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Artisan's Alley / Short Story - "Loyalties"
« on: September 19, 2017, 02:20:31 PM »
Hello there! I plan for this story to be a bit shorter than some of my recent ones (only two parts), so hopefully I can finish it in a reasonable amount of time. This story takes place in the aftermath of the events of my previous story, "Separate Ways". There are also references to some of my earlier stories near the end.  Part One is complete, Part Two should be coming soon. As always, I hope whoever reads this enjoys it.

Loyalties

Part One

     The sun was high in the afternoon sky over Oakenfall. A town of middling size, Oakenfall existed in relative obscurity save for one crucial detail: it was home to the oldest barracks and training grounds of the King’s Guard, from a time when they were known as the Retrievers of Oakenfall. The brave warriors who would later come to serve the King as elite bodyguards and officers of the law had lived there for generations, honing their skills and dedicating their lives to the protection of the town and surrounding environs. The origin of the Retrievers was lost to the mists of time, but the symbolic significance of Oakenfall was impressed deeply upon each new recruit into the Guard.
   
     Two creatures walked along the path leading to the venerable main hall of the barracks. One was a huge male badger wearing full plate armor beneath a tabard bearing the heraldry of the Order of the Rose. The other was a short female otter dressed in nondescript travelling clothes designed more for ease of movement than for protection against the elements.

     Sir Horace, the Iron Poet, Hero of Herald’s Pass, paused and regarded his companion. “Lady Violet, I wish to be clear: there is no turning back beyond this point. If our words cannot sway the Guards within this hall to our cause, then we will be arrested and, in all likelihood, summarily executed as fugitives.”

     Violet shook her head. “I’m not turning back now, Sir Horace. This is our only chance to help Archibald and loosen Sargon’s grip on Armello. Hopefully that tabard will help remind them of your past, and their true duty to the citizens of the land.”

     The armor Horace wore was not his original armor, which was still locked away in a chamber beneath the King’s palace, along with his personal tabard and axe. The armor he wore now had been kept as part of a cache from Horace’s time working with the Bandit King’s revolution. The same cache had provided enough funds for a tabard to replace the missing one. They had yet to find a suitable replacement for his battle axe, though the badger’s size and armor made him a formidable opponent. He carried a dagger that would have been a sword in a smaller beast’s paws. Violet was armed with several knives hidden in the folds of her traveler’s raiment. She also wore a short sword at her belt, which Horace had begun to train her to use. Neither of the pair would last long against an entire barracks full of Guards, however. Violet hoped circumstances wouldn’t come to that.

     As the pair approached the main gate of the hall, a canine figure in King’s Guard armor resplendent with insignia stepped onto a balcony above the entrance.

     “Halt,” the dog’s voice rang out, “This barracks is restricted to members of the King’s Guard, or creatures on royal business. State your names and purpose here.”

     His expression unreadable as always, Horace stepped forward. “I am Sir Horace, Knight of the Order of the Rose. This is the honorable Lady Violet, whom I have sworn to protect. I would speak with your highest ranking officer on a matter of grave urgency.”

     “Then you have accomplished your aim, badger, for I am Bartholomew Redpaw, Knight-Captain of the King’s Guard and commanding officer of this barracks and these Guards.” The Knight-Captain paused, removing his crested helm to gaze down at the two creatures before him with a mixture of surprise and disdain. “You are bold to show your face here. You and your companion both are named as traitors and enemies of the Crown, and it is my sworn duty to arrest you and deliver you to the King’s justice. Whatever your message for me, I will hear it on one condition: that you surrender yourselves without resistance. You will have an audience with me, and then you will be sent to the cells to await your fate.”

     Without hesitation, Horace nodded. “Very well. Your terms are acceptable.” Leaning down to murmur so only Violet could hear, he added, “Maintain your courage, lady otter. If we were to leave without accomplishing our aim, we would be of little use to our friend.”

     Slowly, the hall’s doors swung open, and six Guards emerged, halberds at the ready. Horace and Violet surrendered their weapons and permitted themselves to be led inside. Violet could only hope she hadn’t made a terrible mistake.
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     Scarlet, King of the Bandit Clan, stood at the west-facing window of her bedroom on the second floor of a manor house in Blueberry Town. The manor was one of several properties she had acquired for use as a safe house and headquarters for the leaders of the revolution. The vixen tapped the digits of her paws on the windowsill before her, noting that her claws were extending and retracting of their own accord: a nervous tic that betrayed her anxiety. The reddish rays of sunlight graced her fur with a burnished, coppery hue, but she had little care for her own appearance at the moment. Scarlet closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to appreciate the feeling of the sun’s warmth, the plush carpet beneath her paws, the soothing scents of sandalwood and cedar that permeated the room, but nothing helped.

     On the surface, Scarlet seemed closer to accomplishing her goals than ever. She had at long last united all the bandit tribes under a single banner, and her propaganda efforts had rallied unprecedented support to her cause among the common folk. The King was either dead or incapacitated, and his advisor and self-proclaimed regent, Sargon, struggled to keep up a masquerade of authority. This should have been the vixen’s time to strike. Yet this was also the most vulnerable she had felt since her days as an underling among the mobs of Slantfang’s tribe. She had considered sharing the evening with a companion and a bottle of wine to banish her worries, but had decided against it. Scarlet was no longer confident in her own judgement, and she needed a clear head to sort out where she had gone wrong.

     Horace’s desertion had shaken Scarlet more than she cared to admit. Over the past few months, she had sensed the honor-bound badger’s disapproval for some of her actions. Her use of deception, her desperate gambits, her willingness to sacrifice the lives of her followers to further the greater cause, had all been sources of friction between the Bandit King and the Iron Poet. Despite that, Horace had sworn an oath of fealty to her, and would not have broken such an oath lightly. Perhaps he felt that she had already broken the terms of the oath herself, but what had been the tipping point?     

     She sighed as she considered other recent events. Despite what the badger, or his otter friend Violet, might think, she had not abandoned Archibald lightly. Scarlet acknowledged that she had used the rabbit as a pawn in her schemes, much as she had many other creatures, but she also acknowledged that she owed him a debt. She would do what she could to free him from his captivity – in her own time and in her own way. That Violet had disappeared along with Horace suggested to Scarlet that Archibald’s fate was indeed a factor in the badger knight’s decision, but she suspected there was more to the puzzle. Horace had long expressed disgust with the fanaticism and violence with which the lone killer known as the Fisher of Souls had dispatched members of the King’s guard on a quest for vengeance. Now that same killer had allied himself, however tenuously, with Scarlet’s revolution. Presumably, Horace could not in good conscience work with a creature he viewed as a murderer and a monster.

     Scarlet sighed again, drew the curtains, and turned, deciding to retire to bed early. As her gaze swept across the nightstand near the luxuriantly canopied bed, she froze, and her heart leapt into her throat. There, impossibly, was a note, pinned to the wood of the nightstand with a small knife. Scarlet searched the room with her eyes, ears, and nose, but she could detect nothing. She checked the room’s door; it was locked, just as she had left it. The note had certainly not been there when Scarlet entered the room. Whoever the intruder was, they had entered a locked room, crossed the floor behind her, left a note, and exited without alerting her or leaving any other trace of their presence. Her heart pounding, Scarlet padded over to the nightstand and picked up the note. What she read sent a chill down her spine. One simple phrase.

Mother wants a word.

   The note’s meaning was clear to Scarlet. Somehow, she had attracted the attention of the Night Mother. Soon, another messenger would come for her, issuing a summons she dare not refuse. The manner in which this note had been delivered was itself a message: Even the Bandit King was not beyond the reach of the Rat Clan’s most feared assassins. Scarlet stared at the note in her paw, once again feeling alone and vulnerable.
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     Archibald sat at a table in the Council Room of the King’s Palace, acting in the stead of the Lord Regent Sargon. Tapestries depicting the sigils of all four great Clans decorated the circumference of the circular chamber. Arrayed around the richly carved table were nobles and representatives of the various clans. Thane, Winter Wolf and Prince of the Wolf Clan; Mercurio, the Rat Clan’s foremost merchant prince; Sana, the Forest Sister, priestess of the Wyld; and Elyssia, Wardress of Warrens, the Rabbit Clan’s most accomplished architect, responsible for much of the design of the King’s Palace and its defenses.

     “Ladies and lords of Armello,” Archibald began, “The King is gravely injured, near to death, and his most trusted advisor, the Lord Regent Sargon, is desperately busy enacting contingency plans to prevent the spread of insurgency and insurrection throughout the kingdom. It falls to me as the Regent’s right paw, so to speak, to assure each of you that we will act with the best interests of the Clans and citizens of Armello until this crisis is resolved.” The brown-furred rabbit made a show of closing his eyes in concentration before continuing his speech. “In the unhappy event that the King proves unable to overcome the wounds inflicted upon him by traitorous paws, we shall, of course, provide for the swift and mutually satisfactory selection of a successor, the process of which will be overseen by Lord Sargon and myself.”

     Thane slapped a paw against the table. “Hah! So, you wish to play kingmakers, is that it? You’ve brought us all here to grovel and beg for your favor? I, for one, will not subject myself or the Wolf Clan to such insults.”

     Mercurio chuckled. “Calm yourself, Princeling. I’m certain the Lord Regent has nothing so crude in mind. If it comes to doing business, I’m sure we’ll all get a fair offer, but let’s not jump to any conclusions.”

     Elyssia said nothing, but rolled her eyes with impatience at the Wolf and Rat Clan delegates’ antics. Sana cleared her throat and attempted to steer the meeting to a less divisive topic.

      “Master Archibald, what is the purpose of this meeting? Aside from your confirmation of the King’s condition, what information do you have to impart to us?”

     Archibald nodded in acknowledgement. “As you are no doubt aware, despite the Lord Regent’s best efforts, there is a revolution brewing. The Bandit King is fomenting unrest throughout Armello and the Clan homelands, attempting to overthrow our sovereign. We must ask that in this time of strife, each clan renews their pledges and their efforts to support the Crown.”

     Thane nodded, smiling coldly. “Of course, Archibald. The Wolf Clan will uphold our oath to support the rightful ruler of Armello.” The wolf prince’s voice placed a slight emphasis on “rightful” which did not go unnoticed by the others at the table.

      “I have other business to discuss with each of you,” Archibald continued as if Thane had not interrupted, “but I can see that some of you may require a little time to consider this news before we proceed with specific plans. I suggest we call a recess to this meeting and convene again at this time tomorrow.”

     As the various representatives filed out of the room and collected their bodyguards and entourages, Archibald smiled to himself. Everything continues to proceed as predicted. Sargon was right; setting things is motion is going to be easy. The plan was simple: make a show of weakness, and lure the Clans into thinking they could challenge Sargon for the throne. Already the Wolf and Rat clans showed signs of taking the bait. Elyssia was frustratingly difficult to read, although if there was one thing Archibald knew well, it was Rabbit Clan society. For all the technological progress they had made in his era, some things had changed very little. He was confident he could manipulate the Rabbit Clan leaders, one way or another.

     That left Sana. Clearly, appealing to a lust for power would never work on her, but if she could be convinced there was a significant danger to be confronted, she might yet stir the Bear Clan to action.

     Rising from his seat, Archibald strode around the table toward the door, lost in thought as he exited the room. Sargon had explained that the rabbit’s tampering with history had, if anything, accelerated the collapse of Armellian society. Now, their plans would guide that collapse, and ensure that when the dust settled, it would be Sargon and Archibald who sat atop the ruins and lead the rebuilding. Lately, though, Archibald had begun to realize that he would really have little need for Sargon, once he had mastered his newfound talents. Perhaps an opportunity would present itself to ensure that he alone would rise from the ashes. For now, he would bide his time.
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      Far away, in an isolated cabin within the alpine forests of the Wolf Clan lands, a brindled half-wolf stirred in his sleep, caught in a nightmare.

     His first awareness was of darkness. Not the darkness of a moonless night, nor even of the monster that had nearly slain him years ago. This was a void. He could feel a surface beneath his paws, like smooth stone. He felt at his side for his sword, but it was missing.

    He began walking forward, his paws padding silently. As he pressed onward, the darkness gradually receded, until he stood before the doorway to a great chamber. At the rear of the chamber sat a large throne. In front of the throne stood a threatening figure, wearing a crown, radiating malice and pain. The shadowed form advanced silently upon him, raising an enormous greatsword. The blade swung overhead, and came crashing down.

     Patches awoke with a shout. His mate Thistle sat up beside him, instantly alert. “Patches? What is it? What’s wrong?” she asked, her voice tense.

     Patches shook his head, trying to force his mind back to reality. “I had a dream. The same one I had when I nearly died after I first fought a Bane. I think… I think it’s important. Something has happened, or is about to happen, that will put Armello in danger. Something to do with the King.”

     Thistle was silent for a moment. Then she spoke, softly. “It’s been almost three years, Patches. Xerxes and Alcar are gone. Salvador is dead. We tied up all the loose ends.”

     Patches shook his head. “Not all of them. Alcar was working as an agent of the King, at least in part. He had King’s Guards working as his enforcers. I thought when we’d stopped him, we’d stopped the main threat to the Kingdom, but what if we were wrong? What if everything that happened was just a prelude, a foreshadowing, of some greater event? There is a reason I had this dream again, I can feel it. We can’t afford to hide away here any longer. We have to at least alert the Den Mother.

     Thistle sighed. “Patches, we both left the Militia because we decided we were done with all of this. We’ve done our part. Let someone else come to Armello’s rescue.” Seeing him preparing to argue, she raised a paw in a placating gesture. “All right. I see you’re going to insist. Just remember, whatever you do, don’t get yourself killed this time. I don’t have healing powers anymore.”

     Patches nodded, grateful that Thistle had decided to accompany him. There was one altered detail to the dream that he hadn’t shared with her. In the original dream, the figure he’d faced had been a lion, the King of Armello. This time was different. The figure that had attacked him was a wolf.

2
Artisan's Alley / Short Story - "Separate Ways"
« on: September 05, 2017, 02:56:38 PM »
Hello! I've finally come close to finishing this story as a follow-up to my previous Bandit Clan-related tale. I meant to finish this a lot sooner, but life and writer's block had other plans. The story is now complete. I do plan to write another one, but it will mostly likely not be finished for some time. As always, I hope anyone reading this enjoys it!

Separate Ways

Part One


     Archibald winced as the cart rumbled over another bump in the road. For once, his pounding headache had nothing to do with sobriety or a recent lack thereof – the King’s Guards had taken his hip flask. Not that it would have mattered much anyway. A life on the run had not presented much opportunity to purchase spirits.

     Then there was the little problem of his paws being bound behind his back, and a blindfold tied around his eyes. The brown rabbit sighed. On the one paw, some gin would have dulled his headache and relieved the pain in his back from the constant jolting of the cart over muddy roads. On the other paw, a clear head meant he was more likely to be able to take advantage of any chance at escape.

     Although he couldn’t see his fellow prisoners, he knew they were there from the grunts they’d been making as the cart lurched forward, pulled by a sturdy ox in the employ of the Guard. At least, Violet and Scarlet were certainly there; the otter and the vixen both let out a yelp after a particularly nasty jolt. Sir Horace had fallen silent a while ago; Archibald could only hope that didn’t mean the badger had passed out from his injuries, or worse. He considered trying to ask his comrades how they were faring, but thought better of it. The Guard captain had made it clear the prisoners would be punished if they were heard talking, and say what you would about the King’s Guard, those dogs had sharp hearing.

     Archibald reflected on how they’d gotten into this latest mess. The plan had started out well enough: he’d been assigned to write propaganda for the Bandit Clan’s revolution, which Violet and other couriers then distributed throughout settlements within both Armello itself and the lands of the four major Clans. Horace, much to the badger knight’s displeasure, had been assigned to protect Archibald, acting as his bodyguard and ensuring the rabbit did not reveal any sensitive information to the wrong creatures. Scarlet might claim she needed Archibald and Violet’s help, but she didn’t trust them entirely.

     As for the vixen, she had been using her time to rally further support by deposing Slantfang, the leader of her old bandit tribe, and working to unite the bandits and outlaws of Armello under a single banner. She had then arranged for a meeting of her most influential followers, and for some reason that escaped Archibald, she’d requested his and Violet’s presence. Perhaps their hard work on behalf of the revolution had convinced Scarlet of their trustworthiness, or maybe she had planned some final test for them before fully welcoming them into her inner circle. Whatever the case, the King’s Guard had somehow learned of the meeting and set a trap. Scarlet, Horace, Archibald, and Violet were among those captured; a few rebels had fought to the death, and the rest had fled. Horace had taken a nasty wound on his right leg before yielding; it was one of the few places not protected by his armor. Now, stripped of any armor, weapons, and personal possessions, the four creatures were being bundled along like so much baggage to their inevitable fate.
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     The sun was beginning to dip below the horizon, and still the Guards maintained their furious pace. Scarlet knew there was only one likely destination: the King’s palace, more specifically his dungeons. The Guards could have simply killed the Bandit leaders on sight, but presumably the King wanted a public execution to make an example of them. She sighed, wondering who in her organization had betrayed her. She had been so careful.

     The vixen’s thoughts went first toward the newest members of her inner circle, but Archibald and Violet seemingly had nothing to gain from such a betrayal, and they appeared to be in the same dire circumstances as the rest of the group. Besides, the Bandit King was usually a good judge of character in her followers, and she had a gut feeling their story of having fled the King’s Guard for the Wolf Clan lands was the truth. Next she thought of Horace. He had obvious ties to the King’s Guard, but a betrayal by the stoic, honor-bound badger was almost unthinkable. Besides, he’d fought as hard as anyone against the Guards. No, Scarlet felt sure someone or something else had betrayed her, but how? She shook her head. Such questions would be pointless if she didn’t find a way to escape.

     Suddenly, the Guard captain barked out an order, and the black-haired ox pulling their cart came to a halt. Scarlet sighed again, this time with relief. Any delay in their journey meant a reprieve, especially if their captors mean to set camp, although she wouldn’t be surprised if the Guards forced the prisoners to dig latrine pits with their bare paws. She heard the other two prisoner carts, one in front and one behind, rumble to a stop as well. There was a pause, during which more orders were issued. Then came a few minutes of stillness, and then, shockingly, a cry of pain. The strangled yelp came from somewhere to right of the cart Scarlet sat in, and it was followed by the sound of a heavily armored body falling to the ground. For an instant there was a stunned silence, then the Guards leapt into action, clattering this way and that in their armor, in some cases tripping over their halberds in their rush to defend against the unexpected onslaught. Scarlet, being blindfolded, could see none of this unfolding; she could only hear the screams as one guard and then another fell before what she could only assume was a pitched ambush by a well-armed force.

     In truth, what had attacked the guards was less an armed force and more a force of nature. An otter wearing a fur cloak and scaled armor moved among the dogs, his paws a blur as his fishing spear pierced the joints of the Guards’ heavy armor and his knife found gaps in their defenses. Dodging and writhing, at one point seeming almost to wind himself around an attacking Guard’s halberd without touching the blade, the otter flowed across the battleground like oil spreading over water. After half a dozen of their number went down the remaining four guards near the central cart regrouped on the other side of the vehicle, along with the terrified hauler. Under the captain’s orders, the guards at the other carts maintained their posts to prevent the prisoners in those carts from escaping.

     The Fisher of Souls paused, seeing that he had lost his advantage of surprise and now faced overwhelming numbers. In a moment the dogs would rally their courage and rush him all at once. His gaze swept impassively across the prisoners in the nearest cart, then froze. A flicker of recognition flashed in his flat, empty eyes. He moved quickly toward the cart.
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     Violet cried out in alarm as she felt herself being lifted out of the cart and carried away. Her first impulse was to struggle, but she quickly realized what was happening. I’m being carried away. A rescue? Some of Scarlet’s followers, probably. Wyld, please let this be a rescue and not some crazed band of marauders. But who other than the Bandit Clan would risk attacking a King’s Guard caravan?

     Violet waited in silence as the shouts of her former captors fell further and further behind. At last, the only sound was that of heavy breathing from her rescuer, who all but threw her down. “Hold still,” came a gruff voice, raw as though long unused. “Let me free you.” A few moments later, the ropes binding Violet’s paws and feet came loose and fell away, and she was able to reach up and remove her blindfold.

     She sat up and looked around, expecting to see the other occupants of her wagon standing around her, smiling and celebrating their escape. Instead, she saw only a single figure: a male otter, wearing scaled armor and a fur cloak, with eyes that lacked any spark of life or joy. He held a bloodied fishing spear in one paw, and a knife hung at his belt. “Where… where are the others?” Violet hesitated, shrinking from the strange otter’s baleful gaze. “Where are my friends? Where are your allies?”

     The otter shook his head. “I am alone. We are not safe here. Follow me.”

     Violet thought of arguing, but realized there was no point. Her strange benefactor was already moving away, and she saw no point in returning to the Guards. For a moment, she wondered if this was how Archibald had felt when she’d led the rabbit away from the ruins of her holt. Once the pair had reached a safer distance, the male otter spoke again. “Stop here. We’ll talk.”

     “Wait,” Violet protested. “We need to help my friends. I realize you couldn’t carry them all out, but there must be something we can do.”
     The stranger shook his head. “No one deserves my help.” His tone indicated that he felt this should put an end to the discussion, but Violet persisted.

     “How can you say that?” Violet’s voice rose in spite of her fear and disorientation. “You helped me. Those creatures are my friends, and I can’t just stand here and let them be marched off to the gallows by the King’s Guard!”

     “I helped you because I want answers. I want to know how you’re back from the dead. Cousin.” Violet’s rescuer chuckled mirthlessly at her look of shock.

     Violet felt her jaw drop, and she could barely find her voice. “Sylas? Y-you survived?”

     Another humorless chuckle. “I walked away. Whether the Sylas you knew survived is another matter. Do you want to hear what happened?” He watched as Violet hesitated, then nodded.

     “I was one of the first ones the dogs captured,” Sylas began. “They were all set to skewer me and be done with it, when one of them got a better idea.” Sylas paused, his empty eyes staring out into the distance. “They found some rope and tied me to a tree near the holt’s main hall. A Guard stood by and made sure I didn’t turn my head or close my eyes. They made me watch as they rounded up everyone. Then the killing started. Some died quicker and cleaner than others. In the end, the dogs threw the entire holt, dead and dying and the few still living alike, into the central hall. They barred the doors, blocked the windows, and set a fire. I saw and heard the whole thing. Then they left, and left me tied there, waiting to starve. I passed out twice. The second time, I didn’t expect to wake up.” Sylas paused again, as if even he were hesitant to relive the rest of his tale.

     “A wandering merchant found me. She’d come from downriver to visit the holt. Brought fishing spears and knives to trade. She cut me down. Probably thought it was a kindness.” Sylas laughed softly. The sound sent a chill down Violet’s spine. “There was nothing left in me but hunger and rage. Killing her didn’t end my rage. So I picked up a spear, used what was left of her hide for a cloak, and set off to kill as many King’s Guards as I could. I haven’t stopped since.”

     Violet shuddered, uncertain of what to say. Sylas was right: the adolescent she’d known was long gone. Her cousin had become a remorseless killer, and convincing him to help might be the only chance Archibald and the Bandit Clan leaders had left. “If you help me,” she said at last, “I’ll help you in return. I can tell you why the Guards came to our holt, and how I survived. More importantly, if you rescue my friends, I can give you a chance to take revenge not just on the King’s Guards, but on the King himself.”

     Sylas locked his gaze on Violet, causing the smaller otter to take an uncertain step back. “Then you will have my help, Violet.” Violet nodded, wondering if she’d made the right choice. Her life, and her friends’ lives, were now in the paws of the Fisher of Souls.

3
Bugs! / Missing Wolf Clan Rings
« on: July 20, 2017, 02:28:09 PM »
Hello,

Didn't see a forum thread about this so I'm just posting this here in case anyone else has the same issue. After the most recent update to Armello (as of July 7 00:00 EST), I'm unable to select any Wolf Clan rings other than Sapphire and Rubellite. Nothing else seems to be affected. I've already emailed the logs to QA. I just wanted there to be a thread in case people wanted to post stuff or ask questions. I could also post a screenshot if that would be helpful.

4
Feedback & Suggestions / Portrait Selection
« on: July 14, 2017, 01:52:11 PM »
Hello. I was thinking it would be neat if players could choose between the various portraits and frames that they've unlocked as they level up in the multiplayer queue to use their favorite (Diablo III does something similar if I remember correctly). I like some of the portraits better than others, and I find it a bit dull that all level 60 players have the same portrait. I get that the system as it is now provides an "at a glance" indication of a player's level, but that's what the numbers are for.

I realize there may be some coding reason this won't work, but since I hadn't seen it brought up on the official forums anywhere I thought I'd post about it.

5
Artisan's Alley / 3D Bane Art
« on: July 12, 2017, 02:06:14 PM »
My first attempt at making 3D art. I decided to try to make a Bane.

6
Bugs! / Unable to open in-game store
« on: July 01, 2017, 05:17:26 PM »
Hello, having a weird issue. Ever since the 1.8 patch, I've been unable to open the shop without Armello crashing. The game just freezes up, and then I have to use the Task Manager to quit the game.

Edit: Just wanted to say that I just reproduced the bug and sent a log via email. Also, the shop music continues to play even after the game freezes.

7
Artisan's Alley / Short Story - "Honor Among Thieves"
« on: June 21, 2017, 05:52:22 PM »
Hello, and welcome! This story picks up directly from the end of my previous story, "Revolution". I hope anyone reading this enjoys it.

The story thus far:
http://leagueofgeeks.com/forums/index.php?topic=3055.0
http://leagueofgeeks.com/forums/index.php?topic=3238.0

Honor Among Thieves
Part One


     The moon was high in the sky over Braybrook Shire. The sleepy hamlet was far from any well-trod road. Its only reason for appearing on a map at all was that it boasted the only inn for a day’s walk in any direction. The main visitors were rangers and travelling peddlers. Braybrook Shire was a place where not much happened on most nights.

     This was not most nights.
     
       A lone shape stood in the gloom before a grain silo on the edge of town. It was an otter: lean and lithe, he kept his left paw on the handle of a cruel-looking knife at his belt. In his other paw was a broad-headed fishing spear. A fur cloak hung from his back, partially concealing a shirt of scaled armor. A metal guard protected his left leg between the shin and knee. Even when standing still, his body was in constant motion, twitching and writhing as if some force would not allow him to rest. His most haunting feature was his eyes. They were strangely empty, showing no spark of life or emotion. Within the silo, a dozen members of the King’s Guard lay bound, stripped of their armor and weapons. Their captain lay at the otter’s feet, gutted like a fish. At his back was a crowd of townsfolk, their expressions ranging from relief to horror.

     The otter turned to address the gathered creatures. “Fetch kindling. Rags, straw, anything that will burn. Bring lantern oil too. And a torch.” His voice was raw, as if from long disuse.

     The leader of the villagers, a white ram, opened his mouth to protest and then wisely reconsidered. Resignedly, he told the crowd to do as the otter commanded, knowing that to refuse would probably mean joining the Guards in their fate. One old fox, his red fur turning to grey, was willing to raise an objection. “This is senseless cruelty,” the elder said. “We are grateful for your aid, but these corrupt Guards wronged our town, not you. Please allow us to punish them in our own way.”

     The otter’s reply could have made a corpse shiver in its grave. “No-one deserves my help,” he grated. “I care nothing for you or your town. I will show these dogs as much mercy as they showed my family.”

     Seeing that there was no reasoning with this mad beast, the townsfolk hurried to do as he instructed. As flames grew to engulf the silo, the light from the blaze reflected in his eyes. For a moment there was life in them again. The Fisher of Souls had claimed his due once more.

     The morning sun rose above the horizon, its first rays reaching out to strike the walls of the Wolf Clan’s capital. Unable to sleep, Archibald Hassenburg had sat awake all night in the room he shared with his friend, awaiting her return. Finally, the combined effects of exhaustion and gin had taken their toll, pulling him into a sleep haunted by nightmares. He had watched in horror as Sargon, self-proclaimed Master of Fate, had turned his friends, past and present, into ash. First Sylvia, then Myra, then Violet. At last the rat had turned to him, a cruel smile on his face. Then the dream had ended, and Archibald lurched awake with a wordless shout. Looking about, he saw that Violet had not yet returned. He frowned, thinking of his quarrel with the otter yesterday evening. Surely she isn’t still angry with me. What if something’s happened to her? What if she’s hurt, or imprisoned, or… dead? What am I going to do?

     At that moment there was a knock on the door, and the rabbit’s spirits lifted for a moment. Then the door swung open to reveal the rotund form of Garth Greymuzzle, the Lone Wolf Inn’s proprietor. “Morning, rabbit. You all right? Thought I heard a shout just now, wanted to be sure you ‘adn’t been injured.”

     Archibald blushed with embarrassment beneath his brown fur. “Just a nightmare. Sorry to trouble you. Have you seen Violet?”

     Greymuzzle frowned. “Your otter friend? Come to think of it, I ‘aven’t seen her since las’ night, when she left all in a huff over some words between you two. Maybe she’s had enough of you,” he winked one brown eye, “and moved on to another rabbit.” Seeing that his jest was not appreciated, the old wolf raised his paws in a conciliatory gesture. “Truth is, I’d hate to see anythin’ untoward ‘appen to her. I’ll ask the Militia types downstairs to keep their eyes peeled for her.”

     Archibald grunted his thanks as Greymuzzle retreated from the room. The wolf had long kept up a running joke that the rabbit and otter were like a married couple, but his words raised unpleasant possibilities in Archibald’s mind. What if his harsh words the previous evening really had been the last straw? He decided to head out and look for Violet immediately, leaving a note for her explaining his whereabouts in case she should return while he was gone.

     Fortunately it was Wyld’s Day, and most creatures in Wolf Clan lands would be excused from their duties in order to honor the Wyld and spend time in contemplation. Archibald had never been a very spiritual rabbit. He had seen little evidence of the Wyld being a tangible force in the society he’d grown up in, and had believed the Rot to be an exaggeration of common plagues and illnesses in old texts. Then he had been accidentally transported to a future where the Rot had consumed nearly all life in Armello, and a past where druids wielded mysterious and unexplained powers. He didn’t attend services at the local Wyld shrine regularly, but he was a bit more open-minded on the subject. At the moment, he was merely grateful that his absence from his office at the harbor would raise no ire from his employer. Putting on a clean linen shirt, pants of undyed wool, and a brown linen vest, he made his way downstairs and out the door of the inn, opting to skip breakfast in favor of an early start.

     Violet awoke in an unfamiliar place, feeling a momentary sense of disorientation and panic. She was in a bed far too large for her diminutive frame, in a room which was comfortably if not lavishly appointed and large enough to boast its own fireplace for warmth. She still wore the clothes she had on when she left the Lone Wolf Inn last night: a shirt and pants with the sleeves and legs cut short for ease of movement while swimming or running. Her memory of what followed was hazy; there had been a pier, an angry wolf, and an enormous badger in plate armor. She seemed to remember the badger singing to her. Looking around the room, she spotted a bookshelf filled with scrolls and books. Curious, she hopped down from the bed and strode across the room.

     Or at least, she tried to. Bruised bones and strained muscles sent electric shocks of pain racing along her nerves, and she nearly collapsed to the floor as she remembered the beating she’d taken during last night’s misadventure. Gritting her teeth, the small brown otter walked gingerly to the bookshelf and selected a book at random. It proved to be filled with poetry in a format of three lines per poem, with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second line, and five in the third line. The poems were written in a neat paw, and she read an entry at random:

     Death lighter than shame
     Redemption from dishonor
     All sorrow ended


     The otter shuddered, wondering what manner of creature would write such verses. Then she jumped at the sound of a key turning in a lock. The door to the room swung open to reveal a massive badger in plate armor, improbably carrying a silver tray loaded with a tea set and pastries. He looked at the otter without apparent surprise or anger. “Good. You are awake. I could have had breakfast brought to us, but I prefer to prepare my meals myself when possible. Few creatures properly understand the art of brewing tea.”

     Violet watched as the badger set the tray down on a round table fashioned from some dark wood, and gestured to one of two ornately carved matching chairs. Belatedly she recalled the knight’s name. “Please, Sir Horace, I don’t mean to be rude, but I must get back to my friend at the Lone Wolf Inn. He’ll be worried about me.”

     Horace nodded. “You shall have leave to return there shortly. In the meantime, eat. Your body needs food and rest to heal.” The badger then noticed the book in Violet’s paws. “You know how to read?” For the first time, he sounded faintly surprised.

     “My friend taught me,” Violet explained. “He’s a scribe and a scholar of sorts, says every creature should learn how to read, even if they haven’t got much use for it. Expands the mind, he says. I was curious about your books; I haven’t seen many elsewhere.”

     Horace nodded again. “A wise friend. Curious that you chose that particular book, as it contains poems I have written myself. Tell me, Violet, have you learned anything about me?”

     The otter hesitated, embarrassed. “You seem to value honor above everything, including your own life. You long for redemption from something that causes you great sadness.”

     “Ah, so that is the one you read? Yes, lady otter, I do seek to regain my honor. Perhaps someday you shall know why. Now it is only fair that I learn something about you. Pray tell, where did you first make your home?”

     Violet hesitated again, unsure of Horace’s intentions. He had sworn to bring her no harm, yet what if he was loyal to the King? What if he realized she was a fugitive from the King’s Guards? Would his honor compel him to arrest her, regardless of his oath? She decided to take a leap of faith. “My home was a holt on the side of a river in the lands of the Rabbit Clan. Three years ago, it was burned to the ground. I was the only one who survived, along with my friend, who was… a guest there. We came here in search of a new start.”

     Horace narrowed his eyes. “You are concealing something from me, lady otter. I doubt a mere accident would leave no other survivors. How did your holt come to be ruined?”

    In for a penny, in for a gold crown, thought Violet. “The King’s Guard. I don’t fully understand why, but they decided my family was a threat to them.”

     Horace nodded. “I suspected as much. Tell me, are you sure there could have been no other survivors?”

     “None that I know of, Sir Horace. Most of my family were killed resisting the Guards as I ran to awaken my friend, and the rest were being herded into the central hall. The Guards barred the doors and lit a fire.” She paused, shuddering at the memory. “I do have one cousin who might have escaped. At least, I didn’t see him with the others, not that it means much. He was not yet full-grown; even if he escaped I doubt he could survive long on his own. Why do you ask?”

     Horace’s expression grew thoughtful. “You and I may have a common cause. I shall need to speak to your friend as well. You say he is a scribe?” He nodded at the otter’s confirmation. “Excellent. Can you arrange for him to meet me here?” Violet nodded her agreement. “Good. When you have finished your tea, please find your friend and bring him to me. I renew my oath to you, and swear that I shall harm neither you nor your friend. I wish only to see if we can reach an accord.”

     As the otter departed his room, Horace was once again lost in thought. He strongly suspected that her friend would prove to be the rabbit that Greymuzzle had written about to Scarlet’s agents. Both Violet and her friend were said to be outsiders with few attachments. Perfect for what Scarlet had in mind, if they were willing to cooperate. Violet’s tale had also given him cause to wonder. Reports of the Fisher of Souls had first appeared a little less than three years ago. Horace had been dismissive of the rumors, questioning what could drive a beast to such madness. Now it seemed he might have an answer.

     Archibald’s search had thus far proved fruitless. He had checked at the harbor, but few creatures were there, and none had seen Violet. He thought next of the various shops where he and Violet would purchase those necessities not provided by the inn, but none would be open on Wyld’s Day. Finally, he decided to visit the nearest Wyld shrine, reasoning that if Violet was not there, he was at least more likely to meet someone who had seen her. There, he finally had his first stroke of luck: one of the congregation had seen Violet the previous evening.

     “An otter, you say,” mused the wolf, scratching absently behind her notched ear. “Now that you mention it, I did encounter an otter last night. I could give you directions to the place, but you might get lost. Perhaps it’s best if I just show you.”

     “I’m grateful, but won’t you miss your turn to receive a blessing?” asked Archibald.

     “Oh, believe me, the opportunity to help a stranger is all the blessing I need,” replied the wolf, “especially if your friend is in trouble. I couldn’t bear it if I later heard that something had happened to her. Now, if you would, please follow me.” With that, she turned and headed out into the city, leaving a somewhat bemused rabbit to follow her.

     Violet was about halfway back to the Lone Wolf Inn when her progress was halted by a member of the Wolf Clan Militia. “Oi, otter!” called the fighter. “Hold up a moment, river dog. Ol’ Greymuzzle asked us regulars to give a message to you as a personal favor. He says your rabbit friend is worried sick, and would you kindly hurry home before he pines away without paying the rent.”

     “Thank you for passing on that terribly touching missive,” Violet replied acidly, “but as it happens, I was already on my way back.” She walked off at a slightly faster pace, pondering the fact that, despite having seen that Militia wolf nearly every night for three years, she had never learned his name. Perhaps she owed him an apology later; after all, he’d only been trying to help. Upon arriving at the Lone Wolf Inn, Violet could see immediately that something was wrong. For one thing, there was a newly-made hole in the front window of the common room. For another, Greymuzzle stood inside staring at a written note with a worried look on his face. His expression brightened briefly as he caught sight of Violet entering the room, only to turn crestfallen again a moment later.

     “You’re back, an’ none too soon,” Greymuzzle observed. “Some beast threw a rock through my window wi’ this note attached. Shame all the Militia pups are out on patrol.” He held the note out for Violet to read. “The real trouble is, the note’s addressed to you. At a guess, I’d say your friend’s in real trouble.”

     Violet took the scrap of paper and read the note. The message was very direct.

    Otter,
     You took something from me, and now I’ve taken something from you. If you want your rabbit to live, come to the harbor and we’ll continue our previous discussion. Come alone or he dies. Bring the item or he dies. Come at sunset or he dies.


The note bore no signature.

8
Artisan's Alley / Short Story: Revolution
« on: June 13, 2017, 04:57:06 PM »
Hello, and welcome! I've been wanting to do a story featuring the members of the Bandit Clan since they became publicly available. This story ties in to my previous one, so you may want to read that first in order for all the details to make sense. As always, thanks for reading and I hope anyone reading this enjoys it.




Revolution
Part One

     The moon was high in the cloudy sky over the Wolf Clan capital. Near the waterfront district, hard-working creatures of all descriptions kept to their beds, carousers to their alehouses, and guards to their patrols, while various unsavory characters stalked the back alleys. A short, dark-furred otter, wearing clothing designed more for ease of movement than for protection from the elements, entered the Lone Wolf Inn. None of the patrons gave her more than a cursory glance, as she was a familiar sight. She crossed the common room where a few off-duty Militia wolves sat playing dice, climbed the stairs, and strode to the door of the room she called home. She stood before the door, swaying slightly from exhaustion. She tapped on the door with her paw and, hearing no response, tried the handle. The door swung open on groaning hinges. She entered just in time to hear another sound: the clinking of a bottle against a glass. The bottle was held in the left paw of Archibald Hassenburg. The brown-furred rabbit was standing as though rooted unsteadily to the floor, staring into space with bleary blue eyes, spilling liquor onto a small, round wooden table as much as into his glass. Despite his condition, his fur was neatly groomed and his clothing, though much-repaired, was recently laundered.

     Violet entered the room. The space was intended for a single occupant, but had a curtain installed which could be drawn across the room to provide separate sleeping quarters for both occupants. They took turns between sleeping on the room’s single bed and on a straw mattress on the floor, but paying for two beds in one room was more affordable.

     “Drunk again?” asked Violet. She sighed. “You need to ease up on that stuff. This is the fourth time this week. The druids might have given you a longer life than most creatures, but you’re not immune to poisoning.”

     “It’s been three years,” the rabbit replied, with a slight slur in his voice, “Three Rot-blasted years of living in this squalid inn, playing at being a harbormaster’s clerk, writing receipts and filling ledgers and drawing up contracts. Three years in which my life has had no meaning and I’ve failed to live up to my promises or my potential. Three years. Three!” He set the bottle down, or tried to: it fell onto its side and spilled its remaining contents onto the tabletop and floor. Tallow candles flickered in their sockets on the walls. Not for the first time, Violet wondered where the fat to make the tallow came from, before deciding she’d rather not know.

     “If you’re still so anxious to keep your promise to Sylvia, or Sage, or whatever her name was – is – will be, why don’t you get off your fluffy tail and do something about it? If you tried something other than spending your wages on cheap gin, you might have better luck.”

     Archibald glared at the otter. “First of all, I’ve thought it through. I really have. There’s nothing. We. Can. Do. I am trapped here in this Wyld-forsaken century with no way to alter the future or change the facts. The world is going to end someday, and trying to prevent that was pointless. We gave it a good go, but in the end, the future refused to change.” He paused to draw breath before renewing his tirade. “Second, you worry about my drinking, but at least you know where I am each night! I barely even know what you’re doing after your shift at the docks. ‘Finding things’ indeed. One of these days you’ll ‘find’ an early grave, and then I’ll be completely alone! How do you even know the things you find belong to the creatures who pay you to find them?”

     Violet raised her paws in a placating gesture. “What I do is assist people with problems too small for the Guards or the Militia to handle. What that involves is typically finding missing items or persons and returning them, no questions asked. If I don’t like the sound of a job, I walk away. Everyone knows this up front. And I do this, I might add, to make up for the money that you fritter away trying to drown your sorrows in a bottle!” The otter was trying unsuccessfully to reign in her temper. “If it wasn’t for me ‘finding things’, you’d be out on the streets instead of in a cozy room at the Lone Wolf Inn. Maybe I have kept you up at night worrying, but I’m not sorry about it.” And with that, she turned and stalked out of the room, being careful not to slam the door behind her. She had no ill will toward the inn’s proprietor, whom she passed as she finished descending the stairs. “Pardon me, Greymuzzle. Just going out for some fresh air.”

     The portly wolf innkeeper watched her go, then shook his head, adjusted his green, ale-stained vest, and walked upstairs. He trod as quietly as he could down the hallway until he reached the room that Violet had just vacated. He knocked politely at the door, then let himself in. It was his inn, after all.

     “Fight with the missus?” Greymuzzle asked, only half-joking. “Some of the boys and I could hear you from the common room. Didn’t unnerstan’ all of it, but I know a row when I hear one. You didn’t ask, but I’ll give you some advice, since that’s what most beasts think I’m good for. Decide what’s more important to you: the bottle or the female. You can’t keep both for long. Trust me, I seen it too many times. Now, before you get all shouty at me for poking my snout where it don’ belong, I’ve business to discuss. You can soak all the gin you want into my floorboards, but rent’s got to be paid, and that includes the furn’ture you broke las’ month. I’ve let that slide too long on ‘count of my gracious nature.”

     Wordlessly, Archibald dug into his coin purse and proffered the required sum, which the innkeeper collected, counted, and stashed in a pocket of his vest. “Thanks awfully, friend,” Greymuzzle said as he left the room, closing the door behind him. He shook his head sadly. Unlike many wolves, Greymuzzle had a soft spot for strangers, and this pair were stranger than most, but at this rate he’d be forced to ask them to move on. Business was business, after all, and drunken rabbits rarely made good tenants. Odd, too, that in all this time he’d never heard new instructions from the King’s agents about them, despite sending several reports over the years. Perhaps his words had simply fallen through the cracks, or there were other priorities. So long as they kept paying, he’d keep sending reports. The old wolf returned to work with a shrug.

     Earlier that day, the morning sun’s rays had washed the Wolf Clan capital in a rosy light. In the wealthiest district of the city were inns catering to the upper crust of Armellian society. Diplomats, nobles, merchant princes, and their assorted entourages of bards, wizards, bodyguards, aides, and functionaries all found a luxuriant home away from home there. In one such inn, the Wolf and Crown, a vixen stirred from her canopied bed in a luxury suite on the third floor. She padded across the oak floorboards, enjoying the feeling of finely woven rugs from the eastern desert against the pads of her feet. She paused before a window and drew back the curtains, letting the sunlight warm her copper-colored fur. Her white markings shone in the morning light. Scarlet, the Bandit King, ruler of the unified bandit tribes, closed her eyes and savored the moment. It was too rare that she had time to enjoy such simple pleasures. A heavy knocking at her door interrupted her reverie; each knock had precisely the same volume and cadence as the last.

     Scarlet grinned mischievously and, knowing who waited on the other side of the door, called out “Enter!” before moving unhurriedly toward an ornately decorated paneled screen in the corner of the room furthest from the door. The visitor did exactly as he was bidden. As always.

     The door swung open, and an enormous badger in full armor filled the doorway. Sir Horace, the Iron Poet, formerly a Knight of the Order of the Rose, stepped into the room and shut the door behind him. He strode forward several paces with surprising grace. “You should be careful not to stand so near the window. You have enemies, and they have hired killers. Also, you may want to dress more warmly. The Wolf Clan lands are often quite cold even in spring.”

     Scarlet suppressed a laugh, impressed at the knight’s discipline. If he experienced the slightest bit of embarrassment, Horace kept it from showing on his features. She stepped behind the screen, only the tip of her tail and the tops of her ears still visible. “Relax, noble badger. Life isn’t worth much without taking some risks now and again, and I highly doubt that any of my enemies know I’m here. You will also note that I’ve chosen this particular room of this particular inn because it offers few good vantage points for a potential sharpshooter to strike from. Slantfang taught me a lot of things in my time with his tribe, one of which was how to be cautious. Soon, very soon, I shall repay him the favor.” Scarlet stepped out from behind the screen, now clad in her favorite attire: a simple black-and-white dress with the sleeves left short for ease of movement, and a belt at the waist to hold it snugly in place. A second belt could be slung across her shoulder, holding a scabbard for a dueling saber, but this would have given her too piratical of an air to be mistaken for a wealthy merchant’s daughter on holiday.

     “I think you know I intend to do more than just unite the bandit tribes into a single Bandit Clan,” she continued. “To truly ignite revolution across Armello requires more than torches and pitchforks: it requires hearts and minds. We must make ourselves heard in every city, town, and hamlet, and we must do so in a way that our enemies cannot silence. There is a new invention that can help us do just that. I’ve had agents working to acquire the plans from a Rabbit Clan inventor for some time. I hear he has recently met an unfortunate end, but not before those plans made their way to my agents’ paws.”

     “One might question the convenience of that event, if one was so inclined,” Horace remarked, with a slight edge to his voice.

     Scarlet shrugged. “Freedom requires sacrifices. In any case, the invention in question is a new machine for creating printed leaflets. No more copying page after page by paw! We can flood the cities and towns of Armello with our words, provided we can build and use this device successfully.”

     Horace cleared his throat tactfully. “I think you may have forgotten something. You are a highborn vixen, and I am a poet warrior, but the average downtrodden Armellian can barely read well enough to find the local pub, if at all. Your words won’t do much good if your audience cannot comprehend them.”

     Scarlet smiled. “My faithful champion, always guarding me from my mistakes. I have, of course, considered the possibility that the masses will need these words read to them. My job in this venture will be to oversee the construction of the printing device; your task, Sir Horace, will be to gather together those who will put my plan into motion. I’ll need literate, sympathetic creatures to carry my message to the far corners of Armello, and, most importantly of all, I’ll need someone who can write a convincing manifesto. I can provide directions in that regard, but I can’t guarantee that I’ll always be there to dictate exactly what to say. You need to find someone who can put our call to revolution in simple, powerful terms; someone who can write words that will ignite a spark of passion in the hearts of Armellians everywhere!”

     “Finding a creature who equals you in that regard will prove most formidable,” Horace said in a neutral tone. Scarlet blinked, unsure whether the knight had just made a joke.

     “Ever the charmer, Sir Knight. Now, that business is for later.” The vixen opened a small safe hidden in the wall of the room behind an ornate portrait of some forgotten Wolf Clan dignitary. She withdrew three gold coins, and offered them to the badger. “Here. An advance on your salary. No, a bonus. You take life too seriously, Sir Horace. You need to relax, enjoy yourself. Take the day off. Go out and spend your money on fine ale and fine company, and don’t return until you’ve done so. That’s an order.”

     Horace took the money without changing his expression. “It is early in the day for drinking. As for company, wolves are not known for their great hospitality to strangers, paying or otherwise. Still, I shall obey your commands to the best of my abilities. My lady.” He bowed once, then turned and exited from the room, still somehow managing a quiet grace despite wearing all that armor. Scarlet smiled. That had definitely been what passed for a joke from him. So the stiff-necked knight was slowly acquiring a sense of humor. Perhaps she could teach him a few things after all.

9
Artisan's Alley / Short Story: "Ouroboros"
« on: March 06, 2017, 04:11:34 PM »
Hello! It's been a while since I posted any new stories here. Mostly this is down to me not having time to write things, and lacking any ideas that I wanted to turn into a story. I've finally found the time to begin writing a new one, and I've had this idea for some time now. Fair warning, it will likely take me some time to post the completed story, but for now here is the prologue, with the first chapter hopefully to follow very soon (I'm still finishing/proofreading it).

As always, I hope anyone who reads this enjoys it.

Ouroboros

Prologue

     Archibald Hassenburg drew in a deep breath, the first in centuries. He opened his blue eyes, peering through round brass spectacles perched atop his nose. A faint light suffused the earthen chamber in which he rested, though he could not make out the source. Reaching down and to his right, the brown-furred rabbit picked up his bowler hat and dusted it off. Standing slowly from his sleeping pallet, he straightened his brown pinstriped suit jacket, brushed off his trousers, donned his hat, and turned to see a diminutive, dark-furred female otter standing before him. She wore a green, pocket-lined cloth vest and an agitated, uncertain expression.

     “Myra?” he began. “Myra, you made it after all! How long – ”

     “Shhhh!” The otter gestured sharply for silence. “Quiet! They’re coming for you. We must leave this place now, before we’re discovered.”

     Wordlessly, Archibald followed the otter down a short passageway toward a narrow opening into the night air. A small, magically illuminated stone near the entrance was the source of the glow he’d seen before. He wondered if it always glowed, or if it had responded to the otter’s presence. Many symbols were painted on the wall near the stone, but one stood out in particular: a serpent grasping its own tail in its jaws.

     Looking out from the chamber’s entrance, Archibald saw that he was standing on the side of a large hill; it was steep and dotted with caves, and was very nearly a small mountain in size. Sniffing the air, the rabbit was surprised to catch the scents of ash and char, and he saw a plume of smoke rising above orange flames to the south.

     “My home,” his guide grunted by way of explanation, “What’s left of it.” The otter shook her head sadly. “Come on, we need to keep moving.”

     Archibald shook his head as well, though from confusion rather than sadness. So many things were jumbled in his mind, like the letters of those cryptographic puzzles he enjoyed so much. He followed his guide without complaint, trusting that his memories would return to him in time. She led him away from the fire, around and down the far side of the hill, through dense thickets and into wooded terrain.
Finally, after what he judged to be about four hours of walking in silence, his companion signaled to him to stop.

      “This should be far enough. We can rest here for a short while, then continue. It’s best if we don’t speak, though. There may be other patrols nearby.”

     The rabbit nodded his understanding. He sat down on bare dirt damp from a recent rainfall, hardly noticing as it stained his rumpled trousers, once sharply pressed. He studied the otter more closely, as best he could in the moonlight, and sighed at his own foolishness. No, of course, this wasn’t Myra. The resemblance was uncanny, though. Perhaps…. No. It couldn’t be. His instructions were quite clear, and Myra wouldn’t have disobeyed him. Would she? He sat back against a broad oak tree, dug his paws into the pockets of his jacket, and tried to gather his thoughts. Thinking was difficult, like trying to climb a wall of smooth, oiled stone.

     He knew his name, his origin, and most importantly his mission. The mission was everything. The details were fuzzy, though. Other things seemed wrong, too. Who was searching for him, and why was his newest friend so anxious to avoid them? What had happened to start that fire he’d seen from the hill? He drew in a deep breath and tried to focus, but an uneasy feeling sent shivers down his spine. He had the distinct and terrible feeling that he was either too early, or too late. Archibald closed his eyes.

     Perhaps some corner of my mind holds the answers I need. I must relax, and let the memories come.

Part One

Four hundred years in the future.

     Archibald awoke to another perfectly ordinary day in Prairie Bridge. The bustling, cosmopolitan city, located not far from the old boundary between the Rabbit and Wolf clans, was greeting the day with its usual riot of sounds, sights, and smells. A gray pall hung over Prairie Bridge, a combination of sullen clouds, gauzy fog, and smoke from the nearby foundries. Laborers and automatons would be moving finished products from the factories to markets and shops throughout the city.

     The rabbit crossed the wooden floor of his bedroom and opened the wine-colored curtains at his window. He gazed out at the fog wreathing the streets below before moving to the washbasin to complete his morning ablutions. A short time later, clothed in a housecoat, he made his way down the staircase to house’s dining area, where he began boiling water for coffee. Stepping out onto his doorstep, he discovered a small note resting atop his morning paper. Gathering the note and paper, he went inside, set the items down at his dining table, and poured a cup of coffee. Sitting at the table, he opened the note first. It read thus:


Archie,

I need your help to test out a new invention. My usual assistant is out sick today, and I know how you enjoy my experiments. I’ll see you at 11:00. Don’t be late!

Sylvia

     Archibald sipped his coffee and sighed. Sylvia’s inventions always meant trouble, and he was due to give a lecture this evening on the importance of cross-indexing references in the scholarly examination of epic Old Armellian poetry to the local chapter of the Royal Literary Society, but he supposed he could spare a little time. Surely whatever task Sylvia had in mind for him wouldn’t take long. He picked up his copy of the Prairie Observer.

     Strange Burial Complex Mystifies Archaeologists, proclaimed the paper. Apparently, a number of tombs had been found at a series of sites not far from Prairie Bridge, with some of the oldest predating Armello itself. The occupants of the tombs were exclusively otters. Even more strangely, one of the tombs was completely empty, but showed no obvious signs of looting. The sites suggested continual occupation of the area from the early Pre-Dynastic era until the reign of the Mad King, but there was no indication of why no other traces of settlements had been found there, or why they might have been abandoned. Archibald shrugged. He had his own mysteries to confront – such as why Sylvia insisted on sending such uninformative notes. He returned to his room, and changed into his brown pinstriped suit and trousers. Finally, he collected the belongings he took on any outing into the city: wallet, pocket watch, cane, and hat. He stepped out onto the curb, hailed an auto-carriage, and paid the fair for a ride to Sylvia’s laboratory.

     Archibald opened his eyes. The sun had begun rising, and his newfound friend was shaking him awake. He blinked wearily. Was that a memory, or a dream? Aloud he asked, “Will you tell me your name now?”

     “Violet,” came the reply, “That was my mother’s favorite flower.” The otter’s voice caught; she cleared her throat. “She died for you, you know,” she continued, her tone faintly accusatory. “They all did. Not all of them knew that, and even I don’t know why, but I know you have a plan. Mother always said there was a plan to save us.”

     The rabbit sighed. That newspaper headline. That’s what it meant. I should have realized – should never have tried this. I was doomed to fail before I even started. “There was a plan,” he said flatly, “but it failed. That’s why I’m here now and not sleeping for centuries longer. And I didn’t know, or at least I didn’t know that I knew, that you and your mother and your whole Rot-blasted village would be there!” Startled by his own outburst, the rabbit softened his tone. “I’m sorry, it’s just… my best chance at getting back, at getting home, not to mention stopping a catastrophe before it starts, has just gone up in smoke. I also apparently have enemies who are hunting me for reasons I don’t know or understand. So my first priority is to get out of here alive, and then I have to figure out what to do next.”

     Wordlessly, Violet gestured for Archibald to follow her away from the clearing where they had spent a few hours resting. For a long time they walked silently through the woods in the growing morning light, a light rain adding to the overall sense of gloom pervading the rabbit’s thoughts. Finally they paused near a hollowed-out tree trunk, exhausted from walking so far without food or water. “Tell me something,” Archibald began, “Exactly how much do you know about me? What legends have been passed down to you over the years I’ve been asleep?”

     Violet was silent for a few moments, and Archibald wondered if she would simply refuse to speak to him again, when she spoke, her voice little more than a whisper. “The elders say you came here from beyond the sunrise, many years ago when Armello was in its infancy. They say you fled a great darkness, but that you had a plan to defeat it: one that would save Armello from certain doom. You were too exhausted from your journey beyond the Sun to carry out that plan, so you slept for years and years, and we were to serve as your caretakers and guardians until you awoke.”

     The rabbit shook his head. “Then you know only part of the truth. I shouldn’t be surprised. After so many centuries it’s amazing your people got that much right. There are still some gaps in my memory, but I will try to tell you what really happened. You deserve to know the truth.” Archibald leaned back and closed his eyes. “Let me think, where to begin…”


10
Artisan's Alley / Short Story - "Reunion"
« on: August 04, 2016, 07:46:43 AM »
Hello again. It's been a while since my last story here. Good news and bad news:

The bad news (or maybe not so bad, depending on how you look at it): this is my longest story yet, and probably my last one in this series, so I'm posting it in five chapters.

The good news: I finished the whole story before posting it. Why such a long story? Due to schedule changes, this is probably the last story I'll have time to write for the foreseeable future, except maybe some shorter standalone ones. I wanted to give my long-running story arc some closure, which meant I had to fit two short stories' worth of material into one longer tale.

As always, I hope anyone who reads this enjoy it. Thanks to LoG for providing the setting of Armello and letting me play around with it. Hopefully I get to write more stuff in the future!


Chapter One

Salvador looked up as the door to his room – some would call it his prison – swung open. For over a week, he’d been confined to these quarters within a hidden enclave of the Night Mother’s servants, waiting for a chance to prove his worth. All his needs had been provided for, yet his forced inactivity frustrated him. Zosha entered his quarters, her expression unreadable. “Salvador. New assignment for you. There have been difficulties acquiring the Stone.”

     “What new assignment?” Salvador snapped. “You promised me a Spirit Stone, and in exchange I’d produce all the gold you want. That was our bargain.” Zosha stared at him, unblinking, then continued as if he had not spoken. “I have received reports. An ancient temple, previously unknown, found on the border of the Great Desert. The Night Mother believes something of value is there. There are often Banes and other dark things lurking in such places. I believe you can devise something to protect our operative from taint. You could refuse, of course, but is your best interest to comply.”

     Sal shrugged. “I see no reason not to. It will give me something to do while I wait for you to bring me a Spirit Stone.” Zosha laughed. “Heh. You are funny, lab rat,” the assassin chuckled. “You will not be sitting here in your comfortable room. You will go with my operative and ensure that she makes it out alive. If she does not, your life is forfeit. If you run, your life is also forfeit.”

     “And if I die?” Sal asked. Zosha shrugged. “Then I suppose your life is still forfeit. I will shed no tears for you, Salvador, and the Night Mother will get her gold by other means. Get to work. You have one week to find an antidote for taint. Shadows bless you.” And with that, she was gone. “This deal is getting worse all the time,” Sal muttered. Shortly thereafter, another rat arrived and ushered Sal to a laboratory stocked with equipment, samples, and unfortunate creatures who would serve as his test subjects. Seeing no other options, Sal selected several reagents and a mortar and pestle, and got to work.

     Thistle stared out a window from her room in Mara’s house in Prairie Ford, taking in the predawn gloom. Since returning from her abduction by the Rot worshipper Alcar, Mara had insisted on hosting Patches and Thistle personally. Thistle suspected Mara wanted her friends close after the ordeal she’d suffered; fortunately, the hare had a large house, one of the benefits of her stature as an important Rabbit Clan representative. As Chief Logistics Officer of the Reconstruction Bureau, Mara acted as de facto mayor of the recently rebuilt town, and there was talk of making the title official.

     Mara’s sense of propriety meant the two Militia fighters occupied separate quarters. Patches had a room next door to Karl, Mara’s bodyguard and assistant, while Thistle stayed in the house’s remaining guestroom. As she wait for sunrise, Thistle reflected on recent losses. Despite all of his skills, despite his prowess at stealth and combat, the coyote who called himself Tracker had died on the mission to save Mara. A single mistake had cost the scout his life.

     Thistle hadn’t even known his fate until much later, having already completed her part in the rescue and left, following her instructions. Thistle had found Mara, but had been forced to carry her away while Patches rallied the other rescuers. The wolf was tired of losing friends. Death seemed to follow her everywhere: she’d lost her own sister to an ambush while on patrol, and so many others who had fought beside her were gone now. Even Selene, who should have been her enemy, had sacrificed her own life to save Thistle’s  – a fact the Militia fighter was constantly reminded of, since what was left of the rat’s awareness shared some corner of her mind. Thistle pictured Patches lying broken and torn, his brindled fur matted with blood. How can I be sure I won’t fail my friends again? 

     Karl awoke later that morning. Ever since Mara had been kidnapped, the big ox had insisted on staying as close to her as possible, even sleeping in the guest quarters of her mansion rather than at his own home. With a groan and a yawn, he rolled out of bed, his horns leaving deep scratches on the ornate headboard. Rot take it! I told that flop-eared bureaucrat not to give me anything too fancy! Shaking the sleep from his head, Karl became aware of an odd noise, a high-pitched keening sound like a creature in pain. Quickly roused to full alertness, Karl snatched a poker from the room’s fireplace and shouldered his way through the too-small doorframe and into the hallway.

     Looking around for trouble, Karl saw only Patches. The half-wolf was staring disbelievingly at a scrap of parchment, and holding a familiar-looking dagger. Karl realized with a shock that his friend was the source of the noise. A tingle of dread crept down the big ox’s spine. “Patches? What’s wrong?” Karl asked. “She’s gone,” Patches said numbly. “Gone?” roared Karl, “Wyld’s Branches, how could they have taken Mara again?”

     “Not Mara,” Patches managed, sounding as though his voice was breaking along with his heart, “Thistle. I got up just now and found this, pinned to my door with one of her knives. She…left.” Patches handed Karl the note, unable to explain any further. Karl blinked in surprise, certain he had heard wrong. He looked down at the parchment, almost afraid to read. The words, written with charcoal, were all too clear:

Patches,
By the time you read this, I’ll be long gone. I know you’ll want to follow me, but please don’t. What I’m doing is for my own good, and yours. You told me what happened to Tracker, how his need for vengeance blinded him, made him careless. I’m afraid my feelings for you will lead me to make the same mistake. That could kill us both, and I won’t have that. Maybe, when this is all over, and you’ve stopped Alcar, we can meet again. If not, know that I love you no matter what happens.
Thistle

PS: The dagger I left behind was my sister’s. It’s identical to mine, but it’s never really belonged to me. I’d like you to keep it.


Thistle had left. And her friends had no idea where to find her.

     
     Salvador mopped his brow and sighed with relief. Finally, he was making progress. Zosha’s agents had made sure he had plenty of Rot-tainted creatures to work with, and he was smart enough not to ask where they came from. His latest test subject hadn’t broken out in boils, or fallen choking and writhing to the floor, or had all her fur fall out in clumps. This squirrel was actually recovering from her Rot infection, the glistening purple markings receding from her red fur as he watched. In spite of her terror at being captured and subjected to bizarre experiments, the squirrel actually smiled. “I-it worked! I won’t die like the others, it worked! It’s a mirac- uhhn!” The unfortunate creature stopped smiling as a blade sprouted from her chest.

     The corpse slumped away to reveal Zosha, her expression dispassionate. Sal hadn’t even heard her enter. “It seems she was right,” the alchemist noted wryly, “she did not die like the others.” Zosha shrugged. “That one served her purpose,” she said, as though discussing the weather, “and I leave no loose ends. You have done well, lab rat. Follow me. I introduce you to Alisa, my operative. Darya was her cousin.” Sal swallowed, recalling that Darya was the name of the rat he’d killed in Darkmire. Outside the lab, Zosha gestured, and another rat stepped from the shadows, her dark grey fur covered by a black cloak. “Alisa, meet Salvador. He will assist you on your mission. He greatly regrets the death of your cousin. Should he prove disloyal, kill him.” Sal took one look at Alisa’s icy stare and shuddered. This was going to be a long journey.

     Alcar squinted in the harsh light. The ferret had forgone his usual finery for a simple brown traveler’s cloak, the hood pulled up to shield his eyes from the desert sun. He smiled to himself as his goal came into view over the ridge of yet another vast dune: a brooding temple, crumbling with age and covered with obscure hieroglyphs. True, he had suffered setbacks lately. His scheme to spread plague throughout the Bear Clan and have the Wolf Clan take the blame had been ruined. The Spirit Stone had fallen into the paws of that half-wolf and his pathetic band of would-be heroes, and now, worst of all, Garrith had failed him. The cat had gotten overconfident. Alcar had wanted to simply extract the information he needed from Mara and dispose of her, but Garrith assured the ferret she’d make the perfect bait for a trap. Now he was dead.

     Soon, though, none of that would matter. The ferret reached into a pocket sewn into the lining of his cloak, and withdrew a small shard of a black material that seemed to drink in the sunlight. Alcar felt a faint presence brush his mind, barely perceptible, like the echo of a whisper. The ferret smiled again. Not long now, Alcar thought. The ritual will be completed. We’ll strike a bargain. You will have your vengeance, and I will have everything else.


11
Bugs! / "Bane of the Deep" Text does not match reward
« on: July 30, 2016, 02:04:00 PM »
The successful ending text for the Rat Clan "Bane of the Deep" text doesn't necessarily match the reward given. The game stated I had gained a follower both in the onscreen text and in my hero journal, when in fact I received the Hero's Shield. Not a major problem, but it was a bit jarring. I have a screenshot somewhere but seem to have misplaced it.

12
Bugs! / NMA on Player Disconnect Following Combat
« on: July 16, 2016, 11:14:21 AM »
Hello! Ran into a NMA following a player death in combat. Sent the logs using the in-game bug report, but since I grabbed a screenshot I thought I'd post here too. Mercurio attacked me on his turn, died in combat, and quit the game. I'd say it was probably a ragequit rather than a random disconnect, since he'd been going after me from day 1 and I'd just turned the tables on him. The problem is  when the AI took over, Mercurio didn't end his turn. In fact, as you can see from the screenshot, he's really lying down on the job. The issue seems to be that the player disconnected at the exact moment the character died on the map, and somehow the game didn't resolve Merc needing to die again. Anyway, hope the info helps.


13
Artisan's Alley / Armello is a Strange Place
« on: July 11, 2016, 09:50:10 AM »
As often happens, I recently ran into an unusual situation while playing Armello. I decided to take a screenshot. Then I decided to post that screenshot here. Because, as you will see... Armello is a strange place.

Whatever Thane called upon to save that other wolf, I'm pretty sure it wasn't the Wyld...


14
General Discussion / How do I Show Screenshots in Posts?
« on: July 11, 2016, 01:43:07 AM »
I got a screenshot recently that I want to post in a thread, but nothing I do seems to let me show the image as part of my post, and the file size is too large to add as an attachment. How do I get the picture to show in my post without others having to click a link?

15
General Discussion / Largest Number of Keys/Chests in a Row?
« on: July 10, 2016, 03:10:52 PM »
I've gotten seven. Seven straight chests. If you flip a fair coin seven times, you should get all heads less than 1% of the time. In the words of Barnaby, "Oh, come on!"

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