I suppose the trouble began with Armok saying in the early autumn, "Hmm, things are getting a little dull at Nutscaves. Let's spice it up by quickly cleaning up some garbage outside the fortress, before the usual siege time arrives."
266 was certainly a pretty dull year until winter. Spring through mid-autumn consisted of mostly-normal trading, one siege, a handful of routine prisoner executions, the long-awaited full coverage of the military in high quality steel plate, a very minor plague incident, and the bricking-up of most of the remaining soil floor. (Soil is always just begging to get contaminated.) A lot of stockpiles were moved or rearranged for construction purposes, but not much other serious work occurred during the year. We also had to temporarily shut down the farms at the start of winter because our food and booze stockpiles were overflowing and the fortress was getting increasingly full of rats. A lot of dwarves were mad about the rats, but it was nothing serious.
So in early autumn Armok designated some junk to pick up from the far corner of the great outdoors, and the haulers cheerfully proceeded out of the fortress in a line. They were just glad to have some work to do. Armok hoped nothing would go wrong.
The haulers tidied the mess quickly. But after the dwarfstorm converged on the junk pile and headed back to the fortress, there was one item left on the ground to pick up. It was a low quality cedar training spear.
(Of course it had to be that. Something totally useless, and worth about four dwarfbucks.)
The haulers dumped the items in the designated area just inside the fort entrance. One particularly quick hauler, a skinny eighty-nine year old woman who was so quick partly because she was wearing absolutely nothing but gloves and shoes--volunteered to rush back outside and get the spear. She was called Shorast Tiredgild, and there was nothing tired about her. She was quick and agile and strong, and has amazing willpower and self-discipline. No wonder she volunteered to go pick up the last item. And so the other haulers cheered at her offering, and gladly went down to the new stoneware brick bar, to start celebrating a job well done.
And so, the sprightly and mostly-naked Shorast Tiredgild ventured back outside, alone, to pick up the near-worthless cedar training spear in the far corner of Nutscaves' small corner of The Tufted Desert.
And so tragedy began to strike. Let's take a look at what happened at the magma furnaces in the meanwhile:
In recent times, Nutscaves had been training a very promising potter. We currently employ a total of only three potters: two came to the fortress very skilled, and our third one, Kumil Glorieshammer, was selected to be trained from a low skill level simply for her very impressively high potting potential. Kumil Glorieshammer is a 57-year-old woman, fat and with silver eyes, cinnamon skin, and a clean-shaven head. (She is probably fat because she has a great love of most of Nutscaves' most commonly-produced dishes, especially the Longland flour.) She started out making crappy, hard-to-identify stoneware statues I had to offload on the traders--but she moved up to High Master Potter very quickly and was well on her way to Grand Master, like the other potters.
And so, as sprightly Shorast the hauler left the fortress, Kumil Glorieshammer was suddenly possessed by the desire to create an artifact! Armok was overjoyed because it would mean that Kumil would beat the other two potters to Legendary status, and Armok was quite excited to possibly get a stoneware artifact for Nutscaves!
But no. It was not to be. Anything Armok wants so much, Armok may not have.
Armok was very puzzled as (s)he watched Kumil Glorieshammer abandon her station at the kiln. Then Armok realized Kumil was probably heading to the regular, non-magma-powered kiln. Armok shrugged. Armok felt anticipation. Armok made some designations around the fortress while Kumil made her way downstairs.
Then Kumil kept going down the stairs, right past the wood shop and its non-magma-powered kiln. "Kumil! Wrong way!" cried Armok.
Kumil stopped at the bone room and claimed a crafter's workshop.
Armok's blood pressure rose and Armok checked Kumil to make sure she hadn't been studying crafting in her spare time. Kumil had no skills besides fighting and potting. What was she doing in the crappy crafting workshop? That was for making junk out of bones, and engraving slabs, and refilling on wooden bolts every few years. "Get out of there, Kumil!" cried Armok.
Armok froze time, and consulted the current of knowledge that flows through the magma of all the worlds, and learned a fact:
Potters can't make pottery artifacts.
Armok cried a little, got over it, and un-froze time. But after claiming the workshop, Kumil Glorieshammer would not move. "What are you doing now, Kumil?" inquired Armok.
When Kumil continued to stay stubbornly still instead of gathering materials for her crappy crafts artifact, Armok went closer and listened to her mutterings. Kumil was listing many demands for materials.
"Oh, silly Kumil! You want stone blocks and I forgot to un-forbid the 27 rainbow-colorful ones that we're not using right now. Let me fix that," said Armok. Armok did as Armok promised.
But Armok had also heard something much worse than "stone blocks" come out of Kumil Glorieshammer's mouth. Armok tried to ignore it. Armok felt afraid. Armok prayed Kumil would move after unforbidding the blocks.
Kumil did not move.
"Uh oh," said Armok.
"a shell... a shell... a shell..." whispered Kumil.
Armok froze time and panicked a little.
It is Nutscaves' one weakness (besides just being Nutscaves). Our kryptonite: shells. We have dozens of artifacts and we've been lucky that no one has ever demanded one until now. (The demands were made rare because of a persistent unaddressed game bug.) But now it has happened.
Shells come from four sources: raw turtles, mussels, and oysters that are caught and prepared on-site; and snail men. We have access to none of those at Nutscaves. We're in badlands, the wrong biome for all four. (Shells should also come from cave lobsters, or from shelled creatures brought by the caravan, but there is a terrible bug about that, and our caverns have always had no amphibious life anyway.) ((Unfortunately I knew nothing about the bug or lack of life in our caverns at the time.))
At first Armok made the mistake of thinking Armok could get the dwarves to catch a cave lobster and remove its shell. (This was before Armok consulted the great flow of magma knowledge and learned that cave lobsters are currently shell-less.)
And so Armok opened the second cavern and told all forty of the reserves that they were now fishermen. Armok designated the shore of the great cavern lake for fishing, and hoped they'd catch and prepare enough lobsters before Kumil lost her mind.
Forty fishers marched down into the cavern and went to work with their beards.
A great beast of undulating snow promptly found its way into the third cavern. Not the cavern we were fishing in--but the one below it. Armok checked the seals and set the proper spears to repeat, and hoped the great beast of undulating snow wouldn't find some way into the fortress Armok hadn't thought of. The first and second caverns have well-planned entrances, but there's a hole in the ceiling in the third one that Armok hasn't gotten around to fixing. Armok hoped the beast couldn't fly.
Undulating snow doesn't fly, right?
While checking that all the machinery was ready to stave off the beast in the third cavern, Armok considered that if a beast entered the cavern where the dwarves were fishing, they would be trapped.
Utes Stestrakzom, an enormous, slavering, winged and feathered earthworm with long, broad cinnamon feathers knew its cue when it heard it. Armok didn't have to think it twice. The great current of magma that carries knowledge through the world is powerful indeed. Utes Strestrakzom entered the second cavern very near where the dwarves were fishing. Beware its poisonous gas.
"UHOH," said Armok. Armok knew not to mess with poisonous gas. Just what was Armok thinking, letting these dwarves fish here without building a proper, safe fishing station? Armok had gotten into a panic about the shells and Armok doesn't do the cleverest things when Armok panics.
The fortress went on alert (all dwarves report to safe areas!) and as a result, the dwarves stopped upgrading upright spears they'd been working on beefing up at the entrance. It wasn't a big deal--we only replace one square urist of spears at a time because we might need to use the spears at any moment. But it left us in a more poorly defended position than usual.
Immediately after issuing the alert, a vile force of darkness arrived! Large squads of goblins and trolls appeared in every direction. It must have taken them days to surround Nutscaves so thoroughly.
"Oh, crud, Shorast!" cried Armok, helplessly. Sprightly Shorast Tiredgild, the hauler, had the cedar training spear in hand and was hurrying toward the fortress, but several squads of goblins were closer to Nutscaves proper than she was, and some of them had bows.
Armok decided not to start up the mechanical spears until Shorast's fate was decided. This would mean some goblins might get into the fortress fairly uninjured, if they moved fast and as a group.
Armok realized all Armok's soldiers were struggling to get away from the fishing area in the second cavern. Forty disorganized soldiers on civilian duty don't move well in single file. They have to walk in single file to get to the muddy shore, and the entrance to the fortress via the cavern is single file as well. When they get an alert they hurry, and they don't care about stepping on people. The stampede down there was getting out of hand. A lot of dwarves were lying on the ground. Meanwhile, Utes Strestrakzom, the slavering winged earthworm, beware its poisonous gas, was practically on top of them.
Armok did some facepalming.
"Just kill it," said Armok in defeat, when Armok was done facepalming.
At least they were already wearing all their steel plate. It isn't good to expose that many dwarves to poisonous gas and boiling extract at once, though. Armok knows!
There was one fortunate incident in the whole thing. Because of Shorast Tiredgild's nudity, and the light weight of the cedar training spear she carried, she was able to sprint to the fortress like a shooting star. She easily beat the closest group of goblins and arrived safely and unscathed. She reported to the safe area immediately and hastened to put away the spear. Armok could barely believe it. She had been surrounded and it had looked very grim, but Shorast didn't even get within shooting range of the goblins.
Armok started the mechanical spears and began raising and lowering the drawbridge at intervals, dumping the goblins one serving at a time into the maw of Armok's masterful goblin grinding traps, and taking joy in slaughter as Armok went. Fortunately Armok wouldn't need the soldiers this time. If Armok gets overwhelmed, Armok can just raise the bridge until the civilians un-jam enough weapon traps and reload enough cages.
Good thing, because the forty would-be fisherman-soldiers were having the fight of their lives.
Utes Strestrakzom, the slavering winged earthworm, beware its poisonous gas--could not hurt the dwarves through their steel plate via normal means, but Utes was a clever (perhaps the cleverest?) giant winged and feathered earthworm. Utes lashed out and grabbed at wrists and hands, trying to relieve the soldiers of their shields, while releasing clouds of poison and boiling extract. Many dwarves dropped their shields or were unable to raise them, and became stricken immediately with nausea and fever, and became stunned and vulnerable as a result. Fortunately the still-healthy dwarves' ferocious attacks kept Utes on the move, and Utes could not hang around to prey upon the sickened dwarves.
The dwarves fought Utes for a week while Armok and his/her civilian lever operators took care of the siege together. Because of the surprise start while fishing in an unsafe area, the fight did not take place in the proper part of the cavern, and pools of forgotten beast extract and deadly blood went everywhere. Many dwarves stepped in them while fighting and did not have their protective water coating to save themselves.
Utes took very little damage while the dwarves attempted to attack him. He darted around the soldiers and dodged and rolled and flew with amazing alacrity. Hundreds of attacks failed to connect. Someone with a spear managed to stab him in the mouth early on, and he received a few small scratches to the body, but for most of the week the soldiers just chased him around and protected each other without doing any real damage.
Finally the dwarf with the spear who'd stabbed Utes in the mouth, managed to get behind Utes. He'd been unconscious back there, but recovered and moved slowly toward Utes, nauseated and disoriented. Utes was distracted by dodging dozens of soldiers' attacks, and didn't see him coming in time. The dwarf took one good stab and jammed his spear into Utes' brain from behind, and promptly fell unconscious again. Utes fell dead to the ground.
Most of the dwarves that weren't already unconscious promptly fainted, or dragged themselves slowly toward the hospital through pools of forgotten beast extract. That is, to be clear, pools of plague. Most of the dwarves were nauseated, half were fevered (a frightening condition I've never seen before), and several were necrotic and exuding clouds of miasma. All of them except a few lucky ones had severe swelling. Necrotic, fevered blood plague.
"Oh no!" said Armok. "What have I done?!" The hospital has only fourteen beds.
The long line of weary soldiers left a trail of vomit from the second cavern all the way up to the hospital. Some decided they felt sort of better along the way, and went back down to fish in a safer area Armok had located for them. (Eventually they interrupted their fishing to report to the hospital.) By the time the first wave reached the hospital, there were just enough beds.
But things weren't looking good for them.
The doctors told the fevered ones, "Yes, you have a fever. It will make you feel unfocused and slow. It may last forever or you may just die at some point. There's nothing we can do for you. Good luck and enjoy the rest of your life while you still cling to it." And they discharged them from the hospital. Now those dwarves are going around slowly, with increasing swelling. It's only a matter of time for them.
The surgeons went to work on the necrotic cases. They're still working on the worst one. It isn't looking good. They've done the same surgical procedure three times in a row on poor Urist Chanceclasped, who has only one kill to his name. The rot keeps spreading and returning, and the swelling has kept increasing. The surgeon had to cut him open to release the pressure of the swelling, and now the whole room is spattered with blood. The patients usually don't live long after that happens.
The worst thing is, this botched fight with Utes Strestrakzom and the fishing in the cavern was all for nothing. We have no shells. There was no life in the water of the second cavern, and unless we happen to find any in the tiny unexplored portion of the third cavern (
As a "bonus", between them, they have friendships with everyone in the fortress.
At least we didn't bring the plague contaminant into the fortress. The quarantining worked. A maximum of forty people can die. The fighting was all on the proper side of the bathtub, even though it wasn't in the designated combat area, and even though way too many dwarves were involved. At least we have that: a hundred and twenty dwarves will not get the plague.