Blatant (Not-Self) Advertising – For Once!

So, I don’t do this kind of thing very often, but a friend of mine has started up a gaming journalism blog-type-thingie over at ‘Not Another Video Game Blogger!’. He’s a really stand-up guy, he’s funny as anything George. W. Bush says and he has some genuinely interesting and unique opinions about aspects of gaming culture, and the direction that video games are heading, that always make me want to talk about them. I think half the gaming-related articles I ever posted occurred after conversations with this guy.

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Look at that cheeky grin! Seriously though, he’s a top-notch journalist and gamer, and he’s one of the nicest, funniest mofo’s that you’ll ever meet. Well, not that you’ll ever meet. That I’ve ever met. Never mind, just go and check him out!

 

If I had to advertise his ‘blog’ in one sentence, I think it would be that ‘He, like me, hates calling the writing he does a ‘blog’’.

And that should tell your pretty much all you need to know!

Anyway, you should check him out! His latest article is about EA Access, and whether it’ll set a trend in the industry. It makes for really interesting reading!

Ramblings On… Total War: Attila

Total War is arguably one of the most popular franchises in gaming, and is certainly one of the most well-known strategy games out there – a collective I’d probably be remiss if I didn’t call it a generic cesspool, from within which small diamonds may sometimes float. Okay, so some metaphors don’t always quite makes sense; just let it go already!

Anyway, if you’re reading this, then the chances are you already know what Total War is and, no doubt, you already have at least some information on the latest instalment in the eponymous series – but I’m going to ramble on anyway; partly because that is kind of the point of this little article, but mostly because my Daddy always said to ‘never assume nottin’, cos’ assumin’ makes an ass outta you and me’. Actually, he never said that, he never will say that and I can’t imagine why I read the line back in a stereotypical backwater Kansas accent when he’s a Scouser, but anyway – Total War!

The franchise has crossed time and geography throughout its lifespan, moving from the days of the Shogunate Japan to Medieval Europe, from Roman occupation to Alexander the Great’s lifetime and the Napoleonic Wars; it is currently going through something of a reiteration of itself, in that Creative Assembly, the team that has been behind Total War from the very beginning, has continued to make the same times and locations for subsequent games; as in, Medieval and Medieval II, Rome and Rome II and Shogun an Shogun II – it’s not that hard a concept to wrap your head around.

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I’m sure Attila would be proud to learn that all his achievements in life have been boiled down to an angry character in a video game.

Total War: Attila is something of a step in a new direction for Creative Assembly, as this is the first game to be directly drawn from an expansion pack rather than a full retail release – a connection which angered many gamers when it was announced cos’, y’know, that’s a hard thing to do. The influence behind Attila is the Barbarian Invasion expansion from the original Rome: Total War and, as it was one of the more interesting expansions, I was close to foaming at the mouth in excitement for the game’s release, even if I had issues about said release.

You see, the previous instalment in the Total War franchise, Total War: Rome II, had a rocky release – particularly with bugs and glitches and the entire game being unplayable for huge numbers of fans for weeks after its release, and CA were so busy on working the sort the problem out that they had minimal contact with the players trying to access the game, which made them come across, in many people’s eyes, as another one of these cold, uncaring game design companies which doesn’t care about its fanbase.

Even ignoring that, the game itself was somewhat disappointing; there just didn’t seem to be much in the way of content, despite the size of the game’s map, and after a few hours it felt like you had seen all there was to see, done all there was to do and, perhaps most damagingly, the AI on both your side and your opponents side was completely idiotic. It became, to an extent, a question of fighting the game itself, rather than battling your opponent and for a franchise which has offered one of the most incredible strategic experiences of all time this was a hugely crippling factor.

As a long-time player myself – actually, it’s almost scary to think how many hours I’ve sunken into the game over the years; I could’ve been a nuclear physicist or something otherwise – I understand how so many people could have such a negative reaction to the game and to CA in general. Of course, CA have tried to make it up since then, particularly with the recent free upgrade to the Imperator edition of Rome II, which included a whole extra campaign, but I think a lot of fans react somewhat negatively to a game that they have been playing for years, a game on such a grand-scale as Total War, offering small DLC campaigns in place of the world-redefining expansion they are used to.

Total War, as a franchise has, of course, grown over the years and many of the strategies CA are using can clearly be seen in the franchise’s past. DLC now seems to be based off of the ‘Kingdoms’ expansion for Medieval II, – one of the best expansions, actually – which offered four more-focused campaigns, rather than a complete world overhaul, and this could go some way towards explaining why Attila is a standalone game in of itself – an issue I know many long-term fans have brought up time and time again on the build up to its release. I think the issue of many gamers is that game design companies are just looking for ways to screw money out of them – to an extent one should agree with them, I mean, that is the entire purpose of an industry, not just video games – but many gamers seem to forget that they do not have to buy video games. They are not owed games as a birth-right, no matter how long they’ve been playing a franchise or on a specific console.

When we come to the game itself, Attila is a good addition to the franchise, and not really much more than that. Barbarian Invasion was one of the best expansion packs the franchise ever produced, and I am satisfied that CA decided to focus on the same setting. That is, perhaps, where this game truly stands out from other Total War titles – this game actually has an atmosphere. There is a kind of pressure on every faction right from the start – even the main objectives you are given typically tend to be ‘Survive until Year X’ rather than ‘Control X amount of settlements’. This subtle change also helps to feel like the world is moving on with or without you intervention, a feeling which has been lacking in recent iterations.

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God, he’s a cheeky-looking fellow, our Attila, ain’t he? I like to imagine if I said ‘Party on Attila’, he’d somehow get the reference and reply ‘Party On John’.

Total War Attila boasts a kind of desperation which I have never before seen as standard in any Total War game – the kind of atmosphere you get when your city or favourite army is under attack by a much more powerful opponent. There is the knowledge that, if you aren’t playing as the Huns, you are essentially holding out until Attila arrives and only then does the real threat begin. This adds an edge of desperation to the game which I haven’t felt, and experienced players won’t have felt, since their early days with the franchise.

Total War is, as I previously said, a 2x strategy game. This means that unlike, say, the Civilization franchise (perhaps the most popular strategy franchise of all time; certainly if Let’s Players are to be believed) where the player controls the nation in turn-based advancement, in Total War the player also takes command of individual battles, adding a much greater awareness of the units you build, the terrain you fight on, the abilities of your generals and your own strategic ability. Though the world map is this huge, sprawling thing upon which the fate of a nation might be decided by the movement of an army or a declaration of war, the battlefield is a much more tense environment, where the fate of that same nation might be decided by which of these two units breaks first, how quickly you can take out the enemy’s general, or how devastating that last volley of arrows could be to an enemy’s moral.

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Do not mess with the Danish. That’s what I told the British and do you know what they did? They messed with the Danish.

Much of the game has been lifted directly from Rome II, with often very minimal changes. For example, you no longer need to own all the cities in a region to enact a policy which should have negated the driving force behind controlling ever city in a region, but with the new ‘Razing’ mechanic, it is an invaluable addition. Now, instead of simply taking over a settlement, you are given the option to raze it – a brand new concept in Total War and one which adds a new tool in the strategic aspect of the campaign map. If you are unable to hold it from the previous owner’s counterattack next turn, for example, you can raze the city to the ground, earning you a little extra cash, whilst simultaneously denying your opponent a key base of operations. This is a key component for factions like the Huns or the Northmen (Jutes, Danes & Geats – yeah, there was day one DLC, of course there was) who might need some quick cash or, more likely, don’t necessarily need to be tied down to a specific base. Particularly for the Huns in fact, as their ability to move quickly and burn everything in their path is hugely important to their continued existence.

The cities can be rebuilt, of course, it isn’t like some kind of ‘Carthago Delenda Est’ manoeuvre, but it costs quite a considerable amount of gold to rebuild a ravaged husk of a settlement – as I found out when I attacked Britain as the Danes and had to raze Cadmulodunon so that I could have some breathing room to replenish my depleted armies. In my Danish campaign, half of Britain is black with ash and the Romans have already been completely kicked off of the island. When you do raze a settlement, the fact the entirety of the land owned by that settlement is also razed, by a wave of fire that does look like some vague Biblical threat, is hugely satisfying, and the first time I saw it I may have felt momentarily guilty for leaving Northern England in such a state.

When your last city has been razed, or you have decided to abandon it, your surviving armies turn into Hordes – Barbarian Invasion style – and these are your last hopes in finding a new home for your people. Of course, whilst in a horde, your army itself acts as a city, and you can upgrade relevant building within the army’s campsite, as well as levy local troops into joining your force. This is one of the main new mechanics which meant that Attila couldn’t be just another piece of DLC under Rome II’s banner and it adds entirely new play styles and allows a much greater sense of freedom for your faction – and it will be incredibly useful when Attila and his million horsemen show up with Roman blood on their hands.

The general system has been carried over from Rome II, although it has been adapted into a generalised skill tree now, meaning that you can see the direction you would like to take your general/admiral/agent in right from the outset. It does feel like there is less choice for personalisation now, and that many of the upgrades are completely superfluous, adding little to a character or army besides a ‘4% bonus to livestock related income’. Rock’n’roll!

Fire is more useful than ever in the game, as you can set entire cities alight whilst you fight in them, and the more damage done to a city, the weaker the defenders will become – their morale will suffer too! However, I found it most useful when I was attacked by a force of Geats out of a forest – my Onagers and archers set the entire forest on fire; it was pretty incredible.

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I can’t help but feel that CA missed a trick by not having a trailer where Attila is dancing to Arthur Brown’s ‘Fire’. As a side note, he’s pretty good live!

Total War: Attila is a good addition to the series, but simply because it is what Rome II could, no, should have been. This is a game without the bugs and glitches and the AI failures, with a slightly more complex gameplay whilst on the campaign map and a more responsive interaction whilst on the battle map. I’m enjoying it at the minute, and I’ve sunk about twenty hours into the game since it came out without any lapse in enjoyment, but I still can’t shake this nagging feeling that Attila is little more than an apology for Rome II. I mean, I enjoyed Rome II, but it wasn’t what I was expecting, whilst Attila is.

It’s probably just me, because I have held the franchise in such high-esteem over the years, but Rome II was a definite low and Attila is the subsequent raising of quality. I’m not blown away by the game, I’m not going to run around and tell people that they HAVE to play this game; it’s just an enjoyable experience, and a solid contribution to the franchise, but there isn’t really anything new about it. Then again, do I really want something new? Am I not simply attached to the Total War franchise by my love of previous titles; by my memory of leading hordes of Apaches into North America; by holding out against the Vandals with an increasingly meagre Goth force; by setting France on fire with a thousand English Longbowmen?

Attila is a good game, a solid game, and I will be sinking a lot more of my time into it over the coming weeks, but it isn’t incredible. It isn’t reinventing the paradigm or altering the Zeitgeist of the gaming world – anyway, it’s on the PC, so most people will probably wait for a Creative Assembly Humble Bundle appearance or a Steam Sale before picking the game up.

Brief Ramblings On… Total War: Attila

As I’ve only played the game for a few hours, just long enough to beat the prologue and play as the Danes for a very short while, this is only a first impression of the game – Be assured, I’ll be doing a complete Ramblings On once I’ve tried out a few other factions and just generally gotten a better feel for the game as a whole.


I had a very mild complaint with Total War: Rome 2 when it came out – if we ignore the bugs and the rocky launch and the somewhat inept AI – and that complaint was that it was, simply ‘too big’. I didn’t feel like I could really concentrate on any one aspect of it, because there was so much going on and factions I had never even met declaring war on me for no real reason. Although I enjoyed the game, it didn’t hold my attention for as long as the earlier iterations of the series did, even if we include the DLC campaigns and the free upgrade to the Imperator edition.

I was reticent about purchasing Attila, simply because I knew it would have the same aspects of Rome 2 that I didn’t like and, unfortunately, it has expanded on them. The politics system, for example, is essentially worthless – it isn’t a fun mechanic and it feels like it has been integrated for the sake of innovation.

One of the main changes that I’ve noticed, so far, are the changes to the General/Army ranking system, which has turned into a generalised skill tree rather than picking out different skills. Now, you can direct your armies and leaders down specific pathways depending on what attributes you want that army to possess, whether that be they are better at looting, raiding, sailing, or have more specific subsets of units, such as missile units, cavalry or melee infantry. Again, this doesn’t really feel like an improvement, but something that has been changed simply so that Creative Assembly can show that they have changed aspects of the game for a new release.

Obviously, the main change to the game’s mechanics are the way cities can be captured. Whereas, previously, there was the opportunity to either loot, occupy or raze a city – with each action resulting in a different outcome – these choices have become far more integral to the way you play the game. Now, you can completely raze a city, so that there is nothing besides the ruins of the city, and any faction can take the ruins over, so long as they have a hell of a lot of money to resettle the area. It does provide an interesting new mechanic, particularly in relation to the ‘new’ migration aspect of the campaign.

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If I’m going to play as the Danish, I feel like I need to come up with some Sea Shanties. Something about blood and gold and spilling seed across the sea, sea, sea!

Clearly realising that some of the better innovations have been made before, Creative Assembly have leant heavily on the Barbarian Invasion expansion for the original Rome: Total War, and a sceptic (albeit an honest sceptic) could say that Attila is little more than a combination of this expansion and Rome 2.

Obviously, with such a wide, expansive game as Total War, I can’t decide on a definitive opinion after only a few hours playing the thing, but I am slightly disappointed with it at the moment. There is a nagging feeling that Total War: Attila didn’t need to be a stand-alone game and is, rather, the game that Rome II should have been.

Ramblings On… Elegy For A Dead World

Elegy For A Dead World

Developed by Dejobaan Games and Popcannibal Games
Published by Dejobaan Games
Available on Steam & The Humble Store
Released on December 10th 2014

When I came to start this ramble on Elegy For A Dead World, I felt unsure how to approach it. Whilst many games have been difficult and, in some occasions, downright impossible to ramble on in the same vein as other titles, Elegy is the only game for which there isn’t really either a story, a difficulty, or a gameplay mechanic upon which I can ramble.

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Visually, one cannot argue that the game is stunning. Every shot looks more amazing than the last!

Firstly, the premise; you are an astronaut, trapped in something of a portal hub after a catastrophic space ship accident; each portal leading to an abandoned alien planet. These three worlds are supposedly inspired by Keats, Shelley and Byron, three of the most commonly read poets of the British Romantic movement. Once on these worlds, you are able to make your own notes in your own electronic journal about what you see and hear and, depending on the setting you choose can change which, or if any, writing prompts appear.

Of course, it is no small leap to dive straight into full-blown fiction but, with only a thousand characters per journal page, you are encouraged to keep your notations short.
This is, probably, because few people intend to read more than a few sentences per page and that is one of the major issues with this game.

Ostensibly, Elegy For A Dead World could probably be considered something of a social, if not a literary, experiment, and it is somewhat staggering to see how similarly many users interpret the same images – though many will use the writing prompts provided, imagining that they are trapped on an alien world, there is little to no variation in the scenarios they imagine.

If anything, there has been too much set up for such an experiment to work as well as it could do. If the player was, say, dropped into a Minecraftesque world, or another form of sandbox, i.e. DayZ, or even an alternative like Mount & Blade, with little in the way of explanation as to why they are there and the ability to actually create their own stories within the game, then the ability to write might be useful.

Essentially, the trouble with Elegy is that feels too constricted – Sure, you can write whatever you want on the freeform writing selection, but that isn’t really different than just writing without having to spend ten quid on the game itself. Eventually, with more worlds, or some kind of randomly generated world, the game might be amazing enough to stand on its own two feet, but it seems a little sparse at the minute.

Elegy For A Dead World is certainly a different approach to gaming – it judges your success at the game through the community’s reaction to your writing and the only three achievements to be unlocked are when a thousand people say that your writing is good on each of the three worlds.

And, don’t get me wrong, I like Elegy, I’m enjoying my first run-through of the worlds, I’m enjoying something a little different from the rest of my Steam Library, but I can’t help but feel it might be better suited if the ‘gameplay’ is not the main feature, but instead an additional component of another game.

Sure, being able to read other player’s journals and their stories is a cool idea, but when most user’s stories turn out the same as your own, the entire process becomes either: a kind of heightened narcissism, affirmation that you aren’t as creative as you think you are and certainly no more creative than anyone else, or a waste of time which could be spent writing wholly original work.

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So, I had to force my ending into the few characters I had left, as the game would not allow me to add another page – I was a little irritated and, seeing as it was two o’clock in the morning, I really didn’t have the energy to think of a new one.

I would definitely recommend trying it, if only because it is so completely different than any other game I have ever played, and it is certainly one of the most innovative. Besides that, the settings are visually stunning, the first time you play, and the minute details to be found are incredible; until you notice them all. On my very first play through I used the free form writing selection – as I have continued to do – and it got to the point where the game wouldn’t let me add anymore pages in. I don’t know if that was because they were too close together or because I had written 25 pages, but it was annoying that I had to rush the ending into two hundred characters in place of the thousand I desired.

Anyway, be sure to check it out if you’re interesting in new concepts of game design, but unless new worlds are coming, don’t expect it to hold your attention for extensive periods of time.

Another Update!

Recently, particularly whilst I was imprisoned in that hospital, I felt an old temptation. A temptation I haven’t felt since… *dramatic music starts and I look into the middle distance at nothing, cos I’m so damn full of mystery*

I want to play World of Warcraft again; I know, I know, bring on the groans and the vague sense of disgust. You see, I never really got into it when I was younger; oh sure, I enjoyed playing it occasionally, but it never stabbed its little claws into my breast as I saw it do other people, and I spent half the time debating with a few human characters as to the legitimacy of an invasion, with them saying the Horde ‘stole’ territory and us big, burly Night Elf warriors claiming that they took it by strength of arms and that they had the right to hold it until we could take it back.

I’m sure Ayn Rand would have been very proud of me.

But, anyway, I never got past level 30, and I preferred Civilisation, Total War and Freedom Fighters to WoW so I played them more.

Because, of course, I’m still unemployed and still living off of a mixture of my parents’ charity and what miniscule income my eBooks have brought me (they’ve paid for a Guinness or two, so I can’t really complain, I know I’m in a much better position than a lot of people my age), so I’m going to use the free trial which may only get me to level twenty, but I can’t really see myself becoming as hooked on the game as a lot of people seem to. MMO’s never really do hold my attention for long.

So, yeah, I’m going to give Wow a try, so expect a Ramblings On… on it sometime soon; as well as a few more parts of that State of Decay thing and possibly even a sneaky preview of this much, much longer piece I’ve been working; possibly even a novel-length piece by this point!

SoD: Breakdown V – ‘Sounds like a plan’

The fire is ironic, and she would have laughed at the imagery had it have been on a Saturday morning cartoon, but with the glass broken and the charred corpse of the driver lolling in the seat, she stayed silent. The heat, which creeps out of the fire engine like a murderer, is unbearable, and she gives it a wide berth as she approaches the sign, feeling the asphalt change to dirt and then back again beneath her feet.

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The heat, which creeps from the fire engine like a murderer, is unbearable.

The sign is three times her height, and she stares up at it with a furrowed brow. Marshall was the only city in Trumbull, and if she was to find survivors it would be there that she had the best chance. No doubt there are a few, hiding out in the solitary buildings surrounded by the open fields, but surely the attraction of supplies, as well as wholly familiar territory, would appeal to someone besides simply her?

‘What do you think about the city?’ She asks, only half expecting Lily to respond. ‘There’s gotta be some survivors there, surely?’
‘I’ve not got any signals from Marshall,’ the weak voice replies, ‘but if you can find a car, at least, you might be able to get back before sunset.’

Gabriella swears loudly and looks at the sun. It has only felt like minutes to her, but the celestial orb has crawled across the sky like another dead thing. The very air seems to have turned red around her, and her shadow, that cadaverous, long-legged parody, has stretched out like an urban legend in a misty forest.

‘Alright, I’ll see if I can find a car and head up Main Street, if I can’t I’ll just find somewhere to hole up for the night and head back in the morning; that a plan?’

She is already when walking along the road again when Lily agrees, mindful of the clicking of her boot heels against the asphalt. The road stretches out before her, empty, but the distant bridge is a crush of vehicles; burnt out wreckages designed to keep people out; or, as she fears, to keep the dead things in. The fires here abated some time ago, not enough the scent of smoke still hangs in the air. She thinks it strange that the fire engine was still aflame, whereas those vehicles are blackened husks.

Beyond them, on the other side of the bridge, there is a gas station; a Bronto, if she remembers correctly. She thinks about all the times she complained to her friends at the price of gas, about the loud agreements and gentle mockery of rolling eyes. She’d have killed to be able to moan about the rising cost again, to have the worry of a few extra cents wasted on fuel over the sheer silence of the wheat fields, or the never-ending moaning of those creatures as they tried to steal a few hours sleep.

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Those vehicles are blackened husks.

‘How’re you feeling Lily? You doing okay for meds?’

‘Yeah, I’m fine,’ she lies, trying to force a little energy into her listless tones, ‘we’ll have to go on a run in a few days though.’ Gabriella knows she’s lying, just as she knows that the ‘we’ will inevitably mean, ‘you’. She didn’t begrudge Lily her illness; if she hadn’t fought to let Gabriella in when she first arrived at the church she could well have been dead by now, and if occasionally having to search for a little extra medicine was the price for her survival, she would happily pay it.

‘Cool, we’ll head over to that vet place when I get back tomorrow, yeah? They might have something we can use.’

‘Sounds like a plan,’ the voice crackled, and she hears a yawn breaking through, ‘if I grow fur and my nose goes wet, you bet your ass I’m blaming you.’ Gabriella laughs, picking her way through the burnt-out cars with her blade heavy in her hand.

‘Deal.’

SoD: Breakdown IV – ‘Warm myself on the ashes’

Lily rubs at her eyes, feeling the weakness in her muscles where there had once been strength. She had never been healthy, but the last days of little food and the constant stress of moans and fingertips against the wall outside, the radio signals she catches like fleeting dreams, which suddenly cut out or are replaced with distant screams, all sending coiling tendrils of fear and a distant anger she is scared to recognise.

She is very scared of dying and the night before she heard herself muttering half of the Lord’s Prayer before she managed to steal a few hours sleep. She hadn’t prayed since she was a child; science was the thing to keep her alive, God was nothing but a figment for the weak-minded, for the broken people, she knew. Still, her hands would flutter together occasionally, her fingers interlocking, and she tells herself she is comfortable in that position; that the feel of her own sweat-soaked grasp is a comforting touch, and that God’s finger is in no way involved.

The stash of medication had run out the day before and, already, she can feel the familiar exhaustion, a weakness which seems to emanate from her very bones and seep into her muscles from within. She shakes a little when she stands, crossing over to the window and sagging against it, her fingers pushind down on the narrow sill.

The church could, when she first arrived, have been a place they could defend. A little outside the town, surrounded by trees on two sides, a gulley blocked by a fallen tree and a dirt road on the other, it has long stone walls running around it, creating an archaic compound with enough room to house a series of tents and three gazebos, as well as the long outside dining table Pastor William had been so proud of. She remembered him smiling as the coarse-looking workmen completed it, patting his stomach knowingly at her and her father.

The Pastor was dead now, she knows, torn apart by one of the newcomers they had invited in. He had been mopping at the man’s brow when he died, and had turned to walk away when the claw shot out and dragged him back into those suddenly gnashing teeth. Lily misses him.

She can still see blood stains in the dirt where Gabriella had killed him, beaten his head with that stolen police baton until it was just another fat corpse in a tight red sweater. They hadn’t buried him, they hadn’t the energy. Instead, Gabriella had dragged him out the front gate and left him there for the dead things, whilst they spent the night drinking the last of the wine.

She staggers back to her chair, an uncomfortable wooden thing; a flat-pack purchase. The pews were gone, some broken up as pieces of a barricade that didn’t work, others burnt for the meagre warmth they offered. There is nothing left to burn, and the radio she sat in front of is running on the very last dregs of their power. She missed Gabriella, and glanced at the map again. It was a tourist’s map, taken from the pocket of a dead thing with an extensively supplied backpack. He had been on a hiking holiday, touring the mountains of Trumbull with his friend, when Gabriella came across his body.

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It was a tourist’s map, taken from the pocket of a dead thing.

She can feel eyes burning into the back of her head, and turns to the cross. There he is, the original zombie. She stop herself then; they weren’t zombies. Zombies weren’t real, it was rabies, just an advanced form of rabies; that was all. But still, he stares at her with a kind of pity in his eyes; she hates him for that. She wants to burn him, to watch flames lick about his semi-naked body with its long hair and its healthy muscles, and she wants to see the pity vanish.

The Pastor wouldn’t let her; he’d stopped her when those things, whatever they were, were hammering at the door and she wouldn’t do it whilst there was even a spark of energy left in the generators.

‘Tonight, though,’ she thinks, staring up at white eyes, ‘you’re going to burn like the Hell you tried to avoid, and I’m going to warm myself on the ashes.’