one in Northworld. Believe me, even if I wasn’t directly involved, I know about the politics of power. If we want to stay involved, we need to get passes for the spectacle.”
“Is it our problem?”
“It will be. They are going to ask for Birka. She and her Absolute Compass are key to find the Pyramid near Fanduk fast, instead of trying at random. So she’s going there unless we want to antagonize everyone, and not being a misunderstanding this time. The question is, do you want to be there or not?”
Joining the Earthen Brethren was always a possibility, but they’d drawn the line at that. “No one below 750” was their absolute policy. They were willing to open the gates, but no further.
At least he wouldn’t be seeing Karseerteal, the vengeance-obsessed Inquisitor who had pursued him. The man had been sent back to his old Gamma sector. Hopefully far from Mt. Talbor and Valhalla Keep. The leader of his girlfriend Birkathane’s guild could hold grudges. And the open access to Cartographer Guild databases probably was paltry payment for the assault on her guildmates.
The last Guild was making a point being late. Vantegaard knew that everyone had arrived at Earth Keep at least a couple of days ago. But the rivalry in Beta between the Great Delvers Anonymous and the World Wreckers Emeritus was nearly legendary, with each guild trying its best to poach the most promising upcoming Gaters. Across all sectors.
Vantegaard might be one day famous thanks for the discovery of the Location Interference, but he wasn’t going to interest those heavyweight guilds for a long time. If he ever did. Anyone below 1500 was a non-entity for them. But then, they went for 100+ rank sectors and dungeons at the minimum.
All in all, it represented best the Who’s Who of Northworld’s Beta Sector. Information dealers, wealth and three associations of the some of the highest leveled Gaters. And he was going to have to talk to them.
Brethren officer Berkleyyan was moving between the growing number of Gaters, swapping greetings. It had been an interesting few days. The Earth Keep was now bursting to the seams with visitors, something that had never happened in its entire – short – history.
He suspected that, like Earthside politics, all the decisions had already been made. People had been talking to each other, on Northworld and off, for a week now. If there was a consensus, it had been reached almost certainly before the first delegation had arrived.
The man himself, Vantegaard stood to the side, looking a bit lost. Berkleyyan couldn’t fault him. The Gater was, what, around level 250? Almost everyone around was a thousander or at least a high veteran. There were more high levels here than you’d see except a major raid on a high-rank location.
“So, ready for your plunge?”
“I keep telling myself that what I say won’t matter anyway.”
He looked toward the wall to the inner Keep.
“Anybody tried to sneak to the Courtyard yet?”
“Surprisingly no. There have been very few rumors. So far, the existence of the Location Interference seems to be confidential between my Guild and yours.”
“The boss thanked me for opening up the opportunity to sell more info. And I got named Location expert in the Guild. I guess that's much better than getting kicked one week after rejoining for being a secretive asshole.”
“The Earthen Brethren have nearly all the leylines in Beta mapped. We’re going to sell that to you. Do you want that fat 4-minor leyline knot? We have it.”
“Yea, but he’s also mobilizing the Cartographer network to get the rest of Northworld. And he also wants me to make Skill Scrolls of the Sense the Leylines.”
“That’s… a tier 1, right? Ouch.”
“Yea. And it’s not really grindable since each leyline registers once. I don’t even have the 16 skill points that would be required to make one, even if I agree. I'm still far, despite what gained coming here, with all those new leylines. Except for one World.”
“You crossed it between Alpha and Gamma if I remember?”
“And got that funky elemental pet.”
“Got pissed when you found out that there was an even better version at the knot? And that you could have picked it if you wanted instead?”
“Yes. I don’t understand how it wasn’t mentioned in any…”
“Earthen Brethren exclusive. Nobody leaked it, and if people see the elemental, they assume a lesser version. I suspect the odds of getting that skill ‘naturally’ are low.”
“It’s funny how that word ‘naturally’ sounds wrong now. The Cartographers are investigating every single rumor… they’ve already confirmed the legend of the Stonehammer Fortress. Whose name now sounds right.”
The Stonehammer Fortress was a rank 80-ish dungeon, a ruined keep in Alpha who got its name from the animated weapons that patrolled its parapets. People swore that they could gain hammer skills after looting an intact one. The Cartographers were still trying to check the rules of the place. Three wings of the Fortress seemed to yield different specific skills, Battering Strike, Pull Hammer, and Vertical Bash, but the expedition hadn’t been able to get a second skill. Lack of skill points prevented them from running too many experiments since each lottery run increased its costs and the Gaters running the Fortress had all been high levels with multiple lottery runs and Skill Stones already weighting.
The Cartographers were looking at recruiting suitably low leveled Gaters who could get lots of points and run the lottery on the cheap, to run through those areas to check everything. Getting skills from a high-end location at lower levels could be payment in itself… but it was going to require telling people about it. And the gold rush would start.
The door opened and it looked like the last Guild representative was in. Vormacinus of the World Wreckers Emeritus fit the mold and reputation of his guild as flamboyant characters. He wore a Canis Sanguinis skull as a headdress – that probably had stats and wasn’t just for show – and spiked gauntlets. The hammer at his side glowed with neon rune-like engravings that hinted at its provenance from some high-end dungeon rather than a crafted implement. The man proceeded to ignore everyone and head straight for the conference table and seat himself.
The murmur of conversations subsided and everyone started to move toward his designated seat. Vantegaard lifted his bag with the “goods” and moved toward the table.
Time to start the First Five Gates Conference.
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.