Showdown (Part 1 of 5)
Scouting duty in modern day semi-rural-almost-suburbia had to be amongst the most boring tasks in the world. Honestly, when he signed up to join a dark lord’s conquering force Jack had expected more… well, more conquering for a start. And pillage. There was definitely supposed to be a decent amount of pillage. Not this “native scout” crap.
‘Anything new to report?’
And why the hell did they have to stick him with this bloody euro-trash toady? The way the bloke acted you’d think he was part of the elite royal guard, instead of a two man team watching a rundown farmhouse. Still Jack knew he had to be careful, this idiot was better connected than he was. Third cousin to the fourth in command of the second brigade. Or something like that. More importantly, he was petty enough to use his minor connections to repay any perceived slight. Time to pour on the charm.
‘Sorry mate. I think I caught a glimpse of the third one an hour or so ago, but haven’t seen a thing since then. They’re slippery little buggers, for sure.’
‘We’ve been here for six days. Methinks it is time to report back.’
Methinks? Who uses methinks in a sentence? Tosser. Jack scratched at a particularly itchy patch of fur, the ridges of his webbed toes bringing temporary relief to the irritated skin. He’d been too long away from the water.
‘Right you are mate. Just let me get my stuff.’
As he packed, Jack gazed at the object of their week-long scrutiny. It seemed like an ordinary farm. Not for the first time, he wondered could have possibly attracted his new lord’s attention to such an unremarkable target. Maybe someone really important and very clever was hiding in plain sight. If so, it was a bloody good disguise.
The whistle of the kettle set Jennifer’s heart racing. How long had she been sitting there? New shadows had reshaped the room, rendering it almost unrecognisable. Her hands gripped the arms of the recliner tight enough to send shooting pain through the joints of her fingers.
The soothing sounds of the radio swam into her awareness. The distraction of classical music, deep and sonorous, slowed the rapid fire thudding in her chest and allowed her to get her bearings.
She didn’t remember putting the kettle on, but a cup of tea would be nice.
She rose and levered herself along towards the kitchen, sleep still numbing her limbs. As she reached the door her foot caught on the unseen edge of the lino, but somehow she managed to move her cane fast enough to stay upright. Her heart recommenced its adrenaline fuelled staccato. It wouldn’t do to take a tumble at her age. Where on earth were her glasses?
A pot stood on the benchtop, tea already nestled in its bulbous depths. She must have laid it out when she put the kettle on. A stop at the fridge yielded the usual fresh milk. Jennifer hadn’t been able to summon the energy to go shopping for a few weeks, but generous neighbours kept dropping food over in the evenings while she slept. She left money out when she remembered.
As the tea steeped, she gazed out the window across her spacious lands with all its kennels, chicken runs and fenced off pens. Her property was on the edge of a city that crept relentlessly outwards. Already developers had started sniffing around, silver tongues carrying offers to make her land part of the next suburban paradise. Even worse, her lack of immediate family had attracted distant relatives, their greedy eyes marking out future windfalls. The thought of them profiting while the creatures in her care were left homeless made her sick to her stomach.
With a shake of her head, Jennifer dismissed her morbid thoughts. For the time being she still had both room and health enough to look after her adopted wildlife. Her eyesight wasn’t what it was, but it seemed like they’d all been fed and watered. That Daniels boy must have come around again. He was usually a lazy one, it was good to see him taking his work seriously. She must remember to leave some money out for him too.
Cup of tea in hand and unable to think of any chores that might need doing, Jennifer shuffled back towards her recliner. Perhaps a nap was in order.
‘Bring me my damn armour!’
The demand echoed around the cavern, sending minions scurrying like ants. Misthrado, self-styled Lord of the Underworld, sighed. He could only hope that what his Fae legions lacked in intelligence and coordination, they could make up for with unprecedented variety. Royal families throughout the rest of the world had found it convenient to exile their undesirable elements to this isolated landmass at the bottom of the world. Creatures that would have ripped each other apart on sight in the hinterlands of Europe had bonded here over a sense of shared hardship. Hundreds of boggarts, gnomes, trolls and more seethed and swirled in the space before him. Even a couple of local bunyips had joined his growing ranks. The Fae world had never seen an army such as his.
He turned to a group of his lieutenants and kept his voice menacing. ‘Have you found a target for our first attack?’
A cyclops stepped forward. Sandrath’s place in the inner circle had been won by a combination of cruel efficiency and a talent for expressing public reverence for his leader’s prowess. He gave an elaborate bow. Misthrado found this attempt at a rage-averting display of deference… gratifying.
‘Of course, your majesty,’ Sandrath began. ‘Our scouts have confirmed that the old woman who runs the animal shelter on the edge of the city has kobolds in her service. She has taken in so many strays over the years, it was inevitable that she attracted a few household spirits. Even though kobolds are almost always invisible we’ve managed to identify three distinct individuals.’
Misthrado frowned. ‘Three kobolds don’t sound like much of a challenge.’
Sandrath bowed again. ‘As you say, your majesty. However, kobolds are fierce in the defence of their chosen households. And you were… adamant that we should only arrange a brief live training exercise for the untried members of the third brigade before we move on to crush the light Fae that live in the city.’
Misthrado smiled as he contemplated his glorious campaign. Once he had taken a few suburbs, the dark Fae would flock to his banner. Soon, the whole country would be his. The humans, with their technology and stubborn blindness to the supernatural world, would not last long once he controlled the sources of power buried deep in the bones of this ancient continent.
To be continued in Part 2
‘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.