People Are Not Always What They Seem
By: Gabriella Balcom

Eshara felt a prickling sensation on the back of her neck. Someone was watching her. But she'd known that for a while now. Noting an outdoor eating establishment off to her right, she walked toward it, and sat in one of their chairs. She unlaced her left boot and removed it, turned it upside-down, and tapped it. Knowing how her actions would probably be interpreted, she shook her boot a few times, using the opportunity to casually glance around. A hundred meters away from her, leaves moved ever-so-slightly on a tree at the edge of the woods. It was a dead giveaway something or someone was there.

After putting her footwear back on, she rose and headed out of town. Her keen hearing picked up faint sounds with seconds. At least eight people followed her, maybe more.

“Stop,” a man called out from behind her several minutes later.

Although Eshara knew he addressed her, she acted as though she hadn't heard him. He and the others had a chance to turn around and leave — for now. If they knew what was best for them …

“Ignorant man, I command you to stop!” a second man yelled.

She narrowed her eyes and halted but didn't bother turning around. People thinking, she was a man was nothing new — and her plan. That was why she kept her hair cut short and her breasts tightly bound with a length of linen. But she didn't like being called 'ignorant,' and someone thinking he could dictate to her — herwas annoying.

A long-ago dispute over ownership of a section of land had given birth to enmity between the people dwelling in the town she'd just left and another not too far away. The enmity had grown into a festering hatred which had been passed down from generation to generation, and inhabitants of the two towns frequently clashed. The people men behind Eshara might be from one of the warring towns and might think she was from the other one. Then again, maybe they were the kind of people who liked to push others around. In their eyes, she was a young, thin male — an easy target. Well, they'd learn a lesson soon enough. At least this would serve as a diversion for her.

Finally facing the men, she watched them spread out all the way around her and sighed to see only nine of them. So, few? Anyone else would have been scared — nervous at least —but not Eshara.

Widening her legs, she adopted a relaxed, loose stance and drew her sword from its scabbard. Preparation for a battle was always wise, even though she knew any fight would be short-lived at best. She hadn't felt the excitement of a uniquely-new experience in ages, but fighting would — hopefully — provide relief from the monotony and boredom she'd felt for so long now. Most of the males eyeing her wore smirks on their face. No doubt they felt supremely confident, comparing their numbers to her solitary-male appearance. She felt a flash of humor for the first time in a long time but didn't show it outwardly. These smug men didn't know she'd hacked off her hair and masqueraded as a male numerous times. Not only that, but she'd fought in wars — too many to count. But even if she hadn't, she abilities beyond their understanding. Considering herself skilled at fighting was putting it mildly.

The men began to close in, tightening their circle around her. Taking turns, they lunged, tried to slash or stab her with their knives and swords, but each time they found she'd already moved out of reach. One or two crept up behind her, but to no avail, because she was ready. With some of them, she waited till they charged, ducked, and their speed and momentum carried them head-over-heels over her. She sent an older man flying with a well-aimed kick; two more she make double over by aiming between their legs. Fluidly and gracefully, she slid to the right, parried left, swung, dipped, spun around, kicked, then started over, leading them through a tantalizing dance. Move after move after move, she evaded their weapons and received no injuries, but used her sword to lightly slice first one part of their bodies, then another.

Eventually, though, she tired of playing with them. These particular men had thought to harm or kill her but hadn't shown cowardice or run away. They were exhibiting stubbornness, bravery, and determination. No doubt they believed they had the right to do whatever they chose as strongly as she held her point of view. Dregs of humanity they might be, but she could grant them a small amount of respect.

But then one of her would-be assailants pulled out a handgun and shot her in the back. Her nostrils flared as she faced him. She immediately thought of all the years through which she'd lived, and the military advances which had occurred. Weapons had been developed which rendered one person able to take another to the ground from a distance — without even dirtying his hands or displacing a single strand of his hair. Considering the changes, Eshara felt anger growing inside her. Guns, long-range missiles, tanks, rocket launchers, bombs, and similar modes of destruction disturbed her — greatly. She preferred the ancient methods of fight, and despised dishonorable actions.

Leaping forward, she snatched the gun away — then a second from another man — and crushed them with her bare hands. She punched one of her attackers in the gut, making him gasp for air, and high-kicked two in their faces. Although she hadn't read their minds earlier, she decided to now, and flinched. Their memories were horrifying, including some centered on ganging up on females. Explosive fury raced throughout her. Baring her teeth, she growled.

She backed away just long enough to slide her sword back into its scabbard. A man bent and pulled a knife from his boot. Yanking it out of his grasp, she used it on him. With the other men, she used only her hands.

Motionless bodies littered the ground in seconds. Eshara — Chaldean goddess of war — stood in the middle of them. She hadn't broken a sweat. “Over so soon,” she murmured. Then she walked away.

The end.

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