Unveiled: Camelot Unchained Newsletter #9 - City State Entertainment
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Team Tidings

-by Max Porter

Well, spring is here with a vengeance. Everything is turning bright green! It's a veritable Tuatha Dé Danann paradise over here at City State Entertainment™ in Fairfax, VA. Everything's coming up sparkling and new, breathing new life into the world. 

Much like the flowers and plants, we’ve been busy breathing life into the build, as the world of Camelot Unchained™ gets built out bit by bit with new details and better animations, textures, and better tools to make stuff. We’ve been somewhat heads-down on things, although we did announce our new stretch goal, Spirit in the Sky, which is incredibly exciting. 

Why exciting? Well, we’re always really eager to show off more stuff that we've been working on. As Mark says, "things are moving along nicely," and it's quite true. Game development marches onward on all fronts, and things are coming together. As I write this, I can hear Ben typing away at design, Mark has got some kind of pie charts going, the artists are drawing some sweet new stuff, and the programmers have gathered around Andrew to discuss how they will soar over a challenge. 

Speaking of soaring, we've been having tons of fun playing a Star Trek pen-and-paper game run by Bull. We've managed to let the captain and XO get killed, so go us! Our hilariously third-rate characters are making a fine mess of things on the ship we’ve named the Mjölnir! Would you folks like to watch us play? If you’re a Backer, hop on the forums on our website and post in the thread you’ll see pop up to let us know. :)

This month, the team tracked down and eliminated the “grey world” bug, which was a nasty one where our Tech Alpha players would log in to find themselves frozen below the terrain, which appeared grey. Andrew kept telling us all how the bug had a literally one-in-a-billion chance of occurring, which is what made it so hard to get good data! More on that in the State of the Build section, below. 

Read on for more delicious tidbits, and get your spring on with us by enjoying this, the ninth issue of Unveiled.

Wiki Announcement

We’re pleased to announce that we’ve got an official wiki going! It’s got tons of information and all kinds of stuff organized for your reading and viewing pleasure. Patrolled and overseen by CSE, but filled in by the help of our amazing contributors, the wiki is a constantly growing and evolving resource for anyone and everyone that wants to know things about Camelot Unchained. It’s still being worked on, and is definitely a bit rough in places, but that will get smoothed and improved as time goes on. Thanks to Curse, widely known in the gaming community, who came to visit us and helped us set the wiki up on gamepedia. Go on and check it out!

Dragon Accident Report

A great wearying itchiness has descended upon the land, as if dropped upon us from high above by a winged thing. Suspicion has been growing that a tremendous beast, a pollen monster, bent on bringing the crawling creatures below to tears (along with stuffy noses and scratchy throats) with great prejudice. As spring spreads, so too does this creature spread its hateful magic, crippling us all. Many of the strongest citizens around have been brought low by the pollen predator in the sky. No doubt this is a strategy to leave the populace too weak to defend itself, making us all easy targets. Keep reading for the latest news of these terrible creatures and their mysterious powers. 


The new Stretch Goal is here, and boy is it a cool one! Thank you all so very much for funding “Programmers, where art thou Programmers?” It is enormously appreciated, and we’ve made a ton of progress on the hiring front. The additional money that we received has allowed us to work with an outside recruitment firm as well as to increase salaries for the prospective candidates, so that’s been quite helpful! Now we have an “Extender Pack Plus” Stretch Goal to lift your spirits about an extra-special pet class in Camelot Unchained. Bring on the “Spirit in the Sky!”


-by Jenesee Grey

Welcome to the section where we talk directly to you, the Community! Here is where I take your thoughts on the forum and attempt to give you more information on some of those unanswered questions!

Q. Using the component system can you give examples of how its planned to work for a Player on day 1 versus the same Player after 300 hours of playing and developing the same character? -Friendlyfyre 

That is a very specific amount of time and example request, so let’s talk in more general terms. As a day 1 player, if you are completely new to the game you are going to want to understand how a lot of the basic systems work, and we are going to help you do that with some introductory assistance, potentially in a special starting area. After all, it would be quite concerning as a new player to step out of a safe area and be completely uninformed about the important parts of the game including the Ability system: different types of primary/secondary components, modifiers, dependencies, combinations, body part targeting, etc. It would be a tad overwhelming ;) Whether or not you decide to participate in the tutorial activities or skip them and venture out into RvR immediately, we should keep in mind that the term “day 1” in the answer below refers to the first time you enter the main world and not the tutorial area.

As a new person, getting acclimated and learning how to properly build your abilities with the components you have is key. You won’t be starting out with every component possible for your Class--far from it! However, don’t worry, you will be a capable character from “day 1” with an assortment of effective components in your chosen Class so you can certainly jump right in and RvR right from the beginning. The way you behave 300 hours later will be different, as you would be more specialized as you progress through a path (or create your own specialization) and you will also have a much greater pool of components to build completely new abilities. Some of those components might be well on their way to mastery, which would enable you train subsequent components and potentially fine tune some of the properties of the abilities that use them.

The fundamental difference between the “you” of the beginning and the “you” of the future, besides familiarity with the game itself, is that you will have many more situational options for abilities that are not simply upgraded versions of what you started with, but could lead to dozens of new potential combinations. 

Q. Ben has mentioned Affinity a couple of times and how it is used to limit the number of effects on a character at any one time. Can you delve a little more into how Affinity is likely to work, as well as the design decisions around limiting the number of effects that can be on a character at a time and how Affinity is likely to be beneficial to the game? - Nugusta

Affinity is defined as “the maximum amount of magical power of effects a player character can have applied to them at the same time.” Affinity helps to reduce down the number of buffs players will feel they need in order to feel like they can effectively engage in combat and the amount of information that must be conveyed to adequately communicate a player’s status, so that you can focus on your character and your playing environment.

This means that you will be able to easily see and understand the limited visual cues that you recognize of players around you (as well as show your own), and react appropriately without having to look at a long bar of icons for each of your opponents, wear sunglasses as tons of over the top effects overlap on a player into an indistinguishable mess, or guess due to a lack of clear the situational information.

Q.  What is the world we are on named? I have written several responses in the forums about things in the world and I have no idea what it is called.-Nanulak

What will the final planet be called? That is an open field of possibilities and I suspect we will have many suggestions of some epic names for our new world, my personal preference is Platypi (I’m kidding!). Buried deep in the mind of MJ there is a hidden name, the finding of which is a neverending story.

From the hints we have so far, my understanding is that this is old Earth drastically changed by lore and catastrophic evolution that was pulled from the psyche of both our civilization and whatever lies beyond the Veil. It is a new, dangerous, exciting, and frightening place…”Here Be Dragons.”

Now Earthling,I know identifying the familiar might be tough, after all, there is a new set of moons! You can imagine that this and the Veilstorms rapidly changed the planet’s surface as the icecaps melted, the oceans swelled and retreated, volcanos erupted, and much of the original plants and animals died. This reborn world is full of unnatural disasters, broken lands covered with storms, and populated by strange creatures (I’m not just talking about the St’rm!). Even though it is vastly different than it started, we hope that the shattered world of Camelot Unchained will eventually feel like home to you.

Q.  In a territory control game like this, there is a potential to have communities that are in essence built around a geographic location, such as a single island. How are you planning on using game features to support or break down this kind of localized community? - JaironKalach

Good question! In my opinion, the very basis of how community will form in the game is completely based on locality. On one of the islands of your Realm, you have your castle or city, your home, or your guildhall and much more, which are going to be central locations where you patrol, socialize, retreat to, craft, and keep your stuff. Allowing players to build and take personal ownership and responsibility for different parts of the world is something we definitely support.

I would imagine that people will have preferences in the area they want to roam, and will build nearby in order to keep close to these places. People will start to think of a certain place as their “home base.” That is not to say that you won’t explore or help out your Realmmates to raid objectives and defend outside of this territory, but travel will be a consideration in such a large world, and it will take time.

Even if you are a “lone wolf,” you will likely still have favorite areas where you will often see those who play consistently at the same time of day in your primary regional area, be it forest or mountain range. Say hi to them or, if they’re from an opposing Realm...hit them with a weapon!

Hot Topics

The hottest topics on the forums right now are plots of land and archery. Join us on the forums on our website to bring your thoughts and ideas to the discussion table! 

Look What You Did

Major thanks for the jokes to everyone who participated in our joke contest! So much giggling in the office! Here’s the winning joke, from Ortu: 

A Jotnar said to his little Dvergr friend, "Want some pants? These are too small for me, I accidentally ripped them."

The Dvergr replied, "Maybe, let's have a look."

The Jotnar pulled out a couple of bodies and dropped them at the Dvergr's feet.

"Ah." He said. "Well, that's what you get for trying to wear Luchorpants."

LOL, Ortu! Now, for our next contest, we’d like to do something in the theme of our latest Stretch Goal, Spirit in the Sky! Please show us your best “summoning a spirit” image, with a photo of you summoning your pet, or a drawing for extra flair! Silliness welcome, but not required. Post your images in the thread you’ll see pop up in the Fan Art section of the forums on our website!

Thank You

Many sweet thanks to Ludovic for all of these delicious Pez. As everyone knows, artists run on colors, and your gift is a magnificent source of those! Here we catch a rare photo of an artist refueling their supply of pretty colors: 
Thanks to Steve Bress, who came round the office and gave the whole team a “Plug n’ Safe” cord, to protect USB devices when charging! These things are really cool and useful. Thanks again, Steve!
Energetic thanks to Karraptathid, who kindly sent Jenesee some cool energy drinks, which she can use to keep up with the forum posters. Cheers to you!

Dose of Design

-by Ben Pielstick

Revenants and Shadows and Spirits Oh My

For quite a while now, we have taken a very strong 'no pets at launch' stance on Camelot Unchained for significant reasons MMORPG veterans will quickly recognize. Pets cause lower framerates by adding extra characters to the scene, they take up extra resources on the server because of their A.I. and pathing requirements, and they tend to get lost or stuck in complex environments, because their pathing solutions are never quite perfect. 

However, we love pet classes, and know that many of our Backers do too, so we've talked internally for a long time about possible ways we could make them work. The Spirit concept outlined in our latest stretch goal is the first time we've found a solution we believe can greatly minimize these issues, while still delivering the kind of pet class that will be extremely fun and interesting to play.

This idea started with Mark's first pass at a still-unfinished vision document for another class: an archer who could use spirit birds as scouts. Since birds don't have to touch the ground, they don't have to deal with pathing, and since they are flying spirits, they don't need a lot of animation. They could be displayed mostly using the particle system, which is much less performance-intensive than a fully modeled and animated 3D character. 

I was really excited by this idea, because it did a great job of addressing the reasons we haven't committed to having a pet class in the past, and at the same time, I felt there was a lot more we could do with them. We could go beyond having pets as the sidekick of an archer, who already had a lot of cool and interesting mechanics of his own (which you'll get to hear about in a future update). Mark agreed that we could go a step further, and potentially make these pets a core mechanic of a new class for each Realm. After the first round of amazing concept work from Michelle and Sandra, we all agreed here that they would be a great addition to the game!

So how will these pets work when it comes to actual gameplay? Why would you want to play one of these new pet-based mage classes over the existing spellcasters? First off, if you choose a pet class, the focus truly is on using and controlling your pets. Whether it’s summoning ancestral revenants to fight at your side, raising demonic shadow beasts from out of the darkness, calling forth powerful animal spirits from within the veil, or perhaps something else entirely, pets are not a secondary feature to an already powerful mage; they are the main mechanic you're going to need to leverage in order to defeat your enemies. We've even talked about substantial differences in the way that you may have to specialize and sustain your pets, beyond just talking to a trainer to learn new spell components, so you can expect it to most likely take a different kind of effort than a non-pet class. 

In terms of use, pets aren't present as independent corporeal entities walking around on their own, so instantiating them, manipulating their form as they traverse distances, and directing them to carry out desired actions on specific targets, is a very involved proposition. This requires more planning and preparation than simply conjuring a blast of magical energy. The benefit, however, is that pets offer constant pressure, leveraging a diverse range of capabilities unique from those of other mage classes. Nevertheless, these capabilities require continued focus and constant attention, with potential risks not present in the more fire-and-forget approach of non-pet based magic.

In terms of game balance, this is the first time we have talked about a second class of the same archetype within a Realm (referring to mages, in this case). As Camelot Unchained grows and the number of classes increases, there will be a broader range of choices within the archetypes, and even potentially new and different archetypes, with mechanics that set them apart from the existing ones we have already defined. The important thing to keep in mind is that as this process takes place, new and existing classes for each archetype don't have to be compared along an apples to apples scale, because in an RvR environment there is no perfect situation where everyone performs equally at peak efficiency. 

Instead, there can be strengths and weaknesses to situational conditions, which, unlike scripted NPCs, enemy players can easily recognize and exploit. Different classes of the same archetype will have different ways to specialize, and different strengths and weaknesses that make many choices viable if you play to the strengths of that character and cover for its weaknesses. 

New classes like the pet class don't in any way have to invalidate existing ones or make them obsolete, they just have to offer something different that is fun and appealing, and unique among designs we've done before. We feel that this take on pet classes fulfills both of these requirements, and will be a great addition to an already strong lineup of classes. As always, if you're a Backer and would like to discuss the future potential of these classes, stop by the forums on our website to share your ideas. 

Developer Quote

“If goofy and geeky is defined by wearing an inflatable duck suit and handing out Valentine's avocados to the team then sign me up!” " --Tyler Rockwell


-by Scott Trolan

This month in art news, Luchorpán may have been seen streaking nude across the barren lands of CU. Apologies if anyone became nauseous! We are in the process of integrating him into the character customization and inventory system we have established for the Stormrider, Mage, and Archer. It is awfully hard to shop for a 4-foot man with size 14 shoe and the cranium circumference of a spare tire.

You may have heard of our latest stretch goal, Spirit in the Sky, for a unique pet class. There’s no other way to say it: Michelle and Sandra went to town on the concepts. When it comes to incorporating nature or animals into CU design concepts, Sandra and Michelle show a shared passion that is completely apparent in every drawing. It was a blast watching them work!

James “JB” Brown is working on implementing existing projectile tech into code that will accommodate the requirements for the Archer class. We have started modeling the needed bows, arrows, and quivers for animation prototyping. Hopefully, if all works well, we will see a first pass of archery in the game soon!

Till next month, avert your eyes if you see any unsightly archetypes running free in the sun. ;) 

Tech Central

 -by Cory Demerau

The Importance of Source Control

One of the most important tools in any kind of software development is source control. While it comes in many forms, the core purpose is always the same: Source control allows a group of developers to more easily collaborate on a single project. It does this by tracking all changes to the code base, letting developers know if their changes conflict with changes made by someone else, and keeping a detailed history of the repository that can be used to roll back changes or document all recent changes to a recent feature (useful for writing Patch Notes!).

Last week, we made the transition to using a different type of source control. The motivation for moving away from our centralized system, Perforce, was primarily financial: It served our needs well enough, but we had reached the limit on users for our free license, and it would be very expensive to upgrade that license. Because of this, we decided to move to Git, an open-source distributed repository system. Git will improve our ability to collaborate on features not yet ready to be committed to “Hatchery”, our primary development server, as well as make working outside the office a much simpler process. Though it will cost us some time and energy in the short-term to transition smoothly, Git will help us finish Camelot Unchained faster and with fewer bugs in the long run. 

Smart decisions about our source control will contribute to the forward push of development on this massive project, and sticking to those decisions will reduce mistakes now and in the future. 

State Of The Build

 -by Brian Green

Spring is in the air. Unfortunately, that also means illness and pollen are in the air as well. Even I got the bug this month, despite my beard giving a +2 bonus to Vitality.

Speaking of bugs, we had an epic battle against a bug plaguing the game. Dubbed the "grey world" bug by people who saw it, the bug caused clients to freeze up and show a bleak, grey scene under the terrain. Players were unable to do anything, so they simply had to restart the game. It happened frequently enough that fixing this bug became a high priority.

The first step in fixing a bug is to try to duplicate the bug. Unfortunately, I couldn't get it to repeat on my local machine using a debug server. The nature of the bug made it extremely unlikely I would be able to get a repeat by myself.

The next step is to collect information. I asked our IT testers for any information they remembered and there were a few clues: it seemed to happen on the Alpha server, Wyrmling, more often than the internal server. Also, it seemed to happen when there were more people. I considered why these situations were important, tried to imagine places in the code where these problems could appear, and then added some debugging code to log possible errors and ran some tests with our IT and Alpha testers.

At this point I fell sick, and JB and Andrew took my information and continued doing their own tests to try to figure out the bug. They added even more logging and then ran more tests with IT and Alpha testers. Eventually, we got useful information, and Andrew was able to find the bug.

The problem was in the code that controls how we encode our communications between the client and server. In the rare cases where all bits of a buffer were 0, it would get stuck in an infinite loop and not send information to the client. Any other client connecting to that same location would not be given any information, either, meaning one occurrence of the bug would affect other people as well.

The chance of this bug happening is a one in a billion, which has some consequences. First, it would be nearly impossible for a single programmer to duplicate alone on a local debug server. It also makes sense that it would only really be noticed when there were a lot of people on the server. It took a lot of work, but that incarnation of the bug was conquered through a lot of hard work and perseverance.

And now, some patch notes not related to the "grey world" bug:
  • Added new blocks and materials to CUBE. There are currently 25 materials and 6 block shapes for a total of 150 combinations.
  • Added handles to blocks. By grabbing and stretching the handles, you can create large structures much easier than before.
  • Continued to add new audio to the game. Our sound engineer dB has been hard at work!
  • Improved our automated tester bots. They now use a wider variety of abilities, and use them more intelligently. They can be deadly! These behaviors let them mimic actual players better, and give us better results when load testing our servers.
  • Ability animations are now masked in a layer over the movement animations, so that jumping while swinging a sword will not stop your swing and restart the animation when you land. 
  • Some characters will have the character upper body facing forward while running and swinging a sword rather than the upper body following the motion of the hips. This is most apparent on the Dryad. Some animation needs to be adjusted still for the same results on other races.
  • Also updated more models to use equipment. The Luchorpán had an embarrassing time when its pants went missing for a little while, but they were returned to the right place.

Until next month!

Backer Spotlight


This month’s spotlight is on RealLifeGobbo, an awesome member of the Community that came over to help us out with a few things. Thanks for the help, dude! 

How did you hear about the game?
I believe heard about it when a guildie mentioned that MJ was going to make a new game. Being a fan of DAoC and WAR, I immediately Googled anything and everything I could about this new game that was in the works. After reading what I could, I logged onto MMORPG and started following the pre-Kickstarter and have been following it ever since.
Why were you invited to CSE?
I had the fortunate pleasure of going to CSE to help them with some technical problems as they have been having to defer these tasks for a later date and have not gotten around to address them. JB asked MJ if they could get some outside help, I offered some assistance, and CSE agreed. 
What were you expecting a game studio would be like?
I was expecting more concepts and designs constantly being talked about and worked out, which do not get me wrong, do happen, just not the frequency I was expecting. It was clear that the team couldn’t spend all their time talking about the game when they had to be heads-down making the game!
What did you think when you arrived?
The studio is the way it looks like on Twitch.tv, which is awesome, since I do not like ultra-bright “normal” offices. Surprising, Fairfax is also a prettier than I thought, even though it is still a busy metropolis.
Tell me about your working experience there?
Well, things did not quite go as smoothly as I was hoping, but rarely does anything in life. The first day after the meet and greet, it was down to business and check out why one of their servers did not want to play nice. After about an hour or so, I was pretty confident I knew what the issue was and told Tyler and Mark what I thought the problem was. They tasked me to find the parts, which according to the website should have been the right parts. After lunch, MJ and I got the new parts and they did not work.
After looking at the user manual and the company's website, it appears that even though they say they are using a typical standard, they are not. What does this mean? You have to use only their specific parts, but no one in the area has those parts. Before leaving for the day, MJ found a company that said they had the parts. I called them up and verified that they had them on stock and that we would pick them up tomorrow. They assured me that they had them, so MJ went off to pick up the case himself...and it turned out they didn’t have it after all! I did not get the Tiara of Shame, but probably should have. MJ taught me the simple lesson of “Always get the person's name you are talking to, especially if you do not trust them!”
After that, Scott needed an upgrade for his computer, so I built him a new rig, only keeping the video card and hard drives from the old system. After Windows was reinstalled, Scott had the fun process of installing all of his programs. 
Why did you want to spend your time helping?
The primary reason is that if I can help someone, I will. The fact they are making a game I plan on playing until it becomes cinders, a chance to see a game studio, meet everyone I've come to know during testing, and meet the one and only MJ? You do the math. 

What do you think? Join us on the forums on our website to talk more!

Lore Corner

-by Max Porter

One of the earliest things Mark wrote for the lore of Camelot Unchained was a brief Becoming™ piece on the Dvergar, in which he explored the idea of the Veilstorms and the Age of Becoming. Those ideas would go on to fill out all of the lore for this game, and spawn many intricate tales for other races. Building upon Mark’s excellent groundwork, Loremaster Max Porter went on to write the full Dvergar Becoming story. We present the second part of that epic tale to you now!  

The Becoming - Dvergar Part 2

Deep underground, where the Dvergar took refuge, a place called the Inner World flourished. It was a wondrous place, full of strange creatures, twisting tunnels, and dark mysteries. One of the children of the Inner World was called Thyra. 

For the little orphan girl, the Dripping Hall, the Hall of Earth’s Gift, and the Hall of Stone’s Flame were not enough. She loved to explore as soon as she could walk, drawn to the deepest caves and the furthest corners of the Dark Fields. To try and keep her safe, Thyra was instructed by her concerned elders, the Ascended of her Node, to think on her path in life. She was often sent to meditate in the phosphorescent blue light of the fountain that took up most of the Dripping Hall. 

However, one eye would open on its own, and peek out to look at the wondrous light, then slide over to the unlit corners or crevices in the halls, looking for something that no one else had noticed. She spent all of her free time exploring the profound darkness of tunnels as yet unwalked, or swimming the strong rivers that delved even deeper into the world. She only listened to the stories of the Ascended of her Node to hear about wondrous things and places she had not yet seen. 

Though she was bold enough to go alone, it was always more fun with a friend to share jokes with. Her close friend Gaumr often accompanied her, but he often mentioned that he was not so bold, nor so reckless as Thyra, who would hurl herself across chasms and seemed so in tune with the stones she never got stuck in the tightest of spaces. He might have been a bit important, son of an Ascended of their Node, but the little orphan girl outstripped her friend quickly in her desire for more, to go beyond the stone walls where she had been born. Others tried their hands at building or crafting, or perhaps turned to the chanters and the magic of runes and their mysteries, but Thyra only wanted to explore. 

And so she grew into a Dvergr woman with few ties and one strong friend. She wondered and wandered, mostly on her own. 

One day, she found herself wandering back to the place of meditation, the Dripping Hall where she had never been able to sit still. She found it nearly deserted, but for a boy practicing his craft by himself. He had a table set up, and a set of complex devices and tools that made no sense to her. In the quiet stone vault, his clockwork and golden gears seemed to click in time with the dripping of the water into the never-still surface of the pool. The grey-blue walls all around looked on silently, as they had for thousands of years even before the Dvergar came. 

She approached, and looked over his shoulder with interest at the gleaming mess of things he was working on. The boy looked up at her fiercely. “It’s not finished yet.”

“Clearly. That’s alright, I prefer a boy who finishes on time.”

All he did was glare back at her in the rippling reflection of the pool. 
Just as she was turning away, the boy spoke again. “You can help me if you want. My brother is too clumsy. My name’s Sindri.” 

Thyra raised her eyebrows. “That’s the same name as…” 

“Yes, I was named for the place where we came from. My brother says it’s a silly name for me, but I like it. Anyway, I already know you’re called Thyra. So, will you help me or not?”

“I can try, but I know I haven’t the patience.” Nevertheless, Thyra bent over the low table he had set up and held down a spinning gear with a pair of tweezers while Sindri set a thin glass lens carefully in place. “What is it, anyway?” she asked. 

Sindri smiled without looking up from what he was doing. “It’s not anything yet, remember? What it’s going to be, well...you’ll have to wait and see. Something new, I think.” 

Thyra sighed and leaned back. “I hate waiting. It’s beautiful, though.” 
Another voice replied, “Like your face. I mean, you can have it. When it’s finished. I mean, it’s for you.”

Sindri kept his eyes focused on what he was doing, but it wasn’t he who had spoken. 

Another Dvergr was standing near the pool. It was Gaumr, grinning sheepishly at Thyra. “And I’m the one who commissioned Sindri to make you a gift. You’re welcome, before you ask. Consider it a...bribe, to let me go with you when you explore up there?” With another grin, he pointed at a dark opening above the fountain that spilled into the pool. 

Thyra had never noticed the dark opening before, despite all the time her eyes had wandered about the room of meditation. It must have been because she had kept her head lowered. Thyra met Gaumr’s eyes and nodded, never noticing Sindri’s mysterious smile. 

Later, when they had gathered their things together and were finally ready for the expedition, Gaumr hesitated. “Are you sure this is enough? What if we get stuck in a tight space, or get lost? Maybe we should ask one of the elders--”

Thyra held up her hand to stop him. “This is an adventure for us brave and bold ones, Gaumr. There’s no need to come, though, if you don’t want to.” 

“Don’t talk like that.” Gaumr made a sour face, as though he’d eaten something. “I was just askin’. So, you comin’?” And with that, he hoisted his pack and set off up the well-hidden steps that were carved into the side of the fountain. 

Leaving the Dripping Hall behind, they found little light in the tunnel. It was just enough for their reflective eyes to pick out the twisting formations and strange patterns on the walls of the stone tunnel. Tiny cave-dwelling creatures battled their way across the path, and Thyra, following Gaumr’s lead for once, stepped carefully around them. The miniature denizens of the Inner World took little notice; they were consumed by their own concerns. 

They walked for a long time through the dark twisting tunnel before they came to a place where the stone spread out and away, opening into a vast hall that was lined with columns that had formed in ages past. Their footsteps were the only movement in here, where the silence and stillness had reigned for millennia uncounted, where stone formed and took shape in hidden beauty. 

The stone flared out into complex designs. Rivulets of water flowed down the walls and gathered in pools, where the stone was soft and had dissolved into milky liquid, waiting to dry and form new shapes in eons to come. 
Thyra and Gaumr stood breathless, looking around and taking in the corners and crevices that patterned the walls of the enormous cavern like fish scales. 

A voice from behind them said, “Wow...a forge of earth.”

They turned in alarm to find the boy Sindri standing there with a pack of his own. He had followed silently, with all his hanging tools and instruments wrapped in cloth to protect (or perhaps just to muffle) them. 

Thyra frowned at first, then grinned at Sindri’s look of wonder.

“What?” Gaumr chuckled, “Never seen a cave before? Anyway… what’s a forge of earth?” 

Sindri’s eyes were unfocused. “It’s this. This place, where shapes are formed in stone. I can build here…I can build amazing things here. Anything.” 

Thyra looked around the beautiful cavern. “Really? You can make anything? Have you been at the mushroom beer?” 

“No!” Sindri looked annoyed. “I finished Gaumr’s gift for you, by the way. Here. I never knew there were places like this...I wish I’d gone exploring with you before!”

Ignoring Gaumr as he began to explain that Sindri wasn’t exploring ‘with’ them, Thyra pulled the golden trinket out of the leather bag. It was all gleaming gears and glittering lenses, and hummed to life in her hands. “What does it...do?”

Gaumr turned before Sindri could answer. Clearing his throat, the older Dvergr shrugged his rough-stone shoulders. “I thought that, what with your interest… well, it’s supposed to lead you to new places, find things you couldn’t see before. Sindri’s a bit of a prodigy, so I commissioned him to build you something.

Don’t tell him I said so, of course,” he added, glancing down at the boy with a smirk. 

However, Sindri had already wandered off again, staring in wonder at the formations and mysterious curves of the walls. Gaumr turned back to Thyra with another joke on his lips, but she had wandered in the opposite direction, turning his gift over in her hands and exploring the hidden corners of the underground hall. Gaumr had to laugh in the echoing hush. “Heh, oh sure, don’t mind Gaumr, he’ll be fine on his own. Lots of things for Gaumr to do.” 

He watched for a moment as the two of them walked and clambered about the beautiful place, then shook his head. “Might as well eat something, I suppose.” Plopping down on a smooth rise in the stone, he pulled out a sealed mug and a wedge of cheese. Eyeing them both critically, he added to himself, “One of these is much more nourishing than the other… and makes for better companionship.” He put the cheese back in the bag and took a deep drink… 

…Almost spurting out all the beer when Thyra said from behind him, “You should come with me!” 

Wiping at his beard with the back of his hand, Gaumr glanced up to find Thyra standing over him, holding the trinket up to her face. Her eyes were almost glowing with excitement. “What are you talking about?” He started to cough. 

“I’m talking about this thing. I think I’ve found something… some kind of trail that leads upward! To world above!”

“The Outer World?” Gaumr looked dubious. “Why would you want to go there? It’s covered in terrible storms!” 

“The storms that made us who we are? Anyway, don’t you want to see the things the Ascended tell of? The storms, the mountains, the… sky?” 

Gaumr took another drink to steady his nerves. No one had thought of going back, not in millenia, it seemed to him. “My father tells that everyone up there became monsters. Is it even possible for us to go? ”

“No.” Sindri scrambled back to them over the smooth rocks. “Not yet, it isn’t! Even with my special little compass, you’d never find a path through. So I ask myself, how do I travel if I come to an impassable obstacle, like a lake of water. I can’t go by myself. I need to take a ship!”

The pair looked at him with confusion. “What’s that?” They asked in unison. 

Gaumr added, “Did you just say what I think you said? Because you should have gone before we set out.” 
Ignoring the last comment, Sindri shrugged. “It’s something you can travel in. My father spoke about them sometimes. In one of the other Nodes, they use them to cross a wide lake. In this place… I will build a ship that sails the earth!”

His voice echoed through the cavern, and for a moment, they both believed him. But then Gaumr shook his head. “I’ll have to ask my father…” 

Thyra jabbed him in the ribs with her stony elbow. “Can’t you see he’s thinking? If you want to go, let him be.” 

Gaumr looked at her and sighed again. “I can see you’re bound and determined to this already. See the Outer World, eh? Perhaps you’d better come and talk to the Ascended with me.” 

In the Hall of Hearing, where the beards wagged long and were spotted with grey, Thyra pleaded her case. 

“Allow us to travel to the surface, and at least see if the storms are still there!” 

Gaumr’s father had demanded a hearing. The other Ascended of the Node had called king Durnir himself to hear the appeal. 

The king stood, stroking the salt and pepper of his beard. The only sound in the hall, lined with rows of massive stone chairs and benches, was the clinking of the golden amulets woven into Durnir’s hair. It seemed an eternity before he spoke. “The greatest tragedy of our people happened there, on the Outer World. We lost the town we came from, our husbands, wives, sons, and daughters. We heard them become ravening beasts, filling the tunnels with their cries. We came here and built a new life in a new world, the Inner World. You want permission to throw all of this away? You want permission to tempt others to leave us as well, and take their skills and their abilities away from us?”

His eyes turned questioningly to Thyra where she stood upon the dais in the center of the room. She swallowed with a dry throat and spoke with hesitation. It seemed as though a life spent exploring empty caves and discovering unheard-of places did not prepare one for public speaking. “I ask permission only for the boy Sindri to build his… his masterpiece. I ask permission for Gaumr to find new glory for his family name,” she added, her voice growing stronger now, as she glanced at where Gaumr’s father sat in state, his robe of Ascended office about him on his high bench. “And I ask for permission that I, and any Dvergr who has wanted more, who has wanted to breathe the open air and see the sky, be allowed to follow that dream. I assure you, we will come back--all the wiser and better for having traveled.” 

Durnir nodded slowly. “I understand what you intend. But I do not think you understand the dangers of such a journey, nor the consequences of failing to fulfill all your promises.” He leaned over to his left and right, listening to the whispers of Gaumr’s father and another Ascended. With firm nod, he straightened and looked straight into Thyra’s eyes. “It is the decision of the Ascended of this council that you desist from all you are doing regarding a journey to the Outer World, and also from tempting others to build a vessel--no matter how much of a masterpiece it might be--capable of making such a journey.” For a moment, his grey eyes softened, and he smiled wryly behind his beard. “Do not take it too hard, dear Thyra. After all, a ship made of stone would just sink like one.” 

A sprinkling of laughter spread around the hall, echoing through among the smooth pillars and walls. Thyra looked down at her knees, staring at the stony caps below her skirt. Stalled before she started.

“No!” The voice that broke into the murmurs of the Hall of Hearing was gravelly and cracked with age, yet full of a playful wisdom. It was Motsognir, first of the Dvergar. He appeared as if by magic from a crack in the wall, covered in dust. He was dressed in a strange mixture of Ascended robes and miner’s uniform, all mismatched pieces of brown and grey. “No! There will be no sinking of ships, or of ideas.” He glared up at Durnir where he sat on the highest bench. “The desire to explore, to find new places, was what got us here to safety in the first place. You became a king from a foreman, Durnir--have you forgotten? Will you deny this orphan the same opportunity?”

Durnir looked annoyed. “I became an orphan myself, all those years ago. Would you have me allow Gaumr to make his father weep?”

Motsognir nodded. “If that is what’s needed. I am too tired and too old to make the journey… but if you stop the young ones, you’re condemning them to stagnation.” 

Durnir stood and swept from his high bench, his face alight with fury. His dark robes billowed as he stormed from the hall. “You may say what pleases you, Old Motty, and out of respect, I cannot answer what I truly think!” 

Afterward, in a dim corner of the Dripping Hall, with the bluish light of the fountain playing across everything, Thyra was drank quietly with her two friends. Sindri was chewing at his mug, while Gaumr simply stared at the shimmering on the dark liquid between gulps. 

Eventually, Thyra stood, setting down her mug. “This is ridiculous. They don’t even know where the tunnel mouth lies, or what lies beyond. They certainly don’t know what Sindri can do. We can ascend and descend, and be back before they realize what has happened.”

Sindri jumped up on his chair, grinning wide. “I was hoping you’d say that! Now, I have a list of materials I’ll need--”

Gaumr grunted and glared up at them. His eyes were a little bleary. “Would you have me defy my father? All the Ascended, really? Durnir himself?” 

Thyra sighed at him. “Leave it to Gaumr to feel a bit gormless in his cups. Yes, of course I’d have you do that. And when we’re ready to leave, grab anyone with an ounce of curiosity in their stones--assuming you’ve got any left, yourself.”

Gaumr’s eyes were bulging. “How can I? How could you? Why ruin things… ”

Thyra shook her head. “Think for a moment, Gaumr. Your father will live on, and on… long enough to forgive you. Nothing will ever change down here. There’s no movement. Yes, the Inner World is beautiful, and full of amazing things… but it will always be the same, to us. Once in your life, don’t worry about everyone else. Just think about what you can see, and experience.” 

Gaumr set down his drink and grunted again, reaching to pour some more from the steaming pitcher. Sindri and Thyra simply stared at him, looming. Gaumr paused, his hand in the air, then let it drop. “Oh, all right,” he muttered. The Dvergr heaved himself upright and looked from one to the other of his companions. “Okay, I’m standing now too. We’re all standing. Now what?” 

Sindri flipped the paper at him. “Now you both figure out how to get me these materials while I go to the forge of earth and get started on the most amazing thing you’ve ever seen.” 

Thyra and Gaumr could barely understand what Sindri was doing. Eventually, the boy brought his older brother in to help direct the flow of muddy water in the cavern and carve at the rippling waves of stone that formed. It took many weeks of hard work, but slowly and surely, the friends watched a huge ship take form in the cavern. 

When Sindri informed them that it was almost ready, Gaumr made quiet inquiries into who else would dare to ascend, while Thyra went to find Motsognir. The old Dvergr told her more of life on the surface, and included a few warnings about the Outer World. He still refused to join them, but gave his blessing.

Sindri’s brother also chose to remain behind, with the secrets of the stone ships in his head. 

When they finally set out, that first company of brave Dvergar, it is said they numbered more than twenty, but less than a hundred. The stories do not tell all their names. Some of them doubted that Sindri’s stone ship would work; others doubted Gaumr’s leadership, or Thyra’s vision of the Outer World. The only thing they did not doubt was their courage. 

When they were all packed inside, Sindri tossed a drink for luck and called out the ship’s name. “Skíðblaðnir,” he shouted, “Take us home!” 

In response, the stone beneath their feet began to quake, and the Dvergar within had to brace themselves as the vessel began to rise. The ship glided through the earth, of the earth and in it, yet apart, much like the Dvergar themselves. It left no tunnel or passage, but used the flow of the stones themselves as the path, guided by Thyra and her magic compass. 

Thyra and Gaumr reached out with all their senses and felt, rather than saw, the many mysterious layers of earth that they passed, the running streams of gold and silver, the grand vistas of buried granite, and the strange flows of igneous. They glanced at one another in wonder, realizing at last how the ground is no immutable, steady thing, but a churning maelstrom of chthonic wonders and hollow halls. 

They sailed the earth, traveling in twists and turns, but upward, always closer and closer to the Outer World they had heard of only in ancient legend. 

Sindri seemed worried, however. Every jolt and shake of the ship seemed to throw him in greater alarm.

Thyra asked him what was wrong. 

“Pieces of the ship are coming apart, left behind in the earth. I don’t...I don’t know if we can make it. It’s the nature of the stone ship...I should have realized and warned you.”

“At least we’re still floating like a stone,” Gaumr grinned at him. “No Dvergr has ever done this before. It is an adventure for all of us.” 

They held on to the ship and one another as they traveled, sensing the stones fall away around them. Thyra stood toward the prow of the stone ship, her eyes wide, her jaw set, as if impelling the vessel upward through sheer will. The rumbling shook them to their stone bones, thunder beneath the earth. 

It took days of travel. The Dvergar caught what sleep they could, shaking in the darkness. By the time they neared their destination, they could see the rough earth flowing past through large holes in the ship. Thyra knew they wouldn’t make it. The ship was too large, too strange, and too mysterious to work. She had finally pushed too far, and doomed them all. 

Through the ribs of the ship’s hull, which had begun to look like no more than broken teeth, hot water burst upon them. Full of warmth, bright sunlight struck the Dvergar, a light they hadn’t seen in generations.

Angry shouts and yells of surprise filled Thyra’s ears, but she smiled into the blinding glow. The storms had not lasted forever. She had found a new world to explore. 

The large group of Viking warriors who had been bathing in the hot springs were not filled with such aplomb. As tremendous stones rose from the water, barely in the shape of a ship any longer, they shouted and scrambled naked onto the bank. The image of the nude men jumping, yelling, and snatching up their weapons would forever form Thyra’s first impression of the Outer World inhabitants. 

“Well, that’s eye-opening all right,” muttered Gaumr, drawing his own blade. 

Sindri looked around with a morose expression. “Never mind them. My ship is in pieces! There’ll be no returning in this thing…”

“Easy, there,” said Thyra, holding Gaumr back with one hand even as she drew her dagger with the other.

Taking a step forward in the bubbling pool under the looming remains of the stone ship, she called out,

“Why do you threaten us? We have no need to tangle with your dangling swords… ” 

There was silence for a moment, as the tall warriors looked from one another in anger and confusion and down to their pantless state. Then, with a huge guffaw, one gigantic red-haired warrior strode forward, formally lowering his blade. “I see this lady has a sense of humor, if not one of timing! You may have ruined an excellent bathing spot… but you’ve given me a good laugh!”

The other warriors relaxed as well, an appreciative chuckle spreading rushing through them like the wind that was blowing freely through their skin. 

The massive red-haired man pulled up his pants. “You’ve got quite the ‘stones.’ You must come share a meal and a drink at my hall, stony folk.” With a grin, he added, “I am Sigurd, king of this Realm.” 

Thyra and Gaumr looked at one another and nodded slowly as they sheathed their weapons. There was no return path; they could only ever go forward. 

In this way the friendship between the Dvergar and the Vikings was born, a friendship that would prove sturdy as stone and deep as the Inner World. 

Nodding as if in affirmation of a story well told, the old Dvergar leaned back in his chair and grasped his mug, which no longer steamed. His eyes reflected the firelight as he looked at it over the rim, taking a massive swig. 

“And is that the one, Grandfather? The stone ship outside? Is that all that’s left? I’d have thought it would be bigger…” The small Dvergr twisted his face into a smile. 

His elder laughed into his beard, setting the mug down on the stump that served as a table and slapping his stony knees. “Ha! No, boy, that was a ship built by Sindri’s brother, which brought your amma and me up from the old lands of the Inner World long ago…No, the first ship that ascended to the Outer World was made by Sindri, and she was a great vessel indeed, none like her in the world. She was massive enough to hold a company of Dvergar, and none of us has been able to match her greatness. And yet, for all its wondrous power, it could not return, no, never go back…” Once more, he lapsed into silence.

When the little Dvergr was certain that his afi had fallen asleep, he stood carefully, set down his toy, and returned to the window. As if from a great distance, his grandfather’s voice came after him. “When you look at the stones that stand outside, think of the Inner World, and laugh at the great joke of jokes.” 

“What do you mean, grandfather? What joke?” But there was no answer. 

The snow started falling again, hushed as a stilled breath. 

Bonus Spirit Concept Art!

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