Chapter 52 :: From Blood to Bolt

August 30th, 2015

It is the 1st of Timber, in the late autumn of 1213. In just over two weeks, the caravan from the Mountainhome will arrive at Roomcarnage. If they are able to safely enter the fortress, they will be able to conduct trade with the dwarves of the Momentous Dye - a feat accomplished only once in the past decade. During trade negotiations, the dwarves of the Momentous Dye will be able to bestow upon the merchants an offering, meant for the monarch of the Playful Spattered Walls - such an offering would secure Roomcarnage's place as the new Mountainhome, the capitol of all of dwarvendom. The merchants need only escape the fortress with the offering intact, and the monarch will arrive soon afterward with a royal entourage.

Unfortunately, the surface of the map is currently crawling with undead. Mindless corpses and life-hating zombies plague the haunted glacier, and piles of necromantic filth mar the otherwise pristine elf blood snowdrifts. Unless these undead are dealt with, there is no way that a caravan would be able to make it through.

Fortunately, a new trap has been completed! A winding catwalk, suspended over a chasm bottomed by an ocean of magma. With the pull of a lever, these bridges can be retracted, sending any creature upon them plummeting to a fiery fate.

There are still a few finishing touches - for example, a few holes and gaps in the walls of the chasm need to be shored up - but all of this can take place while the trap is being used. There is no time to waste.

As I watch, a miner strides out onto the catwalk. It is Kadol Worklimb, legendary miner and founding dwarf of Roomcarnage.

Kadol's destination is the other end of the trap, where a digging designation awaits. Once he has completed his job, an open passage will lead from the trap directly to the northwestern surface of the glacier. With any luck, the undead will begin to find their way into the trap, and the surface will be cleansed.

It is a long walk, especially at the framerates to which I have grown accustomed.

At the same time, yet another child is taken by a strange mood.

I follow Kadol as he completes his mission. All alone, he carves out the stone wall and feels a draft of icy air blow past him. Once again, a direct footpath exists between the fortress and the surface. For as long as it is open, I must maintain vigilance.

The child claims a craftsdwarf's workshop - given the current circumstances, his fey mood is little more than a distraction.

I check in on the finishing touches - many dwarves in Roomcarnage have the masonry skill enabled, which allows the fortress to complete large building projects in very little time. Already, the army of amateur bricklayers have made good progress.

I examine the surface to see if undead have taken the bait. With excitement, I notice four undead that are moving towards the stairwell!

...but my excitement dissipates as they change direction, apparently fleeing from or chasing one another.

One of them is Zon Ropemansions, a foul fog zombie kitten. What a terrible creature.

I watch for a little longer - and am rewarded! One of the foul fog zombies dives down the stairwell and into the tunnel.

It is Vutok Bandtongs, a stonecrafter foul fog zombie. Exciting!

Just as before, my excitement fades to horror in a flash. The foul fog zombie suddenly turns back, seemingly returning to the surface. The cause? Erush Painthelms, a dwarven child who, despite all objects on the surface being forbidden, has somehow found her way into the forsaken tunnel.

As I watch, Erush stops fleeing, and turns back towards the surface. What does she seek atop the haunted, blood-caked ice?

The scene is interrupted by the arrival of an uninvited guest - a deadly dust-spewing alligator with three eyes and turquoise scales.

Ozstag the Lakes of Paddling poses no threat to the fortress. Its predecessor and primal kin, Simo Veiledsins, has already forced the dwarves to seal off the last passages that connected the fortress with the caverns. Ozstag poses no threat to the dwarves.

Strangely, the foul fog zombie stonecrafter also seems to pose no immediate threat. As the dwarven child draws close, both dwarves flee in the opposite directions, apparently terrified of one another.

It is bizarre behavior, especially considering the only explicit description of foul fog zombies that is available - that they are "opposed to life." It is almost as if the dwarves are as afraid of the zombies as the zombies are of them.

Soon, however, another undead monster enters the passage - a mindless, animated dwarf corpse. This horror will not flee from the child, I am sure of it.

Indeed, Erush Painthelms flees in the face of the shambling horror and does not turn back - although, it is not because of the corpse, but rather because Erush has grown thirsty and is returning to the fortress to get a drink.

I am curious to determine the cause of Erush's expedition to the surface. All items were forbidden, so she would not go to the surface to retrieve equipment - indeed, she had no job at all during the incident, and was simply idling her way to the surface.

I find a possible answer in her relationship screen. Half of her family - two children and a parent - have been afflicted with the foul fog. A sinking feeling seizes my stomach - Erush simply wanted to be with her mother.

Hopefully she is discouraged by the undead that are now finding their way into the tunnel. In addition to the corpse, another foul fog zombie has entered the passage - a ranger by the name of Solon Talkarrows.

The ranger moves quickly down the tunnel, the corpse shambling along not too far behind.

The ranger reaches the catwalks - but no! There is another child on the bridges! As before, the foul fog zombie and the dwarven child flee from one another - but the child quickly halts and returns on its quest to the surface.

However, the corpse soon arrives, and is not so easily spooked. The child runs, and the undead gives chase.

The dwarf is Bomrek Constructtempests - Erush's older sister. My theory that Erush was attempting to spend time with her undead mother is seemingly confirmed.

Also, one of Erush and Bomrek's other siblings, Endok Postlistened, has also reached the bridges. A familiar chill creeps along my skin - a family torn apart by foul fog is trying to stitch itself back together. Roomcarnage truly is a horrible place.

I watch as Bomrek flees from the corpse. Suddenly, the undead stops dead in its tracks, apparently unwilling or unable to pursue. The child exits the trap without further incident.

Good - I wasn't looking forward to sacrificing the child, in the event that I had to choose between her life and risking the undead getting past the trap.

After the lever is pulled, there is a silent pause - and then, with a sharp clank, the bridges slide into the walls. The undead falls backwards into open space and plummets downward, the trap's first victim.

The surface of the magma sea is disturbed only a little by the corpse's submersion - a cloud of slowly dissipating magma mist hangs over the rippling surface.

Of course, the corpse will never truly be destroyed. It will stay here, mindlessly standing atop the semi-molten rock, endlessly bleeding and burning.

There is no more time to contemplate its fate, which I hope will soon be shared with the rest of the undead on the surface. The merchants will arrive any day now, and the surface is still wholly inhospitable.

The lever is pulled, and the bridges snap back into place.

But it is too late.

As usual, the outpost liaison has arrived at one of the most undead-infested sections of the map.

The merchants, too, have arrived at the maps eastern edge - there is no way into the fortress from this direction.

The caravan has guards, of course - a speardwarf follows the first merchant, and slays a nearby corpse with relative ease. It won't make any difference, though. All of them will die.

I watch the outpost liaison run across the surface. All it takes is one strike from a foul fog-coated corpse for the liaison to switch sides.

The caravan guards share the same fate. The speardwarf and marksdwarf fight valiantly - but soon they are consumed by the foul fog.

I receive a notification - a diplomat has left unhappy. A silly message, perhaps. Then again, I soon find that Asmel Wiresnarled, the corrupted liaison, is nowhere to be found. I fight to suppress a sudden chill, and wonder if, all this time, Roomcarnage has been exporting the foul fog back to the Mountainhome.

It is a grim thought, but only one of many here in Roomcarnage. For another moment, I watch the ill-fated caravan fleeing across the ice - then I redirect my attention back beneath the surface.

Unfortunately, the situation in the trap has not improved. It would seem that the children are intent on reaching the surface and their undead family. As such, their efforts have prevented the trap from working.

My heart grows cold as I stare down upon this wretched scene. If these children wish to join their families, so be it. They will be just two more foul fog zombies to destroy when the time comes.

I unpause, and a dwarf ranger charges through the door towards the children. There is a brief scuffle - and the ranger retreats!

The child suffered no damage. It would seem that the foul fog zombies are just as averse to the living as the living are to them.

A foul taste fills my mouth, more bitter than my resignation to the fate of these children. This trap, I fear, will need some adjustment before it is reactivated. I lock the northern door and have it sealed tightly.

The children bumble about for a moment or two, before confusedly making their way back into the fortress.

Without incident, they retrace their steps along the long serpentine catwalk.

When they exit the trap, I lock the door behind them. Perhaps this chamber will be reopened at some point, but for now, it is useless to me.

There was a time, years ago, when the solution would have been simple. Fire up the weapon, churn out a titanic deluge of lava, and bury the undead interlopers under a mountain of cooling obsidian. Alas, the weapon has been destroyed, smashed to pieces by the same forgotten beast who has claimed the abandoned upper fortress as its own lair.

Ah, yes, Simo Veiledsins. What is the monstrous coal-beast up to now, I wonder?

I search through the units screen, my eyes peeled for the beasts name. Suddenly, my heart skips a beat. The beasts name glows with a telltale yellow and red flicker that can only mean one thing.

Simo Veiledsins the Obscure Terrors, bane of the Momentous Dye, is on fire. The creature is composed entirely of bitumenous coal - with no delicate tissues or fluids, there is no way for Simo to suffer damage from the flames, except for all of its parts being "burnt." The deadly beast has become a coal seam fire incarnate.

I take a moment to reflect upon the nightmare that Simo Veiledsins has become. At a glance, the beast is only visible as an oblique haze of gray smoke. Even its victims have never gotten a good look at it - the deadly coal dust that forms its primary attack immediately renders living creatures unconscious. And yet, I know what lurks at the center of this black cloud of death - a towering horror of black stone, its body riddled with deep cracks and fissures that belch gouts of orange flame. I cannot think of a more appropriate name for the beast than Simo Veiledsins the Obscure Terrors.

Well then, what now? The catwalk trap has failed, for the time being at least. Another year will pass before the caravan arrives once more - the dwarves of the Momentous Dye must press ever onward. To withdraw to the safety of the deep fortress, to wither away in isolation and obscurity, to forsake forever the dream of becoming the Mountainhome - all of these are unacceptable.

continued in part two...