Chapter 45 :: On the Edge of a Blade

February 9th, 2015

It is the 25th of Granite, in the early spring of 1212. Less than a month has passed since the year turned, and already I fear that the fortress will not live to see the next. The curse of Rith Craftportent has taken its toll, and now the fortress teeters upon the edge of a blade - only the slightest push will send it plummeting into an abyss of madness and slaughter.

The citizens of Roomcarnage are largely oblivious. A party is thrown, celebrating another year of life in the most blighted of locales.

But not everyone is eager to celebrate. The swordsdwarf Eral Paintmorning has begun throwing a tantrum. It is such a small thing, a tantrum - innocuous and quiet - and yet I see it for what it is: a bright, flickering spark, that threatens to ignite the entire fortress in unholy flames before it is snuffed out.

I assess the damage, and prepare to take steps towards ensuring the fortress' survival. The barracks is full of miasma - somewhere, something is rotting. Only dead things rot, and here in Roomcarnage dead things never stay down for long.

I find the rotten corpse shambling around the stairwell above the barracks. I order both squads of the military to attack the monster.

The warriors of Roomcarnage arrive quickly. The battle rages, but eventually the rotting corpse is put down.

Fortunately, no living dwarves perish this time. The undead could barely defend itself. I do notice, however, that one of the corpse's arms was lopped off.

I order the corpse to be dumped, as well as its disembodied arm. Both pose a serious danger to the fortress if left alone.

Soon afterwards, the swordsdwarf calms down.

The subsiding tantrum does not necessarily indicate an improving situation. I find Eral Paintmorning standing upon the seed-strewn cavern mud that used to be one of the fortress' largest farms.

I examine her profile. Sure enough, she enjoyed smashing a building recently. Exactly how a dwarf could smash apart a farm is beyond my understanding, but there it is. Eral is also quick to impulsive and quick to anger - although any dwarf might be pushed over the edge by the death of their mother and sibling. I also remind myself that Eral Paintmorning is an expert swordsdwarf, wielding some of the best equipment that the fortress has in its possession. If Eral goes berserk, the results could be catastrophic.

In the meantime, the farm will need to be rebuilt, and all of these seeds that miraculously popped out of the suddenly unfurrowing mud will need to be replanted.

I order the construction of a new farm, and trust that the dwarves will collect the seeds in due time.

As the farmers and corpse haulers get to work, I look over the fortress. The old infirmary has been emptied, and the dark corridor no longer echoes with the sounds of shuffling feet and scraping nails. The forsaken dead that were once locked away in these rooms were set free by the disembodied spirits that haunt Roomcarnage - and, horrifyingly, I have come to realize the implicit involvement of the vampire mayor in the bloody events of the previous month.

The other residential areas seem to have been exorcised as well. Before the year turned, there were one or two undead locked in these bedrooms, but they have also been set loose into the fortress. In their attempts to rid the fortress of its living inhabitants, the forces of evil released all of the undead that were kept here, in the heart of the fortress. But there are far more undead held at bay elsewhere.

Here, in the uppermost levels of the fortress, just below the frigid surface of the Ice of Ghosts, undead lurk behind locked doors - locked doors that might be opened by a ghostly hand at any time. This water buffalo mutilated corpse holds a position of infamy within the fortress, for it was the first corpse to rise from the dead after the dwarves arrived in the early spring of 1201. After some risky mining, the monster was finally trapped here, in this back corridor. At that time, it posed a serious threat to the fortress - now, it is just one of many.

A much greater threat is posed by the mass of writhing, mutilated undead flesh and bone that waits and seethes at the bottom of the fortress' oldest disposal pit. Two stone doors are all that separate this unholy threat from the fortress. If Roomcarnage is to survive, these monsters must be forever prevented from escaping.

As I survey the rest of the fortress, I reflect on the ubiquity of death. Here in the statuary, the walls are lined by copper cages, each containing a horror of skin or hair. All around, the dwarves of the Momentous Dye laugh and chat and admire the furniture, with only a few copper bars separating them from life-hating hides and blankets. Even so, I don't think there is any chance of these undead escaping.

Likewise, there are other undead that are already held behind impenetrable walls. Here they will remain, likely forgotten for the rest of the fortress' existence.

The caverns beyond are also filled with undead horrors, mostly here in the space below the barrack's dump zone. Over the years, the constant conflict between forgotten beasts and the fortress' dead has painted the walls with blood, and the floor of the cavern is coated with a sickening mix of mud and gore and bone.

And then there are the awful monsters that stand upon a ledge high above the charnel cave, set aflame by a forgotten beast. If let alone, they will burn eternally, their flames fueled by the same unholy power that animates their flesh.

Ah, and let's not forget the burning horrors that also lurk in the obsidian-lined lava tubes that once channeled torrents of molten rock onto the frozen surface of the glacier.

These undead are especially dangerous, because - like the water buffalo mutilated corpse, and the undead that once lurked in the infirmary - they are separated from the rest of the fortress only by locked doors. If one of these flaming horrors were to find their way inside, the results would be devastating.

And yet, these dangers are nothing compared to what lurks outside. This passage, which once granted the dwarves access to the outside, now leads to the volcano's blighted slopes, which crawl with undead monsters, including the foul fog zombie diagnoser Dumat Sensesstakes. If these doors were unlocked, all the undead on the slopes would enter the fortress here.

Finally, there is this passage, which leads to the true outside - a nightmarish wasteland of ice and frozen elf blood, teeming with armies of mindless undead. It was through this passage that the outpost liaison reached the fortress just last year - for all the good it has done the fortress. It poses a serious danger, given the circumstances of the past month - but if it is walled off, there is a chance that this year's liaison will have no way to reach the fortress.

Action must be taken nonetheless. I order walls to be constructed at all possible entrance points to the fortress.

I wall up the only passage out of the undead pit...

...as well as sealing in the infamous first zombie, the water buffalo mutilated corpse.

With a heavy heart, I order a wall to be constructed, sealing off the eastern passage. If the liaison arrives along the map's eastern edge, then they will surely perish. So be it, if it means that the fortress survives its current assault.

Near the weapon's obsidian tubes, I order a tile dug out - this will, I hope, allow the area to be walled up more quickly. Both access points are to be sealed off.

As I let the dwarves get to work, I receive a notification that the construction of the farm plot has been suspended.

It would seem that it cannot be built until all these sweet pod seeds have been cleared away. So be it.

I follow one dwarf as they travel up to the block stockpile - out of the heart of the fortress, up the long stairwell, past smears of dwarven blood.

The dwarves gather the obsidian blocks...

...and quickly get to work.

The weapon's shafts are sealed before a miner can even arrive. I remove the mining designation and move on.

As the dwarves continue throwing up the walls, I half expect some last ditch attempt by the undead to escape - my eyes keep flitting back and forth between the construction sites and the bottom of the screen, where I fearfully anticipate the tell-tale job cancellation announcements: interrupted by undead horde.

But it never comes.

The walls are built, and the undead are sealed off.

All the fortress access points - to the outside, to places where undead have been hidden away - are sealed.

For the first time in many years, there are no undead lurking behind locked doors. Now, they all lurk behind impenetrable walls of obsidian blocks. Let the ghosts unlock all the doors they want - Roomcarnage is safe, for now. Rith Craftportent's machinations from beyond have been brought to a halt. Now, there is little to do but wait and see if the vampire mayor's plans have already caused enough damage to push Roomcarnage over the edge into a tantrum spiral.

As I wait, a dwarven child is taken by a mood.

How exciting.

Ah, the seeds have been cleared away. I order construction of the farm plot to resume.

A farmer arrives, and as the mud begins to furrow, Eral Paintmorning throws another tantrum.

I find the swordsdwarf standing on top of one of the tables in the dining room, unhappily looking around for the right dwarf to suffer for her misery. Several children sit or stand nearby, unaware that they might be slain at any moment by the copper-clad warrior.

Things don't look good for Eral Paintmorning, or the children, or Roomcarnage.

Fortunately for everyone, Eral calms down moments later.

Ah, the farm is finished. I have the dwarves plant sweet pods in the spring, cave wheat in the summer and autumn, and plump helmets in the winter. For a moment, I reflect on the oddness of seasonal restrictions for subterranean plants, while on the surface strawberries can be grown year round. Never mind that in Roomcarnage, there are no seasonal changes to speak of - the surface is an eternal wasteland of haunted ice and elf blood snow.

My thoughts are interrupted by yet another tantrum.

I don't think Eral's situation is improving.

I watch as dwarves come and eat their meals, none paying any heed to the swordsdwarf with the masterfully crafted copper blade in her hand - the swordsdwarf driven to the brink of blind, insane rage by grief.

continued in part two...