Chapter 37 :: A Dwarf by Any Other Name

October 12th, 2014

It is the 26th of Galena, in the late summer of 1210. Halfway through its ninth year, the doomed fortress of Roomcarnage proves the tenacity and determination of the dwarves with every passing day. Hidden deep beneath the haunted Ice of Ghosts, the dwarves of the Momentous Dye eternally resist the forces of evil that have come to claim their souls - their continued existence is itself an act of defiance. And yet, the dwarves are not content merely to exist - they must conquer.

In the wake of the weapon's most recent activation, the surface above the fortress has grown more hellish than ever. About three quarters of the map is now covered with vast formations of obsidian and ice - jagged promontories and steaming plateaus borne out of the violent and chaotic union of lava and glacier.

In stark contrast, life within the fortress is idyllic and peaceful, even by dwarven standards. Nevermind the constant shadow of undeath that hangs close above the head of every dwarf - the inevitable fate that awaits each living creature who should perish beneath or upon the Ice of Ghosts.

And there is no question, every dwarf will die. They are mortal creatures, unlike elves or goblins, and old age will eventually take them all.

Somehow, though, I doubt that things will get that far along. Roomcarnage is a powder keg, filled with explosive potential, and all it will take is a well-placed spark to set the entire thing alight with flame - and then, perhaps, the fortress will live up to its name.

Before that happens, though, I hope that the dwarves might succeed in their current quest to tame and reclaim the surface. The first step in that process is an indiscriminate cleansing in the form of a series of volcanic deluges, in order to rid the fortress of the vast majority of its undead opponents. So far, the floods have been successful, destroying countless mindless undead as well as, more recently, two bloodsucking vampires.

The way has been paved for another flooding to take place, this time targeting the largely unaffected southeastern glacier - but first, the volcano must refill, so that the weapon has sufficient ammunition for a full activation.

That will take time - a season, perhaps.

So, for now, there is little to do but wait, watch, and ensure that Roomcarnage doesn't figuratively shoot itself in the foot in the meantime.

To pass the time, I check back in on the caverns to the south of the fortress, beneath the trash door of the barracks. Ever since the fortress was sealed off from the caverns, forgotten beasts have congregated in this area, drawn to the only dwarven presence within reach.

It's a blessing, in a way - one forgotten beast, the colossal lobster known as Taron, has been setting the dwarf corpses on fire, so that they burn away before rising again. Of course, this requires the corpse to be struck down - once possessed with reanimating force, an undead becomes essentially immune to fire, and they will burn forever.

Above the scene, I find a few webs of forgotten beast silk. I briefly consider the prospect of capturing the web-throwing monster and using it to power the dwarves' textile industry - but I discard the idea pretty quickly. The dwarves have a safe and sustainable source of cloth already, and capturing a beast for another luxury material isn't high on my list of priorities. I put the idea on the back burner and continue examining the cavern.

Higher up, on the ledge just below the trash door, I find a telling cloud of billowing smoke. I examine the area and find, amidst pools of grease, flaming corpses of the dead.

Checking the units screen, I can see just how widespread the fire has grown. It's a good thing there's no way the undead can get into the fortress.

I examine the corpses, and my heart sinks. Standing there, beside the flaming corpses of a cavy and Äs the forgotten beast, is the body of Nish Metaldied, who served as mayor of Roomcarnage before being deposed by a sinister newcomer. She was slain by the ghost of a berserk dwarf in the early spring of 1209.

For what reason, I cannot say, but the dwarves have given Nish's corpse a title - "Leaderfailure."

A chill runs down my spine.

I look at the corpses' descriptions. They're what I've come to expect - thoroughly burnt from head to toe, with all of the fat boiled away.

With disappointment and horror, I read through Äs' description. Disappointment, because this was apparently the web-spinner that I had briefly considered trapping and converting into a silk dispensary. Horror, because the huge staring crow is now covered from head to tail with scars of all varying sizes, no doubt inflicted by the undead upon the ledge that it sought to slay - in addition to being on fire. Äs the crow has become a true monster.

I glance at Nish's profile - no, Nish is dead. This is Nish's corpse, now known as Leaderfailure.

Who chose this name? The game? The dwarves? Rith Craftportent? Is it a name of stoic and graceful acceptance, or of malicious, gleeful derision?

As usual, there is no answer.

The other two forgotten beasts, Taron and Rithi Filthwaste, are unable to reach the high ledge upon which the flaming undead stand - the charnel conflagration will continue, it seems, indefinitely.

It's not a happy thought.

Just to be safe, I lock the door to the barracks. From now on, I'll have to find somewhere else to dump the bodies.

Time passes. Slowly but surely, the extremities of the volcanic flood seethe and fume and cool.

The weapon has been deactivated, but still the edges of the plateau creep outward.

The lake of molten rock levels out, growing shallower and shallower as it spreads out over the vast plain of obsidian.

The hellish scene is interrupted by a vampiric mandate.

Rith wants slabs... of course she does.

I check the job manager screen, and find that the masons are still plowing through the work order I placed earlier for thirty slabs.

You're welcome, Rith.

I sit back and watch the food stockpiles, bustling with activity. Here, in the thrumming heart of the fortress, the hellish nightmare of the surface seems far away. The cooks whip up roasts of sugar and syrup and flour, while the brewers convert the neverending flow of cave fungus into precious, live-giving alcohol. Dwarves mingle and drink, exchanging words of humor and comfort, completely oblivious of the icy perdition that patiently waits for them beyond the veil.

Well, at least they'll eat well before they go.

Suddenly a visitor arrives! A fearsome wereopossum.

"Now you will know why you fear the night."

In truth, here in Roomcarnage, the night is amongst the least of fears.

The beast's name is interesting - how many ill-fated humanoids did Nomal Worldcloistered slay before it earned the title of "the Scintillating Secret?"

I can't say. I just watch as Nomal tears into the nearby undead with claw and fang.

What? Another mandate?

For more slabs? Really?

You'll have them, Rith.

I look back at Nomal the wereopossum. After crushing three zombies, the beast stands idle, pondering its options. There is no way into the fortress from here. Instead, it heads north...

...north, towards a few other undead, and a pair of statues. The statues are images of Zon, the god of foreign fortresses, worshiped by Rith Craftportent and the other vampires. Rith herself crafted these statues, shortly after her arrival, and for years they have stood here amidst the bloody snowdrifts, grim and silent monuments to the mayor's dark lord.

Nomal Worldcloistered tears into the undead, and then - to my amazement - takes a moment to topple one of the statues. Amidst the fury of battle, the flesh-crazed werebeast tears down the obsidian monument, which falls into the frozen elf blood.

The battle continues, and Nomal soon finds an opportunity to topple the other statue. Both images of Zon now lie prone in the bloody snow - I can't help but smile.

Nomal strikes down zombie after vile zombie, until finally there is only one left nearby. Suddenly, as the wereopossum grapples with the undead mule, it shapeshifts back into a dwarf!

Nomal immediately flees, thoroughly naked and no longer crazed for flesh.

I can't imagine how embarrassed she is right now.

A moment later, she disappears off the edge of the map. Perhaps we'll see her again... although, having come to Roomcarnage once, it may be safe to guess that no sane creature would ever return.

Atop the plateau, the lava lake is finally beginning to dry out. The last remnants of the flood fade away into frigid obsidian, which is soon covered by a fine dusting of frozen elf blood.

Soon, it will be time for another deluge. But not quite yet - the volcano still has to refill. Jets of magma surge up from beneath, shooting up above the surface of the seething caldera before collapsing back down.

It's a slow process, but eventually the volcano will completely refill. Then, the weapon may be reactivated.

It's already autumn. The caravan will probably arrive before the time comes for another deluge... but what is one more year without trade? Roomcarnage has already endured years of isolation. Another twelve months is nothing.

I return my attention to the forgotten beasts in the caverns, only to find that one of them has died and risen again.

The corpse of Taron is terrible to behold. Bits of it are rotten, blisters cover its leathery russet carapace, and pale ichor oozes and sprays out of fractures in its smashed exoskeleton. The fact that all of its fat is missing seems to imply it perished in fire.

In contrast, Rithi Filthwaste seems to be in pretty good shape.

The eyeless, warty salamander makes short work of the undead lobster.

Taron's corpse collapses into a rotting heap, but it won't be long before its ichor stirs again, and its claws click and clatter in the deeps.

A trail of ichor links the corpse with the magma pool to the east - Taron's fate seems clear. It's odd that these stationary pools of molten rock have slain more forgotten beasts than the dwarves themselves, but I'm not complaining.

A few minutes later, a dwarven child is possessed with a strange mood!

I'm not excited.

Artifacts by children tend to be useless, since they only ever make bone, stone, or wooden crafts.

What!? Another mandate!?

Ah, so it's a short sword this time.

Fine, Rith. Fine.

continued in part two...