The Young Girl awoke the next morning with sunlight shining on her face. At first her mind seemed blank. She opened her eyes and tried to remember where she was. Slowly the memories of the past day came back to her. She lay still and let her eyes wander, taking in her surroundings. She was in a room with the early sun shining through a window next to where she lay on a big, soft bed, covered snugly with sheets and a thin gray blanket. On the other side more beds were lined up, all empty but one. Beyond that was a curtain that separated the men's side from the women's. In one wall was a doorway, covered by another curtain.
The Young Girl sat up, pushing the sheets and blanket off her. She let the warm sunlight soak through her for a moment, then got up, got dressed, and walked through the doorway into a smaller room. On one side was a desk with a man sitting behind it, writing something down. As the girl passed by, he looked up and waved at her. “You have a good day now!” he said. The Young Girl smiled and waved back.
She meandered through the town, looking at the buildings and the people that were beginning to bustle around the streets. As she walked by a store, she looked in a window and saw Flint. She went inside.
The bounty hunter was squatting near the door next to a big pack, and was putting various items in it. His face was covered in bruises and he had a red-stained bandage wound around his head.
“What happened to you?” the Young Girl asked in surprise.
“Don't ask,” Flint replied, stuffing a loaf of bread into the rapidly filling bag.
“What are you doing?” the girl questioned.
“What does it look like I'm doing? I'm packing food and supplies for the journey to Elizabeth.”
“The City where I'm going next.”
“Will Zachiarus be there?”
Flint paused and sighed. “I hope so,” he said.
“How far is it?” the Young Girl asked.
“About a two and a half day journey from Marcus,” Flint answered, tying up the bag.
The Young Girl watched him for a moment. At length she asked, “So, when are we leaving?”
Flint gave a sigh. “Are you really sure you want to come?”
The Young Girl laughed. “Did you lose your memory too, Flint?” she giggled. “I already said I wanted to come with you. Don't you remember?”
“Yeah,” Flint replied, “I remember.” He got up and hoisted the pack over his shoulder. “Well, fine,” he said with a sigh. “But we'll have to go through the Wild, and that place isn't a park. If you get injured or attacked by wild animals, it ain't my fault!”
“I wonder what Elizabeth is like...” the girl murmured to herself.
You're not listening! Flint thought.
“...Is it like Marcus?” she asked.
“Elizabeth is a City,” Flint answered, “not a Town. There's a big difference. Elizabeth is at least five or six times the size of Marcus, and it's not even that big for a City. And the Hotel in Elizabeth is...” He couldn't hide the longing in his voice. He sighed. “Well, you'll find out soon enough I guess.” He started for the door. “I'm leaving now, whether you come or not.”
“That's what I said. The early bird gets the worm, after all.”
“Never mind, just come on.”
The two left the store and started walking through the town. Suddenly Flint recognized Ratchett walking up to meet them with a vacant look on his face. The bounty hunter grunted in annoyance. “Don't tell me you want to come too!” he said.
Ratchett shook his head. “Oh, no!” he answered. “I just came to see you off.”
Flint stared at him blankly. “Why?”
Ratchett gave him a dorky grin. “I have to say goodbye to my friends!”
Since when am I your friend? Flint wondered. Then he said out loud, “How did you even know we were leaving?”
Ratchett's expression changed. His dumb smile disappeared and he looked at Flint knowingly. “The early bird gets the worm, right?”
Flint looked at him in surprise. “How did you...”
“Are you sure you won't come with us?” the Young Girl asked.
Don't encourage him! Flint thought.
“No, no, I can't,” Ratchett answered, waving his hand. The vacant expression had returned to his face. “Besides, I hear the Wild is a very dangerous place. You be careful, okay?”
The Young Girl gave a huge smile. “Don't worry, I have Flint to protect me!” she said cheerfully.
Now I'm your bodyguard? Flint shook his head as he started walking off.
“I'll come back and see you again sometime,” the Young Girl said to Ratchett. “Goodbye!”
Ratchett waved and looked after her as she followed Flint off down the street. “Yes,” he said under his breath, “you will definitely see me again.”
The rising sun shone down upon the two travelers as they left the town of Marcus behind.
“How far is it to Elizabeth?” the Young Girl asked.
“I told you,” Flint sighed, “about two and a half days.”
“Just to make sure,” the girl said, “there is enough food in that bag for me too, right?”
“There won't be if you don't shut up.”
“You're still talking!”
The sun was shining brightly as the two travelers set out for the City of Elizabeth together. They went on for some time, walking across the grassy plains that lay outside of Marcus. A few trees were scattered here and there, but they became more frequent as they went along. After a few hours they found that they were entering a forest. The trees stood around them on all sides, along with different kinds of bushes and other plants. It wasn't very dense though, and the two could still walk side by side without difficulty.
By this time clouds were beginning to move in, partially obscuring the sunlight. A ways off on the horizon was a line of dark, threatening clouds. It looked like the travelers would be in for a storm before the day was out.
The Young Girl looked around at all the trees. “Is this the Wild?” she asked.
Flint shook his head. “When we get to the Wild, you’ll know it,” he said. “The trees there are so dense that in places you can’t even see the sky. The air’s thicker, almost stifling, and there are unusual plants there you won’t see anywhere else. No, this is just a regular forest. It’ll be a while before we get to the wild―”
Without warning Flint suddenly grabbed the Young Girl’s arm and pulled her behind a clump of trees that grew close together. Before she could make a noise, he clamped his hand over her mouth. “Sshh,” he whispered, putting a finger to his lips. “We’re being followed. Stay close behind me.”
She followed the bounty hunter as he led her quickly and silently through the forest, ducking and dodging in and out of the trees stealthily. Then he jumped behind a large bush and sat there, holding his breath and listening intently. The Young Girl followed his example.
After a minute or two had passed, Flint relaxed. “I think we lost ‘em,” he said.
“You should know better than to try to outrun me, Flint,” said a voice suddenly.
Flint recognized it immediately. He stood up slowly and turned around. Zedekiah stood there, a grim look on his face.
“I thought I left you in Marcus,” Flint remarked. “Back for some more, huh? Don’t tell me you’ve come all this way to challenge me by yourself. Where’s your partner in crime?”
Flint’s question was answered immediately as Borace walked up. He was panting and sweating, but held his double-headed ax firmly and eyed Flint with hatred.
“Haven’t we already been through this?” Flint said. “You fought me before and you failed. What makes you think you can do better this time?”
Suddenly out of the trees stepped someone else. It was Joktan. His face was bandaged up, but he cracked his knuckles and grinned at Flint evilly.
“You see now, do you not?” Zedekiah said. “You cannot win this fight. A common enemy unites even the most unlikely people.”
Flint grinned confidently. “Well, looks like the troop’s all here,” he quipped. “Sorry, but you’re a little late. The circus already left town.”
“Very amusing, Flint,” Zedekiah replied, not looking at all amused. “Unfortunately your jokes cannot save you. We are here to finish the assignment we started yesterday: to kill you.”
The Young Girl had been watching all this time, listening to their conversation uneasily. She didn’t like the look of the tall blond-haired man and his bald, ugly associate. She liked the huge, evil-looking muscular man even less. When Zedekiah finished his statement, her uneasiness turned into fear. “Flint,” she asked quietly, “who are these people?”
“Just some old friends,” Flint answered calmly. “Why don’t you just go find some place to hide while I take care of these morons.”
She started to interject. “But―”
“Now!!” Flint commanded. His tone was suddenly different. “I can’t beat them if I’m busy trying to protect you!”
The Young Girl looked up and saw his face. Even though he acted calm and carefree, she could see an uneasiness in his expression: not exactly fear, but a slight nervousness and alertness. She could tell that even though he acted tough and insolent, making jokes and insults, he didn’t often underestimate his opponents, and he knew when he was outmatched.
Zedekiah turned to the girl. “You may go,” he said. “We have no wish to harm you.”
She hesitated, looking up at Flint and then back at Zedekiah. Tears sprang to her eyes as she slipped away and ran off into the trees.
“One might wonder,” Zedekiah said, turning his attention back to Flint, “why such a nice girl is keeping company with the likes of you.”
“One might also wonder,” Flint retorted, “why a self-righteous airbag like you is keeping company with an ugly pile of street filth named Joktan.”
Joktan growled, but Zedekiah ignored the insult. “I already told you,” he said, “We both have the same purpose: to end your life. Even if our morals and ethics are different, right now we are simply fellow soldiers fighting for justice.”
Flint yawned. “Don’t tell me you’re going to give another speech. I’m starting to get sleepy.”
Borace gripped his ax with both hands and took a step forward. “I think I’ve got just the thing to wake you up!”
Borace charged at Flint. He swung his huge ax, but Flint jumped backward and dodged it. Borace spun the ax and it came back at neck-level. Flint ducked and it whizzed over his head. Then, as the weapon came back, the bounty hunter jumped in right next to his opponent and grabbed his arm. He quickly squeezed his wrist, forcing him to release his hold on the ax, and at the same time drove his knee up into the man’s ample stomach. Then he ripped the weapon out of his hand, spun around and smacked the side of the blade hard across his head. Borace fell to the ground and sat there, holding his head, as Flint stepped away from him and faced his other two opponents, holding the ax outstretched.
Suddenly Zedekiah vanished. Flint started to turn around, but before he could the blond man was already behind him. The bounty hunter felt several blows to his back. As he was falling Zedekiah kicked the ax out of his hand, and it flew a few feet away and landed on the grass.
As Flint fell to the ground he saw Joktan move. He landed and rolled to the side, just as the huge man’s knee came down where his head had just been.
By now Borace had retrieved his ax. He came back at Flint and sent the weapon straight down toward his legs, but he pulled them in just in time and then kicked them out as the ax head stuck in the grass, knocking the handle out of Borace’s grasp.
Flint rolled to the side again as Joktan’s fist came straight down toward his face, and it missed and struck the ground.
The bounty hunter rolled over a couple more times, then kicked out his legs and leapt to his feet. Before he could get his balance, he felt Zedekiah’s foot in his back and was knocked back down again.
Borace had his ax again and swung it, but Flint rolled to the side and the blade barely missed him and stuck in the grass.
Joktan came back at the bounty hunter again. The big man jumped in the air, coming straight toward Flint’s knee, but he moved his leg as the huge foot landed on the ground. Flint immediately saw his chance. He pulled his foot in and then, like a spring, launched it out and kicked Joktan directly in the knee. There was a loud crack, followed by a grunt of pain as the huge man crumpled to the ground.
Borace was still coming. He got the ax out of the ground and swung it down again, making a small tear in the side of Flint’s cloak as he rolled out of the way barely in time.
Zedekiah moved again. But Flint had been watching him, and he was ready. He saw a blur as the blond man ran past, and lashed out a leg in his direction. Zedekiah’s shin caught on Flint’s foot and he tripped, falling headlong to the ground.
Flint kept moving. As soon as he felled his opponent he rolled over on top of him, holding him down, just as Borace cleaved the ground again behind him. The bald man was getting impatient, and angry that he hadn’t yet been able to hit his foe. He raised the ax again, thinking about nothing except slicing Flint in two. Then he swung down with all his might, noticing too late his mistake.
Flint rolled off of Zedekiah just as the ax came down, leaving him in the direct path of the weapon. Borace tried to stop, but it was too late. The ax head landed with a sickening thud.
The Young Girl meandered through the forest, completely unaware of where she was going. She was thinking about Flint, and the strange men who were after him. She was sure he couldn’t fight all three of them at once. She was worried, but she didn’t know what she could do. Marcus was too far away, and there was no one around close by to help. And she certainly couldn’t stop the three men.
All these thoughts milled around inside her head as she wandered further away from Flint. A great desire to do something, to be useful somehow and to make a difference, welled up within her. The feeling grew until she couldn’t contain it anymore. Suddenly, almost without knowing why, she started singing.
It started out as a low hum. She followed the only melody she knew. It was the one thing she could somehow remember. As she hummed, each note came to her, as if she knew it by heart, even though she didn’t know what it was or where it was from. She walked slowly through the trees, her voice rising and falling, starting softly but getting steadily louder. Gradually the hum turned into strong, beautiful notes, clear as a stream of running water in spring.
Then suddenly she went up a key. Her voice crescendoed, getting higher and louder as the song went on. All her worries seemed to evaporate as peace and courage flowed through her. The song drew near its end, her clear, beautiful voice ringing out through the trees.
Finally she went up and hit a high note, and held it for several seconds. Without really thinking, she stopped walking and lifted up her hand, placing it on the rough bark of a tree.
Without warning a bright green flash suddenly split the air. A loud cracking sound echoed through the forest. The tree split from top to bottom, right down the middle, and the ground shook. The Young Girl’s voice caught in her throat as she cowered away, staring at the tree wide-eyed. A thin column of smoke drifted upwards from the huge gash.
Everything was silent again. The girl stared for a few seconds, bewildered and scared, then ran off through the trees.
Borace stared in shock at the trickle of blood on the end of his ax. Then suddenly he heard a voice behind him: “You fool!” Borace whirled around. Zedekiah stood there, a small cut in his side and a few drops of blood staining his tunic. He glared at Borace angrily. “You almost killed me!”
With a swift kick, Flint quickly knocked the ax out of Borace’s hands while he was distracted. Then he grabbed the weapon, stepped away and held it up, smirking. “You know,” he said calmly, “you two might want to just go ahead and give up, before you end up killing each other.”
Borace glared at him in hatred. Joktan still sat on the ground, nursing his broken leg.
Zedekiah suddenly moved toward him, but Flint was watching him. He waved the ax and the blond man was forced to stop. He dashed around behind Flint, but the bounty hunter swung the ax in a circle, cutting him off. Zedekiah kept trying, but he couldn’t get near Flint for fear of getting sliced in two.
Finally he stopped. He took a deep breath and seemed to relax, his face returning to its usual calm, solemn expression. “Flint,” he said, “let me ask you something. Do you honestly think you can defeat all three of us at once?”
“I’m not doin’ too bad so far, am I?” Flint grinned.
“Your cockiness amazes me,” Zedekiah replied. “You are far outmatched, yet you seem confident that you can still defeat us. You are an exceptional fighter, I will admit that. And you have been lucky so far, but do not count on your luck. It may turn against you. You should face the fact that you have no chance of defeating us. In the end, we will be victorious.”
“Come to think of it,” Flint butted in, “I guess it does seem a little…unfair. Who is it that keeps going on about fighting fair? How about your buddies stand down and we fight each other one on one…you know, fair?”
“I tried to fight you fairly before,” Zedekiah answered with a sigh. “You were the one who did not fight fairly. That is why we are now going to put an end to you: to erase injustice from the world. The only way to fight unfairness is to be unfair.”
Flint snorted. “So what, your unfairness cancels out mine? What kind of logic is that?”
“The kind we are forced to live with in this world, I am afraid,” Zedekiah said. He took a deep breath, as if he was about to deliver a long speech. Flint sighed and relaxed a little, lowering the ax. “My parents believed in justice and fairness,” Zedekiah continued, “but that did not allow them to escape the injustices of life. When I was young my father told me―”
Flint was about to interject when Zedekiah suddenly stopped abruptly in the middle of his sentence and vanished. The bounty hunter was taken off guard. Before he could swing the ax, it was knocked out of his hands. Then he felt several blows and was knocked to the ground. Borace quickly retrieved his ax.
Flint looked up as Zedekiah stood over him. He forced a chuckle. “Well,” he said, “that was a dirty trick.”
“Perhaps,” Zedekiah replied, “but it was necessary.” A faint look of satisfaction appeared on his face. “And,” he added, “it worked.”
“Yeah, I didn’t expect you to shut up so quick,” Flint quipped as he struggled to his knees.
“Do you take anything seriously?” Zedekiah asked frowning. “Do you not realize that your life is…what is the expression…hanging by a thread? Or do you still continue to jest, even when your life is at stake?”
Flint wiggled a finger in his ear. “Sorry, what was that?” he asked. “Somethin’ about you guys bein’ a piece of cake?”
The bounty hunter was immediately knocked back down. He quickly rolled over and jumped up to his feet. Zedekiah was beside him again, but Flint shot out his fist and hit his opponent in the shoulder. He stumbled back slightly, but then went at the bounty hunter again. Flint swung his arms around wildly, and he scored several hits. But he took a lot more, and soon he was back on the ground again. He quickly reached out and tried to grab his opponent’s leg, but Zedekiah was too fast. Now he started kicking Flint mercilessly as he lay on the ground. The bounty hunter couldn’t react fast enough and he received blow after blow. His wounds from the day before still weren’t healed, and now he was acquiring new ones. As he lay on the ground with one arm under him, he felt beneath his cloak for his knife.
It wasn’t there.
Zedekiah noticed Flint was searching under his cloak. “Looking for something?” he asked. He couldn’t resist a smirk as he held up the bounty hunter’s weapon.
Flint stared at it in surprise. When did he―
Suddenly Zedekiah turned and threw the knife up over the treetops, and it flew spinning further into the forest.
Flint chuckled. “That was a stupid move,” he said. “You know, if you had used that you probably could have killed me.”
“I do not need your weapon to kill you,” Zedekiah countered.
Flint stood up again. He looked his opponent directly in the eyes. “Why don’t you do it then!” he challenged.
A look of anger started to break through Zedekiah’s calm features. It seemed that Flint’s endless taunting was starting to have an effect.
The blond man rushed at him again. Flint dodged to the side and managed to grab the edge of his tunic as he ran by. He pulled him in and tried to get him in a headlock, but Zedekiah twisted around and elbowed the bounty hunter in the face before breaking free from his grasp. Flint took a couple more hits, then managed to dodge a punch. He dodged another and another, and then he scored a hit on his opponent. They went at each other, back and forth. Flint put up a good fight, but he was far outmatched in speed and was soon put back on the ground. As he fell, he reached out his legs and managed to trip Zedekiah, and they both went down. Flint jumped back up quickly, but so did his opponent. Zedekiah came toward him and threw a punch at his face, but Flint moved to the side. At the same time he reached up with his arm, grabbed Zedekiah’s arm, twisted it around, then gave him an uppercut as he lifted him up over his head and threw him down onto his back.
Zedekiah landed on the ground and lay winded, gasping for breath. By this time Flint was exhausted. He was sweating and breathing hard, and he was covered in blood and bruises. Zedekiah struggled to get up off his back and sat crouching on the ground, glaring at Flint in hatred. He was also tired, and was bruised and bleeding in several places. His patience at last seemed to be wearing thin as his normally solemn expression gave way to one of anger.
“Why will you not die?!” he said.
“I can help out with that,” Borace replied, lifting up his ax and coming toward Flint.
Here it will end, Zedekiah thought, turning his attention to the bald man. When Borace wields his weapon, Flint will have no choice but to dodge backwards to avoid it. And I will keep him from dodging. One hit from that ax and it will be the end of Flint. We have him now.
Flint surveyed his situation carefully. I’ve been being too predictable, he thought. If I just keep dodging the ax like I’ve been doing, I’ll be knocked right into it. Time for me to make a new move now, something that no one expects.
Without warning Flint suddenly lunged toward Borace. Right as he started to swing the ax, the bounty hunter grabbed his arm with one hand and drove his head into the man’s rather large stomach. He wrapped his other arm around him, lifted him off the ground and carried him into a nearby tree, slamming him into the thick trunk with his head. Immediately he wrapped his arm around his opponent’s. There was an audible snap and Borace cried out in pain. His hand went limp and the ax fell into Flint’s waiting grasp. After a swift elbow jab to his face Borace fell to the ground and lay wincing, holding his broken arm.
Zedekiah moved, but Flint hadn’t forgotten him. He quickly spun around, swinging the ax, and the blond man was forced to stop and jump back. He stood staring at Flint in surprise and anger.
Joktan still sat nearby, nursing his leg and watching.
Flint stepped away from the tree and faced his opponents, holding the ax outstretched. His chest heaved, but he held the weapon steadily and eyed Zedekiah to see what move he would make next.
The blond man stood panting, then composed himself and took a deep breath. “Enough!” he said roughly.
Flint grinned. “You’re finally giving up? It’s about time!”
Zedekiah looked at him coldly. “That is not what I meant. I mean I am going to use all of my ability now, and kill you.”
Flint laughed. “Isn’t that what you’ve been trying to do this whole time?” he asked. “Look around! I’ve already beaten your two pals. Do you still think you can really beat me, by yourself?”
Joktan pushed himself up onto his good leg, as if to show he could still fight.
Zedekiah looked past Flint at Borace, then returned his gaze to the bounty hunter. “I admit I underestimated you,” he said, glancing past him again. “But to think you can win this fight is ludicrous. It ends now.”
Flint caught Zedekiah’s glances and turned his head just in time to see Borace hurl something at him. While he had been busy watching Zedekiah, the bald man had pulled out his hidden knife. The bounty hunter spun and dodged in the nick of time as the blade flew past, slicing a small scratch in his shoulder. In the momentary distraction, Zedekiah moved in, knocked the ax from his hand and kicked him in the stomach, sending him stumbling backwards toward Joktan. The huge man launched himself onto Flint’s back, wrapped his enormous arms around his neck and tackled him to the ground. He landed on top of him, knocking the breath from his lungs. Flint managed to get his leg free, lifted it up and brought it down on top of Joktan’s broken one, pinching it against the ground. He roared in pain and released his grip on Flint’s neck enough for him to take a breath. Then, using all his strength, the bounty hunter pushed himself up off the ground and rolled over so that he lay on top of his adversary. He lifted up his leg again, but before he could bring it down Zedekiah grabbed his foot and held it. Joktan pinned Flint’s other leg underneath his good one, and wrapped his arms tighter around his neck so he couldn’t breathe.
“Borace!” Zedekiah commanded. “NOW!!!”
Borace grabbed his ax with his good arm and lifted it straight up, then brought it down as hard as he could directly toward Flint’s helpless body.
The afternoon sun was hidden behind a large clump of clouds. The Young Girl sat on an old tree stump, lost in thought. She was trying to remember. The incident with the tree had shaken her up considerably, but she still couldn’t remember who she was or where she came from. What had just happened, and how?
As she sat pondering these things, the sun suddenly shone out through a hole in the clouds. She saw something glinting in the sunlight a few yards away, just under the edge of a bush. She walked over and took a closer look.
It was a knife. The Young Girl recognized it. “That’s Flint’s knife,” she said to herself. Suddenly she was reminded of Flint’s danger. Her heart jumped as she realized he didn’t have his knife with him. What was it doing way over here? She carefully picked up the weapon and started making her way quickly back to where she had left Flint.
Flint saw the ax coming and reacted swiftly. His arms were free, so he reached up and caught the handle as it came down. The blade stopped an inch from his chest. Immediately he twisted the ax and yanked it out of Borace’s hand. Then he threw the weapon, letting his hands slide down the handle until they were near the end, and swung it at Zedekiah, forcing him to move and release his hold on Flint’s foot. His leg came down, smashing into Joktan’s. The huge man yelled and opened his mouth wide. Flint took the blunt end of the ax handle and shoved it backwards, over his head, straight into Joktan’s open mouth. He instinctively released his hold on Flint’s neck and grabbed the handle. Then Flint got up and shoved it deeper down his opponent’s throat. Only after several more kicks was Zedekiah finally able to get the bounty hunter off of him. He released his hold on the ax and rolled onto the ground, coughing and gasping for air. Borace pulled the handle out of Joktan’s mouth, and the huge man coughed and sputtered.
Flint struggled to his knees and tried to regain his breath. He was nearly exhausted. Zedekiah glared at him in shock, his eyes smoldering. Something inside him seemed to have snapped, as he trembled with a rage he couldn’t control.
“Enough!” the blond man exclaimed. “This ends now.” He held out his hand in Borace’s direction.
The bald man understood what he wanted, but he didn’t answer. Instead he tightened his grip on his weapon.
“The ax, Borace,” Zedekiah commanded, his voice hard.
“I wanna finish him,” Borace growled. The words had barely left his mouth when suddenly he felt several blows and the ax was knocked from his hands. He fell to the ground and looked up in surprise at his former partner.
Zedekiah seemed almost completely different from before. He stood holding the ax resolutely and glared at Flint in hatred.
Flint sighed and returned his gaze. “Guess that means I win, huh?”
Zedekiah stared at him. “What do you mean? How can you possibly win? I am holding the weapon now, and you are defenseless. You cannot match my speed, and with one hit from this ax you will now die. I am victorious!”
“You said it yourself,” Flint replied. “You are holding the weapon. Doesn’t that go against your beliefs?”
Zedekiah opened his mouth, but then closed it again.
“You can make all the excuses you want,” Flint continued, “but it doesn’t change the fact that you’re doing the very thing you say is unjust. Don’t you get it? You believe weapons are unfair, but as a last resort you’re using one anyway. Face it, you just can’t stand to admit that you lost against someone like me! You want to beat me so bad that you’re willing to compromise what you believe. By picking up that weapon, you just admitted that you need it to beat me. That means you can’t beat me on your own! In other words,” he said, looking Zedekiah directly in the eyes, “I’ve already won!”
Apparently Flint had hit a nerve. Zedekiah stood for a moment, his face a mixture of anger and surprise. A vulnerability was in his eyes, as if everything Flint said was right on the mark, but he didn’t want to admit it.
Then suddenly he yelled in anger and charged, swinging the ax. Flint jumped to the side, but he couldn’t move fast enough. He was knocked to the ground, then in a blur the ax came straight toward his head.
Suddenly the ax head stopped in midair. Flint stared in surprise. A hand gripped the sides of the blade, the keen edge a fraction of an inch from its skin. Zedekiah’s expression changed from rage to complete shock.
Flint stared at the hand, then looked up above it. The hand was connected to an arm, and above the arm was the face of a man. As Flint looked at the face, his eyes opened wide and he stared in disbelief. It…it can’t be! he thought.
The man was kneeling next to Flint, holding the ax head in one hand. He had long spiky hair that stuck straight up and a cross-shaped scar under his left eye. “Careful with that thing,” Ratchett said. “You might hurt somebody!!” As he was speaking, he squeezed the ax head between his fingers. The metal blade cracked and then broke into several pieces.
Flint watched in amazement. H…how did he…?! he wondered. He caught the ax in mid swing with one hand, and now he broke a solid metal ax head just by squeezing it in his fingers??!! What is this guy?! This can’t be the same nitwit I met in Marcus yesterday!!!
As the shards of metal fell to the ground, Zedekiah let go of the handle and collapsed. He landed in the grass and lay there, bruised, bleeding, and gasping for air. Im…impossible! he thought. When did he hit me? How many times?! I couldn’t even see him move!!!
Borace watched his ax head break in shock. “My ax!!” he cried in anger as he suddenly sprang toward Ratchett. The spiky haired man picked up the handle of the ax and then spun around, striking him on the side of the head. The handle broke in two. Borace fell to the ground and lay there, motionless.
“Oopsie!” Ratchett said, looking apologetic. “I’m so clumsy. This was your ax? Sorry about that. I guess I don’t know my own strength!” He scratched the back of his head and chuckled awkwardly, a vacant look on his face.
Joktan hoisted himself up on his leg again. With a growl he propelled himself toward Ratchett. The man moved slightly to the side and his assailant missed him and fell to the ground. He landed on his face and didn’t get up.
What happened? Flint wondered in disbelief. Did he hit him? I didn’t even see anything!
Ratchett looked down at Joktan as if he hadn’t even noticed him. “Hm?” he mumbled. Then he chuckled. “I guess I’m not the only clumsy one around here!”
Flint stared in wonder at the strange man. I can’t believe it, he thought. Each one of those guys would be a formidable opponent for an average person. And this guy just took all three of them out at once! Not only that, but I get the feeling he was only goofing around!! Who on earth is he??!!
At that moment they heard a clear voice ring out: “Ratchett?” Flint looked over to see the Young Girl standing there, holding his knife in one hand, a look of surprise and joy on her face.
Ratchett gave her a big grin and waved. “Hey there!” he said.
Then she looked down and noticed the three men laying there. She looked back up at Flint. “Did…you do this?” she asked in surprise.
Before Flint could answer, Ratchett jumped in. “You shoulda seen him!!” he said, his eyes wide. “He just beat up all these guys up by himself!!”
“Really?” the Young Girl asked with happy relief.
“Oh yeah,” Ratchett went on. “He was crazy! One guy tried to punch him, and he dodged it like this, and then he was like pow pow! And then another one attacked him and he just did this and then…” As he talked he moved around clumsily, ducking and throwing out awkward punches.
The Young Girl clapped her hands. “That’s amazing!” she exclaimed.
Flint watched Ratchett’s antics in silence. That liar, he thought. He knows very well he saved my life. He acts like a dork, but in reality he’s very different.
The bounty hunter suddenly stood up. The Young Girl saw that he wasn’t uninjured. “Are you okay?” she asked with concern.
Flint ignored her and turned to Ratchett. “Who are you?” he asked.
Ratchett looked at him and then laughed. “You forgot my name already?” he answered. “It’s Ratchett. Ratchett!”
“I know that!” Flint grunted in annoyance. “I mean who are you really? No ordinary person could do what you just did back there. What’s your real name? I’ll take a guess. Could it be…Zachiarus?”
The Young Girl looked shocked. “Flint!” she said reprovingly. “How could you say such a thing?! Didn’t you say that Zachiarus was a bad man? How could Ratchett be anything like him?!”
Ratchett stared at Flint blankly for a minute. Then he shook his head. “You’re really not good with names, are you? It’s not Zachary, it’s Ratchett! R-A-T-C―”
Flint suddenly swung a fist at his face. The spiky haired man fell backwards and landed on the ground, rubbing his cheek. “Owiiee!!” he whined.
“Flint!” the Young Girl reprimanded the bounty hunter. “How could you?!” She dropped the knife and knelt down next to Ratchett. “Are you okay?” she asked.
Don’t worry about him, Flint thought. I couldn’t hit him if I wanted too. Somehow he dodged my punch and faked it at the same time. He almost fooled me. I didn’t even see him dodge, but I didn’t feel an impact. Even if this guy was Zachiarus, I probably wouldn’t be able to take him in. He looked down at the strange man, rubbing his face with an almost comical expression on it. Then he picked up his knife, sighed and started walking off. There’s no way someone like him is Zachiarus, he thought.
As soon as Flint’s back was turned, Ratchett gave the girl a big grin. “I’m okay,” he said, getting to his feet. “Let’s go!” He took her hand and started following the bounty hunter.
“What about them?” she asked, looking at the three immobilized men lying on the ground. “Will they be alright?”
“Don’t worry about them,” Ratchett assured her. “They’ll be fine. A doctor from Marcus is on his way here right now! He’ll take care of them.” He suddenly yelled out, “HELP!!! We’re over here! Aaahh, I can’t feel my leg!!” Then he smiled and lowered his voice again. “Let’s go, shall we!”