We all hopped off of the cart as soon as it stopped — well, everyone but Atír, who slowly clambered down from the front to join us. It had been a long trip, and we all had our aches, but we had finally found a good location to start building. I, for one, was excited. Catten and Kadol began unloading the cart onto a tarp while the rest of us stretched our legs.
It was early morning. The sun was just rising over the peak of the mountain, and this expedition had finally come to an end. We had found this place a few weeks ago, but we kept going to see if we couldn’t find somewhere better — the mountain was right next to a deep jungle, no doubt filled with all kinds of beasties. I’d probably be going out hunting in the next few days while we got set up, along with Lorbam and Catten. But that was fine; I was used to hostile environments. Part of the reason why I had joined the expedition in the first place.
Udil was delegating roles to each of us. Catten and Kadol took the last of the barrels off of our cart, and Atír set about covering it in leaves and branches, to protect it while we dug into the mountain. I walked over to the others, catching the end of one of Udil’s famous speeches.
“...difficult journey, but it is over now. We have found a new home, and we will make our fathers in Idbërûl proud!” Lorbam, Domas, and I all cheered. Catten, Kadol, and Atír caught on too, raising cries of agreement from around the cart. Udil smiled warmly at us.
“What is your command, my lord?” asked Lorbam. I nodded, and Udil’s expression grew more serious. He spun in a slow circle, surveying the land, before turning back to us and pointing at the mountain.
“You and Domas will dig into the mountain wall. Make us a nice cavern to settle into.” Lorbam and Domas immediately turned, picked up their picks from the pile on the ground, and headed towards the mountain. Udil moved to look at Catten and Kadol. “Once they’ve finished, you two will begin bringing our supplies inside and organizing them.” The two brothers nodded. “Atír, you and I will stay here and guard the cart.” Atír lumbered over to the front of the cart again and sat down. “And Reg?” I looked up at him. “Head into the forest. Scout out the land ahead.”
I knew it.
It was starting to get a little dark. The last rays of sunlight dropped through the canopy of the trees and lit the path before me as well as any lantern. Not that there was much of a path to follow, but I was at home in the jungle. I knew my way around the brush and dirt as well as I might know my way around my own home. This forest in particular didn’t seem all that populated, really. I hadn’t seen or heard a sign of anything but the smallest of animals since —
Something in the distance howled. I frowned. It didn’t make sense for there to be anything really dangerous around just yet. There had been no trace of anything larger than a rhesus macaque that I’d found, and it wasn’t quite dark enough for the really frightening creatures to come out of their hiding places. I was a little frightened, not sure what it was. Unless it was my allies? But that didn’t make much sense. The sound was coming from the wrong direction entirely.
I decided not to risk it. I turned the way I had come and dashed back to the others. The sounds of pickaxes clinking against stone reached my ears as I drew near, and when I emerged from the jungle I saw a large opening had been dug in the side of the mountain. Lorbam and Domas must have worked nonstop to get that done in the time I’d been gone. I was glad I’d signed on with these dwarves; they were hard workers, valuable to Idbërûl. The semi-hidden cart was gone from its place, and the tarp covered in tools, barrels, and crates had been removed as well, no doubt relocated to a stockpile somewhere inside the new fortress. As I left passed the treeline I heard another howl, and sped up slightly to get inside just before the last golden drops of sunlight slipped past the horizon. A little inside the cave was a very shabby waist-high wooden fence, meant to keep out hungry animals during the night. It wouldn’t stop any kind of real attack, but that was all we should need for the moment.
Our supplies were piled in one corner far away from the entrance, where Atíl was attempting to organize them. Domas and Lorbam were still mining away at the opposite wall, digging out new tunnels for us to occupy. Catten and Kadol kept a vigil by the stone wall, and Udil, strangely, was nowhere to be seen. I shook my head and hopped over the wall. Catten nodded at me, and I walked over to Atíl.
“Where’s Udil?” I asked. Atíl stopped his sorting and looked back over his shoulder at me. He shrugged.
“Said he wanted to get up high,” said the elderly dwarf. “Don’t know where he went, exactly.” I nodded and went back to the stone wall.
“I’m going out to find Udil,” I told Catten. I was about to go over the wall again when he touched my arm.
“Try just going up the mountain,” he said. I raised one eyebrow, but nodded again, and leapt over the wall. It was dark out, but I was confident that I’d be safe as long as I stuck to the mountain face. It wasn’t a difficult-looking climb; the rock seemed mostly even, with a few jagged areas, but it was a low slope and it would be a long walk up to the top. I gritted my teeth and started up.
Nearly an hour later I arrived at the first peak of the mountain. I was panting a little bit, and the air was starting to get thin, but Udil was standing on a ledge in front of me, gazing out at the land around us. He glanced down at me and smiled, offering me his hand. I took it, and he pulled me up to the ledge beside him.
“Watch your step there, Reg,” he said. I peered over the other side of the ledge to see a straight drop down for several hundred feet into a dark and rather lonely-looking crevice in the mountain. The solid rock footing resumed just a few feet across, but I wouldn’t want to fall down there.
So when I kicked Udil in the knee and knocked him over the side, he looked appropriately shocked.
Unfortunately the dwarf leader grabbed onto the ledge, and I had to silence him before he could shout and alert the others. I stepped on the fingers of his left hand, pushing them off the edge, taking my time.
“Why, Reg? Why are you doing this?!” he cried. I smiled at him.
“My name is not Reg.” I shoved his left hand off of the ledge and started working on his right. “I am Nine Sabaabímu! Dwarf-slayer!” With a kick, I knocked him into the crevice.
“Well.” I ground my boot into the rock, getting all the disgusting dwarf germs off of my person. Horrible, filthy little creatures. “I guess that’s that.”
From my bag I pulled a hunting horn and blew into it. The sound rang off the mountainside and far off into the jungle. I waited a moment before hearing the answering wolf howl, and I knew that the attack was about to begin. I needed to get back down the mountain, and fast. Had Udil brought anything up with him I could use? His pack was laying on the ground, but nothing small enough to fit in there would help. Maybe if he had...a shield! A rounded iron sheet of metal rested near where he had dropped, nearly blending in with the rock. I kneeled down on it and pushed off with my hands, grabbing Udil’s pack as I passed it, slowly gathering speed.
In a matter of minutes I could see the ground again. Briefly I considered getting off of the makeshift sled, but before I could I sailed off of the lip of the cave and hit the ground, hard. My teeth chattered in my skull as I tumbled into the grass, the shield skittering away from me. I rolled to a stop, and when the world stopped spinning I stood up and staggered in a circle, trying to find the cave. I saw lights up ahead and ran, or tried to run, towards them, but they leapt around in front of my eyes, and everything went black.
When I registered a conscious thought again, a young elf was standing over me. He looked concerned, but when I nodded gently, his expression brightened, and he pulled me to my feet.
“The others are about to begin, my lord,” said the elf, who I believed was called Pevó Renaepeve. I patted him on the shoulder and shook my head, trying to get the strange images of dancing werebeasts out of my head. We walked back to the cave and climbed over the wall. The other dwarves, it seemed, had all gone to sleep on the ground. Perfect.
I went over to the nearest, Kadol, and toed him in the stomach. He woke with a start and sat up.
“Reg?” asked the sleepy dwarf, rubbing his eyes. “What’s going —”
Kadol’s question was cut off by an arrow going through his neck. The elf next to me flinched, but I only grinned. These dwarves would finally get their comeuppance!
A great war cry came from behind us. I turned to see my group of warriors emerging from the trees and running to the cave. Lorbam and Domas woke next, and then Catten. Atíl rolled over onto his side with a snore, but didn’t get up. The other three all saw Pevó standing next to me and ran to grab their weapons, but I raised a hand.
“Don’t,” I called. They paused, confused. “They are friends.”
“They don’t look like friends,” Domas called back, looking wary and more than a little tired. I shrugged.
“I didn’t say they were your friends,” I replied, and Pevó drew his sword. Realization dawned on the dwarves’ faces.
“Atíl!” shouted Domas. But it was too late. The ten other warriors arrived, leaping over the short wall, weapons drawn, arrows nocked. The dwarves didn’t have a chance to even grab their weapons.
Catten went down without a sound as he was stabbed in the gut, bright red blood spilling on the ground. Lorbam was brought to his knees by an arrow that caught him in the calf, and then to the rocky floor by a sword that sent his head flying through the air. Atíl woke just in time for his heart to be pierced by the sharpened point of a long spear.
Domas cringed and sank to the ground, unharmed, his hands above his head. I shouted an order for my warriors to stop, and they did, backing up to form a defensive circle around me. Pevó drew a length of rope from his rucksack and used it to tie up the final remaining dwarf. He looked from me to his captive and narrowed his eyes. “What do you want us to do with him, my lord?” asked the loyal warrior.
I folded my arms and laughed.
“Find me some magma.”