Sunday, April 5, 2009

Chapter Ten

Another lifeless village.

The Dwarf hefts himself up the side of a house, grumbling all the while. His short, stumpy physique is not suited for climbing, but after much jumping, stretching, and even some cursing, he finally lifts himself onto the roof.

He bends down and reaches for a weapon that leans against the house's wall. It's a long, stout pole, topped by a sinister combination of axe-head and spear-point. A comically large weapon for such a little man, he knows, but it gets the job done.

After a look down the streets - they’re coming - he grunts to himself, spits onto the ground, and removes a whetstone from the leather bag slung across his side.

He scrapes the stone across the spear, sharpening it to a fine razor point, and then bellows, seemingly to no one, "Stay inside!"

The echoes of his raspy voice bounce about the abandoned streets before fading into silence. His keen ears hear a familiar rustling from inside some of the buildings. More have heard him. They’re coming.

"Stay inside!" the Dwarf calls again, almost musically, holding each word for several seconds.

"Stay inside, dag-blast it!" he shouts. More rustling, more bodies walking through the streets.

He learned to give warning several towns ago when a few survivors, drawn by the sounds of battle, had emerged from the safety of their barricaded cathedral, only to get caught by the also-curious undead.

The Dwarf repeats his call as the wretched creatures approach. Though the spear is not sharp enough for his satisfaction, it’ll have to do.

They’re here.

They glare at him balefully, raise their arms helplessly. They cannot climb onto the roof, but will stand there flailing against the wall until doomsday unless something is done about them.

So that's what he does.

Lifting the halberd, adjusting his hands so the weight is properly balanced, he jabs it forward at the closest one’s head. It doesn't defend itself, it doesn't try to dodge, it simply dies and crumples to the floor.

It’s easy, repetitive work, like digging for jewels in a mine. Gonna leave him sore at the end of the day, that’s for sure. He whistles a tuneless song while waiting for the next one, then stabs again. Before any of them can snatch at the weapon, he’s already pulled it out of reach.

The work doesn't require much thought, so the Dwarf’s mind wanders to criticizing the defenses of this storybook town. Sure, it’s pretty, but at what price? A small, low wall – to protect them from what? Dogs? The gate left open. Thin wooden doors on all the houses. It's no wonder they were caught so helpless and unawares.

Though his people don’t talk about it (this Dwarf most of all), they share their home under the mountain with all manner of dark things, hungry things. The Dwarven race is cautious, prudent, prepared. The big people could've learned a thing or two about defense from their earth-dwelling cousins, but did they? Of course not. Bah. The Dwarf spits again before skewering a fat man’s skull. Disgraceful.

He stabs and stabs. The halberd is a silly weapon, but damned if it isn't effective against these things. They just stand there, reaching like hungry babies, waiting to get killed. Though with his luck, too many will come, and they'll soon start climbing over the bodies of the fallen. Then he'll have to jump off the other side of the roof and scramble for a new location.

He's prepared for that, of course - he scouted out his escape route beforehand. Wouldn't want to get cornered, like he did two villages ago.

What a waste.

Stab, stab, stab.

Then, after all this is done, he's still got to take care of the bodies. ‘Cause if he doesn’t, who will?

That’s another thing. The Dwarf shakes his head at the foolishness of the big people, not only leaving themselves so vulnerable, but then turning tail and fleeing so readily. Leaving him to clean up their mess.

Ought to bury them, he knows, but it’s safer to build a pyre and let ‘em all burn before heading on to the next town. Wouldn’t do him any good if they came back a third time, and who knows what’d happen to any hungry animal that dug up the bodies?

Plus, the person he’s looking for might see the smoke.

Stab, stab, done.

The streets are empty. No more coming, just the big, stinking pile in front of him. The Dwarf waits another moment, regains his breath, and then cries in his hoarse tenor, "Yer town is clean! Y'can come out now! It's safe!"

He doesn't expect a response, much less any gratitude. Even if someone’s still alive, they’re usually too scared or weak to do anything, or their homes are too strongly barricaded.

Doesn’t matter. He’s still got a job to do. After tossing down his halberd, the Dwarf scrambles down from the roof. Then, taking the tinderbox from his satchel, he gets to work, still whistling.