A short story featuring Brok, dwarf berserker.
Welden looked at Dania and grinned in the dying half light, his cracked teeth ruined the effect somewhat but Dania wasn’t a woman to judge appearances, she only had a half dozen teeth of her own.
“You can tell the others there’s no sign of anyone else, just the dwarf. Looks like a lone prospector type I reckon.” He rubbed at the stubble of his chin, “I’ll circle ‘round behind his shelter and make some noise, flush him out. You lot come on in and get him once he shows himself.”
Dania nodded and padded back to the rest of their band, waiting back at the entry to this little gulch the dwarf was apparently living in. They’d had slim pickings the last few weeks, not many folks up in the hills this time of year, but it wasn’t like her, or any of the others, could show their face much in any of the towns ‘round these parts. Crossing the hills was the only way to get somewhere they wouldn’t be arrested on sight.
Welden worked his way through the low scrub, hugging the rocks as he moved, cursing the prickly shit that grew all around this area. A bit of luck to find this lone dwarf, crazy bastard had to have found something worthwhile to keep him out here as the season of Wellin set in. It was bloody cold. Gemstones or something, Welden reckoned. Whatever it was wouldn’t be his much longer, not that he’d care by then. Gems weren’t much use to the dead.
He couldn’t see the dwarf, but they’d followed him as he came back to the gulch, and he certainly hadn’t left. The bastard had been carrying a cleaver which troubled Welden a little, not a typical prospecting tool, your average cleaver. Good for cutting through the scrub though. He shrugged mentally. It made no difference, his band had eight. More than enough to deal with anything a lone dwarf could throw at them. From a distance, he made his way around the shelter that the dwarf had built, until he could look at it side-on. The hut was made of wood and some sort of thatch that looked half like fur and half like the leaves of the taller Jack trees that grew up in the hills just below the snow-line. From the side, he could see it was a more solid structure than he’d first thought, a couple of rooms by the look of it. The dwarf must have been in this area for a while, a good sign. In his experience, prospectors didn’t hang around a place like this unless they were getting results. Good ones, he thought, shivering slightly. The cold here was bitter, and he would be glad to move his little band on further down the Wellinward side of the range and back below the snow line. Crossing this late had been stupid but they hadn’t had a lot of better options. With any luck this bastard would give them enough to get a good meal and some new gear in the next town they reached, assuming their reputation didn’t precede them.
He edged closer to the building as he worked his way further around, close enough to make out some of the details around the back. A dead fire pit and a large stone block, darker than the common stone in these parts by the looks. Something furry was snuffling around in the scrub further out behind the dead campfire. It’s shape moved, some sort of animal, pretty big but apparently eating something back there in the bushes. He watched it for a few minutes, one of the bears from these parts maybe. It moved oddly, like maybe it was injured, lame in one leg. They grew pretty big up here sometimes, but this one didn’t look like one of the big ones, and it didn’t appear to be threatening, so he ignored it for the moment. By the time he could clearly see into the back of the structure the creature had retreated further from the fire pit into the darkness back behind him. He could still occasionally hear that odd grating/scrabbling sound from back there, but more and more he was concerned with where in the three planes this accursed dwarf had gotten off to. They’d watched him go in, and Kelly was watching from up top of the back of the gulch, she hadn’t whistled to signal the dwarf moving at all, so if he’d managed to go anywhere, he’d done so unobserved. Another skill that he couldn’t imagine was common in prospectors. He was beginning to feel pretty confident that this dwarf was, at the very least, not just a prospector. He wasn’t ready to give up on the gems yet though, there had to be something in that hut.
He couldn’t see far in the darkness anymore. The slow progress around had taken him longer than expected, he was squinting to see past the fire pit now and it was cloudy overhead so the four gods weren’t going to help any time soon. Which meant now was as good a time as any. He drew both knives and took a half step forward before a voice spoke quietly from behind him.
“You know the thing about monsters?”
Welden swore and spun, staring wildly into the darkness. He couldn’t see much of anything except that limping thing, which had made its way back a lot closer than he thought. It was still snuffling, moving steadily towards him. He held the knives up and stared at it. It wasn’t right in some way, not just its behaviour, it’s head was off somehow. It looked almost like a bear, he thought, but a two toned colour which he hadn’t seen before. There wasn’t anyone or anything else, but he was pretty sure that even healthy bears couldn’t talk, and this one looked like it was closer to coughing its last than speaking an intelligible sentence. He was sure he hadn’t imagined the voice. The bear came another limping step closer and he saw the source of the scraping sound, someone had tied something metal to its front paw, some big piece of flat metal. He realized what it was, but it made no sense. It was a cleaver, same as the Dwarf had been carrying. He made the connection as the beast reared back up on two legs and it’s head fell off.
Beneath it were two crazed eyes, deep set in a blood-smeared and tattooed face. The dwarf’s lips split in a feral grin and the cleaver swept up before Welden had a chance to react. It took his raised arm off at the elbow as he lurched backwards, a yell of alarm becoming a scream as he stumbled backwards and fell. He screamed again, pure terror as he scrabbled backwards in the dirt, the scrub snagging on his clothing and his useless arm getting no traction. The dwarf rose above him and the cleaver came down with finality.
Brok ran a finger down the cleaver’s edge, sluicing the blood onto the corpse.
“You hunt enough of ‘em and you get to recognizing them even when they’re on two legs and in man-skin.”
He spat on the dead man and shrugged the bear skins back up onto his shoulders as he slouched back down on all fours, moving into the bushes. Getting the head back on was hard, since any arm movement seemed to dislodge another part of the cloak and skins. He had to shuffle and shake the bloody pelts into position as he struggled into the bushes. He hadn’t had a lot of time to throw together the disguise, luckily he’d tracked down this bear yesterday or he’d have had to use some of the … less fresh…components of his hut. The rest of that lot would be down here soon, he figured about eight, since he’d been able to see six from time to time as they’d followed him back. He figured they had to have at least a couple that weren’t useless at staying hidden.
Positioned at the top of the gulch, Dania heard the first scream and swore. Welden always made the signal clear, but this one nearly gave her a heart attack.
“Fate!” Darrell breathed, “That wasn’t the bloody signal. I damn near shat me-self”
“It’ll do as a signal I reckon” Dania announced, striking the flint at her torch and watching it start smouldering “even if it sounds like Welden's already killed ‘im”
They ran down the gully, streaming sparks from torches, a couple whooping to try and scare the dwarf a bit more, keep him off balance assuming he was alive.
They reached the hut in a few dozen breaths and two stormed into it while the others split, streaming past either side. Dania went right because that was always her lucky option. It apparently hadn’t been Welden's lucky direction, she discovered suddenly. He was a mess, something had nearly cut him in half. It had also taken his arm. She felt a touch queasy looking at him, so she turned her attention to the surrounds, holding her torch high. Word of Welden's death spread fast and the two who’d gone into the hut came out swearing and coughing. “Full o’ dead shit, stinks to Between in there!” Jimmy proclaimed “No bloody jewels as I can see.”
“Might be hidden” Dania said “Burn it down and we’ll sift through what’s left. Need the light to find the bastard anyway.”
They gathered around the fire pit and talked quietly, keeping their eyes open as the structure slowly caught alight and the firelight flickered across the scrub. The roofing looked like it was pelts and bones up close, no real wood or thatch, so it wasn’t going to burn easy. She wondered what kind of fates-blighted madman you would need to be in order to live in something like that. It’d drive you mad right quick if you weren’t. Mad or not, he wasn’t a match for eight of them though, once the fire got going they’d be able to find him and sort him out properly.
Well, she thought uneasily, seven now Welden was done for. She counted round the fire. Six. Her heart rate stepped up and she recounted. Six.
“Where’s Dave?” she asked loudly, silencing the chatter. “Anyone seen Dave?”
Shrugs all round. Kelly spoke up “Think ‘e went to feed Wellin” she gestured at the dark scrub and made the universal pantomime for pissing. The fire behind them had finally caught properly as the animal fat burned and sent harsh bright/dark shadows across the scrub where she pointed.
“Anyone see which way he went?” Dania demanded.
“I saw Dave.” The statement was accompanied by a thud, as something hit the ground on the other side of the fire pit from Dania and rolled into view.
“An’ I reckon he sees you!” The voice mocked, ending in a burst of crazed laughter.
Dave’s eyes were still open as his head came to a stop. Dania swore but managed to avoid joining the chorus of shocked cries and screams. “Weapons up boys and girls!” She shouted.
“This dwarf wants to play and he picked the wrong group to play with! Stick in twos, yell if you see ‘im, Jimmy, you’re with me!”
They might not have been the bravest soldiers of the lands, but they weren’t exactly new to the business of killing, or dying, she thought sourly. It would take more than a couple of gruesome deaths to shake their mettle.
They spread out into the darkness, weapons in one hand and torches in the other. The light flickered, casting crazed shadows through the bushes, but it still left no place to hide as they spread outwards in a loose arc.
“Got a bear or something over here!” Fred yelled and Dania's mind made the connection moments before Fred’s scream cut through the air and other voices were yelling, the entire arc turning to collapse on the scream.
The next few breaths were mayhem, Dania could only see flashes of light and dark, people and blood. She caught glimpses of the dwarf in the midst of the confusion, cackling as he fought like a demon, bloodied pelts seemed to hang off him and whirl with him, snagging the weapons of her band. She held back a moment, hoping the others might wound him, perhaps kill him. She saw Jimmy swing at the dwarf’s unprotected back, saw him twist with supernatural speed, saw Jimmy fall, guts spilling from the opening wound in his stomach, eyes wide and staring.
He was going to kill them all, she realized, he almost had already! There were only three left, her, Kelly and Stefan. They stood around the dwarf as a loose triangle, none willing to try their luck. She blinked and the dwarf had struck, flashing forward faster than she could believe and Stefan was staggering, blood fountaining from his throat and his left leg falling away as his body collapsed. The dwarf turned, facing them both as Stefan’s body twitched.
Kelly’s voice was shaky “on the count of three we jump ‘im, he’s got to be tiring.” Dania nodded, licking her lips. The dwarf watched them, his grin wide, cleaver seemingly held loose at his side.
“One” Kelly breathed.
Dania thought about how many had died so far and searched the dwarf’s body for wounds.
“Two” Kelly’s voice firmed and Dania saw her bracing herself to strike. The dwarf had barely moved, he seemed…more than confident. He seemed certain.
“THREE!” Kelly roared and leapt. Dania turned and ran.
The screams behind her died in a few breaths, but by then Dania had made it to the entry of the gulch and had begun the long run down the hills. She felt pretty sure the cold would get her before she made it, but frostbite was better than a cleaver and she’d learned long ago that sometimes life didn’t offer good choices.
- Colin "BoBliness" Hill -