Unveiled: Camelot Unchained Newsletter #18 - City State Entertainment
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Team Tidings

-by Max Porter

Hello in the new year, folks! We had a great holiday break, and are back at our desks in the office with batteries recharged and moving forward nicely with development of Camelot Unchained™. This first month of the new year has been packed with progress, beginning with our new animation system that will allow us to do all sorts of cool things, and opens the door for lots of important development, from better combat animations to emotes. Check out the recent update and the Art It Up or State of the Build articles later in the newsletter for more on that! 

Just the other day, we launched a sparkly new website, improved and redesigned for your viewing pleasure! James K. and Charles R. have been hard at work improving all sorts of aspects of it, from better readability to proper scaling for mobile viewing. A lot more time was put into making it more mobile-friendly than the previous version! After all the help from folks on the forums and IT making suggestions and testing the new site for us, we’re very proud to reveal it to the world.

On top of all that, we’ve been making steady progress in lots of other areas, from improving our ability system to crushing bugs everywhere they can be found. Not to mention many things behind the scenes, like preparing for presentations of deep systems for the game! As always, you can read more further on in this newsletter. 

In the office here at City State Entertainment™, we’ve felt the touch of frost with the passing of a winter storm that left everything buried in snow! Lots more heavy jackets and cold-reddened faces are in evidence. Don’t worry, we came through the storm just fine. At least the white-on-white world outside gives us some inspiration for some classic Viking scenery. Here's Tyler and JB's cars in the snow!



Additionally, we’re getting several of our posters for the game framed, along with some inspirational posters from our wonderful Backers! Thanks for those gifts, folks, we’ll be happy to display them proudly upon our walls. 

And just in case you thought we’d let the snowstorm deter us from our appointed tasks, well, we didn’t. Despite having most of the team stranded behind walls of snow and ice, we held our standups (everyone stands up for a quick meeting) the day after the storm, using the magic of technology! It was pretty funny to have most of the team present as giant faces projected onto the wall, but we’re glad to have the roads almost completely cleared at this point. 

Let’s forge onward into the new year, full of development and exciting milestones. Read on for articles, news, thoughts, art, and all of the goodness you might expect from this, the eighteenth issue of Unveiled

 Updates

We are still moving along with our current stretch goal, “Send More Programmers”, and happy to be doing so. It means a lot to us to have the support of such wonderful Backers, and we are thankful for every contribution from you folks. 

As you may have read here, or in the recent update, a whole new animation system got put into the game build! It’s going to let us do all sorts of important things much more efficiently. Of course, the juicy details are to be found in the Artitup and the State of the Build sections. 

Several important tests on all the new things going into the game (like that shiny new animation system that gives us much more functionality!) have gone well overall, and given all the engineers lots to work on! We’re looking forward to getting back into the swing of Friday Night Fights and other fun and important testing events soon, so we hope you Backers are looking forward to that. 

You may have already seen it, but our new website is up! It looks much nicer, and does a much better job of presenting our game to the world. With more and prettier art, improved scaling, updated text, and a more modern aesthetic overall, it’s a huge upgrade. We hope you enjoy exploring the new site

CMSphere 

-by Jenesee Grey

This is where we talk directly to you, the Community!

Happy depths of winter, Community! It’s certainly starting to feel that way, as beautiful downtown Fairfax becomes slightly less (more?) beautiful, covered in a blizzard of snow. Despite the wintery conditions, everything is very quiet here in the studio, as the team buckles down, putting in the hours and hard work toward Beta 1. There is a rising sense of excitement that can be felt in the Community areas, as everyone looks forward to Beta with baited breath, after the pause for relaxation with families during the break. 

There were certainly some memorable moments this month! We had a good laugh together on Vine at some of the goofs in our quest toward making the new animation system solid, allowing us to create much better animations in future. We had great help from our Alpha and IT testers on the new website, with feedback on bugs and a lot of info to help get that up and looking great!

We have begun testing our gifting code. This allows Backers who have multiple pledges attached to their Reward Tier to transfer ownership of those bonus tiers to other people! After all, as you know, our Reward Tiers were chock full of extra goodness for our Backers, no matter when they pledged to support our game. The Internal Testers helped us out by gifting fake tiers with abandon, passing on their extra digital tiers and even upgraded items for their friends accounts. It was lovely fun! 

Some good ideas are coming out of the forum lately on the presentations for Crafting and classes. Suggestions and wishes regarding the UI fly thick and fast for the Mod Squad, as people begin playing more with the controls. Our translators have been working hard, and the German group finished the newest translation of the Crafting presentation. I’m looking forward to seeing the Italian and German websites fully updated soon with the new information. All in all, a pretty impressive list of Community accomplishments, considering we had a holiday break in there as well!

For some other news, we are planning to have a table at Magfest this year on February 18-21 in National Harbor, MD. It is our first showing of the game in an Indie showcase area, and we are super excited! If you are in the region and want to talk to the team, learn more about the game, see gameplay in action, and hang out, please take a look at their website and stop on by from 12-7PM! We will post more information when we have a determined location on the show floor and hope to see you there!

 

Community Question!

Nanulak asks: Can non crafters help build structures? Sort of like popcorn building?

Good question, and something on people’s mind since the Crafter presentation reveal. While one usually thinks only of Crafters when it comes to creating structures in Camelot Unchained, fighters can help build simple constructs to help in RvR as well. Call it “popcorn building” if you wish! Players can get better and improve over time at building and salvaging until they reach the soft cap, so skill level is certainly a factor. They will never be as good as a Crafter class, of course! Basic building and item field repair are certainly useful talents for everyone to have in the midst of a heated battle when your keep is coming down around your ears, or when you are hoping to take territory with stabilizers. When you capture territory you will certainly want to build and create a protected environment/structure for these stabilizers to keep them secure and operating at 100 percent!

If you want to find out more about building, you can check out the Building a World KS updates here and here.

Hot Topics


A lot of building discussion and talk about the new Crafting system. It's great to see your enthusiasm!

Join the discussion on the forums on our website to bring your thoughts and ideas to the discussion table!

Look What You Did

Hey folks, thanks for all your awesome fan fiction entries on crafters! The creativity levels were off the charts in that contest thread, and we really appreciated all your hard work in meeting the challenge. This month’s winner is Tarsir, with this characterful entry on the rags to riches life of a particular crafter: 

"I made a big score a while back. Came across an adventurer, fresh from the Depths, who sold me his entire haul by the pound. Cost me 'bout a week's salary, way the King pays. Thing is, he'd just found out his partner and his wife were a thing, y'know what I mean? Poor sod took off with the entire haul in the night. He sold it to me just to keep it out of his partner's hands.
 
I was Breakin' that stuff for months. Sold the materials to a buddy of mine who does Purifying full-time. Last I heard, he got himself a license and set up as a merchant with a bunch of apprentices. Never worked another day in his life.
 
Me, I still gotta work. I was a fool, see? I decided I wanted an empire. I set up shops all over, began running caravans out weekly. It got to the point, I didn't even know what pies my fingers were in. Then the losses started coming. Before I knew it, I wasn't quite rich anymore. Wasn't exactly poor, but wasn't rich. And I wanted to be rich. I put everything I had into one last caravan, headed for the outskirts…
 
So now I'm back to Breakin' for a living. But don't feel too bad for me. Remember that haul from the Depths I mentioned? I sold the mats, yeah, but the blueprints—those, I kept."
Very cool stuff! For our next contest, it’s time to fire up those fan art engines once again! And speaking of fire, we’ve had our first big snow here in Virginia, so we need some warming up. Since we’ve got hot new Golem models to inspire you, how about some fan art for our smoking Kiln-Born? Draw, paint, sketch, or even photograph a costume with some awesome clay Golem action, and post it in the thread you’ll see pop up in the forums, accessible through our website

Thank You


First off, thank you to Jorvald and Clan Sverker for the cool ornament that they sent with the blanket last month! It is super cool, and hangs proudly from our palm tree. 
Many big thanks to Nation, a Dragonwhale tier holder, for hanging out at the studio and gifting us this great lunch. Don't worry, the pie in the face will come later, during another visit in the spring! It was fun chatting with you about the game and what we all do here, and hearing about your gamer history. You fed the hungry folks here at CSE amply with this generous gesture. Much delicious Korean fried chicken (first time for many of us) was enjoyed by the team along with you! 
And here's a shot of a bunch of us hanging out with Nation!
Now, thanks to Failboat for this funny and badass shirt! It made us feel very proud of Andrew’s magic!
And finally...Failboat sent us a big present, something that deserves its very own update, and that’s what we’re going to give it. Watch our livestreams for the reveal that will amaze and awe you with a memento that is absolutely stunning. Here is what our faces looked like when we got it!

Dose of Design

-by Ben Pielstick

Systems Analysis


One of the often-overlooked parts of the design process is ongoing systems analysis. General systems analysis is applied to the initial concept design of game systems, but as you have probably heard elsewhere, an MMORPG, or really any online game with an active player base, is never truly “done”. There is always more work to do, not only in adding additional features, but in revising and improving on existing features to improve the player experience of what is already there.

This concept applies strongly to Camelot Unchained, as our development is intentionally iterative and systems analysis is the process by which we determine what parts of the game need iterative improvement. It can be a tricky task for several reasons, and doing a poor job of it can have severe consequences for a game that I’m sure many of you have experienced at one time or another over the course of your gaming history. Regardless of the exact approach, what systems analysis generally involves is keeping goals in mind, gathering information, formulating a plan of action, estimating a set of expectations, and evaluating changes in the information against the set of established expectations, once a plan has been put into action.

Goals can be easy or hard to define, largely dependent on scope. Often, at least some of the goals will be very high-level, such as increasing player satisfaction survey results, or increasing subscriber numbers, while others will be mid-level, such as stabilizing the economy or balancing combat. Personally I find that it is best if goals can also include at least one or two very specific low-level goals, for example “reduce oversaturation of the market for a given item type,” or “increase the variation of ability use within a set for a given character type in combat.” This way, the plan of action can be focused on something very specific and can also maintain a fairly low profile so that multiple plans together can address the same high level goals by focusing on different specific low-level goals.

Information gathering can come in many forms, from direct anecdotal experience playing the game, to second-hand experience from feedback via surveys or community channels like forums and social media, to raw metric data gathered from systems within the game itself. All of these are good, but none of them are perfect, so picking the right information can often be the most difficult part of the analysis process. Even though personal experience and a high volume of feedback are good ways to find out something could be wrong, they are often inconclusive as to why exactly something is wrong. Data is the best way to be sure, but even then it is often difficult to account for the reason certain data looks a certain way, and metrics can never be extensive enough to provide all the answers. So that is where a bit of guesswork comes in. We do our best to make informed decisions, but often it comes down to experience and making the best estimation of what exactly is going on we can before figuring out what to try and do about it.

Then we must form a plan of action to go about doing something to change things in accordance with the information we currently have, in order to address the goals we’ve already established. There’s almost always more than one way to go about things, and formulating the most optimal plan is often a matter of figuring out what will yield the most progress toward the goals we have in mind for the least amount of time investment so that we can quickly move on to address other problems. At the same time, we also have to keep in mind that even if we are achieving our goals, changes we make nearly always have unintended consequences well beyond the scope of the goals we originally had in mind. To some extent, this is why high level goals are important, but overall it is simply true that these games are big and complicated, so changes should be planned with an eye toward possible unintended consequences as much as possible.

Before the plan of action gets implemented, there is an important but often neglected step, which is forming a precise set of expectations for what the plan will accomplish. Although our estimate is just a guess, we want to try and be as specific as possible since we will need a basis of comparison for determining how well our plan worked when we assess the results of our changes later on. We have to be careful with our estimates though, because even if the plan of action generally does what we want it to, the estimate itself could be inaccurate, leading us to the conclusion that our plan didn’t work well, because our expectations for it weren’t realistic. It is important, therefore, to try and be as accurate as possible in predicting what the order of magnitude the effects of a change will be, and to write our estimates down beforehand for later reference. The more estimates we make, the more we learn, and the more accurate our future estimates become, allowing us to better judge how much of a difference our plans will make in the future, and to make better plans as a result.

Once we’re done implementing our plan and have had time to let things settle in so that we can properly gather follow-up information, we can take a look at how well we did. This part of the analysis is harder than it sounds, because except in very specific numeric cases it is often hard to tell exactly what all the differences between before and after are. It could also be that things have changed for other reasons, such as the unintended consequences of other changes made around the same time, or it could simply be that things have naturally shifted over the course of the game’s lifecycle and the differences don’t have as much to do with the actual changes as we might expect. Still, some kind of before and after comparison is the best way we have to tell if a change did what we thought, and we do our best to account for these other factors to isolate the differences due to the actual changes we made. Whether things succeeded, exceeded, or failed to meet our expectations, we can take what we learned and apply it to our next round of iteration, starting a fresh analysis with possibly slightly different goals in mind.

At the end of the day, hopefully this analysis process results in a better game. We always have to be careful of change just for the sake of change, but at the same time there is the risk of constantly adding new features without looking closely enough at existing problems and how they might be holding the game back. Hopefully, all this goes to explain a little bit of how challenging the systems analysis process can be, and the part you all get to play in helping us to identify areas where the game is and isn’t holding up well as we move forward. As we run more tests with more of the new gameplay systems we have planned for Beta 1 implemented, there will be lots of opportunities for early testers to get in and let us know what they think. Keep an eye out for future updates for your chance to check out what we’ve been working on, and we’ll continue to analyze and iterate on as time goes on.

Developer Quote

  
  “CU is a factional war game, not a free-for-all gankbox. I know this doesn't make a difference to everyone, but to some people it might." - Ben Pielstick

Artitup 

-by Scott Trolan

The new year has started, and there is no pause for the team as we push on toward releasing our BETA build. It’s an exciting time with development in full swing, as lots of moving parts come together. 



New armor equipment has been put into production. The art team is creating armor parts that pertain to character stats. Light, Medium, and Heavy armor is being created for each of the three Realms. We are currently adding equippable Light and Heavy armor parts for the Arthurian Human Male into the game. Sandra has concepted and finalized layout of the various levels of armor for the remaining Viking and Tuatha realms. We will be cranking out these armor parts in the following weeks! 



We are introducing a new application into the pipeline: Substance Painter. This will aid us in quickly generating new texture libraries. Building these texture libraries will literally allow us to paint regions of our models into metal, rock, or leather. This not only will speed up our texture process, but will support the unique visual requirements of our crafting system. One modeled art asset can now be textured to reflect the crafted material(s) from which it was crafted. Our texture libraries will include variations of a material. For example, a metal texture library can range from raw to refined reflecting the quality of resources and craftsmanship of the crafter. 

As I stated in a recent update, the Engineering team added a new Animation System Editor to the Camelot Unchained Engine. This will allow us to finally test our new combat animations! Soon, players will be able to wield shields, right and left handed weapons, switch between combat speed and a full sprint; all while being dynamically influenced by their character's stats and abilities.

We are now working within this new editor, testing it for functionality and user accessibility. I’ve been looking forward to testing and expanding upon our new combat animations for a while now - I can’t wait to see them in action!

In other art goings-on, Michelle has painterly polished on top of 3D rendered Images of our games races to be included on our new Camelot Unchained website. James K. and Charles have been working around the clock to launch the new website. If you haven't seen the new layout, go see it now - it looks fantastic!



Michelle and Sandra also continue to create Realm environmental concepts for Tyler. Tyler then orchestrates the assets into the game with the help of our 3D generalists, Dionne and Chris. 

Mike C. slaves away, working within the limited set of parameters given to him to create amazing visual effects! He is currently creating new effects to coincide with the new combat animations implemented in the new Animation System Editor. So aside from seeing new combat animations, expect to see appropriate sword trails and directional sparks and blood coming to a screen near you!

Again, it's an exciting time here with lots of moving parts and hard work - good things are coming!

Tech Central

 -by Cory Demerau


Let’s Engage in Jolly Cooperation!


When many people picture programmers, the stereotype of a socially awkward guy living out of his mom's basement is usually the first thing that comes to mind. It's easy to think of us as loners, each with all of the general knowledge necessary to perform the wizardry that's come to be known as "coding", relying on no one but ourselves to get the job done. That's certainly how we're portrayed in the movies: there's always "the computer guy" who can do whatever needs doing as long as he's got a keyboard in front of him.

The truth, however, is that nobody can do it all. We each have our areas of specialty, areas that we aren't familiar with, and everything in between. Larger game studios take advantage of this by hiring people to work only on particular systems, which is why you'll see titles like "Lead Engine Developer" or "Junior Gameplay Engineer". Everyone gets to work on what they're best at, and avoid areas where they wouldn't be much help. Most of the time.

At smaller studios like ours, we can't afford to be so divisive in our tasking. There's just too much to do, and too few hands to do it. One of the first things you learn when you're working with a small team is that you need to be flexible, and willing to adapt to whatever task needs to get done, regardless of what your title may be. This can be difficult at first, but over time it leads to a team that's able to get things done very quickly across any number of systems, as whatever is the highest priority can get done, and individuals don't get massive backlogs if their particular system needs more work.

There are several factors that contribute to this broadening of skills. One is Code Review, where others, even those who may not be familiar with the feature being implemented, review and comment on the code before it's published. This reduces specialized knowledge and points out bugs that might've otherwise been missed at the same time.Another is tasking that touches on multiple systems.

For example, this month I was working on a UI widget that would show the player what other players have permission to build on their plot of land. This seems like a simple enough task, but in reality it involves handling information on the server, sending that info to the client, passing it from the client to the UI layer, creating the UI widget, and letting that widget send new data back to the server. Thanks to previous tasks, I was familiar with all of these areas save one: the creation of the UI widget itself, which leads to my final point: asking for help. JB recently overhauled our UI to make it easier for modders, and I hadn't yet worked in the new system. I asked him for a brief tutorial on the new system, asked questions as they came up, and as a result was able to finish the task far more quickly than if I'd tried to get it done alone.

The lone programmer who can do everything is a rare sight indeed. Here at CSE, we leverage our ability to cooperate with each other to get work done much more effectively than our small numbers might suggest.

State Of The Build

 -by Brian Green

One of the keys to developing a game like Camelot Unchained is iteration. It starts with a simple system, then gets built up by adding more complexity, all while ensuring that the fundamental layers are stable. As an example of this in a narrow slice of the game, let's take a look at the way a player's health (also called "hit points") has been represented over the past few years of development.

The initial version of health was a simple number stored in the player class. We had two methods, Hurt() and Heal(), which would do damage to or heal damage from a target. We used these methods instead of just changing the hit points directly because we wanted to make sure health couldn't exceed the maximum, and if health dropped to 0 or below, we wanted to make sure the player died. We wanted to have two different functions for damage and healing so we can avoid doing negative damage or negative healing; allowing players to inadvertently hurt allies or heal enemies causes all sorts of exploits we want to avoid!

The next step, where I started working on the system, was to replace the health value with a "timed health" class that handles health regeneration. We send regeneration information to the client so that it can simulate regeneration without the server, although the server has the authoritative value. This allows you to have a better idea of what a player's health is even if you're lagging, and means that the server doesn't have to send a message over the network every time a player regenerates a hit point. This cut down on bandwidth usage when there was no deviation from expected values.

Then, I implemented body parts. To start with, players only have one body part: the torso. This keeps things simple, as we're still only doing damage to one "pool" of hit points. The body part system also let us separate out the blood pool used for casting from health used to take damage. The torso is ideal to start with, because it's supposed to be the body part targeted when a body part isn't otherwise specified.

The next step will be to add in more body parts: head, arms (left and right), and legs (left and right). This requires a re-work some of the existing systems, as well as adding in target components so that players can target other body parts besides the torso. Finally, after several iterations, we will have a system like the one described in the BSC video for our testers to try out. But, every step along the way, I focused on expanding--iterating--on the existing system. 

Of course, there is still more to come. We're working on weapons to change how damage is done, armor to reduce damage, buffs and debuffs that affect damage, and many more systems to come to create a game with a lot of depth.

And now, a selection of patch notes for your viewing pleasure!
  • Added sound file processing to the build server, and cleaned up sound editors. More fine-tuning of sounds!
  • Added more specific collision to the control game point models. Now naughty jumpers can stand on the dragon's wings.
  • Separated out preparation time adjustments from recovery time adjustments. Better options for ability design!
  • Added a new ability effect to remove active effects (buffs, debuffs, DOTs, etc.) based on tags. Better cleansing!
  • Applied new memory management code to make things run faster. Always a good thing.
  • Added new parallelization library (called ParLL) to make things run even faster. Thanks to George for his work on that library.
  • Added a bunch of new chat commands to show image macros. Thanks to Bull for the !idea
  • Added new animation system to the game to improve how animations are handled and added to the game. Now supports multiple multi-part animations.
  • Improved error reporting on the client to help our fabulous IT testers report bugs. Props to our testers!
Below, some juicy details on the animation system updates, courtesy of JB!
  • Flattened hierarchy to remove wasted CPU time on matrix calculations that were unused in the final animation. If an animation was using upper-body only animations, we previously were calculating all animation data for the upper-body twice, and throwing away the masked-over part on the full-body animation. 
  • Pre-loaded all animation data into memory in a single combined resource that is allocated once at startup. Previously all animations were individual resources that needed to be loaded on use.
  • Reduced heap allocations for animated models to a single heap allocation per entity in regards to animation usage for the entire lifetime of that entity. This is down from around 30-40+ allocations on entity creation, depending on the model, and up to 10+ allocations per frame during the animation calculations for each entity.
  • Added support for completely separate upper-body masked animations at all times, not just when doing an ability.
  • Added support for multiple animations in of a specific usage, i.e. we can have multiple idle animations within a stance, and the system will randomly pick a new clip each loop.

Backer Spotlight

-Jenesee asks Pouloum 

This month’s Backer Spotlight is on Pouloum, the extraordinarily helpful and awesome French translator! He has been heading up and organizing much of the translation of updates, news, newsletters, the website, and the game itself into French, along with other volunteers. He’s a Backer from the very beginnings of the Kickstarter that made development of this game possible.
 
Q: How did you learn about Camelot Unchained?
 
A: I'm an original fan of Dark Age of Camelot and WAR, so the news of Mark doing a new MMO was quite fast to reach me, I think it was early 2013 before even kickstarter was announced. Then Ayaka a friend of Mark started to communicate around the game to get it known and started to look for some French people to help with that. I fell in love with Mark's Foundational Principles because it was matching my MMO's point of view and pointing out the exact problems I saw in current MMOs. I had a lot of spare time and decided that I wanted that project to become a reality.

 
Q: What inspired you to volunteer as a translator?
 
A: First I realized that CU could be my last hope of seeing a decent MMO, or at least a leading project showing the way to go for future MMOs, then I wondered what I could do to help. I can't program, I can't draw, but I have decent English skills and I know most French people don't. So I started to translate FPs and saw that people were interested in and thankful for me translating it, I also had the feedback from some people that they were worried about the game not being translated. That taught me a lot of English and translation routine, because having a decent understanding isn't enough to make a decent translation
 
Q: How do you all work together on the project?
 
A: YWe have several stages, and google docs is a great tool for cooperative work. So basically we go with a first translation and someone else reads the results and asks when he has doubts about a translation. We have a nice color code and when everything has the right color, it can be published!
 
Q:What do you think about our French forums?

A: French people that are involved here do understand English and use the English section to add their input. There is still some ongoing discussion, but that's still a quiet place. It will grow naturally once we are in advanced Beta and starting to fight in game.
 
Q: What are you most excited about doing when the game launches?

A: IFinding and fighting all my old MMOs mates because I'm sure they all gonna be there. First step will be to choose and settle on one server then I'll create my avatar and choose among all meaningful choice that I will face. Then I'll be ready to explore and I can't wait to start my weapon business, I really want to be a world famous crafter... ok if a few people from my Realm know me it will be a great success already.
 
Q: Do you have any good stories about translation you want to share?

A: I mainly got in mind those messages from French people thanking me for my good job and the pride of doing something that is appreciated by people other than myself. That also allowed me to meet Charles, who is a great guy that shared with me his passion of the game. I'm quite sad right now because my spare time is so low that I can't help as much as I did in the past, but I know that I'll have more time eventually and will be able to translate more. Oh, and I’m also reminded of Mark's first stories, it was a challenge to translate because Mark isn't a writer and me neither, so I had to rework a lot to get a decent French story. Now it's gone, and CSE has a skilled writer, but it's still challenging because of the additional words and English expressions that I have never seen before!

Lore Corner

-by Max Porter

A new story to grace the hallowed halls of our game’s lore! Written by Loremaster Max Porter under Mark Jacob’s expert guidance and vision for Camelot Unchained. This is Part 2 of the Gargoyles Becoming story. Part 1 can be found here!

 
The Becoming - Gargoyles Part 2


It was a long time before the villagers felt that pressure in the air again, the weight of deadly magic pressing them down. The second Malevolence ripped the air apart with its fury, shrieking through the sky. When it hit the village, the force of its thunder burst houses apart, and the stones of the old cathedral shifted and groaned, scraping against one another through the old mortar.

The townsfolk still remembered how to run. They fled the village in a panicked rush, all but for the parents of the choir children. Instead, these mothers and fathers ran toward the cathedral. Romain stood within, gesturing for them to hurry. But just when they were on the verge of reaching that relative shelter, the terrible Malevolence struck. The wind hit the streets like a falling mountain.

Dead, dead, dead, sang the bells in the tower as the fierce wind rang them. Romain slammed the door shut against the howling storm, tears in his eyes. He took a deep breath, then turned to the children huddled in the center of the grand cathedral. The elder ones were trying not to whimper. They had seen nothing. There would be time enough after the storm was over to tell them what happened, if they all lived. The cathedral had been old as the ages when Romain had come to live here, and it had been ages since. Surely it could survive one more assault.

Hanging low, the storm clouds billowed and tumbled over one another in the sky, vast mountains of grey and black. Raging, they threw lightning from one to the next like vengeful gods. Watching through the window, Romain shuddered as the storm tore apart the town he had worked so many long years rebuilding. Bits of lumber and even stones tumbled through the darkened streets. Cracks opened up in the earth, and the cobblestones tumbled in, a river of stone in the driven rain.

Turning from the window, Romain went to the children, huddled together in the center of the grand cathedral. A few asked for their mothers or fathers, but he hushed them. What little comfort he could offer lay in his presence and soft words.

Above, the cathedral’s motionless guardians watched helplessly as everything was destroyed. As the wind blew through their mouths they howled fiercely, ignoring the wind and rain that battered them. It was the thunder, shaking and shivering through the building, that pained them the most. Under the rumbling force, the earth all around started cracking and breaking apart. The building shook, then began to settle, the softened ground splintering in all directions.

Within, the gargoyles could sense Romain hugging the children, then pushing them up the stone dais in alarm as the cathedral groaned. With a deafening crack, a dark crevasse appeared down the middle of the cathedral, and a boy was lost, screaming into the abyss. Dust billowed into the cathedral, a choking brown fog that stuck to everything and made it hard to breathe.

The floor was breaking up. With nowhere else to go, Romain pushed the children to the walls, pleading with them to climb the masonry. Scrabbling and scrambling, they raised themselves to the rafters and the forest of stone archways that made up the rooftop of the cathedral. As if chasing them, cracks worked their way up the elaborate walls. The storm blew right through, breaking the windows above and whistling in the cracks of the walls, screaming supernatural power into the room. The long arras shook, nearly knocking Romain off of his climb, then ripped loose, tossing about the great cathedral.

Desperate, Romain pushed the choir children upward, and they crawled along the high window sills until they were outside. The air was freer, but the walls were shaking and leaning sickeningly out over the cracked ground.

The children clung to the only bits of stone they could, the shifting statues they’d spent so many hours staring at instead of their lessons.

A tiny girl grasped the statue that had once been Goji by the arm. She wept into his shoulder, instantly soaked by the whirling storm. The rain whipped at them, and she shrieked as her hair was twisted and pulled by the fingers of the wind.

Desperate, Romain spread his arms and crouched over the little ones, trying to shield them. Raw magic like bright lightning burnt his back, and he cried out. As the walls slid downward toward the rain-soaked earth, he shouted into the storm. “Help them! Take me if you want, but leave--”

His voice was drowned as the opposite side of the cathedral sheared away in a torrent of screaming stone. Unheard, Romain begged his old stone guardians, his mascots of the cathedral, to protect the children, caring nothing for himself. His blood poured from the open wounds in his back, and then right out of his pores as the supernatural thunder burst on him.

His blood, spattering in the rain, pooled on in the nooks and crannies of the stones on the ruined roof of his beloved cathedral. Crimson in the lightning flashes, it splashed over Goji’s frozen figure, the little girl still weeping into his stone shoulder.

Stone chips flew as the storm reached its heights, pulling the stones apart on the wall, and still Romain crouched, shielding them all with his last strength. He couldn’t see it, but his blood was vanishing from the gargoyles, not washed away, but sinking in.

Romain’s eyes closed as the life drained from his body, so he never saw Goji move. However, he could hear the clear, high sound that cut through the thunder and the howling rain like a shaft of sunlight. Goji had begun to sing.

One by one, the other statues blinked their stone eyes, opened their mouths, and took up the song. They sang of the things they had seen, the joys and sorrows they had watched for so long. They sang of the horizon they had grown to love so much. They sang the Song of the World, and as they sang they got up from their perches, holding the tiny children close in their arms.

Romain sighed, but did not let his arms drop. As his blood drained from him completely, the man became rain-spattered stone.

Their song, cutting through the thunder, seemed to hold the walls of the cathedral up just long enough for the gargoyles to climb down, each with a child slung about their necks. As they left the ancient building, most of it collapsed into the earth, while the storm howled triumphantly. Only one chunk of masonry remained, topped by a stone man in a protective stance.

They walked on, bearing up under the storm, which was quickly fading. Golden daylight found the Gargoyles still walking, still singing, still carrying the children they had saved.

They found the villagers that had fled. Some of the children were returned to their parents, who had somehow survived; others cried silently, for the storm had taken many lives. Goji finally ceased his song, and turned to the father of the little girl whose life he had saved, and who now hugged her close.

His voice was still clear and musical, but had an edge that spoke of many years watching the comings and goings of his world. “Go back to your village now, friend. Build it up again, sing your daughter to sleep each night.” He turned to go, as the other Gargoyles were eager to move on and into the new light of dawn. But he hesitated, and then added with a smile, “Be sure and set the statue of the man that lies in the ruins of the old cathedral by the door of the new one. He will surely guard it as he always has.”

Bewildered, the father and the other villagers nearby nodded as they watched these strangely familiar creatures hurry on to new lands and new verses of their endless song.

The elder left off the last verse with a sigh of contentment. It was rare that he had such a rapt audience, the younger Gargoyles huddled together, bobbing their heads to the rhythm of his story. “Well, it looks like the worst of the storm is over, young ones. Time to be moving on, soon.” His skin scraped against the bench as he stood and stretched. The other Gargoyles blinked, surprised, as they realized that the rain had ceased to batter against the old roof, and quiet moonlight was streaming through the windows. Delighted, they rushed to the door and out into the night. The older Gargoyle followed more slowly.

His cracked smile came back to his face as he saw the last, and youngest, Gargoyle pause by the door of the old ruin. His eyes wide, the little one stilled the small harp hung at his side and reached out to a rock that stood by the archway. The old lump of stone was weathered by countless years, scored by the weather and faded by long days. However, it still resembled a man, arms outstretched in a gesture of desperate protection.

Bonus Image!

We can’t let you go without showing you this amazing C.U.B.E. creation by Nanoko, entitled “Fort Drakkar!”
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