Unveiled: Camelot Unchained Newsletter #25 - City State Entertainment
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Team Tidings

-by Max Porter

Hey folks, happy end of August to you. I hope you’ve had a fantastic month! It certainly has been an excellent month of getting things done here at City State Entertainment™, sheltered from the sunny days in beautiful downtown Fairfax, Va. 

As you’ve seen from our User Stories, we’ve made a great deal of progress in our development of Camelot Unchained™, and you can read more about that below, in the State of the Build section. In brief, a lot of stability issues were crushed, and improvements on the “re-abilitation” front have continued to fly along at a rapid pace. You can read some more about that, and about Ben’s design process, in his Dose of Design article below. Of course, if you’re looking for the most detailed week-by-week looks at our progress, Mark has continued to put out articles in the News section of our website, and Tyler has continued to update our User Stories

I’ll also take a moment to mention that this upcoming weekend, Camelot Unchained returns to Dragon Con! Mark and Andrew will be there, along with Tyler, Michelle, and Dave, to host some panels and show off some footage! It should be fun times in Atlanta, Georgia, and we’ve whipped up a video showing off some of the cool stuff in the build. Don’t worry if you’re not attending, we will put that video up online, as well. 

In the office, we’ve been having fun hanging out in stream with you all, and often developing the game with cameras on! The Hot Streamy Summer has continued here, with lively rounds of streams and good fun on our Twitch channel. We’ve had Michelle show off her concept art creation in Painting All the Things, while Tyler impressed us all with his work on environment art in World Building with Tyler. Meanwhile, Jon has streamed his 3D modeling, and Dionne her material creation. Not to be outdone, Mike has showed his own work in Substance Designer pretty regularly. This has all been interspersed with sound engineering from dB, programming streams from Andrew and JB, and the occasional animation stream from Scott! Plus, cool Backer Necromaniak has streamed building in C.U.B.E. when he gets the chance. And of course, whenever possible, at the end of the week we’ve finished things off with a Wrap Up and Q&A with Mark. 

In addition, my own humble contributions in Morning with Max, Gauntlet of Deeaath, boardgame playtests, and reading stories from our lore have been incredible fun. Thanks to everyone who comes and makes our Twitch chat a lively place! If you’ve missed some of the action, you can check out our past streams either on our Twitch profile or on our YouTube channel. Every week, we email out a link to the stream schedule to our Backers, although anyone can view it. Here’s the latest schedule as of publication.

Well, before this Team Tidings piece turns into a novel of its own, let me invite you to click the “View this email in your browser” button on the top right, to see the full newsletter. Read on for articles, updates, fun stuff, art, and lore, and please enjoy this, the twenty-fifth issue of Unveiled.

Hot Topics

The latest topics of discussion on the forums right now are how to play mages, capture points, and our dense dark forests.  

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

Look What You Did

Thank you so much to all who participated in this month’s fan art contest! The Hamadryad illustrations based on the Becoming story were astonishing. Since we had three amazing entries, here are our three winners of this month’s contest: 

Vargos’ illustration of an armed and armored Hamadryad ready to defend her Great Protector tree:
Here is Necromaniak’s image of the first emergence of a Hamadryad from the tree, as happens at the end of the story:
And finally, Hellminster’s entry of the same scene, complete with the mysterious one that called Hamadryas forth from the tree:
For our next contest, it's time to turn back to fan fiction. Now, one of the things we're most excited about in Camelot Unchained is the idea of really big sieges, with massive numbers of players on each side. For next month's contest, write us up a little story about such a great siege -- though whether you focus on big events or small ones is up to you! Whatever perspective, character, or style you choose, keep it under 250 words, and post it in the thread you'll see popping up in the Fan Fiction section of the forums on our website. We'll pick our favorite siege fan fiction piece and publish it in the next newsletter! 

Thank You

Thank you to Luzon, who sent us these really neat stamp makers! They are super cool and fun to use. Stamp stamp! 

Dose of Design

-by Ben Pielstick

Class Construction, Continued

It has been quite a while since we last talked about how classes and their ability components are made, but as most of you know, our re-abilitation process has changed a lot of things behind the scenes. It’s shifted the day-to-day methods of creating many of the features of the game that will be playable during our first phase of beta testing.
Putting a complete ability together involves a lot more than just design. It includes sound and visual effects, models and animations, and of course programming to build any new features the game doesn’t already support. Though there have been a lot of changes on the technical side, the process for me as far as design goes still starts off with the lore, backstories, and class visions pieced together by Mark and Max, from which I try to derive a fundamental concept for how the experience of playing a given class should work. This concept is then solidified in documentation that identifies some important keywords to keep in mind when doing additional design, along with a list of strengths and weaknesses to ensure the new class fits in well with the other classes of the same Realm, as well as against the classes of the two opposing Realms.
When it comes time to actually start designing ability components, I start off with a basic template composed of the categories of components the class will need, and how they will eventually relate to each other through progression. I then come up with names and descriptions for each component. This is the most abstract part of the process, and involves a lot of cross-referencing with the components of other classes, looking back through parts of stories, referencing books or documentaries or websites for some historical or mythological basis, and basically trying to imagine what will make a character fun and interesting. Much of this information has remained unchanged since the start of our re-abilitation effort, since we need to get all the way to a working prototype of an ability component before deciding on what, if any, changes to make.
Once I’ve narrowed down a set of components to start with, I check in with everyone else who will be involved in the process. The set I create is of components that I expect will be relatively easy to prototype, while providing enough of the core gameplay of the class to get a feel for how it plays. By checking in with the others, I then make sure that if we don’t already have all the features and assets we need, we know how much work each component will take. Afterward, I perform a round of revisions. Sometimes I need to change descriptions of components slightly to make them easier to implement, or swap out some components with others on my list, or even go all the way back to the drawing board and design entirely new components to fill in for those that would take excessive time.
After going back and forth a few times and locking in (with reasonable certainty) a set of components that I can start working on, I start piecing together the scripting and values that will put the actual components into the game. Over the course of iterating on our ability system, the exact details of this process have changed quite a bit. I’ve always started by building a spreadsheet in excel, using some basic formulas to baseline values for things like damage, timing, and resource costs, which I would then input into an editor or get help from a programmer to import directly into the database. At present, since we’ve rebuilt our ability system, my process has changed to using a combination of XML and C# scripting, which provides a lot more flexibility, though it is a bit more error-prone and difficult to use syntactically this early in its development. Fortunately, this is just a temporary state that lets us get features in and tested quickly. These methods will become more streamlined later on, as we try out new things and find ways to simplify the manner in which they are implemented.
Initially, I put together ability component prototypes using a lot of placeholder information just to try out their basic features and make sure they could work. This includes a generic set of assets purposely made to be used for initial testing, while the properties of the ability component are still being adjusted. They’ll continue to see use in abilities until all the unique assets are created for the new components.
The first rounds of new component testing mostly involve bots, target dummies, or logging in multiple characters on an internal server to fire abilities back and forth, which tends to find most of the large issues with balance that require big adjustments. Typically, adjustments become smaller and smaller as testing continues, only occasionally requiring big changes when something unexpected happens over the course of mixing and matching components into interesting new abilities. Those of you who have taken part in testing on our Hatchery server during various stages of testing have been able to see a lot of components during this process, and will continue to do so as more and more classes are added to the game.
Our first set of classes are still getting their components pieced together as our new system for playing things like animations and particle effects is put into place, along with the capacity to account for the stats of weapons and armor, the way different body parts account for damage separately and sustain wounds, and more. There are still a lot more features coming, day by day, which will enable more and more interesting abilities as time goes on. This will be especially important as we add some of the more complex classes to the game, which you may have seen in our previous class reveal videos and on the pages for each Realm on our website. 

For now, the focus is squarely on the feature set we need to start our first round of Beta testing. There is a lot to this process, but a lot of the big critical Beta features are reaching completion, enabling us to finalize everything we need to start testing combat with our new classes for the first time. All of us here are very much looking forward to seeing combat with our new classes for the first time, and we’re anxious to see how our first large-scale combat tests go with hundreds of players.

Developer Quote

  “No MMORPG developer can honestly claim that they don't have setbacks / mistakes / etc., and we've kept ours to a minimum. Hopefully, that will continue. :)” - Mark Jacobs


-by Scott Trolan

It’s been another month of excellent teamwork and focus from the Art team. We’ve made many refinements to our character and armor textures and geometry. A collection of Realm unique idles and fidgets have been imported into the editor. We’ve added quite a few Realm unique weapons to replace our existing placeholder weapons. New environment assets have been included into the world editor to populate the world of CU. We are all working in tandem to showcase our recent accomplishments in a video we are preparing for this year’s Camelot Unchained panel at Dragon Con. This will highlight what we have all been working over the past year since our last visit to the event.

Below is a photo from the day we reviewed Michelle's work on Tuatha Dé Danann maces. We discussed the fundamental design of a mace and realized that half of the concepts might actually classify as an axe. Based on that discovery, Michelle made a few on-the-spot alterations and approved some great designs for production.
While streaming to our Twitch channel, Jon is seen here starting work on the selected Mace concepts, creating 3D models based on them.  
When not photo-bombing, Dionne is seen here making last-minute audits to our armor and weapon textures before we grab source footage for our Dragon Con video.
Tyler is creating a whole new biome to showcase at Dragon Con. The seasons are turning in Camelot!
Sandra is continuing work on unique idles and fidgets based on our newly established signature Realm postured idle poses.
Mike C. toils away at procedural texture node graphs so the rest of us can keep our sanity. Thank you, Mike.
James K. has been sharpening his After Effects skills, and animated a gorgeous fiery reveal of our new CU logo. Could it be… A new logo? Whaaa???
We’ll show you more on that soon. Until next time, Art out!

Tech Central

 -By Charles "Bull" Durham

On RoboDuck

Camelot Unchained has a bunch of information. All of this stuff is supposed to work together in order to create everything you experience within the game. However, sometimes this stuff doesn’t work together well. Tab A is supposed to fit into Slot A, but slot A is missing. In the best-case scenario, this would cause something to be missing… not even noticeable. In the worst case, the server comes screeching to a halt.

When I worked on Star Wars: The Old Republic, I ended up getting involved in a small project that would read the data in the game and look for things that didn’t look right. For example, a planet might have too many objects at the origin of the zone, since the engine tended to make new objects appear there, and it was super easy for a crash at the wrong time to make the designer lose that object. Sometimes, a quest would make a reference to a monster, and the monster was deleted. This could (and did) break the quests. Toward launch day, there was even a policy that a code and content push wasn’t allowed to move from one environment to another until all of the problems were fixed. It was a fun project to be responsible for, but it wasn’t perfect. It was lacking many features that I didn’t have the time or technical expertise to solve.

Since coming to City State Entertainment, I have always wanted to take that idea and make it better. Being responsible for the tools and pipeline and gaining much more varied and detailed experience has resulted in RoboDuck, an automated process for finding problems with our game’s data. Here is how it works:

RoboDuck is a process/application written in C#. It runs on a server here in the back room, along with some other stuff. Every hour (or whenever the configuration file says it should go), it looks for libraries (a library is a collection of precompiled executable code) which contain RoboTests. RoboDuck looks through the library for any RoboTests, and then checks an attribute on that RoboTest to see if it should be run on RoboDuck. After collecting the tests, it builds an immutable image of all of the data currently being used by the game, and then passes this giant wad of read-only data through every test.

RoboTests are all written inside of this library, along with extension methods for all of the data types in our game. Extension methods are extra code that get treated by C# like they are part of the regular class, but only if the libraries they exist within are being used. By making the tests and the extension methods separate from RoboDuck, we gain two major advantages.

The first advantage is that the code in the library can be used by any other .NET tool to run tests. Adding functionality to an editor to test items becomes trivial. The Build Server – which writes all of the binaries you use on the client – is also a .NET, and could then use this library. The second advantage is hot-swapping. Since RoboDuck loads this library every cycle, adding a new test is as simple as dropping the library file into the right folder.

Anyway, RoboDuck loads the library that contains the tests, looks at every test, and then runs each one that has been labeled as a RoboDuck test. The test can be anything that deals with data. As the data is passed through each function, messages from the tests are collected. Once the tests are all complete, RoboDuck then looks at a list of users that have an interest in each test, which is also configurable by what error levels they are interested in. For example, Scott might only be interested in a handful of Animation tests, and only at an “Error” level, while Tyler might be interested in tests having to do with Zones, and I might be interested in the results of every test at “Warning” level or better.

RoboDuck sorts the messages by test, checks the configuration file, and then emails individual users based on the tests they care about, and only at the warning level they care about. All messages are also collated into one email. The end result is that if you get an email from RoboDuck, it means that there is a defect in the data, and that you are able to fix it. It is even polite enough to not send emails outside of normal business hours, since many of us are always on call… no need to be annoyed by something while not at work.

RoboDuck has already allowed us to fix hundreds of bugs, and as more tests are written, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the number climb into the thousands. Not bad for a little side project!

State Of The Build

 -by Cory Demerau

Greetings and Salutations! This month, our twin focuses have been on getting the game back into a stable state (after all the new code additions this summer), and getting back into our testing rhythm. We accomplished both of these goals, with lots of Alpha, Beta 1 and IT tests during the week, and multiple full weekends of testing. Of course, we’ve still managed to work on features, too! As always, this is just a sampling of things from our User Stories list. Let’s dive in! 

  • We now support the ability to chain events together as part of a single ability. For example, We can now do a “life leech” effect, where the player gets healed based on the amount of damage an attack does.
  • Abilities can now target individual body parts. Sweep the leg!
  • Added support for Wounds once again, and the ability to cure them.
  • Abilities now support periodic effects. Poisons, bleeding, and more have been added to our toolbox.
  • Resistances have been introduced to the ability system, and can be tied to gear and body parts (so the arm wearing heavy gloves will have different resistances than the leg wearing light pants).
  • Many new Archery skill nodes have been added to the game.
  • Moving while casting an ability that can be disrupted now applies disruption based on the distance moved.
  • All of the visual data for an ability is now sent more efficiently from server to client.
  • Resources (Blood and Stamina) now regenerate properly.
  • Added variables for environmental light sources and self-shadowing. This won’t have any direct effect for now, but it gives our artists more knobs to play with to create interesting lighting effects in the future.
  • There’s now a button in the bottom right of your screen that allows you to move UI elements around. At long last, you can customize your UI locations!
  • The building UI has received a visual upgrade.
  • Added a check at character creation preventing special characters in names. Now names will only accept letters.
  • The player status and target status UIs have received a visual upgrade, as well as more information from the server, in preparation for Player Groups.
  • Added a “paintbucket” tool, allowing you to change all connected blocks of the same type to another type (Default binding: P key).
  • Fixed plot control/capture. 
  • Loadtesting bots have been receiving steady improvements to bring them back to their former glory. They’ve spent a lot of time shooting arrows at people on Hatchery...
  • Fixed several problems that would occur during game loading. We had been neglecting these for too long, and thanks to a herculean effort on the part of our client engineers, the vast majority of startup crashes/freezes have been resolved.
  • Fixed a memory leak related to large numbers of projectiles being fired.
  • Fixed an issue that caused autorun to stop running if the game window lost focus.
  • Fixed an issue where the game client would sometimes appear behind other windows on startup.
  • Fixed an issue with the patcher displaying servers as online, even if they’re currently offline.

Backer Spotlight

-James Brown asks DrunknGod

James “JB” Brown interviews DrunknGod "DG", awesome Backer and Moderator on the CU Discord server. 

Hey DG! First question, as is pretty common in these: How did you learn about Camelot Unchained, and what drew you in?
DG: Pretty similar to other ex-DAoC folks in that I had played other MMO's over the years and had always considered DAoC my most enjoyable PvP experience. When I saw Mark Jacobs was getting back into making an MMO it obviously caught my attention.

What is your favorite Realm, and is that what you plan to play?
DG: Without a doubt the Vikings are the most interesting to me, and would have to say is more than likely the Realm I will be playing at launch.

How about a favorite class? Is that what you plan to play come launch?
DG: Well Sex Ed. was my favorite class...oh you meant in CU. So yeah...right now I'm kind of stuck between HelBound, Winter's Shadow, Slaughterwolf, and Skald. As for what I'll play at launch I really won't know until Beta starts, where I'll test these out as they become available to play. Did I just mention Beta??? Any spoilers you want to share CSE??

Spoiler, it's going to have [censored]. Oops, I guess I can't say that.... Nah, just joking. Everything that is going to be in Beta 1 is laid out in the User Stories. Now, you are a moderator on the CU Discord. This question is a two-parter: what is Discord and how is it being a moderator on the CU Discord?
DG: Discord is a free voice and text chat app designed specifically for gaming. At least that's what their website says...LOL. Joking aside it's a pretty powerful desktop/browser app with solid support for mobile devices. People seem to initially be drawn towards using it because it's free and plans to stay that way for it's core features. On top of free, it works...go figure. It also has a good GUI layout and supports things such as: Streaming Integration, Custom CSS Themes, and Bots (API provided by Discord, yay!).

DG: Part Deux - Moderating the CU Community is pretty easy. It certainly isn't like the VN days. Maybe because we're all older now...hmm /ponder. Discord seems to be delivering with respect to being used as a tool for communities. As of this posting our CU Community is 587 members strong on Discord, and the only ban we have was a Spam Bot. The Bot was probably CSE-Marc's cousin...Marc with a "c", not a "k", because we all know Marc is a Bot. Just say'n. So yeah 587 people with a single ban, which was a Bot. I doubt any of us would have expected that to be the case with this many passionate users and a delayed Beta. There's that word again..."Beta." It's like a recurring theme.

Shameless plug: How does someone go about joining the CU Discord? Who can join? And why would they want to?
DG: There are a few ways to join the CU Discord...
1) For existing IT, Alpha, and Beta 1 backers you can find a link to the CU Discord on the CSE forums.
2) Click the link that we often provide during the many CSE Twitch streams
3) Have a friend that is already a member of the CU Discord and have them invite you. There's a new feature in Discord which allows you to right+click a user and invite them to a server you are already a member of.
4) Or maybe just use this link: https://discord.gg/0avEENnjyCswhbCC

Who can join?
Everyone is welcome to join, but only confirmed IT, Alpha, and Beta 1 Backers have access to additional areas within Discord. You can find the forums links to the threads the Mods use to verify your user status in the Discord welcome-mat channel.

Because you can come hang out with me! I guess the other 500+ folks there are kind of cool too. Then I suppose the fact that the entire CSE team is there as well might be something some random person would find mildly cool and exciting. Did I mention that I'm there too?

Awesome. So, as you keep bringing it up, it seems you are very excited for Beta 1. Is there something in particular you are really looking forward to?
DG: It's hard to narrow it down to one answer. I mean my knee-jerk answer would be, "to play the game" but as an IT'er I can already do that. The best answer I can think of right now would be to play with my guild and the other fodder in Discord. Did I say fodder? I meant to say those really nice and engaging people in Discord, who will soon have an axe (of some amazing design, shout-out to the artists!!) firmly planted in their skulls. Was that a little overboard, or maybe TMI?? Muhahaha!

A true Viking response! Do you have anything else you would like to say to the Community?
DG: Yes there are several things I'd like to say...
1. War does not determine who is right, war determines who is left
2. There is no letter "e" used in the spelling of DrunknGod
3. Everyone is invited to a party on my island in game for launch!
4. See you in the Verse!! ...wait what?!?
Most importantly, thank you Mark, and thank you to the most awesome folks at CSE, for making this game!

Lore Corner

-by Max Porter

We hope you enjoy this piece, the seventh part of The Great Depths Raid story. This lore of The Depths™ was penned by Max Porter under the vision and guidance of Mark Jacobs for Camelot Unchained. You can find the firstsecond, thirdfourth, fifth, and sixth parts of the tale in the Lore section of our website, here.


The Great Depths Raid

Part 7: Madness and Memories

The stone pathways that wound and twisted through the heavy dark of the Collection Room seemed to have a will of their own, a desire to lead Xedric astray. Every step he took led to confusing falls and deadly endings. The Senior Flame Warden had little idea where he was going, and as he pulled out a torch to light his way, he wondered if he would ever see his companions again. 

His light bounced off the water below, making patterns on the stone walls and jutting bridges, movement without sense or logic, like an alien laughter in visual form. The reflected light shifted and flickered along with his flames, and his torch kindled bright, throwing the madding shadows all over and around him. He had to watch his step carefully and ignore his bruised and broken body, and the distracting ringing in his ears, for any loss of balance would be impossible to recover from. And off the edge he’d go again; probably not lucky enough to be caught by a shifting wall, this time. 

Sighing, Xedric reached up one hand and dragged it along the stone wall where the yellow light passed, trailing a bit of blood. His light made the shadows in the cracks between stones seem even darker. After the Collector pushed him, he could only imagine that it had appeared as though he’d fallen to his death. Xedric could only hope that the Delvers had not gone on without him; he could not hear the sounds of battle above any longer. Of course, it would have been difficult to hear anything at all over the roar of the river below, separated from him by the occasional crisscrossing stone bridge that had grown unexpectedly from the wall. He would have to concentrate to hear the clicking of the Collector, should that creature find a metal track that ran this way. 

He felt cold and heavy. It was hard to breathe, or even move, with what he was sure must be more than one broken rib. His only chance was to find that Bean Sidhe healer, Sacriphisto, before meeting the weird master of this place again. 

Though the fire in his soul kept him deceptively full of energy, Xedric felt his age. At times, as the waves of pain washed over him, the Senior Flame Warden could not help but close his eyes, clenching his teeth to keep from crying out when he stumbled. The pain was like something alive in itself, pushing him and moving him, thrumming through his body and taking control of his muscles. With the pain and the lack of air, not to mention the white noise of the water echoing all around him, he found his mind wandering occasionally, dragged to distant places and adventures. 

As he ran his hand along the wall, feeling the strange smoothness of the stone, the reflected light made him remember something. He’d watched light like this in a moment he’d had long ago, a memory of an afternoon in childhood. 

A snake wound its way along a branch, far away in a tree in a field, golden in his memory. Its scales glinted like glass, a mirror for the sleepy sun that was soon going to rest in the distant mountains. This tree was a loner that had wandered from the crowd, as the forest swept away in the other direction like ranked soldiers, their green banners waving in the wind.

Standing beside him, also enjoying the shade beneath the tree, stood the smiling man that had come to Xedric’s little village, full of news and tales from the big city. A merchant, selling fine wares that his mother greatly appreciated, and his father yearned to purchase. With a big, friendly grin, he too watched the snake climbing along the branch. In a low voice, almost a whisper, the merchant began to speak, spinning a tale of a place below the earth, yet apart from it…  

Xedric could barely hear him over the sound of the wind in the tree overhead. Above, the branches rattled and clacked against one another. A gentle wind picked up, and the creaking branches made more noise, louder and faster. Perhaps a storm was coming. Or perhaps… Something… else…

Shaking his head, Xedric blinked and looked around. He was dizzy, and the pain made it hard to think. However, if he listened, the sound of the wind in his memory was actually the rushing of the river through the Depths below him, while the rattle of the tree branches was actually a rapid click-click-click sound, coming swiftly closer. It took another moment before his distracted mind shot him through with fear, and he realized what that sound meant. Limping and holding his side awkwardly, Xedric pushed himself onward, rushing around corners and over the interlaced bridges, hurling himself away from the oncoming sound with a burst of speed. 

His stumbling footsteps brought him to a wide stone shelf that looked almost familiar. It appeared that he had made his way across the gulf over the river, and had found the jars again. Their weird glow poured over the stone walls and floor with a steady yellow-white, cold and utterly unlike his flickering torchlight. No matter how much he blinked, Xedric’s eyes refused to focus properly; he could hear his rasping breaths, each one wracking his body with agony. 

Stumbling, his hand out in front of his face, the Flame Warden’s vision blurred as he rushed on. The walls swam, and he could barely make out the labels on the jars that he passed. “Delvers - Clothing” stood next to “Delvers - Bones”, and Xedric brushed by, trying to listen for his pursuer over his own painful breathing. He never saw the crack in the stone floor until his foot slammed into it. 

Falling heavily, his arm crashed into something smooth and hard, bumping it off of its stand. The large jar crashed to the floor, and shattered. Shards of glass flew into the air, spinning and tumbling in the white light. As when he had been pushed, Xedric felt as though time was slowing. He could see a shard of thick glass turning, glinting in the light before it bounced away and dropped out of sight over the edge to joined the rushing river below, reflecting the light of a thousand stars.

He barely had time to glimpse the label of the jar he’d broken, crumbling and peeling off the grey stone: Delvers - Memories. Then, as Xedric’s head hit the floor, splashing in the jar’s contents, his world became exploding stars and the rush of white sound for a long moment. However, he stayed conscious. And he began to see things. 

Past lives seemed to stretch before him, laid out and divided into pieces, discrete chunks of images and thoughts once experienced, feelings and discoveries. Xedric felt the strangest sensation of rummaging, of examination. A cold, prurient desire to take only the best, most interesting memories coursed through his consciousness as he opened and examined them, like peeling pieces of a sliced fruit. 

A bright spring day, with a remembrance of winter’s chill in the air, and he was going to see his grandmother in the high mountains. He carried a basket and a walking stick, given to him by his father. Though Xedric knew his hair was short, he felt as though long tresses of hair hung down his back, fluttering in the wind like the leaves all around. There were ribbons waving as well, woven in by his mother’s gentle hands. She had bought them from a talkative merchant, who had paid many compliments to the goodwife’s quiet daughter. With her quick thinking and sharp insight, he’d flattered her, she might one day be worthy of the greatest adventures. 

It took Xedric a moment, but he realized this memory was not his own. This was something the Collector had taken from some poor Delver that had met a nasty end here long ago. Xedric felt dirty, used, disgusted at the hallucinatory sensations stolen from someone else. Yet at the same time, he could feel the pull of such things on his mind, like whispers: the interest in seeing through another’s eyes, and in keeping and storing such precious things away forever. 

Xedric’s eyelids fluttered as he tried to force himself to get up, to stand. His head was swimming, making his arms tremble in the attempt to rise from the wet floor. The preserving liquid trickled over the uneven surface, running down through cracks and channels in the hewn stone. In the eerie light, it looked like blood. 

A golden mote floated by, carried by the liquid; a strange glowing orb. Before Xedric could move his weakening hand, another mote of light touched his fingers.

Instantly, he was in a another place, another time. Although Xedric knew it was a hallucination, he couldn’t seem to stop the flow of events, or snap out of it. He could barely feel his injuries: not the broken ribs, but the cut on his cheek, dealt to him when the mighty blow of an Arthurian’s sword had smashed aside his shield. It lay on the battlefield among so many bodies, another broken thing. To speak Forseti’s truth, he had expected more of the equipment he had purchased from that friendly merchant who had sung his praises in the mead-hall. Mighty enough to venture into the dark places, the oddly charming little man had said. 

Then again, he thought as he hefted the heavy war-axe in his strong right hand, this weapon seemed to do its bloody work with almost supernatural power. Much death he had seen already this day, and much death he must still mete out to the enemy. Already he could hear their weapons crashing on their shields, beating out a distant marching rhythm as they came closer over the hills, closer and closer with the cracking sound of metal… 

Moments away, the Collector rushed along in a frenzy. The sound of breaking glass played upon the creature’s nerves, the strands of his well-organized web now snapped. To defend the collection, and harvest the remains of the one responsible for damaging it, was his sole thought. He leaned his large, pale torso forward, fused at the base with mechanical gears and pistons. He balanced perfectly on the small set of wheels on his metal track, humming along in a paroxysm of obsessive rage. 

Just in time as always, Hidduk dropped from a stone bridge above and into a menacing stance, daggers at the ready. As he stood in front of Xedric, his fur and twin blades were tinged with light, lit from below by the glowing liquid that pooled around his Arthurian companion. The Cait Sith looked like a demon from another world. 

However, the Collector didn’t hesitate. With incredible speed, his telescoping arms shot forth, making Hidduk leap to avoid them. Stone chips flew as the reinforced fists crashed into the wall, and Hidduk landed in a crouch, visibly panting. That was much too close.

But the Collector was master of this place, and a vile grin spread across his misshapen face as he called upon the Collection Room’s power once again. A crack opened silently behind his opponent, a dark space in the wall. Stone spikes shot out, long needlelike spines reaching to penetrate and puncture. Hidduk leaped again, but he wasn’t quick enough; one of the points pierced the back of his leg in a spurt of blood. 

“Agh!” The Cait Sith cried out, rolling to his knees as the Collector came closer. “Xedric, wake up! Delvers, attack now!” 

The first to follow his order was Jorvald, crashing down from above with all the power and fury he had. His axe bit into the Collector’s bare left shoulder and wrenched free in a shower of sparks, as small gears shot out from within the flesh exterior, spinning madly into the shadows. The inhuman cry of pain that emerged from the Collector’s mouth was an attack in itself, and the Dvergr stumbled back a half-step, gritting his teeth as his bones were set ringing. 

However, an answering cry from above drowned the Collector out, as Sacriphisto descended more slowly, ghostlike tendrils of his healer’s robes flapping around him. The Bean Sidhe’s mouth was open, letting forth a steady stream of sound that countered the Collector’s own cry perfectly. Modulating his Dire Scream to do so took most of Sacriphisto’s concentration, but the healer’s eyes widened as he saw Xedric, collapsed, and Hidduk’s leg spurting blood. 

Fogja and Donnie leaped together, the giant’s hammer gaining incredible power on its downswing, somehow hitting harder through the Luchorpán’s magic. Donnie, for his part, rattled and clanked in his finery as he hit the ground and rolled, a mad grin on his face. Fogja’s massive hammer smashed into the Collector’s right shoulder like a falling mountain, sending out a crack that rippled through the monster’s body. The Frost Giant wore a grin to match Donnie’s, and she landed heavily, but solidly, on the stone walkway. 

The Collector looked forward and back, mouth open in horror, revealing the twisted apparatus inside, clicking and whirling. His telescoping arms hung uselessly, dragging on the ground. The Delver’s ambush had worked. 

Shaking with fury and fear, the creature leaned over… way out, over the dark edge. Infuriated, Jorvald reached out one stone-encrusted hand to grab hold of the thing, but with an ungainly wrench, the Collector freed its wheels from the metal track and toppled over, vanishing into the darkness. 

For a moment, everyone was silent, listening for a splash in the rushing river below. Instead, they heard a clang and the ugly click-click-click fading as the Collector sped away. 

Fogja let out a sigh of frustration. “Was sure we had it that time!” 

Jorvald shook his head, examining the edge of his axe for nicks. He wasn’t sure what kind of metal the Collector was fused with, but it couldn’t stand up to true Viking craftsmanship. “Not yet, but we hurt him, and bad.” 

Sacriphisto, silent now to protect his voice, rushed over to Hidduk and Xedric, floating just over the broken glass of the shattered jar. Motioning the Cait Sith to bind his wound for now, Sacriphisto called upon his healer’s magic and placed his hands on Xedric’s prone body. After a moment, the Senior Flame Warden coughed and opened one eye. “Ah. That’s good. Was afraid you wouldn’t come back for me.”

“Of course we did,” Hidduk growled through the pain as he applied pressure to the spike-wound in his leg. “Don’t think a single one of us would betray another Delver’s trust.”

“Exactly,” said Donnie as he came up the path, kingly robes brushing the floor. The Luchorpán stayed just outside the gleaming liquid rippling across the stone and dripping over the edge of the cliff that fell to the river. “And now, while the Collector is nursing its wounds, I’ll show you all some of the treasures here. I’m afraid I’ve already got most of the best stuff, but--” 

“No!” Heedless of the shards of broken glass all around, Xedric pushed himself up, regaining strength as Sacriphisto’s healing magic flowed into him. “No!” The word was choked and harsh as his broken ribs knitted back together. 

The other Delvers stared at the Human as he gasped for breath. Jorvald thought of the precious stones that might be here, waiting for him to add to his own. Fogja thought of the mysteries that she could bring back, the secrets of the Collection. As both the Vikings opened their mouths to argue, Xedric cut them off with a wave of his hand, trailing fire with a decisive crackle. “We leave now. This jar… it held memories. I know why we’re here. We need to get out.” 

Hidduk wrinkled his furry brow, confused. “Out of the Collection Room? With as much blood as we’ve shed, we might as well take what we can.”

“No.” Xedric’s eyes burned with determination and magic. “Out of The Depths. We thought we came here by choice. But this place had us, long before. Tell me, fellow Delvers, think back. Think back to the first time you heard of the Depths. Do you remember a merchant?”

As he finished speaking the last word, a whispering echo of his voice bounced off of the stone walkways. The whisper rebounded from the walls and looming jars, testament to those many, many fools that had come here to serve, and to die. The Delvers looked at one another, and then stared out into the glittering points of light in the darkness, listening to the faint sound continue, losing form and sense, until the whispers began to sound like laughter. 

Thus ends Part 7. 

Bonus Image!

We can’t let you go without showing you this cool “Star Fort” created in C.U.B.E. by amazing Backer Arrobee! Check it out!
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