The dragon circled above, a shadow against the starlit sky. Montrose stood ready, her sword held prepped to swing. She glanced down at Kahrdoom, who remained on the ground in a half fetal position.
"Call off your beast," Montrose demanded. Eddie translated. "Call it off or I'll cut off its legs."
"You cannot harm such a powerful creature."
"This sword is Antares, the ancient and strong. It has slain titans. Your dragon looks small by comparison."
Kahrdoom glared up at her, his teeth clenched together in rage. He relented, whistling once. The massive form of the dragon faded further into the sky.
"Do you wish to fight more," Montrose asked. "Or will you speak?"
"How can you defeat me? You have no magic."
"I have trained all my life to fight foes such as you. I am as dangerous as anyone you've ever known."
Kahrdoom sneered. "You do not know the power I've seen."
"You refer to the Gahn Shikvaht?"
He glared up at her.
"Please stand," she said. "You are a man of power and deserve my respect. I would prefer we speak on equal ground."
She turned to Eddie. "What's your name, translator?"
"Um, Eddie, ma'am."
"Go help him up, Eddie."
Eddie gaped at her. He looked around himself. This street fight had gained a significant audience. They were ringed by the eager and confused faces of the villagers.
He shuffled towards Kahrdoom and offered his hand. Kahrdoom slapped it aside and stood on his own. Eddie retreated.
Montrose held her sword out, looking down the blade at Kahrdoom. "Speak to me."
"I will reveal no secrets," Kahrdoom said.
"Then tell me what is commonly known in your land. Who is the Usurper?"
"You will allow me to leave if I speak?"
"You have my word as a Knight of Truth. I will not detain you."
"The Usurper of God, the Exalted one. He is the crown of Cavaheim, city of fire, jewel of the world."
After translating, Eddie turned to Montrose. "Wait, so is the Usurper of God the same as the Godsbane?"
She nodded, not taking her eye off Kahrdoom.
"Huh," Eddie said. "So it's not me?"
She scoffed. "Certainly not."
To Kahrdoom, she said, "Why does your king seek those with magical gifts?"
Kahrdoom glared. His jaw tightened.
"Are they to be a sacrifice? The sacrifice of the prophecy?"
Again, Kahrdoom said nothing.
"Hasn't the king of Cavaheim already performed a sacrifice? Has he not already achieved the power of God?"
"I will say only that I serve him and am on his business."
As this conversation took place, the citizens of Holcomb muttered among themselves. "The Sheriff and Earlie both," someone said. "They're laying there like they're dead. Did he kill them."
Someone threw a rock. It hit Kahrdoom in the side of the head. He growled and stumbled to the side.
"Hold!" Montrose shouted at the surrounding crowd, raising her sword. "I have not finished with him."
The growing shouts of the mob reduced to bitter murmurings.
She turned back on Kahrdoom. "I wish to speak to your king. What is his name?"
"His given name is Basha."
"And where can I find Cavaheim?"
"It is within the Caldera of Flame, at the base of the greatest of the Titan Spires."
"And where is that?"
He leered. "Travel northeast by the sun and stars. You cannot miss the Spires. Three peaks that touch the sky."
Montrose thought for a moment, then lowered her sword. "That is sufficient." She stepped back, not taking her eyes off the robed figure.
As she moved back, the crowd closed in on him. "What did you do with our mayor?" One man shouted. "Did you take my son," cried a woman.
Kahrdoom backed up a step. He shouted towards Montrose. "I thought I would be freed."
Montrose had already disappeared into the Sheriff's station. A moment later, she emerged with her sword in its scabbard at her waist, a shotgun slung across her back. She sat down astride a black motorcycle parked in front of the office.
"Will you not release me," Kahrdoom called after her.
"These people are not mine to command," she said. "But you and I are done."
As the crowd closed on the huge man, Montrose kicked the motorcycle to life and roared away down the curving street of Holcomb.
Kahrdoom pulled himself up to his full height. "You dare not touch me," he shouted at the converging mob.
Men held hammers and knives. Women hurled rocks. Kahrdoom swept his hand before him, a wave of blue light arcing out. Those in front of him were thrown back, but more closed in on him. "What have you done to our town?" a big man shouted. He ran towards Kahrdoom, an axe raised overhead. Kahrdoom blasted him at the last moment with a blue pulse. The man fell limp mid-stride and fell in a heap at the wizard's feet.
Kahrdoom sneered with defiance. He whistled out loud, and a second later, the huge dragon fell from the sky, knocking townsfolk aside as it touched down. It swept its wing, and dozens more went flying.
Kahrdoom, ran and leapt onto its back. He shouted, "I will return tomorrow night for the girl. If she is not given to me, I will bring more riders, and we will reign fire down on this town until not a man, woman or child is left alive." He nudged the dragon's flank with his heel, and the creature leapt into the black sky.
Eddie stood staring. A man with a bushy black beard sidled up to him. "What'd he say?"
Eddie told him.
"What girl? What does that mean?" asked the man.
"He means the girl in jail, the little one with gray skin," a woman in a black dress said.
"The freak? I saw her running down towards the mill."
"Somebody get her," the woman in black demanded. Several people ran off.
"What's your part in all this?" the bushy bearded man demanded, shoving Eddie in the shoulder.
"Me? I'm not involved."
A small knot of onlookers closed in on Eddie.
"You translated. Are you in league with the wench with the sword or the dragon man?"
"I'm... neither. I just spoke the—"
"You're lying," shouted the woman in black. "You were in jail. What did you do?"
"He didn't do anything."
They all turned to find Tim, the blacksmith's apprentice, approaching. "He's just an outsider."
"Well, the Sheriff doesn't jail just anyone."
"Of course she does," Tim shot back. "Sheriff Tragen is suspicious and paranoid, and with everyone disappearing and the town in the state it's in, she's looking to lock up anyone who looks the slightest bit different. Earlie's even worse."
"How do you know he's not part of everything?" asked bushy beard.
"I was there when they came into town. They're as confused as we are."
They argued. Eddie cringed, finding his fate left in the hands of a boy no older than himself. These people had murder in their eyes, especially the woman in the black dress. They wanted someone to blame, and Eddie was the only target left for them.
Distant shouts diverted their attention. "We have the girl," someone called.
Several men and women returned to the town square, two of the men holding a struggling child in their arms. It was Kai. She bit the arm of one man. He shouted, dropping her, but the other held her firm around the waist.
Eddie ran towards them, Tim close behind. "What are you going to do with her?"
"Put her back in jail," said the man holding her. "Give her to the dragon rider when he returns."
"But she's just a kid. They'll kill her."
The woman in black scowled at him. "She's one child. If they attack our town, they'll kill many."
"I thought you weren't involved," said bushy beard, shoving Eddie in the shoulder again.
"He's right, though," Tim said. "You're going to give this little girl to that monster? She came here lost and looking for help."
The woman stiffened. "She's not one of us."
Tim opened his mouth to complain more, but one of the men holding Kai shouted, "Shut it! This is how it's going to be. If the Sheriff wakes up, she'll agree with us."
They pushed past Eddie and Tim, their minds made up. Kai's eyes found Eddie as they carried her away, her expression pleading. "Eddie," she cried. "Eddie!"