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Writing: Boreal Alyph

I wrote these story snippets in 2020 for KAFF Software, for the now-defunct project Boreal Alyph. The goal was to provide inspiration and ideas to the level designers and flesh out some potential story beats.


Gordon carefully made his way up the snowy embankment, wary of any Combine stragglers that could be making their way to his position. Looking back at the smoking ruins of the Combine Listening Station in the valley behind him, Gordon pondered the directions Alyx had given him. They had been vague at best, and downright unhelpful at worst. After taking out the Station, he was supposed to scale the west side of the valley and reach a cadre of Resistance fighters on the other side. He might have called back to the main camp and asked for some more explicit guidance, except for the fact that a storm was picking up and his radio's effectiveness was already practically null. At any rate, he figured that any Resistance fighters eagerly awaiting his arrival would make themselves known.

Cresting the ridge, Gordon scanned the horizon. Stretched out before him was the old coastline. What once was the border between land and sea was now only a small rise separating the rocky beach from a long smooth decline of seabed towards the ice floes. He looked for anything that might indicate recent movement in the area, but saw nothing. The storm was quickly becoming more intense and his search became more frantic. Peering into the gale, he saw a large oblong shape several hundred meters away. Seeing no other shelter available, Gordon pulled up his parka and headed down the hill towards the shape.

He clambered over the edge and onto the seabed. As Gordon moved closer, he could see a large tower jutting out of the top of the mysterious shape. He was relieved to see that it was clearly not Combine in nature, and in fact appeared to be a large beached submarine. He took no time to wonder about why it was here of all places, and closed the distance. Coming up to the side of the sub, Gordon glanced left and right. A short ways to his left was a rope ladder that scaled all the way up the curved side of the hull. Clearly, he was not the first person to recently discover this wreck. Protecting his face from the wind, Gordon climbed up the ladder and made his way to the top. Unsteadily, he made his way across the tilted hulk to an open hatch the was tied into.

He slid down the steel ladder into the nearly pitch darkness of the submarine's interior. Gordon illuminated his flashlight and studied the room around him. Aside from the barely-disturbed layer of dust coating every surface in the room, the interior seemed to be a perfect time capsule of the pre-invasion world. Looking down, he spotted a scattering of footprints entering in and out of a nearby doorway. Gordon went absolutely still and listened intently. Above the roar of the wind outside, he could hear nothing in the way of company sharing the wreck with him. As far as he could discern, he was absolutely alone. He stepped towards the door and slowly pushed it open, pistol and flashlight first. The room he entered appeared to be the submarine's control room, complete with large radar screens and two periscopes. A decayed corpse, almost a skeleton, sat in situ at a control station, rusty pistol in hand. Other than the sound of screaming wind outside, the interior was dead silent.

Shining his flashlight around the control room, Gordon spotted a spray painted Lambda next to a door at the far end of the room. The footprints in the dust led right to it. He figured that if he was going to find his rebels, they'd be there. He crept past the corpse and the old control panels, careful not to disturb anything he passed. Gordon pushed through the door silently. The space beyond was small, barely two square meters. In the middle was a ladder going straight down. At the bottom of the shaft was the faint indication of an orange light. He braced himself against the ladder, using one hand to hold the rungs and the other to hold his pistol. He wondered if he was really making a smart decision. What if it was just scavengers? Would they shoot him on sight? Think he was a special Combine unit? His bright orange suit wasn't exactly the universal symbol that many people in the Resistance believed it was. He pondered this as he descended the ladder as quickly and quietly as he could.


"There's no way into this place on foot. None of us would stand a chance against the defenses or the storm. There's a small, out of the way Combine train depot about 7 kilometers south of the weather station. If someone could time it just right, maybe they could hitch a ride on a supply train, sending them right to the heart of the compound..."

High in the distance, a red light blinked vaguely. The outline of the Spire was barely visible in the falling snow.

Through his binoculars Gordon scanned the Razor Train way station below. It seemed minimally guarded and somewhat trivial to infiltrate. His headset crackled to life with Alyx's voice: "Your train leaves at 1500 hours, according to our intel. I have no idea what it's carrying, but it sounds like some of the carriages will be empty. I'll have to leave that to you. Good luck." He checked his watch. 30 minutes to 1500. Gordon hoped that would be more than enough time to get onboard. He did one final sweep and, seeing only one exterior guard, decided it was time to move. Gordon slid down the embankment and crawled towards the exterior fence.

A few meters inside the fence stood a medium sized transmitter array. While the trains were fully automated, the inevitable distress call was not. If he could successfully disable that transmitter, they would have no way to call in reinforcements. Gordon pondered the problem. He figured that stealthiness likely wouldn't do him much good if he could disable it, so he went for his grenades. Gordon carefully determined the trajectory, primed the grenade, and tossed it. To his relief it landed less than a meter from the base of the tower. The following blast ripped through the supporting rods of the transmitter, sending it toppling over into the snow.

Several seconds later the base klaxon rang to life. Half a dozen Combine Soldiers rushed out of an outbuilding and ran towards the remains of the transmitter. Gordon brought out his rifle and aimed it at the rushing soldiers. At ground level buried in snow, the soldiers had little chance of seeing him right away. He took the first shot, grazing the squadleader's skull and sending him running for cover. The squad began to fan out, concentrating fire on his position. This was getting bad, fast.

Gordon ducked behind a large pile of debris and grabbed his MP7. He shot blindly out of cover, hearing one of the robotic voices get suddenly interrupted by a flatline. A grenade landed at his feet. Gordon scrambled to pick it up and tossed it towards the exterior fence. The damaging explosion gave him an opening to enter the station. He popped out of cover again, spraying his weapon with slightly more intent. Two more bodies fell to the snow. The squadleader barked a barely intelligible order and the remaining soldiers fell back to the main depot building.

If he was lucky, maybe he could restock his ammunition in the building the soldiers had originally emerged from. Gordon took a chance and darted across the open ground through the gap in the fence. The small structure contained several Combine sleeper pods, a medical bay and small armory. Gordon did a quick sweep of the armory and picked up more ammunition for his MP7. The suit sounded a warning about his vital signs, but to Gordon's dismay the medical bay's health station was depleted.

The compound went deadly quiet. The base klaxon had cut out. Only the soft sounds of the wind and the ice remained. Gordon crept out slowly towards the depot building. While they couldn't call for help, whatever was left of the Combine unit would still fight fiercely. A large doorway sat invitingly open on the near side of the depot building. He checked his reserves and found that he only had a handful of frag grenades left. Flipping the catch on his MP7's grenade launcher, he fired a single round through the doorway with a soft ka-chunk. The explosion sent the corpse of a soldier sprawling out of the doorway and footsteps receded further into the structure.

From the viewing platform, Gordon saw only a handful of train carriages in the small depot. At the far end of the room was a single engine attached to several carriages. That must be his train. He checked his watch again: 3 minutes to 1500. it was now or never. He ran down the catwalk until he was positioned just above one of the carriages. He hopped over the railing and landed hard on the cold blue paneling. The suit's shock absorbers took the brunt, but his legs were still bruised by the impact.

As he tried to keep his footing, the train shifted suddenly under his feet and started rolling. Gordon scrambled to find a way to get into the carriage. He spied a large ventilation panel and started to shimmy it with his crowbar. The train was picking up speed fast. He finally cracked the panel out of its fasteners and tossed it over the side. Seeing nothing but darkness inside the carriage, he jumped.

The Palace of Culture

The distinct call of a Hunter reverberated through the empty streets of Severniy. Gordon instinctively ducked behind a burnt out car in the middle of the road. He looked around quickly, trying to triangulate the source of the sound. Before he could identify anything, it faded into the wind. How could they be on to him already? He had seen nothing while sneaking up from the Resistance basecamp. Gordon cursed himself for not bringing more ammunition. According to the rebels on base, the Combine's arctic Hunter squads were even more deadly than the ones just outside City 17.

He scanned the buildings around him for something sturdy enough to hide in. Most of the buildings in Severniy were practically decayed to rubble by decades of abandonment, but some of the heartier buildings were still safe to enter. Gordon spotted a low concrete building down the street with a large Soviet star emblazoned on it. Once upon a time, it might have been the local Party headquarters. It seemed to have stood the test of time better than the buildings around it. Gordon jumped up and moved towards it, careful to avoid disturbing any debris on the street. He peered through a gated storefront window in hopes of finding any supplies. Inside, half a dozen zombies lay still in the snow. A headcrab canister had long ago crashed through the roof. Seeing nothing of use, he moved on.

Another Hunter call echoed through the streets. Gordon knew he didn't have much time. He picked up his pace and was nearly there when a zombie came crashing through a boarded up door. His movements, light as they were, must have disturbed a resting ghoul. He bolted the last few steps through the entrance and closed the heavy wooden doors behind him. They might not hold up for long, but it was better than nothing. He heard a third Hunter call vaguely through the walls of the building. It sounded different this time. Lower, more guttural. Closer. The interior of the headquarters was dark and completely wrecked. He saw bullet impacts on both sides of the room. A firefight must've broken out here during the last stages of the invasion.


Gordon stumbled through the cave entrance, falling to the floor. The raging storm outside had sapped all but the last of his energy. Gordon scrambled to his feet and took cover behind some debris. He prepared a grenade for the Combine soldiers that were right on his tail. After several seconds, a squad of Combine Enforcers came into view. He pulled the pin and tossed the grenade towards the mouth of the cave. The Officer barked orders and dove for cover. Gordon shielded himself behind his cover. With a reverberating crash, the grenade exploded. The rock around him began to shake, and within seconds a mountain of snow and rubble had completely blocked the cave entrance.

He fumbled in the sudden pitch darkness. As his eyes adjusted, a large shape manifested itself in front of him. Gordon clicked on his flashlight. In the dim light he saw what seemed to be the overturned hull of a small boat, badly decayed and torn. Stenciled on the side was a single word that made his blood run cold: "BOREALIS". It must have been one of the doomed ship's lifeboats. It had clearly been there a very, very long time.

He couldn't dwell on it. They knew exactly where he was and wouldn't be long before they dug through his accidental blockade. Flashlight in hand, Gordon descended into the depths. Deeper in the cave, he saw more evidence of habitation. The remains of a fire sat in a small clearing. On the far wall sat a rotting skeleton near a lonely cairn of stones.

A light gust of air breezed past him. A connection to the outside world must be somewhere nearby.