Saturday, August 30, 2014

Spooky Scary Skeletons

Meanwhile, in Beebane...


Actuarial Concerns

by Tyler Baray

It had been nearly a month since the start of the rainy season. Thunder echoed through the rock face as the front door quaked on it's hinges. The crypt was locked up for the coming months, with only the cryptkeeper Margath Yaradrum left to keep watch over it's dank halls. The catacombs were lit by the enchanted lights left behind by the workers, which radiated a shining blue glow over the rough hewn stonework. On every wall were scenes from the legends of Armok, stories of the Empire's battles and their struggle to survive in the jungle.

Margath's boots echoed down the hall as he made his way to the Crypt of the Bronzesmith. He held a torch out to see into the dark tunnel and was greeted by the stone-like faces of the interred dead. Their leathery skin was stretched taut over their skulls. Their exposed teeth shone in the torchlight. The crypt was silent except for the crackle of the fire.

The crypt keeper went around to each corpse to check for signs of tampering. They were all accounted for. So far so good, he thought. At this rate, the rainy season just might go easy on him. As he stood there, scribbling notes on his clip board he became aware of a pair of blue lights in the hallway. He squinted to focus his eyes. What looked like a thin white shape was watching him, making a creaking, rattling sound as it stood there. Margath took the iron morning star from his belt and called out to it.

Suddenly, it's mouth opened wide, but no sound came out. The figure rushed into the light. Margath could see the darkness of the tunnel through it's ribcage. It's smooth skull shone in the ghostly lights in it's eyes. It jumped on him and the two toppled over. Margath's mace clattered to the floor as the skeleton shook him by the collar. He strained to reach the weapon when the skeleton raised it's arm high into the air. It tore into his forehead with it's bony fingers, tearing clear across his face. The crypt keeper struggled against the huge human skeleton, trying to get it off him. All the while it dug into his face with it's claw-like fingers. He shifted his weight to one side and snatched the mace. With a heave, he lifted it clear over his head and bashed the skeleton right in the side of it's skull. It shattered like pottery and the whole frame went limp on top of him. He pushed it off with a heave. Laying on the cold stone floor, he watched as the blood trickled down his face.

On second thought, maybe not, he thought. Idly, he kicked it's skull which bounced out of the room.

The first skeleton of the season...

...

"Three years, can ye even believe it?"

Hilni peered over the wall and took a deep breath of the tropical air. The jungle stretched out in every direction like a massive green quilt laid over the land. Standing behind him, silent and grey was the domant volcano, the soaring peak of the Southland mountains. A single wisp of smoke billowed out of the volcano's lip and floated high into the sky to meet the gathering clouds above. Aban trundled over from the other side of the terrace carrying the last bundle of supplies with him. Altogether, he had three quivers of crossbow bolts, bandages, salve, caltrops and package of warthog jerky. With a heave he dropped it on the front step.

"I guess we'll only know if this was enough after tha rainy season." He said.

"Oh, I don' think we hafta worry aboot that." Hilni said. "He's got half the stockpile locked away down 'ere. If anyone's gonna go hungry it'll be us in tha fortress."

"What I mean is, is one person enough? The catacombs are crazy this time a' year. If anythin' we shoulda jus' lock tha military down there an' hope fer the best."

"Oh yeah, yer prob'ly right."

Hilni took another look across the jungle, stroking his beard.

"Suppose this is wrong of us...lockin' an old man up in tha crypt for tha whole rainy season, knowin' what's down there."

Suddenly the crypt door swung open. A dwarf with a long white beard appeared in the doorway, holding a muddy shovel in one hand and a blanched skeletal arm in the other. His boots were muddy and flecked with blood. his entire body seemed covered in knives and hatchets. On the inside of the door was a small wooden plaque. On it were the words Margath Yaradrum - Crypt Keeper.

"If anythin' it's you lot I'm worried aboot." Margath said. "Knowin' you, a dozen people will be dead between now an' the end of the season and ye'll have no place ta put 'em all."

"This is still more of a military thing."

The cryptkeeper scoffed. "The army cannae be trusted with a job like this, not when they'll trip down the stairs an' hit their heads or get their fingers caught in their crossbow strings."

He picked up the bundle of supplies and went back inside. Dark clouds were starting to form over the jungle. Droplets of rain had already started to fall on the abandoned terrace. As the two farmers stood there poking around the freshly harvested crops a small figure could be seen limping from the fortress with a pair of Llynir followed close behind. Margath came back upstairs just in time to see the Emperor stopping buy for a visit.

Emperor Urist Thunderbeard smiled and waved from across the farm plots. Truth be told, he was actually an intimidating looking little man. The hand he waved with was missing it's pinkie finger. He wore an eyepatch that did little to hide the huge scar running down his face. He was covered in black leather armor, carrying a massive sword on his back with a hilt that was quite clearly made of Dwarven bone. To his side was the Archminister of Information, Tajjini Besaa-Mora and the head of guard in Beebane, Amsiir Saala-Abdasaa. The Llynir stared at them with their cold, unblinking eyes. Long scimitars hung from their belts on jeweled scabbards.

Aban and Hilni tried to look casual as the officials crossed the terrace.

"Well lad, looks like yer all stocked up fer the rainy season." Urist said.

"Yes your Eminence, I think things will go well down 'ere."

"Call me Urist." He said with a wave of his hand. He peeked inside and nodded.

"Do ye have enough weapons? I got this new crossbow but I don' suspect I'll be usin' it any time soon." He said as he held out a dignified looking, shiny crossbow. The Bee-and-Anvil emblem was burnt into the stock of course.

"No thank ye sir. I have plenty downstairs."

The Emperor only nodded and laughed.

For a while they sat and talked about their plans for the rainy season. It was a dangerous time of year, when all work outside came to a sudden grinding halt. Dense clouds would blanket the skies and rain would pour like an overflowing river. The jungle became a swamp as coastal flooding sent sea water crashing inland. It would take half a year or more for it to drain completely. All the while exotic tropical fish would swim right up to the entrance of Beebane, perfect for the fishing season to come.

But in the meantime the jungle would be buffeted by hurricane winds, strong enough to lift a small creature like a dwarf clear off the ground and send them flying, never to be seen again. During the rainy season, the entire fortress shut down. The farms on the terraces were picked clean. All the doors were barred shut. For the next three or four months it's swelling population of Dwarves, Llynir, Gnolls, Humans would do everything they could to wait out the storm, keeping busy however they could. The Emperor was optimistic though. He had devised an ingenious new method of underground farming he was eager to implement. He did his best to explain the concept to Margath who could only nod and try to look like he understood.

Eventually Urist wished him good luck and went back to the fortress with his crossbow in hand. Tajjini and the farmers followed close behind. Amsiir lingered behind long enough to give the crypt keeper one last ration of supplies; a small pot full of pork dumplings, a family recipe "from old country".

The rain was already starting to come down as Margath barred the door shut. For the next three months he would be completely alone, with nothing but the freshly dead to keep him company. He elected to stay behind because, in his own words, he was the one most qualified to keep things under control. He had been a grave digger for longer than most of the Imperials had been alive. If there was one thing he understood, it was the dead.

He wished he could say Beebane's crypts were a special case. But the truth was he had seen it all before. Beebane, he determined, had been suffering from a necromancer problem. A spirit, a wizard, whatever it was had taken residence at the deepest layer of the crypt and had been practicing it's foul art on the bodies inside. The military managed to fight back against the dark forces at work within, but just barely. There was a lingering evil inside that no one in the Empire knew how to cleanse and to the horror of all, bodies were still coming to life seemingly at random.

Margath Yaradrum took it upon himself to keep their numbers down while the rest of the custodian crew was away. He loaded up on every variety of weapon the blacksmiths could forge and had a private storehouse stuffed with food and bandages. He did this in the hope that when the rain stopped, the people of the Empire could come back and pay respect to their dead relatives again in peace. Maybe some of them would be missing heads or have been sawed in half. But they wouldn't be moving and to Margath, that was a success in itself.

However, the first month was relatively quiet. In the morning he would take a brisk jog around the crypt before going back to his paperwork. There was a library's worth of books locked inside with him which kept him occupied. When there was nothing else to do he would make watercolor landscapes on old parchments, mostly of the inside of the crypt. As he counted each day going by he realized he would be missing the Emperor's wedding, not that he was particularly upset about this. A couple weeks later would be the third annual Imperial Day, celebrating the anniversary of the Empire's founding. That was something he was happy he was going to miss. He was in Beebane for last year's celebration which basically amounted to an out of control riot lasting a little over a week, little more than an excuse for the entire population to get drunk and start fist fights in the hallways. He could only imagine this year was going to be even more out of control, especially since there were over a hundred new people living in the fortress by that point.

No, he was happy to have his own private space for a few months, a safe place far away from all those in Beebane who were quickly succumbing to cabin fever.

It was only a week after Imperial Day that Margath met his first reanimated skeleton. It caught him by surprise in one of the tunnels and clawed him in the face, but he managed to overpower it. After that, it was quiet again. With little else to do and no sign of more skeletons awakening, he want back to work cataloging all the corpses. Aban asked him to make the list. Truth be told, there was no shortage of them; he had enough here to keep him busy for a whole month. Just as well, as he wanted a complete record for an actuarial table he was making.

Slowly but surely he made his way down the list of new residents:

# 124
Name: Tholdig Thornhammer
Race: Dwarf
Age: 51
Cause of Death: Ate a basilisk berry

# 125
Name: Lor'k
Race: Gnoll
Age: 22
Cause of Death: Killed by the Emperor

-She summoned an elemental made of all our food, it was her own fault. -U

# 126
Name: Bjorn Blackmarsh
Race: Human
Age: 32
Cause of Death: Beaten to death by monkeys

# 127
Name: Solon Silverspur
Race: Dwarf
Age: 35
Cause of Death: Suicide

Now this was an interesting case. Margath had only heard stories about her death, since it happened before he arrived in Beebane. But it had become something of a local legend and no one knew exactly how much of it was actually true. In life, she had been the Archminister of Agriculture and one of the original twelve who founded the fortress. Somewhere down the line she got in a fight with a Bugbear and lost her leg. Some say it was actually amputated to spread an infection, possibly by Nanaak Saala-Notila, who himself had died recently. Whatever the case, she was best remembered for her pegleg, which was carved by Urist himself. After the incident with the Bugbear, things generally went downhill for her.

She eventually lost her job at the Archministry. Aban took her place. From then on, if she hadn't herself locked in her room she could be found in her little corner in the tavern, drinking the night away. Eventually a rumor started to circulate that, in her worsening depression, she was having a turgid affair with a Gnoll living in Beebane. By then, her public reputation was completely ruined. A couple months later her neighbors started to complain of a foul smell coming from her room. Sure enough, she had killed herself. The funeral was small, attended only by her former colleagues. It was a closed-casket ceremony of course. She had reached a fairly advanced state of decay by that point.

Margath shuffled through her file and shook his head. She had the distinction of being the only suicide case in the Empire's admittedly short history. Almost every other death that year had occurred because of a mining accident, or eating poisonous vegetation or being beaten to death by the wildlife. But more than anything else, most deaths were related to the military. Margath snorted. If there was one thing the military was good at, it was getting themselves killed. Back when the undead problem was at it's worst they had formed a cordon around the crypt, trying to stem the tide of zombies and skeletons from making their way above ground. For weeks and weeks they stayed there. The battle line never moved once in all that time. And when they finally decided to venture down into the crypt nearly all of them died. Out of the twenty six that ventured down, only six were able to claw their way back up to the surface, leaving Beebane virtually defenseless until the next wave of immigrants arrived. And that wasn't counting the little expeditions they took before then, when a whole squad was torn to pieces by the skeletons waiting below.

He started to sort away the files. To be fair, the military had a few successes in the past. Maybe not with the undead problem specifically, but with other concerns outside the crypt. When the road was being built between Beebane and Bistleholm a worker was kidnapped by bandits who demanded a ransom for her return. The Emperor instead decided to send in the military, who managed to raze the entire camp, kill all but two of the bandits who they brought back as prisoners and somehow get the hostage back to safety. To this day no one's quite sure how they managed it, but the Empire hadn't had a problem with bandits since. Besides that, they were generally good at keeping the local goblin's numbers down.

In spite of everything, they had managed to put an end to the immediate threat in the catacombs, he had to give them that. Though he wouldn't admit it, the stories of what they actually fought at the bottom layer were enough to make even him uneasy. Margath found it harder and harder to ignore these thoughts as the days went by. Slowly but surely, the dead closest to the bottom started to become restless; moving when he wasn't looking, howling from the other side of the crypt. There were times when he would enter a room and find every body stored inside staring right at him. Silent and motionless; dead by all accounts but watching him.

As the weeks dragged on he found it harder to focus on the clerical side of his work. Bodies seemed to be moving from one crypt to another. Scratch marks started appearing on all the doors. Something had changed in the air, like a fog that pressed down on his chest. Each day it seemed to get darker and colder in the tunnels. All the while the sound of rain and thunder from outside never ceased. A black haze clung to the floor, rising up like smoke from the depths of the catacombs. Cold blue lights appeared in the eyes of all the corpses, glowing like candle lights in the darkness.

Margath quietly walked down the stairs to the third layer. A chill wind was blowing from below. He could see his breath in front of his face. He heard a loud scratching coming from down there earlier. With a torch in one hand and a long flail in the other he went down to investigate. There wasn't a hint of fear to be found on his face. Fighting the undead was nothing new to Margath. When he was younger he had been a squire in an order of Paladins dedicated to hunting such creatures. He had stared into the decaying face of death more times than he could remember. Whatever was waiting downstairs wasn't anything that would come as a surprise to him.

He put his ear to the door and listened; complete silence. The scratching had stopped back when he was climbing down the steps. Now, he waited with one hand clutching the handle, the other tightening over the flail. With a sudden rush of cold air he flung the door open and swung the flail over his head. Staring him right in the face were a pair of empty eye sockets, an eerie blue glow piercing him as he swung. The flail's spiked head came crashing down on the skull, shattering it. It continued to bore through the brittle skeleton, smashing the rip cage and sending it clattering to the floor in a heap of bone dust. In the light from the glowing stones and the flickering torch in the hallway, dozens of other skeletons could be seen. All of them were standing on shaking, creaking legs, watching the crypt keeper as he stood in the doorway. All at once, they started to scream and charged at him.

He stood back and let them crowd each other in the narrow doorway. Then, as they struggled to get through he started bashing them to pieces. Bone splinters were flung all over the room as he bashed them to pieces. With a heave, he swung the flail over his head and sent it crashing down right into the forehead of a skeleton reaching for his throat. It struck, splitting it neatly in half. The entire skeleton crumpled inward and collapsed. Suddenly there was an opening as undead started pouring out, falling over each other as they clawed at him.

A howling sound echoed throughout the crypt as all the light seemed to leave the tunnels. The air suddenly felt ice cold, piercing into Margath's bones as he climbed up the stairs. A skeleton crawled after him and latched onto his ankle. He kicked it, sending it careening down the stairs. It shattered as it fell to the bottom. Margath swung the flail in wide arcs like he was threshing grain, tossing skeletons around and sending them tumbling back down to the bottom. He found a steady rhythm as he climbed up the stairs backwards, always keeping the skeletons out of arms reach. Slowly he was whittling down their numbers until only two or three half-broken skeletons were trying to claw at him.

He made it to the top of the steps as the last of them was pulling itself up. With one last swing, he bashed it in the jaw, shattering it's skull. It fell over backwards and collapsed, bones bounced down the steps to the bottom, falling into the growing pile below. Margath laughed to himself as surveyed his work. He was busy dusting himself off when he was suddenly pushed forward. He fell and twisted his ankle. Before he even realized it, Margath started to roll down the stairs, falling on top of the pile of jagged, broken bones.

Standing at the top of the steps was a greenish-grey corpse, it's eyes glowing an eerie blue. The skin around it's mouth and nose had decayed so much as to render it unrecognizable. It's hands had been twisted into claws, like a vulture's. It's nails had long since fallen off. The creature gurgled as if trying to speak, barely able to move it's jaw under it's parched, leathery skin.

The zombie stumbled forward, it's leather boot shuffling on the stone floor. It's pegleg struck the ground with an audible plink. Slowly, clumsily it reached out for him. Margath could only lay at the bottom, bruised and battered as he watched Solon's corpse come after him. She reached with outstretched arms, bony fingers gripping at the air. She made it to the top step...and slipped.

Solon fell down the stairs, bouncing the whole way. With a pained howl she fell into the heap of broken skeletons beside Margath. He pulled himself out as she struggled to free herself. He watched in bewilderment as she thrashed around, unable to stand up on her wooden leg. Rolling his eyes, the crypt keeper went back upstairs.

From all over the tombs came the sound of awakening undead, followed by a loud shuffling as they forced their way out of their caskets. Margath reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a glass jar filled with lamp oil. Beebane hadn't used lamps for over two years, so when he asked for a small supply of it from the Emperor, he had no trouble getting it. Seeing the roving band of last month's dead soldiers, he was glad he did. Margath flung the jar into the hallway. It shattered, covering the walking corpses in oil. Unable to think of anything witty to say, he tossed the torch in after them. Each zombie burst into flame at once and started screaming as they flailed around the cramped hallway. The fire burned so brightly it cut straight through the eerie haze and bathed the entire tunnel in flickering orange light. The zombies fell over and quietly burned in a heap of charred flesh.

The crypt keeper forced his way back up to the top, smashing his way through the awakening horde of the dead. By the time he made it back to his office there was a trail of blood and mismatched limbs strewn throughout the crypt. His face had been cut to ribbons by the skeletons trying to scratch his eyes out. Bite marks ran down the length of his arms and legs. He looked back on the carnage and groaned. All this meant was that he would have to clean it up later.

The next week and a half consisted of exactly that. All the while more corpses started to reanimate, or in some cases re-reanimate. As time went by he found himself smashing the same battered Dwarves three or four times each. And somehow, they just seemed to be getting stronger. Burning them seemed to kill them permanently, but as soon as he realized this he had run out of lamp oil. Removing heads and limbs made them less dangerous, but it also meant having to track down an increasing number of undead arms and legs inching around the tunnels like abominable worms.

Eventually however, he was able to get them back down to a manageable number. All the walls were covered in blood, some of it his. And there were piles of corpses stacked on top of each other as makeshift barricades, but after nearly two weeks of nonstop fighting, he was able to finally sit down and rest. And yet, the oppressive darkness and cold never went away. The thunder outside only ever seemed to get louder and louder, rattling through the mountain face.

Margath sat at his rocking chair, blowing into a bowl of soup when there was suddenly a knock on the front door. His brow twisted in disbelief as a loud cracking emanated from the door. As it swung open he thought the wind had ripped it from it's hinges. There was a deafening howl as the wind and rain rushed in. Papers and empty bags flew around the room as if the entire hurricane threatened to force itself inside. Margath's bowl of soup was thrown across the room as a single small figure tried to force it's way inside. More followed close behind.

Together they were able to push the door closed. The gale suddenly ceased and the sound of thunder returned to the distance outside.

"Who in blue blazes are ye people?"

"Who do ye think?" The one at front said as he pointed to the badge on his uniform: the Bee-And-Anvil, with a single chevron on his shoulder.

"Tourists?" Was all Margath could think to say.

One of the soldiers at the back gasped. "We lost Orik!" She said. The leader looked back at the rain-drenched group. "No, not just him," He said. "Valin is missin' as well." The whole squad suddenly went silent as they realized what had happened. Margath was left standing in front of them, wounds from battle with the undead visible all over his person, his soup strewn all over the floor.

"Wait a minute, what are ye people actually doin' here? No one was supposed ta even be outside until the rain let up."

"This is an emergency!" "The fate of the Empire depends on it!"

The cryp tkeeper looked at them with a blank expression.

"The Emperor is turnin' into an elf."

Margath opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out.

"Someone cast a spell on him an' if we don't find out how ta reverse it he'll hafta abdicate tha throne!" The leader said.

"Then Sankis will be Empress!" The one in the back said, starting to panic.

"Do you realize what's been going on down here!?" Margath said. "I have been knee deep in the dead all rainy season, no let up, no time to even have a bowl of soup! It's been hell down 'ere. So I expe-"

"Listen, we feel terrible, but have you seen any elves crawlin' around 'ere?" The leader said. "Or 'ave ye seen any evidence of evil rituals? Involvin' elves?"

"I have been fightin' skeletons nonstop fer weeks. I can only sleep while safetly perched ontop of a pile of bones so they can't reach me. I have seen walkin' corpses hewn in half so many times I feel more at home talkin' ta people's insides than their faces." Margath said.

"...So have ye seen any elves?"

Margath stormed off to his office without a word. As far as he was concerned, it was their problem now. He laid on his bed with his arms folded, muttering to himself, stupid brainless thugs wanderin' in 'ere, I hope they all get blown off tha mountain...It was just as well that they came, he thought. With them stumbling around he had enough of a distraction for the skeletons to get a few good hours of sleep. Suddenly he became very aware of how much his limbs ached. His head was swimming from exhaustion. Before he knew it, he had fallen asleep under his desk.

...

Margath awoke to the sound of screaming from deep in the crypt. Grabbing a crossbow and mace he bolted downstairs. He was in a fog. What did he do last night? Was there something important he was forgetting? There were bodies here he didn't recognize. These uniforms looked familiar. Suddenly it hit him: those idiots in the army again. What were they doing down here? Why were they in the crypt while it was still raining outside? His minds filled with questions. All the while the tombs seemed darker and colder than ever before. A thick haze filled his vision, something just seemed wrong about this place.

The screams faded away just as he made his way to the last layer. Below that was where the miners had given up digging. The door was swinging on it's hinges. A black vapor leaked out from the opening. Every hair on the crypt keeper's body stood up at once. He felt like he had ice water dumped on top of him. An overwhelming sense of evil washed over him as he saw the black haze creeping out of the basement door, almost like it was pulling on him.

A bead of cold sweat raced down his forehead. Slowly, silently, he crept toward the door. The vapor coiled around the door like snakes climbing up a tree. He felt colder and weaker with each step. As he approached the door and reached out his hand he felt like an icicle was piercing his palm. Suddenly he tripped on a crossbow bolt and the whole room seemed to freeze. The black smoke seemed to stop moving, as if watching him. He froze. For several long, agonizing seconds he simply stood and watched the unnatural emanation curling around the tunnel. Again, he advanced forward. Then, with a suddenly jolt of movement, he slammed the door shut. The smoke dissipated with a hiss and the whole room seemed suddenly brighter.

There was a faint sound from downstairs. What it was, he didn't know. But for once, he didn't care to find out. Margath let out a relieved sigh and got to work counting the bodies. From what he could remember, there should have been about five still down there in the basement, the cavern beneath the crypt. What things crawled down there, he couldn't guess. But as he made his way back up to his office the tombs seemed brighter and somehow warmer. If he had to guess, whatever was down there, was staying down there now.

...

The sun was shining. The last of the clouds  were breaking up on the horizon. From the terrace Margath could see Imperial citizens stretching their legs at the tunnel entrance, some were already hauling their fishing boats to the docks. The swamp stretched out like a massive emerald pool poured over the land, the tall boughs of the trees just barely peeking out of the water.

The Emperor was sitting on the wall, looking out at the metamorphosed landscape.

"Thanks fer gettin' yer report to my desk so soon." He said. "That was an interestin' read."

Margath could only manage an approving grunt as he slumped down in his chair.

"So everythin's alright down there now?"

The crypt keeper frowned. "Well sir, I have ta say no. I think the worst of whatever was 'appenin' down 'ere is over. But the reanimation will prob'ly never stop altagether."

The Emperor nodded, seeming to understand what he meant. "No, during the rainy season we figured out what was happenin', more or less." He said. "An' we were able to put a stop to it, or rather, it put a stop to itself. But something tells me that what was down there made it's mark. This is an evil that will linger with us fer a long, long time."

"You mean...you knew what was happenin'?" Margath said.

"Sort of. It's complicated." Urist said. "It involved elves. It's a long story."

They both sighed as they stared into the dark crypt. With a shrug Urist took his leave and made his way across the terrace. In the distance the crypt keeper could see Sankis Stonehammer looking across the wall. He reminded himself it was actually Thunderbeard now. A part of him didn't think it would last.

Margath closed the door and headed back to the office, rubbing his tired eyes the whole way. The path was littered with piles of splintered bones. There were deep gouge marks in the stonework. The air was thick with the smell of burnt flesh as he made his way down the steps. When he finally made it to the office the door was swinging on it's hinges. Long claw marks ran down it's length. From inside came the sound of moaning and a chain rattling. Cautiously, he pushed the door open.

An empty beer bottle flew past his head and smashed in the hallway. Inside, Solon struggled against the chain keeping her from tearing his lungs out. She had flipped his desk over, tossing papers and supplies all over the small room. He calmly walked around the mess and turned the desk over. All the while Solon snarled at him.

"Lass you know you can only stay up 'ere if ye behave yerself." He said sternly.

Solon roared as she slashed at the air with her bony claws. Margath said nothing and simply watched her with his arms crossed. Reluctantly, she sat back down and grumbled incoherently. The cryptkeeper nodded in approval and placed a large stack of papers on the desk.

"I hope ye remember how ta do paperwork lass, because we need ta start preparin' fer next year."

Sunday, August 24, 2014

DEFCON 1

Just a short update for now while I work on a larger post.

When I commit myself to researching an interesting topic or working on something important I have a tendency to go a little overboard. I let the subject at hand completely consume me and I end up spend much of my time contemplating it. If I allow this to go on long enough these sorts of thoughts start to take up valuable real estate in my brain until, finally, it all spills over. After that, I start having really strange dreams related to my current obsession.

I can't count all the times I've been busy angrily yelling at someone in a dream only to be interrupted by a Dalek wheeling into the room and start shouting nonsense that sounded important at the time but after I woke up I realized was just nonsense. When I spend a lot of time working on maps I often wake up the next morning remembering little else but seeing Hammer's 2-D grid plastered over everything. Well lately, I've been researching nukes.

I admit it: I have been completely enamored with nuclear weapons lately. They're horrible but are so awe-inspiring in how horrible they are. Everything about them is fascinating. Think about all the engineering that went into making them, all the scientists and all the discoveries that had to be made to make them possible. And what was the result? A weapon so powerful we've decided that they were too terrible to use. How many other times in history has that happened?

The attitude surrounding nuclear weapons is fascinating too: People are absolutely terrified by them. Nukes have become a symbol of everything wrong with the modern world, reviled and feared the world over. And it's not just us who think this way. Even alien invaders can agree: nukes are bad. Think about it, how many movies have you seen where the holier-than-thou aliens are putting humanity on trial and their argument for destroying us is always stock footage of the Castle Bravo detonation.





Well, because I've been reading so much about the ultimate symbol of Man's hubris they've started making some interesting appearances in my recent dreams.

The earliest one I can remember happened about two months ago. I was abducted by a nameless person and forced into a black sedan. We drive down a winding country road in complete silence. My abductor looks ahead with stern determination, their face an unmoving frown the whole way. I never bother to ask why this is happening.

Eventually my kidnapper either explains or I naturally determine that we're going for a camping trip near a lake. I start to look forward to this until I realize there isn't actually a lake. Instead, we drive up to an empty model home in the middle of the woods. The car speeds away as I'm left standing on the front porch with a pamphlet of the house's layout and price range. Another vague, unidentifiable person appears and starts exploring the house. I seem to think they're an old friend of mine.

Frustrated by the turn of events I go around to the back of the house and find a large ditch. It looks like a pipe was meant to go here, like a septic line. Nearby is a huge pile of glowing gravel. But it's not just any ordinary gravel, oh no. It's enriched uranium. So I get a shovel and start dumping the radioactive material into the ditch. As I pour more uranium into the hole it starts to glow brighter and I can feel a dry heat radiating from the growing pile. As I shovel more and more into the pit it starts to go critical. Eventually the gravel becomes glowing orange embers as the entire mass undergoes fission.

After that, dreams about homemade reactors or radiation were sadly few and far between. The best that could be hoped for were the ghostly images of a mushroom cloud rising on the horizon.

Then, three days ago I have another nuclear dream. I'm standing on a cliff looking at a huge metropolitan city. It's early morning and the sun is just starting to peek over the huge skyscrapers. Suddenly, an enormous black shape appears, striding over the buildings and smashing them to rubble. It's walks on three graceful, mechanical legs like a tripodal giraffe. It's body is like a giant sea mine with Hertz horn-like protrusions studding it's entire surface. A single glowing red eye sits in the middle of it's spherical body, coldly regarding the destruction it had caused.

This machine had been sent here by an alien civilization to judge the human race. If it decided we were worthy of life, maybe it would be content to destroy this one city and return to the stars. But if we displeased it, it would have no choice but to self destruct. The machine came equipped with a massive thermonuclear device implanted deep in it's core. A lithium bomb that would explode with force exceeding even the Tsar Bomba. If the machine decided our time had come, it could initiate Doomsday and crack the planet in half.

People from all over the world came to plead with it, hoping to convince it that the human race wasn't beyond redemption. School teachers, politicians, scientists, expecting mothers; all of them came with clasped hands held high, trying to reason with the tripod monster.

And then the dream went...a little stupid. Suddenly Godzilla rose out of the ocean with Mario riding on top of his head. A cascade of red mushrooms fell from the sky as they charged to attack the machine. The last thing I remember was an intense, burning and a bright light.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Abandon Ship

Believe it or not, I have mapping related news again. Holy smokes!

D.E.L.B. asked me to help him with his game mode project inspired by The Birds again. This time, he wanted me to place props in a finished, but otherwise barren map.


The idea is pretty unique too: a small military ship, like a Coast Guard cutter stranded at sea and surrounded on all sides by dirty, filthy birds that the player must defend themselves against. His only real stipulation was that the props I use be period-appropriate for the 1960's. So the decision was made to fill it's interior with as many metal pipes as it could accommodate. This actually ended up being a little more difficult than I thought it would be. Since the hallways inside the ship were shorter than Half-Life 2's standard hallways there were plenty of places where pipes stuck through the floor and risked appearing a level above or below.

I ended up arranging pipes like a carefully constructed origami sculpture, placing them according to wall thickness so nothing poked through the hull at inconvenient angles.


Of course, the map would never truly be done unless disaster struck at some point.

Disaster finally came when I noticed a small yellow button on the top deck. Remember, I didn't construct this map, I was only decorating it. So it's inner workings were a mystery to me. Well, I pressed the button...and nothing happened. I chalked it up to being an unfinished feature and went back to wandering around the boat. But as time went by I started to notice suspicious metal 'pinging' sounds coming from below deck. The lockers I had placed earlier were flying around the hallways, colliding with something I wasn't aware of. More of these little oddities started to appear.

I don't remember this being under water...

Did I really place these props crookedly like this?...

Suddenly it dawned on me: the button makes the whole boat sink. Before I knew it, the entire thing went diagonal and dove under the water...conspicuously not taking all the props with it. As it fell to the unseen bottom all the pipes and valves I had been placing remained stationary, eerily floating above the water like the ship's left-behind skeleton. These pictures you've been seeing were screenshots I took when I first learned about all this. It was so shocking I knew I just had to save it for my scrapbook.


I told D.E.L.B. what had happened. His response could basically be summed up as "Oops". Apparently the boat's self destruct device had been in development for a long time, it's just that no one bothered to tell me. Because, as always, no one ever tells me anything.

Everything ended up being alright though. All the models I used were easily converted from static props to dynamics with no errors arising. After that, it was easy to parent them to the boat entity. With that done, the pipes could be expected to go down with the ship without phasing through the walls or floors like some kind of demented ghost.

There was a persistent problem I couldn't fix though. Because the boat was a giant func_brush with it's own simulated physics, it was very difficult to place physics props without them bouncing all over the interior. Maybe it's just a quirk of the physics engine, or because so many physics calculations were being done at once; but for whatever reason, every physics prop I placed would slide around like the floors were made of ice or clip through each other and make a big mess. It was a disaster and I ended up getting rid of most of them. I have no idea if the problem could be fixed or not, I assume not. But hey, it's not my department, I'm just the interior decorator.

All in all, I actually really liked working on this map. The brush work was very well done and much like the mod itself, it's an unusual idea for a Source engine project. Apparently, the story this time around is that the player is the last sailor left alive after the ship ran aground (explaining the big gaping hole decal I was asked to place). Stressful enough on it's own, but now imagine filthy birds pecking at you.

And finally here's a giant oil drum from an unrelated project.


Yes, there's actually a keyvalue for prop gigantism. And yes, I never bothered to toy around with it until now. My failure to include giant cacti in maps until now will probably be remembered as the greatest failure of my life.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Your's Truly

Oh hey, don't mind me. I'm just holding all these bunnies is all.


I figured it was only appropriate to wait until Bunday to show you all this. Apparently there was a pet store in town with rabbits this whole time and I didn't know about it.

Seriously, take a good look at that picture because I'm almost never that happy. In fact, handing me a rabbit is probably the only sure-fire way to get me to smile for pictures. Because as we all know, there are only two things in life that will make my face jump from "mild irritation" to "slightly content" and that's Daleks. It's also bunnies.

Being around rabbits is actually pretty therapeutic for me. I'm generally a very wound up person, somewhere between George Costanza and Joe Pesci as far as levels of agitation go. But as soon as I'm in proximity to a rabbit I drift down to 'merely' normal person levels of anxiety. Dogs are too stupid and loud, if anything having one around would just make me more upset. Cats are too aloof and untrustworthy, I can't trust them and they just stress me out more. Having a pet octopus is out of the question so really, the only animal I could stand living with is a big armful of rabbits. Only then will my life be complete.

...Well okay, my life will be complete when I have that and my Dalek shell. But you know, one step at a time.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

UDILQUEST 2014

Here's a story about Udil Bronzebolt, a dwarf. I refuse to explain who he is or how he's relevant to anything here.

Unending Despair

By Tyler Baray

Green and purple lights danced across the bubbling alien landscape. Giant mushrooms grew like trees in the swampy murk. In the distance came the sound of weeping children as glowing spores floated through the fetid air. Elven blood oozed out of every crevice and dribbled down the trunks of the mushrooms. The air stank of stale sweat and passion fruit.

Udil Bronzebolt sat at the bank of a pond of gurgling blood. He quietly rocked from side to side as his twitching eyes darted all around the unfamiliar surroundings. He swatted at invisible insects, muttering lowly to himself as he watched the thick, curdling blood lap at the shoreline.

"You're talking to yourself again." A raspy voice said from his backpack.

Udil reached in and felt around. His hand brushed against a slimy pair of dirty socks and what felt like a fresh liver. Eventually he found what he was looking for and pulled out a human skull by the eye sockets.

"We've got ta git outta 'ere." He said as he clutched the skull close to him.

"Oh of course. That's what you said when you saw that gelatinous blob or when you got us stuck in that tar. Oh! Or the time you almost decided to feed yourself to that big gurgling thing with no skin." The skull said. "And yet you never actually manage to do what you say you'll do."

"I told ye, I jus' keep walkin'...always in one direction. But we're going in circles. These trees are playin' tricks on us...I think-"

"Shut up."

Udil unceremoniously stuffed the skull back in the sack and got up to stretch his stubby arms. From all sides came the sound of hissing swamp gas as rotting vegetation forced its way up to the surface. There was no road to guide him, no signs of civilization at all. There was only the inescapable stench of blood and the anguished cries in the distance. He took one final look around and met the gaze of a large spider-like creature with his own face. It opened it's mouth in a wide, toothy grin and flicked it's tongue at him, which ended in another, smaller head like a hairless rabbit's. It hefted it's bloated body up a mushroom and stared at him. Slowly backing away, Udil decided it was time to leave.

Mile after mile he slogged through the mud and slime. Glowing eyes watched him from the fog. As time went by and his legs started to ache he could swear he heard the screams of his old companions. Visions of the tower flitted through his mind.

There was a bright flash as the air erupted in a thunder clap. Udil fell face first in the mud as hundreds of disembodied baby hands suddenly fell from the sky.They grasped at his beard as he struggled to get back up. Horrified, he tried to scramble away. A hand fell down the collar of his tattered shirt and he started to lose it. Udil writhed and flailed his arms as he started to panic. Hundreds of baby hands silently crawled toward him, grasping at his face and trying to force his eyes open. He cried out for help as he rolled around in the mud. But the only answers were the tormented howls in the wind.