Taking the Next Step in Crafting

Previously on The Crafting and the Restless

We talked about two further differences between Armageddon 1’s crafting system and Armageddon 2’s: item classifications and using a variety of materials per recipe.

We took a look at item classifications and how we can use those to group objects made from disparate crafting recipes and styles to be used by yet other recipes. Hilts, blades, raw materials, each being a classification, could be mixed and matched to form a final sword. Silk, sandcloth, cotton, and other materials could be intermingled to form shirts and pants.

Each recipe could be made using a variety of materials, with the differences being reflected in short descriptions and main descriptions. A figurine of a woman made with wood could have a different short description and main description than that of a figurine made with stone.

However, even with all of the above differences, our syntax can still look just like Armageddon 1:

>craft bone into hilt
You create a bone hilt.

>craft obsidian into hilt
You create an obsidian hilt.

>craft silk into shirt
You create a silk shirt.

>craft sandcloth into shirt
You create a sandcloth shirt.

If you use the above syntax, it will work just like it does in Armageddon 1. It will produce an item with the default short description for that crafting recipe. But why not take advantage of the sheer number of different materials and combinations possible when making short descriptions?

Customizing the Short Descriptions

Armageddon 2’s crafting system, as glossed over in a previous blog, allows the player to customize the short descriptions for their items. This is accomplished by adding certain keywords after each craft material to your craft command.

Let’s start with something simple, like adding color to a shirt:

>craft silk:color into shirt
You create a blue shirt.

Next, let’s try adding both the color and material to the shirt:

>craft silk:color.material into shirt
You create a blue silk shirt.

How about using the type of material instead?

>craft silk:type into shirt
You create a cloth shirt.

We accomplish the above by adding special keywords after each material in a crafting recipe. Each keyword pulls a piece of information from the item to assist in building custom short descriptions. The list of keywords thus far include:

  • material: The main material in an item. The main material above is silk.
  • material type: The type or classification is the main material. The material type of silk is cloth.
  • color: The color of the main material. The color above is blue.
  • adjective: Create a “having a” adjective. Useful for combining two items and displaying important pieces about each item in the final short description.

Adjectives in short descriptions

We have seen examples for material, material type, and color, but not for adjective. Let’s try an example where we make a shirt with buttons.
>inv
You are carrying a length of blue silk and a few amethyst buttons.

>craft buttons:material.adjective silk:color.material into shirt
You create an amethyst-buttoned blue silk shirt.

We could have used the material type of the buttons instead:

>craft buttons:type.adjective silk:color.material into shirt
You create a stone-buttoned blue silk shirt.

Or have made both materials use adjectives:

>craft silk:color.adjective buttons:material.adjective into shirt
You create a blue-silked amethyst-buttoned shirt.

A few notes on customizing short descriptions

As you can see from the above examples, you have quite the variety in creating your own short descriptions. However, as with Armageddon 1’s crafting system, you don’t have to. If you want to use the default short description provided by the recipe, just don’t add any keywords to your craft materials.

Because we all love to use shortened versions of commands, you will not have to type out the full keyword. You can shorten it to a few letters, or down to the first letter. Let’s try the syntax from the original, buttonless shirt from above using shortened keywords:

craft silk:color.material into shirt
craft silk:c.m into shirt

craft silk:color.type into shirt
craft silk:c.t into shirt

And from the shirt with buttons:

craft buttons:material.adjective silk:color.material into shirt
craft buttons:m.a silk:c.m into shirt

Conclusion

While we are keeping the spirit of Armageddon 1’s crafting system, we are expanding the underlying code base to offer a truly rich environment where players customize their surroundings and items to their hearts’ content.

This is all for now on the crafting system. There are more things to blog about crafting down the road, including item quality, and the skills and tools that will be used by crafters. However, in the mean time we’ll have blogs about doors, windows, and locks and how they will work in Armageddon 2.

Thanks for reading, and have a great weekend!

Like Stuffing Dwarves in a Barrel

We’re taking a break from crafting this week to focus on how Armageddon 2 will handle containers and the like.  There’s a large difference between Arm 1 and 2 in how they handle where people can go. In Arm 1 and most Diku code, people can only move from ‘room’ to ‘room’. Rooms are not items, rooms are not containers, rooms are exactly as stated – rooms. Items are different. Only items may be put inside other items, not characters or NPCs. In Arm 2, while the concept of rooms still exists, the idea of restricting where characters and items can go has disappeared. All that matters is that whatever they are trying to get inside can accommodate their dimensions.

Containers

Armageddon 2 will allow characters to potentially enter… anything. Whether it is a chest, barrel, or a large sack for a tregil, if you can fit, you get climb inside.

Here’s an example of a small, stocky man trying to get into a wooden barrel with his buddy, the shabby-haired man, watching nearby.

>l
Mountain Path [N S]
You see a wooden barrel and a chest.
A shabby-haired man is standing here.

>enter barrel
You must stoop to go inside a wooden barrel.

>stoop
You stoop down.

>enter barrel
You go inside a wooden barrel.
Inside a wooden barrel
Rough-hewn agafari slats surround you inside this barrel.

>l out
Mountain Path [N S]
You see a wooden barrel and a chest.
A shabby-haired man is standing here.

Now the perspective of a shabby-haired man.

>l
Mountain Path [N S]
You see a wooden barrel and a chest.
A small, stocky man is standing here.

>
A small, stocky man bends over in a stoop. 

>
A small, stocky man goes inside a wooden barrel. 

>l
Mountain Path [N S]
You see a wooden barrel and a chest.

>l in barrel
Inside a wooden barrel
Rough-hewn agafari slats surround you inside this barrel.
A small, stocky man is bending over in here.

The small, stocky man was able to get inside the barrel, but it required him to stoop down to do so. Why is that? Because he couldn’t fit otherwise, even with his small stature.

Size

Arm 2 uses the concepts of volume and dimensions. When you try to go inside something, or put an item in a container of any kind, there are a few checks that take place in the background. First, it verifies that the container has enough volume to cover what you are trying to stuff inside. If not, you can’t get in.

Second, it verifies the dimensions of the person or thing. If it’s an item, the game will attempt a variety of different angles to test if the item can fit in a container or room. This will help prevent cases of fitting huge swords within a little quiver or stuffing a massive number of hunks of meat into a bag.

The dimensions of PCs and NPCs are also checked when trying to enter a room or get inside a chest, barrel, box, or anything else. Again, it verifies volume, then tries a few different ways of seeing if they can fit inside. If they can’t fit standing upright, it checks to see if stooping or crawling would work. If they can’t fit facing straight, it looks to see if they can turn sideways. If they do have to turn sideways or change their posture to get inside, it will affect things like combat or athletic skill checks.

Now let’s watch as a small, stocky man tries to stuff a tregil inside a bag.

>l
Mountain Path [N S]
You see a wooden barrel and a chest.
A shabby-haired man and a hairless tregil are standing here.

>inv
You are carrying a small bag and a large bag.

>get tregil
You pick up a hairless tregil.

>put tregil small
A hairless tregil will not fit in a small bag.

>put tregil large
You put a hairless tregil in a large bag.

>l in large
You see a hairless tregil standing here.

As you can see, the tregil is too large for the small bag, but fits well enough inside the large.

Conclusion

The above will introduce more realism into the setting, providing checks on how much of what can fit where. No more trying to roleplay being in a tiny cave when you have two half-giant sized people and their mounts in there with you. If they can’t all fit, it’s simply not going to work. On the flip side, you will be able to stuff the little people into chests and lock them within, or put rings into waterpouches to keep them hidden.

Here soon we’ll continue the blogs on crafting, and merge this idea with it in the form of building houses.

Items, Classifications, and Basic Crafting: Baby Steps

Items and Materials, Continued

Everything in Armageddon 2 is composed of materials. Every item you hold or use can be made, or crafted, from various materials. Depending on what was used to make them, the items could be quite different from each other, in weight, their value, and other properties.

For example, let’s take a carved figurine of a woman. I’ll make one out of wood, and the other out of alabaster.

>inv
You are carrying a chunk of alabaster and an agafari branch.

>craft alabaster into figurine of a woman
You successfully craft an alabaster figurine of a woman.

>craft agafari into figurine of a woman
You successfully craft an agafari figurine of a woman.

>inv
You are carrying an alabaster figurine of a woman and an agafari figurine
of a woman.

>compare weight alabaster agafari
You compare the alabaster figurine of a woman to an agafari figurine of a
woman and find the alabaster figurine of a woman to be heavier.

What else can be said about the two figurines?

  • Alabaster is the densest material out of the two, so it should be no surprise that it weighs more.
  • Alabaster is more brittle than wood, so it would be easier to shatter should it be hit.
  • Wood is flammable, so the figurine could be set on fire with a strong enough fire source.
  • Depending on the availability of that resource in a particular region, either the alabaster figurine or the wooden could be worth more than the other.
  • They are both an item classified as a ‘figurine’.

Item Classifications

That last line in the list is another new concept in Armageddon 2. We can categorize items in the game using a variety of classifications. These classifications can be used for letting one type of thing work with another (a key with a lock), gathering liquids (allow water to be scooped by pots, pans, cups, bowls, waterskins), spell component requirements or any number of other in game systems.

However, in the context of items and crafting, these classifications work well for stating recipe requirements. When you cook, recipes will often call for a type of something – like an onion, clove of garlic, or a mushroom. While some recipes might be very specific and demand a crimini mushroom, elephant garlic, or red onion, many just want any that you prefer. Armageddon 2’s crafting system uses the same concept.

The Basics of Crafting

If I want to build a sword, I need a hilt and a blade. If a spear, a shaft and a tip. If I want to make a pair of pants, then I need cloth for the leggings and a fastener for the waist. In this example it doesn’t matter what each piece is made of or how ornate it is, just that it fits the classification.

In trying to make a pendant necklace in Armageddon 2, I need a piece of stone and a chain of some sort. Using items classified as such, I could do the following:

>inv
You are carrying a piece of amethyst, a piece of temboeye, a bone-link chain,
and a silver-linked chain.

>craft temboeye bone into pendant necklace
You successfully craft a bone necklace with a temboeye pendant.

>craft amethyst silver into pendant necklace
You successfully craft a silver necklace with an amethyst pendant.

>inv
You are carrying a bone necklace with a temboeye pendant a silver
necklace with an amethyst pendant.

As long as you have items that fit the classifications required by the crafting recipe, you’re good to go!

That’s all for now. Next week we’ll cover some more features of the crafting system, including the previously mentioned method of generating customized short descriptions for your objects.

We’re not asking the important question, here…

…can I set it on fire?

I’ve always been entirely too fascinated with fire.  (Conversely, I’ve always been uneasy around bodies of water.)  Naturally, when spitballing ideas for the crafting system for Reborn, both subjects came up, along with “will it blend?” and “will bears be attracted to its scent?”

When we sat down to consider crafting for Armageddon Reborn, the same daunting task stood before us:  we have thousands of crafting templates for Arm 1.  We have thousands of items in the existing game.  Our desire is to make the majority of things in Armageddon Reborn craftable (both by players and by staffers).  To get to that point, we had to go all the way down to the base level of crafting:

Materials.

Things come from stuff.  That stuff is materials.  If we can make sure that the “stuff” of the world has intrinsic properties that define what it can and can’t do, why, it’ll affect EVERYTHING in the world, won’t it?  That was the concept that went through our minds in brainstorming sessions, and to be honest, it was pretty daunting.  First, we had to go through the list of possible materials, grouping them in the right categories.  Once we get all the way down to a type of raw material that we do not wish to classify more, we decide what properties we would like to define.  We had a lot of these bouncing around in our heads.  We eventually broke it down to four major things we’d like to know:

Hardness
Hardness is defined in Armageddon Reborn with the Moh’s Mineral Hardness Scale as a base value.  If possible, I also used  intermediate hardness scales located elsewhere on the Interwebs.  In general, we were thinking that 0 – 10 would be the Armageddon Reborn scale of hardness.  If the object is a mineral or stone that actually has a real-world equivalent, I’ve used the real-word equivalent in hardness.  If the object is anything else, I’ve used some fuzzy thinking to determine its hardness.  Some fuzzy examples are wood and anything that lacks hardness in certain phases.  Note that the scale is all I’m really using; I’m not exactly going by the exact definition from the real-world scale.  In other words, if I’m using a non-mineral and give it a hardness number, I don’t necessarily mean that it can scratch another material with a lower hardness number.  It means it has the same equivalent hardness as something with that number–so for determining damage, it’d be great.  Material TYPE (wood vs. stone) would determine whether it degrades faster, is damaged while it damages other things, etc.  In other words, we’d have to compare and contrast two material types if they are in contest with each other.

Phase
In most cases, this is straightforward.  Stones are solid.  Milk is liquid.  Cheese is solid…or IS it?  SCARY.

Density
Another case of “math is hard!”  Initially, we were going to only provide two values for materials so that the following question could be answered:  “Will it float?”  After review, it was determined that we’d need more specific information in order to determine an item’s actual weight, so we have based all materials as closely as possible off of existing density scales.  (Tweaks are ongoing.)

Flammability
Again, we pulled from the real world on this.  There is a scale of flammability ranging from 0 to 4, 0 being “can’t burn at all” and 4 being “rapidly vaporizes in the air in normal atmospheric pressure and normal temperatures.”  Most things fell between those two ends of the scale.

After determining which four things we’d most like to know about any material, it was time to get to work.  I won’t post the nitty-gritty details for a couple of reasons:  the numbers don’t matter to players, and the numbers we use should not be confused with real world equivalents.  The systems we used from the real world were simply adapted, and as mentioned, may be subject to a bit of guesswork (with as much research as possible before getting to that point).  At this time, over 70 individual materials have been fleshed out with these values, with more to come as we expand and evolve the system.

Next, it was off to determine what other properties items themselves would have.  To do that, we needed a standard set of weights and measures for our new apocalyptic hellscape.

Length would need something for small increments (about an inch), something for larger increments (15 inches makes a cord), and then even larger increments (close to 250 cords).  Mass would need something for small increments (about 100 grams), a larger increment (about a kilo), and an even larger increment (close to 250 kilos).  Liquid volume would need something for small increments (30-50 mL), a larger increment (about a liter), and then the rest would be determined by the size of the container.  We have some names floating around for these but we won’t pop these up here yet.

Alright, fantastic!  We now have units of measure to define these items and material properties to define these items.  What are the other things we need in order to have an item “be” an item?

Material quality (scale of 1-10)
Craftsmanship quality (scale of 1-10)
Material(s) (mentioned briefly by Shinobi–items can have more than one type of material)
Dimensions — length, width, weight (based on density and number of units of material)
Traits (weapon?  container? etc. — more on this later)
Optional fields for other sekrit stuff like magick

We do (of course) reserve the right to change things, but this is a general explanation of the work that has gone into materials–the building blocks for the system that has been described by Shinobi.  Stay tuned for future blogs that will better explain the crafting system and the traits of items.

-Nyr

Like crafting, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Armageddon 1’s Crafting System

>inv
You are carrying:
a long length of bone

>craft length
You could make a bone longsword from that.

>craft length into bone longsword
You begin crafting a bone longsword from a long length of bone you are
carrying.
Tiny slivers of bone break off as you begin to work the brittle material.

>
You carve the bone into a longsword.

>inv
You are carrying:
a bone longsword

>l longsword
This medium-long blade has been honed down to sharpness on both sides,
creating a fine edge for slashing. The blade and hilt appear to have been
carved together from a single chunk of bone. A leather strap is wrapped
around the hilt for a better grip.

Nice. We took a very specific item, a long length of bone, and crafted it into a very specific sword – a bone longsword. Armageddon 1 is full of such recipes and while we have thousands of crafting templates, any variation requires an entirely new template be created with a very specific set of items to use.

However, in the real world, we often make the same thing out of various materials. Chairs are made out of wood, plastic, and/or metal. Clothing is made out of nylon, polyester, cotton, and silk with an assortment of buttons, cufflinks, and the like made from bone, plastic, and wood. Why can’t we have the same in game?

Armageddon 2’s Crafting System

One of the most important feature sets we wanted to include in Armageddon 2 was a system that would allow us to closely imitate the creation and building of things in the real world using a variety of materials.

We’ll start with a few quick examples then go over what’s happening. Let’s say I’m sitting at a table in my apartment, and pull out a chunk of obsidian and an antler I carved out of a carru’s carcass.

>inv
You are carrying an antler, and a chunk of obsidian.

>craft chunk:color into hilt
You have successfully created a black hilt.

>inv
You are carrying an antler, and a black hilt. 

>craft antler:color.material into short blade
You have successfully created a white antler short blade. 

>craft hilt:material.adj blade:color into short sword
You have successfully created an obsidian-hilted white short sword.

or, if we chose to go the other direction

>inv
You are carrying an antler, and a chunk of obsidian.

>craft antler:material into hilt
You have successfully created a bone hilt.

>inv
You are carrying a chunk of obsidian, and a bone hilt. 

>craft chunk:color.type into short blade
You have successfully created a black stone short blade. 

>craft hilt:color.adj blade:material.adj into short sword
You have successfully created a white-hilted obsidian-bladed short sword.

>l sword
A simple hilt made of white bone has been attached to a thick, obsidian
blade to form this roughly made short sword.

However, having looked over the sword, we decide that we don’t like the design and carefully take it apart.

>salvage sword      
You break down a white-hilted obsidian-bladed short sword into a black
stone short blade, and a bone hilt.

>inv
You are carrying a black stone short blade, and a bone hilt.

What if we wanted the sword to have a different short description? Not a problem:

>craft blade:type.adj hilt into short sword
You have successfully created a bone-bladed short sword.

or

>craft hilt:material.adj blade:type.adj into short sword
You have successfully created an obsidian-hilted bone-bladed short sword.

>l sword
A simple hilt made of black stone has been attached to a thick, antler 
blade to form this roughly made short sword.

As you can see, the new system allows two very important things:

  1. The ability to use different materials to produce the same type of item.
  2. The ability to customize short descriptions and have madlib-like main descriptions.

The syntax for customizable templates is as follows:

craft <item:attribute.attribute> <item2:attribute.attribute> into <template name>

You specify the items you wish to use and after the colon the attributes that will compose the short description. You separate attributes by periods, and the system figures out how those attributes should be tied together. Though the list isn’t complete and we will be adding more as time goes on, we currently have:

  • material: the specific main material that makes up the item (obsidian, granite, antler, teeth, agafari, silk)
  • type: the overall type of the main material (stone, bone, wood, cloth)
  • color: the color of the main material (black for obsidian, white for bone, whatever color of the silk)
  • adj: “having a” adjective (bone-hilted, obsidian-bladed, white-collared)

Templates and Materials

Armageddon 2 recipes are setup like templates. Each template has a set of crafting materials, with some materials being raw materials a la ores, stones, logs, bones, and the like and others being crafted materials like hilts, belts, hems, and poles. The player fulfills the needs of the template by supplying the appropriate materials and produces a final product. The final product can then be combined with other items in game as craft materials to produce still more things.

In Armageddon 1, item characteristics (such as weight) are arbitrarily assigned, with brittleness, flammability, and other such considerations not being taken into account. Armageddon 2 has data for each of the raw materials, and carries those along the process of creation, from building one item to the next. Therefore, if you have a sword with bone, wood, obsidian, and gems, those base materials and the amounts of each will be used to help determine cost, weight, brittleness, flammability and other such attributes.

Along with materials, the items that made them (should that be the appropriate case) will be kept around as well. In other words, if you have a sword and want the hilt back, you could carefully attempt to break the sword down and reclaim the exact same hilt to use with another blade.

Future Crafting Blogs

This blog was a sneak peek at the crafting system. We are working on it and adding more features and capabilities as we go along. Expect more crafting blog posts down the road pertaining to the following:

Crafting skills. We are taking the plunge and separating skills into materials and categories. Currently, Armageddon 1 only supports skills like sword making, club making, jewelry, so on and so forth. Armageddon 2 will have material based skills such as metal working, stone working, wood working, and bone working. A character’s abilities in those skills will combine with their abilities in sword making, jewelry making, axe making to provide a more realistic and sustainable crafting system. Don’t have wood around? That’s fine, pick up some bone to make your tools or weapons. No bone or obsidian in the forest to make an axe? Great, gather some wood and granite and build one out of them.

Engravings, etchings, dyes, and other ways of further customizing your created gear.

Tents and Houses. You will be able to build your own. They will be destructible.

Celestial Bodies and Lights

Long ago, in a forum far, far away, light levels were mentioned as an upcoming feature of Armageddon 2. Instead of being on/off settings for light, there was a desire for a more complex, robust system. We have been putting the finishing touches on this system and want to detail some of its inner workings for our playerbase.

In reality, the strength of light from a candle is nothing in comparison to light of the sun, just as the dimness of a torch hundreds of yards away is far different from the same one used in a small room. We are working hard to bridge the gap of such differences and more in Arm 2.

Everything that produces light generates a specific candela count which represents the power of one candle. As an example, let’s say a candle would have a candela count of 1, a torch a count of 10, a lamp of 20, and the sun a hundred. Using those numbers, we can decide whether a room is dark, dimly lit, or brightly lit. Candela requirements can be specified on a location by location basis, allowing us to adjust the lighting based on the size of the room. Therefore, we can differentiate between a small room that could be lit with a single lamp to a large cavern that requires several torches to be fully seen.

Though not yet implemented, we can use this candela count to dictate how well things are seen from a distance. Somebody walking down an alley with only a candle a room away would be as difficult to see as a group with a torch three outdoor rooms away. Such effects of light on the environment will be taken into account on Arm 2.

Of course, while light affects visibility for players, what about creatures and races in general? By using a candela count, we can set varying limits on how much light is required for a race to see. Some races could potentially see with the barest of light, needing the equivalent of only a candle or faint light of a moon cresting the horizon to see, versus requiring the normal lamp or torch. For example, we could create a race which could see in the dark, yet find it painful or potentially damaging to be exposed to bright light. Outdoor hunting could also gain layers of complexity, with creatures having their own limits and strengths of eyesight.

Which brings us to skills. As we code, we are working very hard to take into account the players’ environment, the circumstances they are in, and the various materials and other skills they have in hand. Light is no different. Skills will be affected by visibility and the light of the environment, from crafting, to combat, movement checks (like climb), to tracking, and everything in between. While you might be able to weave a rug in dim light, its quality and value might not be as high as one woven in the full light of a room, and difficulty seeing would lead to greater chance of failure. Fighting in darkness might help a combat character hone their ability to use other senses, but it will greatly decrease their chances of survival against someone that can easily see them.

Anti-light is also possible within Armageddon 2. For example, instead of magickal spells acting as an on/off light switch, they can instead provide an opposing amount of anti-light. A Drovian could theoretically cast a spell that would drain the light from a tavern to perfect darkness, but the same spell would have little effect on full sunlight.

Beyond those listed above, there are other potential uses of light sources, including but not limited to:

  • Attaching a light source to objects – or people! – if they catch on fire.
  • Magickal items that only appear within the specified light ranges. Maybe the ancient door of the dread sorcerer only shows itself with the light of ten torches.
  • Instead of being blinded by darkness, being blinded by too much light.
  • Plants that shrink away in caves when exposed to light, or that provide their own light.

Besides people, creatures, items, and rooms having the potential to produce light, we also have celestial bodies. Using the framework put in place, we can create moons, stars, comets, or whatever else, placing them in orbit around the world. Because they do actually orbit, the moons and stars rise and set, and the light they provide strengthens and dims accordingly.

Each celestial body has a calendar of their own. These include cycles similar in concept to weeks, months, years and centuries. Tribes or certain cities could have rituals at different times of the lunar year, or sacrifice at a great, cosmological apex. Because of the elemental nature of magick in general, a quality astronomer would be of great use to certain mages, who would know when to harness the full power of the moon at what time of year for special spells and events. The cycles could also be used to dictate migratory and spawning patterns for creatures, or for certain plants that would appear at only certain times of the month or year.

Light is a very important part of a world, and one that often goes underutilized. It’s harder, in a text based game, to properly convey differing levels of light, but we hope that this abstract system will be a solid step in the right direction.

Tyleki: Beyond Slackjaw Gap, Part One

In Tyleki, any commoner brave or stupid enough can risk their lives for a chance at unimaginable wealth. It’s said that House Tranile looks after those who are skilled or lucky at finding copper. Some just have a nose for it. But for those who decide to test their mettle in the mines, wealth can sometimes come at a dear cost.

The buildings were squat and thick-walled, at home amidst the blocky sandstone formations that soared overhead. Soldiers in black-scaled uniforms swarmed around the complex. Some loitered in formation beside the twin sets of gates. Their numbers were impressive for how small the outpost actually was, and Wirmal thought it resembled a fort. In truth, the tiny cluster of buildings was far dearer than any fort. It was vitally important to every aspect of Tyleki, and thus to Wir’s livelihood.

Flanked by buildings and soldiers alike, the outpost’s true purpose lay ahead: a heavy timber portcullis built into the side of the bluff. Wir stood a distance from it, observing it with the same gravity and heaviness of heart that seemed to possess his comrades. If one didn’t know its purpose, the thing could have been mistaken for any of the Known World’s many fortified specks of civilisation.

Wirmal had just yesterday turned fifteen years old, and he stood before the gates to House Tranile’s copper mines. The gate was all that separated him from a dark, twisting world of untold wealth and danger. After years of anticipation, today was the first day he was allowed inside. He hadn’t realised he was staring ’til he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder.

“Easy there, mighty warrior. Gates don’t bite.”

Wir twisted ’round, face scrunching into a reasonably withering look. Despite the vast gap in their ages and builds, the skinny teenager was tall enough to look his uncle Degga in the eye.

“Shit,” said Degga, shifting the heavy pick-axe that rested on his shoulder. “I don’t bite, either.”

The two of them moved into the queue before the gates, along with the other six individuals that made up the Busted Knuckles crew. They were a small operation compared to some of the town’s mining companies, but Degga preferred it that way. There was nothing worse than having to look out for over a dozen people that far underground. Especially if something went wrong.

The Knuckles were essentially alone down there. Degga intended to avoid working directly for House Tranile if he could afford to. From their pickaxes to their tool belts, the only Tranile equipment the Knuckles wore were the armbands that identified them. Wirmal fingered the dark red fabric that bound his upper arm. Red meant they could go down deeper than almost anyone else, if he understood right. The thought churned his stomach.

Time for navel-gazing was short, however, as they passed into the shadow of the overhanging cliffs. From a distance, the gate had looked so small, almost flimsy. Now it towered over them, and Wirmal could see just how thick the portcullis was. It looked like it’d hold back a herd of stampeding aurochs if push came to shove. Heavy defenses at the mineshaft made sense: copper was Tyleki’s lifeblood, almost all commerce in the town depended on it. All the same, when Wir looked at the gate overhead, he was struck by just how cage-like it looked. Like it was designed to hold something in rather than keep people out.

A spindly man whose head was shaven stood at the head of the queue. He held a ledger in one hand and an elaborate feather pen in the other, and he scribbled so fast that the penstrokes practically made his hand a blur. Degga took the lead when the Knuckles reached him.

“Busted Knuckles checking in.”

He flashed the bald man a glimpse of his armband, which bore a crude facsimile of a pair of boxing gloves. None of the Knuckles were artistically inclined, but it got the point across.

They made a strange sort of small talk that consisted mostly of a series of glances, gestures, and grunts. The bald man showed Degga a page in the ledger. Degga took the extravagant pen and signed it, then made a series of tally-marks. Though Wirmal hadn’t been briefed on the procedure, it was easy enough to figure out. The tallies were to keep track of how many people were underground.

The bald man didn’t say a thing ’til Degga passed the book back. He gave the new scribbles a cursory look-over, then stated in a soft hiss of a voice: “You’re allowed past the Gap. Where will you be operating?”

Degga conferred quietly with his second-in-command, an overweight woman named Erkiny that Wir barely knew. He couldn’t overhear them, and Erkiny had a face like an ancient, craggy statue, so guessing by her expression was out.

“We’ll be heading past the Gap, yeah. Second level.”

The Knuckles filed past as the bald man made a few more notes, then waved through the next in line.

“That’s Lyal Tranille,” Degga explained. “He keeps track of who’s down here.”

Once they were out of earshot, he leaned in closer to Wir and added: “Not that he’d give a shit if anything did happen. Suppose he’s gotta, though.”

Wirmal had been paying such close attention to the guards and the bald man that a fact momentarily escaped him, ‘til it rebounded and hit him in the head with the force of a sucker-punch: this was it. He was inside the copper mines. He snorted up a lungful of musty air and considered how it smelled somehow thicker, though he was barely through the gate.

The Knuckles crowded through the wider, cave-like opening toward a narrower passageway. While the cave may have been natural, this passage certainly was not. Its dark stone walls bore the telltale marks of human origin, and whoever had originally carved it hadn’t bothered smoothing it down. Wirmal shifted his pick-axe at his back, squinting forward into the tunnel, which he could tell began to slope downward not far off. It also got much narrower.

This would be far from the tightest squeeze he’d have to squirm past. After all, if Degga was right, they were going beyond Slackjaw Gap. On his first day! The least his uncle could have done was give him something less spine-tingling to test his grit on. But Wir had no such luck, so as the Knuckles began to squeeze closer together, narrowing to single file, he just tried to keep his mind off exactly why they called it Slackjaw.

To be continued…