“Jezebel’s Blouse” by Timothy T. Murphy

Sixteen hundred and thirty-two years ago, the assembled gods of the world abandoned humanity, leaving us to our self-determined fates, the bastards. I can’t say as I blame them, really. They said it was partly their own fault, they being the ones that spoiled us rotten. They protected us from disasters, led us to fertile valleys, helped our crops grow, and basically handed a life of beauty to us on a silver platter.

So what did we do? Complain a lot, naturally. “Why does it have to rain today?” was a common one, right alongside “Why doesn’t it rain gold?” Then there was the ever popular “Why does it have to be my son that gets the pox and not the landlord’s rotten kid?”or even, “Why does the pretty blonde girl get to have all the boobs?”

Okay, so that last one was mine. Don’t get me wrong. Jezebel was my friend. We both slept in the back of the bakery where we worked, we both wore the stained rags of orphans, and we both ate scraps off the table like dogs.

But Jezzie had golden hair and clear porcelain skin and a smile that made the sun shine brighter (or so our poxy boss said). She got to talk to the customers all day long while I churned butters, tended the ovens, and mixed so many batters I practically farted flour. If the gods were still among us and there was still some vague sense of justice in this world, I’d at least have a couple of oranges on my chest and Jezzie would be coping just fine with the figure of an eleven-year-old boy.

But no. The gods had shuffled off to some other realm to start over with another creation and try out something they called “tough love,” whatever that meant.

At least Jezzie had a good sense of humor when I tossed the occasional bit of dough in her smiling face. She was charitable enough to lie and say how envious she was of me. “You’re learning a trade, Antoinette. I’m just being pretty, and how long will I be able to do that?”

Long enough to get yourself a rich husband, I used to think, but I never said it. I don’t think Jezzi really liked that idea much. Fourteen years old and boys were already giving her gifts of perfumed soaps and sweetmeats. She gave them all to me when no one was looking. They made her sad, somehow. I thought she was a bit ungrateful. I would have given three of my own fingers to have one boy look at me the way they looked at her – even Ianto.

Ianto and I had grown up in the same orphanage along with our friend, Ben. The time came to start working and we’d wound up on opposite ends of the city, him down at the docks with Ben and me up by the Farmers’ Gate marketplace. He always used to come up with Ben in tow to visit me on his days off, but when Jezzie appeared a year ago and started working with me, Ianto started finding every excuse to visit, the jerk.

Of course, these days he had to sneak up. Folk from the docks weren’t very welcome up here, lately. The gods had left us but Death wasn’t a god, was she? She was one of the Older Things, and she was still here, doing her job just fine. Last month the river had flooded, spewing up all sorts of nasty dead things from its reeking bottom into the sea and Grandmother Death sent her favorite pet to play. The Plague.

One thing about living on an island is that if one person gets a cold, everybody gets that same cold. If one person got the Plague? Well, everybody flew into hysterics and beat each other into bloody pulps if they so much as sneezed. Better yet, the Queen sent her army boys to kill anyone with the marks to keep it from spreading to the mainland.

I gave Ianto and Ben some of Jezebel’s sweet-smelling soaps and told them to bathe a lot. They smelled to the seventeen heavens of jasmine flowers and blushed mightily about it, but they didn’t carry the purple marks, yet. Ianto might have been ogling the wrong girl, but I still wanted him around.

Well, most of the time I did. People were dropping dead in the market all day. The Queen’s Royal Army were shooting anyone who tried to leave the city, and mass funeral pyres were burning fifty feet into the sky, stinking up the whole town. So what does Ianto do? Get mischievous.

He didn’t steal anything, mind you. He’s not a thief, but he does like to laugh a little too much, sometimes. He usually did little things, like tying the shoelaces of drunken men together, or loosening the bolts on some unsuspecting merchant’s buggy seat so that he wound up on his bottom in a crash when his horse trotted off. A few passersby had a little chortle, Ianto had a good roaring laugh, and I had kittens. He was always going to get us all killed, someday.

With the Plague washing through town, he didn’t seem much interested in mischief at first. But one fine Sunday the four of us – Jezebel, Ianto, Ben and I – were having a stroll through the market for a bit of sunshine, and Ianto spotted the old groundskeeper from our orphanage snoring on a bench by the alehouse with an empty tankard dangling from his fingertips, and got a wicked grin.

Now before I go getting ahead of myself, I should probably tell you about Ben. Fourteen years old and already way over six feet tall and made of nothing but pure muscle. He scared people just looking them in the eyes, sometimes, and a lot of those people liked to make themselves feel better by picking on him. “Stupid,” they called him. “Idiot.”

But Ianto and I, we knew better. Ben wasn’t born that way. That groundskeeper – Malach – was a drunkard and he was scared of Ben just like the others, but he made himself feel better by bashing Ben’s head in with a shovel. Ben’s head was broken. It didn’t work quite right anymore. He couldn’t talk and he couldn’t read or write and it was because of Malach.

“Ianto,” I said slowly, knowing that grin, “leave it alone. We don’t need any trouble right now.”

But Ianto was not to be dissuaded. He vanished into the crowd for a moment and reappeared at Malach’s side. There was a cup in his hands, and he was mashing something in it. He stepped between Malach and me and rubbed something on Malach. When he stepped away, there were purple marks all over the drunkard’s face.

Just like Plague markings.

“Gods returning!” I gasped. He’d gone from mischievous to murderous! I scanned the crowds in a panic. Sure enough, mortal luck prevailed and there were two of the Queen’s finest crossbowmen not thirty feet away from me, talking up Mishan at her father’s fruit stand. I broke into a run for them. If I could tell them the truth before Ianto…

“Plague!”

Too late. Ianto had tossed a cup of hot tea in Malach’s lap. Malach had jumped up in a shout of pain, drawing all sorts of eyes to him, and someone had screamed in fear. I looked back to the soldiers, but they already had crossbows trained and before I could blink, Malach became a unicorn, a beautifully fletched bolt sticking out from between his eyes.

I stood and stared for a moment while the same soldiers crossed the distance to Malach, discovered their (quite understandable) mistake and started looking around for the culprit. I quietly stepped back to Jezzie’s side. She was standing and staring, just as dumbfounded as I was. “He didn’t…” she whispered to me in shock.

“He did,” I whispered back. One of the guards picked up the discarded cup of berry juice and started asking questions of the people around him.

“We have to get out of here,” Jezzie whispered. “Ben?” She turned to take Ben’s hand, but Ben was nowhere to be seen. “Where is he?”

“Chasing Ianto!” Together, we turned and ran towards the east where Ianto must have disappeared. We went around a few of the smaller stalls and there was Ben’s huge figure pushing through the crowd and running around the corner on Tinkerer’s Street.

We followed as fast as we could and two blocks from that corner, we saw Ben at the public well, shielding Iano from view. “You idiot!” I screamed as we got close. “This is not the time to be caught washing your hands!”

He was scrubbing like a madman with soap and sand, the fingers of his right hand a bright purple from nail to knuckle. “It won’t come off,” he said in a frustrated panic.

“Well, of course it won’t!” I screamed at him. “That’s why they use it to dye wool, moron! You have to run!” I grabbed hold of him and shoved him down the street, but just then there was a shout, and I turned to see those same two soldiers three blocks away pointing and running.

We all shouted something foul and ran. The nearest place to turn off that street was half a block away and about the time we came up to it, two bolts whistled through the air past my ear. I yelped, hugging my elbows to my head, and sank to my knees as the bolts thunked into the wall in front of me. I stared incredulously for a moment before Ben’s big hand grabbed my shirt, lifting and pulling me around the corner.

But it was a dead end. We all stood and stared at the courtyard in front of us. It was a set of stables, a wall of iron bars half a block away standing between us and a few mares looking at us peacefully.

“Crap,” shouted Jezebel and she ran to a door at the side. We followed and it turned out to be unlocked. We ran through the stables to the door at the other side, but it was locked from the outside. We were trapped.

“Curse you,” Jezzie spit at Ianto before yanking off her skirt.

“What are you doing?” he asked as she unbuttoned her blouse.

“I’m saving our skins,” she hissed, then turned and ran out the first door. Before we could catch her, she pulled it shut and locked it.

“Jezzie!” I shouted, banging on the door.

“You don’t watch this,” she said from the other side. “Whatever happens, you don’t watch this.”

“Jezzie, no!” I shouted, thinking I knew her game. “Don’t!”

I ran around to the bars so I could see. Sweet Jezebel with her golden hair was walking calmly up the courtyard, her hands holding her blouse closed as the two soldiers bore down on her, crossbows drawn. They looked her over and then saw Ianto standing next to me, his bright purple fingertips curled in a fist around an iron bar as he shouted for Jezebel to come back. They raised their weapons, trained them on Ianto, and Jezebel opened her blouse in offering.

In a moment of surprise, they both turned to look at her, their eyes going wide. I closed my eyes for a second, wishing to the undeserving gods that my chest could do that, and opened them again to find them still staring. They stared long enough, in fact, that I found myself rolling my eyes and thinking ‘Come on, boys, it’s just a pair of boobs.’

And then they fell over dead.

I’m not exaggerating. They were dead before they hit the ground, and Jezzie closed her blouse. She turned back to us, holding her blouse tightly shut, and unlocked the door.

I walked around to it, looking her in the eyes as she pushed it open. “What in all the hells just happened?” I asked as Ianto and Ben pushed past us to check the soldiers.

“They’re dead!” Ianto called back. “Stone cold dead.”

Jezebel wasn’t looking me in the eyes, just down at her toes. As the boys came back and stood in the doorway, staring at her back, I carefully reached out and pulled Jezzie’s blouse open, expecting to find some sort of mystic rune or something to explain what just happened.

Under the blouse, Jezebel was as naked as the day she was born, but there was nothing there. Well okay, obviously there was something there, or all the boys wouldn’t be drooling over her, but it was just the usual girl stuff. ‘Two boats and a clam’ as they say down by the docks. I’d seen Jezzie naked a hundred times as we bathed over the last year, and there was nothing new.

“I’m confused,” I said to her as Ianto and Ben started to come around her to see.

She pulled her blouse closed and jumped forward to stop them. “Don’t look at me!” she shouted. “Don’t ever look at me naked!”

Ianto cast her an indignant look and said, “You just let her see you naked.”

“It won’t work on her,” she answered. “She’s a girl.”

And then it hit me. “You’re not fourteen, are you?”

She cast her eyes back down at the floor and said, “I’m a little over fourteen hundred, actually.”

There was a moment of silence as the boys stared at her in confusion, and I reached out to brush her hair away from her ears. They were as round as I remembered them.

“A gift,” she whispered, “from a witch. With her dying breath, she cast a spell that rounded my ears so I could pass as a mortal and hide among them.”

“What is she talking about?” Ianto asked me.

“She’s a nymph.” I said. “One of the ancient fey, a spirit of innocent beauty. For a male to look on their nakedness was said to be death.”

“You’re kidding,” he gasped. Jezzie looked up into his eyes, then out towards the dead soldiers, and back into his eyes. He glanced around in a moment of confusion and asked, “How would your people even be able to…”

“Blindfolds,” she told him. “Broad, thick blindfolds and men mature enough to keep their damned eyes closed when we tell them to.” With that, she turned her back to the boys and buttoned her blouse, asking me to fetch her skirt. “We need to get out of this town,” she said simply. “Quickly.”

“We’ll be shot if we try it,” I said, handing her the skirt.

“We’ll be hanged if we stay.” she told me. “Ianto’s fingers will incriminate him for a couple of weeks at least and we’ve been seen with him.”

“The harbor,” Ianto said.

We all looked at him. “Yes?” Jezzie said.

“The circus is in the harbor. The harbormaster wouldn’t let them in because of the plague, but they needed supplies before moving on to the mainland. Me and Ben fetched the crates out to their boats all day yesterday. We made friendly with ‘em, and they told us they were looking for more people.”

“Wouldn’t they have left by now?” I asked.

He shook his head. “The bos’n said they were going to be in harbor at least through high tide tonight. They had to talk to the people that arranged the show, gather their cancellation fees and all that.”

“When’s high tide?” Jezzie asked.

“Just over an hour.” Ianto told her.

“How do we get past the army?” I asked.

“Her.” he said, pointing to Jezebel and smiling.

“Oh no, you don’t,” she said, getting right into his face. He backed away a few paces as she raised her voice. “I am not a killer and I am not your personal assassin. Those two men just died because you nearly got all four of us killed with your petty revenge. I will not just kill any soldier we see for you.”

“Well now,” said a deep male voice. We turned to see a really tall, really scary-looking soldier step into the doorway. “This is an interesting conversation.” He stepped into the stables with us as we all backed away slowly. “So you’re responsible for this mess,” he said, nodding outside towards the dead men. With a terrifying look in his eyes, he drew his sword…

…and flopped over dead. We all turned to look at Jezebel as she whipped her blouse shut again. She gave a nervous giggle and said, “On the other hand, there is something to be said for self-defense. Stay behind me.” She stepped out through the door and whispered, “Crap.”

“What is it,” I asked.

“There’s nobody else out here,” she said. We stepped outside to see we were indeed alone.

“Well that’s good, isn’t it?” Ianto asked.

“No soldier is ever alone,” she answered. “The other one must have run off to report us. We have to hurry.”

We walked quickly back to the alleyway and turned away from the market at a quick pace. There was a brief discussion as we walked regarding which roads to take. Navigation was usually pretty simple in our town. The harbor was down the hill, the farmer’s market up the hill. There were six water towers, all painted a different color. If you got lost, you could just look up to see the towers and get a good idea of where you were.

The problem here was strategy. The quickest route would get us seen by soldiers just about every block, but the routes that would keep us from being seen would likely take too long and get us exposed to the Plague in the bargain. We decided to play it by ear, trying the quicker routes first and switching to the back alleyways if we had to.

“You just keep your hands in your pockets,” I told Ianto. We didn’t need any soldiers seeing his purple fingers. Not that Jezzie didn’t look strange walking down the streets in just her sandals and the blouse she was holding shut with her hands. It barely reached down far enough to cover her pretty parts but she couldn’t have the skirt on because we might meet more soldiers. For ten minutes or so we walked in silence, but people were staring and she was blushing mightily.

So of course Ianto said something stupid.

“Is it all your nakedness,” he suddenly asked, “or just part of it?”

“What?” Jezzie asked, looking over her shoulder at him.

“What I mean is, would I have to see you starkers from top to bottom like those guys did? Would I be able to see like just your nipples and still live?”

“You’re too young to see my naked bits to start with, Ianto.”

“Well, I won’t be forever, will I? I’ll be sixteen in twenty months, all adult like. And anyway…”

I swatted him as we walked. “Ianto!”

“I just want to know how it works,” he said, shrugging his shoulders as Jezzie picked up the pace, staring fiercely at the ground in front of her and snarling just a little. “Is there one specific part of you that would kill me, or would I be able to see all of you naked if I just saw it one bit at a time, like a breast here and a buttock there?”

“Ianto…” Jezzie said, a very clear warning tone to her voice.

“And is it just the stuff on your front or would I be able to see your backside and just slip into a coma for a few days?”

She stopped in her tracks, turning to face him with an angry stare. Ianto stopped, flinching. For a terrible moment, I thought she was going to open her blouse but she smiled, reaching out to pat Ianto on the cheek.

Then she kicked hard in the tender bits.

He dropped to the ground, holding his tender bits in his hands and crying out in agony as Jezebel walked off. I followed, calling over my shoulder, “Drag him along, Ben.” He grunted in agreement and picked Ianto up off the ground to follow.

We had made good time for twenty or thirty minutes when Jezzie spat out a quiet curse and started to glance around quickly like she was looking for something.

“What is it?” I asked her.

“I think they’ve figured it out.” she said.

“Figured what out?” Ianto asked.

“Three soldiers dead for no apparent reason,” she said, “and a really young-looking girl wandering through town in just an unbuttoned blouse. I didn’t expect them to put it together quite this fast, but the soldiers are all looking at me like they know.”

“You’re just being paranoid,” I told her, hoping I was right.

“Think so?” she asked. “Want to chance it?” She turned and ducked into a shop with us close behind. It was a dressmaker’s shop and she walked through the place like she knew it well. In fact, an elderly woman with knobby fingers turned as she saw Jezzie coming and smiled.

“Hello, dear!” the woman called. “My, my! You came dressed for clothes shopping, eh?”

Jezzie stopped, smiling sweetly. “Hello, Innis. Sorry, I haven’t got time for chatter. Can we borrow your back door?”

“Certainly, darling,” the woman said with obvious concern.

“Thank you,” Jezzie told her and walked off toward the back with us in tow. We stepped into the back ally and continued on our way. The buildings here were joined up in a row, and it was a couple of blocks long, but we still made for an alleyway that led back another block past the blue water tower.

As we were walking down the alleyway, though, there was a shout behind us. “You four! Stop!” We turned to see four soldiers – two swordsmen and two crossbowmen – strutting towards us. “Show me your hands! Now!”

Jezzie stepped forward, struck an innocent, baby-doll sort of pose, and said, “Show you my what?” She whipped open her blouse and just like that, all four soldiers fell dead on the spot. They didn’t even try to avert their eyes.

“Is there like a minimum safe distance for that?” Ianto asked.

“Shut it!” she told him, spinning to face him. “You think I enjoy killing people? Do you enjoy watching me do it?”

Ianto cast his own eyes to the ground, whispering, “No.”

“For someone who wants to share my bed someday, you’re not starting off well.”

“Sorry,” he said. “I’m just… trying to cope with the weirdness of it all. Only two beautiful girls in my life, one of them is deadly to behold and the other only loves me as a brother.”

“Excuse me?” I said, my eyebrows shooting up in surprise. “What was that?”

“Oh, come on,” he said, looking at me sideways, “I know you only like me as a friend.”

“Okay, first off, no I don’t. Secondly, you said ‘beautiful’ girls.”

He looked me up and down and said, “Yeah.”

“I’m not beautiful.”

He did a double-take, turning to face me fully. “Who said?” When I didn’t answer right away, he stepped up to me and said, “Seriously, Antoinette, you name one person who told you to your face that you’re anything less than gorgeous, and I will have words with ‘em, straight off!” Ben nodded in agreement, but Ianto kept looking me in the eyes. I glanced over at Jezzie, but she was hiding a grin behind one hand.

I looked back at Ianto, feeling my face flushing up nice and red. “But… I’m not…”

“What?” he said. “Chesty? So what? That idiot boss of yours can’t see it, but I can. You’ve always been the prettiest girl in my life. No offense, Jezzie.”

“None taken,” she said, smiling at us both.

He turned back to me, shrugging, and said, “I just, you know, always thought that you thought… Do you really like me that way?”

I stood with my mouth hanging open for a long moment. I started to stutter something, but felt a tear in my eye, so instead I grabbed him by the shirt and kissed him.

It was the first time I ever kissed anybody, and I think I got it right. I mean I didn’t bang noses with him, or bite his lips, or get too slobbery, or anything, but we didn’t do much. We just sort of pressed our lips together and closed our eyes. We came up for air and hugged each other and did lots of little kisses.

Ben gave us one of his grunting little laughs and clapped. Jezzie smiled and said, “I agree. It’s about time.” I looked into Ianto’s eyes and we both smiled a little bit. It was the most perfect moment in my life.

And then the crossbow bolt hit him in the butt.

He screamed, arching up on his toes. Jezzie jumped in surprise, too, but she turned fast, found the culprit on the rooftop next to us, whipped open her blouse, and his body dropped to the road in front of her. “Gods departed!” she shouted, closing her blouse. “I am taking every one of these bodies out of your ass!”

“Too late!” he shouted back, trying to reach back for the bolt. “Somebody beat you to it!”

Ben grabbed him around the middle, holding him steady as he grabbed the end of it himself.

“Ben!” he shouted in pain, “Careful! Let me…” But before he could finish, Ben yanked the bolt out of his butt and Ianto screamed his head off.

“Okay, I’ll settle for that,” Jezzie said quietly. “We need to get moving. High tide is coming.”

I took a moment to check that the bolt still had the head attached and said, “Agreed. Can you walk?” I asked Ianto. He only nodded in answer, biting his lip to stop screaming. I looked down at the freshest corpse and said to Jezzie, “At least they haven’t figured it out yet.”

“Figured what out?” We turned, looking for the voice, and a soldier came around the corner – tall and rail-thin, smelling of ash with eyes that glowed like dying embers.

“Pyromancer,” I whispered, taking a step back.

“Worse,” Jezzie whispered. “Girl.”

“What?” I asked, glancing down as the pyromancer raised an open palm towards us. “Aw, Hells. Boobs.”

“Run!” Jezzie screamed.

She turned to do just that, a ball of fire whooshing past her and smashing into the nearest building with a bang. We all turned and ran after her with Ben half-carrying Ianto. Another ball of fire went past and Ben picked Ianto all the way up and ran ahead of us, shrieking. I’d never seen Ben afraid before. It was far more unsettling than the pyromancer alone ever could have been.

We turned the corner and ran downhill. “I thought women weren’t allowed in the Queen’s Army?” I shouted to Jezzie.

“So did I,” she called back. “But it looks to me like they made an exception!”

The road ended. There was a twenty foot drop at our feet, the rooftop of a warehouse ahead of us. Ben simply jumped, clearing it easy and running for his life with Ianto shouting for him to stop, but Jezzie and I stopped to look down. Big mistake. I looked back at the advancing mage. We’d gained some distance on her, but she was closing fast, and raising her hand. We backed up a few steps and jumped, stumbling with a gout of flame shooting over our heads, but up and running fast to keep up with Ben.

Ben was two rooftops ahead of us already. We ran after him, and I shouted for him to slow down, but Jezzie corrected me. “He’s got the right idea! Pyromancy takes a lot of concentration and control. You can’t do it while you’re running. The best strategy is to just outrun her, so move!” Right about then three fireballs crashed into the rooftop by my feet, igniting the slates, and I didn’t need encouragement anymore.

In my panic I lost track of where we were and which direction we were running in, and I started to worry that we were going to get hopelessly lost and never find our way to the harbor in time to join the circus, but then I realized that Ben’s primal panicky instincts were working perfectly. He was running towards the harbor…where the water was. Goofy me.

Unfortunately, our luck ran out. Jezzie and I caught up to Ben and Ianto at last as they were standing at the edge of a rooftop, looking down at a forty foot drop to the streets below. “We’re out of rooftops,” Ianto said needlessly as we approached. I looked back to see the pyromancer a couple of blocks back, doggedly hopping from roof to roof. Youthful vigor had bought us some spare time, but not much.

Ben whacked Ianto on the back excitedly, pointing at the road below. Quite a nice distance away was a haystack by another stable yard. “Yeah, I see it,” Ianto told him, “but there’s no way we’ll be able to jump that far… Hey! What are you doing?”

Ben had grabbed hold of the front of Ianto’s shirt and dragged him closer. Looking out at the haystack, he grabbed Ianto under the butt, pulled him back, and threw him into the air while Ianto screamed to wake the dead. He hurtled through the air, his limbs flailing around like a ragdoll, and landed dead center of the haystack while Jezzie and I stood and gaped with our mouths hanging open.

“Ben!” I gasped as Ianto scrambled out of the hay, “Nice work!”

And then he grabbed hold of Jezzie’s blouse. “Ben?” she cried in alarm as he pulled her close. “Ben, try to remember, I’m not wearing any underw-whoa!” she shrieked as Ben rather clumsily grabbed her under the butt and hurled her into the air, screaming. Ianto had the good sense to cover his eyes as her blouse flapped open like a flag in the wind and she dropped onto the haystack unhurt.

I relaxed into Ben’s grip with a squeak and let him throw me, but even after seeing him hit the bulls-eye twice in a row, I still screamed like a baby as the haystack rushed up to smack me in the face because it just felt like the thing to do. I did get the landing a bit wrong, though. I forgot to stop screaming and close my mouth as I hit the hay, so I scrambled out of the stack spitting and cursing.

Ianto was watching Ben, rubbing his punctured butt idly with one hand. Jezebel was fidgeting behind him, nervously tugging the bottom of the blouse down as she blushed. It looked silly for a moment before I remembered where Ben’s hand had been.

“Jezzie? Are you…”

“Shut up,” she said. “Just… shut up.”

“Okay,” I said, rubbing her shoulder. We all looked up to Ben, who stood watching us for a moment to be sure we were all right, then ran back out of sight, presumably to get a good running start for his own jump.

But then the rooftop erupted in a wall of fire. “Ben!” we all cried. A wave of intense heat washed over us and the flames died out, but he didn’t reappear.

The pyromancer did, though, looking down at us like a predator in the bushes.

“Ben,” Jezzie whispered. I didn’t say anything. I was too busy trying not to throw up.

The pyromancer turned and ran off to the side and Jezebel tugged on my shirt. “Come on,” she whispered. “Let’s get going before he finds a way down.”

“No.” We turned back to see Ianto still looking up at the rooftop, tears rolling freely down his face.

“Ianto,” I said quietly, “we have to go.”

“No,” he said again. “This is my fault. It’s my fault and I’m going to fix it. If Jezzie can’t kill that sunuvabitch, then I will.”

“Don’t be stupid,” Jezzie told him. “We have time to lose her. We can be to the harbor in a few minutes and get free.”

“And what’s the point?” he shouted into her face. “What’s the point of living free if I’ll have to live knowing I killed my best friend to do it? You go. Please. This isn’t your fault. Just go.” He started to search around for a weapon or something, and it really looked desperate and silly. Jezzie and I looked into each others’ eyes. The harbor was in easy reach.

“We’re in the wrong spot,” Jezzie said. “This is a stable yard. Lots of wood and hay. We should be in the middle of the street where there’s nothing flammable.”

“We need weapons,” Ianto muttered.

“Jezzie,” I asked, “Can she heat metals?”

“Not nearly as fast as wood and cloth,” she answered.

I pulled a pair of bale hooks – made of only iron – down off a nearby wall, handing one to Ianto. He tested the grip in his hand, nodding to me in satisfaction. Jezzie turned, found another pair and hefted one in each hand as Ianto simply stepped out into the middle of the street. We followed, positioning ourselves behind him.

The pyromancer was walking calmly up the road towards us, a smirk showing in the light of her glowing eyes. “Come on,” Ianto called to her, hefting his hook in a fighting stance. “Come on!”

The mage grinned, raising her open palm, and fire leaped out. The first three fireballs struck at Ianto’s feet, driving all three of us back, but we stood our ground. The fourth, though, hit Ianto in the thigh, setting his trousers on fire. He leaped back, dropping his hook to beat at the flames with his hands. Jezzie stood her ground to put herself between Ianto and the mage while I tried to help swat out the flames.

I didn’t realize her game until it was almost too late. Jezebel’s blouse incinerated in a flash, leaving her completely nude, and I realized that she was right in front of Ianto, who turned reflexively to look at the flames.

“Don’t!” I screamed, tackling him and jamming my hand over his eyes. From the way he struggled, trying to pull my hand off his face, I gathered he was all right, but Jezzie wasn’t. She dropped her hooks to cover herself and ran, but on one side of the road was a twenty-foot high wall, and on the other was the stables. Desperate and screaming, a fresh wave of fireballs slapping at her feet, poor Jezzie ran for the stables. I picked up my hook and stood to face the pyromancer, but my sleeve caught fire and I dropped it again, swatting at the flames.

Things only got worse from there. Ianto was holding one hand over his eyes and trying to find a hook blindly with the other. I was swatting at my burning arm, screaming in pain, and Jezebel ran right into the pyromancer’s trap. As she crossed over the hay-covered ground it leaped into flames, driving her farther in. Covering herself with both hands and trying to find cover, she ran into the nearest door – attached to a wooden building filled with hay.

There was a sick sort of squealing sound as all the moisture seemed to get sucked out of the air, and the stables glowed like hot coals for a moment before bursting into flames. Jezzie screamed. Ianto pulled his hands away from his eyes and we both picked up a pair of hooks, but before we could stand, two fireballs hit us in the guts, knocking us onto our backs.

“Now, now, children,” she told us, one hand pointed at us and the other at the burning stables. “First the fairy child dies for killing our men, then you die.” I would have been more terrified if it weren’t for the smug self-satisfied grin on her fat blistered face. I made to stand up, ready to burn alive rather than lie there and listen to Jezebel’s screams.

In the distance, there was a terrible groan of steel and wood, a mighty crash, and a roar like thunder. It came from uphill, and the roaring came closer and closer really fast. The pyromancer stepped out away from the wall, craning her neck to see what it was.

From over the edge, battering the warehouses as it passed, a wall of water flew over us, bearing a very angry – and very alive – Ben.

Now it may be true that Ben’s head doesn’t work quite right anymore, but it’s also true that his heart works perfectly – better than most, in fact. He looks after his friends, he smiles at all our jokes, he hugs us when we want it but won’t admit it. I mostly never care that he can’t read or write or even talk, but this is the one exception because until the day we die, he’ll never be able to tell us how in all the hells he managed to knock over a water tower and ride the waves down to rescue us! That’s just going to bother me my whole life!

He flew over Ianto and me, a battle cry tearing from his throat, and crashed through the roof of the burning stables with the water. As the water crashed down over us and the building, knocking it hard, the flames all died out. Ianto was thrown across the road and into the now-extinguished stables by the wave, but sat up sputtering and coughing as he rubbed his wounded butt.

While he’d been watching Ben, I’d been watching the pyromancer. I had already been half standing, so when the mage tried to cut and run, I tripped her with a hook and sat on her while the water crashed over us and threw us into the nearest building, and I made damn sure that her head hit first.

Ianto stood weakly, stumbling over as I watched the light in her eyes die out. He hugged me from behind and I turned, sinking into the embrace, and kissed him (and this time we did more than just push our lips together.)

He pulled away after a moment and whispered, “Come on, we have to find them.” I nodded, bending down to strip the pyromancer’s robes off of her while Ianto ran to the stable door, calling Ben and Jezzie’s names.

“Here,” I told him, handing him the mage’s robes, “wring those out a bit,” and I stepped inside.

On his knees in the center of the ruined and muddy stables was Ben. He was burned, he was bruised, and in the dim light I could tell that he was oozing blood from lots of wounds. He was rocking gently back and forth, his eyes were squeezed shut, and his tree-trunk arms were wrapped tightly around a sobbing Jezebel. “Jezzie?” I called.

She turned her head to look at me. She was curled up in Ben’s arms so that her deadly bits weren’t showing, but she was burned in places and she was soaked and shivering. “As soon as we get to the mainland,” she said, sniffling.

“Yeah?”

“I’m buying Ben a blindfold.”

I grinned wide, despite myself. “You might want to wait until he’s sixteen.” I reminded her.

“Oh yeah,” she said with a smile, reaching up to pat him on the cheek. “I forgot.”

“Easy to do with him.” I said.

“It is,” she agreed. She placed a few kisses on his cheeks and forehead, telling him gently, “It’s okay, Ben. I’m okay.”

“Hello?” Ianto called from outside. “Is it safe to come in?”

I smiled and said, “Yeah, come on in.”

He stumbled in with the pyromancer’s robes in one hand, his other hand over his eyes. “Covering!” Jezzie called, smiling.

“Yeah, I was hoping you’d still be around to need it. Does it work if you’re dead?”

“Shut it!” she said, laughing. We all had a good laugh, the fear washing away, and Jezzie stood to dress. Ben stood too, and as soon as she was covered up, Jezzie sank herself back into his arms, telling him to open his eyes. Ianto opened his too, and the four of us shared a quick hug.

“So,” Jezzie said. “Do we still have time to join the circus?”

Ben makes an amazing Fire Marshall for the circus, by the way, and he’s fantastic with children. To this day, everybody gives him blindfolds for his birthday, which he thinks is really funny. Jezebel sells tickets and does a bit of magic and she still looks exactly the same as she did all those years ago. Ianto works hard as a carnival barker and he’s the back-up Ringmaster.

Me, I got my dream job – an acrobat on the high wire. I do ballet and gymnastics up there without a net and I’m the star of the show! Jezebel wanted the job, and we both tried out, but they told Jezzie she couldn’t do it because she’d have serious balance issues. Her boobs are too big.


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About the Author

Lurking deep in the shadows of Omaha, Nebraska, Timothy T. Murphy believes in monsters. He’s seen too many of them. He rips and tears at them with big sharp teeth, chases them down with a shot of humor and spits them back out as science fiction and fantasy for all the world to see. His brand new blog “Murphy’s Laws of Writing” can be found at www.timothytmurphy.com.