Tonga paused in front of the tall doors to the vault. It was more of a reference to the depths and its usage than anything else. The doors did not lock; they weren’t even made of metal but of timbers and they swung easily on the hinges.
Weapons and other tools hung on the walls. Banks of locked, stone hatches lined the two walls. Compartments had been mined and then these doors erected to keep the treasury secure.
Tonga scoffed when he saw them. “What good is gold at a time like this?” He moved towards one large door that was twice the height as any vagha and the same dimensions wide. It sounded like chains rattled behind it and he stuck his head down into a food trough to try to peek at what hid behind the door.
A bulbous eye met his face, and the pupil dilated. The creature roared. When the echo subsided, the tromping of morehl footsteps down the corridor alerted them.
“We’ve got company,” a dwarf yelled.
Tonga looked back and found that his group of survivors had all equipped themselves with weapons and stood with their backs against the wall to hide from sight.
With his impromptu guardian distracted, Freir slid into the food trough and laid down, able to crawl into the pen.
Tonga whirled back. “Freir—get out of there! We don’t know what that thing is…”
“It’s an umber hulk!” the boy yelled, crawling though and into the next room with the locked door. “I’ve seen one drawn in a picture book.”
“We need all the help we can get. Can you let it out?”
“I can open the door from inside, but it’s chained up with a lock.”
Tonga looked back to the weapons rack near the vault’s entry. A key ring hung on a hook. Before he could have a closer dwarf grab them, the enemy arrived with gun and rapier in hand.
The first wave entered, and the vagha fell upon them with axes. The element of surprise earned them several morehl heads, but they were in the open now and exposed. Morehl soldiers fought back pitching the chamber into chaos.
Tonga sprinted forward and snatched the keys even as a pair of lava elves clawed for him. He risked a glance beyond his assailants and spotted the drider coming closer, walking at a leisurely pace. Beside her strode a regal looking elf in a gunslinger’s vest: Shedakor.
Breaking away from the thugs who tried to grab him, Tonga spun and chucked the keys across the room. They landed in the trough and slid into the basin where Freir could reach them.
His attackers finally got a hold of Tonga and dragged him to the ground. One pinned him to the ground while the other casually held the point of his blade to the dwarf’s throat. The capricious morehl used his weapon to play with his prey’s beard, trying to cut it before delivering a killing blow.
The rear door suddenly burst open and a bug-like creature bellowed a challenge. It rushed forward with massive arms that wielded chitinous plates.
Before the morehl could respond, the umber hulk charged upon the red skinned intruders. It whirled and smashed them wherever it could, splattering them like bugs.
Tonga scrambled to his feet and ducked beneath the monstrosity. He found his way to Freir’s side and huddled next to the boy.
For a moment they dared hope that they could fight their way out.
Shedakor lunged over the troop in front of him and stabbed a beleaguered dwarf with his rapier before turning and yanking a pistol from his hip and snap-firing on another one. Ahead of him, the umber hulk locked eyes on Sshkkryyahr who fought at his side. It shrieked and charged for her, not noticing anything else in the vault but its equal enemy.
The drider hissed and took up his challenge. She dashed towards him and they collided into a heap of rage, all legs and claws. Their whirlwind of commotion dragged anybody into the fray who veered too close, both morehl and vagha alike screamed as the embattled monsters rolled over them with fatal results.
Shedakor ducked behind one of his minions just as a dwarf drew a bead on him with his crossbow. The unsuspecting shield-mate collapsed with a bolt through his eye socket. As soon as he hit the floor Shedakor had his weapon drawn and he blasted the dwarf before he could reload.
The elven assassin drew pistol after pistol and discharged them in the room taking out five more of the remaining vagha, leaving only two. He yanked another pistol and took aim at the last warrior who stood next to a dwarf child and pulled the trigger on his flintlock.
Click. His pistols had all been emptied and needed reloading. He narrowed his black eyes to coal-like slits and began refilling them with his powder horn, a task that only took seconds in his experienced hands.
Tonga and Freir backed up slowly as Shedakor’s weapon failed to fire. They had nowhere to retreat to—it was all in the hands of the gods and the umber hulk, now.
Sshkkryyahr and her mortal enemy crashed and collided, knocking each other from one side of the vault to the other. The impact of their collisions busted open the doors to the safes. Gold and other valuables poured out from them, spilling across the floor and scattering wide in the tumult.
The umber hulk punched the drider so hard that she collapsed after skidding to the opposite side of the chamber. She tried to rise on her wobbly legs, but she could not.
Emboldened by his blood-lust, the insectoid beast charged at her, roaring and ready to deliver a killing blow when Sshkkryyahr suddenly sprang to her feet and scaled the walls vertically. The umber hulk careened into the stone surface, smacking into it at full force; the ferocity of the impact cracked its natural armor with a sickening, wet sound.
Sshkkryyahr gooped the monster into place against the wall from overhead, entangling it in sticky webs, and then dropped down behind it. The tricky creature snatched one of the busted doors that hung free against a demolished safe. Gemstones rained onto the floor as she used the object as a melee weapon, smashing her prey’s head until it busted open like the rinds of a ripe hullifruit.
She laughed gleefully and began digging into the busted monster’s skull, heaving sloppy glops of entrail and gray matter into her mouth.
With the danger to the lava elf army eliminated, the morehl walked into the room victoriously. They surrounded the last two remaining dwarves with flintlocks drawn. Shedakor grinned mischievously, clutching a pistol in each fist.
Freir stood rigid, trying to sound defiant and brave. “We already sent a message to Iluchus. The humans will never let you keep Valis.”
Shedakor’s mouth twisted into something like a smile. “Then the amazons will share your fate.
Tonga covered Freir’s eyes and then closed his own eyes tight while holding his head high. The humans hadn’t arrived in time, but at least Tonga knew that he hadn’t run from the fight. Their efforts had proved too little, too late.
The army may have been cowards, but they were right. Valis would fall after all.
Flintlock hammers cracked the air and the room filled with the blue smoke of morehl victory.
The Tales of Esfah is written by Christopher D. Schmitz
Christopher D. Schmitz is an author of fiction and nonfiction books. Before throwing himself into book writing he had published short fiction in more than twenty outlets. In addition to a day-job working with teenagers, he also writes for a local newspaper, speaks/sells books at comic-cons and other festivals, runs a blog for authors, and makes an insanely tiny amount of money playing the bagpipes.
He grew up as a product of the 1980s and thinks Stranger Things is “basically my biography.” He lives in rural Minnesota where he drinks unsafe amounts of coffee with his family and three rambunctious Frostwings. The caffeine shakes keeps the cold from killing him.
Check out his website and other fiction at https://www.authorchristopherdschmitz.com/