The Tales of Esfah (short fiction)

The Rise of Sshkkryyahr the Dread

Pt. 3 of 3

Iluchus and the Obsidian Grotto

Emperor Kurlahk sat upon the gleaming black throne of his realm: the Obsidian Grotto. His red skin contrasted the massive ebon chair made decades ago by drakufreet slaves. Crafting the jagged, black glass cathedra had claimed the lives of many dragonkin, but they were far easier to control than full-sized dragons. Besides, any life not born of morehl blood was of inherently lesser value.

Kurlahk leaned forward eagerly; news of the victory had reached him in advance of his general. The Emperor’s champions were due to return for an audience after riding down Warlord Ruthak and his dwarven forces before they could seek refuge at Hagrond Mount, the next closest community of their vagha peers.

Shedakor and Sshkkryyahr, his drider consort, strolled into the emperor’s sanctum. The drider towered above Shedakor; her feminine lava elf half perched naked atop the giant spider portion below. She had no need for clothes. In contrast, Shedakor wore his finest vest, a crushed velvet piece, and leather harnesses to hold his six well-used flintlock pistols. The Emperor wore a robe of similar fabric.

Kurlahk practically buzzed as they approached. “Welcome, welcome conquerors,” he greeted. “You have won Valis for me. The land is finally unified under my control…”

“For now,” Sshkkryyahr interjected, her eyes lingering upon the fine cloth adorning Emperor Kurlahk’s figure.

The emperor narrowed his gaze at her and then at Shedakor. “What does that mean?”

Shedakor sighed as if he and the drider had conversed on this regularly during their return voyage—and didn’t see eye to eye. “Nothing, Emperor. We can handle…”

“The dwarves had an alliance with the humans of the plains—they have interfered in our battles before. The Amazon Queen Iluchus commands a strong calvary, and the vagha sent a message to them for help before we sieged and took the city,” Sshkkryyahr said. “They will come and take Valis back from you.”

Shedakor noted, “We’ve hidden a contingent of soldiers within the city. Any human counterattack will meet with several nasty surprises.”

“With the vagha destroyed, their alliance is ended,” Kurlahk insisted. “Surely they would not risk their lives for vengeance on the dwarves behalf?”

Shedakor nodded as if he agreed with the Emperor. Sshkkryyahr shook her head. “They are not morehl. They think differently than lava elves.”

She paused and clicked her teeth; her eyes swept over the muscular captain of the praetorian guard who stood watch over the throne and noted the fancy sword on his hip. She found the words to explain her reasoning. “They will not let you keep it because it will upset the balance of power if you command so much territory. Valis will become a stronghold within one generation and you will be able to properly defend it, populate it, and enforce a stranglehold on the region. Iluchus is no fool—she will attack before you have a chance to reinforce it. She will come while you are still recovering from the war you have just won.”

Emperor Kurlahk sat back and drummed his fingers on a smooth armrest. Finally he nodded. “You may be right… but we cannot strike out at the humans, and we cannot yet properly defend what we have taken without weakening defenses at the Obsidian Grotto.”

“Correct,” Sshkkryyahr hissed. “But I may have a solution.”

He bid her continue.

“Make Valis a vassal state. Give it to a trustworthy ally.”

Shedakor scoffed. The emperor likewise curled a lip.

“We are morehl. We trust nobody.”

“Not exactly what I meant,” Sshkkryyahr clarified. “I have already approached an acquaintance who can manage Valis and fill it with a corps of the thing you lack: magicians skilled in bending the elements to match your vision.”

Kurlahk leaned forward, interested in her proposal.

Sshkkryyahr explained, “Valis would pay an annual tribute as a vassal state. This sorcerer will bring his warlocks and cultists to take over the city and support you and your armies with sorcery when necessary to continue your campaigns. With their help, you could defeat Iluchus and eventually overthrow even Gundakhor.”

The emperor nodded; his eyes lit at the notion of expanding west into the great dwarven strongholds. “If it can be done, then make it so. I would prefer to sit atop the ruins of Gundakhor when next I watch the Daybringer return.”

“Twenty-two years is an easily doable timeline,” the drider agreed. “You might control all of Esfah by then.”

“This plan goes well beyond wiping out Ruthak and the dwarven city,” Shedakor reminded his lord, hinting that he may be biting more than he could swallow.

“Correct,” Emperor Kurlahk said. “But fortune favors the bold—and if we do nothing, we may soon find Iluchus on our doorstep.”

“I need him, too.” Sshkkryyahr grinned and pointed to the muscular morehl standing near the throne as the emperor’s personal guard.

“Charbann?” he clarified. “Whatever for?”

“Yes, him,” she said, eying him appreciatively. “He will do nicely. Our forces are somewhat depleted and we will require some additional, capable hands to turn back the amazon queen when she arrives.”

Shedakor saw the way Sshkkryyahr looked at Charbann and glowered at his new rival. He noted the warrior’s gilded blade; it identified him as the heir to a prominent family in the region, but he said nothing.

“You may have him,” Kurlahk nodded, indifferent on the matter. “Turn back the humans and finish this battle.”

“One more thing?” The drider took several steps closer to the emperor whose long, wine-colored robes trailed after him. Charbann, along with several of the Imperial Guard stiffened at her approach. Emperor Kurlahk calmed them with a hand motion.

“May I?” Sshkkryyahr asked, beckoning with a hand. “I do appreciate such a fine weave.”

Kurlahk beamed. “The textiles of the Obsidian Grotto are second to none. By all means. Our weavers are unparalleled.”

She grinned as she let the fabric flow through her fingers. “I would love to create something so fine… but I have need of your artisans as well. I have something else in mind. Send ten of them to the frontier. I may have use of them.”

The emperor flashed her a look of carefully masked confusion and then returned to his chair. “Of course. I will send them at once.”

Sshkkryyahr bowed low and beckoned for Charbann to follow. She and Shedakor made their exit.

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