Chapter 24 :: Of Rats and Dwarves

July 19th, 2014

It is the 2nd of Slate, in the mid-spring of 1207. In the wake of Roomcarnage's greatest victory, a subtle but deadly threat has infiltrated the heart of the fortress.

Standarddispersed the giant rat has somehow gained entrance to the fortress and slain a dwarven child named Ustuth Zoncog. Never before have the dwarves of Roomcarnage been called upon to deal with such a fierce visitor - yet, in life, the overgrown vermin may be less dangerous than in death.

For, ultimately, it is not the giant rat that strikes fear into the hearts of the dwarves - nor, indeed, the death of the poor child, Ustuth. These are trivialities compared to the real fear - that which comes after the last breath. Shrouding the fortress in the ever-present threat of undeath, the Ice of Ghosts perceives all. Its awareness pierces magma, shadow, earth, and flesh - it can sense the departure of a life force anywhere below, above, or within it. Such empty vessels are mere tools for its purposes - its goal is nothing less than the total destruction of Roomcarnage.

In time, I know, the Ice of Ghosts will prevail. All fortresses crumble to their end, in time. I can only hope that the dwarves of the Momentous Dye claim an eternal victory, before that day arrives - that the last dwarf might perish, content with the knowledge that these years spent toiling in the claustrophobic darkness were not for naught.

I survey my options. Ustuth's corpse - not to mention Standarddispersed - lay in a narrow access tunnel. To the south, the passage leads up a long stairway, to the weapon's construction site and an open magma vent.

To the north, the passage leads to the forges. A shorter distance, but all the open magma vents are occupied by forges or smelters, and it is much closer to the heart of the fortress.

I don't like either option.

Instead, I decide to abandon the tunnel. There are already doors at the southern end of the passage, just before the weapon's construction site. Now, I order a door to be built at the northern end, so that the forges might be kept safe from rotten hands.

In order to restrict the passage to the dwarves, I turn to the burrows that I have already established. All of the passage lies within my "underground" burrow. Thus, I simply erase all portions of the passage from the burrow...

...bit by bit.

I even go back and make sure that this side passage is restricted as well. Just in case.

Also, of course, I need to ensure that there is enough burrow designated around the door that I ordered to be built. Otherwise, the dwarves will simply cancel its construction - that could be tragic.

I look over the dwarves currently caught in the passage. Many of them are on their way to jobs within the weapon itself. I am willing to accept a delay in construction, if a few more lives might be saved.

I link all of my burrows to an alert, then activate the alert. Once I unpause, the passage will be restricted.

Before that happens, though, I look back over the vampires. Rith Craftportent is holding a meeting with her foul fog diagnoser, as usual.

And Domas Firstfigures is still standing in the same place as when the weapon was first activated.

But of Doren Gemslip, the vampire woodcrafter, no sign can be found.

I look over the southeastern slopes of the volcano, where I last spotted Doren. I see nothing. It would seem that Doren Gemslip met his end, encased in ice.

It occurs to me that Doren ought to appear in the Dead/Missing lists in the units screen. Then, at least, I should have a confirmation one way or the other - but as I search, I find nothing. Odd.

I do a cursory glance through the Others list. A breath catches in my throat.

It would seem that Doren Gemslip is alive and well - at least, as alive and well as he was before. Doren is now a foul fog zombie, despite not having a single dusting of the contaminant upon his person. He is naked, except for a single sock, apparently unaffected by the withering cold of the haunted glacier. Curious.

As I prepare to forsake the passage holding Ustuth's remains, I order another passage dug, from the weapon's construction site, back to the earliest rooms of the fortress. Another route, of course, must be carved out, if the old one is to be abandoned.

Finally, I order the military into place. The Worthy Seals is to be stationed in the tunnel, to watch over Ustuth's corpse, while the Rapidity of Ink is ordered to slay the giant rat Standarddispersed.

Then, I unpause. The huge vermin scampers southward, knocking aside a dwarf, but doing no harm otherwise. Ugh. Of course the giant rat was not going to stay put.

While chaos rules this portion of the fortress, I decide that I may as well try to deal with the undead before they arise. I order Ustuth's body parts to be incinerated.

I watch as Standarddispersed makes its way to the staircase. Then I turn my attention back to Ustuth's body parts - only to discover that one of them has already risen from the dead, and has engaged a dwarven child!

The battle is far from one-sided. Ustuth's reanimated left hand trades blows with the dwarven youth. The combat report is intense, but darkly hilarious, when one considers that the enemy is a single hand.

"The Dwarven Child punches the Ustuth Zoncog's left hand in the left hand with her left hand, bruising the muscle!" I get a hearty laugh out of it, despite the gravity of the situation.

The battle continues...

...but neither side seems able to gain the upper hand. A stray cat tries to attack, but the strike misses.

Finally, a passing brewer engages the tiny undead...

...whose blows are apparently enough to knock the animating force out of the disembodied hand.

Once again, I designate the hand to be dumped.

I check in on the giant rat. Standarddispersed the cave vermin has dodged down the side passage. Good - no dwarves are going to head down there.

Meanwhile, traffic continues throughout the passage, but the military has yet to arrive.

I follow Standarddispersed, to get a solid look at where the rat is going. My heart sinks, and I can't help but feel sad for the great beast. It scrambles up and down the stairwell, then runs back down the passage. Saddened, I realize that the giant rat is terrified of the dwarves. It must be confused and scared, as it runs back and forth, fleeing from dwarves as they approach.

For now, Standarddispersed is a dire threat, but given other circumstances, it might have been a well-loved pet or trained ally in combat. The military has arrived, and the situation will soon be resolved, one way or another.

I realize that, since I removed the corridor from the Underground burrow, no dwarves can access it. I abandon the previous plan, and disable all alerts.

More of the military arrives on the scene, while the fortress guard rushes up the stairwell in search of the giant rat.

Standarddispersed, confused and desperate, still skitters about the side corridor, terrified of the dwarves that run up and down the stairwell.

While I watch the giant rat run to and fro, another chunk of Ustuth's remains shudders and rises again. This time, it's Ustuth's mutilated corpse, but a swift strike from a swordsdwarf ends the threat. I can only hope that Ustuth's severed foot will not add to the danger.

Just to be safe, I wade through the crowd of tantruming, unhappy warriors, and designate the remains to be dumped once again.

The axedwarf Obok charges the giant rat. Standarddispersed's body collapses to the stony floor, confused and desperate no more. I can't help but feel sorry for the poor animal.

The huge vermin does not meet its end swiftly. It takes no less than eight swings of Obok's axe - plus a few unarmed blows - to end the rodent's life.

The rat is slain, but the fortress guard's duty is far from over. The body parts deep within the tunnel are those of a child - small, made smaller by division. Meanwhile, the corpse of the giant rat is whole, and large. Once reanimated by the Ice of Ghosts, it will be a terrifying and dangerous threat, even for Roomcarnage's bravest warriors.

I order the corpse to be dumped, and desperately hope that a hauler manages to drag it into the magma vent before disaster strikes once more.

As I watch, little Ustuth's remains are brought up to the garbage dump.

Soon, a dwarf arrives at the scene and begins dragging Standarddispersed's corpse to the magma vent. It is a large corpse - if only it could be safely butchered for meat and fat! But alas - it is better this way.

I look on anxiously, vigilant for any sign of undeath.

As the dwarf hauling Standarddispersed's corpse reaches the stairwell, I order the fortress guard to reposition themselves closer to the garbage dump site. I want to make sure that, in the event of the giant rat's reanimation, they are close at hand.

They quickly run upstairs, preparing for the worst...

...but my fears are assuaged. The remains of the giant rat are tossed into the open vent, and a cloud of magma mist bursts up in response.

One by one, the remaining body parts are tossed into the molten rock. They are incinerated instantly, leaving behind nothing that might be claimed by the glacier's reanimating effect.

I quickly look over the corridor - it looks as if everything has been taken care of. The giant rat has been slain, and its remains, along with the four pieces of Ustuth Zoncog, have been tossed into the magma.

Roomcarnage is safe, for now. I lift the station orders for both squads, allowing them to return to their other duties.

I also cancel the excavation of the tunnel I had previously designated. In time, it might be good to carve out another tunnel, that might allow smoother traffic flow - but I have other priorities at the moment.

I look towards the entrance to the caverns - a single obsidian door. It was kept tightly closed, but not locked - I suppose that's how the giant rat got in. Oh well - now, the cage trap is built and loaded. I go ahead and make the door pet-passable, so that incoming beasts will get caught in the cage.

The bedrooms have been finished - now, they need to be furnished.

This might seem like a lot of beds, but in truth, it will allow only some of the dwarves of the Momentous Dye to have their own rooms in which to sleep.

Hopefully, it will serve to make a significant portion of the dwarves more happy...

...if not all of them.

I finish designating the placement of beds - but bedrooms also need doors.

So, I order the placement of those, too.

I finish the upper level of bedrooms...

...but there aren't enough doors by far to finish the lower level.

I've already got forty doors pending in production orders... another thirty couldn't hurt, especially since I've got plenty more beds to place.

Also, now that the undead threat has been dealt with, construction of the new portions of the weapon can continue.

As the haulers and masons get to work, a brewer is taken with a mood.

Ah! Another mechanic. Lovely.

I watch as the dwarves install the furniture in the new bedrooms. First the doors...

...then the beds.

Within a minute or two, the lower level is completed - save for the missing doors, of course.

The upper level is taken care of soon afterwards.

I go through and designate each new bedroom - the first available to the peasantry of Roomcarnage.

Likewise, the last few obsidian walls are swiftly built.

Finally, the final stages of construction are - huh? What is it now, Rith?

Ah, more short swords. Of course.

As I queue up a couple more copper short swords, I can't help but wonder once more why the vampire mayor is mandating the construction of martial arms.

I let the question pass, and look back to the fortress. The first several dwarves have claimed the open bedrooms, including an unhappy swordsdwarf. I can only hope that his emotional stress is eased by having a personal bedroom.

Soon, the brewer finishes collecting materials, and dives into the construction of an artifact mechanism...

...and I'm not disappointed.

Not the most impressive of artifacts, but I'm partial to mechanisms when it comes to legendary crafts. They're great for levers, since they impart their quality to the room in which they are constructed. Also, the idea of an artifact lever is possibly the purest sort of dwarfiness.

Speaking of levers... the time has come to test the new additions to the weapon. I order both of these levers pulled...

...and they work perfectly. Excellent.

The final stage of the process is to have Rith Craftportent carve through the ice separating the weapon's obsidian-lined passages from the outside.

Of course, the doors have to be closed as well, lest the path be made clear for the vampires - not to mention the horde of undead.

Rith gets to work quickly, and soon the passages are opened up.

As before, I take precautions to ensure that the lava does not prematurely react with the glacial ice before it reaches the exterior of the volcano. I have the vampire mayor carve out the ice walls on either side of the weapon's vents, making sure that there is still a path away from the construction site.

Rith carves away the ice walls quickly. Before I order the construction of the final bits, I need to ensure that the vampires have an exit route - this comes in the form of access bridges along the exterior of the volcano. I have these bridges constructed out of ice - once the weapon is activated, these bridges will melt in the heat.

Once the bridges are built, I order the last stage of construction - walls and floors, built of obsidian bricks. Soon, the weapon will be completed, and it can be unleashed once more upon the Ice of Ghosts! Hahaha!

My laughter catches in my throat again, as a new sort of warning appears on the screen. For over six years, Roomcarnage has resided below the Ice of Ghosts, alone and secluded, far from the prying eyes of the outside world. It could not last forever. A horrific beast from the time before time, beyond the memory of even the oldest surviving dragons, has finally found its way into the nighted tunnels beneath Roomcarnage.

It is the 16th of Felsite, in the late spring of 1207. The weapon is nearly prepared for a second and third activation, yet the arrival of this uninvited guest cannot bode well for the Momentous Dye. For now, Roomcarnage seems to stand upon the edge of a blade, narrowly avoiding each disaster as it comes. It cannot last forever.