Thursday, December 10, 2009

Valkrys Stories, The Ninja Pizza Thief

The Ninja Pizza Thief

Valkrys is the queen of the stealth food thieves, but she doesn’t openly table surf, snatch things off counters or other blatantly obvious means of eating your food. Oh no, not the ninja queen! She takes pride in her ability to sneak up on you, and when you are least expecting it, to share your food without you ever knowing she was there.

The pinnacle of her prowess was demonstrated one day by our friend and neighbor “Boo”. Boo spent a lot of time at our house, as his house was rather crowded with siblings, and James and Boo loved to play video games together. On this particular day, Boo had brought over his own food, namely a box of pepperoni pizza. Some adult friends were over, so Jim and I were in the other room entertaining our guests, Valkrys happily by my side as she nearly always was while I was home.

In his need for sustenance while frantically thumbing game controls, Boo thought he would be able to get more eating time if he put his pizza box on the floor next to him. Between games, he would grab a couple of bites and shove the box closed to play.

Somehow in this distraction, Valkrys managed to creep quietly out of the room Jim and I were in, to the livingroom where Boo and James were playing, open the pizza box, and abscond with half a pizza with no one the wiser. It was only noticed between games when Boo went to get another slice of pizza. A loud and outraged “Hey! Who took my pizza!?” resounded through the house and Valkrys skirted around and hid behind me. It was only then I noticed the last piece of pizza being slurped in to her mouth as she tried to hide the evidence. I felt bad for Boo, but couldn’t help laughing out of my chair. The pizza box was in front of him by his left knee and he never saw her. For consolation I bought him another pizza which he wisely kept towards the rear of the counter in the kitchen while eating from it.

Abernyth 2

Upon the deck of the Thunderfire Cruiser Tethra, icy winds stole the warmth from his robes and filled Zhorvan’s bones with the chill of the northern winters, a misery his people had long forgotten in the deserts of Zukul. The messenger trembled on bent knees before him, expecting full well to face torture or death for his report. Behind him rows of missile launchers threatened the darkening skies as if to ward off the lazily falling white flakes. Lined up along the hulls were the thunderbolt cannons, massive war engines whose shells buried into the earth before exploding in an eruption of magma energy. Technology and magic fused in the darkest experiments produced such weapons as only dreamt in nightmares upon the continent they approached.

“Lord Zhorvan, the Gorgoth! All of its crew were captured and hung, its captain impaled! The humans! They killed them all!” For several moments the words seemed unreal to him. A scout ship and its entire crew slaughtered?

“What happened?” The words ground out between his clenched teeth.

“We were foraging as you commanded and brought back a bountiful store of meat of white-coated animals that seemed unafraid of our approach. We took the herd, almost 40 of the animals, and we spotted a settlement in the distance. Hoping to secure grain in trade, we were ambushed on the road and five ships waylaid our longboat. The Gorgoth saw them and fired upon them, sinking two of the ships, but many more came, too many to shoot out of the water before they keeled to the sides of the Gorgoth. Since most of our warriors were out on the land, they overwhelmed the defenses with their numbers. We were taken to the city like common criminals, but none of them could speak our tongue. We were imprisoned, beaten, starved for many days and then the executions began.” The young soldier paused, a grimace of grief and horror on his face. “Your son, Rhaikk, he was flayed alive. They asked him questions in their tongue, but we did not understand. They killed him slowly.” A red haze settled over his vision as he heard the words. More obsidian drops sizzled on the iron deck from where his black talons pierced his palms.

“Haavrakh!” A space cleared between the sailors as the massive creature approached. Claws and hooves rang along the deck like chimes of death. “We will fly over this city and make them pay for my son’s death.” The cold of his voice could have frozen the world were it not already in the icy grip of winter.

The black fleet converged on the other side of the island. The ships had been easy to destroy with four of his warships firing rockets and shells. Their primitive ballistae rang off their armored hulls, their flight far beyond lethal range. The human’s had a fleet of a hundred ships, but they were no match for the awesome barrage of the Thunderfire Cruisers. But they did come very near to expending his precious supply of ammunition. His first priority would be to secure the ingredients to make more once they established a base of operations.

Two of his Cruisers, the Manticore and the Firedrake were sent to hunt down and destroy the remaining warships of the humans while he protected the rag-tag fleet that was left of the refugees. His agonized frown passed across the pitiful remains of his people. Almost a thousand ships, boats and barges had set out from Zukul, but storms and monstrous creatures had claimed over half. Many of the vessels were leaking and he had to find shelter for them fast or lose more. Why was his luck so bad? Did he not care for his people? As if the ancestors answered his silent plea, the dark plume of a volcanic eruption burst into the sky from one of the largest islands on the horizon. Casting his sorcerous senses forth, he explored the stability of the mountain and its fiery core.

“Direct the fleet to that island, Marduk has given us a sign of his favor at last!” For the first time in months his crew brightened and commenced obedience with a new will.

It was warm in the cavern; the walls had been built of recent lava flows from the active volcano at its center. The ice seeped slowly from his bones and Zhorvan sighed in relief as he sampled the steaming water from the spring before climbing in and reflecting on the day’s events. The smaller island to the north still smoldered in flames from the barrage of weapon fire and the elemental forces of flame he had unleashed from the skies. The few survivors he had interrogated spoke of the city on the mainland he could see twenty miles to the south. His spells allowed him to understand their words, and he learned that it sat along the bay sheltered from the worst of the northern storms by two stretches of land. Fortifications bristled along the seawall, ballistae, trebuchets, catapults and other primitive weaponry poked out above the crenellations. A major deterrent to invasion by sea, the city of Abernyth was well defended, or so they claimed.

The lips of the sorcerer-priest twitched in amusement. Human technology was so far behind theirs! His ships would be in range long before their instruments of war could be brought to bear. A few rockets, maybe a devastating magma blast and they would surrender in fear. There would be no loss of life for his people, and plenty of slaves to replenish his workforce. Once Abernyth was under their control, the humans would be needed to disassemble the ships and create iron walled defenses to defend the city against counter-attack. Then the slaves could be used to replenish his stores of ammunition. With defenses and ammunition, he hoped they would buy time to find the gateway to Dolomakduum.

His agents had done their work well, and the subterfuge was going as planned. The dwarves and humans were very close to open war. He had heard of some minor boarder skirmishes, but he needed assurance, something to deter counter-actions against his people.

“Khazzikhar, I have foreseen the arrival of several diplomats in the city of Abernyth. Take what you need and bring them to me. I can send you there and bring you back with the power of this mountain of fire. Our spies in Abernyth can guide you to their locations and aid you in procuring these hostages.” Vrakkaia’s son nodded.

“It will be done, Father.” There were no excuses from his most promising student.

The boy had been his pride, unlike his legitimate heirs; Khazzikhar would be a powerful and ambitious Priest Lord when he matured. The one good thing that had come of the destruction of the City of Fire was that his wife Khazka was nowhere to be found, and Zhorvan offered a prayer of thanks to the ancestors for delivering him from her. Vrakkaia moved along his right side as he relaxed in the steamy vapors of the hot spring. Her taloned fingers continued to wind his long locks around tubes of baalsarm, a light and porous wood. Scented oils gave a bluish sheen to his pitch black hair as it reflected the light of the guttering torches. Golden skull talismans clasped the ringlets in place before Vrakkaia was done.

When she was finished, her fingers dug in to the tense muscles of his neck and shoulders, rubbing away the anxiety he had felt since the moment he crested the mountains and seen the destruction of his home. The hot water helped to banish the searing cold that had settled in to his bones and for the first time since leaving Zukul, he felt almost content. He pulled her to him and her slightly swollen belly pressed against his side.

“With luck, our next child will be born in the city of the gods, Vrakkaia.” Across from him, his eldest military son allowed two younger kana servants to fuss over him.

The gray of Khazzik’s hair startled Zhorvan now that he had time to consider it. When had his son aged past him? But it was not the first time he had witnessed such dichotomy. Deep lines crossed the warrior’s face, and his ringlets were peppered with silver strands. The dark black rings of his own beard drew Zhorvan’s gaze. The invigoration of the souls he kept hummed through his veins. His eldest sons had perished long ago and even Khazzik would die long before he ever saw gray, or yet the curse of the dark powers that turned his contemporaries to crystal. Their shimmering features once graced the obsidian council chambers wherein the most powerful sorcerer-priests of the Doradzhor Empire convened and plotted the conquest of Zukul and then had turned their eyes to Dunloring. The blasted remains of the Great Tower still smoked in his mind’s eye. What had they done!? A low giggle from the other side of the springs drew his attention back to his eldest surviving son.

Despite Khazzik’s four hundred years, he was still a vigorous warrior, and the kana knew it. They fawned over him as they would not his sorcerous sons. The fear of magic had never been entirely eliminated from their race, a fear the priesthood had encouraged to keep the populous and slaves in line.

“Perhaps when we have reached Dolamakduum, we will be bonded and your sons become my heirs.” Vrakkaia’s dark eyes dared to look into his.

“My Lord?” At his narrowed lids, she quickly looked down as was proper, but she knew it was too late.

The discipline did not come, and she stole a sidelong glance at Zhorvan’s features. “Khazka’s children were less than perfect.” A snarl from his eldest living son by her informed him that he had heard, but Khazzik knew better than to gainsay his father. “Khazzikhar, your eldest, is my most promising son. Ghazrokk is a fool, but he is the only one capable of channeling the etheric powers that Khazka ever produced. Each child you have born me, Vrakkaia, has been gifted with such powers; each one, even the kana. Such a great gift to our people should not be overlooked.”

“You honor me.” Her voice was barely above a whisper.

His taloned fingers drew her chin so that her gaze was level with his. “It is honor well overdue. I hereby release you from servitude from my clan, Vrakkaia. You are now a citizen, and can do as you please. But, I would that you stayed with me.” Her eyes were full of confused thoughts, but he waited until she sorted them out.

“My Lord, how could I do otherwise? You have been more than kind to my offspring and me. You have always defended us from those that would do us harm. We owe you more than mere allegiance, we owe you our lives.” Her lips met his as he drew them to him.

For long moments, he savored her taste. “I prize loyalty more than anything. You have proven to me that my gift of freedom is well placed.” She smiled as he pulled her to him. All thought of tomorrow was long forgotten in the sensation of the day.

Khazzikhar brought the captives to him for inspection, and he questioned each one on their origins and military capabilities. But, as he expected, none of them were forthcoming. Once he replaced them with a conjured daemon assassin, the real interrogation would begin, but he would not wait that long with the betrayer. The dwarves were owed a debt of great pain. One by one the other diplomats stood before him, but when he caught sight of the tall elf, it was as if he could see nothing else. Never before had he seen one of their kind, though he had heard much about them.

The long blonde hair was like strands of gold waiting to be mined in deep caverns sacred to the gods. Her lips were like rubies, her eyes like sapphires. The tales did not do justice to the creature that mocked his race’s appearance to others. The harmony of her being was the song of the universe, an agony to their souls long forsaken by the gods of creation. Her presence angered and filled him with desire both to harm and to be with. Yet, he had ordered her there, ordered her presence to fulfill his plans to overrun this continent of Dunloring. So, how had he so underestimated the way the elf affected him?

The need to harm, to destroy the perfection of her features filled him. “Take her to my chambers!”

The guards chuckled in low lascivious tones, but they could not sense the oneness she held with nature, with the universe. It was maddening that a creature could mock them so! It was a need to destroy, to show power over perfection, to maim and to defile the nature of the elf that drove him. The warded shackles she had been placed in pleased him to no end. An unnatural restraint from what she was. But her blue eyes followed him as he entered the chamber. Such deep blue eyes framed by the purest golden hair! Yet she was there, chained to the palette he used for a bed, a sight both compelling and maddening at once.

“Why do you imprison me?” The harmonics of her voice echoed through his bones in its perfection the vibrations of pain and anger, but how could he answer?

His black talons ran alongside her alabaster face, touching for a moment her pointed ears and then her pale, thin neck. “Zis day you vill know vaht it means to fearr. You vill know vaht pain ahnd torrment arre!” The need to cause her pain filled him, yet he wanted to also know that he was equal. But it was an impossibility, one he knew from the difference of their births.

“If you release me, I will share your bed.” What!? How could she mock him!?

“Vhaht sorrt of fool do you take me forr!?” Yet the deep pools of blue drew him like nothing he had known. What sort of spell did she have over him? But there was no sense of the arcane, no tremor in the ethers.

Her long slender hands brushed the coiled sable locks as they trailed alongside his head, her fingers teasing his own pointed ears, another difference from the betrayers that set them aside. The shackles prevented her hands from traveling further, but her fingers remained on his neck, her eyes drawing his tortured gaze.

“I can see you are no fool, great lord, and I mean what I say. Long have I searched for a power as great as or greater than mine, and I sense that within you. It intrigues me like nothing else, and I desire to know more of you and the power you possess.” Her lips were like nectar, though his race had long lost the want of such things. But her kiss fanned the fire within him.

“Vy vould you vahnt such a zing?” Was that the question of a young lad to the first kana he had ever known?

“There is knowledge and wisdom we can learn from one another. And, I must admit the attentions of the elven court bore me. They are all the same, all alike, but you. You are something new, bold, an adventure to be savored.”

“You do not fearr vaht I vill do to you? Ourr ahpearrahnce does not rrevile you?” The questions were out of his mouth before discretion reasserted its control. “You vill sharre my bed rregahrrdless you hahve no choice in zie mahtter.”

An odd smile crossed her lips as she feigned fear, but it was obviously an act. “Oooh, you terrible, evil creature! I’m at your mercy!” Anger raged through his veins as she ‘fainted’. He would teach her to mock him!

Fist curled and ready to strike, he knelt beside her on the palette. Without warning she sat up, seized his neck and kissed him passionately. Dumbfounded that she had no fear, Zhorvan was at a loss for what to do next. Her left hand slid up the sleeve of his robe, resting on the bare shoulder beneath as her right found the opening below his collar and settled in the thick hair of his chest. Her form pressed against him tore all thoughts of anything but the growing fire in his loins from his mind. His senses were still reeling when she released him.

“Vaht sorrt of creaturre ahrr you?” Was this really a daemon temptress in disguise?

With a smile she laid back, closed her eyes and opened her legs. “Aren’t you going to ravish me now?” Was she attempting to seduce him to ensure her survival? The explanation seemed reasonable enough, and with a shrug he supposed he would allow it for the time being.

The stretch eased her cramped muscles, a by-product of being in chains. The slow breathing of the dwarf lord ensured her he was still sleeping, and she studied his features. His passion had been everything she had expected and more. She smiled in satisfaction. Her own people had long since ceased to amuse her, and a curious emptiness tore at her soul. How long had it been since she had known fulfillment? The danger, the thrill of the unknown had possessed her, but there was nothing in Dunloring Thiar’Islaine did not already know. Humans had entertained her for a while, but their petty ambitions and boorish games quickly lost their appeal. But this ‘Doradzharr’ Lord was something new, something exciting, and something that even inspired the smallest amount of fear in her, a delicious sensation. It had been centuries since she had encountered anything that sparked an emotional response, and the emptiness had grown.

The power possessed by the dwarf wizard astounded her and blazed in her sorcerous senses like a beacon in the darkness. How could the non-magical dwarves possess such powers? It was a puzzle as intriguing as it was indecipherable, a challenge, a lure, a strong attraction that sparked the long dormant emotions within her. It made her feel alive again! A slight frown crossed her lips as she questioned how long the excitement would last, but shrugged it off. Who cared as long as it was there? The world was fresh and new again to her ancient eyes, and sensation shivered through her reminding Thiar’Islaine what it was like to live. Perhaps he was evil, but that only added to the growing excitement. The diminutive creature asleep at her side was about to change the entire world, something she could feel like an impending storm, and that was what she desired, change, newness, life!

Her spirit would be broken! Yet the bruises he had left on her were already fading, proof that there had been little impetus behind his need to subjugate her. That she took his demeaning treatment willingly was beyond his experience, and Zhorvan got the uncanny feeling she actually enjoyed it! How did you break the spirit of someone who wanted to be abused? Did he even want to? There were enough slaves and servants in his household already that were cowed to his will, what would be the benefit of breaking this exquisite creature? Surprised at his assessment, he examined his motivations once more.

The plan to ensure the cooperation of the races of Dunloring did not require that he broke the will of the emissaries he kidnapped, simply that they remain in his custody while the summoned creatures eventually took their places. After that, they could be killed or used as he saw fit. But if the elf willingly followed his direction, was such subterfuge really necessary? Could he take the risk that it was all just an act? No, his people’s survival depended on the success of his mission! The replacements would proceed as planned, and the human boy Zhorvan came to understand was the High Prince would be first. The elf would remain in his chambers, the warded chains ensuring her cooperation and separation from the arcane powers that would normally be at her command. She might prove to be a worthwhile distraction from his troubles from time to time as she was at that moment.

Despite his clenched teeth, the scream tore from his lips as the forsaken beast thrust the needle in to the ventral nerve cluster, stimulating the sensation of icy fire that raged through his chest and shoulders. “Where are Vergadain’s main units stationed!? How many of his troops are on standing orders!? How soon will they attack the humans?” The rapid fire questions repeated over and over in his skull, reverberating and mixing freely with the echoes of pure agony.

“Go… back to… hell, you… son of a… warthog!” The snarl of rage preceded the cut of the knife.

Cold, was that cold? The agony exploded in his head as the sensation reached his shocked brain. Iron hooks tore at his intestines, bruised and pulled them in patterns designed to invoke the most horrific pain! His throat was soon hoarse from the screams he could not help as each new movement of the ruthless cold instruments worked at his innards. Day and night blended into agony after pain as the forsaken priest traded places with several of his acolytes, and each of them was as distressingly well versed in torture as their master.

The questions continued becoming a welcome break from the torment until he sobbed in relief each time they paused in their ministrations to repeat them. Exhaustion overlaid his senses with the surreal, aching in his bones as much as the torture they applied to his body. How many days? Forever passed in the haze of agonized overstressed nerves until he was barely aware of the questions, only of the pauses between pains.

Was he gibbering or was it his imagination? The aching shook him in its fury, but it wasn’t fresh anymore. Exhaustion stole his awareness.

“On... the north ridge… of Sorkarak, they’ll… march... in six… weeks… over… ten thousand …strong!” The words echoed through the dream as he woke with a start.

Had he betrayed his people? It had been so real, the dream, the agony, the exhausted desperation. Someone was messing with his shackles that bit in to his wrists. Had the torturers returned? Cold chilled through him, the instinctive desperate need to never experience such pain again surged through him and he struggled, weak mewlings of fear and agony ululating from his hoarse throat in broken cries.

“Be quiet!” The voice whispered urgently. “I’m here to help you.” A sigh of relief passed his lips as he lapsed back into unconsciousness.

The conversation droned on in the background, but she heard every word. Their language had been difficult to learn at first, but once she derived the cultural difference between it and the language spoken by the dwarves, she was able to converse fluently. The Priest Lord had been mildly surprised, and questioned how much she knew of the conversations that took place in her presence. The set of his jaw told her that he fully expected her to lie instead of the truth she told him. Since then, he had been very careful about what conversations he had in her presence, but she had learned a good deal about the doradzharr already.

Their saga amused her with its irony. In their lust for conquest, they had caused their own downfall, a destruction that threatened not only them, but their entire world. And their contact with Abernyth was only to be expected. Those who poached or stole livestock were usually harshly treated by the laws of Dunloring as such animals were the mainstay of commerce and sustenance. Zhorvan’s reaction to the treatment of his people seemed a bit over-done, but it had obviously been a mere excuse to subjugate the humans. It was a political tool he now employed with some ‘envoys’ from the High King in Dunvaar. The evil sorcerer-priest was an adept politician as well as a skilled manipulator. The addition of his super-natural powers made him a virtually unstoppable force to reckon with. The spells he cast upon those who came to negotiate were even hard for her to discern, but her centuries of experience lent her the power to see through them.

His arrogance was also amusing, a casual superiority which radiated from him like the heat of his skin in the cold winter air. That very heat made her uncomfortably warm in the volcanic chamber beneath the cover of a blanket. His sigh of satisfaction told her he was barely warm enough as he slid into the bedding next to her. The touch of her cold hands set his teeth on edge for a moment until he got used to it.

“You know, my people can help you search.” The snort of amusement told her of his lack of trust in anyone that was not of his race. Her fingers traced the lines of scars under the thick hair of his chest. “Really. Why is such a concept so far beyond your belief?”

“Why would you help us?” He knew she understood his language, but it was still harsh and gutteral to her ears.

His glittering sable eyes were ringed with circles of exhaustion, the time he spent in conference with his generals, messengers and his acolytes took up all but six hours of the day.

“Well, for one thing, it would dissuade your people from aggression against ours. That is motivation enough, is it not?” A thick black brow rose in response.

“That does hold a certain amount of sense.” She slid her hand beneath the thick black ringlets of his beard.

“Besides, if this world is doomed, and we help you, we too might be saved.” Her lips traced the line of his neck opposite her hand as he sighed in appreciation.

“Self preservation is indeed a strong motivation. Very well, I will make this bargain with you Thiar’Islaine. Your people help us search and when we find the gateway and open it, we will allow your passage. I may be able to hold off the daemons long enough for your people to pass as well.”

Her warm breath stirred the hair by his ear. “You won’t have to do that alone, you know. I can help you.” Though he was much shorter in stature, his attributes made up for the difference and then some.

“You would… have to learn much… about the daemons… of the Abyss… and how to conjure… or banish them. But you could be of use… with a little training.” His reply was barely discernable from his reactions to her ministrations.

She had her pleasure from him twice before he fell asleep. The watchful eyes of his monstrous companion, Haavrakh, kept a careful gaze on her while he slept. The beast refused to trust her despite her best efforts to win over his confidence. There was little doubt that the creature would kill her should she attempt to harm his master. Large orange-gold eyes regarded her from across the cavern with no little amount of intelligence. His tusked jaws resembled the doradzharr so completely, she wondered if he had at one time been a member of their race. His sleek black fur was rich but the individual hairs were thin, like a creature she would expect to find in a warm nocturnal climate, but his features were an amalgamation of several different monstrosities. His forepaws resembled those of a lion, and his face was a mixture of lion and doradzharr while his rear-quarters were those of an enormous bull. Large black membranes stretched from the boney supports of his wings that would have filled the entire room should they be unfurled. But oddest of all was his color, pitch black fading to blood red on paws and shanks with a blood red mane and beard-like growth all curled in the fashion of the doradzharr lord sleeping beside her.

“What are you?” Dark lips pulled back from sharp rending teeth as a low growl trembled through the air just above what was audible. “I won’t harm you or him. I am merely seeking knowledge.”

“I am your death.” The speech of the monster confirmed both his animosity and intelligence.

All attempts to gather more information were met with low snarls until she gave up and laid back down. After all, Zhorvan was easily manipulated in the throes of passion as long as it was not pertinent to his ‘alternate’ mission. It wouldn’t take long for her to learn what she wished to know about Haavrakh, but she still wondered what this ‘alternate’ mission entailed. One thing she was sure of, that it was not going to be good for Dunloring. The more she learned of the doradzharr the more she realized their ruthless disregard for anything but themselves and their lust for power. The sheer malevolence added to the thrill of emotions that stirred in her psyche, but how could she conscience cooperation with such fiendish creatures? But, the sensations Zhorvan awoke in her were so compelling. She was alive, renewed, wasn’t that all that mattered?

What if the sorcerer-priest did take her people with him? Her mind raced through the possibilities, and each of them ended with the same conclusion. If she did not change him, they would eventually be enslaved or worse. But, could she change him? Was there any way to find what miniscule goodliness that was left in the souls of the doradzharr? Hatred had twisted them so completely; it had even changed their appearance drastically from their cousins living in Dunloring. Generations of cruelty had left deep scars upon their race, ones she was sure could never be healed, but maybe nursed back to health. His black eyes betrayed it, the spark of honor, loyalty and valor that betrayed a people who had once followed the axioms of goodness. Could she appeal to that spark and fan it back into a flame?

The spies provided the perfect location to stage his invasion, and four ships full of greenskin warrior-slaves were assembled before him upon the volcanic isle in preparation.

“Long have your people worn the shackles of slavery. Long have your ancestors served ours. This I promise you is the last. No longer will the lash of pain tenderize your flesh. No longer will the chains of servitude drag at your necks. Freedom is within your reach if you have but the will to grasp it! This is the price of your freedom. For each ten human slaves you bring to me, I will free two of your brethren! To the pod that finds the pathway to Dolomakduum, I will free every member of your tribe! For every outpost you secure, I will free ten of your pod! As citizens of the Doradzharr Empire, you will be allowed to keep what you have pillaged as long as you tithe to your lord your proper due!” The shocked creatures stared at him dumbfounded for a few moments before his words slowly crept in to their primitive minds. Sporadic cheers became the roar of approval before he silenced them with a dark thunderbolt from the skies.

“These lands are ripe for your conquest my future brothers! These humans are weak, and have no will to fight! They are barely worthy to be your slaves! Go and conquer to win your freedom!” A great roar rose to a fever pitch as they howled their battle-cries to the blood-red moon before moving out to load upon the ships.

“Father, are you sure that is wise?” Khazzikhar’s whisper was barely audible to his sensitive hearing.

“My son, you will soon learn that orcs are very forgetful creatures, but some things are bred in to them by design. Their stupidity and servitude is enduring.”

The messenger woke him way too soon, and Zhorvan began to regret the amount of time he had dallied with the elf instead of sleeping. Groggily he listened to the words, but their meaning escaped him for a few moments as he sorted himself from her long limbs.

“The Mayor wishes to discuss surrender, Lord Zhorvan, and the High King has agreed to an audience.” He ran taloned fingers through the few stray black locks that had escaped their bindings.

“Very well, have Khazzikhar meet with the Mayor of Abernyth, and I will ready myself to meet with the High King.” His eyes traced the outline of the elf hungrily, but he sighed instead. “Put her with the others until I return.”

“As you command, Supreme Lord.” The guards bowed before carrying out his orders and he turned to the messenger as he dressed.

“Take a letter of announcement. The Supreme High Priest Lord of the Doradzharr Empire, Lord Zhorvan Blackheart, will comply with the wishes of the High King of Dunvaar, and meet to discuss terms of a cease of hostilities in a seven-day’s time. I wish to ensure safe passage for myself and my retinue through your lands and the full status of a diplomat of my station. In return, I will be held personally accountable for the actions of my retinue while in Dunvaar and guarantee their behavior with my life and freedom. Should treachery arise from this visitation, know that my people will take terrible retribution with weapons you could barely imagine, and woe be to those who survive. Thus sworn by Priest Lord Zhorvan Blackheart, Supreme High Lord of the Doradzharr Empire.” The sorcerer’s gaze followed the elf as she was led from his chamber, and Vrakkaia came to help prepare him for his journey.

“She is beautiful, Lord Zhorvan. I never imagined such creatures existed.” His raised brows met her gaze and she quickly looked away as the heat rose in her cheeks.

“Neither did I, Vrakkaia, neither did I. And yet her presence both fills me with longing and loathing at once.” He rested a hand upon her swollen belly. “But though she may be a distraction, she is a slave and you will soon be my wife.” As if hearing his voice, the child within reached out making an almost discernable handprint on his.

“My Lord, I do not presume to know your mind, but I cannot help but see the way she affects you. And, an alliance with her people would do much towards our acceptance among the inhabitants of this land should such an alliance prove necessary.” Did she no longer wish to marry him?

“A political marriage? Such a thing might be a worthy consideration, had I not already given you my word.” An adequate test of her wishes, her reply would be telling.

“The honor that you offer me is a great privilege my Lord, and it would please me to be a part of your family. But the needs of our people come before mine. I am happy to remain your servant, and to warm your bed when you feel the need.” She would release him from his vow, yet remain by his side? Perhaps she did truly believe what she had said?

He could almost feel her wish for him to keep his promise, and he would keep a part of it to be sure. “Then this is what I will do, Vrakkaia. As Supreme Lord, I will establish Khazzikhar as my heir and you as my consort. But I will reserve my bonding for the elf, should there be enough of a tie between us to arrange a political marriage. In this way, I will keep my word to you, and allow for this alliance to take place.” Her eyes met his for a long moment as she considered what he had proposed.

“You honor me, Lord Zhorvan, far more than I deserve.” She whispered hoarsely as he took her in his arms.

“Your enduring loyalty is more than deserving. Of all those who serve me, you and Haavrakh are the only ones I trust completely. To have you at my side is a comfort in all things, a place from which I need never fear of ambitious attack.” It was all too true, even his sons lusted after his position; he could see it in their eyes.

There had been more than one occasion in the past to purge his bloodlines. He only hoped that Khazzikhar had the same loyalty he had come to know from his mother. There was imminent danger in declaring an heir, especially since as long as he carried the soul of the daemon dragon, he would never age. As long as he fed the daemon’s hunger, the curse of a crystal tomb would not touch him, nor age or disease, but, for all of that, he was still mortal. Poison and violence would still slay him as easily as any other, and for that reason alone, he kept very careful check on all of his potential rivals, especially his own flesh and blood.