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The Purging of Shieldfrenzy

10 June 2012, 10:06 Rating: 12 [+]

Big Trouble in Little Innsmouth. Or, Urist McTheyCalledMeMad cancels Masterwork Dwarf Fortress: Goes mad from the revelation.

"These large terrifying creatures resemble a hideous mixture of dwarf and carp. Inbreeding and vile sorcery transforms everyone who joins their cult to these amphibious monsters. According to legend these ugly beasts were first seen in the fortress of Innsmouth long ago. Their only reason to live is to destroy the work of Armok and recruit more members to their cult. If you are reading this it is already too late... your fortress is not safe anymore. A cult leader made it his home and is undermining your authority. Pray to Armok for salvation..."

The Dwarfs of Shieldfrenzy had a Cultist problem.

They also had a Vampire problem, but that didn't seem as threatening, somehow.

It was difficult to determine precisely when the Carp God's Cult Leader first arrived in Shieldfrenzy, but everydwarf remembers when the first cultist revealed himself, the city's Labor Manager, Kolad Igathzuglar. Kolad was a real asshole, so this did not come as a complete surprise. The cultist renounced the power of Armok, dismissing Him as a petty and meaningless god, and struck out against his kinsdwarfs in the unspeakable name of his Carp God master.

This did not go well for the cultist. Kolad of the Carp God's Cult murdered two dwarfs before the city's militia were able to realize the madness that was happening and strike him down. The cultist likely knew he would not survive declaring war on the entire city (not to mention the entirety of dwarvenkind). Madness.

For months before the first cultist's reveal, the dwarfs had been experiencing what can only be described as some highly Lovecraftian shit. A dwarf steps upon a rotten fish while walking the halls of his subterranean city, suddenly realizing where that awful stench is coming from. Someone has carved out the fish's eyes. A dwarf sees a roiling cloud of darkness in one of the hallways of the fortress, but no matter how far towards it she runs, she can never reach it. A dwarf notices some of his fellow citizens disappear at strange hours of the day, reappearing later with a mysterious shift in personality and character. The metalsmith who was once a recluse is now going out of her way to make friends with the younger dwarfs, inviting them off to the uncommon parts of the deep fortress, parts that nobody goes anymore. Days later, the same metalsmith erupts in to a horrible abomination, a cross somewhere between a dwarf and a carp. Everyone who sees her is paralyzed with unnatural fear.

Armed with the knowledge of the Cult's existence, the dwarfs of Shieldfrenzy investigated the lore behind the Carp God's Cult. There were few clues to be had, and what little they did learn, they did not like. But one tasty morsel of information did escape the cult's sadistic history: Dwarfs of the cult lived to defy Armok, and Armok's power was all that could reveal them before they revealed themselves to attack against their kinsdwarfs.

Wards blessed with the power of Armok would provide a bastion against any cultists trying to infiltrate the dwarven cities, and break the masquerade of any cultists already hidden.

But the dwarfs of Shieldfrenzy did not know how to construct these wards, nor did they have the means to. The Mountainhome did.

The next caravan from the dwarven Mountainhome, the City of Mightiness, was due to arrive soon. When the caravan did arrive, it brought no wards with it. Why would it? Shieldfrenzy had not requested them. The Outpost Liason told the Mayor that wards could be brought in with the next caravan, but that would be a full year until its return.

A full year with the Cult of the Carp God already inside the city, a full year of the cultists spreading their oily, tainted grasp in to the minds of its citizens.

But the caravan did bring something special for trading. The caravan brought mastiffs, and the caravan brought golems. Massive automatons of solid metal, their right arms were formed in to entire weapons. Hammers, spears, swords. The mastiffs were enormous canines heavier than the dwarfs themselves, loyal and ferocious, the perfect guards.

Martial Law arrived hella fast in Shieldfrenzy. The city's named turned out to be just a little bit prophetic. Anywhere there was likely to be a gathering of dwarfs, the golems and mastiffs and soldiers watched, vigilantly.

There were not a small number of incidences with the cultists, and then shortly after, there were not a small number of dismembered body parts, cut to pieces by the golems and soldiers, or torn to shreds by the dogs. It was glorious. It was also quite disturbing, dwarfs who had been model citizens and workers one day were morphing in to horrible fish-men the next day, gibbering madly, clawing and biting at their kinsdwarfs.

When the caravan from the Mountainhome came the following year, one of its wagons spontaneously caught fire, and the entire fucking caravan decided to turn back. The writer of this passage would like to stress that this is not an exaggeration, it happened, and it was super lame. A single ward survived the burning wagon, left behind, and the Outpost Liason refused to let the dwarfs of Shieldfrenzy claim it, stating that it had not been traded for. This, too, was infuriating.

A prison was built to house the dwarfs suspected of being cult members (and, later, a vampire who was very bad at covering their tracks). It didn't take long for dwarfs to begin gathering at the empty prison cells, seemingly returning there in their every moment of free time. The Mayor of Shieldfrenzy wondered why, but said nothing about it, already accused of being paranoid as it was. More than one dwarf who later turned out to be a cult member was one of the same who gathered around the empty cells.

The Outpost Liason left the city a month later, but did not take the ward with him. The dwarfs of Shieldfrenzy were not willing to wait yet another year for the caravan to return, they were going to take action, even if it meant upsetting the Mountainhome. There might not be a Shieldfrenzy for the caravan to return to in the coming years, otherwise. And, frankly, this was a seriously shitty thing for the traders to do, abandoning their kinsdwarfs in their time of need. The dwarfs of Shieldfrenzy were taking that ward.

The Militia Commander, a stone-cold badass rightly known as Vucar Cultsmasher, organized his soldiers in secret. He did not know if he could trust them all, if they had already been tainted by the cult, but he trusted them more than the rest of the city. The Dusks of Bone Axedwarf Squad departed in to the wilderness, leaving the city defended only by its menagerie of golems, mastiffs, and traps. They gathered around the ward and grabbed it with all their might, but could not move it. They could not lift it, could not shift it, not even an inch.

This was most troubling, to say nothing of how frustrating it was. But Vucar Cultsmasher was a clever dwarf, the exact kind of dwarf it takes to survive as militia commander in a damned city. The soldiers began to construct an Altar of Armok right there around the ward, hoping to imbue it with the necessary power to reveal cult members, even if they could not move that power.

Several cultists revealed themselves and attacked the citizens in the absence of the militia, and many dwarfs died. Shieldfrenzy was in bad shape.

Days later, the Vucar Cultsmasher convinced the Mayor to call for a gathering around the altar. Many scoffed at the idea, most because it was outside and these dwarfs had some rather bad reactions to direct sunlight, some because they suspected something suspicious about such a gathering, and some because dwarfs are just very stubborn creatures.

All eighty-two citizens of Shieldfrenzy gathered around the altar in the wilderness outside of their city. The number would have been considerably higher if not for the cult. It had not been a request, more of a mandatory event, with golems as ushers. A pair of Dragon Raptors, the only thing of worth the elven traders had ever offered, brought up the rear vanguard. The dwarfs of Shieldfrenzy were very nervous about this collection of events.

Vucar Cultsmasher considered giving a speech about the nature of dwarven strength and the power of his people, but he decided against it. This was not a time for inspiring rambles. This was a tragedy and a horror that had gone on for too long already, he could not delay this one moment longer. Vucar called out to the Great Armok, grasping the ward with one hand and raising his mithril axe high to the sky with the other. The axe smashed down on to the altar, erupting in a brilliant golden smoke that washed over the area.

The ward became a font of Armok's might and rage, revealing the hidden cultists for what they really were. Armok, even at the best of times, was a very angry god. The Cult of the Carp God made Him furious.

It was Ingiz Shemrazot, a well-liked mining dwarf. His twisted form was an unruly and deeply unsettling thing, I dare not commit it to words. The Cult Leader conjured waves of grime and vomit from seemingly nowhere, firing it off over the crowd of dwarfs.

The dwarfs of Shieldfrenzy were not prepared for such a sight. They froze in terror, incapable of understanding the foul creature. Only the mastiffs seemed to overcome the madness, pouncing on the Cult Leader, plunging in to the fray of grime and blood.

The rest of the cult members had their masks torn away by the ward, dwarfs who could have done irreparable damage to the entire City of Mightiness if left unchecked. The legendary stoneworker, one of the strongest soldiers, even the mayor himself.

The dogs were the first to die. Alone in their struggle, the carp-dwarfs tore them to pieces. The soldiers regained their composure, some of them anyway. Vucar Cultsmasher cut the mayor down without a moment's thought, the very same dwarf he had trusted the second before. The cultists were short work for the remaining militia, they had been picking them off for years now. When only the Cult Leader himself remained, Vucar had a terrible moment of despair, fully believing he could do nothing against the creature, believing he could do nothing to protect his city. The Militia Commander fled the battlefield. It was not a proud moment.

Many brave dwarfs stood their ground against the Cult Leader, though they were a bare fraction of the city's population. The golems had mindlessly returned to their guard-posts, and the few dogs that had accompanied the soldiers were already dead.

In the end, two soldiers, a berserker mining dwarf, and a dragon raptor all collided with the Cult Leader again and again until the abomination finally bled out and died from its many cuts. Vucar Cultsmasher returns only seconds later, discovering his moment of panic had cost him. To be fair to Vucar the Badass, he slew several of the cult members, both before and during the final Purging of Shieldfrenzy.

The Altar of Armok was stained with many disgusting and unidentifiable messes. The ward was bruised and broken in places, but it survived largely intact, proudly watching over the altar.

A Forest Titan appeared a few minutes after the bloodshed had died down, and was summarily slaughtered by the expert militia. It was probably the least threatening thing that happened that year.

The dwarfs, battered, bloodied, and many of them miserable, survived the Cult of the Carp God. The Purging of Shieldfrenzy was, without doubt, the hardest and most awesome thing I have done in Dwarf Fortress.

The dwarfs are building. This is what dwarfs do best. They are building a shrine around the Altar of Armok to serve as a remembrance of this history, they are engraving a memorial slab to Ingiz Shemrazot, the Cult Leader, so that all who pass by this place in the years to come can know what happened here. The dwarfs of Shieldfrenzy want everydwarf to understand the Cult of the Carp God, even if the understanding is painful. Armok is an angry god at the best of times, but He protects the dwarfs who earn His mightiness.

This is Madness. This is Dwarf Fortress.

(Disclaimer: This all really happened. Small bits of flavor text were added for the sake of storytelling, but the events were neither exaggerated nor fabricated. Dwarf Fortress writes itself. The parts you may/may not recognize are likely from the Masterwork Dwarf Fortress mod set.)