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…”