The Tales of Esfah (short fiction)

The Rise of Sshkkryyahr the Dread

Pt. 2 of 3

Wrath of the Drider

Tonga stirred the fire with his stick. Cinder and ashes leapt skyward like fireflies and illuminated the bearded faces of his friends Fhurg and Mowgathon. Technically, Mowgathon was his brother’s friend; Churloch’s life had been another claimed by the vagha-morehl war. Tonga frowned slightly through his red beard.

“I heard that General Irenicus was murdered a day ago by those durngam lava elves,” Fhurg spat.

Mowgathon crooked his jaw and added, “Rumor is that Shedakor himself finally got the drop on him.”

“So close to our homes?” Tonga asked.

Mowgathon nodded. All creatures of Esfah could draw upon magic to varying degrees—but some, such as Mowgathon, were particularly gifted at it. The thaumaturge’s furry headdress, a symbol of his appointment as a spellcaster, bobbed slightly as he agreed. “They’ve penetrated so deeply into our homeland in just a few days… they must have consorted with some kind of dark magic. Something far different from the blessings of Firiel.”

Tonga frowned and glanced down at his war-ax. He hadn’t seen actual combat yet; he was young yet and had been content to remain at the family forge as their most promising crafter. All vagha families were required to contribute one son to the military. Tonga’s family had paid the ultimate price and so he did not have to join—but once he learned Churloch was sent to the Eternal Lands by morehl bullets, nothing could stop him.

“First Churloch and now Irenicus,” Tonga fumed. He and Fhurg had been part of the last team of recruits trained under the famed general and had grown close. They’d met during their training, just as Churloch and Mowgathon had. “They will be avenged. By Firiel, I swear it.”

Fhurg nodded. “I have a dark feeling about tonight. We might spill morehl blood before Rhaudian sets on her second cycle.”

“Mowgathon, you can read the destinies? Will we be avenged tonight?” Tonga asked.

The spellcrafter bit his lower lip. “Prognostication is far from exact. Too many variables… best I could hope for is a premonition. Ye might as well ask your mother fer the intuition in her bones. It’s about as accurate.”

Tong blew a hot blast through his nose, unhappy with the report. “I’m tired of waiting in the dark. Our watch doesn’t start for two more hours.” He stirred the flames again. Neither he nor his companions could sleep.

“We could go watch Rhaudian anyway,” Fhurg offered. At least it would get them out of the bowels of the dwarven caves. “It’s supposed to be a blood moon tonight.”

“A grim omen,” Mowgathon said.

Tonga stood. “Well, let’s go then.”

His companions rose and followed him through the winding tunnels. The lower levels of Valis were bored and organic as if some unknown creature had melted or chewed its way through the bowels of the hillock. Something else had been here before the vagha put down roots nearly a century ago.

Tonga brushed a hand against the walls as they smoothed out into the polished edges and artistic cuts more consistent with dwarven craftsmanship. They passed through an expansive undercroft and into the main halls of Valis, the region’s biggest vaghan city. A temple erected to the fire goddess rang the hourly bell.

The three passed and noted the time. They had plenty of time to watch the ominous moon before reporting to their post for tower duty.

Shedakor walked confidently into the spacious tent in the heart of a secret morehl encampment. His forearms were splattered with blood and likewise his feet were darkened from the shins downward by the dying sprays of his enemies.

Sshkkryyahr perked up at the metallic scents of prey.

The lava elf strode boldly into her presence. “It was as you said. We annihilated our enemies in their defensive outposts. A few drakufreet under the care of our crafters remain within to keep the signal fires active.”

“Excellent,” Sshkkryyahr hissed as she drew closer to the assassin. Mere days ago his army had verged on fracturing. Now, they were poised to deliver a killing stroke and end this war—all because of her. “There is one more thing,” she teased.

Shedakor raised an eyebrow. His eagerness to deploy the army was clearly written across his face. A distrusting glimmer lit within his eyes: the suspicion that the monster’s deal had been too good to be true.

She crept closer to the elf and felt the heat radiating off of his fiery, red skin. “Such wariness,” she smirked as she lowered herself to Shedakor’s height. “I would think you did not trust me.”

He put his hands on his hips and stared at her, still waiting for her to speak plainly.

“I am an ambitious creature,” she purred. “There are things that I desire—grand and lofty things.” She tapped his chin with a taloned finger and stroked the elf’s skin from dimple to navel. “In order to fulfill my needs, I require a strong consort.”

Shedakor’s black eyes widened with sudden understanding as the drider walked sidelong around him as if he were little more than prey. The implications of such a union with the half-elf, half-spider flooded his mind, but it was too fuzzy with lust for flesh and battle both to make sense of his feelings.

Sshkkryyahr blocked the way between him and the door. “I have very specific needs,” she teased. “We are stronger together.”

With a tug of a rope she closed the drapes to her tent’s entry and sealed them within.

“The war can wait a little while… partner.” She eyed him lasciviously and then wrapped her appendages and lips around him.

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