Chapter 65 :: The Millstone of Time

October 18th, 2018

It is the 22nd of Granite, in the early spring of 1250. After decades of monotonous isolation beneath the rough stone and ice of the Oily Furnace, the relative peace and calm of the accursed fortress Roomcarnage has been broken by the arrival of a new visitor.

For the first time in the history of the fortress, the necromantic plague known only as foul fog has penetrated the innermost heart of the fortress. I have anticipated this moment since the early summer of 1202, forty-eight years ago, when the fog first came to Roomcarnage. The entire epidemic began with the arrival of a few infected kobolds, and has spread to cover nearly the entire surface surrounding the ice volcano - but I had always managed to keep the dwarves inside safe from its vile taint. Until now.

I can hardly believe my eyes as I review the situation in all its devastating potential. Any kind of foul fog zombie would be a dire threat - a roc zombie is about as dangerous as a single creature can get.

Bål Cometvale is covered from beak to talon in foul fog, and already bears old, unhealing wounds. Interestingly, five of his toes - two on his left, three on his right - have been broken and smashed open. On the surface, foul fog zombies have a habit of getting into long, drawn out brawls with one another - there is a particular group that has been going on for decades now. Bål seems to be no different - I idly wonder if his chosen foe was so small by comparison, that it could only damage the roc's toes. It's not a reassuring thought.

I noticed the roc's arrival just as it was bearing down upon one of the fortress' planters. But where could it have come from? The passages to the north and south have been walled off for some time now, and the door to the east leads to the mayoral suite.

There is one possibility - just to the north of the main statue hall, not far from Bål's current position, there is a stairwell. It leads to a series of narrow tunnels, which were carved out as part of a final attempt to secure a portion of the maps edge, and thus secure a safe arrival for the caravan. Magma was pumped out of the volcano and up onto the plateau - itself a product of lavaworks - where it was carefully forked and directed towards the map's edge. The operation was a success, in the sense that a small section of the map's edge was indeed secured and cleared of undead. It was a failure, however, since the dwarven caravan stopped attempting to visit Roomcarnage just a few years before it was completed. Apparently I never closed off the passageway leading to the surface worksite.

Another possibility is the southeast passage, lined with cold stone memorials, which leads eventually to the fortress well. It draws water from a cistern, dug in the fortress' earliest years, which was filled with melted glacial ice. The cistern is not actually sealed off from the abandoned sections of the fortress - now the lair of Simo Veiledsins the Obscure Terrors - and could have conceivably been used by Bål Cometvale to enter the fortress.

Whichever route the roc used does not matter at the moment - the dwarves must contend with its appearance, just as they have contended with every other nightmare that the Ice of Ghosts has thrown at them. To the west, the memorial hall opens up into the larger hall of statues and cages, and beyond the rock doors at the far end is the dining hall - and the military might of Roomcarnage. I am grateful that the militia has not yet noticed the roc's arrival - if they were to engage the beast in combat, it would surely result in a bloodbath.

Just below the dining hall are the incalculably vital food stockpiles. Bål cannot be allowed to reach the dining hall - for, if he does, these stockpiles would inevitably be lost as well. I may be looking ever onward towards the ultimate fate of the Momentous Dye, but I am not eager to watch the last handful of dwarves die of starvation in some walled-off room... yet.

I immediately consider, as the most viable option, completely walling off the fortress beyond the eastern doors of the dining hall - including the statuary, the mayoral suite, the memorial hall, and the well. If all these things are sacrificed, but the dwarves of the Momentous Dye endure, so be it - but the walls cannot be constructed. Memorial slabs, adjacent to the doorways, prevent a complete seal from being constructed.

The situation is desperate - the dwarves will need to deconstruct the offending slabs at the same time that they are constructing the sealing walls.

That's it - there's not much else to do, now, except wait for the dwarves removing the slabs to finish their job, so that more walls can be constructed. As it stands, I am genuinely concerned about the roc finding its way into the dining hall. I consider, briefly, locking the doors between the dining hall and the statuary, but I decide to wait and see what the roc's appearance provokes - if the doors are locked, I automatically forsake all dwarves on the other side, but if they remain passable, I may yet save a few.

I unpause, and watch as the events unfold.

The effects of the foul fog are immediate and irreversible - Îton Bustfloor is now a life-hating husk. I pause at the perfect instant, catching the delicate, horrifying moment in which the child Såkzul Wheelholy witnesses the older planter's unholy transformation.

Before allowing the massacre to continue, I lock the door to the mayor's office. I'm not sure how much time this will buy the dwarves - most megabeasts are capable of simply smashing apart furniture. Only constructed walls form a sure barrier to physical intrusion.

The action resumes - the other dwarven planter charges for the door, seeking escape, only to find that the portal has been locked. Desperately, the still-living dwarf rushes south, into the mayor's bedroom. I expect the foul fog zombies to pursue the planter - but instead, they sit in the office, near the door. It's strange - strange enough to be at home in Roomcarnage, but not strange enough to give me pause. The behavior of the infected has always been unnerving.

Ignoring the chilly feeling of unease at the edge of my senses, I move forward. If this door is able to stop Bål Cometvale and his foul fog zombie minions for a few moments, perhaps it will stop them for long enough to place the quarantine walls here, just outside the mayoral suite, and not at the edge of the dining hall. If it works, then the dwarves need not sacrifice access to the well, the engraved hall of cages, or the lever room - it would, however, be a supremely anticlimactic end to the roc attack.

That's it, then. I cancel the construction of the walls at the edge of the dining hall.

Now all that remains is to wait for the dwarves to wall off the mayors office.

This is how the roc attack ends - with three undead dwarves, sealed away in a cold, lightless hole with some primeval nightmare, forgotten even by the forgotten themselves.

Now that the attack is over, I must attend to the initial error that allowed it to happen in the first place. The route leading from the surface of the map is easy enough to wall off - the dwarves are done with the surface, after all, so nothing of value is lost in doing so. The other potential point of ingress - the well - is too valuable to sacrifice. I allow it to remain open for the time being, despite the risk it poses.

And so, time marches on beneath the Ice of Ghosts. The dwarves of Roomcarnage return to their daily tasks - which, for about half the fortress at any given point in time, is combat training.

Following the betrayal of Tun Linearch and the massacre of 1214, it seemed as though Roomcarnage's military might never recover. Thirty-four dwarven souls were lost or corrupted in that bloodbath, comprising three squads of marksdwarves, the fortress guard, and the militia commander's personal retinue. And yet now, thirty-six years later, nearly every dwarf living beneath the Oily Furnace is skilled with an axe, spear, or sword, and many are starting to reach the highest levels of skill.

There is still room for improvement, however. I have not decided how long the dwarves will train, or at which point they will be "ready." I simply trust that I will know the time when it comes - or that the fortress will perish before it ever arrives.

Suddenly, I notice a commotion, and stop the game to take a closer look. Goden Granitebodice reports sustaining major injuries recently, as well as having been attacked by the dead. The evidence supports his claim - his right lower leg has been torn off at the knee. Adil Crushedgild, ghostly vampire stands nearby, looking on with unnatural interest even if she herself is not immediately responsible.

As a matter of course, I order the planter's severed leg to be disposed of.

Then, I examine the nearby ghosts that have gathered since the last purge. One among them is none other than the former mayor Urvad Teachanvil. Her body was, like all others produced in Roomcarnage, unceremoniously tossed into the magma sea, and so her spirit has returned to inflict violence upon those she once served.

Besides Urvad Teachanvil, there are two other ghosts who are able to be memorialized. I order slabs carved for all three. Once completed, I order the slabs to be placed in the lever room, along the newly constructed obsidian block wall.

My attention is drawn away momentarily by another unexpected event - a moody child has gone insane!

Curses. I must have forgotten about this child in between recording chapters. Ah well. There's nothing to be done now except wait for the child to die of thirst.

Soon, Urvad's slab is in place, and her soul fades into oblivion.

Urvad Teachanvil came to the fortress in 1202. For four and a half decades, against all odds, she lived. Then, two years ago, she died peacefully - not in her sleep, mind you, but in the middle of a crowded dining hall in plain view of half the fortress. Now her memorial stands outside her office, which will never be used by another leader.

As life in the fortress continues, I keep an eye on the insane child Meng Exitvessels - as well as Goden Granitebodice, the planter whose leg was torn off by Urvad Teachanvil. Despite having a functioning hospital, idle dwarves, and a dedicated chief medical dwarf, the rest of the dwarves seem content to let Goden Granitebodice die of thirst upon the engraved dining hall floor.

All of my attempts to get the hospital working fail. Goden dies in the early summer.

I order his body to be incinerated...

...and follow its progress, all the way to the magma chute.

That's one of the corpses taken care of.

Two weeks later, Meng Exitvessels dies of thirst as well.

The second body is disposed of as quietly as the first.

It doesn't take long for the deaths to take their toll on the dwarves' psyche.

Rakust Bodicedrilled is having a bad time - Meng was her little brother, and it seems that she witnessed Goden's death as well.

Soon the clothier is starting fist fights.

Rakust seems intent to take out her frustrations with the fortress leadership - Atír Fingerarmors, fortress mayor.

The tantruming clothier strikes the mayor several times, succeeding only in inflicting bruises. Despite the mild outcome, the situation is deathly tense - with a single critically placed blow, Rakust could snap the mayor's neck, or crush her skull, or cause some other freakishly fatal injury.

Fortunately, the clothier calms down before dealing any real damage.

Her tantrums continue, however. I can only wait, and hope that Rakust steps away from the brink of madness rather than over it.

In the meantime, a planter is taken by a strange mood, and claims a metalsmith's forge. Alas, there is no chance of èrith Lashedcrest creating a mythical weapon or armor - her greatest creative skill is metal crafting.

The object she creates is ultimately useless, and arguably a drain on the fortress' resources, as it is made primarily of adamantine.

I mean, don't get me wrong. It's a very nice crown.

Later in the autumn, I am relieved to find Rakust Bodicedrilled's temperament has finally returned to normal.

Not too long afterwards, however, another dwarf is taken by a mood that, it seems, cannot be fulfilled.

Litast Nourishedtrades occupies the clothier's shop, screaming his suicidal demands for all of Roomcarnage to hear.

Rather than let Litast go insane and potentially berserk, and risk the death and misery of other dwarves, I decide to take another traditional route. I order the adjacent workshops to be deconstructed, and a little patch of the stockpile to be cleared away.

As the jeweler's workshop is deconstructed, the mountain of gems collected within it cascades outward upon the surrounding cavern floor. Apparently I have not been maintaining a sufficiently large stockpile for gems.

I can deal with the mess of gems later - for now, walls must be built around Litast's workshop.

The planter stands there, screaming about bones and tanned hides and yarn cloth as brick upon brick is placed all around him.

In the end, Litast goes berserk, just as I feared.

Fortunately for the rest of the fortress, the wall was completed with days to spare.

I unpause, and life resumes in Roomcarnage. Undead howls echo thoughout the fortress, mingling with the sounds of training military dwarves. In time, the warriors of the Momentous Dye will reach the uppermost heights of martial skill - but what of the weapons they will use in the final battle?

Precious few adamantine weapons remain - perhaps two dozen axes, four spears, and a single masterwork adamantine short sword. Most of Roomcarnage's most valuable equipment lies out of reach, strewn throughout the frozen ruins of the northwestern trade depot. Even back then, Adamantine equipment was rare. I was loathe to dig too deep, lest the dwarves fail to achieve their dreams.

That was decades ago, when a sense of caution, a steady rationale, and thrilling hope still held the fortress on track towards glory. Before the caravans stopped braving the journey to Roomcarnage - before the mountainhome abandoned the most glorious of dwarven efforts.

Twenty something adamantine weapons are not going to suffice. One hundred and twenty-two of the fortress' adult dwarves are enlisted in the military, which at this point in time is everyone except the manager.

After all, if the dwarves are to eventually find their long-sought glory in the infernal depths, why not forge as much adamantine equipment as possible in the meantime?

The deep workshops simmer with activity, a king's fortune passing beneath the hands of a dozen novice strand extractors. Reminders of our isolation are everywhere - the king of the Playful Spattered Walls will never lay eyes upon this treasure.

Once the dwarves have stockpiled a good amount of adamantine thread, I place the work orders - twenty-two short swords and thirty spears. It's a start.

Unfortunately, the fortress' legendary weaponsmith is no longer among the living. A new weaponsmith is needed - rather than order a well-vetted candidate to laboriously hone a new craft by forging an unending supply of copper bolts, I pick a young, mostly unskilled planter who has not yet gone through a mood. With any luck, this will result in another legendary weaponsmith.

Naturally, I underestimate how many adamantine wafers are required for each weapon...

...and the stockpile is exhausted after a mere thirteen short swords.

continued in part two...