Previously, on Showdown
Showdown (Part 5 of 5)
Misthrado marched towards the house, determined to cut down these upstarts straight away. The kobolds weren’t in good shape. One decisive thrust should wipe them out.
He was half way across the yard when he noticed the old woman stepping off her front porch, a gaudy statue of some sort in hand. A small group of kobolds stood behind her, a fidgeting and scowling honour guard of sorts. Battered kobolds leaned out of every window of the house, watching the scene playing out before them.
‘Misthrado, isn’t it?’ The woman’s voice carried thinly across the yard. ‘What brings you to my home?’
He raised his hand and his army stopped behind him. What a fantastic opportunity. As frail as she was, the old lady was the mistress of this forsaken hellhole and she had addressed him in parley. This provided him with a chance to engage in a bit of awe inspiring speech making to impress the troops. She was human and was not covered by the law of the Fae, so any terms he agreed to would not be binding. He could secure her surrender then butcher the damn kobolds once they stood down and no one would gainsay him. Indeed, his reputation for ruthlessness would only be enhanced.
He drew himself up to his full height and projected his voice in practiced cadences designed to daunt.
‘I am Misthrado, Lord of the Underworld and Destroyer of Nations. My armies will conquer this puny continent and soon I will take my rightful place…’
‘Yes, yes,’ the woman broke in. ‘So, since you’re the leader of this invading army, I understand I can challenge you to a trial by single combat. Is that right?’
No one interrupted him. No one! Off balance, Misthrado looked at her with suspicion. There must be some trick here. In a flash of insight, he thought he saw it.
‘Ah, you’ve found some kind of champion to fight on your behalf, have you old woman? I counsel against it, there is no kobold alive that can match me. And if your warrior were to lose, both you and your whole army would be mine to do with as I pleased.’
The old woman smiled. ‘No champion, Misthrado. Just me. You can use a champion if you like.’ She hefted the golden figurine. ‘If it’s all the same to you I’d like to keep the trophy though.’
Misthrado heard sniggering in the ranks behind him and realised the situation was fast spinning out of his control. Destroying this old woman would be easy. Too easy in some ways, it would reduce his standing with his troops. But still, not accepting the challenge would be even worse.
‘Keep your idol, human,’ he snarled. ‘I’ll even leave behind my sword. Tearing you apart with my bare hands will be the highlight of my day.’
He slammed his sword point-first into the ground, then strode forward into the now empty circle of grass that lay between his army and the house. The old woman tottered forward, her trophy held before her like a talisman.
Misthrado screamed his displeasure at this humiliating scene for all to hear. The faster he removed this impudent woman’s head and put this whole damn day behind him the better. He crouched in preparation for an eviscerating leap.
It was then that the first knife pierced his thick skin. As he twisted towards the source of the pain, kobolds appeared all around him, stabbing, clawing and biting. The kobolds at the window had been a ruse, a small part of her force left to give the impression the house was fully defended. The remainder had snuck out and lay in wait to catch him once he was separated from his troops.
Within seconds his wings had been punctured and he was bleeding all over. He swung his arms, trying to find enough space to fight back but the numbers were overwhelming. His own army stood paralysed, watching as he collapsed under the weight of so many kobolds. No matter how good an individual fighter was, anyone could be taken down if enough enemies were piled on.
‘This is a violation of Fae law,’ he hissed while trying to protect his vital organs.
Even above the noise of battle, the old woman must have heard him.
‘Well, I don’t know anything about that dearie,’ she said. ‘I’m not Fae.’
‘My armies will destroy you,’ he gasped.
‘I don’t think so,’ she replied. ‘They don’t seem like the type to follow orders, and with you brought down I see quite a few of them leaving. I suspect you’re going to have to find yourself another army.’
Misthrado didn’t have to see his horde to know she spoke the truth. Even at the height of his powers, keeping this many Fae under control was difficult. ‘It’s not fair,’ he yelled.
The old woman didn’t seem sympathetic. ‘Yes, well a seven foot half-demon warrior taking on a little old human lady isn’t exactly punching in your weight division is it? Fair is as fair does, if you ask me.’
Misthrado was losing blood quickly and knew that if he didn’t leave now he may never do so. With a roar so loud it shook the house on its foundations, he managed to dislodge enough kobolds to leap into the air. His damaged wings barely held him aloft as he retreated, the remnants of his army streaming away beneath him.
It would be years before he’d recover from this. He shrieked his frustration into the night sky as he flew back towards sanctuary.
Dawn’s golden light found Jennifer and Gral sitting on the front porch. Her kobold guests had spent the night cleaning up, and only some trampled grass and a few broken windows showed that anything special had happened at all.
With the excitement passed, Jennifer felt the old lethargy seep back into her bones. She let the sunlight warm her as she sipped a hot cup of tea.
‘Will he be back?’ she asked.
‘Not for a long time, Miss,’ replied Gral. ‘Although you’d better watch yourself. He’ll want his revenge.’
After setting her tea aside, Jennifer closed her eyes to settle in for a short doze. ‘Then it’s lucky for me I run the best kobold backpackers lodge south of the equator.’
‘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.