The door to Mortis' office closed quietly behind the liaison. Mortis sat down in his chair, clasped his fingers, placing them together atop his desk, and stared at the liaison before him.
"I've already traded with your dwarfs upstairs. I remembered your odd requests for stone mugs. I've had the dwarfs working on them all year."
"Er, yes. I've seen them. Thank you, many of them are masterpieces. But I really must question the engravings on some of them..."
""I fought the goblin hordes, and all I got was this lousy mug and a toe infection?""
"There are precedents. Besides, it amused them. Light always shines brighter in the darkness. The attacks are brutal."
"I'll trust your judgment in this, Mortis. They were very good mugs. Thank you. Now, before we get to trade agreements, I have a request from the Mountainhomes..."
"Yes. They've taken notice of your achievements...I've had a look at Project Theohall. Pretty expensive. What I have here is a question regarding you would like to have Nudejugglers become a barony? If so, we need to select a baron."
"Really?" Mortis sounded genuinely interested. "What qualities would you recommend for a baron?"
"Well, you may of course elect yourself, that would probably be wisest. But, if you know of anyone who is well liked, responsible, capable of wielding power with discipline..."
"I have just the candidate. Here are his credentials."
"...Are you certain? Forgive me, but this is a bit unorthodox."
"He's perfect, I'll hear no words spoken against that dwarf. Now, let's get to those trade agreements..."
Mortis later staged a party, simultaneously leaving a mandate to construct floodgates, mostly out of worry for the Hospital Water Basin nonsense that was going on upstairs. He invited Hipolito and Bad Shepherd, they met in Theohall.
"I need to speak to you both. I've always considered you two to be my closest friends from the original expedition. There is something worrying about this place. The hauntings, the possessions, the brutality of goblin raids...I need you two to be my eyes and ears. If something strange happens, alert me first. I will always be in my office or Theohall. Hrnac and Cortilian can wait. Me first. You understand? Also, I need to see both of you in my office privately tomorrow. Say...One o'clock for you, Hipolito, two o'clock for you, Bad Shepherd. Now, let's get to drinking. A toast, to our fallen heroes immortalized in the hospital upstairs..."
"Goblin ambush! Ibek Treekiller is leading them on! Get up there Granite Armors, he's no Shinjin, he'll be out of breath soon!"
Commander Cortilian jumped to her feet.
"Got it. Thanks Boston. Move it dwarfs! On your feet! What, are you afraid to die? Stand behind me and Anejo and you'll be fine, MOVE!"
They ran outside, their eyes quickly adjusting to the bright light. An arrow whizzed by from the hill behind them. Cortilian turned, a fire in her eyes.
"Up the hill! Go, go! Remember Soulsbayne! Remember Hama! Remember Horizon! Kick their asses for the dead! CHARGE!"
The melee fighters closed quickly. They were up against Hammergoblins this time, who were unprepared for the ferocity of the attack...Or the sniping capabilities of Sergeant Semaj and Pvt. T. Meal.
"SIT DOWN YOU FUCKER." Semaj had shot a goblin in the shin, punching through the armor. The goblin hopped around madly before having his arm sheared off by Anejo and dying of blood loss.
"You see that one, T. Meal?"
"...T. Meal, are you using wooden bolts?! Those are for training only!"
"You just gotta shoot them in the unarmored parts. I got him in the hand. Look, he's running away!"
The goblin bowman leading the squad was just as deadly. The new recruit, Pvt. Foaly, took two arrows to the chest. They bounced off the armor, but broke three of his ribs. He fell unconscious from the pain, where he was met with several more arrows. Cpl. Miltonite took several arrows to the legs and arms, but this just made him angrier. He would nevertheless later hospitalize himself to have the arrows pulled out and his wounds sutured. During combat however, he just grew enraged.
As the combat came to a close, with the bowman decapitated by Commander Cortilian, they took a look at the newly perforated Pvt. Foaly.
"I can hack it..."
"You sure Private?"
"Yeah...I can walk it to the hospital. You guys go, I'll be down in a minute."
Unfortunately, though he did make it into the entrance, he fell unconscious on top of a stone trap. The stone crushed his spine, caused severe organ damage, as well as heavy bleeding. He lay there, completely paralyzed, until Medical Officer Noxiousdog picked him up.
"Hang on son, I got ya."
He was hospitalized and treated, though it was said he would likely never walk again.
"Tranquil Thomas is a goner! Get out there, rinse and repeat!"
Commander Cortilian stared stonily at Bellamy.
"It's not that simple Bellamy. We risk our lives out there. I'm dispatching both squads. We'll all be out there momentarily."
The goblins were right by the entrance, mostly Hammergoblins again. They were engaged immediately by dwarf forces, Anejo led the charge. He waded into the fray, cutting and slicing with his spear, grinning madly. Invincible. He was still grinning when the hammer struck him full in the back of the head, killing him instantly. The ambush ended shortly thereafter, easily routed. But there was no bringing back the Captain.
Also, the hospital flooded.
"Can someone PLEASE explain to me, how, DESPITE ALL OF THE PRECAUTIONS TAKEN, WE FLOODED THE SODDING HOSPITAL?!"
"Well Mortis. I cannot tell a lie. It was Subforeman Hentzau's fault. He forgot that pressurized water can climb up ramps. Which he forgot to remove."
"...That actually seems rather likely. Did you work on the basin at all?"
"No, sir. I was too busy making doors."
"Yes sir. The good news is that the water mostly dried up, and we did get our water basin."
"How reassuring. Very well, Hrnac. I will accept the unacceptable, just this once. But I want no export of floodgates until further notice. We might need them."
"Right sir. I'd forgotten about our roaring floodgate market. I thought we were into mugs?"
"This meeting is over, Hrnac. Get back to work."
Pvt. Foaly lay bleeding and sweating into his sodden bedsheets, unable to move. The attack and the stone trap kept racing through his head, over and over. He could not get over how unfair it was, that he had fought for them, and lost it all. Over and over. Forever crippled. Forever alone in the hospital, with no one but the labored breathing of the similarily paralyzed MacTavish next door, and the lazy Cpl. Miller whose foot was still splinted from the stabbing she had received a year ago. She sometimes visited, but had stopped recently; she had almost been caught out of bed. She was not fond of the military life, and had no wish to leave the peaceful hospital.
The images raced by. Dwarfs fighting. A bending willow. A falling stone. The rush of humid swamp wind through the holes of his wounds..And then...
Against all medical expectations and physical limitations, Foaly sat up. He got out of bed, unsteadily. He walked, under incredible pain, hardly able to breathe due to the crushed lung. His leg and spine were crushed, but still he walked. Through the hospital, past the amazed Cpl. Miller. Through the main entrance hall, the dwarfs avoiding him as if he were a ghost. He walked to the Mason's workshop, not saying a word, merely jerking his thumb backward to intimate that Lagom Lite should get out. He did so silently.
For the next three months, the workshop belonged to Foaly. He brought copper and cloth, slowly and carefully, bleeding all the while and in immense pain. Finally, he began.
A month later, he finished. The paralysis took hold once more, and he fell, unmoving, on to the stone of his workshop. His work would be forever revered by the dwarfs, but he remained in the hospital, the most talented mason the Fortress had ever seen, unable to ever work again.
"In honor of Pvt. Foaly's achievement, I, the new Baron, would like to insure that no likeness of his work will leave the Fortress. All coffers and boxes may not be exported." The crowd of dwarfs made it impossible to see who was speaking, but Hrnac thought it sounded familiar. He pushed through.
"Out of my way. Move! I'm the damn Foreman you idiot, get lost. MOVE!"
He pushed to the front. His jaw dropped.
Hipolito stood before him, grinning evilly.
"Still your tongue, knave!" Hipolito backhanded Hrnac, causing him to fall on the floor, stunned. "I can have you arrested you know. I am the baron."
"I was elevated. Selected by a higher power to serve this Fortress as a beloved leader. But how can I do so if I do not have PROPER ACCOMMODATIONS?!"
Hrnac stood, clutching his reddened cheek. "What the hell are you going on about?"
"SILENCE! I WILL NOT BE SPOKEN TO LIKE THIS! GET OUT OF MY SIGHT, WORM, OR I WILL HAVE YOU DEMOTED!"
Hrnac turned, slowly walking out of the room, humiliated and furious.
"Mortis, dammit, what the hell were you thinking?"
"With Hipolito as baron, I will have secured the loyalty of the rather sizable population of woodcutters, or "tree-killers" as they like to call themselves."
"Yes I am aware that he is a poor choice, and that this will most likely anger the Foreman."
"I can bring him around. I can keep Hipolito in line. And yes, I will step up the conversions."
"That will not be done for many years, but rest assured it will be on level six, below the catacombs."
"The military is not a concern. Cortilian answers to me, and me alone. Even against her better judgment."
"Indeed. We will speak again soon."