February 2011 Archives

11 May 319

More than a week's journey northwards, I fear we are reaching the limits of our endurance. While we barely stopped at all during the first few days of our flight north, we are now being forced to rest for as much of the day as we walk. We've rationed the last of our food, even supplemented by what we have managed to hunt and gather over the trip. Unfortunately, especially for the children and the wounded, this has only sapped their endurance even more.

Tonight, we are encamped on a beach, which appears to be some sort of large bay or sound; we must be on the far side of whatever peninsula was north of our island before. It is a somewhat reassuring sight, since we have much greater chance of being discovered along the coast, but there has still been no sign of civilization so far. However, there has been no sign of any of the creatures that set us on our way either, so we thank the gods for that particular blessing.

Duncan has become withdraw and consumed with his thoughts over the course of our travels; he has taken the brunt of the blame for our predicament, though mostly from himself. I have tried to console him, holding him for hours at night, but he says nothing and has taken to skipping meals the last two days. I have reminded him that we were much worse off when we were first wrecked upon the shore, but that does not seem to help his spirits.

From now on, I'll be tucking everything after the first diary entry behind the cut -- click the link below to see the rest of this installment.
A short program note; this entry marks a transition from my previous Minecraft world to the one I'm currently using, which I switched to after the 13 January update. There were two main reasons for this switch. First, I wanted to have access to the new blocks in the 13 January update closer to my starting point, which would have been difficult since they only appear in new chunks.

Second, and more importantly, the terrain generator was greatly improved in the 13 January update, and the landscapes in this new world are far more interesting than those I saw in the original world I used for the Amelia Primrose logs. So the landscapes you'll be seeing as the new world is explored are much more impressive, and give a much more interesting are for building, than the old world had. Hopefully, you'll agree that this was a worthwhile reason to start over.

3 May 319

As I write this, we are fleeing north from Fort Upton with what possessions and supplies we could carry after the carnage of a terror-filled night. While I must admit that fear clouds much of my memory of the last few days, I will try to recount the events that led to our sudden flight as best I can.

I remember it beginning two nights ago with the sound of an explosion at the north gate; a creeper attack, the start of something we did not see coming. There was little damage to the causeway or the gate itself, but the portcullis had been shattered by the blast, the heavy oak timbers splintered by the creeper. What we didn't know was that this was just the beginning; throughout that night, all manner of creatures mobbed the walls and tried to push their way in. Duncan and the other men fought bravely to hold them off at the north gate, and the walls managed to weather the worst of it. By the next morning, though, the entire village had been frightened to death, and most of the men were tired from helping to defend the walls. The worst had been the spiders, which had managed to climb the walls and swarm what we had thought was a safe redoubt.

All of us were mystified by what could have caused the sudden increase in aggressiveness on the part of the monsters; it was almost as if something was directing them, which was a frightening thought. Everyone assumed that the necromantic cabals which fled to Oestria were wiped out during the Great Crusade, but there were always rumors that one or two of the black magicians had slipped through the grasp of the Crusaders. If one of them was here...well, at this point, there is little it could add to our misery, but a frightening thought nonetheless.

At one point, in the middle of the day, several men fled the small mineshaft where we had been collecting iron, pursued by several creepers. Such a brazen attack, in the sunlight, sent a panic through the village. Though eventually they were dispatched, thanks to the hard work of Mr. Tyler and a patrol of men, they managed to do damage to both the mine hut and any remaining sense of safety that the village walls conferred.

Creeper on the Loose.png
It did not take long for a new round of fighting over what to do to take hold. Much of it was simple panic -- arguing for nonsensical courses of action just because they felt like they had nothing else to offer. Fleeing the village seemed ridiculous at that point, since it still seemed like our best hope, but many people began gathering up their possessions and preparing to leave. Duncan tried to get them to see reason, but after the last night many people were too scared to think straight.

I'm afraid I must take a break now, as it is time to move again; we must cross as much distance as possible during the day, to avoid pursuit; I will write more when I can.

4 May 319

We have made camp again, in a clearing in the forests here. Last night was largely quiet; three zombies stumbled into our camp just before dawn, as we were getting ready to move on again, but they were quickly dispatched. During the day, there have been no signs of pursuit, for which I am thankful. The question is beginning to circulate about how far we will actually end up going; we cannot continue traveling forever, after all. So far, the consensus seems to be that we need to put more distance between Fort Upton and wherever we decide to try and make a go of it again, and we need to find a more defensible position -- a hill or a mountain seems like a better redoubt than the island we had before.

To return to the tale of how we arrived in this situation however, it was that second night where things took their final turn for the worst. As night fell, again we heard the sounds of the monsters at our gates. A makeshift barricade had been built to block the shattered north gate and the west gate was shut, but no one knew how long that would hold if the creepers returned.

That was when a hail of flaming arrows lit up the night, sailing over the walls and setting a number of the buildings in town alight. We'd never seen this kind of sophisticated attack from them before, and no one expected anything like it; before we knew it, fires had been lit at the guesthouse, bathing the town in an eerie glow.

Guesthouse Alight.png
As the fire spread, the Teasdales and their guests grabbed what they could of their possessions and fled into the streets. It did not take long for fire to completely engulf the building's wooden interior; I tried to organize a bucket brigade, but the by the time we were ready, the flames consumed nearly everything inside.

Guesthouse Lobby on Fire.png
Things did not improve as Duncan and Mr. Tyler tried to get everyone into the fort; quickly, they realized the fort was not safe either. Somehow, zombies had been able to get inside -- there was little time to investigate how, but the best guess was through the lower levels of the keep -- and we found that we had no place of safety.

Zombie in Barracks.png
Outside the fort, the fire continued to spread among the houses we'd only recently built, and everyone began to gather in the courtyard of the fort, dragging their few possessions. Mr. Tyler led many of the other men around, gathering what they could from the buildings quickly succumbing to fire.

Village Aflame.png
It was not long after they returned that there was a series of explosions at the west gate, and we heard the shouts of the guards posted there. We were faced with the prospect of being overwhelmed, as skeletons and other creatures swarmed the gate.

Undead at the Gate.png
With the gates destroyed, and the fort overrun, we were backed into a corner. Staying was impossible, with our defenses in the shambles they were now; luckily, there were few among us who were badly wounded, making an escape to the north possible. Before we could be trapped, we made a run for the causeway, with Duncan and Mr. Tyler leading the way. It was terrifying -- by this time, the monsters were swarming the walls, coming through the now-shattered west gate, and as we struggled to dismantle the barricade to the causeway, we fought to keep them away. Even I picked up a sword and joined the fight, batting away the clawing arms of zombies.

Just when it seemed we would be overwhelmed, the barricade came down and we hurried over the causeway, fleeing into the hills north of the town. When we stopped to catch our breath, with little sign of pursuit, we could see the flames of the burning village behind us, over the walls.

Fleeing Fort Upton.png
We've continued north, hoping to find a suitable place to build a new shelter, or some sign of civilization. Other than a few scattered encounters with monsters, it doesn't appear we are being pursued; whatever was sending those monsters after us before has either lost track of us or simply doesn't care. Our food is starting to run out though, so soon we may be forced to stop and start building a camp to hunt from anyway. Duncan remains nervous about staying in one place for too long, but everyone is growing tired, especially the women and children, though like myself, many of the women have kept quiet about any complaints, knowing the men are worrying about enough already. Hopefully, we will find somewhere to stay soon, protected from the elements and the creatures surrounding us.
I just got back from a week in London yesterday after spending a week with my old officemate Alex and his wife. Aside from my trips to FanFest, this is really the first place I've been to outside the States, and I had a great time -- London is an amazing city, and I really hope I can return there sometime in the future.

When I was planning this trip, I honestly expected that the culture shock I'd experience in London would be far less than in Reykjavik; after all, at least in London the street signs are in English. In retrospect, I think both of them are roughly on par, and if there's a city that felt more alien to me it was definitely London. Reykjavik is still a small city (not much bigger than Champaign-Urbana) and by and large most people there speak English -- and probably because it's a second language, it tends to be spoken slower and a little more enunciated than you might get from a native speaker. Yes, all the street signs are in Icelandic, but you don't really have to know what they mean. Most of Reykjavik seems like relatively recent construction as well.

In contrast, there are few cities anything like London in the United States. I have never been to New York, but I have been to Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Seattle, Phoenix, St. Louis -- but none of them is really like London. We have big cities, for sure, and we have older cities, but there is nothing that even really approaches what London is and what it represents in terms of world history.

I had this realization several times while I was over there, but two occasions stick out in my mind. The first was when I was out at dinner with someone I know from FanFest, a native Brit, and he asked me how much travelling I'd done. I explained that this was really only the second place I'd been to outside the US, but that I'd traveled around the States pretty extensively. I was listing places I'd been and when I got to Boston, he asked me why I liked the city so much.

Now, Boston is an amazing city, and I never get tired of going back there. And, in terms of how it feels, it probably comes closest to London of any US city. There are streets and buildings in Boston that are still largely the same as how they were almost 400 years ago, along with the graves of many of our founders and the sites of many of the most important events in American history. I'm telling all of this to my friend and after about two minutes I suddenly realize how utterly silly I'm sounding to him.

400 years? In London, that's an eyeblink. On Thursday, I went to Borough Market, a street market that is known to have been in existence for at least twice that long, and in all likelihood actually stretches back to the Roman occupation of Britain 1800 years ago. Westminster Abbey has been standing for over a millennium, and within its walls are the graves of some of the most important people not just of English history, but of world history -- Issac Newton, Charles Darwin, Queen Elizabeth, and Geoffrey Chaucer, just to name a few, stretching back nearly a thousand years. Within that church, every British monarch since the Norman Conquest has been crowned, and I've stood in the same place now. The British Museum contains some of the most important archaeological treasures in the world -- pieces of the Parthenon, the Mausoleum at Helicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis, and the Sphinx, the Rosetta Stone, original writings from some of the greatest minds of the Enlightenment...

I am not sure if most Americans can really understand what that means -- there's really nothing here that can compare. Everything that dates back that far here has been largely wiped out, and certainly nothing here has been continuously inhabited that long. Cahokia, a thriving Mississippian city, larger than London in the 1200s, is today just a bunch of oddly shaped hills. Even in Mexico, I'm not sure how much remains of the ancient Aztecs in Mexico City; in London, many of the buildings that were there that long ago are still standing, still in use today. Even buildings like that in Boston have only been around maybe a third or fourth as long at most. The Smithsonian is amazing, but it doesn't even come close to the British Museum, despite the fact that it is probably larger in its entirety.

The other instance where I was struck by how different Britain really is was in Westminster Abbey when our tour guide was telling us about the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior. Of course, in the United States, we have the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, so the concept wasn't exactly alien to me, but in Britain, at least to me, it seemed to have so much more...prominence in the national mindset. In the United States, it is really only something you hear about or are aware of on Veterans' Day or Memorial Day. In Westminster Abbey, though, it sits in the middle of the floor, right in front of the Great West Door. Of all the graves in the Abbey, however, it is the only one that no one -- including the monarchs of Great Britain -- is allowed to walk on. During state funerals and royal weddings, everyone walks around it, which, at least to me, makes it seem like it has a much greater place in culture than does our own monument.

That wasn't what really struck me though, it was the fact that these kinds of traditions -- some dating back hundreds upon hundreds of years -- were almost commonplace in London. While many of them seem rather quaint, and most seem tied to the monarchy, which has its own obvious downsides, I still have this feeling like we don't have anything to really compare. The United States is both a modern nation and an almost inherently disjoint one -- we've only been around for a little more than 200 years, and almost no one here in the US can trace their ancestry back more than a few generations before they leave our shores. Part of me can't help but long for a tie to the past like that, that sense of continuity.

This weight of history also shapes modern London too, though in ways that I am much more familiar with. The layout of the city seems very much like Boston to me, only more so -- it's clear that the streets of the city were not designed for cars, or even really "designed" for anything, but more laid out in a haphazard fashion as it struggled to accommodate the geography and the way things happened to already be built. For a Midwesterner, from a place where the roads are in an easy to follow grid with no terrain really at all, London strikes me as a complete mess to get around in for a driver. Roads twist and turn all over the place, change names regularly, and narrow to little more than the width of a small truck at times. Even the Tube, rather than being the sort of hub-and-spoke design I've seen with the T in Boston or the Metro in DC, is a squiggly mess of spaghetti, at least when you first see it. Like the roads, the Tube's design, I suspect, is a legacy of its history, where it was just sort of added to as they went along.

However, after spending several days walking around, I definitely began to feel like I knew the general layout of the city, at least in the area I was traveling around in the most, which was generally just Westminster and a few other surrounding boroughs. And, like Boston, I definitely enjoyed the experience of just walking around the city, seeing the layout and the mix of architecture as I went. That's something I don't really get in Champaign or even Chicago really, where most of the construction is pretty recent (even in Old Chicago). As much of a mess as the roads seemed, it wasn't that hard to figure out where I was going with the help of a London road atlas (oh, how I missed having GPS and Google Navigation, though), especially after I'd walked around a few days. I got a rather nice sense of satisfaction on Friday when I got stopped on the street and gave someone directions to Westminster Abbey (though it wasn't really that far away).

I was also struck by the international nature of London as well; while I know part of it is that I was spending a lot of time around tourist spots, I think even while I was walking around London I heard more French, German, Italian, Arabic, and a half dozen other languages I couldn't recognize than I heard English. Even in the biggest US cities I've been to, I still hear mostly American English. Yes, some of that is because you're only 3-4 hours away from countries where a dozen other languages are spoken, and in the US that's not the case, but still...it's a unique experience you don't get here in the States (though I've had a sort of similar experience on a much smaller scale at FanFest, where you have people from all over the world convening in one small space).

Overall, London was probably the most amazing single trip I've ever taken, and I feel really grateful that I had the opportunity to go there. It definitely makes me want to not just go back and see what I missed, but to travel a lot more outside the US in general. If you want to see the pictures I took while I was in London, you can find them here.

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