Chapter 34 :: Dwarves on Fire

September 9th, 2014

It is the 18th of Timber, in the late autumn of 1209. For years, the dwarves of the Momentous Dye have pursued a methodical war upon the haunted glacier known as the Ice of Ghosts. Their greatest weapon in this unceasing struggle has been a dwarf-powered pump stack composed entirely of obsidian and adamantine, which periodically spews torrents of lava out upon the undead-infested surface. With each activation of the weapon, the fortress draws closer and closer towards breaking through the frigid prison of isolation and establishing contact with the outside world once again - but victory will not be achieved this year.

Once again, the dwarven caravan has arrived at Roomcarnage, and once again it will be driven back by the army of death that plagues the fortress and its surroundings.

The body of the outpost liaison will join those that shamble about the elf blood snowdrifts, perhaps to slay next year's diplomat.

The caravan guards put up a good fight, but in vain, as always.

Against the inexorable horde of corpses, a living warrior stands no chance.

A swordsdwarf by the name of Melbil seems to be succeeding, at least for a time.

The brave warrior slays corpse after corpse, but the lifeless bodies return to their feet mere seconds after being put down by Melbil's bronze short sword.

Eventually, the warrior is overcome, and collapses to the ground. The outpost liaison, terrified, runs aimlessly nearby.

A hen stands over Melbil's unconscious body, dealing blow after tiny blow - not enough to kill the swordsdwarf, but enough to keep him down and out.

Eventually, a pair of other zombies approach.

After being weakened by the hen corpse, a single blow to the skull is all it takes to put Melbil out of his misery.

The merchants, unprotected and helpless, soon fall prey to the reanimating undead.

The same brutal hen corpse lays into one of the merchants.

Soon, it is over. Another year will pass without contact with the outside world.

A cold sensation creeps through my gut. I try my best to ignore it.

Construction of the new statuary continues. To separate it from the rest of the fortress, I install doors at its western end...

...as well as to the east.

Also, I order a row of copper statues to be installed at the eastern end of the hall...

...along with a couple bunches to the west.

The haulers respond quickly, although the massive copper statues take some time to drag into place.

Soon, though, the work is finished.

I take some time to look over the fourteen new copper statues.

Dwarven art often provides insight into dwarven culture.

Many of the statues are depictions of the citizens of Roomcarnage. Some of the dwarves whose images are portrayed in copper are still alive...

...while others have passed into the afterlife. For Nish Metaldied, the only living mayor of the Momentous Dye, the struggle for Roomcarnage has reached a merciful end.

There are even depictions of ghostly dwarves being put to rest - curiously, the dwarves view this as a kind of "withering away." The idea of a spirit shriveling into nothingness as a result of being memorialized makes me question whether or not the restless specters were truly put to rest.

Other statues depict the various horrors of the Ice of Ghosts. For years, the dwarves of the Momentous Dye have hidden deep beneath the surface, and yet some still recall the sights and sounds of the terrifying glacier.

The new statue garden is a quiet and still reflection of the blighted surface in copper and green glass - even the dwarves' triumphs are immortalized here.

Then again, some of the statues are rather... simplistic.

They'll do. I designate a new room from one of the copper statues - now, dwarves may gather here for marriages, to throw parties, or simply to idle and chat with their fellow citizens.

And yet, all their time spent here will be for naught, if the surface remains unsafe. The weapon must be reactivated, so that next year's caravan might arrive and conduct trade for the first time in what seems like ages.

On the surface, I order the ice surrounding the new lava vent to be carved away. When the weapon is reactivated, and molten rock spews forth from this opening, it would not do for the slopes of the volcano to melt and fuse into a plug.

The vampire mayor arrives a moment later and begins carving. Rith Craftportent - ah, but that is not even the vile monster's true name. Adil Crushedgild is what she was known as during her earliest years, before the foreign god Zon cursed her to prowl the night in search of blood.

Now, she is a bloodthirsty horror. Her very presence on the slopes of the Oily Furnace poses a constant threat to the well-being of the dwarves below - I must maintain constant vigilance, to ensure that the vampire mayor does enter the fortress through a carelessly exposed passage.

I leave the mayor to her work, and place another round of copper statues in the fortress. Already, some dwarves have begun to gather and be entertained by the metal images

Meanwhile, the mayor continues to carve away at the ice. It will take her a while - she has gone without a drink for such a long period of time, the effects of alcohol deprivation reduce her productivity to a minimum.

The work will be done, though, and eventually the vent will be ready and the weapon may be activated. When that time comes, I will not wait.

The pumps will be turned on, the doors will be opened, and the torrent of magma will engulf the vampire mayor and her foul fog attendant.

I grin, baring my teeth at those flashing violent eyes. Your days are numbered, I think to myself.

The only response is an icy chill that sends goosebumps across my arms.

While the vampire continues working, I continue to add improvements to the new hall. While the metalsmiths continue to forge copper statues, I order the dwarves to install rows of copper cages along the hall's north and south walls. Cages containing the unspeakably horrific remnants of animal slaughter.

I watch as the haulers drag the new additions into place. For years, these cages were piled up in the dining hall - now the horrors they contain shall be put on display for all the fortress to behold.

My attention is drawn to an announcement - the vampire mayor has made another mandate.

I suppose one more short sword isn't too much to ask for.

It will be her last mandate, I expect.

Soon, the cages are all placed in the new hall. Quivering blankets of skin and hair, barely contained by copper bars - these horrors are a constant reminder of the nightmare that awaits all dwarves after they die.

So too is the work on the surface complete. The vampire mayor has obediently carved away the ice surrounding the lava vent, and now holds a meeting with Dumat Sensesstakes the foul fog zombie.

I shiver. She stands immediately outside of the vent, directly in the path of the lava.

The time has come for the weapon to be activated. I take one last look at the bizarrely empty tile - no, that's not right. If it were empty, that would be something - it would be empty space. A hole. Open sky. Volume, devoid of substance.

Suddenly, inexplicably, I experience a sensation that has become all to familiar. A frigid, creeping feeling emanating from just beyond the bounds of perception, past the fixed edges of our limited universe - as if I'd pressed my hand against a wall at the end of the world and felt only coldness; an endless entropic oblivion sucking all of the heat out of my reality, and me with it.

I grit my teeth and drag the cursor away. For a moment, I pause and stare with horror at the tile, my heart beating up into my throat.

Then, I activate all the pumps.

I reach the lowest level, and unpause. Instantly, the number of idlers in the fortress drops by about thirty.

The pump operators come all at once, their traffic made smoother by the newly expanded stairwell.

The operators pour into the pump stack, and soon the adamantine corkscrews are spinning.

I order two levers to be pulled - the first two safeties are released, and magma churns upward through the pump stack.

Before throwing the last lever, I examine the passage.

Nothing.

The lava doesn't affect it.

How could it?

I order the last lever to be pulled.

The obsidian door north of the nothing snaps open, but instead of a violent torrent of molten rock, a sedate trickle leaks into the passage beyond.

Nothing is blocking the lava flow. In-game, fluids are only pressurized orthogonally, not diagonally.

The result is what one might expect from simply tapping a hole in a magma reservoir and allowing it to flow naturally. Unlike water, lava is slow to move without pumps.

I grimace. There's no way this flow can engulf the surface of the glacier the way the previous three activations had.

Still, it may yet accomplish another victory. The vampire mayor known as Rith Craftportent still stands outside the vent, idly discussing forbidden knowledge with the foul fog zombie Dumat Sensesstakes. Soon, the lava will reach her position, and she will be caught in the same chaos that the dwarves have been unleashing upon the surface since the winter of 1206: a nightmare of steam and stone and ice and fire.

I watch anxiously as the lava oozes closer and closer. The vampire mayor doesn't move.

Good. I'm fed up with her lies.

The lava reaches the northern end of the vent. A gout of boiling water erupts into the air as molten rock connects with ice, and mayor and her attendant are engulfed in a cloud of steam.

A moment later, they reappear, standing a little further north than before.

My stomach lurches.

As I watch dumbfounded, the mayor bolts northward, away from the vent. A second later, Dumat Sensesstakes emerges from the cloud, dodging a churning avalanche of ice a moment before it encases him.

Desperate, I check the units screen in an attempt to locate the mayor. I choke on my breath as something else grabs my attention.

Two dwarves' names are flashing yellow and red. That only means one thing.

The lava from the volcano has surged up into the lowest level of the pump stack, engulfing Stukos Paperboots and Dumat Treatypolished. Both dwarves are irrevocably on fire.

I take one last look at the two pump operators. By examining closely the parts of the body that are injured, a gruesome picture emerges. The fire on Stukos' body is centered on the dwarf's toes and fingers - but also his face. Both cheeks, his lower lip, and his mouth are burned.

Dumat's extremities are also on fire, as well as his left eyelid. Still ecstatic, though.

The lowest level is inundated with a shallow pool of molten rock. Smoke from the two dwarves fills the rest of the chamber.

There's not much to be done at this point. I lock the door to ensure that the burning dwarves don't spread the curse of flame to the rest of the fortress.

Then, I order the pump stack to be deactivated. There's no point in continuing this disgraceful operation.

I order two levers to be pulled back into their closed position. As an afterthought, I order another lever to be pulled - this will open the obsidian door immediately to the west of the nothing, and will hopefully allow the lava vent to drain more quickly.

Finally, I turn my attention back to the vampire mayor. I find "Rith" and Dumat standing high upon the volcano's western slopes.

As I stare into those violet eyes, a haunting chill crawls under my skin. I can't help but perceive the faintest hint of amusement in her frozen visage - those smiling eyes, that mocking grin.

But no. I reassure myself that it's just my imagination.

I put on a coat and keep playing.

There's nothing left to do, except to let the situation return to something manageable. I watch the cloud of smoke at the bottom of the pump stack churn and roil.

A moment later, there's nothing left - the dwarves have disappeared into the knee-deep lava, leaving behind only puffs of smoke.

The pool of molten rock filling the room will eventually dry - but it could take a significant amount of time.

Instead, I opt to have the door torn out. Some of the lava will pour into the stairwell, of course, but it's not nearly enough to cover the floor. In this way, the lava will dry much more quickly, and the weapon may be reactivated sooner.

A dwarf arrives to deconstruct the door - but to my horror, rather than simply pulling the portal off its hinges, the hapless idiot steps through the doorway and into the lava-filled chamber.

The effect of molten rock upon the dwarven body is immediate, and irreversible.

Fortunately, the dwarf incinerates before he is able to make it back into the fortress.

Also, the level of the lava has sunk down to a mere puddle - so that's good, at least.

Nothing else can be done to speed the process. The weapon cannot be used until the lava puddle has dried. I am not eager to waste time, however - surely there is something else that can be done to improve the situation.

My first choice would be to reopen and lava-proof the clogged vent - but it is far too dangerous to approach, so long as molten rock still fills the passage inside.

The lava is draining out of the southwestern vent, but this too is a process which cannot be rushed.

I could have the vampire mayor punch a hole in the vent - but it is unlikely that such an action would accomplish very much, at this point, and might even serve to cause more problems down the line.

There is something else that can be done, though. Now that the MELT has completed and provided the fortress with more water than it could ever realistically use, the blocks from the eastern vent may be reclaimed.

The vampire mayor responds immediately.

I watch as she treads a circuitous route along the volcano's northern slopes, towards the eastern vent.

Dumat Sensesstakes arrives soon after the mayor, and stands watching as the vampire chips away at the ice.

At first, I decide that only a couple blocks will be reclaimed.

It will be enough, I think, to both open the eastern vent for another deluge, and to supply the vampires with bricks to lava-proof the western vent.

Luckily, that vent is nearly dry. Once the obsidian has cooled completely, it may be expanded to allow the flow of lava around the hellish void.

It will be dangerous work, all in all - pools of liquid water are hidden within the cliffside. I'm not convinced that two blocks will be enough to prevent another plug from forming.

So, I order more of the eastern vent torn down.

Domas Firstfigures arrives moments later, and both vampires go about deconstructing the obsidian walls.

While I wait for the situation on the surface to resolve, a weaver is taken by a mood.

Excellent! Artifact clothing never wears out - I only wish that I had the good sense to keep some adamantine cloth lying around.

As it is, a legendary weaver is enough of a gift to the fortress.

The artifact is a masterpiece of craftsdwarfship, as always, but there's something about a giant cave spider silk coat that tickles my fancy.

Yeah, I'd wear that.

By the time Thirstsways the Courteous Diamonds is completed, the vampires have torn down the last of the obsidian walls I had designated for deconstruction.

As I watch, Domas, unbidden, takes his leave and wanders back along the volcano's northern slopes.

The vampires' actions are inexplicable, unpredictable.

That's alright. They will only serve a purpose for so much longer. Once the weapon has successfully covered most of the map with lava, there will be no more need for their presence.

I watch patiently as Rith Craftportent - a name that makes my skin crawl - makes her way back around to the western side of the volcano.

When she arrives, I make a slight adjustment in the work orders. Very little needs to be done, it seems, in order to reopen the vent and render the weapon functional once again.

As Rith carves an opening in the obsidian plug, Domas gathers obsidian blocks, to seal away bits of ice that still lay exposed to the future flood.

The last step is to expand the inner passage, so that the lava might circumvent the nothing.

I unpause, but nothing happens.

I pan northward, where Rith Craftportent and Dumat Sensesstakes stand, once again, at the mouth of the lava vent.

A shiver runs through my body.

What are they discussing this time?

It is the 26th of Obsidian, in the late winter of 1209. As the fortress' ninth year draws to a close, I take stock. The fortress population, for years now, has hovered somewhere just above 200 - kept in check by calamities and horrors beyond number. As time churns onward, I desperately make arrangements for the caravans and diplomats, but my efforts are stymied year after year. Is it the vampire mayor, whose true identity is shrouded in lies, who works against me? Or is it the malign influence of terrifying glacier known as the Ice of Ghosts? Or perhaps, I wonder, as a chill saps the heat from my body, are both mere servants of some greater force, that resides outside, that will reclaim the fortress after it slips into oblivion?

I cannot say. I can only hope that, before the end, the dwarves of Roomcarnage might achieve some sort of glory worthy of telling - for in truth, the end will come, and after that there will only be nothing, and the story of what came before.