Chapter 68 :: Losing is Fun

December 28th, 2022

It is the 1st of Opal, in the Mid-Winter of 1256.

The dwarves of the Momentous Dye have hewn a stairwell - a dark and twisting passage that leads from the steaming rock at the feet of Roomcarnage; through mines long-emptied of priceless ore; and down into the abyss, stairs carved into the raw adamantine in a precipitous, twisting descent until it reaches a yawning, alien void. There, the final steps of the staircase are about to be constructed - when it is complete, the dwarves will finally be able to access the only area of the map that remains yet untouched by the undead - and, by them.

Taking up the momentous task of construction is the planter Kogsak Standardentry.

Kogsak is forty-two years old, having been born in the year 1214, and is a native of Roomcarnage. For reference, the effort to secure safe access to the dwarven caravan in the wake of flooding the surface - the last attempt to reestablish contact with the outside world - took place in 1216, two years after Kogsak was born. For his entire life, he has known nothing of the outside world, except for stories told in the darkness by elders - memories of a world forever held beyond a horizon of ice and suffering. It is possible that he has never seen the light of the sun.

I watch as Kogsak makes his way - at an agonizingly slow pace - towards the fortress stockpiles, to claim building materials for the staircase.

Any number of things could be causing my FPS to grind to such a rate, but I had previously guessed that an errant magma flow in an abandoned part of the fortress might have been to blame. The supply to flow has since been cut off, but it will still take time for the fluid to sort itself out. Until then, I will simply have to tolerate the glacial framerate.

As Kogsak continues to make his way through the fortress, I reflect on the real world time between my recording of the last chapter and this one. What took me so long to return to this story? Why did I drag my feet?

Kogsak enters the building materials stockpile, and claims some obsidian bricks.

On his way out, he passes by a few constructed walls. Each contains a workshop and a single animated corpse - the remains of a moody dwarf who demanded materials that could not be provided. Rather than allow such a dwarf to endanger the rest of the fortress - either through mindless rage, or worse in death - the dwarves of Roomcarnage simply walled up these poor souls, remembering them only long enough to engrave a memorial slab to prevent them from haunting the living.

Ah, yes. That's why I took my time returning to this - Roomcarnage is a miserable, lonely, and unhappy place.

Perhaps that is why I am having the dwarves build this stairwell now. At first I had chalked it up to boredom in my mind - the fortress having reached such a grinding tedium that the past four decades have taken up only a few chapters worth of the narrative. But on a more fundamental level, I realize - as Kogsak passes through the forward bastion against hell - I'm seeking out fun, plain and simple. Roomcarnage has gone on for so long, faced so many interminable foes, that there are only a few frontiers left for the dwarves to delve.

It's a long walk down the adamantine staircase - a skyscraper's worth of steps for Kogsak, and a solid ten minutes for me.

After half a century of life in this accursed hellhole, I can wait a little bit longer.

Finally, the planter reaches the bottom of the stair - Kogsak takes a moment to peer out into the inky void, swirling with vortices of baleful light, before he gets to work laying the final bricks.

A minute later, it is done.

I'm not keen on allowing anything from down here access to the fortress. I order the Worthy Seals and the Rapidity of Ink - the elite warriors of Roomcarnage - down into the nether realm.

I intend to establish a lasting presence here, and so order the construction of a weapon rack, which can be used to create a barracks, so squads will train here without needing to be stationed.

Before long, the first of Roomcarnage's finest arrive at the base of the staircase.

Others follow, one by one. Well-trained warriors all, it is unlikely that they have seriously faced anything in combat accept their sparring partners.

It takes a bit longer for the weapon rack to be hauled into the depths...

...and placed in a central spot upon the shallow slope of infernal bedrock.

With the rack in place, I reassign the Rapidity of Ink and the Worthy Seals from the deep barracks, several levels below Roomcarnage's lowest stockpiles, to a newly designated barracks a hundred levels deeper.

After canceling their immediate squad orders, the warriors revert to their civilian professions. They remain in the abyss, training in vigilance for any foe that might emerge from the chthonic darkness.

And yet, as I survey the 'others' tab in the units menu - more recent arrival to the fortress appear at the top - I see no newcomers, save a single blood man, lurking amidst the mud and blood thorns in the far corner of the lower caverns.

What a charming entity. Under different circumstances, I might mobilize my dwarves to capture this creature for entertainment or profit. As it is, it will join the untold ranks of forgotten beasts that dwell, unseen and unheard, in the yawning labyrinth surrounding the fortress.

The remainder of the mid-winter of 1256 passes without incident. I wait, in vain, for something hellish to emerge from the shadows, while I watch the dwarves continue with their routine training. It is a monotony that I, the player of Roomcarnage, settle in to like an old pair of boots. It is surprising, for a moment, to think about the scope of time the dwarves of the Momentous Dye have spent beneath the Oily Furnace - it was a mere fifteen years between the founding of the fortress, and the solemn resignation that contact with the outside world would never be possible again. Since then, four decades have passed - four decades of misery, isolation, and loneliness.

How heady were those early years, when the dream of becoming the mountainhome still felt just barely out of reach? When covering the surface of the haunted glacier with magma was a legitimate victory for the Momentous Dye, gaining crucial ground and entombing many undead in ice and obsidian? When Rith Craftportent, for all her sinister mystery, was still counted among the many assets of Roomcarnage?

Now, there is no dream. There is no victory. The living are as still and cold as the corpses emtombed within the flow, with as much hope for escape. And Rith Craftportent is gone - not dead, which might have brought some resolution to her narrative, but smashed by a poorly-timed drawbridge. As a corpse, she might have returned as a ghost to torment the Momentous Dye. Now, the Rith-shaped vacancy in this narrative haunts only me.

My thoughts are interrupted by the rare arrival of a new visitor on the surface. A werezebra, already corrupted by the foul fog even before it makes its presence known.

The werezebra charges a nearby reanimated corpse, which reacts with the sort of surprise only a corpse can express.

After knocking down a couple of other reanimated undead, the shapeshifter is targeted by a longtime resident of the Ice of Ghosts - one of several minotaur foul fog zombies.

The two undead are evenly matched. Just as I have many times before, I wonder at the underlying mechanics that cause the varying interactions between foul fog zombies - in this case, to turn the two of them against each other.

I linger, watching the ensuing battle for a few minutes before I grow bored with it.

These interactions have plagued the fortress for decades. My announcements feed is next to useless - unless I spot a notification within a few moments of it happening, the alert is pushed into oblivion by the unceasing torrent of undead v. undead combat reports.

Indeed, most of what remains of the original surface of the Ice of Ghosts is in total disarray - here, foul fog zombies duel endlessly, smoke billows up from walking corpses ablaze, and countless gloves are littered amongst the severed arms that wore them in life.

There is nothing left for the dwarves in this waste.

Before too long, the werezebra is forced to shift back into their dwarven form.

Immediately, the foul fog zombie breaks off their attack, and dodges away.

Before I have a chance to see what they look like as a dwarf, they are gone. The minotaur foul fog zombie wanders off, and life - no, death - in Roomcarnage returns to an awful, quiet normal.

I notice that the warriors training in the abyss are wasting a good deal of time trekking between the nether barracks and the food stockpiles within the fortress. I decide to place a food stockpile - allowing only beverages and prepared meals - and order it to draw from the stores above.

At about the same time, a pair of ghosts appear. The first is Goden Lancegrooves, a ghostly planter.

I find Goden howling ceaselessly in the statuary - a large hall, adjacent to the dining hall, which was once meant for dwarven enrichment. How, it houses dozens of copper cages containing various undead, mostly untanned cat and dog hides, which - now separated from their fleshy hosts - flap away at the bars of their cages with hatred for all life.

Fortunately for everyone, Goden's name shows up on the list of dwarves who can be memorialized.

The second dwarf is Mosus Minedauthor, a ghostly planter.

Mosus's fate is no mystery. I find the ghost howling over its own body, sealed up inside a craftsdwarf's workshop. One of the many lost to an unfortunate mood.

And, luckily, Mosus' name also appears on the list.

In order to facilitate moving my camera around - it takes a LONG time to scroll down 60+ z-levels every time I want to look at the underworld (and not guess which dwarves are already down there) - I decide to designate the abyss as its own burrow. To that end, I remove the entire area from the 'Deep Underground' burrow, which I had been using before for everything below the magma sea.

The new burrow, 'The Underworld,' only contains these lowest few levels. The icon I use to identify the layer is the ampersand - '&' - used in Dwarf Fortress to represent a denizen of the underworld. When the dwarves of the Momentous Dye finally encountered these beings, they all perished beneath a single pillar of rock - but that isn't relevant now. Now, if I need to move my view here immediately, I can simply look at burro(w)s, and then (z)oom to center on that burrow.

The new year arrives, again without incident. My heart begins to grow heavy. I had hoped that this last frontier might pose some kind of challenge for the dwarves - but maybe, in the end, this is the fate of the Momentous Dye: to diminish, slowly, in dwarven doldrums.

Suddenly, an unusual announcement flashes across the bottom of my screen. I pause, just in time to catch it - a masterwork of Reg Strokepaints has been lost. SEVEN masterworks of Reg Strokepaints have been lost! What could be happening?

Unable to zoom to the location of the event, I'm forced to do some dwarven detective work. Reg Satlogem - "Strokepaints" - is one of the fortress' legendary armorer. So it is likely that the lost masterworks were armor pieces forged by him - but how could a piece of armor be lost? It would have to had to fall into magma, or a chasm, or - oh no.

I zoom to the new barracks and look around, and - mercifully, on account of the extraordinarily low framerate - I'm able to catch a final glimpse of a dwarven warrior as they disappear into the glowing pit.

I check the combat reports, and immediately piece together what happened. While sparring, two speardwarves - Fath and Vabôk - drew close to the edge of the slade plateau overlooking the eerie glowing pit. Vabôk attacked, and Fath dodged - over the edge, and plummeted. What is curious is that Fath apparently 'slammed into an obstacle,' which was deflected by her masterwork adamantine breastplate. It's possible she struck the wall, bouncing off once before passing beyond sight into the otherworldly glow.

There's nothing to be done now. I unpause, and watch as Fath, the adamantine breastplate, and six of Reg Stokepaint's other masterworks unceremoniously disappear into the bottomless, glowing pit.

Part of me wants to keep the barracks where it is - what's a few sparring accidents, if they happen to be the greatest danger Roomcarnage has faced in years? - but by my better judgement, I reduce the size of the training area, drawing it back from the cliff's edge.

I also decide that, while these warriors are here, they might as well map out hell for us - the last portion of this map that yet remains hidden. A final landmark - dreary and empty - for Roomcarnage.

Admittedly despondent, I order the dwarves across the slade landscape - the Rapidity of Ink goes north, and the Worthy Seals are sent south. I happen to be recording - intending the clip to show the slow tedium of traversing distance at this framerate - when something unprecedented occurs.

The underworld isn't empty, after all.

The axe- and speardwarves of the Rapidity of Ink - the fortress guard itself - are spread out over the length of two dining halls. A similar distance ahead, a feature looms - not a structure, for nothing could ever be constructed from a substance that cannot be mined.

It is a citadel of slade, as fundamental and eternal as the substrate of the nether realm itself. Demons perch on its higher slopes, and a few can be glimpsed through the grille of an entrance at its base. With the exception of the recently constructed stairwell to the southwest, this is the only thing within sight that connects the slade to the world above.

I survey the evils within view - some butterfly demons and white monsters. What a pity - I had hoped for more.

I check the units menu - none of the demons appear at the top of the 'others' list, where newly appeared enemies are expected to be. Instead, they all appear at the very bottom - they have been here from the very beginning. Long before the first dwarf of the Momentous Dye set foot upon the Ice of Ghosts, they were here. Indeed, they have been here since the dawn of time, when this abyssal fortress was created.

I examine the monsters in detail - a tower feathered butterfly with a slavering, knobby trunk and deadly blood; a great bloated pheasant composed of salt; a towering, spiral-shelled ribbon worm composed of salt that squirms and fidgits; an enormous square-shelled theropod composed of undulating ash. I'm not intimidated. Ash, salt, and other inorganic materials often break apart easily under the blow of a skilled axedwarf.

The greatest foe yet faced by the dwarves of the Momentous Dye now lies but a short distance before them. Should I wait, and gather the strength of the fortress? Or, with assured success, create an elaborate trap to lure and obliterate the entire demonic force?

To what end? After half a century of pervasive undeath, virulent contagion, and vampiric influence, these primordial beings are the only honest foes that Roomcarnage has ever faced, and so I will meet them honestly.

Canceling the previous orders of the Worthy Seals and the Rapidity of Ink, I order both squads to storm the slade citadel.

There is a final moment of unbroken serenity as the Rapidity of Ink closes the distance to the demonic fortress. I take a moment to admire the austere color scheme, the flashing blue and yellow of an axedwarf and swordsdwarf sprinting across a silent hellscape.

I pause, and examine the vanguard. Leading the charge are Lorbam Brasspearls and Erush Pulleystandard, two fifty-year-old warriors clad in a mix of copper and adamantine armor. Despite having been born after Roomcarnage's isolation, and having served in the same military squad together for years, they have never made each others' acquaintance. How curious.

continued in part two...