The factory always felt quiet after dark. Without the constant whirring of machines, the hiss of steam from the engines, and the workers shouting to one another, it was almost tranquil. But even now, an hour after the last gear stopped turning, not all had left for home. In the furthest corner of the building, a mountain dwarf could be seen, trying to coax what looked like a gigantic orange slug into a cage.
“Get back inside so I can go home, you useless lump!” He prodded the creature with a metal pole, but it didn’t seem to notice.
“Of all the nights for this to happen, why when it’s my turn to feed you?”
The creature only snorted in response.
The dwarf rubbed his eyes, the beginning of a headache embedding itself right between his eyes. When was the last time he’d gotten a good night’s sleep? Two weeks? Three? He wasn’t getting one tonight, that was for certain. For a moment, he considered going home right then. Maybe, if he acted real surprised tomorrow when the others discovered the slug out of its cage, they’d think it escaped on its own.
A clattering from across the building shook him from his thoughts.
“Who goes?” he said.
No response. The dwarf crept towards the other side of the building, checking over his shoulder from time to time. A broom lay on the ground near the wall, but other than that there was nothing there. Warily, he looked about, but from what he could see the factory was empty.
“Show yourself!” He shouted, “Or I’ll find you, and then you’ll really be in trouble!”
The sound of running feet on concrete echoed off the walls. There really was someone here. The dwarf dashed towards the sound, leaping over conveyor belts and wooden crates. The footsteps grew louder, their owner making no effort to conceal them now. The dwarf chased them into the corner of the building, where, after vaulting over a particularly large pile of crates, he found a man dressed in ragged green cloak, clutching an armful of tiny glass bottles filled with an orange goop.
“So you came here to steal, did you?” The dwarf asked.
“D-don’t come any closer!” The man said, trembling “I’m armed.”
The dwarf let out a short bark of a laugh, “Ha! So am I!”
He drew his dagger, an ornate piece about as long as his forearm. Even in the darkness, it seemed to gleam.
The man looked from the knife to the dwarf to the bottles in his arms. For a split second, neither moved. Then, without warning, the man dropped his loot and lunged, pulling a knife of his own from beneath his cloak. The dwarf leapt aside, taking a swipe at the man, who just barely managed to raise his weapon in time to parry. With one flick of his wrist, the dwarf twisted the knife out of his opponent’s hand, sending it clattering under a nearby conveyor belt.
“I’m not sure what you thought was gonna happen, attacking me like that,” the dwarf said, touching the tip of his blade to the man’s throat, “I’m a bleedin’ mountain dwarf! We’ve got fighting blood, don’t ya know?”
“P-please don’t hurt me!” The man squeaked, raising his hands, “I only wanted a few bottles, just enough to get a few extra coins at the market. I have kids to feed, honest!”
“Oh, I’m sure. And I’ll bet one of them’s dying and you need money for medicine.”
“Yes! Poor little Jimmy’s caught the plague, and-”
“Shut up, you worthless street urichen. You’re wasting your time lying to me.”
The man opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again, going red in the face. The dwarf sighed, and lowered his dagger. “You honestly think I care if you steal from this place? No skin off my nose if the people at the top lose a few coins. Go right ahead, take everything for all I care. Besides, it’d be too much of a hassle to have to explain what your corpse is doing on the factory floor tomorrow.”
“You’re… just gonna let me go?” The man asked.
“Sure. By the way, you ever work with slugs? The big kind?”
“There’s a real lazy one in the corner over there. Lock it up for me when you’re done, will ya? I’m going home.”