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