Unveiled: Camelot Unchained Newsletter #26 - City State Entertainment
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Team Tidings

-by Max Porter

Hey folks, 

Well, a productive September is ending, and October is just about upon us. Here in beautiful downtown Fairfax, Va, the leaves are just beginning to think about changing color, and the heat has cooled into more autumnal days. It’s going to be a beautiful season - one that inspires our environmental artists to create beautiful biomes like this one:
 

Anyway, so much has happened this month, here at City State Entertainment™, I hardly know where to begin! Well, how about with Dragon Con. I heard it was great! Mark, Andrew, Tyler, Michelle, and Dave were all there, speaking at various panels and showing off some cool stuff. Due to some technical issues at the con, we don’t have a video of the panel, but we did put out this video showing a bit of the progress made between Dragon Cons! It’s always great fun to connect with fans and new folks alike, so thanks to everyone who came out. By the way, Dave actually cosplayed as one of the characters in our game, in a costume created with help from Dionne's wife, Elaina! Check it out: 



Thanks also to everyone who’s been hanging out in our Twitch channel and made our Hot Streamy Summer very active and fun! It’s been our pleasure to show you so many different aspects of how we’re developing Camelot Unchained™, and we hope you have enjoyed watching. We’ll continue to stream our efforts going forward into autumn--we put out a new tentative streaming schedule near the start of each week. As with this past month, you can expect more impressive World Building environment work from Tyler, just like when he created the above fall biome on one of his streams. Marvelously detailed material creation on stream with Dionne and intricate 3D modeling from Jon will surely follow, as well as fascinating animation work from Scott and Sandra. Perhaps a bonus programmer stream will make an appearance! If you can make it, don’t miss the Wrap Up with MJ at the end of each week, where Mark summarizes the week’s progress and takes Q&A! And of course, I’ll continue to enjoy reading stories, hosting Morning with Max, and streaming board game playtests when possible.

As for progress on the game itself, particularly the “re-abilitation” system: things are going strong. As you know if you’ve watched MJ’s Wrap Up streams, like this one with extra-long Q&A, have read the updates here, or have taken a gander at our updated User Stories here, things are at a state where Ben is working closely with the re-abilitation team to get the first abilities in and working. Sitting next to Ben myself, I can tell you that he has a congregation of programmers hovering about almost all the time, all of them making sure things are progressing as they should! Believe it or not, as I put this newsletter together, Rob just mentioned that the Stonehealer’s stones currently “drown” when placed in water (just as doors used to “drown” a while back!). Hilarious, but don’t worry, that’s just for the moment; part and parcel of the process of getting these things into the build and working. 

If you want more of a picture of how things are going on the technical side, head down in this very newsletter for State of the Build, or for the Tech Central article, both written by our very own Cory! Additionally, Ben’s Dose of Design article can help clue you in about how this and the next couple steps of development work. Let me encourage you once again to click the “View this email in your browser” button on the top right, to get the full newsletter! Read on for all of that, as well as a few other fun items, and please enjoy this, the twenty-sixth issue of Unveiled.

Hot Topics


The latest topics of discussion on the forums right now are how looting should work, procedural terrain creation, and plenty of friendly C.U.B.E. competitions!  

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

Look What You Did

Wow, what amazing fan fiction entries this month! You folks really got into the spirit of the siege story idea. Thank you so much! There were so many awesome entries, but we’re limiting this to two winners. First up is Majule, with this exciting entry: 

The Ladders
 
‘What in the nine hells is that gods-be-damned noise!,’ thought Stewurt. Rubbing his eyes, he quickly threw on a pair of rough spun breeches and shirt, a leather jerkin and dyed wool cloak. The clouds of sleep finally dissipating, he heard the sound again as he laced up his boots. ‘Alarm!’ the horn’s note rang, and the soldiers of Garron’s Keep were rising.

Stewurt bounded up the rough granite steps to the upper walkways and made his way to a group of guards peering downwards. He almost couldn’t believe his eyes. “Those bastards have been busy, blast them!” The guards straightened up and one said, “Sir! I count twelve, sir.” Twelve of the stoutest ladders Stewurt had ever seen.

He watched as a group of Tuatha, using some kind of pulley and wheel mechanism, began to swing the first ladder into place over the moat and onto the wall. He grabbed the brass spyglass from the man next to him and peered down at the base of the contraption. “Ten gold pieces to whomever kills that damned leprechaun!,” he yelled, watching the green clad little woman as she instructed her people working the gears. 

“It’s pronounced Luchorpán,” said a Pict archer standing nearby. 

“I don’t care if it’s pronounced BooBoo BaaBaa I want that woman dead.”

“Alright people, enough gawking! I want fire arrows, stones, and as many cauldrons of boiling water as we can manage. It’s going to be a long day, by God!”

Whew! Next, this gripping piece by Creideamh:

The light of the moons shaded the courtyard of Crubích Keep in pale silver, surrounding the masses of fallen and fighting warriors in ghostly light. Fia felt the power of the void swelling around her as she stood atop the inner wall, calling up pools of hungering darkness from which her unfortunate targets never returned, yet still more howling Vikings poured in to batter their defenses.
 
They had landed on the northern shores under thick fog two days ago, arriving in such swarms that they were indistinguishable from the writhing grey seas beneath them. Hundreds of hands tore down the isle's groves to craft the weapons of war that flattened their gates, while their wave weavers blasted and cracked walls of earth and stone with torrents of arctic water. The Veilstorm had raged throughout the siege, battering the fortunate with lightning, and the unfortunate with worse.
 
The stars whispered dark murder in her ears as the eerie green runes of her fellow druids danced in the night. Dark beaches spewed forth more combatants, covering the small island from end to end in bloody battle. Fia smiled in grim satisfaction as a rush of reinforcements from the east saw the line of Fianna pushing to retake the broken outer walls.
 
She entertained a glimmer of hope. The damage could be repaired; the wounded seen to, and then the wisps whispered: a fleet of red-bannered boats now crest the horizon. The Arthurians have come!

Thanks again, what great reads! We shall certainly work to make sieges as exciting as your fan fiction pieces. 

For our next contest, it’s time to break out the fan art skills again! An illustration from the Gargoyle Becoming™ stories would be nifty. Draw, photograph, or paint a scene or character from the Gargoyle stories, using part 1 or part 2 of the Becoming tale for inspiration, as well as our Gargoyle art. Put your creations in the thread you’ll see popping up in the Fan Art section of the forums. We’ll pick a favorite and post it in the next newsletter! Looking forward to viewing your awesome talent on display!

Thank You

Thank you to The Syndicate for all of this “schwag” from their Syndcon! Frisbee, bag, pen, coin, nerf football, and other fun stuff! Made us smile! 
Thank you to Claudio, who sent us this tea, addressed especially to Michelle! It all smells awesome!

Dose of Design

-by Ben Pielstick

Prototype Implementation


While game design involves a considerable amount of abstract design of systems and content, which takes place “on paper” (or rather in text documents, image mockups, and spreadsheets), a large chunk of time working on designing a game needs to be spent actually putting designed elements into practice. Once an initial design is ready and all the basic building blocks have been pieced together to enable it, that design has to be prototyped so that it can be tested. As it happens, this is about where we are in the process of creating the combat system for Camelot Unchained right now.

While every project is different in terms of the details of implementing gameplay systems, the basics of the general process are more or less the same. The first pass at any system tends to be pretty rough, because the details are only just being pieced together for the first time, and undoubtedly many elements of the design that seemed good in theory won’t work out so well in practice. These will need to be changed slightly, or even drastically, in order to live up to their potential. While experience definitely helps in avoiding common pitfalls when it comes to getting things right the first time, there are always unforeseen difficulties, most especially when trying to create something new and different (or BSC), which hasn’t been done before in quite the same way.

Overcoming marginal difficulties that arise as part of the implementation process involves re-evaluating the approach to using the available tools and determining alternative ways in which the part of the design could be mocked up in a manner that will closely enough resemble what it is meant to represent. Often times, this is just a matter of trying different things until something works; but sometimes, new needs are discovered that require additional assets and features that hadn’t previously been accounted for, which generates work for other members of the team. While this is to some extent unavoidable, it is very important to try and minimize discovered work while generating a prototype, even if that means compromising on some of the nuanced details that the final implementation is intended to have. 

A prototype really just has to show basic proof of a concept, so there is often quite a bit of flexibility that can be tolerated in the details when it comes to placeholder art, unoptimized code, and poorly-scripted functionality, that still lets the general idea show through. This flexibility can go too far however, as cutting too deep into the core of a system can easily lead to losing the demonstrability, which shows what a feature would be like once it is developed beyond the prototype stage. As such, the process of implementing a prototype is a difficult balance between going too far, and not going far enough.

More serious obstacles may be discovered during the prototyping process as well, which necessitate going back to the drawing board on part of the design before the prototype is even finished. While this case is pretty extreme and doesn’t happen with major features all that often, if significant changes are going to have to be made, it’s better to find out as early as possible. Prototyping itself is a way to find problems early before putting in the effort to fully develop a feature, so as a prototype develops it is important to keep a close eye on it to make sure it doesn’t get taken any farther than it has to if a fatal flaw is discovered along the way.

The process of prototyping combat for Camelot Unchained has already taken a lot of additional work rebuilding the technical basis of the system, but the process is now finally reaching a point where the core functionality is working as designed, and basic ability components for each class can be scripted and tested, with more features and improvements being added virtually every day. While the details of the implementation process are still rough, getting to a point where we can see the basics of combat working doesn’t have to be perfect, and the process will see a lot of refinement moving forward, as we iterate on our first pass.  

Implementing this prototype and refining will ultimately lead to a state where our process is streamlined and we’ve done sufficient testing to be happy enough with the initial results. Then we can take the next big step in moving forward. This step will involve expanding on the foundational system, building out specialized art and sound assets, adding additional classes, and working out the balance and intricate mechanical interrelationships that will bring the full combat experience together. 

The initial stages of testing the basics of our combat system are already underway, and so far, everything seems to be holding up well. Once a few more of the major systems are integrated into our main development branch and can be tested together as a unified experience, we can start a much more exacting phase of evaluation. This will lead to playtests that are less like the core feature tests we have done up to now, and a lot more like how combat is meant to be played in the final version of the game, which we all look forward to showing you in future updates.

Developer Quote

  
  “We are going to take our time to make Camelot Unchained a great game. We've kept all our promises so far, and I intend to keep that one as well.” - Mark Jacobs

Artitup 

-by Scott Trolan

Keeping our collective nose to the digital gridstone is what we do best here at CSE. Over this past month, we have been balancing the tasks of refining existing game assets, as well as adding new animations, models, and materials to the game. 

We have replaced the old running and walking locomotion animation clips. These new clips are much more aesthetically pleasing, and will suffice as we investigate backwards walking, turning, and transitional animations. We will continue to move forward and expound on our animation system in the coming weeks. 
Sandra continues her work on animating unique idle fidgets. These fidgets serve as great ways to introduce personality and fun to our characters. I am sure the players will appreciate her efforts on this front, once they become available in the game.
Jon and Dionne are working closely together, bringing Michelle’s weapon concepts to fruition. Substance Designer is playing a stronger role than ever within our weapon making pipeline, as it procedurally generates amazingly detailed material and dirt maps, as well as sharply defined normal maps.
Mike C. is wrapping up his work on procedural materials for C.U.B.E. for the time being, and he will be focusing more on VFX as Dave H. implements a new particle system. Earlier, Mike began preparing his files for the rollover into the new system and is SUPER EXCITED to get back into the business of making ghostly sparkles, burning embers, and lightning emit from weapons and characters.

James K. has been updating our website galleries, and has just now started to revisit the task of designing Realm logos. Whether it is designing for our CU logo or our subsequent Realm logos, the process is long, iterative, and collaborative. Once we know we’ve hit some solid Realm logo designs this round, we’ll share those as soon as we can. 
See you next month; till then, Happy Pumpkin Spice Season, er’body! 

Tech Central

 -By Cory Demerau

Task Management: The Urgent vs the Important


    When you're programming for a video game, it's incredibly important that someone keeps track of what everyone's doing and how those tasks contribute to the completion of the game. As issues arise in the code--urgent matters that, if not solved quickly, will compound into much larger problems--it can be very easy to lose sight of the important tasks that will actually bring you closer to shipping the game. We take special care not to let that happen, and with the magic of task management, we balance these two factors!

    This conflict between the Urgent and the Important is one that every studio grapples with, and handles differently. Each studio can even have different definitions of what's urgent: many studios save bug fixes until near the end of the project's life-cycle. For us, it is vital to do our best to fix certain bugs as they arise, so that we can maintain a stable testing environment for our Backers, and create a rock solid foundation (thanks, testers!).

    Regardless of those definitions, however, there will always be urgent issues that arise suddenly and must be handled quickly, and there will always be longer-term tasks that are vital to the success of the game, even if they aren't as immediately demanding. 

    We are committed to handling this issue the right way: this is one of the reasons we created a dedicated re-abilitation team when we made the decision to rebuild our ability system. We wanted to make sure that we had a group of programmers that wouldn't be distracted by urgent matters as they arose, but would instead focus on the long-term, important task of getting our new skill system online.

    Other engineers, like myself, take on the urgent tasks as they come up, and have less vital tasks to work on in between the urgent issues. In fact, I recently had a week where I had two items on my agenda on Monday, but I ended the week with three items - two of which were the ones I started the week hoping to finish! That might sound like a problem, but really it’s exactly how my task management was supposed to work. Simply put, enough surprise tasks arose for me to handle that my original plans just went out the window--and that's fine! We knew that this type of schedule shift is fairly predictable for me, so my scheduled tasks were not as important as those some other programmers had. Devoting my time to the urgent tasks that came up ensured that everyone else was able to continue working on the important things that we need to complete for Beta.

    Every studio has their own way of dealing with urgent and important tasks, and each person has their own predisposition towards one type of task over another. Mastering this balance and organization ensures that we can adapt to unexpected changes while still achieving milestones.

State Of The Build

 -by Cory Demerau

What a month this has been! Tons of new and awesome stuff has been making it into the game, including multiple zone servers, classes, and warbands. Beta is getting closer every day, and this month we took several big steps forward… But enough of my rambling, let’s dig into the details!

Server:
  • We now have the ability to support play in multiple zones simultaneously.
    • Each zone is an island controlled by a separate server. Clients connect to and receive player data from all zones.
    • You can see players on the other island zones, but can’t yet interact with (read: attack) them.
    • Zone portals exist to teleport you from one zone to another. Simply walking into the next zone to transition doesn’t yet work.
    • Players are intended to drown when their ankles touch water, to prevent attempts to jump over to the next island.
  • Players can now create Warbands and invite other players to them.
    • While in a warband, you get a separate chatroom just for you and your groupmates, and a UI widget shows you the status of all players in the warband.
    • The tech isn’t optimized yet, so some information (like the health of your groupmates) still comes slowly.
  • Fixed a bug where running out of blood would make the client assume you were dead (which should have been a correct assumption), but the server didn’t think you were dead. Now you die both on the client and on the server when you run out of blood.
Client:
  • Fixed a bug that would cause the game to crash if it failed to load the loading screen.
CUBE:
  • Fixed a bug with the paint bucket tool that caused it to always be active.
UI:
  • Numerous tiny UI fixes/tweaks.
  • PerfHUD Network tab now shows stats for all connected servers.
  • Fixed a bug causing the Spellbook to not appear correctly.
Patcher:
  • Patch Server is now much faster at retrieving files from the database and converting those into a game patch.
  • Improved patching speeds when sound banks change.
Editor:
  • We can now place objects relative to the local terrain. This’ll make it easier for us to add hand-crafted elements to our procedural terrain system.
Skills:
  • Stamina and Blood are both functioning resources to be used for skills now.
  • A large number of skill parts have been added for all classes.
  • Skill parts are once again determined by your class, rather than available to everyone. Melee characters are no longer throwing healing spells around, and healers aren’t able to execute complicated melee styles.
  • Introduced many skills with conditional requirements, such as requiring that a particular weapon type is equipped (Archery skills need bows, etc.).

Lore Corner

-by Max Porter


We hope you enjoy this piece, the eighth 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, sixth, and seventh parts of the tale in the Lore section of our website, here.

 

The Great Depths Raid


Part 8: The Cautious Climb

The towering rows of jars looked on like pale yellow eyes, peering into the abyss. Though so much had been scavenged here over the years from so many lost and discarded souls dashed against the sieve and crushed by the mighty waters, this was the first time anyone had survived so long. Change had come to the Collection Room. 

Before this new group arrived, everything had been in its proper place. The labels had slowly faded, while the collection endured. There was always more to collect from the sieve, always a new and interesting treasure to identify and put away. There seemed no end to the unfortunates drawn inexorably to the Depths, and the items in the collection were from a vast span of time. The older jars on the lower shelves bore crumbling labels in ancient scripts, which had been written by his predecessor. Yes, this was by no means the first Collector, keeper of odds and ends and mysterious things here in the deep places. The Depths hungered, and he was its vital force, forgetting nothing, organizing where chaos reigned, and making everything stay the same, instead of being lost. 


Long ago, when the Collector had lived the life of an adventurer, things had been very different. In the brief moments of clarity after completing a collection, he could recall a time before now, before he had become this creature. He could remember sitting on his bedroll by his campfire outside the Depths, waiting for the moons to set, and for the time of Shadow’s Delight to begin. The door he’d found to the Depths would open then, and only then. 

    His other companions sharpened their weapons or stared into the campfire, thinking of their homes or their dreams. Whatever they sought in the Depths, whatever had brought them together as part of this raid, they could not guess what lay in store. They could not know how swiftly this place would corrupt them, devour their minds and their bodies. He himself could not know that his heart’s yearning for treasure and riches, grown from a traveling merchant’s glorious stories and bright praise, would lead him to exactly what he wanted. All he had to do was serve this place. 

    And serve he did, for years and years. He could still remember fighting the previous Collector. Fear and terror in the dark, stone cracking, the unreadable labels of row upon row of glowing jars bearing down on him like ever-watchful stars. Like eyes, observing and beckoning, begging for him to take ownership. Everything was treasure. He wanted all of it. Everything should be his, organized and understood. 

Now, waiting for his moment, seething in the dark tunnel he’d opened for himself, the Collector repaired his body as quickly as he could. He might be heavily damaged, but he would not allow these Delvers to leave. Not with his things. Not with his Collection. Not after they broke it and changed it. 


Below, Xedric did not wait for the eerie laughter to subside, echoes of his mention of the Merchant. He lurched to his feet, despite the protestation of his still-bruised ribs and wheezing lungs. He almost slipped on the mixture of broken glass and preserving liquid, but Sacriphisto reached out one pale hand and steadied the Senior Flame Warden. 

As he scrambled up the walkway, ignoring the unsettling contents of the jars he passed, the whispered laughter lingered like a song of malice. In its wake was silence and the roar of water. Beginning to follow, reluctantly at first, the other Delvers glanced around, seeking the source of merriment in the shadows, but there was nothing. The sound permeated the air, and felt cloying, a thick sort of noise that clogged the senses. The feeling reminded Xedric of getting his teeth stuck together with something sweet but unpleasant. 

    Fogja was the first to speak, rushing up to the front with big strides of her long blue legs, one now unarmored in the wake of the Collector’s traps. Carrying her impressive hammer in both hands, her fingers fizzed and crackled with lightning as her face was twisted in a pensive expression. She spoke  to Xedric over her shoulder, slowly, as though her words had to travel a long distance. “I remember… I remember when I was a small girl, a man came to our frozen village in the peaks… he spoke of old tomes, secrets to uncover, mysteries… I loved his talk. I suppose he might have been a merchant of some kind. He sold books with strange titles and thick pages, and he said...well, he told the whole village how impressed he was that I--” 

She was cut off by the sound of creaking, cracking stone, as the entire walkway shook beneath their feet. Eyes wide, Donnie leaped from the back of the group, narrowly clearing the crevice that opened almost beneath his feet, threatening to cut him off from his companions. Hidduk reached out one hand to catch the small man, but the nimble Luchorpán shook him off, his rich robes clinking. “The Collector has triggered his traps! Time to really hurry.” 

    Jorvald shrugged his stone-studded shoulders, and turned from craning his neck at the towering shelves that loomed in the dark. He raised his voice over the grinding noises that had begun to echo from all around, and peered at his fellow Viking with silver eyes beneath his stony brows. “Hrm. Your merchant sounds the same as mine. He came to us in late autumn, I remember that now!” As he ran, his heavy feet thudding along behind Xedric, the Dvergr thumbed the edge of his axe thoughtfully, as though it would jog his memory. “I recall it was followed by a hard winter, even for us Vikings; and his stories ‘round the fire were most welcome. Full of glorious deeds, the legendary heroes, and their great rewards…”  

The stone wall that loomed over them shook, buckling and bending as stone was not meant to do. Cracks appeared, and splinters of stone spat out, tumbling and skipping over the sloped walkway, rattling knucklebones of the Collection Room spilling down toward the angry river. 

    “Stick close,” Muttered Hidduk, his deep voice barely audible over the rumbling. “Whatever that creature is doing to this place, we must not get separated again.” He skirted the edge of a cluster of spikes that emerged from the wall, threatening to piece him a second time.

    Still struggling to heal the Cait Sith’s wounds, Sacriphisto leaned forward slightly, pulling away the glass that had lodged in his ally’s legs with magic. The Bean Sidhe’s pale face looked thinner, more drawn than usual. “I, too, remember a traveler who first told me of the Depths. It was a long time ago, and the forest halls of the Hamadryads were changing color, so it must have been autumn… he made the place below the earth sound wondrous, full of strange sights and new life…” The Bean Sidhe shook his head. “I don’t understand. How did this come to be? Who is this person, or creature, that we all seem to have met? Who is the Merchant?” 

    He couldn’t hear it over the sound of grinding stone, but in the pause after his words, the whispering came again, softer this time, and drifting into a quiet chuckle that drifted among the glowing jars. 

    Xedric found it impossible to answer Sacriphisto’s question as he hurried upward, turning along the switchbacks. His head was still spinning a bit from his injuries, and now, the exertion of keeping up with the significantly younger Delvers. He thought of the things he’d seen or hallucinated as he had stumbled alone in the dark, crashing into a jar. On the stone plinth that held the glowing object, a parchment label had been slowly fading with time, though the words could still be read as “Delvers - Memories.” No words could describe what he’d felt, living as others, feeling their doomed lives… His robe still dripped with the strange-smelling liquid of the jar he’d broken. Snapping the fingers of his free hand, Xedric kindled a second flickering flame, and examined his front as he ran, illuminating the soaked garment with orange glints. Here and there in the stains of the drying fluid were golden motes still stuck to him, each one shimmering and blinking.  

    Donnie sped up and passed Hidduk and Sacriphisto, jumping over rocks that fell in his path. Then one of the jars caught Donnie’s eye as he sprinted past, and he paused to push one of his crowns back up his head, peering at the label. “Delver’s Clothes. That’s creepy. Not in a run-away-now kind of way, but more of a I-hope-don’t-end-up-like-that way. Like how Niall did, when he was playing hide and seek in the meadows back home.” The Luchorpán scrunched up his pointed face in an unfamiliar, thoughtful frown. “It was the same day Niall disappeared that the strange man came to us, hands overflowing with jewels and gold. He told us where it came from, and my brother asked him all sort of questions. I started to dream of yellow metal…” He glanced nervously around as Hidduk and Sacriphisto came up to pass him again. “Why… why are we--” 

The end of his sentence was masked by the incredibly loud popping sound of one of the stone bridges breaking in half. The gigantic column of stone shelves that they were climbing had begun to rotate, twisting around to a new position. With a cracking and rumbling that drowned out all other hearing, the rest of the bridges tore away from its side. They saw the jars of another column go rushing past, streaks of pale yellow light in the darkness of grinding stone. The labels flashed in Xedric’s flickering firelights, their weird writing barely legible, yet hypnotic: Knives - Bone, Glass Eyes, Loose Lips--on and on, a collection without end or apparent meaning. 

About to leap onward, Donnie glanced back at the jar, and thought he saw an all-too-familiar belt, shoes, and jerkin, floating amongst the other clothing. The place had a piece of him, now. Perhaps that meant he, too, had a piece of the Depths in him. The Luchorpán shuddered and glanced up at the hurrying Delvers, but no one else had noticed. He kept it to himself. 

Still they pressed on, and upward, climbing past the point where Xedric had been pushed, past where they had reunited with Donnie, and past where Hidduk had made the other Delvers turn back. All the while, the scraping column of stone shuddered along on its axis, changing the shape of the room even as they traversed it vertically. 

The Delvers felt their memories weighing heavily on them. Whatever this Raid had become, it had begun outside, in a very different place and time. The dark tendrils of corruption had reached out to touch them, and, somehow, pulled them here. Everything seemed suspect; if they could not trust their own desires, there was nothing in their whole histories they could believe. 

With a final lurch and a boom, the column whose shelves they were ascending found its resting place. All the Delvers stumbled forward, the momentum carrying them on as the final splinters of stone fell around them. Whatever new configuration the maddening Collection room was now in, it seemed the cruel Depths was momentarily satisfied. The silence that followed was deep, and made the Delvers feel the emptiness all around.  

Agile as ever, Donnie was first to look up and gasp. “There it is! The way out. Told you I saw something when I was in the tunnels.”

They had reached a platform on the apparently endless column of stone. A completely different stonework was in evidence here, as if some ancient ruin had been swallowed up by the Depths; curling stairways in concentric circles appeared to ripple out from a raised dais, which was carved with an intricate network of crisscrossing lines. It made one’s eyes cross to stare too long at the pattern, which always seemed on the verge of forming a definite shape, but somehow never quite showed a complete image. On the far side of the semicircular dais was a massive archway and stone door. A series of illegible characters were carved into its surface, in a language too ancient--or too secret--even for Fogja to translate. 

Despite their better judgement, the weary Delvers spread out to look at the strangeness of it all, listening carefully for the telltale click of the Collector’s approach. Hidden among the confusing curlicues of stone the metal track continued, clear sign that the master of this place could come here if he chose. 

Panting, Xedric looked at Hidduk, whose impenetrable eyes were studying the strange writing. “And what, heh, what of you, Hidduk?”

The Cait Sith turned and glanced at him with a quizzical look. “What of me?”

“Do you, ah, do you also recall a… a merchant?” The others glanced over, beginning to listen in. “A man who...told you of the Depths?” 

Hidduk glanced down, nodding as he considered, and began to pace back and forth. “I...wait.” The Cait Sith stopped his tracks, fur standing on end. He held up one hand and cocked his head, listening. “I think… give me a moment, I must look in the Veil.” As always, he stepped into the shadows, away from Xedric’s lights, to perform his ritual of opening. 

The other Delvers chose to look away, giving the Raid’s leader his privacy. There were more interesting things to look at here, anyway. Climbing the stairs, they stood before the mighty door in a loose semicircle, conferring quietly over the meaning of the inscription upon the door and its massive archway. 

Hidduk slipped around a corner, a tall fold in the stone that stood up like a ruined tooth. He needed a clear mind to see what was going on, and well… sometimes he felt like the Veil missed him. Or maybe it was the other way around. 

He saw the dangers shifting, swirling. There were definitely malevolent forces here, things so evil and so wrong that they were beyond his understanding. And there was one thing, one danger that loomed over the rest... Exiting the Veil, Hidduk stepped into the semicircle, startling the other Delvers with his sudden appearance, just as he had back in the valley outside, which seemed so far away. “He’s coming. We’re hurt, and we need to recuperate; let’s press on.” 

With quick nods of agreement, the Delvers fell into their now-familiar marching order, with the heavy fighters before and behind, keeping a sharp lookout for falling stones, spiny traps, or sliding walls. The entire group was listening with dread for the clicking of the Collector, ready to strike if the creature showed his face. Unperturbed by the darkness (or by anything else, he would claim, had anyone asked him), Jorvald stepped forward with axe held high, about to push on the mysterious door.


    When the Collector finally attacked, he came silently, invisible in his hiding place. His long arms emerged first, pulling him from a crevice that opened high on the wall, a black slash in the obscure cliff above the ruins. Then came his head and torso, badly mangled from the injuries he’d sustained, yet repaired to functionality. Sparks still occasionally sprang from the whirling, twisting gears that had been exposed by axe, hammer, and dagger wounds. There was no clicking sound, for he held himself aloft using his powerful arms. Balancing carefully, he lowered his body from one shelf of rock to the next, straining to keep his metal parts from knocking against the stone. It had taken the last of his resources to create this perfect ambush spot. However, these breakers of things, these disturbers of his organized existence, these greedy agents of chaos… they had to be stopped. Or made to join him. 

    With a hiss that sounded more like a scream, the Collector dropped from his perch on the cliff above. He fell with arms outstretched and metal-bound jaws wide, teeth telescoping outward into long needlelike points. In service to his obsessions, he had long ago discarded his humanoid guise: he now resembled a huge, twisted spider, falling upon its unknowing prey. 

Thus ends Part 8. 

Bonus Image!

And to close out this month’s newsletter, how about some more cool C.U.B.E. shots? This Arthurian keep was created by the Backer known as Swazi! 
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