There is finally a consensus building around the possibility of giving command of the joint mermen armies to the representative from the small independent kingdom of Marbendlar.
Marbendlar (or Marbendlar-hjem as the locals call it), far to the north of Atlantica, is a harsh, dark environment. Located under the northern ice caps, it is devoid of light and warmth, save during the frequent volcanic eruptions. The currents all over the area are strong and change unpredictably. There is very little that can be considered food. What there is to be found consists mostly of mutated sea creatures that have adapted to the inhospitable waters in such grotesque ways that no other race would consider them edible.
Legend has it that Marbendlar was founded by outcasts. It was the wasteland that the rulers of Atlantica would banish their criminals, dissidents and political rivals to. It was expected that no merman could survive for more than a few weeks in the “northern wasteland” and, indeed, most did not.
This is just a legend, of course. Marbendlar has been a kingdom in its own right for centuries. The natives dismiss the old legend as propaganda, spread by Atlantica centuries ago, to try to lay a claim on their territory.
The mermen of the larger empires tend to see the northerners as primitive and inferior. The residual, atrophied land limbs on their lower body are considered as proof, by many philosophers, of the underdeveloped evolutionary stage of the mermen of the northern kingdom.
The people of Marbendar have lived in such isolation, however, that their view of themselves has never been tainted by the scorn of the outsiders. The value of each individual is determined entirely by their caste and family heritage. Those in the highest echelons of their society tend to consider themselves superior to anyone within Marbendlar or without.
Their representative in our current negotiations is Villard of Brasstreght, the only son of the Dukes of Brasstreght and third in line for the throne of Marbendlar. Rumors have it that he was a spoiled and pampered child. There were very few things that he would show an interest for but, when he did, his every wish was instantly granted. His parents spared no expense on him. For many years, he was also a favorite of his uncle, the king, until the monarch was finally able to have his own two children at a rather late age.
He also has the reputation of being brilliant since a very early age. He spent more time with his elders than with his peers and seemed much more comfortable among them. As he left childhood, he seemed to grow weary even of his elders. He grew more solitary and detached with every passing year.
There must have been more than a bit of truth on his intelligence, as he was admitted in the Imperial Philosophical Academy of Pacifica, where he spent five years. By his third year, he had been offered a personal discipleship by the three most renowned philosophers of the Academy. Most distinguished students have to beg for years to be considered for such high an honor, let alone receive an offer. When he rejected the offers, most attributed it to his primitive northern mind having been overestimated.
Most of his peers remember him. He was considerably older than the other students, his journey to Pacifica having taken several years for unclear reasons. His demeanor was always aloof and hazy but his answers were sharp as steel needles. I have not found anyone who could have considered himself his friend. He seems not to have allowed anyone to get closer than the status of mild acquaintance with one exception.
During his time there, he is said to have become extremely close to Scylla, the third daughter of the current Emperor of Pacifica’s senate. About one year and a half after they met, Scylla left the capital and went to stay with one of her aunts in distant Emerald Plains. Some say that she fled, others say that her father ordered her away.
One of Princess Scylla’s maids in waiting remembers her whispering one night about Villard, “Being alone with him was as exciting as it was terrifying. There is something inside Villard. When you are near him, you can’t avoid feeling it. It reaches your mind like a floating invisible thread, but it spins until it becomes as palpable as a ball of yarn that you could almost hold in your hands. By then, you can barely breathe. Something lives within him. It is something he can barely contain… something as wild, frenzied and untameable as he is cold, calm and collected.”
By a curious coincidence, the princess’s destiny seemed to lie with the Marbendlar. During the accords of the Straight of Gorga, she was offered in matrimony to the Lashur, Crown Prince of Marbendlar. She is currently betrothed and on her way north.
In fact, Prince Lashur was supposed to come to Pacifica as chief representative of their nation. Villard apparently convinced him that it would be inappropriate not to be present during the arrival of his bride-to-be and offered himself to come in his place, as he knew Pacifica.
Villard left Brasstreght's affairs in a very agitated state. His father, the duke, recently passed away under suspicious circumstances. His mother reluctantly took the title and is now ruling as duchess in order to quiet the suspicions of foul play that were falling on her son. She is said to have aged decades in the last year.
I was surprised to hear that he voluntarily left his home at such a time. I was surprised until I met him. As he entered the council chamber for the first time, the world disappeared around him. The most powerful mermen of the two great empires were gathered in that ancient, legendary room. Under his gaze, they became sea cucumbers in a field of rotting seaweed, unworthy of even being in his presence. I could not tell if they noticed. If he looked at other mermen with disdain, us foreigners he just looked through.
This was clearly a man who cared about nothing save for himself. Villard is arrogant, unreachable, and intolerant. Physically, he is not much to look at. As all the mermen of Aqua, he has a man’s torso and a fish’s tail. At each side he has the two legs of the marbendlar, shriveled and atrophied… or, are they? His skin is much paler than that of the mermen of equatorial waters. His scales are less colorful than other mermen’s; red and greys dominate. He might be in his late forties or early fifties. His built is lean, poised almost delicately. He does not look frail but it’s hardly the image anyone would have of a warlord.
I have never disliked a man so instantly. Yet, it was I who proposed him as commander before the senate.
I was astonished when I noticed him standing at my side and starting to talk; even more so when I realized he was actually talking to me. He never pretended to like me, or respect me, or consider me his equal. However, we did talk at length. I thought I was controlling the topics but somehow we found ourselves talking about the terrible threat we are facing, his homeland, how they are constantly trying to survive darkness, cold, and volcanoes. Before I realized it, I was proposing his name as commander.
The proposition met much opposition. Several generals refused to be led by a northerner, but rulers from both sides realized that might be the only way to break the stalemate. Yesterday, as Villard’s nomination grew stronger, senate guards found an assassination plan from those seven generals against Villard. They thought they would be too late, but when they reached the marbendlar’s room, the would-be assassins were not there yet. No trace of any of them has been found.
Without the opposition of the seven generals, I think that by tomorrow, the Trident of Tides and the control of the joint armies of the mermen of Aqua may be in Villard’s hand. Then we can hurry back home.
I just wish we could receive some news. I wish I knew if you have been able to hold on this long, if you’re still alive to read this letter, if our homeworld still even exists, if our new allies will be able to make a difference.
If anyone finds this letter on me and I have... if you find it, please take it to my brother.
The basic idea is a deep sea merman that can sort-of pass for a normal merman at first glance.
Deep sea fish not only look different from normal fish. They also act differently. They tend to wait silently with their glowing light perched over their hear and the monstrous predator ready to spring.
The warlord was to be a deadly hand to hand warrior but I didn't want to have my warlord's strength to be based on mass. That has just been done too awesomely before. I want my warlord's strength to be more feline: lean and agile.
I also want him to have a strong element of surprise, and of monstrosity as his deep-sea heritage would require.
So if we start with a normal, basic merman
...and we add some harmless extra features like extra fins or residual legs sort of like the legs that would be left in the marine descendant of an Ambulocetus:
...but each one of those features opens and reveals a hidden danger
...them we get something that can be considered a warlord.
So, below his human stomach lies his fish stomach. The fish stomach has its own mouth, eyes, and mind. The thoughts of the human and the fish mind mix but, thus far, the human mind has always been in control (sort-of). The jaw of the fish mouth is not a fixed jawbone. Each side of the jay has the bone structure of a feline front leg. All the fingers, except the human hands, have retractable claws. The fish mouth should have lots of eyes and lots of lights.
There's more to the fish mouth. It not only needs to have deep-sea fish characteristics. It also needs to be a complete contrast of the human appearance. The human face should be calm and controlled even during the attack. The fish face has to display all the craziness and and the frenzy that the other face misses.
It may not be immediately clear but the hind legs fold so he can walk on land (added arrows to show this). My guess is that the lack of food in the frozen north forced them to adapt in order to hunt the creatures that live on the permanent ice sheets. This means they should also be pretty good at climbing on ice.
Next, I think I'll try to come up with how the human head looks before thinking on the look of the fish head.
My starting point for the face was Richard III, with the lines hardened to remove that charm and likability that Mr. McKellen adds to the character:
First I had to remove the hair and add the traditional elven ears, since this kind of flat, short hair... in low poly, it tends to be the first giveaway.
Still, he didn't look arrogant enough. So my next source was Ego the food critic. I couldn't think of any face with such a delightful overdose of arrogance and cockiness.
I noticed that he had one iris higher than the other and I had to try and see how that would look in a less cartoony style.
I wasn't too happy with the result and I was wondering how it would look with more fishy characteristics to compensate for the lack of hair.
I added the side face fins after looking at Mer-man (from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe) since... well... he's called Mer-man so.. he's.. a merman...
which, of course, did not seem to work but it made me realize that I could use that as an excuse to get rid of the eyebrows. I'd really have to invest way to many polys to make eyebrows of any decent standard. If I could get facial fins to take over the task, that could save a lot of polys.
Since the mis-matched irises were not working, I lowered and slanted the mouth a bit more, like Ego has it.
So I ended up with this as my idea of how the face should look like:
For the fish face, the first thing I knew was that I wanted the jaw bones to have the same basic structure of a lion's front arms, with a few extra teeth.
When fully extended to catch a prey, it would fit the body more or less like this:
Of course, that presented us with a big problem. If I used the muscle structure from a lion, most of the mouth opening would be covered by tissue. Fish tend to have big wide openings to their throat.
I needed to clear some space for the fish face to swallow whole mermen to Villard's very elastic fish stomach. I should have thought of this before choosing a lion out of all possible felines. Deep sea fish like the angler fish can extend their stomach to hold a whole squid. Unfortunately, that meant that we'd have to lose quite a bit of muscle mass.
To open up enough space, we'd end up sort of like this:
Not very happy with this development but it can still work. What I'm really not happy at all with is what I have for the fish face so far (minus the two tongues, which are vital for dragging the prey in). Now it doesn't look as ridiculous as in the initial sketch but it does not look crazy at all. Trying to add lots of eyes and a couple of teeth to the fish nose just distorted it and now it doesn't look feline at all. The two hanging eyes need to be a lot bigger, they get completely lost. However, according to the chronogram, this should be the last day for concept sketching and I should be starting with modeling tomorrow. Otherwise, if I start pushing the chronogram's deadlines, I'll probably not finish at all.
Deep sea fish have lots of long teeth but they are very polygon expensive so the number was cur drastically. Still the fish face should be where most of the polys will live. The human part should be very subdued so it will contribute to the fish face effect instead of dilute it. If I can keep the fish face within 3K polys and the human face within 2K, the remaining 5K should be more than enough for the rest of the body.
03-23-2009, 11:30 AM
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