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Cembrye last won the day on October 30 2019

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  1. I watched a whale swim through a microscopic sea. That's my dream. That's my nightmare. Churning, slithering, through a microscopic sea... and surviving.
  2. THE DEPARTED Descending into the capital, Leya went first to the Great Temple. Anaxis wasn’t there. She decided to try the great square, where the Devoted kept a chantry. She felt it as soon as her feet touched the ground. Something was wrong. Very wrong. Normally, the great square of Highmount was bustling in the afternoon. Traders, carts, messengers dashing to deliver letters, stern-faced priests of all the faiths, new and old. And of course Crows come to gawk at one of the Kingdoms’ greatest cities. Not today. The wide boulevards were empty. Shops were half-shuttered. A few eyes peered from behind doorways. That was it. She heard marching feet. Leya dodged as a column of centaurs at the gallop came around the corner. The banners of Chaos fluttered on their pennons. Shutters clanged down and doorways slammed. The few people on the street dashed for the alleys. Chaos troops in the capital? Odd. Sure, the Devoted preached unity. But ever since the end of the religious wars, the old faiths had laid low. Earth, Moon and Sun held the upper hand now. The leader of the Chaos column spotted Leya. He raised his hand. His troops clomped to a halt as he approached her. “Identify yourself!” “Drop dead.” The leader peered at her. “You’ve got nerve, you overgrown mosquito. The proclamation was clear. No one goes out.” He nodded to his men. “Take her.” Leya had already launched herself. Easily evading the outstretched hands, she shot into the sky. Rounding a building until she was out sight, she glided into the nearest shadowed alley. “Nice,” came a female voice. Leya turned in the direction of the sound. Another fae, dark-haired and lanky, leaned against the dirty stone wall. A sword was buckled at her waist. A cross-dagger emblem gleamed on its pommel. Great, thought Leya. Just her luck. Tessia - one of the Unseily. As if reading her mind, Tessia snickered. “Don’t worry, blondie. I’m not here for you.” “Oh yeah? Too bad. By the way - your stockings don’t match.” Tessia looked down at her legs. She cursed. “I was in a rush. It was dark.” “Whatever. If you’re not here for me, why is an Unseily here? Towns are full of icky men.” “They are. But the Lady of Knives needed to know what was happening. I drew the short straw.” Leya pursed her lips. “Things are weird. People hiding. Chaos soldiers. What’s going on?” “I’d have thought you knew already, with all the time you spend on your back with Anaxis. Guess boyfriend isn’t big on pillow talk.” Leya reached for her boot pistol. “You know what, we don’t really need a reason to fight.” Tessia smirked and raised her palm. “Relax. As much as I’d like a scrap, bad idea with all these patrols. How about I tell you what I know, then we both go our own way? Deal?” Leya hesitated. She took her hand off her pistol. “Deal.” A cockroach crawled up the wall. Tessia wrinkled her nose, then smashed it with her fist. “Yesterday, a proclamation came out, signed by the Lord Archon himself. State of Emergency declared. No gatherings until further notice.” “Why?” “Something to do with The Arch. Bad magic.” The black-green clouds, thought Leya. She fought to remain impassive. “That’s not all. Bedlam’s men have surrounded the Magna Mater’s Palace. Calliope is under house arrest.” Leya shook her head. “That makes no sense. The Magna Mater is an ally of Anaxis.” The dark-haired fae shrugged. “Not anymore. There’s a rumor Calliope and Anaxis had a falling out. Something about the army he sent to seize the Bride of Valkyn.” “He sent an army to seize her? Why?” Tessia’s eyes narrowed. “Charge of heresy. Bastards. See what happens when you trust men?” Leya reeled inwardly. In her heart, she longed to rush back to Ferisse and help Cembrye. But she knew that her best chance was to find Anaxis. Make him understand. Wait. Anaxis could just brush her off again. She needed to bring him something. News he would drop everything else to hear. What Leya had in mind would infuriate the Lord Archon. He had a ruthless side. She didn’t think he’d harm her. But just in case, best to share her suspicions. “Tessia, can you take a message to the Lady of Knives?” “From you? That won’t make her happy.” “I don’t care. Tell her I think this is all related. The Bride of Valkyn. The Arch of Lyessa. All of it.” “Related? How?” “I don’t know just yet. But tell her.” Leya uncurled her wings. The dark-haired fae tilted her head. “Where are you going?” “For answers.” *** Leya could fly very fast when she wanted to. She was soon spiraling down to her destination. The Arch spread beneath her, the bulk of the Pinnacle as forbidding as ever. Green-black clouds towered over the ruins of the Grimward. They swirled slowly. If Leya didn’t know any better, she would think they were beautiful. She still had the pass key Anaxis had given her. The Nethari guards were edgy but waved her through. Before long she was outside Clem’s cell door. Leya took a deep breath. There was no telling how he’d react to seeing her. They’d had a deal. And now she was back - empty-handed. She unlocked the door and stepped inside. Clem looked a mess – robe torn and dirty, hair long and matted. Rusted chains clanked as he turned to peer at her with rheumy eyes. “The fae returns? How fitting. Your timing is impeccable.” “Clem, I’m sorry…for everything. I’ve come to free you. But we need to talk.” He waved her away. “None of that matters now…at the end of things.” Leya gulped at the tone of his voice. Gone was the wheedling, quick witted scholar. In his place was a broken man. “Please. Hear me out. I found the book. Or rather, Itani and I did. We had to leave it behind, but we read it. Were you “Imlec?” The one who created Bellana, the first Bride of Valkyn?” The old man shook his head. A smile appeared on his face. “Only the All-Father can create such beauty and grace. Her feet blessed the earth they touched. Her eyes shone like the stars.” Clem rubbed his manacled hands together. “I cherished her, you see?” “But why did you call the fire spirit? And what did you mean – the end of things?” “All things end, fae. Lives. Kingdoms. Nothing lasts…even love.” Leya could see Clem was far gone. His mind traveled now in places only he could see. But she had to press him. Too much was at stake. “Clem. The matched necklaces. What were they for?” The old man sat up, eyes bright. “You know of The Gift?” “The necklaces? Itani has them. He was going to find Yuki.” “The Silver Fay was right. But it is too late now. And I was not there. She is gone.” “Who is gone?” The old scholar covered his face with his hands. “The Bride of Valkyn. Bound to a stake. Then the light of many suns. By the power of creation, I saw it through her eyes.” Leya felt as if she had been punched in the gut. “You’re wrong! I just left her! She was fine!” Clem shook his head. “Soon all will be ashes. Not even memory will survive, for none will be left to recall what was.” The old man looked up at Leya. “Farewell.” “Wait! No!” Clem slumped over. His pale face took on a grey pallor. Then he shuddered and was still. The air above his head glowed. The light coalesced into a familiar form - a Spirit Crow. The ethereal creature gave a forlorn caw, then melted away. Leya had never see a Crow depart. The horror of it struck her. The finality. No more vessels and renewals. Clem was gone…forever. And so was Cembrye. Tears were not Leya's style. But they came anyway. And when she was done she rose, fists clenched. In a few moments the fae was airborne again. Once at altitude, she banked and streaked for the capital.
  3. Guys, sorry to interrupt...but I'm going to need you all to come in this weekend.
  4. BRIGHTFLAME They numbered in the thousands. Every mortal left in Medria who could walk crowded the edge of the great square. All eyes were fixed on the circular raised platform at the center. A dark-haired girl was bound with chains to a tall pole. She wore a torn and muddied white dress. Her bare feet rested on the base of the bronze contrivance to which the pole was attached. Intricate metalwork gleamed in the cold sunlight, and a crystal handle topped what looked like a lever. “Is this wise? Or just?” Stilicho turned with a curled lip. “I command by holy writ. The Three serve the Faith do they not?” Hirgar of the Axe, First of the Three, gritted his teeth. Behind him stood the others: Yanbor of the Blade and Cressida of the Bow. “We serve. But the Lord Archon’s command was bring her to the capital.” “And so we shall,” grinned Stilicho. He gestured to the contrivance on which the girl stood. “Used by the Stoneborn to enchant weapons. Swift and painless.” “There has been no trial.” “She convicts herself. And do you really want to hold a trial before this lot?” Hirgar looked at the multitude. The faces of the mortals were grim. Some appeared to be clutching weapons beneath their robes. “Free her!” shouted a mortal from deep within the crowd. Soldiers lunged into the throng. Even the Crows were uneasy. While many scoffed at the Bride’s claims, some did not. When they’d brought her out, Hirgar noticed several warriors making holy signs. One or two even dropped to their knees. A scout ran up. “What is it?” “The Hunger! It approaches!” “Ridiculous! The horde is far off. Who reports this?” “An Elken. He calls himself Stoor.” Stilicho whirled, eyes wide. “Stoor?!” The scout nodded. Stilicho gestured at the Three. “Come with me, all of you.” From his vantage in a shadowed alley, Ransom watched them go. Behind him crouched Egil and Kitaara and, further back, Two-Ton. All wore heavy cloaks. But their identities would be known as soon as they stepped into the sunlight. The distraction was working. But Stilicho and the Three would not be gone long. It was now or never. Casting aside disguise, the ranger stepped forward, followed by the rest. Nearby mortals started in shock but made way. Ransom struggled to control himself as he came in sight of Cembrye, bound tightly to the pole. “A burner!” gasped Egil. “Damn them!” hissed Kitaara. She reached for the hilt of her sword. Ransom stopped her. “Too many, even without the Three. Stick to the plan.” A half-giant sergeant with one-eye and a scar on his chin approached. He appeared to be in charge. “Who goes there?” “Ransom, Warden of the Golden Council. I’ve come to take the girl.” The sergeant scanned them suspiciously. Nearby Crows turned with exclamations. “Ransom? What’s he doing here?” “With Red-Hand, of all people.” Egil hailed the sergeant “Vorick! Still running errands for the Devoted?” The sergeant grinned. “Damn my eyes, it’s Egil! I thought Clan Haugstad was in the Dregs.” “They are. But Ransom pays good coin, so I hired on.” The sergeant looked around, then lowered his voice. “When we answered the call, we didn’t know we’d be marching under Stilicho. And arresting the girl is one thing - killing her is another.” “So you’ll let us take her?” asked Ransom. The sergeant squinted. He took a key out of his belt pouch and rolled it his palm. Then he handed it to Ransom and spat on the ground. “Be quick.” The ranger approached Cembrye. He saw her chains were fastened with a padlock. “Hold it right there.” Ransom gaped as he turned. He knew that voice. Itani. The confessor stood a few feet away, sword in one hand and scroll in the other. Beside him stood a scrawny looking young man, barely more than a boy. The sergeant looked rattled as Itani handed him the scroll. The man unrolled it and read aloud. “By order of the Golden Council, Itani Deversor, Confessor of Arkon, is appointed General in Command. Signed, Calliope, Magna Mater.” The sergeant hesitated. Then he bowed deeply. Itani turned to face Ransom. “Sergeant, place these four under arrest. Use force if they resist.” “Itani. We need to talk. You don’t understand.” The confessor sighed. “I am sorry it has come to this. But it is you who do not understand. And there is no time to explain. Stand down. I am not here to harm her.” “Itani, listen. Stoor told us everything. We know what she is.” A puzzled look came over Itani’s face. Then his expression hardened. “You are working with that criminal? Then you are truly fallen. For the sake of our past friendship, I will give you one more chance. Stand down and give me that key.” All around him, Ransom heard the slap of leather as Crows placed their hands on the hilts of their weapons. He looked towards Cembrye. Then he took a deep breath. She would not want this. Ransom motioned for the others to lay down their weapons. Kitaara was the last to do so, giving him a venomous look. He handed the key to Itani. The confessor stepped towards the bound girl. Gently, he lifted up her chin. She looked at him with frightened eyes. “It’s all right. I’m not going to hurt you. Look. I’ve brought something that belongs to you.” Itani took out one of the matching necklaces. The girl’s expression brightened at the sight of it. Smiling reassuredly, he placed it around her neck. “Who are you?” she asked. “My name is Itani. I was sent by the Magna Mater. I am taking you to the capital so she can help you.” Suddenly the girl’s demeanor changed. She looked intensely at him. Reddish sparks began to flash in her pupils as a strange smile appeared on her face. “Help me? Why? Is something wrong?” Before Itani could reply, a cacophony of shouts erupted. A tall man in black shoved his way through the Crow guards. Behind him strode three warriors, one of them carrying a cloth bundle. Stilicho. And the Three. “What is the meaning of this?” Stilicho roared. “I have taken command,” replied Itani. “By whose order?” “The Magna Mater.” The sergeant handed the scroll to Stilicho. He tore it into pieces without reading it. “This is a religious matter. The girl is an abomination.” “On what evidence?” Stilicho scoffed. “There is your proof.” He pointed at Cembrye. She had closed her eyes. A light began to shimmer about her. The crowd gasped. Many fell to their knees. “All-Father save us!” “Brightflame!” Ransom shouted above the din. “She's no abomination. Ask Stoor!” Stilicho laughed. He drew back the cloth covering the bundle the Three had been carrying. The head of an Elken, eyes fixed and glassy. “Stoor is in no condition to spin more lies. A clever ploy, Ransom. But it has failed.” Stilicho pointed at Itani. “Seize him!” Hirgar, torment in his eyes, hesitated. Then he gestured to his comrades. The Three unsheathed their weapons. “We serve.” Itani and Ransom exchanged looks. Ransom began to wrestle with his guards as the confessor bolted. Itani got only a few steps before he saw it was no use. Soldiers were surrounding him, cutting off escape. Seeing Hansa, he shoved the second necklace into the young man’s palm. “Don’t let them take this!” Befuddled, Hansa nodded. Without conscious thought, he put the necklace on and quickly covered it up with the collar of his shirt. Numb with fear, he watched the guards drag Itani away. Stilicho strode towards the crystal lever. The crowd surged forward. Kitaara shoved her guard aside. “Bree!” Cembrye turned with a startled look. The shimmering light faded. “Kitaara?” A sudden flash momentarily blinded them all. It was as if a thousand suns had flared. Everyone covered their faces, some falling to the ground. Then dead silence. Hansa felt energy pulse through the necklace he was wearing. People rose to their feet, blinking. The girl slumped on the pole, her hair hanging down over her face. Vorick, the Crow sergeant, gasped. His sword dropped and he passed his hand across his face. “By the All-Father. What have we done?” Gritting his teeth, he jerked his thumb. “Release the prisoners!” Itani pointed. Stilicho, followed by the Three, was fleeing through the crowd. “After them!” The guards gave chase, but to no avail. Others unchained the girl and laid her gently on the grass. Kitaara knelt over Cembrye. Tenderly, she brushed the hair from the pale, still face and kissed the girl on the nose. Then, pressing her fists to her ears, she threw back her head and gave a terrible, keening cry.
  5. I found this intriguing. Does the "S" in KDS stand for "Scottish?" That may explain everything. Scots and English are natural enemies. Like Scots and Japanese. And Scots and Peruvians. And Scots and other Scots.
  6. I didn't play beta so I don't mind a slower start that includes lore (and I actually haven't left the starting temple yet to do anything). However a couple of thoughts: - in Shadowbane, the new player PvE areas were a useful place for people to recruit for their guilds, and you also had people who were normally enemies fighting together for a while, which helped with socialization. Even how short these were, you could get an initial sense if someone was a serious, skilled and mature player by how they conducted themselves (assuming those are the characteristics a guild is looking for) - five hours doesn't seem that long, honestly...although your mileage may vary as people are individual in their likes/dislikes and attention spans...I am making no judgments here about others, but for myself it doesn't seem THAT long - I remember when I first tried WOW, even in the first areas you had people chasing each other around the spawn points hitting each other over the head, before they had done more than a couple of quests. An arena for level 0's to start beating on each other from the get-go might not be a bad idea, if that is what some players prefer. I assume it would be easy to add. - It has been a while since 2003, when Shadowbane came out, and it is entirely possible the likes/dislikes of players have evolved to where the approach taken by ACE (which relies heavily on lessons learned from Shadowbane) has become obsolete. But I rather liked the way Shadowbane gave new players time to get settled. On last thing - the OP from his handle looks to be British. If that is the case, now is not the time for calm judgments, as you are doubtless in heightened excitement at England's Euro 2021 run! ⚽
  7. CHAOS ULTRA OMNES History repeats itself. The first time as drama. The second as comedy. Bedlam thought of this old saying as he idly kicked a duckboard into the mud. “How long?” “A half-day at most.” The elken general had mixed feelings. Expecting to find the Chaos loyalists reinforced by Yuki and the beast cult, he had brought up every soldier he could muster. Even then, maintaining the siege of Terranes seemed a forlorn hope - the Chaos rebels were too heavily outnumbered. Instead, as the rebels stood anxiously to arms, dawn brought astonishment. The fortress gates yawned wide. Entering, they found only unmade cots, vacant mustering halls and empty banner poles. As at Devora, all that was left was a wide, muddy trail. It led north – out of the kingdom and on to parts unknown. The footprints of many soldiers. And the paw marks of bears and tracks of a sleigh. Bedlam knew the leaders of the loyalists well. Baruk Stoneford and Ogram Head-Splitter were no fools. The siege had lasted two years, and they had fought for every inch. Constantly renewed by smuggled supplies, protected by walls that had never been breached by a foe, there was nothing to keep the loyalists from holding out for years more. And now, in a matter of hours, they were gone. How had Yuki persuaded the Chaos loyalists to abandon the fortress and follow her? To where and for what end? What witchcraft was this? “Orders, general?” Bedlam noticed his councilors crowded about him. From their expressions, he could tell they were as spooked as he. Further musing would bring no answers. Time for a show of command. “Terranes is ours,” he declared. “Let it be proclaimed throughout our host, and to all those who follow the Old Faith of Chaos, wherever they may be. Victory!” After a moment of silence, his commanders nudged each other and shouted in unison. “Victory!” A messenger knelt and proffered a message scroll. Conscious of the eyes of his lords resting on him, Bedlam unrolled and read it aloud: “To the Chaos rebellion, greetings! Word of the success of our mediation efforts has reached our ears. Let the trumpets sound and the drums beat! The Devoted celebrate the return of peace and look forward to a new dawn, where all work together for the common good. We ask you to bring your army to the capital. New challenges await us. Most Cordially, Anaxis, Lord Archon, Defender of the Faith and Protector of the Realm.” “Defender of the Faith and Protector of the Realm?” murmured an elken. “What titles are these? And new challenges? What is he talking about?” Bedlam rolled up the scroll as his commanders began to murmur amongst themselves. Give it to Anaxis to rain on their parade. Successful mediation? Bedlam and the elken had launched the rebellion based on the Lord Archons’ secret promise of support. Yes, they’d had their differences with Baruk and the loyalists. But it wouldn’t have gone beyond words without Anaxis’ push. And now, after they had waded through mud and arrows for two years, the Devoted were taking credit. Worse, the rebels were now in debt to Anaxis. Bedlam pondered. Their position was still precarious. No one knew what Yuki was up to. The loyalists could reappear at any time. They still needed the Devoted, to grant them legitimacy and time to consolidate their new regime. Let Anaxis claim his fancy titles. Soon enough, they would be out from under him. But for now, wisdom counseled patience. Bedlam raised his arms. The murmuring quieted. “Muster the host. Leave a detachment to put the fortress in order. We march in two days.” “Where?” “Were you not listening?” Bedlams’ lip curled. “The Defender of the Faith and Protector of the Realm summons us.”
  8. GOSSAMER THREADS “A year ago I would have scoffed. Called it a dream. Now…I am not so sure.” Itani gazed up at the stars. Idly, he picked up a stick and stirred the logs. The flames licked higher into the night sky. “Don’t sit too close to the fire, Hansa,” he scolded. The young man edged back, shivering. “I…I’ve…n-n-never been this cold. Is it like this always on Ferisse?” “This is not natural weather – it is the work of the Hunger. I forget you have never seen it before.” Hansa squirmed as he pulled his blanket about him. “But…but I have. At the Arch. The black and green clouds.” Itani put the stick down. He frowned. The confessor now understood why Calliope wanted the lad to accompany him. Clearly, it was not for his fighting prowess. Short and slender, with large eyes and soft hands, Hansa looked like a good breeze would blow him away. Hansa was the least Crow-like Crow Itani had ever seen. No. It was so Itani could hear Hansa’s strange tale for himself. The pale lady, eyes covered, at the Doom of Almuir. The boy’s imprisonment on an otherworldly ship with cat guards. The pale lady again, on a throne before a conclave of alien creatures. Finally, and most chillingly, the vision placed into Hansa’s mind of a dark-haired girl of fire overcome by darkness. As Second to Calliope and Inquisitor for the Golden Council, Itani dealt in hard truths. He accepted that the world of the Crow contained many unknowns. But he considered himself guided by science and reason. Now, by order of the Magna Mater, he was poised to take enormous risks based on a gossamer web of legend and dream. Itani had told Hansa nothing, aside from their mission to take the Bride of Valkyn into custody and return her to Highmount. Perhaps it was time to share his burden. And given the danger, the lad deserved to know. An inner voice also whispered in Itani’s mind. A peculiar sense that Hansa had a role to play in the days to come. Itani had always told Ransom to heed his instincts. It was time to follow his own advice. Itani took out Clem’s necklaces and held them up. Hansa’s eyes widened. “What are those?” “Trinkets crafted by one of the Devoted named Clem. Based on what we learned at Enuma, we believe they were created after the death of the first Bride of Valkyn.” “You said ‘we.’ Were you with someone?” “Yes. A fae was also there, to rob the tomb.” Hansa sat up. “A fae! I saw one circling in the skies above the Arch. She flew down to talk to me once. And later she helped me find Lady Olenya.” “Oh?” “She was dressed in white and really pretty, with blonde hair and green eyes. Definitely not someone to mess with though - she had a pistol in her boot,” the boy grinned. Hansa saw Itani’s expression change. “Did I say something wrong?” “No. But…I know this fae. She was the same one I met in the tomb.” Itani gritted his teeth. “Be wary of all fae. They are deceivers and tricksters.” Hansa opened his mouth as if to argue, then thought better of it. “About the necklaces?” he ventured, changing the subject. “Yes. As I said, we believe Clem, in the guise of a Valkyn priest named Imlec, crafted the jewelry after Bellana of Aramore, the first Bride of Valkyn, perished.” “How did she die?” “According to the lore, Bellana walked willingly into fire. If you believe the legends, she had been possessed by a spirit that was in fact a divine child created through the All-Fathers’ union with the mortal wife of Hero. When Valkyn left this reality to face the Hunger, the child languished and died. But her divine essence remained, becoming a wandering fire spirit in the arid wastes of Ferisse. Unearthing this lore, Clem traveled to Elriza to draw the spirit out. Unfortunately, when it manifested it took Bellana, by then Clem’s mistress, as its mortal vessel.” “What do the necklaces do?” “We are not certain. But since Clem created them after the death of Bellana, we believe they safeguard the wearer from the spirit. They are a matched pair. Clem gave one to Cembrye of Medria – the new Bride of Valkyn – when he realized her nature. The other was recovered when Clem was kidnapped by this fae you met. I managed to reunite them.” “So you are going to give one of the necklaces to this Cembrye girl and wear the other and see what happens?” Itani pursed his lips. Hansa was slight of frame, but no fool. The young man had made a shrewd guess. “Not quite. We don’t know what will trigger the magic of the necklaces, but it is unlikely mere proximity does the trick. My mission is to bring this Cembrye willingly back to Highmount. There, under the eyes of the finest mages and scholars, we will invoke their power.” “Isn’t that dangerous? I mean, Cembrye could get hurt. Or the spirit could get angry.” “Nothing is certain, but we will set safeguards. The alternative – to simply let Cembrye eventually be consumed by the fire spirit – is unacceptable. We also hope to discover if there is a connection between the first appearance of the spirit, one hundred years ago, and the advance of the Hunger.” Hansa fell silent, a troubled look in his eyes. Itani placed his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “You are thinking of your dream? The fire girl consumed by darkness?” Hansa nodded. Itani sighed. “Have courage. Tomorrow we arrive in Medria. Stay by my side. No matter what you see or hear, remain silent and let me handle matters. Understood?” The young man nodded. “Good lad. Now get some sleep. We depart at dawn.”
  9. When I saw your acronym, I couldn't help but think of an original Shadowbane guild, the Knights of Glory and Beer (KGB).
  10. Launches can be so exciting! I remember the first moments in UO in 1997. I had a bard who had tamed several birds so they could flutter around as she walked. Went to the edge of Britain right up to where the boundary of AI guard protection ended. Two other players were standing on the other side. We had a pleasant conversation about UO and how exciting it was to be able to play a real MMO for the first time. However I said I still wasn't sure what the purpose of the game was. They said "come over the boundary to us and we will show you." Even then, I knew not to follow their advice. I never PVPed much in that game. My greatest fun was dressing up like Xena the Warrior Princess and riding full speed through all the PKs at the Crossroads going "ki-ki-kyaaai!" Then hiding in the woods in heart-pounding excitement as they searched for me.
  11. THE MAD SCHEME The wind still favored. Ransom crept closer. His target was Elken – a species renowned for their acute sense of smell. Behind him in single file crouched Kitaara, Egil and, further back, the minotaur Two-Ton. It had taken almost a day to isolate this loner. A day since they had narrowly escaped Stilicho and the Crow army that had captured the Bride. Time was precious. But they needed someone to interrogate. Just a few feet more… “Well done, Ransom. Your skills are impressive. But that’s close enough.” The elken spoke without moving, his voice a gravelly rumble. Kitaara stepped forward. “Stoor?” Ransom blinked. Two-Ton gave a snort. Egil gripped his axe. “If you’re planning a rescue, you’ll need help,” said Stoor, turning. “It so happens…” “Stop right there,” interrupted Ransom. “You’re one of Stilicho’s henchmen. The last time we saw you, you were frozen solid in Yuki’s castle. Now you show up out of the blue, wanting to help. Why should we trust you?” The elken looked at Kitaara. The assassin was silent. Then she nodded. Two-Ton and Egil exchanged startled looks. Ransom glared and drew his sword. “Treachery! I should cut both your heads off. Tell me what’s going on or I will.” Kitaara pursed her lips. Then she sighed. “None foresaw what has happened. Stay your hand. And listen.” The ranger hesitated. Then he scowled and sheathed his weapon. “This had better be good.” Kitaara led them to a nearby glade. They took their seats on fallen logs. “The tale is longer than the time for telling,” she began. “I shall speak only to particulars.” “Many ponder why, a hundred years ago, the pace of the Hunger increased. The Great Web of Malekai became aware of a strange coincidence. A member of the Devoted named Clem had fled to Ferisse a century ago, then disappeared. Was there a connection?” “At that time, my old master Stilicho contacted me. We’d not had dealings since I’d left his side. Stilicho spoke of a ‘special task’ on Ferisse and asked that I become his Second once more. I wondered at this – Ferisse again? Although I was glad to be free of that wretch, I accepted, for it would provide an opportunity to investigate further.” “In time I discovered what the ‘special task’ was. Under the guise of a local crime lord, Stilicho was secretly capturing mortal slaves. Not just any slaves – children. I could not bear this and resolved to stop him. Then matters took a turn.” “One night I was waylaid. As I drew sword, I heard a peculiar laugh – like the sound a wind chime makes when struck.” Ransom arched his eyebrows. “Yuki?” “Yes. The Glacier Queen had also become aware of Stilicho’s activities. I don’t know how. She offered an alliance to thwart him. But the offer came with a price.” “What price?” “She sought a girl she called the Child of Fate. She gave no description of the girl, and only said I would know her when I found her. Yuki asked that I train this girl to fight so she could ascend to Crow.” “That’s ridiculous!” blurted Egil. “You don’t become a Crow that way. The Gods favor whom they will. None know their minds.” “Yes,” said Kitaara. “But I needed her help. And it seemed a harmless, if fanciful, request.” “Some months later, Stilicho and I came upon a warrior and a slave girl, sentenced to death. The warrior had tried to help the slave girl escape but was foiled. Three guards died. We watched him hang. Then, as they put the noose around the girl’s neck, I felt something. At the time I told myself it was pity. The slave girl was the same age as my own daughter when she died. But I also saw I could use her against Stilicho. I spun a tale that it was the girl who had slain the three men and she was taken in for assassin training. That girl was Cembrye.” “Did you believe her to be the Child of Fate?” asked Ransom. “No, that came later. On the night of the attack, when Yuki and her people freed the children, Cembrye turned on me, instigating a fight between Stilicho and I and escaping through a window. I marveled at her boldness. I followed her trail, which led me to the Temple of Valkyn in Taveris, where I learned she took vows to become the Bride of Valkyn. From there, I tracked her to Elriza and confronted her. It was no easy matter to win her trust. She is very stubborn.” Ransom shook his head. “You’re telling me.” “The road from Elriza led to the Pillared Hall. I trained her every day. But I was worried, for the Hunger had now appeared on Ferisse. Would she be ready for whatever lay ahead?” “You didn’t know Cembrye was going to fight Stilicho?” said Ransom. “No. What happened in the Pillared Hall was a shock and horror to me. It was only at her moment of triumph that I understood. And of course I only learned later how Cembrye, as she lay dying, was Called by Yuki and Two-Ton.” “What about Stoor?” asked Egil, jerking his thumb. “Everyone knows he will do anything for gold. How is he involved? “I am standing right here, half-giant,” growled Stoor. “I will let the insult pass. Coming from Clan Haugstad, you likely meant it as a compliment.” Kitaara rolled her eyes and motioned for Stoor to continue. “I was a Five-Point in Bedlam’s herd. But I left for Dregs when the Chaos rebellion began. It was there that I too was contacted by the Drizzlewitch. She offered me a job. At first, I refused. The request was bizarre, even for her. But she persisted and eventually I agreed for double my fee.” “What did she ask you to do?” queried Ransom. “Under the guise of magical research, I was to contact Stilicho and offer assistance. I would experiment on the children. In exchange, Stilicho would have access to my results.” “Monster!” snarled Ransom. Two-Ton hefted his maul. Stoor held up his palm. “I am not finished.” “One of the children, a young boy, had been born with an ailment. I was to place a glamor upon him, using a necklace made to look like a bloodsoul amulet. This amulet had been specially constructed by Brody, Second to Yuki. I would then pronounce that the amulet had robbed the boy of his soul.” “So the bloodsoul amulet was fake all along,” said Ransom, shaking his head. “Kitaara, did you know about this?” “No. I did not know of Yuki’s arrangement with Stoor. When he appeared, I believed I had been betrayed.” Stoor nodded. “For my part, I thought my job done at the Pillared Hall. I had no idea Yuki was going to send an ice spike through my brain.” “After you shot me with a crossbow,” reminded Kitaara. “As payback for the Wellspring Campaign. Do you know how much gold you cost me?” “To the ounce. It paid for a new wing to my house.” “Please,” said Ransom. “Can we stay focused?” “Yes,” said Egil. “But I’d love to hear about Wellspring later. It sounds like a good tale.” Kitaara smirked. “So, all of this from the start was a mad scheme of Yuki?” continued Ransom. “To what end?” “After the Pillared Hall, Yuki contacted me again,” said Kitaara. “Just before she sent the amulet to Cembrye. Yuki said that what was done was necessary. The Gods will not be cheated. The girl had to earn her ascension like any other.” “That was a huge risk. Any number of things could have gone wrong." “Yes. I was not happy about the means. But the end was achieved.” “The end of Cembrye becoming a Crow. But why would Yuki want that?” “I do not know.” Ransom furrowed his brow. “There are still some loose threads,” said Ransom. “How did Two-Ton get dragged in? A sworn member of the Obsidian Brotherhood would never work for slavers.” Two-Ton muttered as Egil translated. “He says Yuki secretly asked him to help her by becoming Stilicho’s new Second,” said Egil. “The bull thought it was to stop the slaving, which was true in a sense. He thinks now it was to make sure another Crow was present for the Bride’s Calling.” “I did not know of this arrangement either,” said Kitaara. “But I think Two-Ton is right. It turned out to be a wise precaution. You need at least two Crows for a Calling, and the other Crows in the Pillared Hall were incapacitated. And Yuki herself had not originally planned to be one of the Callers.” Ransom nodded. “Alright then. That brings us to today – and the biggest loose string. This so-called blood soul amulet. Yuki used it to launch the Bride on a quest to heal the boy. Why?” “I can answer that,” rumbled Stoor. “After the Pillared Hall, Yuki asked me to keep up the pretense a while yet. That is why you saw me frozen at Dreamfast. But she also opened her mind to me. And when I finally understood, from then on I served willingly.” “What did Yuki tell you?” asked Ransom. “That the Bride’s ascension to Crow was only a necessary first step. The glamor on the amulet had another purpose. As a test.” “A test of what?” “The amulet would heal the boy of his ailment,” said Stoor. “But to invoke its power, the wielder needed to be more than just a Crow. Brody purposely designed the amulet that way.” “So the test was to prove she was the Bride of Valkyn?” asked Ransom. “No,” said Stoor. “Two days ago, I watched from the shadows with Brody as Cembrye invoked the amulet’s power. The boy was healed. From that moment, we knew what she really was.” “What?” Stoor cleared his throat. “Cembrye is not the Bride of Valkyn. She is the Daughter of Valkyn. Or more precisely, her vessel.” There was a long silence. Leaves rustled in the breeze. “That’s not possible,” murmured Ransom at last. “Perhaps a spirit has overtaken her. But that she is the vessel of one of Valkyn’s children? How do you know this? What is the proof?” “I have only the word of Yuki,” replied Stoor. “But I believe her.” Ransom laughed scornfully. “Wonderful. We are risking our lives and reputations traveling across half the world, based on the imaginings of an addled moon-elf.” “You have just cause to doubt,” said Kitaara. “But the only one who can speak to this is Yuki. And she is not here. And let us be honest. We all sense something about Cembrye.” Kitaara turned to the elken. “Stoor – where did Brody go after the healing? And where is the mortal boy now?” “Brody left to inform Yuki of the test results. The boy and his mother have been granted refuge at Dreamfast.” “And Yuki?” “I do not know where she is. Brody bade me remain here to watch over Cembrye and keep her from harm.” Ransom stood up. “Kitaara is right. Debating who or what Cembrye is gets us nowhere. What matters is the danger she is in now. We need to rescue her. But how? She is guarded by the Three and surrounded by an army.” Stoor rose. “I have a plan.”
  12. As an original UO release day player and SB player (Treachery, Mourning) and low-end backer, here are my thoughts. I haven't played beta, as I like to just wait and play when release comes, so I have no insights on the state of the mechanics and technology. So I defer to others on those judgments. I have another point to make. As has been stated many times above, almost all games have issues on release. But it seems the key to success for games like Crowfall are the design aspects encouraging player-driven and immersive play. There is a customer base that is tired to death of the smooth-running, beautiful and soulless theme parks/Skinner boxes where your end game is running endless repetitions of dungeon instances to gear up to run another higher level set of endless repetitions of dungeon instances. Many people who like PVP, and have lots of fun with the very popular last-person standing games, hunger for PVP to happen in a richer context. These are the folks that, if we were ever to go back to those days, you'd find them as children making little forts out of sticks, using mud and garden hoses to make little rivers and dams. The PVPers who also love Minecraft. Crowfall aspires to set the table, then let players jump in and run with it. What happens next - who wins, who loses, who builds a lasting successful war machine, a beautiful and much visited kingdom, an immersive RP/PVP storyline - that's all up to us. That is where the energy will come from. Either it catches the imagination or it doesn't. If you don't find that spark, that sweet spot, no amount of smooth animations and glossy graphics will save you. I don't doubt the improvements needed. SB had an original nightmare concept that you had to maintain fortress walls with gold, piece by piece. They ended up fixing that, and putting time into improving things, and things did improve. These same folks are at the wheel now. I am not being a Pollyanna. But I think we will only know if they found the magic in that release day and immediate aftermath window.
  13. My two cents is I still have faith in the ACE team to balance and address various concerns. I say this as a Shadowbane veteran (lo those many years ago! It is starting to sound like Grandma talking about the great winter of 09'). For those around at that time, the forums were likewise filled with very spirited debates over PVE, PVP, etc. The sad reality is that Shadowbane was ahead of its time for the technology then in use. No matter what you did, once you had more than X players operating in a certain space, the 2003-era tech would grind and sputter to a halt. IMHO, while a lot of people left that game because the "burn it down and lose all" mechanics were too drastic for their taste, I think far more people left because of the inability of the tech to meet the lofty goals of the designers. We are in a different place now. I think they made two decisions early on which I am sure were tough calls, since they meant ratcheting back on the dreams of many for a seamless single persistent world. The "Uncle Bob" problem, of a single dominant guild alliance crushing the life out of everyone else, was real, so they created the time-limited campaign mechanics. To create a thread connecting guild play in campaigns with a persistent world, you have the kingdoms mechanic. I don't think any game out there in development now is attempting these novel approaches. The proof will be in the pudding. I think the designers have access to a lot of data driving their decisions. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, but there are times when 2-3 eloquent and persistent forum voices can make it seem they speak for everyone, when you may have more players silently enjoying the direction being taken. I remember from the Shadowbane boards hundreds of posts claiming that the real solution for players leaving the game was that people just needed "to toughen up" - as if playing an MMORPG was some sort of fraternity hazing ritual, instead of a sought after form of relaxation. I think ACE learned some lessons from those days. The problem of weaving PVP into a MMO environment that is inviting, not forbidding, to new players, is not an easy one. Exhibit A were the sad last days of many Shadowbane servers, in population death spirals, dominated by the remaining "hard core" who finally realized that a de-populated server where they crushed everyone left no one to fight anymore. In the end this is a business, and you need customers coming in the door, not the reverse. Nothing I've said hasn't been said before, and perhaps better, by others. But I thought I'd pop in and offer Grandma's words of wisdom about the frigid winter of 09'!
  14. I want to know if Khoth graduated from college with a degree in Game Design
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