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Author Topic: The Insidious Sons of Steelhold -- Revival Succession Fortress  (Read 115962 times)

Gnorm

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Re: The Insidious Sons of Steelhold -- Revival Succession Fortress
« Reply #600 on: February 16, 2014, 10:59:17 pm »

Please wait until I post the ending before you post the epilogues, for easy reading's sake. I think that General Earthgrowl from the original prologue should make an appearance in the epilogue, just to give him a bit more character.

EDIT: I'm going to post the ending first, then edit in the pictures later.
« Last Edit: February 16, 2014, 11:33:03 pm by Gnorm »
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Gnorm

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Re: The Insidious Sons of Steelhold -- Revival Succession Fortress
« Reply #601 on: February 17, 2014, 12:30:07 am »

Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes
I.

The fortress was already in shambles. The dwarves went about their daily lives, doing no work and contributing absolutely nothing to the already crumbling fortress in which they lived. Nevertheless, the old penal colony still maintained some vague semblance of order within its halls and it seemed as if their society would simply make a gradual disappearance. The future, however, is often unpredictable, and not all fortresses are as they seem.

The year two-hundred-sixty-two had just begun when one member of society decided that there was no further need for the continuing existence of Steelhold. He did, after all, have more important matters to attend to, and Steelhold was just a single step in his master plan; therefore, he decided that he would move on to his next step. Making his way down to the lowest depths of the fortress, he proceeded down a flight of stairs which lead right through a tunnel of warm, blue ore. He found himself in an impressive structure composed of silver—comfortable in decoration, though comfort was not his goal in this instance.

He trod quietly past the bedchambers of Dr. Asmoth, who had made a home for Thikut, her daughter, and herself in this place. As he passed, he could hear the doctor holding a conversation with the young girl.

"Mother, I can catch him within a month! I don't need to sleep, and the desert will slow him down. Think of how far he put up back!" Thikut shouted.

"No, child. You think. You have no way of knowing where Kairus went, and if someone else finds you, a child travelling alone through a desert is going to raise questions! Just- Did you hear that?"

The dwarf did not waste any more time eavesdropping, but proceeded on with his goal. He came up to a great drawbridge, and with a mighty push, managed to let it fall down before him, opening the fortress to the world of the demons.

The dwarf stepped out of the tower and called out into the darkness: "Brothers! The moment of our triumph is nearing fast!"

The dwarf stepped into the light of the fires, allowing himself to be seen by the many eyes of the damned. He was a young dwarf, though he stood tall and had an aura of nobility to him. As the devils bagan to gather, he swept a bow and removed his hat. "I must introduce myself now. My name is James Joyce Esq. -- also known as 'Corley.'"

Asmoth, faintly hearing the noise, eased open the door of her bedroom, peering down the corridor. There was a familiar silhouette lit by the glow of the pits outside, though she could not see its face.

"Lenehan!" she gasped, then realized there shouldn't have been any light behind him.

"Not quite, doctor," grinned Corley. Behind him, the demons massed.

"Thikut, find Shank or Uristador. Tell them they need to get everyone out of Steelhold, now." Asmoth was vaguely proud that her daughter didn't waste time asking questions. She clicked her tongue disapprovingly at the legions of Hell.

"At least your father had some imagination. Releasing the horrors of the underworld? Bit of a cliché, don't you think?"

She then threw a scalpel at her grand-nephew's head. He quickly threw himself on his back, allowing it to fly right over him. He then got back to his feet with incredible speed.

"If you think that I'm allied with the demons you are sorely mistaken. As for imagination, couldn't you have done anything more impressive than simply throwing your scalpel?"

Asmoth glared at her nephew, tilting her head down and showing her fangs.

"Must I remind you that I myself am a vampire as well? After all, I have you to thank for that."

Corley leapt back and motioned for the demons to gather.

"I'm afraid that our reunion must be held off temporarily, for I have business to attend to."

He ran up the stair way into the fortress itself, leading the demons along with him. Although the demons did not know it, they were not heading in the direction of the fortress, but rather to a pool of magma where several hundred vampires once perished.

. . .

Uristador stalked through the tunnels beneath Steelhold. He couldn't remember the last time he'd had a drink. Well, rather he preferred not to remember it; that poor dwarf had trusted him.

Funny, nobody tells you about all this when you enlist. You hear all this talk about the honor and glory of your nation. Nobody ever talks about having to watch your friends die. Nobody tells you that you might have to do it; they expect soldiers to be machines. Well, he certainly wasn't a machine.

The sound of battle could be heard somewhere in the tunnels. Probably a berserk dwarf. With luck, that one would be occupied in killing some of the wild-life that Steelhold had once farmed, and nobody he was responsible for. Uristador shuddered. He was not going to wind up like one of those poor bastards, their mind gone and replaced with pure animalistic rage.

As much as it pained him to admit it, Steelhold was dead and buried. It was time to move on, and as soon as possible. As soon as the Guard could move out of the infirmary and set out for civilization. Maybe they could find mercenary work.

Then it hit him; there shouldn't be a breeze down there. The smell of brimstone drifted across his nostrils. That could only mean one thing; somewhere, there was a breach.

Panic seized him. If the demons were free, what hope did he have? They'd killed Rhaken, and that tough old bastard was at least twice the soldier he was.

But then again, Rhaken hadn't had a weapon like Uristador had. Hefting his artifact adamantine axe, Uristador braced himself. Maybe there was some redemption to be gained dying to hold back the horde; at least he'd never have to drain another dwarf again. Steelhold deserved a last stand.

He began to run into the depths of the fortress, to Lower Steelhold. After all, there was no mistaking it. The screams and howls coming from the deep could only mean the Hell-Spawn were loose. Not for the first time, Uristador cursed whoever decided to put the lever for Emdief's last project so far down; there was no way to pull it in the event of a breach unless someone happened to be right there while it occurred. Not that it could have stopped the horde, but softening them up could have helped them all live a little longer.

More members of the Guard had gathered around the staircase, waiting for the first of the demons to come upwards. Uristador knew he should be down there, and he would return as soon as possible, but someone had to prepare. At this point, he couldn't martial the masons to block off the lower levels entirely, so the demons couldn't be contained in the fort. The only option left was to martial those who could fight, and let the others evacuate.

Uristador never really wanted to lead. So long as people let him be, he saw no reason to ask anything of them. He assumed they wanted to be left alone as much as he did. Steelhold's remnant deserved someone better than him to send them to their deaths.

Then he got an idea, one crazy enough to work. It's not like things could get much worse.

He knew the room well; the faction had been using it to meet since Asmoth took over. It was no difficult task to find what he was seeking. He pushed with all of his might, and Emdief's slab toppled and fell to the ground with a crash.

. . .

The iron flavor of blood shook the dwarf to his senses. It dribbled down his chin, still warm, dripping down onto his breastplate. His hands were soaked in it, up to the wrist.

Shank groaned; he had done it again. He had let the beast take control. After fighting the urge for months, he had collapsed, only to wake up in this very situation—wandering the hallways, with another dwarf's blood all over him. Had his victim survived? Probably not. When the hunger took him, he rarely stopped. It was like a battle frenzy, taking away all sense of himself and replacing it with a singular urge to feed.

He had given up on his work. Both as royal guard, and as royal spymaster. How could he manage a network of spies if he couldn't even manage his own impulses? And the queen was under arrest, locked away where none could get to her. Her sentence called for decades of imprisonment. In another time, perhaps, the irony would have pleased him immensely. Imprisoned in her own penal colony, how droll; the chief would have loved it.

Limbs trembling, Shank wandered the hallways. He wasn't sure where he was going. Sights passed him by without fully registering in his twisting mind. He passed other dwarves, some cursed, some mortal. He paid them no heed. His feet were taking him somewhere and hadn't deigned to inform his brain what their destination was.

Thoughts assailed him as he walked. Despite this entire ordeal and the horrors he had seen and done, Shank felt stronger, somehow. His senses were sharper than ever as well. He could hear the heartbeats of the creatures around him, smell the delicious blood in their veins. His mace felt light as a feather, and his armor felt light as a pig tail cloak. And what had it cost him? The ability to eat? To drink? To die of old age? The price didn't seem quite so overwhelming anymore.

But then what little conscience he had left came back, and with it came the guilt. He had killed plenty in his life, but never had he murdered another dwarf. Nor had he ever taken leave of his senses like this. Was this the curse's fault as well? Or was he heading down this road even before that fateful day with the chalice of blood?

Shank's feet stopped. Looking down, he saw a bin, its lid most of the way off. He was in the stockpiles. Amidst piles of green glass trinkets, he saw a glimmer of gold. Not fully aware of what he was doing, Shank dipped his hand into the bin and retrieved the object, examining it in his hands.

A golden, featureless mask. It radiated power. Shank looked into its empty eyes. The mask told him all its secrets.

Somewhere in the distance, the howls of demons could be heard.

. . .

There were at least twenty demons inside the tower before Asmoth pulled the lever in her room, and perhaps ten more before the gears finally ground into motion. The entrance of the Silver Tower rumbled and flowed as sections of it shifted and fused together, sealing the entrance again. The beast clawing at her door finally gave up and followed the rest.

"Why does everyone in my family except me have to be insane?" muttered Asmoth, pulling on her tattered dwarf-leather lab-coat. She quickly exited her tower and began to run through the fortress.

She couldn't remember much about Corley. Quiet child, maybe a bit too clever for his own good, and then Lenehan had gone off to war, and she'd been in prison before he'd come back. She wasn't sure if it was good or bad that the masked dwarf wasn't around, but it didn't really matter. The best she could do with the information she had was find Thikut and start the project again somewhere else. There were plenty of dead names they could use. Of course, they'd have to hang around long enough to see what Corley was actually doing, but there were plenty of loose-ends she could tie up in the meantime.

She suddenly found herself in a dark chamber. She could hear a faint breathing sound coming from the other side of the room.

"Who are you?" asked a voice. Asmoth peered and recognized the voice immediately. She soon realized she had gone straight to her first loose-end without even thinking about it.
"Don't worry about me, your Majesty," she said brightly. "I'm just someone on the lookout for a pound of flesh."

The screams didn't stop for a long time.

. . .

Corley marched through the halls with the demons and he led them to a great pit of fire, and beckoned them to enter. Smarter demons would have found this suspicious, but Corley brought only the most foolish with him, and devils fear no fire. They filed into the pool until no more could possibly fit, and then Corley began to remove his gloves. Once removed, his quivering hands were revealed, and his veins began to pulse and glow a dull red. It was exactly as he had hoped, for he knew that a vampire such as he could make use of simple magic, and Steelhold was utterly flowing with magic at this point.

He began to mutter the incantation, and the flames in the pool grew hotter as he did. They soon became so hot that even the demons themselves began to scream. Some tried to crawl out of the magma, but they were disintegrated before they had a chance. The earth shook violently, and several structures and stairways built within the fortress began to crumble. When the spell was complete, the fires died down, until all the magma had cooled to rock.

Miles above, in the fortress itself, the dwarves about the halls began to feel intense emotions. They felt sorrow, joy, pain, hate, ecstasy, and melancholy all at the same time. It was too much for any dwarf, even though many were vampires. They began to throw the furniture and engage in fistfights. Within minutes, metal weapons were drawn. It was brother pitted against brother in the dining hall.

. . .

Oku blinked, disoriented. She had not intended to return to Steelhold. The gods must require something more of her here, then. Her mask had been left here, true, but that was on purpose.

A cry of alarm rang out from across the room, drawing Oku's attention. Across the room stood an unfamiliar dwarf, next to a broken slab.

Oku grinned, not bothering to raise her illusions.

"A little dwarf, alone in the fortress? What a shame. I could have used a challenge."

Oku stomped once, and the ground around her erupted. When the dust settled, the dwarf no longer faced an unarmed human, but one encased in massive sheets of black iron, wielding a pair of titanic swords as if they weighed nothing at all.

"Now come forth, little dwarf, and meet your death."

Uristador knew his assailant. That he was certain of. But where could he have seen this monstrous apparition before? It didn't matter; today was as good a day as any to die.

“Iron, eh?” He hefted his axe. The craftsdwarfship was exquisite; not even a king had a weapon this fine. Uristador would never stop wondering why fate had offered him it.

“Why don't ye come see what a real metal can do to yer’ knees, ye’ tall bastard. Ye’ might've thought yer’ home down there was hell. Common mistake to make, ye’ see, because Steelhold will make that seem like a bloody vacation.”

When he saw the slightest hesitation in the apparition's eyes, Uristador didn't bother to turn around. It was pretty obvious what would happen after he toppled the slab. He had never been made for leadership. The best choice he could make was to be led.

He didn't react as the vengeful spirit of Emdief entered his body. He had been ready to die for some time, now. He joined the voices of Steelhold's dead whispering in their champion's head. They never could get their hands on a savior, but perhaps they'd find themselves an avenger.

The dwarf who had once been Uristador's eyes glazed over, and his face broke into a manic grin. Where he stood, a void grew as magic fled from his awful presence.

“Well then. No mask, I see. Shame, that. I had explicit instructions from Modi to shove that down your throat.”

Cackling madly, Emdief swung at the human's legs.

Oku deflected the blow without thinking about it, swinging the other blade at the reborn Emdief's chest. The dwarf jumped away from the blow, showing more agility than he had ever demonstrated in his previous two lifetimes. Oku stepped back slashing one blade in an arc, sending a blast of shadows rippling over Emdief to no noticeable effect.

"Interesting. Your magic resistance remains intact."

That's right, demon-woman. No magic tricks for you.

Oku grinned, swinging both blades towards the dwarf, who was forced to duck one and parry the other. Before Emdief could respond, her swords were back in defensive positions.

"Don't be so sure, little dwarf.  I can still crush you like a gnat. I have over two hundred years of combat experience. What can you claim?"

Emdief responded only with more attacks, which were met with more counter-attacks. Emdief dodged and weaved, but every strike he attempted was knocked aside before it began. He had to admit, Oku had become a fearsome fighter over the centuries. Despite Modi yelling advice at him, he still couldn't land a hit.

Suddenly, Oku hesitated, as if distracted. Seeing his chance, Emdief lept in to strike.

Faster than he could have thought possible, Oku whipped both of her blades around, slamming the flats against his chest. He was aloft before he knew what hit him, slamming into the wall on the far side of the room.

Pain washed over him, threatening to overwhelm his consciousness. He fought against it, struggling to rise, but it hurt too much. Through a haze of pain, he heard Oku speak,

"Think long and hard on this, little one. Remember this the next time you cross me."

By the time he managed to stand, Oku was long gone. Emdief staggered through Steelhold. How could he have let that thing get away? The voices in his head were oddly quiet; ominously quiet.

Almost subconsciously, he walked back to his office and retrieved his gear. It seemed so simple. He had to have a purpose, having been sent back again. The current state of the fortress could be traced back to the Masked One. Had Asmoth self-taught magic? Had Corley really decided alone to dig so far down, despite already having adequate stocks of adamantine? Inconceivable. It all came back to the Masked One. It had to die.

Retrieving his crossbow, Emdief set down to work. These hands were rather nimble. In no time, he'd detatched the arrowhead and replaced it with a broad, sharpened wood opal. He grabbed a vial of Lenehan's substance, diluted it with forbidden beast extract, and lathered it onto the point. Then he wound his crossbow.

It was time to resume the hunt.

. . .

Asmoth put the queen back in her cage. The doctor was pretty sure she'd live, but a few nerve endings wouldn't be working again any time soon. She absent-mindedly licked some of the blood off her fingers, winced at the taste and wrote a reminder to test if it was nobles or other vampires that tasted so horrible. The screams in the air finally got through to her, but she decided it was probably some ruffians taking the opportunity to riot. She had to find Thikut before she did anything else, especially now that the fortress seemed to be glowing, shaking, and bleeding. The doctor spat. Magic. All it did was get people blown up.

"Mother?" Thikut inquired several minutes later. There were a couple of children with her that were normally covered in blood and smiling. Now they looked like children: scared and following the only person who looked like they knew what was going on.

"Thikut, I need you to do exactly what I tell you, okay?"

The girl nodded slowly.

"Go north and stay at the first fortress you find. Spin them the old 'my home is overrun and I can't find my mommy' story. Do not kill anybody! If I'm not there in a year, find somewhere you can start a cult of the vampire baby or something, and restart the project. My notes are all here," she added, handing the child her journal.

"But what about you?" her daughter asked.

"Well, first I'm going to finish setting up these flasks. Then I'm going to have a family reunion, and if I don't like what your cousin is doing, I'm going to give him a slap." Asmoth grinned, raising the queen's severed arm. "If he kills me, these should catch fire in an hour or two, causing that big old pile of booze I've been making to explode, which should put a dint in anyone's plans."

Thikut nodded, wiping something away from her eye as she did. Asmoth watched them go, then headed into the madness that was Steelhold.

Meanwhile, Corley calmly took a stroll around Steelhold. Everywhere he looked, dwarves were murdering each other. They sliced, stabbed, and mauled those that were once friends and family, occasionally taking strikes at themselves as well. What little reason was left in any of them was shocked to find that they were lasting much longer than they would normally. In fact, many had lost several limbs and had their intestines pulled out, but they were not dying. They continued to fight, and it seemed as if their injuries were healing during the rare moments when they were not in combat.

Eventually, Corley came to his destination: the tombs. Not even this dark, secluded area would be spared the insanity of the fort. His face twisted into a smirk, as he saw the corpses convulse and flop out of their caskets and onto the floor. Their faces showed terrible pain, as twisted souls of vampires and demons alike entered their bodies. Each one began to grow large fangs, like those found on vampires. These, however, were not vampires, but an even worse king of monster; before long, the dwarves fighting in the upper levels would become like them as well.

Corley exited the chambers, content that all was going according to plan. He had just one final destination, then he would leave Steelhold forever. He had to make one final trip to his father's lab.

. . .

Asmoth idly watched a pair of maddened vampires. Their fangs were longer than before, perhaps, and she was nearly certain that their eyes hadn't been glowing red. Another dwarf dove into the fight, dragging one of the combatants away with him. The other immediately turned, charging at the doctor as though he'd known she was there all along. Asmoth jumped away, which seemed to surprise him. He crashed into a wall, and Asmoth rammed a knife into his eye as he staggered back. He collapsed, but his eye repaired as soon as she took the knife out, so she could only assume his brain was healing too.

"It could have been great, you know," Asmoth told him as she turned him over. "No magic, no demons, no queen. Just us, working together. The world could have been ours." The dwarf was groaning, but stopped once she severed his spinal cord. She left the knife in this time.

"You know, it's times like this that I wish I'd studied combat more," she told the paralyzed dwarf. "On the other hand, killing him won't give me any answers, so I might as well ask him nicely."

She pushed to her feet, leaving her attacker behind and walked to her old office. Corley would want to be somewhere significant for his endgame, she thought, looking at the cracks in the ceiling. It was funny, they soothed the walls and floors, but never the ceiling. And it was covered in fissures, especially where the vents had gone on fire.

She thought for a moment. She had perhaps forty minutes before the explosion, plenty of time to check on the machine, barricade the room if he wasn't there yet and get out. She could probably even check the baron's old rooms, and his tomb was outside, so there was no time limit on that. Asmoth sighed and left, following the cracks.

. . .

Boots thundered down the stairwell. Dwarves ran down the steps, barrels of food and booze in hand, Shank holding up the rear.

"Quickly, through here!"

The dwarves scrambled through a doorway, into a section of the fortress that hadn't seen use in some time. They passed the old barracks, then through the abandoned archery range, around the execution pit and into the gulag. First built by Rhaken to house goblin POWs until their execution, the many chains in the room now held more exotic prisoners. A mantis woman, a thrips man and a family of albatross people, shrieking and cawing at the dwarves that had barged into their prison. Shank directed them through the massive lead door at the back of the room, into a long hallway of side-rooms and row upon row of restraints.

"Are you sure it's safe here?"

"As safe as can be for now," Shank told the dwarf. "There are several doors between us and them. If the demons come around, I'll hold them off."

The refugees began to settle in as Shank went to secure the doors, setting down the food and unpacking what meager belongings they had managed to bring with them. The royal guard had come to them promising safety, and they had all followed his instructions. Now, a great drowsiness came over them, a weariness in the bones that demanded them to rest. Within minutes, not a single dwarf stirred in the old POW camp. Not even when Shank put them in irons, one by one, chuckling and talking to himself as he went.

"Segregation, that's what we needed, oh yes. The mask was right, of course. I can't believe I didn't figure it out earlier." he wrapped chains around a dwarf's wrists. "Separate the mortals from the immortals! Brilliant. Simply brilliant. The chief would have been proud of me."

He tied chains around a child's legs. "Too bad I couldn't get them all. At least this lot wasn't hitting each other over the head just yet. It wouldn't do to lose them now, oh no. We're going to need every mortal we can get."

His work done, Shank dusted himself down, then helped himself to a quart of blood from a nearby fisherdwarf. A bit saltier than he liked it. He fished out the golden mask from his backpack. Twirling it this way and that in his hands, the spymaster assessed the bound dwarves in front of him.

"Hrm. Two breeding pairs and a calf. I'd hoped for more, but that will have to do."

Time dragged on, and his cattle began to awaken. Finally struck by the madness that had gripped the fortress, they began to scream and thrash, trying to claw at themselves, at each other, but kept from any such foolishness by their restraints. Shank felt more than heard the heartbeat of the one leaving the cage stockpiles in the other room. The unnatural rhythm of a vampire, one that Shank recognized. Asmoth was finally done with Kivish. If the mad doctor tried to barge in on him, she would find the door locked and bolted.

Once she was gone, Shank stepped outside, toward the cages. Following the trail of fresh blood, he reached his prize.

"Kivish."

Asmoth had done quite a number on the queen. Though her wounds were beginning to close, Shank could see the monarch's liver. Her entire right arm was gone. Her skin had been flayed, peeled apart with surgical precision, and was even now in the process of knitting itself back together, crawling over Kivish's exposed flesh like taupe slugs trailing blood. Her left eye had burst, and was now sluicing back into its socket, trying to return to its correct shape but not quite managing.

She looked up at him. "Shank... blood. I must have blood."

"Thy will be done."

Shank dragged the queen of the realm into the new cattle pen, directed her to the howling carpenter. The scent of circulating blood flooded Kivish's mind. She began to pant, mouth gaping so wide it tore slightly at the corners.

"No killing," Shank admonished. "We only have two breeding pairs."

Kivish sank her fangs into the carpenter's thigh. She began to feed. More screams all around, from the carpenter, from the other cattle, even from Shank. Because why the hell not, he figured. Everyone else is doing it.

He pulled the queen away before she could kill her victim. The fresh blood triggered her regeneration, and within minutes she looked presentable again.

"So. This is all we have?" She eyed the wretched dwarves, disappointed at how few had been salvaged from the madness.

"They are the only ones the mask could save," Shank offered. "The others will succumb to your rule, once the madness is done taking hold. Corley did well."

"Our rule, Shank," Kivish corrected, putting her one remaining hand on his shoulder. "Our rule."

The two vampires kissed like lovers lost in passion. Then they began to bite one another, savagely, without restraint, cackling in pleasure. They wouldn't kill each other. They were just having some fun.

In the depths of Steelhold, the dead stirred. Their shrieks held pain, rage, and most disturbing of all, triumph.

The King and Queen of Steelhold danced to the music of the dead
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Gnorm

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Re: The Insidious Sons of Steelhold -- Revival Succession Fortress
« Reply #602 on: February 17, 2014, 12:32:26 am »

II.

Corley took the two scrolls from his old desk. Dust and rubble from all the quaking left them slightly dirty, though a quick brush from his hands cleaned them up slightly. He then tucked them into the decorated blue long-coat hanging from a hook on the side of the wall, in which he then clothed himself. With the matching cap he placed upon his head, he looked just like an outpost liaison.

Corley walked up to the old glass machine, little more than a pile of broken pieces now, and removed the green grate in back. By doing so, he exposed the dark, burned vents that lead about the fortress. He knew that if he followed the tunnels carefully, he would escape through the caverns below, thus avoiding the Hell that was the upper-levels entirely. As he began to enter through the passageway, he heard the noise of footsteps coming towards the lab; these were footsteps that he recognized well. He turned around to see Asmoth emerge from the entrance.

"Grandaunt," he began, "What is your business here?"

"Answer me Corley," Asmoth replied, "What is it exactly that you are planning!"

Corley leaned against a wall and took a breath.

"I am going to exact revenge on all of Elvenkind!"

"Elves!"

"Precisely. They were the creatures that drove my father mad and sentenced our family to this Hell. It is only fitting that each one on this continent is killed. Years ago, I attempted -- though constant training and the breach of Hell itself -- to breed a soldier capable of using an adamantine arsenal to annihilate all elves. This project was a total failure, but it made me realize the necessity in strength of numbers. These powered-up vampires will ravage the island; no stone will be left un-turned!

"Grandaunt, leave this place now. The spell is nearing its final phase, and by that point its effects will be too potent even for you or me. These monsters have no sanity left, they are but mindless killing machines. Soon, they will bear no physical resemblance to an ordinary dwarf, for the healing processes that are a side-effect of the spell leave disfiguring scars after such fighting as they are taking part in. Leave, don't let your daughter and yourself be subject to such a fate. Find a new laboratory; build it in the ruins of this fortress after this is all over for all I care! We're immortal, we have an eternity to work with."

Corley drew a steel short-sword from within his coat. He wasn't very good, but he did have minor military experience from his days as "James;" Asmoth had almost none.

"If you would rather a fight, though, have at you!"

Asmoth hesitated. She was almost certain that Corley was insane if he thought that these mutants would only attack elves. The humans would be wiped out too, and any dwarf fortresses that couldn't hold a siege. Probably the goblins as well, but they didn't count.

"You should have come to me. There were so many other opportunities for improvements. Can these things even be commanded without magic?" Asmoth asked, sighing as Corley remained impassive. "If not, consider the benefit of them being intelligent. You don't want them falling into simple traps just out of bloodlust, right? All I'm asking for is five years. Keep them contained here, then head north to the first fortress flying a red and black flag."

"There are no fortresses with those colors."

"Not yet," Asmoth grinned. "You saw what I did in one year, think what I could do in five! You won't have a horde any more, you'll have an army, enough to sweep the entire world!"

"So what is in it for you?" asked Corley warily. Asmoth shrugged.

"Nothing, I suppose, except getting to watch the survival of the fittest in progress. Come, grand-nephew. As you said, we have eternity. What's five more years?"

Corley's grip on his sword quivered. He knew that his grandaunt was right; she could have great benefits to his causes. But he was also very suspicious of her, for he knew that she was quite crafty, as well as self-preserving. Also, what could she possibly be referring to regarding that flag? Corley didn't know, but he feared the potential answer. He raised his sword once more.

"I don't believe you!" he shouted, "I know that you just want these creatures for yourself! I already have hundreds of fearless, bloodthirsty, wild creatures to fulfill this. If you want to them for your experiments, you'll have to fight me."

With that, he lunged at Asmoth. She quickly jumped back, swearing, and removed the severed arm to use as a weapon. Corley brought the sword around in an overhead slash, then a strike at the knees, then reeled back as Kivish's hand caught him across the temple. He brought the sword up snarling, slicing the royal arm apart as the doctor tried to hit him with it again. Weaponless, the doctor retreated under a flurry of blows. She hissed in pain as her forehead was cut apart. Her back slammed into a wall, then Corley's sword went through her chest with a sickening crunch. Her nephew's snort of contempt was even louder than the agony.

There was a moment's pause, then Asmoth grabbed the blade's hilt and kicked Corley in the fork of the legs. The doctor staggered towards the door after he slumped to the ground, picking up a piece of Lenehan's machine in case he tried to stop her. She slammed the door on whatever her nephew was trying to say, then collapsed against it, feeling where the sword came in and out of her body.

Definitely a punctured lung and she couldn't lift her right arm properly, but the heart was fine and she didn't need to breathe anyway. Through the fog of pain, her mind tried to arrange itself. First, she had to find Thikut. No, first she should grab the dwarf she'd left paralysed, then she should get out, then she could find Thikut. Before Corley stabbed her again. Weaving slightly, she set out, leaving a trail of blood behind her.

Corley relaxed once Asmoth was far from the chambers. He knew that she would survive the injuries, being a vampire, but even she would be hard-pressed to escape in her condition. She would either die in combat or turn into a monster herself. Corley had won, and he was proud. He made his way to the vent once more, entered it, and sealed it again with the grate. He held out his palm and conjured a small flame in it to light his way; his abilities were little from lack of experience, and his demon spell was rapidly draining the magical energies from the fortress, but he could still maintain such a small charm.

After traveling for a while, Corley came to a turn. Right as he approached it, he felt an intense warmth, and instinctively jumped back as a jet of flame emerged from the corner. Corley carefully crept around, dagger at the ready, and beheld a horrifying sight. It was a dwarf, heavily affected by the spell. He had an iron hook for one hand and a metal crutch to support his one leg. He was on fire, perpetually burning and not dying to to the regeneration processes keeping his bodily functions, fat, and oils intact. His skin was burned in the third-degree, and his teeth were fully exposed due to a lack of lips. He left a trail of dripping blood wherever he went; he laughed and cried in joyous agony. As he saw his new prey, he tilted his head upwards and laughed madly, causing the fire to shoot up to the ceiling.

Corley could hardly recognize this creature, but he knew of only one that would turn to the fires if pushed beyond the brink of insanity. He was face-to-face with the last of the original prisoners of Steelhold: FireCrazy, the Mine Saboteur.

. . .

"Dwarf child!" Cacame shouted. "Why are you so far from home?"

The child paused and for a moment, Cacame got the disturbing feeling that she was watching his jugular, but then she burst into tears.

"Mommy said that bad things were coming, and we should run," she said between sobs. "She said the elves might take us to a nearby fortress because they're so kind. They might even be nice enough to take this gold that we took before leaving and can't carry any further."
One of the other merchants leaned across, whispering, "We're going to Gemtown anyway, might as well drop 'em off." Cacame nodded and helped the children up.

"What's your name?"

"Thikut"

. . .

Asmoth sighed in relief as she finally spotted daylight, but it was outweighed by the problems she was counting. She'd cut some samples off any dwarves she could, reasoning that they wouldn't make great travelling companions at the moment, but now her pockets were uncomfortably damp. There was a sword lodged in her chest, and she was pretty certain that she couldn't take it out yet without dying of blood loss. The wound was going to get infected in the desert heat since she couldn't treat it with only one working arm and she couldn't ask any trade caravans for help, since they'd ask stupid questions like how she was still alive. And to top it all off, she had a splitting headache, which probably meant Corley's magic was going to drive her insane if she stopped fighting it, but at least she didn't need sleep, so it couldn't get in that way.

She paused for a moment to check her flasks, which had started steaming and then ran into the light. Outside the fortress, the doctor leaned against a wall, holding her head in her left hand. She was just going to have to find Thikut. Tomorrow, she'd start a fire, pull out the sword and treat her wounds as best she could. Until then, Asmoth would walk north. There wasn't really anywhere else to go.

The doctor idly searched the pockets she had that weren't damp with miscellaneous liquids as she walked, laughing quietly as she pulled out that damned medallion. She'd been a prisoner nearly as long as she could remember over that piece of metal, but it seemed wrong to just throw it away after having it so long. Asmoth smiled as she held the gold up in the sunlight, admiring it in the same way she had all those years ago. Then she travelled north, to freedom.

. . .

Corley ran fast through the vents to escape the flaming monster. He knew that he could not possibly get in close enough to fight FireCrazy, for his dagger — unlike his steel sword – was made of iron, and would melt. In pursuit, the fiery-dwarf ran after him, laughing playfully and breathing clouds of fire and his target. Corley paid no attention to where he was running, and he soon found himself lost in the tunnels.

Corley eventually came to a dead end. Directly above him was a wooden grate, leading into the dining room, where the exhausted vampires, all covered in their terrible scars, lay resting and moaning. As far as he could reach, Corley could not manage to reach the grate to remove it and pull himself up. As FireCrazy’s footsteps began to grow louder, Corley felt a sudden realization that he was doomed to die. Was it that he had defied the will of the gods, and that he would the terrible retribution of such a crime? Corley began to fear that this was the truth.

But once FireCrazy’s form became visible to him, something completely unexpected occurred. A great explosion was heard, causing the entire fortress to shake and knocking both the dwarves off of their feet. More cracks began to form in the tunnels, and a section of the wall gave in, allowing the seawater to drench the burning dwarf completely. FireCrazy’s flames disappeared, and his body was soon wracked with the even greater pain of the salt on his wounds. Corley’s opinion on the gods’ will changed, and he felt that he had been given the chance he needed. Trudging through the water as quickly as he could, he went up to FireCrazy and sliced into his chest, severing a major coronary-artery. He then threw down his dagger and ran deeper into the tunnels.

Corley was drenched, tired, and scared, but he was alive. Finally, he came up to the wall-grate leading to the caverns. With a great push, the grate came loose and fell into the water far below. It was a great drop, but Corley was a vampire; he knew that he would survive. He leapt out of the tunnels and plunged into the waters below. The young vampire then swam far away from cursed fortress known as “Steelhold.”

. . .

Oku stalked through the fortress, searching for the mask. "That must be what the gods sent me back for," she mused.

Rounding the corner, she came across the fortress in chaos. Dwarves fought dwarves, weakly scratching and biting one another as their stamina depleted. She spat contemptuously, walking without fear through the middle of the melee.

"And just where do you think you are going?"

Oku whirled around, coming face to face with a dwarf she did not recognize.  The voice, however, she recognized. It was the voice of Modi.

"Welcome to your own personal Hell, traitor."

Around Oku, three other dwarves stopped fighting each other, turning towards Oku. A glance into the spirit realm revealed them to be Jackal, Rhaken, and Lorius Zane.

"You shouldn't be here." Oku proclaimed, weaving magic into the words, "Be gone."

Lorius smiled, "You see, we have permission from Armok to be here, to wreak his vengeance. You're the only one going anywhere."

With that, all four dwarves launched themselves forward, armor and weapons appearing around them.

The group fought for many hours; Oku was tiring. Individually, she could have beaten any of these dwarves, but something was draining the magic in the fortress, making it harder to keep channeling power into her attacks. As fast as she was, her assailants were faster. Were it not for her armor, she would have been struck down long ago, but nothing short of a magical attack could pierce infernal steel. Her swords cut through their armor like butter, but every time she struck one down they simply possessed another body.

After some time, the bodies ceased to become possessed, and Oku stood panting on a mound of what once could have been recognized as dwarves. The phantoms had vanished as suddenly as they appeared. But why? There were still plenty of bodies. Why did they stop?

Muttering a quick praise to her gods, Oku strode off the mound and towards the shadows at the room's edge. She dove towards them, but stumbled when the shadows failed to open her a path.

Then she realized: there was no magic in this room. None at all. And that could only mean one thing.

Just in time she spun, parrying Emdief's blow with enough force to send him staggering back. That fool. He should have known to quit by now. Striking with both blades, Oku moved in for the kill. She would remove this annoyance once and for all. Again and again she swung, forcing the dwarf back. The dwarf was better than he should have been, by rights, but nothing in comparison to her. She stabbed, bringing her other blade in an ark. He would be caught between the two and crushed like an insect.

Her eyes widened as he threw himself onto her first thrust. Emdief brought up his axe and in one fluid motion broke her other blade in half. Oku attempted to draw back her remaining blade, but that thing caught her by the wrist and pulled, further impaling himself. All the while, his expression didn't change.

She tried to maintain her façade of contempt. It was far from over yet. “What is it that you want, puny dwarf?”

“Oh, just for you to complete your task. Your gods wouldn't have told you why you were sent back, would they? Oh, but I know. You're their herald. Their messenger. So take a message. Tell them that no matter how long it takes, they'll be repaid. And what happened to their children... that will seem like mercy.” He plucked an arrow from his side and thrust it into her chest.

Uristador's lifeless body slid off Oku's blade and fell to the ground.

Oku fell to her knees, clutching the arrow in her side. She screamed a silent scream, and the fortress shook beneath her. Beneath the forges, magma began bubbling upwards, higher and higher, engulfing the lower levels of the fortress. She slumped to the ground as the entire fortress began to shake, a low rumbling coming from the ground as the earth itself was torn asunder. The magma burst upwards with a spire of rock, bursting straight through the center of Steelhold. Finally, a scream escaped her mouth, and the magma surged upwards to engulf her. As the magma touched her, the fortress itself crumbled, falling down into the magma sea. Lava burst forth onto the surface, shooting hundreds of feet into the air. Clouds of ash covered the landscape, the ocean around the fortress crystalizing into obsidian. The magma was relentless, consuming everything it touched.

Then, finally, it was over. With a last eruption, the remains of Steelhold collapsed under the pressure, leaving behind an immense crater of obsidian. Where once the Mountainhome once stood, there now remained nothing.

As the years went by, twisted trees grew up around the site of the fortress, as if nature itself wanted to cover the catastrophe that had happened here. Steelhold fell into Dwarven legend as a word synonymous with death and destruction. The figures of Steelhold became legends, its greatest heroes were revered as being almost divine. Generals prayed to Rhaken for the cleverness they would need to win, soldiers to Modi for strength in battle. Jackal was revered as a demigod, a symbol of all that a dwarf should strive for. As for Emdief, he was believed to be a god, who bravely fought the demon lord Oku in battle, with the assistance of the other god-champions. The exact identity of the god was uncertain: some thought said he was one god, others said he was another, some said he was a god in his own right, a member of the divine pantheon that had been unknown until that point. A few said he was nothing less than Armok incarnate, the butcher himself gracing the fortress with his presence.

And the villains of Steelhold? They became reviled as demons, creatures of pure darkness. Asmoth, Corley, Lenehan, Shank: all of them consigned, in the minds of Dwarfkind, to the deepest pits of Hell for all eternity.

As time went on, and the truth became blurred into fiction, some parts of the fortress's history fell out of the history books entirely. The FractalEntity was only remembered by a few, and those who knew of him believed him to be a foreign god, one of neither Dwarven nor Demonic nature.  The Day of Reckoning became lost to time, and Lenehan was accused of far worse crimes. The last days of Steelhold were a titanic clash of gods and demons, leveling the ground around the fortress and melting it into magma.

Thus ended the history of Steelhold, or—at least—it was thought.

The End
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MDFification

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Re: The Insidious Sons of Steelhold -- Revival Succession Fortress
« Reply #603 on: February 17, 2014, 05:52:30 am »

Goodnight sweet prince. May flights of giant magpies (or something) sing thee to thy rest.
Giant Magpie Cancels Sing to Rest: Has Reverted to Wild State!

 ::)
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Deus Asmoth

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Re: The Insidious Sons of Steelhold
« Reply #604 on: February 17, 2014, 07:05:11 am »

Doesn't this mean that most of the bloodkin would have died in the magma though, or are we assuming that Corley, Shank or Asmoth (or all three) made a new batch?
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Re: The Insidious Sons of Steelhold -- Revival Succession Fortress
« Reply #605 on: February 17, 2014, 07:48:11 am »

Currently, the 3 planned aspects of the Bloodkin (farming people, adamantine augmentation for at least some of them, mutation to allow them to reproduce and spread themselves by bite) have been established... but by Shank, Corley and Asmoth respectively, and they're almost certainly not working together at this point.

I think that eventually the scattered vamps (Corley, Asmoth and Thikut's Group, Shank and Kivish) will eventually regroup, resolve their differences and start the Bloodkin proper and inaugurate their new reign with some form of horrific massacre, then rebuild Steelhold into their Mordor-esque capital. This may take some time though. I'd say give it about 10 years for Asmoth and Corley to complete their respective experiments and Shank/Kivish to grow their 'farm'. They'll probably then unite against a common enemy, such as everyone else.

EDIT: I'll make the next thread when the mod's fully set up. I'll need to check things and make a few changes when 4maskwolf finishes with the 'kin.
« Last Edit: February 17, 2014, 09:53:57 am by MDFification »
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Gnorm

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Re: The Insidious Sons of Steelhold -- Revival Succession Fortress
« Reply #606 on: February 17, 2014, 12:18:44 pm »

Whilst MDF works on his mod and Rhaken works on his epilogue, I think that we should continue discussion on this thread. Go through the story and pick out some of your favorite quotes to put on the original post, and share some trivia about your turns.

As for MDF, when should we expect the new fortress to be ready?
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MDFification

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Re: The Insidious Sons of Steelhold -- Revival Succession Fortress
« Reply #607 on: February 17, 2014, 12:40:50 pm »

Whilst MDF works on his mod and Rhaken works on his epilogue, I think that we should continue discussion on this thread. Go through the story and pick out some of your favorite quotes to put on the original post, and share some trivia about your turns.

As for MDF, when should we expect the new fortress to be ready?

I basically just have to wait for 4maskwolf to pass me his Bloodkin, make tweaks and gen; I have the whole intro/rules written up already. So, maybe 1-3 days after I get the file, depending on how busy I am. I am going to be pretty busy next week - if it's ready then I'll post the thread, find a location and let the first player handle the embark and initial year.

My tweaks mainly consist of editing the civ files, possibly adding a weapon and doing a basic bugtest.
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4maskwolf

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Re: The Insidious Sons of Steelhold -- Revival Succession Fortress
« Reply #608 on: February 17, 2014, 12:42:16 pm »

The interactions and a few special surprises are almost complete, I need to confer with MDF via pm a little, but everything should work fairly effectively.  Other than that, I'm not sure where MDF is in the process of his side of the modding.

And sorry about the delay, MDF, my weekend was busy as all hell, appropriately enough.
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Deus Asmoth

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Re: The Insidious Sons of Steelhold
« Reply #609 on: February 17, 2014, 12:45:29 pm »

I went poking around the save a bit more, and it's actually possible to keep Steelhold alive, at least long enough for a migrant wave or two to arrive. It's not particularly pretty, but I guess keeping a fortress of depressed vampires running would be an interesting challenge.
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Re: The Insidious Sons of Steelhold -- Revival Succession Fortress
« Reply #610 on: February 17, 2014, 01:12:11 pm »

The interactions and a few special surprises are almost complete, I need to confer with MDF via pm a little, but everything should work fairly effectively.  Other than that, I'm not sure where MDF is in the process of his side of the modding.

And sorry about the delay, MDF, my weekend was busy as all hell, appropriately enough.

No need to appologize. I am trying to get you to do this for me purely because I'm too lazy to sit down and learn interaction mechanics.  ;D

I've basically got the civ file & associate files ready to go. I just need bloodkin and interactions - if you don't want to do both, I even have a bloodkin file basically done. I'm fairly certain I could link interactions to the specific castes somehow? [CAN_DO_INTERACTION] or something along those lines.
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4maskwolf

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Re: The Insidious Sons of Steelhold -- Revival Succession Fortress
« Reply #611 on: February 17, 2014, 01:20:56 pm »

yes.  I have all of that written up, I sent you a pm with a few last-minute questions.  Also, if you want all bloodkin to have it place it before the caste declarations, otherwise place it under the appropriate caste declaration.

Also, I didn't realize I needed to write up the bloodkin creature files.  If you have something better, use it, I don't have anything.
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MDFification

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Re: The Insidious Sons of Steelhold -- Revival Succession Fortress
« Reply #612 on: February 17, 2014, 01:53:45 pm »

yes.  I have all of that written up, I sent you a pm with a few last-minute questions.  Also, if you want all bloodkin to have it place it before the caste declarations, otherwise place it under the appropriate caste declaration.

Also, I didn't realize I needed to write up the bloodkin creature files.  If you have something better, use it, I don't have anything.

Sweet! My files it is then.
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4maskwolf

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Re: The Insidious Sons of Steelhold -- Revival Succession Fortress
« Reply #613 on: February 17, 2014, 03:43:03 pm »

yes.  I have all of that written up, I sent you a pm with a few last-minute questions.  Also, if you want all bloodkin to have it place it before the caste declarations, otherwise place it under the appropriate caste declaration.

Also, I didn't realize I needed to write up the bloodkin creature files.  If you have something better, use it, I don't have anything.

Sweet! My files it is then.
I sent you the link to my files.  This is going to be fun.  Can't wait to see your write-up for the next Steelhold.
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Gnorm

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Re: The Insidious Sons of Steelhold -- Revival Succession Fortress
« Reply #614 on: February 17, 2014, 03:50:10 pm »

Will the new world be generated to the end of year 1050?
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