Wednesday, November 20, 2013


The following is a text dump from a DBLSPACE compressed file I retrieved off an old computer. If you're like me, this is fascinating. Names and numbers have been removed for privacy reasons.

Version 5.4  Revision 7
 Copyright (c) 1989  V Corporation

control paperwork will contain all the information needed to manufacture the job properly by specifying all the required materials, operation sequences, quality control procedures and subcontracting involved in the job.    










TELEPHONE:  — — ——

PM<3rt p="">
pÀ0$> ¨64ût¥Îƒ

y@à;p_Cz¯6-â =P_!_

COPYRIGHT (c) ______ _______ Company

This work is protected by the United States Copyright Laws as an

unpublished work and by ________ as trade secret information.

Solely for use in licensee software as permitted by written license

from ______. Disclosure of contents and of embodied

programs or algorithms prohibited.

begin the initial and work with J____ D___ on raw materDS

REV     WPS 

B9 tY±{ëÆ][voÙ8f
scription Promise Date

Arm Cavity 1-24-97
Leg Core 1-24-9DS
.$xq D

Note Balances

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The Internet Caught on Fire!

Well, the Internet Archive caught on fire. And even then really just one building full of scanning equipment, not any servers.

I absolutely love the Internet Archive. If you've never checked it out I encourage you to do so. They store an absolutely mind-boggling amount of data which is freely accessible to the public. They also have what is known as "The Wayback Machine" which allows users to view websites as they appeared in the past. (I recommend McDonalds from 1996.)

I got an email from them today informing me of the tragic fire. They lost 20 boxes of books and film that were in the process of being digitized. Some of them were irreplaceable.

They also included this gem from the archives. It's absolutely terrifying.

That's all for today folks!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


This is my latest video project at NESCom. Tim Reid and I worked on it together. It came out a lot better than we thought it would! Let me know what you think!

NaNoWriMo Excerpt: Magic Explained

I don't have a whole chapter I want to post right now but here's a section which explains the use of magic in my novel.

There were three doors on the opposite side of the room. The doors to the left and right were wooden and the center door was a massive door made of iron.
       The large wooden door to the left was inscribed with more of the Tirinic runes. These ones had been carved into the door and then filled with a metal of some kind.
            Fiorra squinted at the runes for a moment. “Mage’s Entrance”
Cazard looked smug, “Guess you’ll all have to stay behind.”
            He pushed the door and it started to open. It groaned and the hinges made a popping sound. Cazard recoiled as the door snapped off the hinges and fell down, disappearing into darkness.
It was at this point they noticed that the hallway beyond did not have a floor. Several seconds later they heard the door reach the bottom of the hole. The hallway extended nearly thirty feet until it ended abruptly in a wall with a carving of a gruesome face with its mouth open wide.
Padavae swept the torch out over the pit. “I thought you said mages couldn’t fly.”
            “We can’t. This is a test. You see that carving down the other end of the hallway? It has a web around it, a very strong web that’s been attuned to be weak to fireballs. If we could break the web, the floor will extend from the walls.” He pointed to a slab of stone that was a slightly different color than the walls that ran the length of the hall. “We’ll have to find another way around.”
Padavae frowned. “What’s the issue? Just send a fireball.”
“I can’t throw fireballs.” Cazard looked offended. “I’m an ice mage.”
Just an ice mage?”
“Of course not. I’m quite handy with the air rune. But that doesn’t help much in a fight and it isn’t useful now.”
Orvar frowned slightly. “Why can’t you use fire?”
“It’s not an easy feat to master all four elements. I’m no good with Earth either. Besides, I don’t like fire. It’s messy. It gives no control and leaves too much evidence; Charring, ashes, odors, and more. Ice is orderly, quiet, deadly, and…”
“You sound like a serial killer.” Fiorra took a step back.
Cazard glanced at her. “…Leaves no trace.”
Orvar wasn’t convinced. “But you’ve made fire before, just make it bigger.”
Cazard looked exasperated. “And I’m sure you can hammer a nail into a piece of wood. Doesn’t mean you can build a house. Do I really need to instruct you all in basic rune mechanics?”
            “Just tell us why you can’t make a fireball.”
            “Even if I was learned in the fire rune I likely wouldn’t be able to make one of sufficient magnitude to break the web on that statue. Without a focus object it is very difficult to do much more than very simple rune manipulation.”
            “A focus?”
            Cazard slumped. “In the interest of not having to stop every few moments to answer your questions why don’t I just start at the beginning.”
            “I studied at the mage academy in Amaranth, northeast of the border of the Empire on the edge of the Endless Tundra.” Cazard waited for this to sink in. “Amaranth” They stared blankly at him.
            “I’ve heard of it.” Orvar offered meekly.
            Cazard sighed. “Amaranth is the seat of magical research in the Realms. It is the site of the discovery of three of the nine Great Runes. It is where Jharbane Tenbolt, Vothus the Arcane, and even Zhandhul studied and taught the art of magic.”
Cazard drew a grid of nine squares in a sandy patch of floor.
            “There are nine basic runes in the standard table. They are ordered in such a way as to ensure balance.”
            “Therefore, the center of the table is the rune for balance. It has no opposite.” Cazard looked up at the others. “Most mages can only access a small portion of the potential of this rune without a focus.” In the center of the grid he drew a skinny hexagon with a central dot.
            “The four corners represent the four basic elements. Fire, Ice, Air, and Earth.” He drew the accompanying symbols clockwise around the grid. “They are countered by their opposing element. Fire with Ice and Earth with Air.”
            “The remaining runes are modifiers. They give direction to the raw forces of nature. In the left square is the rune for spirit, known as Spiritus. It lets a mage manipulate the immaterial aspects of the elements and cast lingering ‘webs’ of magic. Webs cast with spirit are more easily broken by spells using Corpus, the physical rune.” He drew a trident shape in the right square. This balances the spirit with the physical world. It gives strength to spells that modify the world, especially Earth and Fire spells.”
        “The final runes, in the top and bottom spots on the table are life.” He drew a hexagon with two prongs shooting downwards. “and death.” He slowly poked three dots in the sand. They formed an upside-down triangle.
        Padavae put her hands on her hips. “You said that webs made with the spirit rune can be broken by spells with the Corpus rune. So why can’t you just combine the ice rune with the corporal rune and shoot a big icicle at the web or something?”
            “Ah, a good question. As I mentioned, the rune table is all about balance. The various types of runes cancel out runes of a similar type. Elemental fire cancels elemental ice. Life counters death. Spirit counters Corporal. You cannot combine those runes effectively. However, it is also difficult to combine elemental runes with modifiers directly adjacent to them on the table. Fire does not mix well with life for example. The runes for ice and corporal are adjacent to each other, there is no balance between them. Therefore it is very difficult to cast a physical ice spell. So, a large icicle is out of the question. If I had a focus object I could manage it. But rags and rocks won’t do. I need something that will give balance to the runes.”
            Orvar shook his head. “I still don’t see why you can’t just use the fire rune. Magic is far too complicated.”
            “That’s why it’s known as arcane you oaf.”
            Padavae raised her brow. “I have to disagree. This isn’t too difficult. You’ve really devoted your entire life to this? I’ve got nimble fingers. I’m sure I can wiggle them in the shape of a few runes and make a flame.”
            Cazard stared at her for a moment, then threw back his head and laughed. The sound echoed down into the hallway.
Something stirred.
“I’m sorry, did I give the impression that this was easy? It takes years of practice to achieve the state of mind necessary to actually connect the runes to the elements they represent. The runes are a conduit. It is fine for me to draw air runes in the empty air because the conduit is in its natural element. Other runes are not as effective when drawn in the air; that is another reason why a fireball would be difficult. They are shapes that have proven over time to be the most effective at channeling the power of their respective forces. To actually have the rune do anything one must be attuned to the force it represents.”
            “And how does one become ‘attuned’?” Padavae asked haughtily.
            “By not being so obnoxious.” Cazard shot back.
“So if you had a focus you could break the web?” Fiorra interjected.
            Cazard looked away from Padavae. “I’d have a much better chance than without, but there’s no guarantee. I suggest that we find another way around. Perhaps there is an entrance for people with no brains.”

            Padavae glowered at him. Before she could reply Orvar made a strangled cry and fell to the ground. A dark, snake-like tentacle had silently slipped out of the pit and wrapped around his leg, it had then yanked him to the ground. It began to drag him towards the pit.

Literal cliffhanger FTW.

Here's an image of what the rune table would look like.

FIRE          LIFE            ICE


  EARTH    DEATH           AIR

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

NaNoWriMo Excerpt! Chapter 2

Still no time to blog! Which is a shame because I visited Boston this weekend and saw Colin Meloy in concert. Also toured MIT's campus and saw lots of amazing things. I will try to find time to write about it soon! In the meantime, here's chapter two. I've touched it up a bit because I have to turn it in for my Creative Writing class but it's still a rough draft. If you haven't already you can read chapter one here! Points if you can give me a better name for the chapter, leave suggestions in the comments. (Update: My sister gave me a great chapter title "Pick up the Torch")

Chapter 2
Pick up the Torch

Orvar blinked; a bright disc floated distantly above him. He was lying on his side in a large patch of sand. Water dripped steadily somewhere nearby. The air was cool but suffused with a foul odor. He rolled slightly; groaning as every fiber of his body ached from the impact it had absorbed. They were in a dim stone chamber about thirty feet square. The only light in the chamber filtered down from above. A soft voice broke through his stupor. It was Fiorra.
“That fall should’ve killed us or broken our bones.”
Cazard, already standing, puffed himself up a bit, “You can thank me for our soft landing. I learned how to cast air runes with my feet a few years back. Shards, that was a good night at the bar. A little jig, wiggle my toes, gust of wind and up the skirts go! Innocent as a lamb I was.” He chuckled. “I hope there’s a tavern down here somewhere. I could go for a nice mug of ale.”
The thief, sitting to the side, muttered. “Shut up. Curse the gods to be stuck with a fool like you. You’ll get us all killed.” She slipped her hands out of her rope bonds as if they hadn’t been tied at all.
            “I’ll get us killed?” Cazard struggled ineffectually with his own bonds. “What about that stunt you pulled, mooring the ship when I had perfectly good leverage to get us all out of this mess!?”
            “Leverage? You call that leverage? You had a candle-flame. One of the guards to the stern had started loading a crossbow. I saved your life you ungrateful lout.”
            Cazard jerked his head irritably toward the damp dungeon walls. “And you call this saved? Better to have died in the light than starve to death in the belly of a mountain.”
            Orvar did feel as if some great beast had swallowed them.
            Cazard attempted to storm off to another part of the room before remembering that the chains prevented it. The thief snickered. He spun back to face her and sputtered. “I am The Great Cazard, You are but a common thief!”
            At this the thief smiled. “Oh really?” She knelt next to Fiorra and cut her bonds with a small razor she produced out of nowhere. She moved on to Orvar, motioning him to stand up. She began sawing through the rough cords. “Well then, Great Cazard,” she dragged out her words, “Go on and dance your hands out of those ropes.”
            Cazard glared at her. His face contorted for a moment, then relaxed into a mask of complacency. He spoke, his voice held no sarcasm or revilement, but his eyes betrayed his anger. “If you wouldn’t mind then, my Lady…?”
            The thief grunted in annoyance, knowing that the implication of nobility was a slight. “You can call me Padavae.”
            “Lady Padavae” He flashed a bright smile. “If you would be so kind as to cut me free.”
            Padavae turned and held the razor out to Orvar. “You can deal with him.”
            Orvar stepped over to Cazard and leaned in close.
            “I think you’d best play nice. If we’ve any chance of escaping from this place we’ll need all our strength. You may have to leave your ego at the door.”
            Cazard opened his mouth to protest, then thought better of it. He shrugged and held his hands out. Orvar cut through the bonds carefully.
            With his hands free Cazard immediately began inspecting the chain around his waist. “First thing to do, I should think, is get ourselves free to move more than five feet from one another.” He glanced meaningfully at Padavae then kneeled down and rapped the chain experimentally against the stone floor.
            Padavae shook her head. “It’s no use. I’ve been working on a way to remove them ever since we boarded the airship. They aren’t just locked, they’re welded on.” She glanced up at the small patch of sky visible through the shaft. “There’s no way we can climb this, I don’t suppose you could fly us back up there?”
            Cazard was holding the chain to his ear. “Softening our fall was one thing m’lady. Flight is a feat that was beyond the powers of even Jharbane Tenbolt.”
            Cazard looked up at her, bewildered, “Do you know anything about magic?” He abruptly slammed a length of chain against the floor. The sound echoed hollowly around the room.
            “Damn. Well, I guess we’re stuck with these chains for a while.” Cazard trailed off. “If we could find a way to heat them…” He trailed off, still fondling the loops of chain.
            Orvar turned away from Cazard. “Padavae, huh? That’s a western name if I ever heard one. You’re from the coast?”
            “Yes, Daejon.” Padavae looked at him carefully “And you are from Malan Tael are you not?”
            “My name is Orvar. I’m from the village of Jonli, a ways to the north from there.” He handed the razor back to her. “But you are right, I moved to Malan Tael in adulthood.” Orvar glanced cautiously at Fiorra.
            “You work for the emperor.” Padavae said, her face blank.
            Orvar gestured to the distant sky up the shaft they had come down. “I believe I am unemployed.”
            Padavae remained motionless, razor in hand.
            He continued. “Listen, we’re in this together now. I’m not your enemy. If you had a bone to pick with the Empire I’m sorry. I used to believe in what the Empire stood for but I’m not too fond of them now. Things changed, that’s why I’m down here.”
            She shrugged and slipped the razor into her hair. “I didn’t have a bone to pick with them. Then they decided I was a Theraen spy and threw me in here.” She sighed. “Daejon may be part of the rebellion but Péca is just across the river. The trade barges carry more than goods across the river, they carry ideas. The battles may be fought on the Blooddrop Fields but the war rages quietly in Daejon and Péca.”
            Cazard gave up on the chain entirely and stood, holding up his hands defensively. “Before you ask, I’m not a supporter of the Empire or Theraea. They’re both useless.” He dusted his hands off. “Though I suppose life would be easier again if Malan Tael got it’s act together and wiped out the Theraens.
            Fiorra took a quick step and struck Cazard across the cheek. “How dare you! The Theraen people fight against the oppression of the Empire, we seek to end the evil which has spread from Malan Tael!”
            Cazard winced. “Ow. Fine then, wipe out the Malanians. I don’t care. You can start with Orvar over there. He’s one of them, high-ranking too from what I’ve gathered.” He rubbed his jaw and grimaced. “This is why I stay out of politics.”
            Fiorra glared. “That kind of callous disregard for life is what is wrong with the Empire.”
Still smarting from the slap, Cazard went on. “I’m sure you have a great reason to hate the Empire. Your father die in the war or something?”
        Fiorra glared at him. “My father is Samril Ashiyon.”
            Padavae’s smile was smug. “Do you know anything about reality? Her father is the King of Nothampton, the leader of the Theraen rebellion.”
            Cazard balked. “You’re a Theraen princess? Why are you down here? Why aren’t you being ransomed back to your father or held as a bargaining tool to negotiate a surrender?”
            Fiorra’s anger quickly ebbed. Her eyes were downcast. “I don’t know. I was held captive for nearly a month before being sent here.” She looked around, as if realizing where she was again.
            The wind from the top of the mountain found its way down the shaft and they all shivered.
            Orvar felt his military training taking hold. “We need to get our bearings down here. Lets see if we can find anything of use.”
            He walked towards one of the walls. The others followed closely to avoid being tugged along by the chain. The light dropped off quickly as they moved away from the shaft to the surface. Cazard lit the flame above his fingers again and edged up next to Orvar. The walls were damp and slimy with algae. They worked their way counter-clockwise around the room. They came to a small alcove and stopped.
            Fiorra was behind the others. “What is it?”
            Orvar stepped aside, revealing a pile of human bones pushed up against the wall. Deep gouges marred the surface of many of the bones. Fiorra quickly looked away. They moved on silently.
            Eventually they came to a gateway set into the wall. Orvar gripped the grid of iron bars, testing them for strength. He lifted, but the gate didn’t budge. “See if there’s a crank to open it.”
            Cazard moved to the other side of the doorway, his flame illuminated the other wall where thick ropy vines partially obscured a torch resting in a sconce. “Hey! There’s a torch here.” He reached up and touched his flame to it. The torch roared to life, illuminating the room and part of a passageway beyond the cell gate.
            Fiorra ran her hand lightly over the wall opposite the torch. “There’s something written here.”
            Three lines of chalky white runes shone brightly in the yellow torchlight.

            “What does it say?” Orvar asked.
            Cazard studied the runes briefly. “It could be a spell.” Cazard pointed to a hexagonal rune with a dot in it. That one looks similar to the rune for balance, but none of the others even resemble the standard magic rune tables.”
            Fiorra whispered in astonishment. “It’s not a spell, it’s a language…”
            Cazard glanced at her. “What language uses runes like this? Even the insectoids have a proper alphabet, odd as it may be.”
            Fiorra ignored him and stared at the runes. She idly traced one with her finger. “This means ‘fate,’ and this one next to it means…” She trailed off then turned to face the rest. Orvar held his breath. Fiorra spoke quietly “Death.”
            “So we’re fated to die, that isn’t news.” Cazard said irritably.
            Padavae spoke up, “What about the rest of it? Surely there must be something else. There are dozens of runes there.”
            Fiorra nodded tiredly, “You’re right, but this is a very old language. I’ve only seen it a few times before. It will take me some time.”
            Orvar laughed out loud, startling the others. “Time, my dear, is something we have plenty of.”
            Fiorra turned again to the runes and studied them for a while. Cazard, initially excited by his discovery, soon subsided and kicked his feet in boredom. Several minutes passed. Fiorra swayed slowly to the side and then started suddenly, jerking backwards. “Did you hear that?” she breathed.
            Cazard whispered loudly, “What! What is it?”
            They all stood perfectly still for a moment, Orvar imagined some terrible beast crawling out of the darkness and devouring them. A few seconds passed.
            Padavae spoke up cautiously, “I didn’t hear anything.”
            “I thought I heard…no, I’m sorry, I think I drifted off there. It’s been so long since I slept.”
            Orvar relaxed, glad that the monsters were only in Fiorra’s head. “I suppose we could all use a rest. We’ll get some sleep, then you can try again at translating…”
            Fiorra turned to him, “No, I…I know what it says now.”
            Padavae raised her eyebrow. “The expression ‘sleep on it’ usually refers to more than a few seconds.”
            Cazard grunted, “Well, what does it say then?”
            Fiorra ran her fingers along the runes again. She spoke slowly. “Choose your fate. Perish in this cell or pick up the torch.”
            Padavae turned to the burning torch and grabbed the shaft. She lifted it out of its resting place.
            There was a small click and the sound of metal striking metal in quick succession. The gate lifted smoothly and disappeared into the ceiling.
            Cazard frowned. “I don’t like that. I don’t like that one bit.”
            Padavae turned to him, holding the torch aloft, “So you’d rather stay in here and rot now?”
            “It’s too simple. Even if we hadn’t deciphered that text odds are we would have picked up that torch. What’s the point? Besides, why is this gate closed? Surely the previous expedition made it past this chamber.”
            “Maybe they’re still alive, maybe they closed it.” Fiorra said quietly.
Cazard looked at her, “And went back into the mountain? It has to be someone else.”
            Orvar scoffed, “There was one who escaped from that expedition, he probably replaced the torch on his way out, is that so hard to believe?”
            Cazard stuck his head through the open gateway, inspecting the walls cautiously. “Maybe. I’m a little more concerned with the part where he’s the only one who escaped.”
            Padavae looked at Orvar “You know what happened to the expedition here? Anything useful we should know?”
            “Yes. I was there when the expedition left Malan Tael. It was a party of about two-dozen men led by Lord Perel of Kalevala. They were tough men. A few weeks later a messenger returned with the news. A young squire had escaped but had died of his wounds before he could say much. The majority of what he said was babble. He talked about demons and monsters, traps of flame and pitfalls. But it’s hard to say what was real and what wasn’t. All we can be sure of is that there is something down here that can kill an armed party of battle hardy men and drive a boy insane.”
            “Oh, is that all?” Cazard said dryly.
            Padavae brushed past him. The sections of chain holding them all together rattled. “It doesn’t matter, we have to move forward. There’s nothing here.”
            She moved out into the passageway. The rough stone brick appeared yellow and sinister in the torchlight. The others followed silently.
            The passageway ran straight from the gated entrance for a few dozen feet and then made an abrupt left. The walls remained featureless and bleak.
            Fiorra, her eyes drooping, faltered, and the chains rattled loudly.
            Orvar glanced back, “We need to rest before we move too far. We don’t know what we’re going to run into.”
            Padavae tugged on the chain. “We can’t stop now, we need to find food and water.”
            The passageway made another turn, this time to the right. The torchlight revealed that this section of the hall had small shelves cut into the walls every few feet. They were all empty. The hallway disappeared into the dark beyond the torchlight.
            “Why is this place even here? Who goes to all the trouble of building inside the tallest mountain in the world?” Cazard grumbled.
            Orvar laughed softly. “Well, that’s what the emperor wants to find out, which is why we’re stuck down here. I’m less worried about the why and more about how to get out of here. The guard captain said that there is supposed to be an exit further down. He could be wrong, but he wouldn’t lie to us. The only reason to send us down here is if they truly believe we can show them the way in from the bottom.”
            The passageway ended, emptying them into a small chamber. A short, wide pedestal occupied the center of the room. There was a small pool of water in a stone basin near the wall. There was another gate on the far side of the chamber. A wheel stuck out of the wall next to it.
            Orvar looked around, automatically noting the defensibility of the position. “We have to stop here. Fiorra will be a dead weight on the end of the chain if we don’t. There’s water here and we have no way to carry it. I haven’t slept since night before last and I know it’s been longer for Fiorra.” Padavae looked as if she was going to protest again but he could see the exhaustion in her eyes too.
            Cazard crossed his arms “Fine, what about some food?”
            Padavae surveyed the room and spotted some dark spots on the wall near the basin. She walked over and plucked one off the wall. She held her hand out to Cazard.
            “Here, eat up.” She opened her hand to reveal a small snail.
            Cazard hesitated. Before he could decide whether to protest or not, Padavae shrugged and deftly sucked the snail out of its shell.
            “It’s not a tavern with ale and cheese but if you expect to find anything larger or more appetizing I believe you’ll be disappointed.”
            She turned back to the wall and plucked another snail, finishing it off as quickly as the first.
            The reality of their situation sinking in, the other three wordlessly followed suit, grimacing as the slimy nuggets slid down their throats.  Fiorra only managed to get three or four down before she gave up to her exhaustion and lay down on the floor. The floor, mercifully, was only slightly cooler than the air above it. Clothed as they were in only ragged tunics and cloth pants the warmth was welcome.
            Orvar watched Fiorra curl up on the floor, her dark brown hair spread limply across the stone. The chain at her waist made harsh scraping sounds as she tried to find a comfortable position. She looked frail. Her outburst earlier had surprised him. She was tired in body, but not in spirit. He wondered whether the Emperor had sent word to King Ashivon what he had done with Fiorra. He suspected not, but knew that it had been a long time since he had been able to predict anything that the Emperor would do. Orvar sighed. He drank a few handfuls of water from the basin and splashed it on his face. The water was cool but had a sharp iron tang to it.
        Padavae turned to Orvar “How do we put the torch out? If we dip it in the water it won’t light when we wake.”
        Cazard, now taking his turn at the basin, looked up. “Just leave it on the pedestal until we’re ready to sleep. I’ll put it out properly.”
        Padavae did as he said, which told Orvar volumes about how tired she was.
            The chains dictated their sleeping order. Orvar and Cazard were on opposite ends of the chain with Fiorra closer to Cazard. Orvar propped himself against the wall near Padavae. She in turn lay down near Fiorra and rested her head on top of her arm. Cazard stripped off his thin, tattered shirt and tried to use it as a pillow.
            “Should we set watch?” Padavae asked.
            Orvar scratched at his head. “No use, we’re all too tired to fend off anything if it did show up. Not to be negative but keep in mind a fully armed party of two-dozen was wiped out by whatever is down here.”
            “Thanks for the reminder.” Cazard rolled over and flicked his hands into the air, drawing a few quick runes. A gust of air burst through the chamber and snuffed out the light. Orvar heard Cazard roll over again and soon there was a soft snoring.
There was no light. There was no shadow. The mountain was quiet. But not for long.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

NaNoWriMo Excerpt! Chapter 1

I'm off and noveling! I don't really have time to write a blog post so here's the first chapter of my novel!
(This novel is based on the premise of the game "The Legend of Grimrock." Beyond the premise nearly everything is my own invention.)

The Descent

Chapter 1
The Spire

            The air was thin and cold as the airship struggled to gain the last hundred feet towards the summit.
            Looking out over the railing Orvar could see the mountains of the Dearthfang ridge trailing into the distance. These massive mountains that would dominate the landscape were they anywhere else in the world were quite literally overshadowed by the impossibly vertical cliffs of Mount Grimrock. He shut his eyes tight, shivered in the wind, and began thinking back on what he knew about this desolate place.
            For as many years as anyone cared to remember the spire known as Mount Grimrock served the kingdoms of the Northern Realms only as a landmark. An ever-present feature travelers could use to navigate all the way from Uttermost down to the warm bay of Nothampton.
            When Orvar had boarded the airship in the mining town of Thraelm he’d overheard the captain tell the guards that this close to the mountain it was the only way to navigate. Compasses either pointed at the mountain or spun aimlessly. "The mountain by day, the stars by night," he’d said.
            In recent years there had been rumors that the Emperor of Malan Tael had become interested in the history of Mount Grimrock. He began hiring expeditions and sending them to explore the base of the mountain and see if it could be climbed or bored into. The miners at Thraelm had stopped the expeditions and warned them that Grimrock was impenetrable. The base of the mountain, let alone the summit, was unreachable. The expeditions tried anyway. Tools snapped, men died in accidents, and the harsh weather made further exploration impossible. A young man on the expedition led a group of four closer to the base of the mountain than anyone else had been. The survivors said that they had nearly made it when they spotted an object caught in some ice. They smashed the ice and grabbed it before being forced to turn back in a mounting storm. Only a few survived the trek back to the emperor but they brought with them the object, a curved piece of an unknown metal. The emperor’s advisors, including Orvar, had told him that the scrap was nothing, just a bit of mining machinery long since forgotten. He, however, was ecstatic and ordered that a way be found to the top of the mountain.
            Orvar heard that order three years ago. High-altitude airship technology quickly advanced as the emperor placed a generous investment in research. Eventually an airship was constructed capable of reaching the peak of the mountain. The emperor sent an exploratory party to establish a foothold on the summit. Tales returned of a gaping maw at the peak.
            The emperor frowned. "A dormant volcano?"
            The messenger from the expedition shifted his feet. "No your majesty, the pit is a perfect circle and the walls are smooth. It appears to have been carved into the mountain by…by…"
            "By the ancients of course!" the emperor exclaimed, now grinning widely. "This is most excellent news, tell the expedition team to enter the mountain and learn its secrets!"
            The messenger shook his head "My apologies your majesty but the current expedition has abandoned the mountain and refuses to return. They were unsettled by the… statues."
The emperor frowned again. "Statues? Of what?"
Leather creaked in a short silence, "Hooded figures, my lord, five times as tall as a man. They stand around the pit, heads bowed. It is as if they are waiting for anything to come out. I fear whatever could. The pit smells like death."
            The emperor waved his hand dismissively. "Superstition and cowardice. Lord Perel!”
            A man stepped out of the crowd of advisors. “Yes my lord?” It was the sort of question that was already an answer.
            “Gather some of your men. I want you to lead an expedition down into Mount Grimrock.” Lord Perel nodded curtly.
            Lord Perel was a fierce warrior and a pious knight. He had proved himself in battle in the many conflicts between the Malanian Empire and the Kingdom of Theraen. He made the journey to Thraelm and then boarded one of the new airships. Once at the peak he descended and led twelve of his bravest men to the abyss. They were well equipped with torches, heavy armor, swords, crossbows, and rations for a week. Three days later only a single survivor emerged from the darkness.
            He was Lord Perel's squire. He was feverish and mortally wounded. Before dying in the evening of that day he had reported what they had seen. In his fever he babbled madly about getting lost in an endless winding tunnel network. He kept shrieking in horror about two companions’ faces melting when a horrible trap spewed liquid fire on them. Lord Perel himself was trapped in a dead end when a massive stone block lowered from the ceiling and sealed the corridor he was exploring. They had tried to break through the stone but it had been unyielding. The mindless screaming on the other side of the wall hadn’t made them try any harder to get through.
            Several of their companions now dead and their morale shaken by the fate of their lord the remaining expeditionary force had set camp in a vast dust covered hall flooded with cold blue light emanating from a strange floating crystal in the center. During their rest the creatures of the dark came. The watchman barely had a chance to raise an alarm before the onslaught. But the squire escaped and managed to run back to the entrance hall and climb up a rope they had left. The last thing he mentioned were visions of spinning cogwheels suspended in dark clouds and a voice in his dreams.
            The Emperor was angered by the loss of Lord Perel and even more by the failure to glean anything more than a few scraps of information from a dying man. He quickly became irritable and erratic. Orvar and many other advisors had tried to reason with him to no avail. He wished he had simply let the emperor be.
            Orvar was jostled from his thoughts by a slight bump and the shouts of the airmen.
            They had arrived.
            The peak was shrouded by wispy clouds and streaks of the rising sun filtered through them, casting an odd purple radiance on the strange rock formations and ruins at the top. Orvar looked up and watched as one of the airmen leapt from the ship onto the wooden platform on the peak in order to moor the ship. As his feet touched down the planks crumbled beneath him. There was a strangled cry as his body began the long trip back to the ground.
            The airship tilted slightly as the crew ran to the side in an instinctual attempt to save him. Orvar scratched an itchy knee the best he could despite his wrists being bound together with a rough rope. He was exhausted. He hadn’t been able to sleep the night before and he doubted if the other prisoners had either. The crew began arguing with the guards about the best way to go about mooring the airship. He glanced down at the chain around his waist and followed it as it ran along the floor to the next doomed soul.
            There were four of them shackled together. Orvar Curran was convicted of high treason against the Malanian Empire. He knew only a little of the others, they had only been shackled together since they took off from Thraelm and there had been no opportunity for conversation with the Malanian guards keeping close watch. Each was lost in their own thoughts anyway. Next to Orvar sat a young woman dressed in the same drab rags as he. She, however, wore them with an ease and grace that gave her the appearance of a snake shedding its old skin. Orvar judged her to be nearly as deadly as the snake she resembled. The ropes around her wrists were doubled and the guards were careful not to come within a few feet of her. Earlier in the voyage one of their number was nearly thrown from the ship by a well-timed kick. The guards referred to her as “That damn thief.” She sat with her eyes fixed, glaring at the commander of the guard. Orvar gathered that he had been the one responsible for her capture. He couldn’t guess what she’d stolen to warrant such a harsh sentencing.
            The chain continued from her waist to that of the third prisoner. This one Orvar knew from the courts of Malan Tael. Her name was Fiorra, the Theraen princess, captured in the war between the Malanian Empire and the rebellious Theraen kingdoms. He had last seen her kneeling before the Emperor as he sentenced her to death. At the time he had felt a twinge of regret and sorrow for her plight. Three weeks later as he had kneeled in that same spot and heard a similar sentence he felt nothing. Fiorra, despite her rags, still appeared regal but there was a haggard look about her eyes. She had been captive longer than any of them and was in a sorrier state.
            The final prisoner looked very out-of-place. Fresh-faced and young, he had a spark in each eye. One glinted mischievously, the other with desperation. Orvar noticed the guards seemed to like him better than the rest. He got an extra slice of bread and he even managed to get himself an apple in exchange for telling the story of how he went running nude through the Emperor’s court. Orvar had heard of him before, The Great Cazard. The guards laughed heartily as he recounted the emperor’s rage when visiting dignitaries were greeted with a full moon. Orvar couldn’t help but wonder whether or not he felt his antics were worth the consequences.
            While Orvar was thus in thought the “Great Cazard” called over to the captain and commander.
            “Hey! I’ll make the jump. Just give me a chance.” He held up his rope-bound wrists plaintively.
            The airship’s captain and the guard commander stopped their bickering and glared over at him. Then the captain smiled wickedly.
            “Alright, better him die than another o’ my men. He’s dead anyway.” He walked briskly over to Cazard and drew a long knife from his belt. He swiftly cut the wrist bindings and stepped back. Cazard slowly drew himself up to a standing position.
            The guard commander laughed, “You fool, how do you expect to clear the distance while chained to three others?”
            “If you’ll just unchain me I’ll gladly moor the ship.” Cazard replied.
            “Not a chance you trickster. I give you full use of your body there’s no telling what you’d conjure up. You want to make the jump?” The commander jerked his head. “Bring your friends.”
            Fiorra and Orvar looked up at Cazard, disapproval in their eyes. There was no way they could all make the jump together, and even if they could make the distance the platform would surely buckle in the impact.
            Cazard made a show of leaning over the railing and judging the distance. He leaned over so far the guards couldn’t see him tracing runes in the air with his hands. Abruptly he spun around and flicked his arms, a small flame sprang to life above his fingertips. “Let’s all have a nice, slow ride to the bottom yes? It’s that or we all go down in flames.”
            There was a rustle of armor and steel as the guards assumed an attack position. There were murmurs and curses all around.
            The captain spat on the deck at Cazard’s feet. “You coward. You almost had me thinking about tossing some food into the pit. To the tenstone with you.”
            Cazard opened his mouth to speak but was interrupted as the ship shifted and bumped gently into the wooden mooring platform. All eyes moved to the nameless thief, who somehow had escaped the bonds on her wrists, fastened the rope into a loop, thrown it over one of the mooring posts, and pulled them in. She finished tying off the rope before any of the guards had the presence of mind to react.
            Cazard was grabbed from behind and thrown to the decking with such force that it pulled down the thief as well. Cazard struggled as his tiny flame went out.  New rope was found and quickly tied around their wrists.
            “Enough!” cried the commander “Let’s get this over with, be rid of our burden and away from this wretched place.”
            The gangway was brought up from below decks and run over the side of the boat to the platform. A few of the Emperor’s men disembarked first before the prisoners were given the order to march. The four of them stood and awkwardly jostled with the length of chain. They stepped across the gangway. Orvar was careful not to look down.
             His feet touched the ground for the first time since Thraelm, nearly six hours earlier. There were no signs of life, not even rodents or birds, and the top was barren of all plants. The only sounds were the hollow clink of chains and the scuffling of feet against the rock. The top of the peak was unnaturally flat. The eastern edge however was a mass of splintered rock reaching another twenty feet or so skyward. It was as if a giant had sawed the mountain like a tree and then snapped it off before going all the way through, leaving the splinters.
            The four were shoved off to the side while the airship was unloaded. Orvar lifted his head and looked off the western edge. Grimrock cast a long tunnel of shadowed air that stretched into the distance. The dark barrier lay across the land, dividing the Northern Realms in half, a three dimensional void. To the South  Orvar could just barely make out Theraen’s Great Lake. To the North the Dearthfang ridge marched towards Uttermost. He could feel the faint heat of the morning sun on his back. The airmen grunted in the thin air as they moved crates off the airship. Orvar looked West again. The darkness reached out, smothering the land far into the distance before it came to a dagger-point in the middle of a vast plain. He inhaled sharply. The Blooddrop Fields.
            The airmen finished unloading the last of the crates. There was now a large pile of them pushed up against the eastern side of the peak. Until now, everyone had avoided the center of the mountain. The pit lay there, waiting silently. The guards shoved Orvar and the four captives started the walk to the pit.
            Three colossal statues stood around the gaping maw. Each was as tall as five men and seemed to be carved from a single block of stone. They must have been impossibly old and yet they had weathered remarkably well. Orvar suspected a magic aura had been placed on them to preserve them from the elements.
            He gazed warily at the looming statues. They wore hooded robes with stone chains wrapped around their shoulders. He could feel air moving down into the maw as if the mountain were drawing breath. It was both revolting and inescapable. Three of the emperor's men leveled their spears at the prisoners, prodding them to the very edge of the maw.
            The commander stood to the side of the pit and faced us. Orvar half expected him to unroll a parchment and begin reading off each and every transgression the four of them had made against the empire. Instead he drew a breath and began a short speech. His voice was loud in the empty air.
            “By the emperor's command the strongest men and women will henceforth be gathered every month from prisons all over the empire to a trial on top of Mount Grimrock. Here you have a last chance to redeem yourselves.” The commander raised his brow, glanced down into the pit, and continued. “The emperor believes that there is another entrance to the mountain which is only accessible from deep within. Should you survive the descent and open a way into the mountain you will be granted your freedom and cleared of all charges.” The commander dropped his official tone. “May Silvanus have mercy on your souls.” He turned and walked off towards the airship.
            Orvar looked one more time at the grim trio that made up his companions. There was a determination in their eyes. Maybe it was just the will to live no matter what horrible things they would encounter down below. But they were unarmed and wearing only rags. Their hands bound with rope and their waists bound together with chain what hope could they have when all previous expeditions had failed?
            But they didn't have anything to lose, only their freedom to win. Maybe that would make a difference?

            Only the echo of their screams escaped into the air as the guards pushed them over the edge.