Previously, on Showdown
Showdown (Part 4 of 5)
‘By all of hell’s fiery pits, where did they come from?’ Misthrado spun around and grabbed Sandrath by the arm, pulling him across and forcing him to his knees. ‘You bloody well told me there were three of them!’
Sandrath looked as confused as Misthrado felt. ‘I don’t know, your majesty. The scouts watched for days and only saw the three, I swear it.’
‘Bah,’ spat Misthrado, lifting Sandrath and throwing him to the side. He turned to his other lieutenants. ‘Bring up the other two brigades. We’ll show these kobolds that a few house spirits can’t get the better of us. And bring me my sword while you’re at it.’
He hadn’t intended on giving his troops a full blown battle. In fact he hadn’t expected any serious opposition until he reached the first of the major cities. The Fae were so predisposed to individuality that all his reconnaissance had told him that a concentrated force of a couple of hundred would be more than enough to pick off individual pockets of resistance. He had planned to seize the sites of power long before anyone could organise against him. And here he was, the first engagement of his new army and he was fighting off the largest gathering of kobolds he’d ever seen. Even if he was victorious, there would be survivors who’d escape to the city. The element of surprise would be lost and his enemies would have time to prepare.
Misthrado’s dark wings stretched out, twitching and stirring in automatic response to his anger. He dealt a therapeutic backhanded blow to a nearby cowering servant and strode forward to lead the second wave of his troops into battle.
Jennifer stared through the glass into a scene that was equal parts wondrous and terrifying. Creatures she’d only read about in stories flickered in and out of existence, joined in a chaotic battle royale. Her kobolds were on average much smaller than their foes, but what they lacked in size, they made up for with… well, she would’ve liked to have said with tenacity and pluck, but really it was sheer bloody ferocity. The battlefield had degenerated into a shambles, any attempt at an ordered assault crumbling as her kobolds encouraged the opposing force’s natural tendency towards bedlam. It was hard to tell, but it seemed to Jennifer that her kobolds were getting the upper hand.
A horn blasted in the distance and the attacking force disengaged, retreating to the edge of the property. The kobolds regrouped, dragging their injured and dead back towards the house. Jennifer opened the front door and began shepherding the wounded into the living room, which had started to resemble a field hospital in a war zone. On reflection Jennifer supposed it was. Using skills acquired over a lifetime of caring for sick and injured animals, she started helping where she could.
A few minutes later the horn sounded again. Jennifer looked outside, and saw a much larger force approaching the house. At its head stood the largest man she had ever seen. Her eyesight wasn’t the greatest but it looked like a giant with wings, holding a ludicrously big sword.
The talkative kobold, who had apparently been appointed as her liaison officer, was the tongue twistingly named Grallazenphof (‘call me Gral’). He blanched at the oncoming horde. ‘Bloody hell, Miss, that’s Misthrado. He was banished from Europe years ago. Never knew he’d ended up here. Most people think he’s dead.’
Jennifer could see that they were outnumbered. She turned to Gral. ‘Any suggestions, young man?’
Gral stood, the lines on his face screwed up into mazes of uncertainty. ‘I sent some of the younger lads into town to try and round up some reinforcements, Miss, but I don’t think we can expect much help from that quarter for a while. We could try to run, but they’d catch us pretty fast out in the open, especially with you tagging along, Miss. No offence’
Jennifer’s running days were well behind her. ‘None taken,’ she muttered. She straightened as she came to a decision. ‘Well then, there’s nothing more you can do for me. You should all go now while they are regrouping. You’ll be able to slip away. You seem pretty good at concealing yourselves.’
Gral’s face twisted in revulsion. ‘But, Miss, we’re bound to your household.’
Some of the old confusion slipped in behind Jennifer’s new certainty. ‘I thought you said that was only temporary? That you were here for a visit.’
‘Sure, it’s fine to leave when everything is going well and there are plenty of other kobolds around to look after things,’ said Gral. ‘But to leave when you’re in danger and the whole household is about to be overrun? We’d never be accepted in kobold society again. It’s unthinkable.’
Jennifer paused to digest the not altogether sensible mores of the kobold community. From the look on Gral’s face and the incredulous muttering of those in earshot, she could tell she wasn’t going to have a lot of luck convincing them to leave. She thought about what she’d witnessed in the previous fight.
‘They seem like a pretty unruly lot, Gral.’
‘Oh yes, Miss,’ he responded. ‘I’m surprised he can hold them together. No one has ever had much luck forming a Fae army. It’s why humans rule the world. We’re too bloody disorganised.’
‘And I’m the head of the household? That makes me your leader?’
‘Ah, yes, Miss. I guess that’s true, technically.’
‘Well, quickly young man. Give me the cliff notes version of Fae battlefield etiquette,’ said Jennifer.
She settled back and listened as Gral went through a beginner’s guide to Fae rules of engagement. As she listened, a plan started to form. She doubted the kobolds would like it, but it was the only thing she could think of that might save lives. She waved over a few of the more focused of her new followers and began her spiel.
To be concluded in Part 5
‘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.