Chapter 39 :: The Return to the Surface

December 15th, 2014

It is the 6th of Obsidian, in the late winter of 1210. Less than a month remains before the dwarves of the Momentous Dye celebrate - or rue - the tenth anniversary of the founding of Roomcarnage. For nearly a decade, the citizens of this accursed fortress have held inevitable death more or less at bay, and for most of that time have been completely cut off from the outside world. Yet spirits are high, despite the eternal blizzards of gore and perpetual veil of undeath hanging over each dwarf. Hopes for successful trade during the autumn of 1211 are held in the hearts of many, for the lava flooding is complete, and the final steps may be taken towards reestablishing a trade link with the mountainhome.

Many times, the dwarves of Roomcarnage have used a series of adamantine pumps, housed in an obsidian brick sheath within the volcano itself, to make the bloodsoaked mountain of ice known as the Oily Furnace burst forth with cataclysmic floods of lava. Nearby, the surface of the haunted glacier known as the Ice of Ghosts is now broken up and covered by the ice and stone remnants of those floods.

To the south, a long strip of the map is still accessible to the caravan. This portion of the surface lies in the shadow of sheer obsidian cliffs, the edge of the vast western and eastern formations. It is the largest area untouched by the weapon, but perhaps yet another activation will break into two more manageable halves.

To the north, the formations grow more complex. While the structures left by activations of the weapon to the east or west produced broad, flad plateaus, to the north the flood resulted in a series of cramped and largely inaccessible ice caves.

Some of the caves open into large areas untouched by flooding, and still open to the sky. There are also many ice caves that lie dark and forgotten beneath a blanket of obsidian. There are two areas to the north that are accessible to the caravan - a longer strip to the northeast, and a much smaller bit to the northwest.

I check out the undead left in this northwestern zone. Six shambling corpses - four dwarves, a goose, and a mule - still stand here amidst the snowdrifts of gore. Six corpses, I decide, are managable - Roomcarnage's well-trained fortress guard has been more than a match for anything the fortress has yet encountered. This small section of undamaged glacier might be reclaimed by martial force.

As well, at the northwestern corner of the map there is a stairwell which leads down beneath the glacier, to a rough-hewn passage in the cold stone. The top of the stairwell is located amidst a pool of foul fog - I hope that doesn't lead to any unsavory situations.

The passage is barred by a series of obsidian doors, each one locked. Clearly the number of doors here is a little excessive - I'm not exactly sure why I felt a single passage ought to be fitted with no fewer than five doors. Also, a water buffalo bull corpse is in the passage as well.

Still manageable.

The eastern end of the passage will be where the fortress guard makes its stand. The warriors will be stationed, the doors will be unlocked, and the undead on the surface will shamble into the fortress and fall upon the swords of Roomcarnage's bravest.

Thing is, I'm not eager to have the undead shamble out directly on top of the stairwell that leads down into the heart of the fortress. I order a new doorway dug to the south, so that the ambush can take place in a corridor several urists away.

After a miner comes and knocks a hole in the wall, I order a door to be put into place.

The work is done quickly, which is to be expected - the fortress has well over forty idlers.

The time has come. I lock the innermost doors.

I take a moment to look over the fortress' military. There are only two squads in the fortress - the guard and the militia. Obok, macedwarf and captain of the guard, leads a team of skilled swordsdwarves clad in suits of gleaming copper.

Reg, hammerdwarf and militia commander, leads a handful of suits of gleaming copper armor occupied by basically unskilled dwarves. The militia is almost a liability, since these recruits will charge idiotically into melee, get themselves killed, and inspire a slew of unhappy thoughts in everyone they know. It might be better to leave them out of this mission.

I station the well-trained fortress guard outside the stone portal.

Captain Obok springs to action. The fortress guard charges up the stairwell.

A moment later they are in place. I go down the corridor and unlock each of the stone doors.

Then, I unlock the innermost door.

For the first time in many years, there an open route from the fortress to the surface.

Some of the undead immediately sense the route, and begin mindlessly shuffling towards the stairwell.

The water buffalo corpse hasn't realized that the doors around it have been unlocked, even as a dwarf corpse slides past it.

The cold, lifeless body rounds the corner, moving quickly through the passage. Roomcarnage has a visitor.

I watch eagerly as the corpse approaches the fortress guards' ambush...

...but the atmosphere is broken by the arrival of another monster, this time from deep within the earth.

Terrifying! But not really - there is no direct route between the fortress and the caverns. Back to the action.

he dwarf corpse shambles down the corridor, leans against the door, and pushes through...

Only to be struck twice by the captain of the guard before falling lifelessly to the ground.

I create a new dump zone - although, in truth, this was the first dump of Roomcarnage. During the fortress' first year, this pit was dug out, and the pack animals that had pulled the caravan were tossed down before they starved to death. Now, the dwarves use the pit once more to house the defeated undead.

I order the corpse - and the one shoe that it was apparently wearing - to be dumped. The corpse is dangerous, but so is the shoe - it will prevent the door from closing again, if it is occupying the same space.

I hope the haulers arrive soon - another corpse is already approaching the ambush site.

A hauler comes around the corner just as the battle is joined.

Once again, the captain expertly dispatches the undead, although this time the monster manages to make physical contact with the warrior.

Obok's unhappy - hopefully, it won't push him over the edge.

Fortunately, it seems that the happy thought gained by taking part in the slaughter balances the unhappy thought from being attacked by undead.

I order the second corpse dumped, and again hope that the haulers come quickly.

The haulers do come, before the next undead reaches the end of the corridor.

The corpses are tossed into the pit, where they soon will rise to share the company of half a dozen other undead in eternal isolation.

Soon, the third corpse arrives.

The fiend is quickly dispatched by the capable fortress guard...

...and I once again order the remains to be dumped. Once at the bottom of the pit, the corpses are basically safe, contained behind a series of locked stone doors.

As the third corpse is being dumped, I notice that the vampire mayor, Rith Craftportent, has once again issued a construction mandate.

Another short sword, eh? The fortress already has dozens, more than the military could ever need.

I push the question of exactly why Rith continues to issue mandates for short swords out of my mind as I file a work order. I'm not eager to delve too deeply into the mind of the fortress' vampiric tyrant.

Soon, the fourth corpse approaches the end of the passage.

The militia holds strong, although it is becoming clear that the warriors are growing weary of the undead. Even the bravest soldiers of Roomcarnage cannot stand to meet the undead in combat - but they must, for if they do not, who will?

At least they are competent warriors, unlike the rest of the fortress (and the militia).

I order the fourth corpse to be dumped. More than half of the undead that plagued the northwestern zone have been neutralized.

Suddenly, a distressing announcement appears at the bottom of my screen.

Out of nowhere, a ghostly merchant appears, and batters one of the swordsdwarves!

Violent ghosts are one of the more dangerous varieties of disembodied spirits. If not put to rest, they will continue to attack the living in brutal and efficient ways.

For example, this ghost has just torn poor Stukos Stakeequal's left leg clean off at the hip.

Stukos collapses to the ground as blood sprays from what remains of his left upper leg. I can only hope that he doesn't die of blood loss before he reaches the infirmary.

There is no time to waste - I order a slab to be engraved, memorializing the ghostly merchant Rakust Fathergear.

As the fourth zombie's remains are tossed into the pit, I watch - but fortunately, it seems that Stukos will live.

A hauler comes to take Stukos down to the infirmary. The hauler shoulders the ghost out of the way, picks up the swordsdwarf, and begins the long walk down into the heart of the fortress.

I guess there's no real point in keeping the leg around. I have it dumped, too.

As Stukos is being carried through the central farming area of the fortress, spring arrives on the calendar. The dwarves know that, somewhere high above the natural stone roof of the cavern, through honeycombed stone and malevolent, bloodsoaked ice, and beyond the eternal blizzards of frozen elven gore, the movement of the moon and the sun and the stars herald the arrival of a new year. Roomcarnage has survived for a full decade here, beneath the Oily Furnace. How much longer will it last, before the final crumbling?

Stukos arrives at the hospital, and is placed in one of the beds. And yet, unlike previous medical patients, Stukos is not to be shut into a private room, locked inside, and left to die. The dwarves have secured a source of clean, fresh water, and soap, not to mention crutches, splints, and cloth for bandages. The infirmary at Roomcarnage is now a true place of healing, rather than a series of isolated death chambers.

Urvad Teachanvil, the chief medical dwarf, arrives quickly to diagnose the patient. I let her work, and turn my attention back to other, more pressing situations.

The memorial of the violent ghost is complete. I order it to be placed in the dormitories, just south of the food stockpiles.

Then, I examine the passage - there are still two undead corpses standing inside. The remains of two ungulates, a mule and a water buffalo, remain inside the darkened tunnel.

I watch for a few minutes - neither one moves. Damn.

The incapacitation of one warrior is enough for one day. I'm not willing to let the battle continue here, in this cramped passage. Water buffaloes are dangerous enough while alive. I lock all of the doors, sealing the undead beneath the surface.

Then, I dismiss the fortress guard.

Relieved of duty, the guard reverts to their civilian status temporarily. Most of them are flagged as "administrators," this is because of the record keeping that takes place regarding the distribution of equipment amongst the warriors themselves.

I go back and check the northwestern zone. Odd - I would have expected to find one more undead here.

Oh well, no matter. The zone is clear - it is time for the final stages of reclamation to begin. Now that the undead are locked beneath the ground, a passage may be dug, connecting the surface area to the fortress beneath. A very tidy three-tile wide canyon already exists - I order the northern end of the passage to lead here.

The passage will lead through the ice, and connect with a previously existing tunnel. This tunnel already leads to the preexisting trade depot, so very little else will remain to be done after this.

As the violent specter is put to rest, the miners take up the job.

Moments later, the miners arrive, and set pick to ice.

A sense of uncharacteristic giddiness overtakes me. For the first time in years, the prospect of successful trade with the surface seems within reach.

Once this tunnel has been carved out, there will be direct route from the trade depot within and the natural, unflooded edge of the map, where caravans appear.

It won't be long now.

I decide to check in on Stukos Stakeequal, but I don't see him in the hospital.

I find him drinking in the food stockpiles, his mood improved slightly. In his left hand, he holds both his copper shield and a crutch.

I check in on his medical history, and cannot help but chuckle. Two days after being brought to rest after losing his entire left leg, the chief medical dwarf arrived, looked him over, then handed him a copper crutch.

A moment later, my attention is drawn to the northwestern zone, where another uninvited guest has arrived. It is the mountain titan Stasoz Minecoasts the Root of Panting, a fearsome beast indeed.

It has arrived in the very zone that the dwarves are digging towards. If I wish to continue efforts towards securing this area for the caravan's arrival this fall, I will have to deal with Stasoz.

I unpause, and to my horror, the gigantic shelled dimetrodon hastens towards the stairwell.

Once inside, Stasoz halts before the first stone door. The mountain titan is a building destroyer - these doors cannot contain it forever. The zombie I had missed earlier - a zombie goose - flies into the tunnel after the titan.

The titan lazily bats at the goose corpse, which then falls to the stone ground, inanimate.

I can't let the miners complete their work just yet. The arrival of the titan makes the situation much more dangerous - I need to find a way to deal with Stasoz before the trade passage can be completed.

Reluctantly, I cancel the last part of the designation. I have months before the caravan will arrive - there is yet time to deal with Stasoz Minecoasts the Root of Panting.

The miners excavate what is left, but stop just short of breaking through to the outside. At the same time, I notice that another ghost has arisen in the fortress.

Hmmm. I don't recall a Sigun Spreadcanyon perishing anytime recently. In any case, Sigun is harmless enough that I'm not worried.

I order another slab engraved, distracted by the recent arrival of the mountain titan. Clearly, it must be destroyed - but how? Military force, while dangerous, seems to be the most efficient course of action. I could come up with an elaborate trap, but the caravan will be arriving in less than a year, and I don't want to risk taking too long. Besides, a military left safe in the barracks is as useful as a minecart left forgotten in a stockpile.

My mind made up, I go to check in on the titan, and formulate the next phase of the plan.

I find the titan, and my heart stops.

No. NO.

The titan's full name, now far too long to be shown in the status screen as anything less than a jumble of consonants, nonetheless confirms the situation.

Stasoz Minecoasts the Root of Panting, a proud mountain titan of the highest peaks, has been irrevocably tainted by the vile influence of the foul fog mere minutes after arriving at Roomcarnage.

Truly, this is an accursed place.

And yet, I cannot balk in the face of this corrupted monster. The northwestern zone is still the dwarves' best chance at reclaiming the surface - although, the northeastern zone might make do, if the dwarves fail to thwart the mountain titan. The trade depot must be connected to the surface - the caravan must be allowed to safely arrive this fall!

In a moment, I formulate a plan.

There is a technique - a dwarven technique - which I have been loathe to use thus far in Roomcarnage. It is a messy technique, which requires a great deal of time and effort for a devastating but limited result. It is a poor technique to use against swarms of undead, or berserk dwarves, and can do nothing to stave off the black cloud of undeath that hangs over the fortress. With care, however, it is a technique that may be quite successful against Stasoz the mountain titan foul fog zombie.

I draw the plans, place the designations, and watch as the miners arrive on the scene to excavate.

It is the 22nd of Granite, in the early spring of 1211. The tenth anniversary of the fortress' founding has come and gone, but Roomcarnage's eleventh year promises to be an eventful one. The prospect of successful trade this fall gleams on the horizon - but between it and the dwarves lurk undead of all shapes and sizes, including the terrifying foul fog zombie titans. Do the dwarves of the Momentous Dye have what it takes to overcome the odds and secure an honored place in the history of their civilization? Or will they perish, alone and forgotten, in this frozen hellhole beneath a haunted glacier? Only time will tell.