Smoke rose slowly from the western tower, twisting into spirals which danced in the air before dispersing. Thanes Redson Sharpaxe and Keska Greybeard stood atop the eastern tower, surveying the battlefield. The fight had been extremely short and brutal. The scouts had laid down a curtain of crossbow bolts, sweeping the eastern tower emplacements clear of sentries. Chasing down the hill behind them had come the slayers - eager for battle. Caught completely by surprise, the eastern tower hadn't had time to barricade themselves in before being overwhelmed in a sea of orange hair as the slayers stormed the tower. The western tower had put up a little more of a fight, locking their door and firing back with their primitive handguns. It hadn't lasted long though - Ferdi Rustmane and his miners ran through the inaccurate gunfire and placed blasting charges around the door. The explosion had blown the door off its hinges and demolished part of the wall, allowing the slayers access to the tower where they repeated the chaos of the first.
Now the humans had been wiped out, both towers were in the hands of the dwarves and Runesmith Smoothstone had wasted no time taking the miners down into the tunnels to find the lost forge of his ancestors. Sharpaxe leaned on the battlements and chewed on his pipe, glaring at the smoke coming from the other tower.
"We did the right thing, my lord." Thane Greybeard was looking over the hillside which housed the concealed entrance to the Stonebeard settlement and its precious forge. Sharpaxe grunted. Greybeard took that as affirmation and continued. "The humans out here would not have given up the forge. They would have demanded its riches, insulting us in the process. Then we would have been forced to do battle anyway." Greybeard looked round at his commander. "It saved time this way."
"And what about the reports of an escaping soldier? If he carries word of this day back to the Empire there will be consequences."
"It is many miles to the nearest human town, my lord. Even if he manages to survive the journey who will believe him? And even if they send someone to take a look, we will be long gone before any human troops can come and investigate. The Empire will not discover us."
The sound of metal-clad feet on the stone stairs cut short Sharpaxe's reply. From the stairs came Balrak Deepthrone, commander of the Ironbreaker unit. In his hand he clutched several sheets of paper. "My lords, I apologise for intruding." Sharpaxe waved Balrak up - he liked the younger dwarf - he was intelligent, decent and honourable and had been as unimpressed by this skirmish as Sharpaxe himself.
"I have been going through the papers left by the force commander. It seems a sizeable Empire army is on its way here."
Sharpaxe felt his blood chill. "For what reason?"
"It doesn't say, my lord. These are just orders to the garrison commander to extend every hospitality. It seems they are to stay for a while."
Greybeard took the orders document and quickly scanned it. "This doesn't make sense. There isn't anything out here and certainly not enough room for an army to settle down. What are they after?"
"I don't know, my lord. But the dispatches indicate they are due here today."
Sharpaxe rubbed a tired hand over his eyes. "Damn. And with that soldier's report we are not going to be able to negotiate." He looked out, along the road to the south as if expecting to see the bright plumes of the Empire's banners appearing. "Gather the troops, begin deploying the artillery and bring Runesmith Smoothstone up from below. We will meet them here and see if our ancestors approve of us defending their lands."