Anyone who has left home on unpleasant terms, vowing never to return, understands there is relief in escaping familiarity. If that same person is forced, for whatever reason, to return, it is often a disarming experience.
I was not the same person I had been when I had left Kennbridge. The person who had refused to face her neighbours after an assault on her pride had died somewhere between Oxtown and Dinsmore.
Though my boots had been blessed with Kelda’s spell, I did not summon the magic as I entered Kennbridge. In my heart mingled a fond remembrance of my years here. And yet, it was not my town anymore. I was not the Nari who had grown up here. It was both foreign and familiar. And, yes, it was a disarming experience for I had so often fought the idea of returning here. For whatever sweet memories I had of this place, they could not be emulated anymore. I had been made a fool and I would have to restore my relationships and reputation if I were to exist here. It would require more humility than I considered myself capable of. But the idea of leaving again, under such uncertain terms, was also loathsome.
“You can think about that later,” I told myself as I passed Mrs. Shara’s home. “Plan of attack… plan of attack…” I muttered to myself. I espied someone across the street; it was Rowan. I waved to him shyly. He noticed my greeting but frowned and turned away. I guess my reputation was worse than I had anticipated. I shook my head clearing it. Ezebel was coming. I needed to prepare to stall her until Tunic recovered. He would recover. I would cling to that hope until the moment I perished.
How much time did I have? Should I call for an evacuation? But what if the people went scurrying about in the direction of Ezebel? They could be killed before I had a chance to reach her.
“I need a bow,” I told myself as a plan began to formulate. I had one way to protect Kennbridge and that was to make myself an obstacle. Ezebel could not kill me; if she did then she could not destroy Kennbridge. If she attacked, I would race into her blows so I would be slain too.
“A bow,” I reminded myself. Father stored several in the shop. I used my magic boots to reach our shop in an instant. There was no one at the front counter and for that, I was relieved. It would save me the hassle of abandoning my parents or Ladd again. I grabbed a bow from the display rack and bundled a dozen arrows in my arms, leaving before whoever was manning the store could respond to the door.
Again I was plagued with the question, was there time to evacuate Kennbridge? A growing sensation of foreboding filled me. No, there was not time. I needed to focus on myself.
“I need to be aloft,” I decided. I looked at the buildings in town; they were so familiar and yet so foreign. I had never evaluated any of them according to their strategic merits before. The Rafferty home was the tallest in town; it would serve my purpose. I dashed to the garment shop and swung myself into the lower branches of the tree that grew alongside the house. It was difficult work climbing the tree with bow and arrows so precariously bound. The arrow shafts were too long for my pack so I had to keep them bundled in my arm. The bow I could sling over my shoulder. I managed the feat, however, and sidled towards a second floor window.
As my hand closed on the sill and I transferred my weight from the branch to the window, I caught Cade’s gaze. He was resting on his bed with a half-sewn garment across his lap. Somehow, my climbing into his window was abhorrently funny to me and I smiled to him before pulling myself onto his roof. My feet dangled and kicked as I shuffled my weight upward. Cade came to the window and peered up to me. He called out a generic, “Hey,” and I realised he had not recognized me. I suppose I was quite transformed from when he had last seen me. Dressed as I was in a bloodied tunic and trousers, with trimmed hair, and strength unknown to a shop girl.
This was not time for reintroductions though. I padded over to the peak of the roof and seated myself there. I allowed my legs to dangle nonchalantly as though this were my usual perch.
I’d arrived just in time. The dragon had appeared on the horizon. I swallowed my fear and rehearsed my plan again in my mind. As I did so, I moved the bow and arrows behind me praying they did not slide down the roof. I would delay pulling them out as long as possible. If I were forced to use them, I would ruin the whole scheme.
“Hurry Tunic,” I pleaded.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cade’s head pop above the roof edge. He was calling to me, though he still did not recognize me. I paid him no attention. My foe was almost over town now.
“Hey! What are you doing on our roof,” Cade’s voice shouted as Ezebel circled above. It was time.
The crimson dragon crashed down on the bridge – our town’s namesake. The impact hurled rubble across town. Screams filled the air as my curious neighbours sought the source of the small earthquake. To my side, Cade also sighted the fiend. He wailed in terror and lost his grip on the window. His arms flailed in circles as he tried to balance. Woefully he fell backward. The tree cradled him in a xyloid embrace, but he did not remain there. At the return of his wits, he fled. He did not even have a thought to warn his family of the atrocity. Perhaps I should have. But would they have listened to me? Whatever I should have done, the time had passed, and now I needed to be confident.
I took one last deep breath and then fixed my shopkeeper’s smile to my face. Tunic had not allowed me to speak the last time we had encountered her and for good reason. I was not a warrior, but I knew how to deal with a vain, self-righteous faerie. “Ezebel!” I exclaimed in a stentorian tone, hoping my voice carried over the panicked villagers. Miraculously, she did hear me. She snarled her dragon’s visage at me and approached menacingly. I retained my posture of casual ease. I’d not give her the satisfaction of knowing how terrified I was.
“You are far slower than I had anticipated. I’d have thought you would have been here days ago. I’ve grown bored waiting for you,” I called in my most pretentious tone. Ezebel hated humans; I figured she would hate an arrogant human more than the usual breed.
I was correct. Because of my impudence, the faerie transformed to her normal self. Her crimson scales transformed into a cascade of ruddy hair. She parted the veil of bangs that covered her face and met my proud stature with an equivalent one. Her slightly upturned nose was raised high in pride. As to her dark eyes, they were level with my own. I had gauged correctly that the fully erect Ezebel would be at rooftop height.
When she spoke, the faerie’s tone was venomous. “I thought you’d be dead by now,” she countered.
“If you wish to do the job yourself, by all means,” I smiled knowing she could do no such thing. “Or did you think Felan and Felina would do the job for you?” This I said with a pitying tone. If there is one thing a prideful person (for I was an expert on pride) hates, it is being patronized.
Ezebel did not respond. She blinked her soulless eyes and cocked her head to the side.
“Alas, they have been detained,” I continued. “Your sister Imena has become the judge of their fate.”
“I will avenge them,” Ezebel growled. “You humans shall not take the life of another one of my children.”
“I’ve no interest in killing anyone,” I remarked. “In fact, I hope you surrender. I do not wish to slay you.”
At those words, Ezebel cocked back her head in laughter. The sound of her bellowing amusement overwhelmed my little village. “You cannot kill me. Humans cannot kill me. Elves cannot kill me.”
If she thought this would surprise me, I disappointed her. I had not heard that she could not be killed by an elf before, but my shopkeeper’s smile hid any curiosity at that statement. It did, however, confirm my suspicion that my next deception would succeed. “Quite true,” I agreed, putting my chin in my hand as though this were a boring conversation. “But I am not wholly human,” I lied. It was my blood that had awakened Ezebel, so I had to be at least part human. But if Tunic’s part-human blood could be used to awaken Kiho than it was plausible for me to be human enough to summon Ezebel.
Ezebel’s face wrinkled in disgust. “You’re a half-breed?”
“Is that an issue?”
“You disgusting wretch,”
“You say that, but I think it’s only because you fear me. You know I am the only thing that can destroy you and you can’t kill me.”
“I will destroy this entire village, save a single person. Then I will crush you.”
I had not anticipated that. I gulped and tried to hide my fear. To complicate matters, I saw the village hunters rallying at the north end of town. Didn’t the fools know they were not able to help? I should not have turned away from Ezebel. Her hand rose up and she brought it to smash down on the house to my left. She moved to do the same to my other side, but I guessed her motive. I grabbed the bow and arrows and slid down the roof, launching off its side into the tree. Her hand chopped through the other side of the house. The blows weren’t meant to kill me, just detain me. I’d no intention of being stuck on the roof or, if it had collapsed, in the rubble of the Rafferty home.
I was not the only one who escaped the house though. Mrs. Rafferty fled through the back door. Mr. Rafferty and Addie were not to be seen though. I climbed down the tree until it was safe to leap from its heights.
As I came around the side of the house, I spotted Mr. Rafferty. He brandished a sword.
“Mr. Rafferty! Don’t!” I called as the foolhardy man attempted to defend his empire. Ezebel pointed a finger at him and cackled. He burst into flames and perished instantly.
My hands were shaking with anger. “You won’t hurt another person,” I vowed.
“Is that so?” Ezebel chuckled. She pointed to a house across the bank. It was the Orian family’s residence. With a squeeze of her palm, the house crumpled inward as though her fist had closed around it.
I had the bow drawn and an arrow nocked as though it were second nature. “Don’t move,” I commanded. “If you move again I will fire.”
“An arrow will not kill me,” Ezebel mocked.
“You remember the arrow you caught at your pool. It was spelled by Layla for the express purpose of destroying you. Do you think she gave us only one? No. I have a quiver’s worth of arrows.”
That caused Ezebel to falter. I needed to keep her captivated. “And as for your pool,” I continued. “It has been purified with Imena’s tears. You are no longer welcome there.”
Ezebel sneered at me. “You’re bluffing,” she insisted.
“Why would you think that?” I continued without flinching. “I have been to see Imena, Kelda, Kiho, and Layla. I have arrows spelled to destroy you and I am a child of the elves and humans. I am your destruction Ezebel. Now surrender or I will be forced to kill you.”
I’ll never know what Ezebel would have responded for the village hunters began their attack. “Halt!” I ordered them, desperation too evident in my tone. They did not listen to me. They circled Ezebel firing their bows and hurling spears. I ran to the nearest one and pleaded with him to flee.
I suppose I should have kept the bow trained on the monster; it would have been more convincing for my deception. Alas, my concern was for Rowan’s father and the other hunters. Imena whipped her hand around, lashing at the hunters with her invisible whip.
“Get out of here!” I commanded Rowan’s father. “She cannot be killed by a human.”
“We cannot abandon our village.”
“Your lives matter more than the buildings here. Flee and hide.”
“Who are you?”
I didn’t respond. I dashed to Ezebel’s foot that was hovering off the ground. I drew my father’s hunting knife and drove it into her foot. I jammed the blade upward. Her foot reeled back and then thrust forward, throwing me into the street.
“Ezebel!” I demanded her attention again. “Every injury you take on will take years to heal. Your pool is no longer yours,” I reminded her.
Behind me, Rowan’s father began pulling the other hunters into a retreat. I silently praised him.
Alas, I had dropped my bow and Ezebel noticed it. “You are careless,” Ezebel smirked. She snapped her finger and the bow burst into flames.
I gulped. I had nothing left to bluff with. Yet, my shopkeeper’s smile did not dim. My hands trembled in fear and anger, my eyes blazed with passion, and my face chided at the arrogant faerie.
“Do you really think that is the only bow in town?” I chuckled as I sprinted for the stash of arrows. I grabbed a handful of the projectiles and then bolted for my father’s shop again.
Ezebel hesitated in making a decision. Did she take advantage of my disappearance to kill more or prevent me from grabbing another weapon? She determined the latter more prudent and so I found myself trailed by the colossal faerie. It must have been agonizing for her to restrain herself. She did not even dare pluck me from the ground lest her strength crush me.
My plan would have worked too, but someone new had moved to town. “It’s her!” a familiar voice shouted. “I told you she would fight the monster.”
“Weston!” I shouted my recognition of the town’s most recent resident. He stood with Addie and Ladd outside our shop. Realising there was some advantage to this, I called out to my old friend. “Ladd, give me a bow!”
I shouldn’t have called to him. Ezebel recognized that was where I was headed. I pivoted and dashed into another building. It was the bakery, but Ezebel didn’t know that. She glanced from my retreating figure to Ladd and decided I was far more dangerous.
Ladd had not moved though.
“I told you she would come,” Weston repeated. “Nari the mercenary from Kennbridge.”
“It cannot be her,” Addie spoke. “Nari would never allow herself to be dressed so distastefully.”
“She can’t use a bow,” Ladd added.
“It is her,” Weston insisted. “I travelled with her for days. Trust me, I know her.”
“But her hair…” Addie trailed off.
“It was always that way,” Weston shrugged. “Are you going to give her that bow? She looks like she might be in a pinch.”
Ladd nodded dumbly, retreating into the store and taking our remaining weapon. He returned to stand beside Addie and Weston.
“Well, go bring it to her,” Weston said.
Throughout this entire exchange, I was frantically dashing through the bakery cellar. The bakery owner and the clientele had retreated in fear to that safe haven. They screamed when I descended but I managed to silence them. “Stay here,” I commanded them. Cade had once told me that the shed behind the bakery led to the lower level of the main building. I had someone lead me to that passage and then I climbed into the shed and peered through a window. Ezebel was peeling away the bakery roof, hurling the pieces at other buildings. I cringed at the damage she was causing. Ladd, Addie, and Weston continued to spectate from our shop porch. I had to reach them without Ezebel seeing me.
When Ezebel was busy with a stubborn piece of construction material, I opened the shed door and sprinted to the next building. The feat would have been impossible without Kelda’s blessed boots. I hoped the spell did not wear off soon.
I could not hear it, but Weston was harassing Ladd telling my oldest friend to find me and bring me the bow. Eventually Ladd yielded and began to cross the street towards his own destruction. I could not see him though, for I was sneaking around another building. I passed the cobbler’s home and then the smithy’s. That put me parallel to my father’s shop. I glanced towards my target and, to my chagrin, found Ladd gone.
I hoped he was in the shop, perhaps delayed in retrieving my weapon. I inched around the building to check on Ezebel. It was Ladd, however, I laid eyes on.
“No!” I gasped silently as he approached the demon. Her wicked, black eyes ignited with an evil passion as my hapless friend continued towards her. I wouldn’t watch Ladd die. I refused to see him perish. Abandoning stealth, I charged for Ladd’s position.
“Ezebel!” I cried hoping to distract her. Her hand wound up, ready to lash at Ladd. She snapped it forward and that wretched invisible whip sliced into Ladd’s body.
“Damn you!” I shouted. My spelled boots carried me to Ladd’s side, though not quick enough. Ezebel, however, had not counted on my returning so quickly. Her hand snapped and I took the full force of her blow. If the blow had struck Ladd, it would have killed him. It nearly killed me and, because of that, Ezebel recoiled.
“I said you were not allowed to kill anyone else,” I reminded Ezebel with a grandiloquent tone. “This is my home and you’ll have to kill me before I let you take anyone else.”
Ladd had the bow in his hand still. I pawed at it, barely able to move my aching body. Ladd surrendered the bow and I used all my concentration to properly nock an arrow.
“Go to hell,” Ezebel taunted.
“Send me there,” I insisted. The words were said through gritted teeth as I attempted to ignore the agony of the lashes. I decided it was best to include Ezebel in the knowledge of my fading mortality. “Actually, you might already have. This attack of yours, it has a perpetuating effect does it not?”
When the monster did not reply, I pleaded with her again. “Surrender, Ezebel. Kennbridge has done nothing to harm your children. We did not even know about elves until…” I realised my mistake as soon as the words slipped out.
Ezebel’s eyes narrowed. “You’re a human. Wholly human. You can’t fire that arrow, assuming it is even from Layla. You’ve been bluffing this whole time!”
“No,” I denied, but it was too late.
The monstrous faerie took a step towards me, allowing her body to shrink to only double my size. She snatched her hand out and seized my bow. After her lash, I had not the strength to fight her. She snapped the weapon across her knee.
Now that she perceived no threat from me, Ezebel resumed her haughty display. “You had me worried,” she admitted. “But I should have known better. I am going to make you watch as I slay every person in your village. Every child’s scream will burn into your mind until there is but one person left and then I will cut your throat. There is nothing that can defeat me now!” She burst into a terrible laugh, throwing her head back in delight.
I refused to cry in front of her, but she had won. Despite everything that had happened there was nothing more I could do. My ploy had failed. The malicious faerie would not see reason. There was nothing more I could do.
Ladd was to be her first victim. She backhand slapped him to the ground. I crawled towards him, hoping to shield him from further assault.
Sensing her victory, Ezebel threw her head back in a cacophonic laugh. She was laughing when Tunic’s arrow pierced through her heart.
A gurgle of blood replaced Ezebel’s guffaws. I heard booted footsteps as Tunic planted himself behind me. “There is one thing that can defeat you yet,” he called to the monster.
Ezebel glanced down to her heart as though she did not believe what had happened. The arrow planted itself in the center of her cardiovascular system.
Those who were watching the fight, myself included, waited anxiously for the verdict. Tunic’s arrow seemed so insignificant – a toothpick protruding from the giant’s chest.
Then the arrow exploded. Sprite magic burst out from the arrow and reached to the far reaches of Ezebel’s being. Once her whole body was covered in foreign magic, the charge reversed in an implosion. All the magic that had burst outward retreated into nothingness. Then Ezebel was gone.
I doubt anyone believed what had happened. Kennbridge was not a place of magic. Addie was the first to move, she sprinted to Ladd’s side, her gaze never leaving the spot where Ezebel had been. As the silence continued people crept from their hiding places to see for themselves that the monster was indeed gone.
Weston was the first to celebrate. “She did it! She did it!” he called. “Everybody come out now!” He ran along the buildings, banging on doors and inciting everyone to come forward.
Though I still bore the agony of Ezebel’s lashing, my concern was for Ladd. Apparently, he bore the same thoughts for we both crawled towards each other.
“Nari, is it really you?” Ladd stammered as though my appearance was more important than his wounds.
“It is I,” I smiled. “I missed you.”
His hand came forward to touch my tousled hair. I believe he still doubted it true and needed to feel the evidence himself.
Tunic and Addie hovered over us, both caught between wanting to help us to our feet and evaluating the extent of our injuries.
Tunic’s hand pressed on a deep lash and I flinched dramatically. “That hurts!” I protested, grabbing his hand. He shook my grasp off and dropped his pack to the ground. His hands searched through his possessions until he found the remedy he was searching for. He took a brittle powder and sprinkled it over my wounds.
I felt the healing sting of his nursing efforts immediately. “What is that?” I moaned as his work increased my agony.
“It will remove Ezebel’s poison from the lashes,” he informed me. He gestured for Addie and she held out a hand to receive some of the powder.
As Addie began to tend to Ladd, a thought struck me. “Wait,” I exclaimed. “How long have you had that?”
Tunic shrugged, “I have had it since I left Kennbridge.”
“I dragged you from Keegan Heights to Layla’s pool for something you had in your pack all along.”
Tunic smiled weakly.
I groaned and shook my head. I could have screamed with the unfairness of it all. And then I realised it was over. The monster was dead!
I gave Tunic quite the fright when I first buried my head in my hands only to leap at him in celebration. “We did it! We actually did it!” I pulled him down for a kiss that set him to blushing. The town had nearly all gathered around us. My mother came screaming into the crowd. She hollered at me in all range of emotions: how dare I leave her; thank heavens I was back; what had I done to myself? Father was close behind her. I threw my arms around them both, kissing them on the cheek.
I don’t remember much after that. I was later told that I’d collapsed. Tunic caught me and lowered me to the ground, but he was soon to follow me into unconsciousness. The extensive reliance on faerie magic had finally caught up.