The Rise of Sshkkryyahr the Dread
Part 1 of 3
The Dark Deal
Year 96 of the First Age
The lava-elf’s carbine erupted in a flash of light and the haze of blue smoke as he pulled the trigger and cackled. “Another,” he demanded, tossing the long-gun to his subordinate so that it could be reloaded. “I love the way their little heads explode in the distance.” Another attendant handed Shedakor a freshly charged weapon as he leaned over a fallen log and took aim.
Another orange-haired head broke apart into darker shades of red.
Shedakor chortled and exchanged the weapon again for another. He’d been picking off stragglers from the back of the dwarven forces for several minutes, littering the grassy field with their bodies.
For years now he’d controlled his region’s military forces, and he hoped to finally destroy their dwarven neighbors, the vagha. What they shared in devotion to one of the five main gods of Esfah gave him little pause. The slaughter of the vagha in their realm had begun as little more than a land dispute and it had quickly turned violent.
Shedakor grinned and took down another enemy in the distance.
It might also be about pride—at least a little, he mused. Ruthak, the dwarven warlord in command of the vagha forces had insulted Shedakor’s emperor during treaty negotiations a decade ago. Now, ten years later, Shedakor verged on having the last laugh.
Once the forces of the Obsidian Grotto finally quashed Ruthak’s army they would march into the Vagha tunnels and put the sword to the women and children, claiming their land for the expansion of the morehl empire. Even now Shedakor’s cavalry forced the whole of that army into a massive ravine where he’d stationed troops across the ridges.
Normally, the morehl hated to fight in the open, but with his troops out of the range of vagha axes and on the run, few dwarves would survive the sprint to escape via the old aqueduct before they could fill it with blood and smoke. His shooters would cut them down—every last one.
Shedakor took aim again, willing Ruthak to show his face; he pulled the trigger. Something caught the smooth ball-shot with a loud clang: a large tower shield.
It glowed golden as the dwarf champion lowered it enough to peer over the top of it. He locked eyes with the sharpshooter.
“General Irenicus,” Shedakor hissed as he beckoned for a fresh gun. It wasn’t Warlord Ruthak, but General Irenicus was his right hand. First Irenicus, and then Ruthak, he promised himself. “One of these days I will get an angle around that mystic shield of yours.”
He fired again. “I think today will be that day… eventually, one of these bullets will take you down, Irenicus.”
The vagha general thrust his battle-horn into the hands of the dwarf he’d just saved as he guarded against Shedakor’s bullets. Pealing loudly, the trumpet blasted a signal to the dwarven forces.
Shedakor sneered. He already had an accounting of Ruthak’s forces; he knew that over ninety percent of them were right here—that signal horn would only call them further into the lava elves’ trap.
He drew a bead on the horn blower and fired. Kra-koom-taaang! Shedakor cursed as the shield caught the edge of the bullet; it caromed off and whizzed past his target’s face. The lead ball cracked through the end of the horn and busted the edge with a jagged break, changing the pitch of the horn’s note to a feverish, insistent tone.
“Reload me!” He tossed the spent gun to another elf who failed to catch it. “Another,” he demanded of his distracted troops. They stared off into the distance.
One of them shook away the daze and handed his leader a weapon. “Don’t you hear that? It—it sounds like thunder.” The elf looked down at the metal carbine he held at a vertical angle, slightly worried about lightning strikes. The selumari, the blue skinned elves of the coast, had been known to call down deadly electricity from the sky.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Shedakor scoffed, grinning as the dwarves began their descent into the trapped chasm. “There aren’t any coral elves for a hundred leagues and the sky is clear.”
He sighted down the barrel and drew a bead on Irenicus, waiting for the ginger-bearded fool to peek his head out from behind his protection. Shedakor exhaled a breath and held it.
The delicate hairs within his ears vibrated with the low rumbling sound that suddenly picked up volume.
Tearing his sight away from his prey, he cocked his head. “That’s not thunder…”
The hairs prickled on the back of the elf’s red-skinned arm as he descended deeper into the pit. It wasn’t the heat or humidity of the winding tunnel that bothered Shedakor; all morehl, lava elves, were quite used to those conditions—he preferred them even. It was the reputation of the creature he approached that unnerved him.
Nearing the bowels of the abyss he paused and steeled his gut. He did not want it ever said that something had rattled the renowned elf champion. It had been the combination of his bravery and skill that had earned him the command of the Obsidian Grotto’s forces; not even their emperor wielded the kind of power that came with such respect and he would not sacrifice his reputation over a mere quake in his belly.
He stepped off of the last stair; his feet crunched the bleached bones that scattered the floor. They cracked with every step as he neared the mouth of the cave and the fiend who lived here. Drapes of fine silk obscured her dwelling. Lights flickered on the other side of the fibrous curtain casting shadows of the mighty Sshkkryyahr’s silhouette.
Shedakor walked confidently into the home of Sshkkryyahr the drider, careful not to move a hand anywhere near the butts of any of the four flintlock pistols holstered on his waist or the two additional ones affixed to his torso. He knew the slightest misunderstanding might end in his demise.
She fixed her black eyes upon the brave morehl and scanned him head to foot. Sshkkryyahr curled a lip and exposed her sharp teeth.
“Mighty Sshkkryyahr,” Shedakor greeted as he bent a knee in respect. He did not lower his gaze. Monsters could prove treacherous creatures, at least until a bargain was struck. “I come seeking your assistance.” He scanned the drider appreciatively.
Aside from her jagged teeth, Sshkkryyahr appeared as a beautiful morehl woman, nude from the waist up and with long locks of hair tumbling down to obscure her breasts. At her hips she took on a new form altogether; the body and legs of a giant spider bore the beautiful, deadly maiden atop.
Sshkkryyahr looked at Shedakor lustily. “You come with honeyed words, sharpshooter. I have heard tales of your deeds,” she returned the flattery, and then her words turned jaded. “Your most recent battle has not gone well, according to rumors that reach me even in the depths.”
Shedakor grimaced. “I assume you were told rightly. We had nearly pushed the dwarven warlord Ruthak out of the region and claimed it as our own. But he enlisted the aid of the would-be queen of the Amazon folk in the nearby plains.”
The drider smiled. “I have heard that Iluchus is as formidable as she is beautiful. But then, you know better than I.”
Frowning, the morehl continued. “We’d pushed the dwarves into the ravine where the washout meets the plains. They should have been easy prey for our marksmen… but then the chariots fell upon us. They came so fast and their spears darkened the sky like a storm-front. Despite bringing up a second force, Iluchus’s forces routed our troops who had no where to seek cover.”
Sshkkryyahr merely stared at her supplicant.
“I have been told that you could offer assistance?”
The drider moved about her lair with uncanny speed as she closed the gap. She lowered her carapace so that she was at eye level with the crimson elf and the monster caressed his cheek with the smooth backside of one talon.
His gaze met hers and Shedakor felt as if he’d fallen into a warm pool of her deep, coal-black eyes.
“We can certainly come to some sort of arrangement,” she cooed. “But it will cost you something in return.”
Shedakor sighed. He’d expected there would be some kind of toll and he’d already tried to calculate what he might be willing to give—what the emperor of Obsidian Grotto would give, that is. “What do you require?”
“You control the forces of your master the emperor?”
He nodded measuredly.
“Excellent.” Her voice hissed with serpentine danger. “I only require one thing. You must desecrate the altar in the Temple of Firiel.”
Shedakor cocked an eyebrow. He was not religious, but he still respected the power of the priestly caste.
She rose taller on her spiny legs. “You do still worship the fire goddess in the Obsidian Grotto, do you not?”
He nodded. “Yes. But the spell casters…”
“Do not worry about your sorcerers. I do not seek their ire; I do not require you to abandon the magic your kind pulls from the flames.”
“Then what?” His kind was birthed of Death and Flame, but only madmen worshiped Death—Firiel was the goddess their faithful turned to when they sought hope. Death was capricious—at least one might supplicate the fire goddess.
Sshkkryyahr grinned. “You must instead worship only Death. Rip the arcane power from Firiel’s heart as you like. Twist and bend the elements to your will, morehl. But do not worship and revere the third child of Tarvenehl—your devotion belongs to the void-child, Death, if you want my assistance.”
She leaned forward again and whispered the secret name of the Death-god into Shedakor’s ear. Her hot breath felt seductive on his neck.
“I-it will be done,” he swallowed hard, pushing down the lust that rose in his loins. He noticed the obsessive scrawls drawn on every surface of Sshkkryyahr’s walls. The black name covered everything; ink sigils drawn in her devotion to the dark god sealed her lair with death magic.
The drider put a finger to his lips and then licked her own. “Excellent. I will consult the four totem-beings of my master and seek a boon on your behalf. One of these spirits will respond—and your pledge to foul and destroy the temple will be the price of your bargain. I will win this war for you. Ruthak and his dwarves will fall by your hand.”
Shedakor nodded, turned on his heels. Over the crunching of bones he could hear her invoking the most powerful of the dark eidolons.
“Malfeus, Noxigant, Ghastamant, and Surfeibese, your humble servant seeks an audience on behalf of your father, the god who must not be named…” and then she named him.
Shedakor ascended the winding stairs. He had a temple to destroy.
Two dwarves guffawed with hearty belly laughs up ahead.
Shedakor peered through the scrubby undergrowth and waited, grinning. His spies had paid off. Just on the other side of the grove walked a cluster of drunk vagha: Ruthak led the way, prattling raucously about how they’d so recently dismantled the morehl forces.
“It’ll be months before the redskins will be able to mount an effective attack again,” one declared.
More laughs. The warlord’s entourage chortled as they threw back flagons and bottles.
“Closer… closer…” Shedakor whispered to himself. The five expendable warriors on his heels hung still as statues on either side and awaited his signal in the shadows.
The vagha took another thirty steps and stopped right in front of the crouching warriors when Ruthak whirled drunkenly. “Oy! Hold up,” he demanded and then leaned against the limestone berm that hedged in the far side of the path, propping himself up with one arm.
Shedakor stayed his six companions with a hand as his enemy unclasped his belt and began pissing on the escarpment wall.
“Hey,” he called. “How do you spell Shedakor?” Ruthak laughed as he maneuvered his hips to write the name.
“Now!” Shedakor howled. The morehl pistol-men leapt into action.
Dwarves spun on their heels, shocked, They fumbled for their weapons.
Lava elf flintlock hammers snapped and then boomed with ominous reports. With nowhere to flee for cover, lead and steel shot tore Ruthak’s guards apart.
The ever-sober General Irenicus leapt in front of his warlord to protect Ruthak with his magic shield.
Shedakor grinned as he stared at the warlord and his general.
Irenicus blasted a rally note from his signal horn and lights went up in the nearby guard towers. He held his tower shield at the ready and crouched ever so slightly, ready to react to the gunfire.
“Move aside,” Shedakor demanded. “This war ends now.”
“Aye,” Irenicus spat. “Any second now. It’ll be over then… when we take yer cocky little head. More guards will arrive in a moment.”
“Do you mean yours or mine?” Shedakor narrowed his eyes, trying to goad a reaction out of the dwarf.
The general returned the glower. “You don’t have enough troops to attack as in our home.”
Shedakor tossed a round piece of shot to the dirt in front of Irenicus as his loyal morehl reloaded their pistols and took defensive positions twenty paces down the path on either side.
Heavy footsteps tromped against the cobblestone in the nearby shadows. The cursed bullet that had landed in the dirt glowed with a villainous glimmer, illuminating Irenicus’s feet with a light somehow both red and black at the same time. “Maybe you’re right. But I have these. A boon from Malfeus.”
Irenicus clutched his shield at the ready and howled as Shedakor yanked pistol after pistol from their holsters and fired them in rapid succession, putting six neat holes through the general’s mystical artifact. The dwarf’s body leaked blood as he collapsed from his wounds, dropping the ineffective shield; its arcane, yellow glow had dissipated and smoke poured through the holes in the busted item.
Ruthak growled in pain as he slunk to the ground behind his fallen comrade, clutching at his superficial wounds and spewing vitriol he slid to his rump atop the piss-soaked soil. The battle-hardened warrior drooled blood and spittle from his lips; it clotted in his beard as he roared a challenge. Even wounded he could prove a formidable foe—perhaps now even more so.
Shedakor smiled and walked backwards into the grove, dissipating into the shadows. There wouldn’t be time to reload his weapons before Ruthak’s reinforcements arrived to cut down the morehl strike team.
The crafty lava elf could have risked his life to end the war in their favor, but now that he knew how deadly these cursed bullets were, he had no reason to take foolish chances. The vagha would fall, and soon.
With one final grin, he flashed the white teeth of his smile to the stout warlord and Shedakor disappeared fully into the night. This new alliance with Sshkkryyahr would prove most advantageous indeed.
Depleted though both forces were, it was time to press the attack.
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/