Last time on the BoC: The arrival of marauding goblins ended the brief rule of the usurping mayor Urist, and the battle to drive them off saw the fort’s first non-accidental fatalities, as well as the emergence of several new heroes. But if the Basement’s founder Lorbam hoped to resume business as usual in her weird little zoo when the dust cleared, she was sorely mistaken…
Late Summer, Y3
It’s four weeks after the battle of Carambola Ridge, and the mayoral tower’s new occupant is surveying the bustling valley below. The back of summer might be broken, but the heat is still intense, and he’s glad the tower is high enough to catch the breeze that ruffles the top of the rainforest canopy. Leaning on the palmwood windowsill, he chews thoughtfully on a piece of dried horse kidney, and considers his position.
This is Dashmob Domainworks, and he is the War Mayor. An axedwarf with a truly interstellar gut and intimidation skills to match, he’s the very definition of a unit, and precisely the sort of leader the dwarves of the Basement were clamouring for in the aftermath of the goblin raid.
He reckons he’ll enjoy running this fort in time, but he knows as well as anyone that there’ll be nothing to enjoy if he can’t strengthen the fort enough to survive the goblins’ inevitable return. Dashmob has a job to do, and no time to consider the whimsical business of developing a zoo. It’s a bit like one of those telly programmes where Gordon Ramsay gets sent to a hotel to shout at everyone for keeping raw chicken in the toilets.
One look at Dashmob tells you all you need to know about his history with animal husbandry. His leg-thick arms clatter with rhino tooth bracelets, while around his neck hangs a garland of mamba fangs. All are mementos of his many kills out on the savage plains known as the Grey Prairie, where he served as a soldier for the Mountainhome. His scars speak for themselves, and he’s already drawn approving nods from Id, who knows a fellow snake-mangler when he sees one.
As soon as victory had been declared on the Ridge, Dashmob had taken the place of the fallen macedwarf Eshtan in order to lead the Salves of Shade, the squad at the core of the fort’s military. As well as replacing the squad’s casualties, the War Mayor had promoted one of its members – the wild wrestler called Nomal, known as the Carnival of Fists thanks to her actions in the melee – to lead a new squad of her own.
Nomal’s ten rookie dwarves, without a day’s fighting experience between them, had been wanting for a unit name. And luckily, their sergeant had needed to look no further than the new mayor to find one. For you see, when Dashmob had relieved Urist of her mayorship, he had also taken from her the Dabbling Dirge: the golden greaves she had forged in a bizarre attempt to consolidate her power the previous year.
Dashmob, just like Urist, is a fan of greaves. It’s a mayor thing.
In order to fit his tremendous breadth (Dashmob, I imagine, has calves like watermelons) the War Mayor had hammered the gleaming leg guards into a far more squat shape. And looking at these mashed armour pieces, Nomal had found her inspiration: her squad would be called the Squashed Golds. Ok then.
But the War Mayor had not expected the fort’s expanded military to fight without armour of their own. He knew all too well that when the goblins decided to return, they would come armed to the teeth, and so he had commanded the manager Udil to start a mass forging operation.
Day and night since then, the furnaces have been raging in the caverns below, and the fortress has danced to the sound of ringing hammers. Copper mail and bronze plate have been stacking up in the barracks, along with blades and bludgeons of all kinds for the new soldiers. It’s been like a Toby Carvery, but with weapons instead of meat.
As well as this anvil-fresh regulation uniform, the recruits have been supplementing their kit with choice pieces looted from the increasingly rotten goblins. Id in particular has cobbled together an astonishing sort of Ned Kelly ensemble, involving a bismuth bronze helm, steel chain leggings, steel gauntlets and big bronze plate boots. He’s still shirtless, though.
By now, the dwarves have picked the battlefield clean, and the ridge is once again deserted but for the weasels and rattlesnakes of the undergrowth. But as Dashmob looks out now, he can see a lone figure picking its way through the tooth-strewn, fly-haunted carnage.
It is little Amost. The child, only just able to walk, is Snakebuster’s own daughter. She had been the first dwarf born in the fortress, delivered right onto the floor of Lorbam’s godawful zoo, right as her father had kicked open a snake in the woods above. It had been an auspicious birth.
Given Amost’s dramatic arrival, she had been seen by many as a gift from Zon, the goddess of war and fortresses, and Lorbam’s chosen deity. Thinking back on this weird heritage, Dashmob is unsurprised by how at ease the child seems in the nightmare of the battlefield. Indeed, she seems to be playing make-believe, standing between the ruined corpse of the trapper Mistem, who had been tortured to death by goblins at the battle’s start, and the mangled skeleton of a rattlesnake, smithereened by her own father.
Is she wondering at the moral difference between the circumstances of the two corpses? Is she proud of her father’s work? Or just revelling in the grisly remnants of war? It’s hard to guess at what she’s thinking – but it’s certainly pretty fucking intense for a two year old. As the sun sets over the reeking jungle, Dashmob looks down at the distant girl, locking eyes with them, and sees something much older and fiercer than childhood looking back at him.
Early Autumn, Y3
Of course, Amost had not been Zon’s only gift to the fortress, as Dashmob is soon reminded.
As Autumn sets in, the Haunted Blood is back, and it’s everywhere. The mysterious liquid is, very literally, the blood of the basement’s founder Lorbam, even though there has not been so much as a scratch on her body in two years. It seems the blood has other modes of ingress into the world: sometimes it flows from the many wounds of Id the Snakebuster, while sometimes it just appears from nowhere.
Great pools of it are collecting in the jungle, while streams of it are trickling viscously from the fort’s palisade wall. It smears the stairways of the fortress, and has turned the fort’s water supply red. Worse yet, where the water storage cistern was cracked open to release the drowning lumberjack Rakust, it created a huge cavern of mud in which cave crops are now being grown – and the silt around their roots is stained deep carmine. The beer brewed from that pale wheat, it is said, reeks of blood.
At this point, there are some pretty spooky theories going around the fortress. Some say Lorbam is Zon’s chosen, and that her blood is identifying a lineage of champions in Id and Amost. Others say that Amost is an avatar of Zon herself, conjured through her father’s rattlesnake sacrifices, and brought to full awareness through the massacre on the ridge. Others still claim the blood is a sign of Zon’s anger at the neglect of Lorbam’s original mission to build a zoo, and warns that dreadful vengeance is on it way. In any case, the blood is only growing thicker, and everyone is on edge.
Dashmob is no fool, however. While he himself is a worshipper of Gigin Eges, the Flier of Persuading (a male deity associated with birth and youth, who I imagine as a sort of charismatic hovering baby), he knows weird shit when he sees it. The War Mayor knows he has to make a grand gesture, and the honouring of the dead seems like a good place to start. After all, the last thing the fortress needs is ghosts.
The deep tomb complex is expanded into a proper catacomb, and more gold is found in the walls. Dashmob pledges it all to the memorial effort. Golden sarcophagi are forged for all the fallen, and are then installed within mausoleums of copper and green glass, out of respect for the style established as Lorbam’s. In some cases the dead are interred in several bags, but they are all put to rest at least. Furthermore, a golden statue is commissioned, and placed on the site of the battle, amidst a quagmire of holy blood.
The memorial statue is a sculpture of several fly men. This is admittedly… a bit off, as I imagine fly men looking like the final stage of the creature from The Fly, and that’s not exactly what you want on a war memorial. Still, it seems gruesomely appropriate to a battlefield that was left to fester for half the summer before getting cleared up.
There’s a final memorial to be built, however. You see, Lorbam, being Lorbam, doesn’t really care about the recent battle. She’s way more bothered about the Donkey which starved to death earlier in the year, as she had been hoping to put it in the Basement as a star attraction, and to give the lion something to shout at.
And as stubborn as Lorbam is, she isn’t prepared to give up on that particular dream. So she hauls a pedestal of violet spessartine to her zoo, and then hauls the putrefied donkey carcass down from the surface to dump on top of it.
Almost immediately, visitors to the zoo begin to retch and gag on the clouds of stench rolling off the carcass, and the miasma billows up to fill the Great Harvester, the mezzanine tavern overlooking the basement. Nobody can enjoy a nice plate of weasel meat and mashed papaya without the stink of liquified donkey to go with it, and that’s not ideal for a tavern.
A less relaxed dwarf than Dashmob might have kicked off at this disruption from the fort’s founder. But the War Mayor is a chill dude. In any case, he’s not keen to disrespect someone whose haunted blood is all over the floor, and who is probably favoured by the god of war. And so, overnight, he arranges for a cube of green glass to be built around the donkey’s plinth, so Lorbam can enjoy it in a less… olfactorily difficult fashion.
Satisfied with his problem solving, the War Mayor commissions the creation of two new toy boats, and has them installed on display stands in his office to enjoy. Things might still be a little ropey, but the fort’s military grows stronger every day, and they’re armed at last. When the goblins come back in the spring, he’ll be ready to face them.
Quick shout out for the bin fans out there: Etur, one of the carpenters, has been cranking out some absolutely world class bins, much to the delight of craftsdwarf Imush, who you may remember is utterly wild for them. Imush might not have done much for a few episodes, but I’ve not forgotten about him, and I just want you all to know he’s still out there, thinking about bins.
Next time on the BoC: A new term begins at Dingo School! A gigantic beast! Dashmob gets to test his axe sooner than expected!