Vordonlir waited on Stracaster’s grassy overlook. He breathed deep, his feet in a wide stance.
“Today is the day.” He declared. “The day this town crumbles.”
He looked to his second in command — Thurdith — and gave him a curt nod.
“Is the weapon ready?” Vordonlir asked, his voice gruff.
“As ready as ever, my lord.” Thurdith replied; a calm focus on him.
He wasn’t afraid. Neither of them were. Humans were weak, and they all knew it. How they’d built walls around a mere town baffled them. Yet, it mattered not. The walls would soon fall, and as would their leader: the pitiful Brel Glavuv. Tales of his deeds had reached the dwarves’ ears. The way he hunted with his bare hands in the woods, poaching on animals that rightfully belonged to Vordonlir’s people. The humans were expanding, and for those living off the land — it made matters complicated. Enough was enough.
“Then let us be done with it.” Vordonlir said. Thurdith smiled a thin smile and turned. Behind him stood a mighty wooden tiger on enormous wheels, surrounded by a mass of foot soldiers.
“DWARVES!” Thurdith shouted. “It’s time!”
The procession made their way down an incline, leading away from the overlook. Vordonlir took the lead, with Thurdith close by his side and the wooden tiger rolling behind them. Stracaster loomed large. Just shy of the battlements, Vordonlir raised a hand, halting the group.
“Let me approach the portcullis alone.” He said. “We don’t want to startle the humans.”
Vordonlir did so, marching forward with his arms stretched outward in a show of both power, and proof to the men atop the battlements that he bore no weapon. He didn’t need to see the bows trained on him, to know that they watched.
“Greetings friends!” He shouted; in the most powerful voice he could muster.
“I come before you today from the Jagged Rock Mountains. I bare gifts from my home. The magnificent tiger in which you see behind you! Let it stand in your town’s foyer, as a testament of your strength!”
Silence and muttering atop the battlements. Vordonlir clenched his jaw; if this didn’t work, he’d have to resort to a siege. That would cost resources he need not spend on such vermin.
After a while, the steel portcullis rose on creaking chains. He smiled.
“You won’t regret accepting this gift!” He called. “Allow me to review its pristine condition. Then, my second-in-command will bring it to you.”
He fell back to Thurdith’s side.
“I wish to ride with my fellow dwarves.” He stated.
“As you desire.” Thurdith nodded.
Vordonlir patted him on the shoulder and smiled, “Bring honour to our people.”
Making his way past him, Vordinlir came to the men pulling the wooden tiger. A nameless guard approached, with a raised eyebrow.
“S… Sir?” He asked.
“I wish to ride into battle, in the tiger. Open the side.”
The soldier reached under the tiger, releasing a latch. A wooden door hidden in the creature’s chest fell open.
Without a word, Vordonlir climbed in.
Dank and clamminess greeted him, followed by an air of quiet. As soon as the door closed, darkness joined. The muffled voice of Thurdith sounded, and the tiger rattled. They were moving.
“Dwarves.” Vordonlir said through the black. “Today, we bring honour to our people. We end the hardships of our life on the land. We all know survival is tough, and while we struggle, the humans live in luxury. That luxury will be ours. And it will be ours today.”
Cheering from within, dwarves clanged their armour in unison. Vordonlir smiled.
“Kill the civilians or chase them out. It matters not. Our priority is the university. As soon as the door opens, make for it.”
A round of acknowledgement, followed by silence. Silence, but for the noise of the turning wheels outside.
It wasn’t a long journey, and when the dwarves arrived, the door fell open with a crash. Light flooded in, and each rider winced, but the adrenaline joined soon after. Vordonlir was the first out, grabbing his battle-axe and roaring. The foot soldiers followed and not long after, the screams from the humans sounded. Civilians scrambled in every direction; their eyes wide. Some dwarves — including Thurdith — made for them, basking in the slaughter. Others followed Vordonlir. He marched with his battle-axe over his shoulder, straight to the university. The human guards rushed to organise; storming down the battlement’s stone steps behind them, while the university’s watch charged forward, drawing steel swords. Vordonlir looked each of them in the eye, roaring a booming laugh. They wielded nothing but scrap. The first guard that attacked swung high, yet Vordonlir ducked under it and cleaved at the opening. Down. Another guard, he swung low — all it took was a side step and quick counter to end him. It was too easy. The dwarven soldiers following Vordonlir spread out and thinned the resistance so that he had a clear path.
That’s when Brel Glavuv showed his face.
Brel stood outside the university’s great arched doors, his mouth ajar, holding his weapon as if he had no training. Vordonlir grimaced. This was the outstanding leader of Stracaster?
“W… Why?” Brel shouted. Vordonlir tightened his grip on his battle-axe.
“Because you are weak.” He shouted back. “And we want what the weak have.”
“We… we could have made a deal!”
“Maybe.” Vordonlir smiled, “... But us dwarves would rather take what we want.”
“I… I won’t let you!” Brel gripped his sword.
Vordonlir pumped his chest out, then charged.
Brel staggered back, a look of horror in his eyes, and feinted. He made a low swing at Vordinlir, but came in with an uppercut at the last minute, that almost left Vordonlir in two. Vordonlir had no choice but to step back and recover, thinking Brel wasn’t the amateur his initial impression told him. He breathed heavily, clenching his battle-axe, keeping one eye over his shoulder for a surprise attack from the defending guards. Then, he lunged forward with a high swing. Brel ducked under it, but it didn’t catch Vordonlir off-guard. He kicked out, meeting Brel’s shin, then thrust his battle-axe forward, knocking the wind out of Brel. Before Brel could recover, Vordonlir rammed his shoulder into him, knocking him off his feet.
“It’s over, Brel.” Vordonlir laughed. He hoisted his axe over his shoulders and swung down. It met the ground, but not through Brel's body. Vordonlir cussed, the human had rolled aside and already clambered back onto his feet.
“You have skill.” Vordonlir admitted. “Perhaps the rumours you hunt bare handed are true.”
Brel grimaced. “G... guards.” He shouted, “To my side!”
Out of the corner of his eye, Vordonlir spotted a small garrison breaking away from the battle, hearing their leader’s command.
“Coward!” Vordonlir spat. He hated humans. They had this glorious town, yet no steel in their bones. They didn’t deserve it. No dwarves came to Vordonlir’s side
. He wouldn't allow it. This was his battle, and they knew it.
Brel’s guards attacked from all sides. A clumsy move, without any strategic planning. Vordonlir stepped back, letting them crash into one another, and swung. One guard fell with barely any effort. Then Vordonlir swung again, felling a second, and a third. Soon, once more, only Brel and Vordonlir remained.
“Is that all you’ve got?” Vordonlir growled. “You have skill, but you waste it.”
He reached into the tool belt, strapped around his chest, and a moment later, a small, but deadly throwing axe spun toward Brel. Brel’s reactions weren’t quick enough, and it impaled him square in the chest. His scream as he fell to his knees only fuelled Vordonlir. Vordonlir laughed a bellowing cry and stepped forward. With a single swing of his axe, the leader of Stracaster’s head parted from his body — once more, with hardly an ounce of effort. It might not have been an honourable way to end one of such prestige, yet the human was weak. He didn't deserve honour.
All around, the battle drew to the close. For the humans, it was a massacre. The civilians — those that hadn’t fled — the dwarves had rounded up, and the town’s guards, they had backed into a corner. The wooden tiger stood in the center, a devastating roar etched into its face. A roar equal to that of the dwarves’ power. Vordonlir stepped down the University steps, and all eyes turned to him. In his hands, he held the head of Brel, and on his face, he wore a malicious smile.
“Stracaster is ours!” He cried.
Deep in the distant forest, Brel’s son stood among his brethren, the carcass of a young deer slung over his shoulders. Their hunt had been successful today, and the town of Stracaster would eat well tonight. His father would be proud. He smiled and held his head high; to be human was a glorious gift. He adjusted the deer upon his shoulders, gathered his men together, and took a step back toward Stracaster.