Chapter 31 :: Ghosts of the Past

June 16th, 2014

It is the 24th of Limestone, in the early autumn of 1208. Before two more months have passed, the caravan from the mountainhome will arrive at Roomcarnage. The dwarves of the Playful Spattered Walls are tenacious and greedy indeed - they brave certain death at the hands of sinister undead forces for the chance to trade with the fortress Roomcarnage. A successful trade has not been conducted since the autumn of 1202, and every merchant, guard, or outpost liaison who has trod the Ice of Ghosts since then has died, or been forced to turn back home in disappointment. I hope that this year may yet be different.

One of the results of the last year's lava flooding is this secluded channel, which runs from the base of the Oily Furnace to the edge of the map. It is inaccessible by foot - and thus, is in no danger from the undead hordes that roam the surface of the glacier. The channel is the best route for a caravan to reach the fortress - already, I have designated one end of the passage that will lead from the southern end of the channel straight into the fortress.

I designate the other end of the passage within the oldest part of the fortress. These chambers were carved out during Roomcarnage's first year, when the dwarves' worries involved getting a farm started, and dealing with the corpses of the pack animals they had brought with them. Now, it will serve as a mercantile center.

Of course, the passage will be dug from the bottom up. Channels aren't the appropriate designation here.

I use ramps to designate and connect the passage.

Then, I order the construction of a trade depot. Once, long ago, I had intended for this room to be a dining hall. Then, it had been abandoned, due to a shambling water buffalo corpse, but was eventually reclaimed, because the fortress' only anvil had been locked inside.

Those days seem so long ago, now.

The miners arrive quickly and begin mining out the passage.

They carve away boulder after boulder of glacial ice, revealing the raw stone immediately underneath.

The Ice of Ghosts is a vast but thin sheet of ice, covering a plain of dead bedrock.

Soon, the miners break through to the other end of the passage - immediately, miners begin bolting out into the channel, "interrupted" by the corpse of Zon Nosingfath.

The dwarf corpse stands high above the channel, up on the slopes of the Oily Furnace. Far away from the living dwarves, and no real threat to them.

Nevertheless, the miners panic and run.

It quickly becomes clear that they will not be able to return to the fortress by the newly excavated passage.

What troubles the dwarves of the Momentous Dye may yet trouble the merchants who have yet to arrive. I order a new passage to be dug out, further to the north.

The panicking dwarves respond immediately, and begin laboring to connect the passages.

Naturally, this broad open passage will be difficult to defend, once it is completed.

Fortunately, there are no wild animals to worry about - the Ice of Ghosts is an unnatural place. Nor do the dwarves fear goblins or their war machines - the Grieving Curse, the only goblin civilization on the continent, was finally defeated at Demonwheel in the early spring of 809, after eight centuries of constant warfare.

The only creatures that willingly roam the surface of the Ice of Ghosts are dwarves, the beasts they bring with them, and kobolds.

It's the kobolds I'm worried about, of course. I'll worry about kobold-proofing later.

The depot is constructed, and there it is - a clear, open path straight to the edge of the map. Unobstructed by undead or doors, it's a perfectly safe route for the caravan to take.

I don't want the fact that the fortress has multiple depots to screw things up, though. I order the depot in the food stockpiles to be deconstructed.

I don't think this one will be causing any trouble, but just to be safe, forbid the depot. Hopefully, in the event that the traders try to path to the depot that's encased in obsidian and ice, the fact that it's forbidden will make a difference.

The depot in the fortress is torn down. Now, there's not much to do except wait.

I check in on the vampires - both seem to be working eagerly. As always, Dumat Sensesstakes the foul fog zombie diagnoser silently follows the vampire mayor.

Even watching the mayor work obediently is subtly troubling. She seems content to work on a project that will save dwarven lives - or perhaps she has nothing better to do while she watches her own plans coming to fruition.

Either way, I'm happy construction is coming along.

With the prospect of trade quickly approaching, I decide to bolster the fortress' stockpiles of finished goods. Some green glass instruments should do nicely.

And of course, some well-crafted copper bins to hold those instruments can't hurt.

In the nighted deeps, another foul monster emerges from the darkness. Forgotten by the surface, Rithi Filthwaste has roamed the muddy caverns of the underworld since before the dawn of time. Perhaps the dwarves were wise to wall off the caverns, for a towering vapor-belching salamander is not an eagerly-faced foe.

Rithi has roamed these caverns for a forgotten millennia - it will roam the caverns beneath Roomcarnage until it dies, or the fortress crumbles.

Either way, the beast is of no immediate concern to the dwarves. They continue hammering away at the forges and purifying copper ore in the magma smelters, preparing trade goods for the caravan that will soon be arriving. As always, the dwarves remain completely oblivious of the malevolent forces that hang poised above them, as potent and final as an executioner's blade.

Up on the surface, the inherent evil of the Ice of Ghosts is more readily apparent - armies of frozen undead trod deep drifts of elf blood snow - but the dwarves here work all the same.

Unable to access the fortress, Rithi Filthwaste stands in the caverns beneath the barrack's garbage dump, furiously and literally fuming.

Despite having no immediate opponent, the beast seems content to stand there, filling the cavern air around it with salamander extract.

Let it fume. The fortress is sealed, and Rithi cannot get in.

Back inside the fortress, I notice a ghost lurking in the dining hall. It's the disembodied spirit of Sigun Armorflaxen, a militia dwarf who went stark raving mad and died of thirst near this spot last spring.

Sigun's incessant howling and wailing echoes through the halls of the fortress, rousing the living from their well-deserved rest.

A ghost is an undead manifestation of a dead dwarf's mind and soul...

...just as a shambling corpse is a corruption of a dwarf's corporeal body.

Has Sigun's madness followed her into death? Are the undead shrieks that fill the fortress the agonized cries of an insane, tortured spirit?

Even in death, the dwarves are tormented by the Ice of Ghosts. It will be a mercy to carve a slab and have it placed in the dining hall. As I order the engraving, I briefly consider the fate of those final few - the last dwarves of Roomcarnage, for whom there shall be no memorials, or dignity.

I put the inevitable tragedy from my mind. I double check to make sure there are no other ghosts to memorialize - there aren't, for the time being, at least.

Time grinds onward as the dwarves work. I await the arrival of the caravan, eagerly preparing to order the bounty of the deeps to be hauled up to the trade depot.

All the while, Rithi fumes and twitches in the deep.

I wait, and wait, until finally...

The caravan arrives!

But wait... that's not right.

What!? NO!

The caravan has arrived from the north, a short distance east of the secluded channel, amidst a crowd of animated corpses.

The liaison appears on the map's western edge - far from any usable entrance to the fortress.

The fools! This route was perfectly open and prepared!

Perhaps the other depot, despite being buried under a plateau of ice and stone, forced the caravan to arrive on the surface of the glacier, and not at the end of the secluded channel. I'll need to have the dwarves tear out that depot, of course.

But for now, there's nothing I can do to help the caravan. The undead attack immediately.

A merchant guard tries to fight back against the monsters, but the corpses only rise again, moments after being struck down.

Soon, the caravan is overwhelmed, and the merchants flee in terror. The brave guard - a hammerdwarf named Zon - is struck down. Her corpse will soon rise to join her former foes, and the army of undead will grow stronger.

The outpost liaison runs like a maniac, searching perhaps for the mayor of the fortress - a vain mission.

The caravan has failed this year - just like every caravan for the past five years.

A horde of undead chase the outpost liaison across the bloody drifts. The diplomat's journey to Roomcarnage was a fool's errand, for Rith Craftportent does not deign to conduct meetings with the living.

Another year will pass before the dwarves of the Momentous Dye have any opportunity to contact the outside world. Another year of darkened isolation beneath the haunted glacier, of horrific tragedies and unspeakable fates, of clinging desperately to life and the fleeting promise of eternal glory before the end.

At least construction of the MELT (Magma-Engineered Liquefaction Treatment) is nearly finished. There's just one last part missing: the curtain wall, which will contain the magma and focus it east.

This calls for another delivery of obsidian blocks. I have the door to the airlock sealed shut...

...then I create a garbage dump at the south end of the passageway.

I order another load of obsidian bricks to be dumped, and watch as the haulers get to work.

I reflect on the importance of traffic planning - this new passageway connecting the oldest portion of the fortress with the device construction area has made the dwarves' hauling paths much more efficient.

Only once the haulers get to the narrow passages within the volcano itself do things get cramped once again.

The hauling jobs are completed quickly. I toggle the airlocks...

...and reclaim the bricks.

I remove a portion of the bricks stockpile, to make way for what will be the western edge of the MELT. In order to prevent the lava from coming to contact with the volcano, walls will be built around the MELT to the north, south, and west.

The vampires continue working - construction of the MELT has entered the final stage.

Once the wall is complete, the weapon will be activated once more, and lava will flow over this obsidian-paved ground and melt the ice beneath it. The liquid water will flow down a shaft into the newly-excavated cistern, and the first well of Roomcarnage will be built.

However, with forty idlers, there is still much that can be accomplished before the MELT is prepared and ready.

The Ice of Ghosts is proving to be a tenacious foe - its surface still teems with undead, preventing trade or contact with the outside world, year after year. What can be done?

The answer, as always, is more magma.

This new addition to the weapon will allow it primarily affect the northwestern portion of the map, which is still largely untouched by the lava-flooding weapon.

As always, it's important to make sure I don't accidentally breach the outside with ramps.

The miners get to work quickly, and in force.

Soon, the passage is complete.

After the ramps have been removed from the passage, the ice boulders that were littering the floor suddenly disappear. Curious.

I order a pair of doors to be placed - these will be linked to another pair of levers, allowing for precise distribution of lava.

While placing the doors, I notice a disquieting tile at the intersection of corridors - a featureless black tile, where construction of a door is marked as "blocked."

A growing sense of unease creeps through my viscera as I drag the cursor of the area, finding - nothing. Not "Open Space," that would be something, but this - this is nothing.

Suddenly, I am overcome with an overwhelming and inexplicable sense of eldritch horror. It's just a glitches tile in a video game, but for the briefest moment I feel myself being drawn past malevolent violet eyes and through an icy black abyss, a deep well-spring of pure evil - before I come back to my living room with a vertiginous start.

I can only hope that magma does something to it.

First, I have the corners of the new vent placed.

Then, the long portions of walls are constructed.

As the bricks become available (the masons are working too), I designate successive stretches of the passage walls.

It doesn't take long before the entire stretch is designated.

Then, I order the floors to be constructed.

While the vent is being completed, I notice that the vampires have another companion tailing them.

Another foul fog zombie now follows Domas Firstfigures - it is Ducim Cloisteredmolten, a tiny, corrupted, and probably adorable kitten.

Gigantic with incredible muscles - for a kitten, of course.

Ducim Cloisteredmolten, foul fog zombie kitten trails after Domas as he works. Now both vampires have foul fog zombie followers, after a sort. Somehow, I doubt that Ducim and Domas' relationship is political.

Despite the kitten's foul undead nature, it provides a brief respite from the ceaseless misery of the Ice of Ghosts before disaster strikes once more.

The broker and former mayor of Roomcarnage, Nish Metaldied, is slain by a violent ghost.

This violent ghost is no random migrant who was slain up on the surface - this is the spectral remnant of Dodók Syrupsabres, a recruit of the Worthy Seals, who went berserk in the midsummer of 1207 after being forced to fight undead horrors in the caverns. Her murderous rampage was cut short, here in this food stockpile, and her body was tossed in the magma.

The berserk Dodók was slain before she could kill anybody, but now her spirit has returned to continue the rampage.

With her first blows, Dodók has struck down an important figure in the fortress: Nish Metaldied.

Nish was not one of the founding seven, but she was elected as the first mayor of Roomcarnage. Her authority was stripped from her when another migrant came to the fortress - Rith Craftportent.

Nish also served as the second broker of Roomcarnage. The first broker, Etur Pearseal - a founding member of the fortress - was slain upon the surface in the midsummer of 1203. Ever since then, Nish bore the title of broker, but never had any opportunity to develop her skills through actual trading.

I had hoped she would be able to trade this year. Now, she never will.

I notice there are other ghosts lurking about - a chill runs down my spine as I examine the one standing a few paces behind Dodók Syrupsabres.

It's Dastot Ringmute, the miserable stonecrafter who, during the Pig Tail Fiber Trousers Crisis, slew another dwarf in a tantrum. I then had Dastot punished for the crime, which resulted in her execution, here in this food stockpile - her infant child perished of thirst weeks later.

Like Dodók, Dastot Ringmute's presence in the fortress presents an immediate and serious danger to the fortress as a whole.

And of course, the howling insane spirit of Sigun Armorflaxen still screams in the dining hall - I haven't bothered to place her memorial, yet. Now, it seems there are many memorials to be placed.

There's another dwarf - Zon Ringcurls, a ghostly hammerdwarf. I go back and double-check the name - it's the same Zon Ringcurls who perished defending this year's failed caravan.

As a caravan guard, Zon has no past acquaintances or relatives - it seems she is content to trouble the fortress in general.

I check Nish Metaldied's relations - she was only a passing acquaintance to most of the fortress, but still, her death may have an effect on the fortress, especially those who directly witnessed her gruesome demise.

Even if her death has little effect on the morale of the fortress, her undeath will certainly leave a mark.

It is the 12th of Granite, in the early spring of 1209. Roomcarnage's eighth birthday comes and goes unnoticed in the midst of deep tragedy and diplomatic failure. The only living mayor of Roomcarnage has been slain by a berserk ghost, driven to madness by glacier-animated undead. Now, the still-warm corpse of Nish Metaldied lies still amidst barrels of dwarven wine and beer - a vessel of destruction awaiting the command of the haunted glacier far above. Spectres of rage, misery, insanity, and restlessness hover over Nish's body, and it becomes clear that Roomcarnage is under siege from within as well as without.