Unveiled: Camelot Unchained Newsletter #22 - City State Entertainment
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Team Tidings

-by Max Porter

Hello all, and happy end of May/start of June to you. Another month, another bunch of progress from your friendly developers here at City State Entertainment™ in beautiful downtown Fairfax, Va. We’ve been having weeks of cold rain, only to find the daylight suddenly gleaming all around us. Everything’s green and blooming!

You know what else is blooming? The “re-abilitation” effort, as the ability system for Camelot Unchained™ gets the love and attention it deserves. It’s coming along quite well under the care of a cadre of the engineers, while those not involved with re-abilitation are adding more improvements, features, and polish. This includes work on C.U.B.E., which got a major overhaul of its UI, among a number of other improvements and additions! You might have seen some pretty amazing things with blocks, explosions, buildings, and some neat features getting added to the stand-alone building system for our game. Some of the latest work involves the tech for building round structures, updating mats to work better with the new lighting/rendering, as well as reducing mat size to improve memory use and allow people to build bigger stuff with more mats. This will be particularly important for people on mid-to-lower-range rigs, especially when we are doing full battles in CU proper. Plus, we’re adding new shapes to build with! For more on the excellent progress from the programmers, check out the State of the Build section below.

Work on a lot of other fronts also progressed really well this month. We’ve got ourselves a new intern, Jules, who has a proper introduction below--she did the newsletter header image this month! She sits one down from Dionne, at the edge of the Art Pit, and we’re happy to have her help. In the office, one can spot Mark and Andrew preparing to interview several engineering candidates, or Ben moving forward with terrain work, aided by Tyler, who’s always jumping from one aspect of development to the next. The Art Team constantly puts out cool stuff, making good use of the time available to them, but if you ask me, there were some especially neat pieces on display from them this month, like Realm-specific weapon concepts, new environment pieces, and lots more. With all of that, the world of the game grows ever more interesting and layered with things to look at and experience. As always, you can read way more on the above in articles later in this newsletter! 

One pretty cool thing that happened last week: a group of students visited us! A former Mythic guy asked us if a class from his old school could visit and find out about game development, and we had a lot of fun with them. Questions were asked, tips were given on art, programming, life, and so on, and all in all it was a good time for everyone.
It’s been a great month, and we’d like to tell you all about it, plus show off some cool things. Read on for news, updates, info, art, lore, design thoughts, and all the goodness you’d expect from this, the twenty-second issue of Unveiled.

 Updates

Hey, we have a summer intern here at the office! She’s pretty cool, and has jumped right in with creating videos and helping us organize. Here she is, to introduce herself in her own words: 

My names Jules Graham, and I am one the of new interns who are coming to City State Entertainment for the summer. I'm a senior at James Madison University, majoring in Media Arts and Design with a concentration in Converged Media. I've done a lot of cool stuff, from creating websites, to reporting overseas, to teaching children about film-making, but what I really love is creating web content. Here in the office, I'll be making videos and graphics for the website (woo!) and general intern tasks (current intern task: unpacking and labeling shirts, lots of shirts--these are the leftovers from Merchline). I spend most of my time outside of the office at the dog park with my puppy, BoJack Dogman, and finding new places to take naps. My favorite video game growing up was Zelda: Majora's Mask, and my go-to snack is Pizza Goldfish.
In other updates, we hit 1 billion blocks placed in C.U.B.E.! Our Backers have been busy little builders, and have built some truly amazing structures. As we continue to build out the features, materials, and functionality of C.U.B.E., it’s really awesome to see you all get excited about playing around in that world! With abilities turned off but building turned on in the testing server Hatchery, a kind of “multiplayer C.U.B.E.” environment can allow you to work together on some cool projects! 

Speaking of C.U.B.E. and impressive stats, here are some more: We got the game build (not just C.U.B.E.) running with 181 million blocks on a server, 8100 buildings total, and 400-500 in your viewing frustum at a time. A big reduction in the memory footprint of the client meant taking up to 500 MB out, depending on how many blocks are around, etc. Plus, the texture sizes for block textures got reduced to a quarter of what they were previously. Rob also tested building destruction with several thousand blocks scattering from an exploding building! 

We’ve been keeping our promise regarding Stretch Goals, and haven’t put up a new one since you wonderful folks got us past the Role-Playing Pack #1 goal. However, awesome people have continued to grab tiers and donate, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts, as always. It’s really wonderful to have such a supportive Community, and both new and old Backers who are such cool people. 

CMSphere 

-by Jenesee Grey

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

Welcome to another month and another newsletter! Time seems to be just flying by, as the warm weather has finally arrived in beautiful downtown Fairfax. You can really feel the energy of spring fever hitting the forum, as everyone gets just a bit more saucy, itching for some summer excitement. Conversations are happening, jokes are being told, and mayhem is ensuing as the forum gears up for the coming of Beta 1.

Our builders have been super busy creating amazing structures and C.U.B.E.-ing it up with some stunning buildings. There are far too many just to show at the end of this newsletter as bonus images, so here are a few below to whet your appetite. Catch a taste of what the future of building will look like in the game by checking under “C.U.B.E. creations” in the forum. Don’t miss out! 

A number of these are still works in progress: I can't wait to see them in all their finished glory. This is a cathedral by Melio, with a lovely garden and grounds to walk in! Please take note that you won't be stuck with building blocky trees forever: We plan to provide saplings to plant and other placeable objects for the world.
Fida shows off a Star Fortress. Accessing the interior of the fortress requires navigating a mini maze and an extremely exposed narrow catwalk; tricky! 
Messy1 displays Ye olde Rustic Inn, where I can imagine stopping in with my character after a hard day of RvR-ing for a well-earned rest. 
Rehk displays a good use of droplights for a completely different take on building. This is a Viking image to ponder....scary. 
Many people are especially excited about the new “multi-player C.U.B.E.” (meaning abilities are turned off, building is turned on) build on Hatchery, one of our testing servers. The possibility of people playing together now in a true C.U.B.E.-like context (without combat) opens up a lot of collaboration possibilities for our builders, especially those in the city planning project. Right now, the game allows you to build/remove blocks from any plot, whether you control it or not. I can’t wait to see what the world will look like with cohesive player-built structures everywhere the eye can see! Right now, we want as many buildings about as close together as possible to stress the engine, but the final game will be a different story, never fear.

Lots of new faces (or new forum tags) are appearing now, as more Backers join the Community and venture into the forums. It’s great to see so many people introducing themselves! I want to give a hearty thank-you to both Foggye and Periander Neit for being especially helpful and guiding the newbies in good directions for information gathering. There are lots of good posts in the dev tracker (button near the top middle) and in the forum search function (on the upper right) waiting to be found! Welcome to all our new Backers!

Community Question!

If you would like to add a Community question, please visit our forum under the Unveiled Newsletter category and post in the thread.


I went to Ben for an answer to this one! 

Aldoorn asks: 
Q: Are players left and right handed or are we all automatically ambidextrous? If I always hold that weapon in my right hand am I training that individual arm to fight with that weapons required stats? If so then would it be possible for a fighter to become ambidextrous so he/she can switch to the stronger arm throughout a long battle? (switch weapon arm on a daily basis).

Ben: Presently, our animation system uses right-handed combat stances, even though it is possible to equip a one-handed weapon in each hand and use them both with equal effectiveness. Some one-handed weapon types are limited to right- or left-hand only, to restrict potentially imbalancing combinations and cut down on the number of animations we have to create to support every possible combination of weapons in each hand. We’ve tried to leave a good number of possibilities open, however, so that you can come up with interesting combinations of weapons to use together.

Hot Topics


Islands and buildings are the topics of choice on the forum right now. 

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

Look What You Did

Thanks to Creideamh for this Fan Fiction piece, a neat little description of a strange and interesting structure imagined for Camelot Unchained

The Twisting Tower, they call it. A partially intact ruin from before the Piercing, its proximity to Camelot makes it a valuable asset for all three Realms, and one that rarely sees peace. Its crooked stones stand in the centre of the Veiled Valley where the storms are frequent and terrible, and strange shapes move in the mists. Many have tried to alter the tower to suit their own designs, but war has too often interrupted the visions of its would-be architects, leaving their dreams unfinished.
 
To that effect, its exterior is a messy patchwork of repair and development - balconies, windows, unfinished walls, and eroded statues litter its precarious heights. A quiet dread is felt by those who walk its arcane passages and stairways, built at strange and jarring angles, intersecting beneath archways unusably small or curiously large. Foreign runes and unsettling murals decorate its walls that writhe in the corners of your eyes, to mention nothing of the weeping and whispering shadows who seem drawn to the bloodshed that still fills its walls. Those in tune with earth and stone, should they be brave or foolish enough to listen to the tower, speak of a malevolent presence that thrives on the anguish and pain of its inhabitants, living or dead. They speak the truth, my delicious mortal, for if you listen closely enough, between battle's crunching of bone, the clash of iron, and screams of pain and terror, you will hear my voice...Laughing.


For next month’s contest, show us your artistic skills by drawing or photographing a place where you feel like a Fir Bog would live. A really lovely, comfortable yet mysterious bog that a nice family of magical giants might like to settle down in! Watch out for any blue moons while you’re working on this project. Post your drawings or photos into the thread you’ll see pop up in the Forums, accessible through our website.

Thank You

Thank you to Josh Robertson, owner of Double Jump Coffee, for sending us this awesome “Crunch Time” coffee! It shall be consumed with great delight by the hard workers here in the office! 

Dose of Design

-by Ben Pielstick

The World of Beta 1


Although the primary focus for the team at present is on refactoring the systems that drive combat, one thing we haven’t discussed recently is the actual world space in which our first round of combat testing in Beta 1 is going to take place. As discussed in a previous newsletter, we’re creating our game world using an early version of a custom world-building tool set created especially for the specific needs of our team and our game. This allows us to build out large areas of world space relatively quickly, using terrain textures and environmental objects such as grass and trees in a way that doesn’t require a lot of repeated work to scale up from a small sample area to a large island. In the first stages of Beta 1 testing, our combat test island maps will primarily be of the smaller-scale variety, while safe islands for each Realm will be far larger.
 
For combat testing, we want to make sure the initial focus is on getting players into the action and trying out all the available classes and their abilities. This helps us to ensure that at a basic level everything technically works, and to start finding out which parts of combat are turning out to be fun, and which parts still need improvement. We don’t need a whole lot of world space to make this happen, and actually too much would slow down the process, as more time would have to be spent during testing getting from place to place, rather than fighting. 

Instead of starting with a large space, comparable to what islands will look like in the final version of the game, we’ll initially try out multiple scenarios on small maps. This will involve various conditions, like pre-built objectives, castle sieges, and open field battles, to ensure things go well under lots of different circumstances with lots of players together in a small area. Later on, combat will move to bigger maps with more robust territory control mechanics, to start establishing high-level strategic motivations, as well as more refined combat balance, as our first set of classes get more exposure to small skirmishes in addition to large scale battles.
 
Safe islands, on the other hand, will start off large, because right from the beginning we want to make sure all of our Beta 1 testers have the opportunity to try out building in a massively multi-player environment. There will be some building creation and destruction in the combat tests too, but since there won’t be enough space to let everyone have their own plot at first, personal housing plots will mainly be located on the safe island for each Realm. Each of these islands is getting its own look and feel, with unique assets that help identify the island’s environments for each Realm. Later on, these unique assets will be used to delineate territory control regions by dynamically transitioning between Realm-specific assets as islands are captured, to reflect which Realm controls an area of the world.
 
As far as what you can expect from the level design of the playable areas, expect to see a lot of variety, but not a lot of gameplay-focused contrivance. Since it is relatively easy to take our existing terrain modifiers and apply them to a new playspace, we can construct new maps for testing as frequently as we need to, in order to try different things out. However, we don’t want to test using perfectly mirrored, balanced, highly contrived playspaces. Instead, there will be elements of naturalistic asymmetry, in an attempt to approximate the types of spaces and encounter possibilities that will eventually exist in the final game. Camelot Unchained is, after all, a game that has to be fun even when the situation isn’t completely fair, and unequal situations that favor one side or the other are going to be a common occurrence, given the open world nature of the game.
 
It is very important for us to make sure the game is enjoyable in this context. We need to constantly work to ensure that the choices players make in response to the situations they find themselves in should have the potential to overcome a large portion of the disadvantages going into any given encounter. The way we build our test maps helps to accomplish this, by emphasizing some of the ways terrain can grant advantages and disadvantages. In this manner, our testing process can help to identify ways we can give players the tools to better deal with adverse situations. Ultimately, we want to make the game more fun, no matter where in the world battles take place.

Developer Quote

  
  I like math. I like it as long as it has numbers in it.” - Rob Argue

Artitup 

-by Scott Trolan

We are currently in the planning phase of making weapons craftable. To do this, we deconstruct a weapon, such as a sword, into smaller modular parts. In the case of a sword, these parts consist of a handle, guard, blade, and an ornamental element such as a pommel. Similar to how we designed our character texture sheets, each weapon type will abide by a singular texture sheet layout, so all parts may be swapped out and assembled to create a great number of uniquely crafted results allowing geometry, materials, and decals to visually represent the crafter’s skill and the weapon’s durability. We will continue to prototype this system and prove its success before we commit to creating an arsenal of weapons in this manner. We hope to be on target with our system and provide a fantastic way to craft within Camelot Unchained.
Jon is sculpting one-handed swords and defining the texture sheet layout for all following sword sculpts to abide by. 
Michelle is concepting a range from generic to extravagant swords for each Realm.
Sandra is creating prototype swim animations, including a drowning death!
Dionne is assisting Tyler in making unique Realm environmental elements, like trees and rocks.
James K. is working on UI and other exciting “things”, as they might be called. 
Scott has been auditing character textures and geometry, as well as importing new animations to the editor. You can see him here working on the Art It Up piece for this month's newsletter (WHOA - 4th wall stuff!).
Here's Jules, our multi-media summer intern. She’ll be assisting with website maintenance, video production, and Ikea desk and shelf construction!
The Art team is working hard and using their extra time well in order to make this game great! Looking forward to updating you all soon with next month's progress!

Tech Central

 -By Cory Demerau 


Who Watches the Watchers?


It's often easy to underestimate the amount of support services that are required to properly run an MMO. You may think that all that's needed is a server machine that can connect to player clients, but the truth is that each server is connected to a network of services that are all necessary to maintain the game state. All of these services have their own quirks and possibilities for problems. It's important to have proper monitoring tools in place, so that we know when something goes wrong. Many of the support systems don't cause catastrophic failure when they go offline, but rather create odd behavior in the game. As a result, they can be difficult to notice if there isn't a service dedicated to keeping an eye on things.

But what happens when the monitoring tool fails? No software is perfect, and through a combination of monitoring settings, bugs, and new systems that don't mesh with your monitor, it's easy for problems to go unreported. 

This is exactly the type of problem I've been dealing with this month! A bug in our monitoring software caused us to be unaware of a certificate's expiration until six hours after the fact, when it was supposed to warn us a week beforehand. 

The truth is that these types of systems can be tricky to debug, because their failures are nearly always intertwined with other failures. As such, it can be somewhat difficult to be sure that an implemented fix actually fixes anything. Ultimately, what this means is that while monitoring systems are extremely valuable, they're not infallible, and it's important to have a human eye keeping an eye on them as well.

Monitoring software reduces the maintenance workload significantly, even though it can't eliminate that work entirely. Now, rather than connecting to each database to determine its status, I can simply look at a web-based dashboard to see all of their statuses at a glance. When systems do fail, the nature of how they're reported gives me a great deal of information on how to solve those problems as well. When the monitoring system fails to report a problem, it's a lesson in its own right that, while scary the first time it happens, gives us a window into other issues that need to be safeguarded against in the future. For example, when I fixed the bug with the certificate expiration, I was simultaneously able to shore up our monitoring for whether several of our web-based services are online. I still need to keep an eye on things, but it takes much less of my time than it would without the watchdog systems.

But then who keeps an eye on the person who watches the watchdog?

State Of The Build

 -by Cory Demerau

We’ve made lots of progress this month! Some of the highlights here include our improvements to C.U.B.E. and the UI. As with last month, several of our engineers are hard at work rewriting our Ability system (re-abilitation), and while those updates haven’t made their way into the main game yet, they’re still seeing significant progress.

But enough of that. Let’s dive into the patch notes!

UI
  • ModSquad has completed a major overhaul for the construction UI!
    • Cleaner appearance, now much easier to use (we think).
    • Removed duplicate blocks, and fixed the tags for miscategorized blocks.
  • Fixed some issues with memory logging that caused poor performance for the UI.
  • Some rendering options can now be toggled in the Options menu.
    • Can change Shadow Quality, Shadow Distance, and a toggle to turn them on and off.
    • Change Texture Quality within the client.
    • Turn HBAO+ On or Off. HBAO = Horizon Based Ambient Occlusion. It’s what helps to create shaded areas within a single object.
    • Change the Shader Quality of the client, this primarily affects lighting quality currently.
  • Perfhud UI has a new panel. This data is mostly intended for helping with client development and performance. It shows information on draw calls and triangle counts for various types of objects within the scene, as well as totals.
  • Fixed a bug where hitting F11 to reset the perfhud UI caused a crash.
Graphics
  • Improved the Character Atlas’s detail rectangles, allowing the artists to add more detail in each character’s arms.
  • Proper Backface Lighting is now supported.
  • Removed grass models from ambient occlusion pass by adding an HBAO+ toggle to the material settings in the editor. This allows our grass cards to better blend in with the terrain.
Performance
  • Mesh Simplification is no longer directly tied to the rendering system. This allows the system to be more useful in a general capacity beyond simply rendering, and can eventually lead to handling this simplification on a server rather than on your client.
  • Building material texture sizes use only 25% of the previous textures. This is a push we knew we would need to do eventually to support larger-scale buildings.
  • C.U.B.E. zones no longer sometimes save as blueprints.
Building
  • Per the previous comment on smaller textures, C.U.B.E. textures now tile on 2m increments instead of 4m.
  • Rubble is back! Destroying parts of buildings will now cause the parts above to fall, so watch your head (rubble doesn’t do damage though...yet)!
  • Our internal building block editor has seen significant improvements, so now we can create new blocks using the new substance rules. This lets us create new blocks faster, and leaves less room for error.
Crafting
  • The Vox now uses its proper model. No more mini-planets scattered across the world, (though you may still see the old ones, per our persistent item drop system, until we do some house cleaning).
Sound
  • Sound pipeline has been improved. It’s now easier for us to take DB’s awesome sounds and attach them to actions, models, and areas.
Other
  • Added an async RPC (Remote Procedure Call) library that will improve our inter-server communication systems.

Backer Spotlight

-Jenesee asks Apollon, German translator, a few questions!

For this month’s spotlight, we speak with Apollon, who heads up our talented German translators. Apollon has been working very hard, along with the rest of our merry band, to bring the latest news, updates, and documents to our German Community. Let's get to know him a little better. 

Q: How did you learn about Camelot Unchained?

A: It was shortly after the Kickstarter had ended when someone from my Gaming Network joined my TS Channel and just assumed I had more information about CU to share. People knew me as the guy who could talk for hours about his DAoC passion, so his assumption was understandable. Suffice it to say, I was crushed. There it was, the game I had been waiting for for almost a decade and I miss the one chance to support it. Back then there were no pledges on the website to make, so all that I could do was dive into the foundational principles, fall completely in love with the project and hope for some other means to support the team one day. When the builder tiers finally arrived, my beloved Artemis and I immediately went for the highest single copy tier available (Warrior 2.0 Forever) and started to partake in forum discussions.

Q: What are you most looking forward to playing?
 
A: I am hoping for a really challenging healer experience. DAoC had a lot of great and unique classes, but my heart always belonged to Midgard´s Pac-Healer: Sticklead, Mainheal, Main-CC, Main-Anti-CC, Main-Distance-Interrupt, Main-Rezz were only it’s primary functions in RvR. In addition clever positioning, exact communication with your group and doing your own pet clear as much as possible were the traits of a top-notch supporter. Most modern MMOs lack the opportunity to play that kind of supporting character. Some of them tried to get rid of healers all together, so people like me had a really hard time finding one that suits our favorite playstyle.

Q: Why did you decide to become a translator?
 
A: I have a long history of translating interviews with high information density for the Gaming Network that I supervise as CM and Admin, so when someone asked me to summarize the recent Beta 1 Update Video from MJ, it was no big deal. I sat down for about 4 hours, listening to the video in stop & go mode while translating each question and corresponding answer into german. Once I was finished I felt like it would be a shame to only share it with our members, so I sent it to Jenesee via the forums and told her she could do with it whatever she wanted. That’s when I was recruited for the translation team. A challenge I gladly accepted.
 
Q: What are some of the perks and challenges you encounter?

A: Working on the CU translation crew made me reconsider what thought I knew about languages. I am used to a high standard when it comes to German literature, thus I also wanted to put a lot of effort into the translations until they could be considered a ‘good read’. For three weeks I absorbed every and each chunk of knowledge about the English and German language that I could find: from inflexion, over punctuation, to the use of Anglicisms. To gain a deeper understanding of the subject I even wrote a 7-page paper on the influence of the English language on the German culture. It has been an enlightening and challenging experience to try and construct the perfect German equivalent of what CSE wants to share with the community. As to more general perks: I get to talk to our utterly charming CM Jenesee on a regular basis, what else could I ask for? ;)

Q: You speak multiple languages very well, how did you learn English?

A: It must have been during third grade of elementary school when I first developed an interest for the English language when my family and I visited the west coast of the US. After that it was kept alive through my fondness for games, films and music. Learning it in school is one thing, but continuing by consuming most of your entertainment in that language helps to push it to another level. Two of my all-time favorite games are Deus Ex and Morrowind, and those two were only available in English when they were first released in Germany. I’ll never forget the phrase from the DX Sound menu: ‘*sound of breaking glass* I spilled my drink!’ And you know what they say about Deus Ex: Every time you mention it, someone will reinstall it. Well, I’m counting on it! :D

Q: What do you envision for the future of the translation team?

A: I would like to have a decent number of team members who I can rely on and that share my passion for Camelot Unchained and languages. We have a good system going for managing translation and proofreading/reviews, but we could use some additional helping hands. The current team has done some astounding work and I can’t finish this spotlight without thanking ThePendragon, Tirudan and some of the others for their past efforts, which have brought us through even the hardest of times - but it sure is a lot of work for us few to handle. My goal is to get us into shape so we can translate and release any News Update within a few days, maybe even 24 hours after it hits the website, and any Newsletter within at least the same month. I count on the German Community to come forward after reading this and join the fun of bringing all the valuable information about this great game to the international German-speaking crowd. When you are fluent in English it is all too easy to lay back and say ‘I’ll just read the English page’ - but we shouldn’t underestimate the vast amount of people who stopped caring about their English once they finished school and who would still be a very valuable addition to our exquisite club that we have here!

Q: How can someone join?

A: If you are interested in joining us and you are already a Backer, just hit the forums and write a few words to Jenesee. She will give you a short translation task to test your general language skills and that’s it! Once your work was deemed good, you will be invited to our illustrious team! As long as you present yourself as a team player and are willing to accept advice from the others, be assured that you will be welcomed with open arms! And as a little bird from CSE told me, good work shall be rewarded with CU goodies! No one expects you to invest your time and get nothing in return! :)

Lore Corner

-by Max Porter


We hope you enjoy this piece, the fourth 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, and third parts of the tale in the Lore section of our website, here.

 

The Great Depths Raid


Part 4: A Strange Collection

The Depths rumbled in anticipation, sensing the violence about to break out in its Great Gullet. All throughout the twisting tunnels and weird chambers, its servants paused and listened, feeling a shake in the tunnels and caves; signs of the excitement. Laughter bubbled up from the deep places, carrying dread magic. It echoed through the empty hallways and rolled over the rooms crawling with life, a deep, booming laugh, a fiendish delight in the blood to be spilled. 

The thunderous laughter rushed over Hidduk in midair, as he leapt off the wall to the top of the stairs, his daggers outstretched in a lethal pose, his teeth showing in a snarl. The rest of the Delvers, standing at the bottom of the stairs, opened their mouths in astonishment at the Cait Sith’s sudden appearance and fearsome rage. 

The thing on the stairs turned, its improbable limbs shifting, the tortuous construction of interconnected tendons and skinless cords swaying as it braced for the attack. Hidduk’s twin weapons struck home, severing strands of straining flesh with audible snaps, ruining the weird, almost hexagonal shape of the main body mass. His furry form gracefully tucked and rolled as a long, thin limb swept up from below and swiped at him in response. From his stealthy position a moment ago, he had sensed the parts of the awful, twisted creature that lay within the Veil, and anticipated these movements and attacks perfectly, coming out of his roll on the bone-white stairs, panting. 

Blood spurted from the wound he had dealt to the creature, and its visible insides roiled in surprise and anger. When it spoke, the sound felt like pressure popping in the ears, a crackling, grating voice that seemed to emerge from the vibrating tendons it was made of. “A hidden fool strikes from the shadows. You shall not leave the Great Gullet!” 

Hidduk flicked the foul blood from his daggers, then glanced at his companions on the bottom stair, his bright, catlike eyes wild. “Well, come on, don’t leave me to fight alone!” 

Spurred to action, the other Delvers raised their weapons and rushed up the wide staircase of bone, which swept toward a small archway, the only opening in the pulsating red walls of this place. 

Her long blue-skinned legs pumping, the giant Fogja rushed to the front, bringing her mighty hammer down in a swing to stave off a long, spiny leg that came at her. With a grunt of effort, she smashed it against the stairs, cracking them as white sparks flashed from her eyes. Red blood spurted out of the smashed end of the limb, and the creature pulled back with unnatural speed, letting out a screech that she had to shout over. “Never fear, fuzzy little shorty. We’re coming!” 

Determined not to give the awful, impossible creature the chance to recover, Jorvald rushed past his fellow Delver and into range, his axe held high. “Stones and bones, you’re ugly! You should have stayed in the body of that poor woman!” The Dvergr bounded over the limp remains of the disguise the creature had used, now a lifeless husk discarded on the steps. 

When the beast lashed out with another long, pointed limb, Jorvald took the blow on the stone outcroppings that studded his shoulder, turning it aside. Though the stones did their job, he still felt the rest of his body creak and shudder with the impact, the Dvergr rushed on, aiming his axe blow at the main cluster of wriggling, disjointed legs where they clutched at the stairs. “Raaaargh! For the Ascended!” 

The flashing blade cleaved through popping strands and stalks, showering the Dvergr with a fine mist of blood. The creature reeled, furious, and screeched loud enough to shatter eardrums. Jorvald stumbled back, his stones aching. 

Lower down on the staircase, Xedric tried to duck out of the way as a long, pointed leg darted out of nowhere at him, coming through the Veil itself. The Human wasn’t quick enough. The deadly spine punctured him at the shoulder, eliciting a shout of surprise and pain, then ripped out, tiny hooks carrying bits of Xedric with it. The man slumped to one knee, groaning, as the creature whipped its limb through the air, whistling past the nimbler Hidduk. 

Blood spurted from Xedric’s wound as fire flickered around his fingers. The Flame Warden felt something wrong, something unclean, coursing through his veins. He watched, hypnotized for a moment, as dribbles of crimson stained the unpleasantly white stair beneath him. Xedric didn’t even feel the pain; perhaps there was some sort of numbing agent in the creature’s skin? He was too distracted to notice the other attack coming swiftly down at his head. 

Fortunately, Sacriphisto was ready. The sight of his ally’s blood pushed the healer into action, and he rushed forward, magic already curling up his arms. With an effort, he pulled Xedric from danger, lifting him and bringing him a safe distance away. 

“Sorry, my friend. I hesitated to attack a living creature, and now you have been hurt. I will help you.” The Bean Sidhe hovered by Xedric, and promised himself to be quicker in the future. After all, the Flame Warden had already saved him once. Although the source of the deadly power that had earlier flowed into the Human’s magic was yet to be identified… Shaking that thought from his mind, Sacriphisto used his power to pull away the blood and take the Human’s injuries onto himself instead, ignoring the lashing tentacle that smashed the stairs just out of reach. 

The beast wasted no time at all in following up its attacks on the Delvers. Fogja smashed aside another of its swiftly growing limbs, while Jorvald slashed his way in deeper, both fighters battered by counterattacks. Meanwhile, Hidduk circled, dodging and weaving. Though the beast appeared to have no front or back, to not even fully inhabit this reality, the stealthy Cait Sith felt sure he had noticed a crack in its armor, an area not fully defended by its flurry of attacks… 

Noticing Hidduk’s attempts to reposition, Fogja gave a shout. “Oh, ho! You want more of my hammer, beast? Take this! And that!” The powerful Jötunn laid about her with her hammer, pushing her way up the steps amid a mist of the creature’s blood.   

In response, the twisted thing thrust its main body mass down toward her, jagged bones outstretched. It snapped them together like horrible teeth, and one gored the Jötnar on her side, while another dented her helmet, tossing her back. Defiant, her muscles straining, Fogja kept her feet. “That the best you can do? My little brother hits harder than that!” She shouted boldly, but her glance back at Sacriphisto belied her words, showing how much the chiseled edges of those mismatched bones hurt. 

As the terrible creature leaned down to bite, Hidduk spotted the rip in its impossibly proportioned form: tendons and red, raw cords hung loosely where his daggers had slashed it open. However, even with most of its limbs occupied with other Delvers, the faceless monster could still defend itself, growing spare limbs as necessary and striking at all angles, even from within the Veil. As the Frost Giant shouted again, this time in pain, Hidduk ducked and dodged, desperate to get closer. 

The Cait Sith was so intent on his target, he didn’t see the spiny limb that came out of nowhere, piercing the air and aiming straight down at him. 

From the bottom of the stairs, Sacriphisto hesitated no longer. Stepping up from his human ally, the healer drew himself up to his full height, drew a deep breath, and opened his mouth. Jorvald saw what was coming and covered his ears.

The scream that erupted from the Bean Sidhe’s mouth reverberated and echoed through the hall, growing louder and louder, even drowning out the monster’s own noises. Everything was shaking, vibrating with sound, waves of it crawling over skin and humming in bones. It was a full-throated, overwhelming wail, the most powerful Dire Scream that Sacriphisto had ever produced. 

The monster reeled back, shouting but unheard. Fogja stumbled on the steps, trying to stay upright, Jorvald rolled from the beast’s thrashing spines, and Xedric turned away with his arms cradling his head. 

Hidduk, however, was ready. The Cait Sith winced, but he knew this was the right moment. Again he leapt, diving toward the weak spot.  

He carved his way right into the opening made earlier...and through it, ending up inside the creature itself. Instantly, the beast reared up, rising to its tremendous height and shaking, crying out, “The Depths shall have you yet!” 

But it was too late. Covering himself in gore, Hidduk spun, his blades shimmering as they ripped through the center of the creature’s mass. Desperately, Jorvald slammed his axe upward, severing the final cords as the beast fell. 

The Dvergr let out a cheer as the thing crunched and splattered down the steps, bouncing and breaking apart. The ragged cheer was taken up by his fellows, raising their weapons and fists as the enemy was laid low and their hearing slowly returned. His Dire Scream ended, Sacriphisto simply smiled and clapped, not ready to use his throat again so soon. 

Hidduk rolled from the destruction, ending up a couple stairs down. He tried to wipe some of the foulness from his armor and cloak, but it was little use. He sighed, hoping one of the magic wielders might be able to help him, and looked about. To the Cait Sith’s critical eye, none of them were doing all that well. Xedric was no longer leaning on the healer for support, but his face was drawn and pale, little wonder considering the power he had thrown around and the bright stain that still marred the shoulder of his robe. Fogja was hale but for the cut in her side, but her armor was heavily damaged, while Jorvald’s cheer and brave face did little to disguise the deep scratches and marks on his skin and stone protrusions. 

Then again, they were all still alive, which was a lot more than could be said for the last raid he’d come with… “Hang on a moment with your cheering,” the Cait Sith said out loud, his nostrils flaring as he panted. “Where’s Donnie?” 

Their enthusiasm faded as the Delvers glanced at one another. Xedric shook his head angrily. “Silly little fellow said he saw treasure. Went running off down some side passage, which closed up after him. No way to follow, nothing we could do, especially with you gone as well.”

Hidduk hissed out his teeth, more to calm his breathing than at Xedric. “Should have known you wouldn’t recognize my tactics, Furless. To be most effective, I need to attack unseen, alright? Don’t expect to see me all the time.” He glanced back at the enormous hall they had come through, the Great Gullet. It was eerily empty, with no sign of the twisted Abominations that had pursued them to this point. “We had better get moving, while this exit is still an option for us. Hopefully, Donnie’s tunnel will lead him to the same place. I don’t doubt the Luchorpán will come to his senses and find us.” 

Jorvald grunted, then began wiping gore from his axe. “Can’t you do your thing, before we jump on through that door?”

“My thing?” The Cait Sith eyed the Dvergr quizzically, wide yellow eyes a stark contrast to his red-soaked face. 

“You know, checking for danger on ahead. Your careful, cautious, Arthurian thing.” Jorvald grinned. 

“I can’t just scan the Veil constantly. I need a moment to rest right now, just as you do. However, I don’t think we can afford to stay in the Great Gullet any longer, so let us hurry blindly onward… in the manner of your people.” Hidduk hid a grin as he slipped up the grand stairs. The massive, pulsating walls framed the archway at the top in a mess of hanging tendons and bone struts.

The Cait Sith’s smile faded as he read the ominous words above the archway, which had been hidden by a fold in the flesh-like walls, making them invisible until one stood upon the platform at the top of the stairs. The jagged writing looked as though it had been emblazoned with a branding iron, and read: The Collection Room. 

As the other Delvers came up behind him, cleaning themselves or quickly bandaging their injuries, a small hush fell over the group. Beyond the archway there was only darkness; not even the keenest eyes among them could penetrate it. Xedric tossed forward some sparks to brighten the opening, but it seemed as though it would take more effort to lighten the place, and he wasn’t prepared to expend that much power again, just yet.

Fogja gave up trying to push out the dent in her helmet and placed it back on her head. “Well? Shall I take the lead once more?” 

Jorvald grunted, pinging the side of his axe blade against one of the stones that emerged from his knee. “Hum. You might as well, big lady. I’ll take the position of ‘true danger,’ as you call it, and follow at the back.” 

Fogja stifled a laugh, but stepped forward to the edge of the thick darkness that filled the other side of the archway. Without glancing back, she added, “Follow me closely. Don’t want what happened with the little one happening again.” And with that, she stepped forward and was swallowed by the dark. 

The first thing she noticed was the sound. Like a crash of thunder in her ears, the Frost Giant felt rather than heard the tremendous noise of a waterfall. Though all seemed black at first, compared with the ever-present light that filled the Great Gullet, she began to see white froth and glittering dots as she stepped forward. Small droplets of water spattered the front of her armor. 

She seemed to stand upon a great stone walkway, which sloped upward toward towering...somethings. Fogja reached back to steady her companions as they stumbled through the darkness to join her on the narrow stone. She looked up, and her mouth opened in wonder. 

A canopy of stars, with every dot of light in a neatly spaced row. It was eerie, a canopy of stars in oppressively perfect organization, stretching up and up in tier after tier of lights. 

Jorvald pushed his way forward from the back. His eyes glinted silver, able to see in this near blackness. The thunder of the falls was deafening, and he had to shout in order to be heard  through the mist and mad spray. “Stay close, friends! It’s a sheer drop to the river!” 

Xedric cleared his throat. It was cold: he sensed rather than saw his breath going up in a mist. “How about a little more light?” It was difficult to make a fire in here, but he called upon the heat in his chest, exhaling a stream of flickering orange that hung in the air, slowly fading. 

The waterfall shimmered, droplets catching the light as they hung in the air for a moment before plunging down into the reflective pool below. The light played over the surface of the water, which seemed like a substance not quite of this world. 

Xedric’s light revealed a strange place: a vast cavern filled with uncountable tiers of great shelves of stone. Down the center of the cavern, between the endlessly towering walls, an enormous underground river swept swiftly along, crashing into a giant sieve before tumbling into a dark abyss. The great sieve filtered the water, which shot through roughly, throwing up a white plume of wave as it tried to carry all along with its powerful rush. In the ever-rippling surface of the river, the stars were reflected like rows of eternal eyes, always shifting as they watched the water. 

Staying together, the group of Delvers moved up the ramp, following the main pathway, which was lined with some sort of odd metal track. It led up to the shelves, where the rows of stars glittered in eternal perfection. The members of the subdued group stayed quiet as they went, but for the streamers of flame that Xedric used to light their way. All they could hear was the thunder of the deep places, where sound echoed and re-echoed until it was nothing but a thrumming mess of noise, with no beginning and no end, a wordless growling hum. 

As they came close to the lowest shelf, Fogja let out a gasp of surprise. Of the Delvers, only her breath didn’t mist in the frigid air; she seemed not even to notice it. “Look! They aren’t stars at all! They’re...what are they?” 

Trying to control a shiver, Hidduk pressed forward and peered at the shimmer. He saw glass, a glint of light, and something floating. “They’re jars. Enormous jars. Full of… strange things.” He looked down the row; each large jar seemed to contain a random object. Pins, eyes, limbs, a broken plank, a gleaming crown...and far enough down, was that a face, like the creatures had worn earlier? Did the things eaten in the Great Gullet end up here in the Collection Room? And who brought them here? 

Sacriphisto spotted a dark opening on the wall ahead, but even as the Bean Sidhe pointed at it, the crack shriveled and shrank away. “Look! That opening was like the one Donnie went through! Perhaps the treasure he thought he saw was in here, after all?” 

Jorvald sighed. “Let’s hope so. Little man shouldn’t be wandering this place by his lonesome, even if he is quick.” 

As the Delvers pressed on, trying not to look too closely at the neat rows of glowing jars, Hidduk’s ear twitched. Above the roar of the water below, he thought he heard another sound, something with a mysterious source far above. It was an odd noise…was it a hum or a series of clicks, too fast for the ear to distinguish? Hidduk stood up straight, ears high, listening intently. The sound was coming back closer, but also moving laterally, side to side… Almost like something moving along the shelves up there. Sorting and choosing, curating the massive collection.

“Hold, friends,” he whispered, furry hand held high. The other Delvers stopped, looking at the Cait Sith. “There’s something up there.” 



Hidduk was right. There, in the dark, the Collector waited, but not idly. No, the Collector was never still; constantly rearranging, cataloguing, organizing the endless containers and obsessing over them. Perhaps he had once been a Delver, seeker of curios, now become a slave to the Depths, a guardian forever trapped in his treasure house. Perhaps he was simply an expression of this place, a vestige of a soul that kept track of things lost within its living bowels. Whatever the truth, as the Collector rolled along his track, the gears that had replaced his abdomen spinning madly, he mused upon his latest acquisitions. With one long, spindly arm, he sorted, labeled, and catalogued the small dagger, discarded clothing, and little shoes he had collected from the small creature that had come here, trying to make off with some of the gold and silver. Quite a jumper, that one… 

Thus ends the fourth part of the tale. 

Bonus Images!

As usual, we just couldn’t let you go without showing you an amazing C.U.B.E. creation. Check out Dyrthwind Keep, created by Backer Kryndar for the Tuatha Dé Danann!
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