Previously, on Showdown
Showdown (Part 2 of 5)
The windowpanes shuddered as if a truck was racing past on the nearby highway, though Jennifer couldn’t hear any engine noise. She lay back in the recliner, a blanket covering her lap. She must have fallen asleep.
The shutters were all closed against the twilight streaming through her open front door. As she rose she felt an all too rare stability. Tentacles of cold evening air curled across her bare arms, making her shiver. She closed the door and made her way to the kitchen, where a cheerful fire was already burning. She drifted across the kitchen and sank into a chair beside the fireplace with an audible sigh.
The house began to creak as the wind picked up. A frown settled on Jennifer’s face. It was unusual to have storms at this time of year. She contemplated getting up to look outside, but the stabilising force that had supported her moments before now seemed to have abandoned her.
Outside, a dog began to howl. One by one the other animals joined in and the noise built until a veritable cacophony assaulted her ears, vying with the wind for decibel supremacy. She struggled up and made her way towards the front door. Something was spooking them and she needed to find out what it was if she was going to have any peace this evening.
The closer Misthrado got to the old residence, the lower his already rock-bottom expectations sank. The house was unassuming, the polar opposite of the kind of grandeur to which he aspired. Not a fitting location for his first conquest. Still, no one would criticise his early battlegrounds when he achieved his ultimate victory.
His army coiled around him like a spring ready for release. Grizzled sergeants kept troops in line, and Misthrado grinned at their barely restrained desire to do damage. The ground rumbled with the vibration of his Fae army moving into position.
Nothing moved in the house, and a single source of light shone out from the edges of the front windows. It was so still he could almost believe the scouts had got it wrong, except for the state of repair of the dwelling.
It was good. Suspiciously good. By all accounts, the old woman lived here by herself. There should have been signs of disrepair, of small jobs gone unnoticed and undone. Instead, every part of this should-be-decrepit property shouted “thorough maintenance routine”. The grass short and healthy. The front porch in solid and serviceable condition. Doors hung neatly on their frames and windows polished to a shine.
Yes, they were here, Misthrado was sure of it. He stepped to the front of his army and pulled out his sword.
‘Come out little kobolds,’ he yelled. ‘Surrender and your deaths will be fast and clean.’
He hoped they would put up a fight. A surrender followed by a quick slaughter would not teach the army anything. Still, he had to practice his ultimatums as much as his army formations.
For a moment nothing stirred, then the front door squealed open.
The door fought against Jennifer, the handle slippery in her grip. She didn’t understand what was wrong. It had always opened so smoothly before. She wrestled it into submission and stepped out into the dying light. Swirling dust brought tears to her eyes. Indistinct shapes moved before her as she pawed at her face. She leaned back against the door frame for balance.
‘Is anyone there?’ she asked, hating the frailty of her voice even as it escaped her lips. The frantic whining of her animals continued to swell and merge with the wailing of the wind. Their fear was contagious, and Jennifer began to tremble in response. What was going on? She’d never seen the animals this riled before, and certainly not by the wind no matter how fast it came up.
Half heard sounds, like the mutterings of a distant crowd, slid around the animal noises. Jennifer strained to hear, trying to decide whether her ears were playing tricks on her.
She was about to retreat inside when a clear voice rang out.
‘Show yourselves now or the old lady dies!’
Misthrado was out of patience. He was the future ruler of this continent and probably the world, and a few pathetic kobolds would not appear at his command. He summoned three of the unblooded warriors from the third brigade and sent them towards the house with a gesture. He’d see how long the kobolds would stay hidden once he put the head of their bonded household in real danger.
His henchmen materialised onto the mortal plane and he watched with pleasure as the old woman fell to her knees.
Jennifer stared in horror as three misshapen monsters resolved out of the dirt cloud and lurched towards her. The strength bled away from her legs and moments later the rough surface of the front veranda scraped against her knees. As deformed and individually hideous as they were, all three wore a common uniform like they were members of some mutated army.
The lead mutant drew a long knife, his warped teeth lending his grin a particular viciousness. ‘Never killed a human before,’ he slurred.
Fear lent Jennifer’s mind a clarity of thought that had eluded her for years. She knew she should run, should get back into the house and lock the doors. But the shimmer of the fading light of the sun along the knife’s quicksilver blade held her attention for the few vital seconds where she might have escaped. The hideous trio mounted the stairs. Jennifer knew that the day where her charges would need to fend for themselves had come even sooner than she had expected.
At that exact moment, all the animals stopped their bleating.
The creatures paused, concerned by the sudden absence of sound. They looked around before resuming their approach, albeit more cautiously than before. The arm holding the knife rose high in the air. Jennifer closed her eyes.
After a few moments she opened her eyes again. Between her and the attackers stood three new figures. They were small, about the size of the Daniels boy. Their bodies seemed thicker than was entirely normal, with big ears that stuck out in a way that would have been comical in any other situation. Reddish skin confirmed her suspicion that they were not entirely human. Dressed in old clothes that had seen better days, they held in their hands a variety of farm implements fashioned into makeshift weapons.
‘Our home,’ one of them said.
To be continued in Part 3
‘Showdown’ was originally published in Electric Spec in Volume 9 Issue 2 (May 2014). It is also available in the free collection of my published flash fiction and short stories A Flash in the Pan?.
This work by Mark Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Australia License.