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.