When Thomas opened her eyes again, she almost immediately wanted to close them again. Despite the sturdy canvas walls of the tent, the noonday light still managed to be exceedingly bright. Grimacing, she sat up and rubbing her eyes. After, she cracked her eyes open to the sight of Hero, kneeling in the entryway of the tent. His unwavering stare made her feel slightly exposed, and she pulled her blanket up a little higher.
“Your stripper outfit is falling off,” he stated matter-of-factly. Thomas felt the urge to stretch, but didn’t want to let go of the blanket covering her up. Looking down at herself, she was happy that she still possessed a certain degree of modesty. True to Hero’s observations, her rather flimsy top was sliding down, exposing a dangerous amount of shoulder. “Now, yeah, you went to sleep and rolled over a lot, it’s probably normal to have your clothes jacked up, right? I’m concerned because last night, your clothes fit pretty tightly. It’s magic isn’t it? I bet it’s a charm spell.”
“Well,” she began irritability, as one would likely be if somebody was watching them sleep for an uncomfortable amount of time, “maybe this is based on your preferences for the thing, because I don’t think I can control the costume or cast charms while I’m asleep.”
“Well that’s fine. Anytime I get any thoughts, I can just remember that I’ve known you, except with a dick, for like 20 years. You ain’t seducing me like that, Tom.”
Thomas groaned and walked outside of the tent into the noonday sun. While the sky was still clear, a light breeze ensured that the day wasn’t unbearably hot. Despite the fact that her outfit made the weather mostly irrelevant, she wasn’t going to be too pleased with a tan, especially in her current attire. She reluctantly dressed herself back into her cloak and pointed hat as the knight went about collapsing the tent and stuffing all their possessions into a small sack. Thomas had enchanted that sack while still at their town’s monastery when he was a student. It wasn’t as potent as her own bag, but it still held far more than it should have been able to.
Once everything was packed, they stood around their now cold fire pit and Thomas ate a small breakfast of jerky, which was washed down with a milky white bottle from her bag. Hero looked anywhere but at her while she was replenishing her energy, for obvious reasons.
“So, how long was I out?” she asked between sips, making sure not to have any of it run down her chin, “And how long were you just staring at me?”
“I got up a little bit after dawn. Did my usual morning routine, you know, chase after rabbits and stuff. When I got back, you were still asleep, so I just ate breakfast. I thought about waking you up by just collapsing the tent on you, but, nah. Then I went inside to grab the bag and just saw you with your covers all over the place, drooling, and with your skimpy-ass top making it’s way down to your hotpants.” He picked up the bag at his feet and slung it over his shoulder. “Dunno about how long I was there though, I just kind of alternated from staring at you and feeling creeped out and chasing rabbits again.”
“You’d think that since I’m the monster here, I would be doing the so called “creepy” things, but, no. You have defied all expectations.” She placed the now finished bottle back into her small bag and tied the string. “Alright, I’m ready, let’s get back to travelling.”
Hero nodded, and the two of them set out in the direction of the road. After wading through a sizable amount of tall grass and luckily not having any random encounters, they found their way back to the dirt road. The road didn’t look like it had seen any kind of traffic in a fairly long time, as some grass had managed to regrow in patches.
The trail was hardly the length of Hero from shoulder to shoulder, so Thomas had to make do by tramping through the grass with her boots. She would have preferred to flit around Hero and occasionally perch and take off of his sizable pauldrons, but her robe prevented her from using her wings effectively. Thomas had already stopped caring about whether or not she would get an uneven tan by not wearing her cloak despite only making that decision a scant ten minutes ago. This was because her boots were more for strutting, and less for long walks on an overgrown country road.
“I don’t seem to remember allowing you to pick out what I dress in. In fact, I remember you saying the exact opposite. It wouldn’t be that much of an inconvenience if I took off my cloak would it?” In a poor attempt to convince her friend, she added, “You didn’t have too much of a problem with me wearing this last night.”
Hero shrugged, “Look, I sure as hell don’t want you to look like some chick on the prowl. And yeah, I didn’t have a problem with you last night cause you were feeling down and we were alone. I’m not gonna layer it on when you already feel like crap.”
“How kind,” her tone was still peeved, but slightly appeased, “very well, I’ll continue to walk along this backwoods trail surrounded by tall grass with my new boots. I will no doubt need to get these boots looked at when we get to… what was that little hamlet called again?” She slung her bag over onto one shoulder and rummaged through it before producing a map.
She unfurled it and scanned it before settling on a barely noticeable thread of a marked trail. Tracing it with her finger, she finally settled upon a faintly marked dot with the label “Illona.” It was presumably named after some kind of obscure angelic or saintly figure from the Church canon, though she couldn’t be sure. Her memory of the Church scripture was hazy. During her training at the monastery, reading through the entire canon of the Church was the one thing she hadn’t completed.
“So how much longer to wherever it is? Nature’s pretty crappy.” Hero was ever the pragmatist.
“The town, if I can call it that, is named Illona. According to the map, we shouldn’t be too far off.” She tapped her chin, computing distances in her head, “If you decided to run, at your pace, we’d be there in no time at all. And by run, I mean, you run, and I’ll fly.”
“Yeah, nice try,” the knight responded, not falling for his friends thinly veiled intentions, “but, we’ll walk. And why do you say it isn’t too much of a town? Because I swear, if we show up and it’s actually just a bunch of clustered houses with thatched roofs I’m gonna flip.”
“I can’t say with confidence that it isn’t.” This elicited a groan from Hero. Generally, the bigger the cities, the more monsters that lived among the general populace. And with enough monsters there was bound to be a place to stay with accommodations for some of the larger species. In that situation, it just so happened to be one of the few times Hero could fit in a bed. The alp shook her head and elaborated, “I’ve never heard a whisper about this place until you decided that we just head west until we get to bigger cities and I picked up this map from the Cathedral.” She replaced her map in her bag and turned back to Hero. “I still think that your plan shouldn’t even count for one, just so you’re aware.”
“Yeah sure, maybe I should ask a stuffy Venerate where the Royal Demon Realm is, and then he’ll submit my application down an ass ton of bureaucratic stamping. If I pray hard enough, I might get the Divine Reverence himself to descend down to me, painstakingly point in the right direction with a crusty, knobbly finger, and I’ll be off on my own merry crusade. Sounds like a plan.”
“Yes, yes, I’m surprised you actually got your approval to become a Hero. I recall the Head Brother at the monastery recoiling at your, “unprecedented monstrous taint,” and how much grief you give to the Church.” She shook her head, sending a merry jingling into the air. They were, if not slightly annoying, a welcome reprieve from the constant sound of wind whispering through the plain. “Back on topic, I’ve never heard about the town, and as you should well know, I’m very well read,” Hero snorted, leading Thomas to pout. “That aside, it’s hardly marked on the map! Nothing but the name and relative location. It was issued this month, so I hardly think that it’s importance has changed significantly.”
Hero groaned. “Whatever, I guess we’ll see when we get there.” He turned his attention back to the road and laid eyes on something unexpected. Further down the dirt path, flanked by two massive boulders were two armed figures standing before a stone wall that stood at twice the height of the aforementioned boulders. Hero stopped in his tracks, mirroring Thomas. The two stared uncomprehendingly at the structure before them. How they hadn’t seen it from nearly a mile away was a mystery. Thomas hastily withdrew her map and quickly searched the paper, looking up at the wall and back and forth to her map.
“In your face, Tom,” Hero breathed.
The mage’s brow furrowed. “Tha-That doesn’t make any sense! Whatsoever!” Though his visor helped conceal it, Hero was feeling much the same way as his companion. “How?” she demanded, though she wasn’t likely going to receive an answer.
“I thought we weren’t supposed to get here this fast.”
“We weren’t,” she studied the map, “we’re still a little far out from the actual site of Illona. But, well…” She crumpled up her map and shoved it into her robe, examining the turrets of the wall.
Thomas followed the massive battlements of the tower, and she couldn’t make out where they ended. She guessed that the massive stone walls were likely encircling something substantially bigger than a small village. Rather, the wall seemed more fitting for something closer to a city state.
“I just don’t know. But I suppose if we were to ask those two guards we would be much less confused about…” Thomas motioned towards the imposing piece of stonework before them, “that.” Hero nodded, and the two warily made their way towards the leering, framed, wooden gate. As they got closer, they could more clearly make out the two guards who stood indifferently at either side of the doors.
One was a man clad in plate armor, though he was nowhere near as armored as Hero and lacked a helmet, exposing his scarred face and wild black hair. Thomas noticed he was gripping a chain. The chain led to the collar on the guard besides him, a hellhound with her red hair in a cut in a rather unladylike mohawk. She was dressed in a lighter, chain hauberk, and seemed to be on the verge of falling asleep. However, her grip on her halberd was more than secure, despite her apparent drowsiness. The guards had a crest that neither of the two had ever seen before stamped on their chest. It consisted of a central trident being held down by 3 three strands of rope, one for each point, across a yellow background. It lacked a golden disc that was customary for a Church supported state, puzzling Thomas.
Once the first guard noticed the duo approaching, he tugged at the chain to get the hellhound’s attention, gaining her ire for a moment before she turned her attention towards the knight and mage. Brandishing her halberd threateningly, she stalked towards the pair.
“Alright, you’ve walked far enough. Now what’s your business her-” Midway through her guard schtick, the first guard decided to introduce the slapstick portion of the act by pulling on the chain right before his partner reached the end of it. After several seconds of choking and gagging sounds, bringing a rather licentious expression on the first guard’s face, she furiously turned on the other guard who was nonchalantly checking his nails. “Fuck you, David, you giant asshole!” she roared, her crimson mohawk bristling, “Fucking get over here right now, or I’m gonna tear you a new asshole right next to the one on your face!”
“Don’t worry about the fucking, dear, we can’t do that on duty,” he called. His grin not leaving his marred face, David straightened up from the wall and approached the raging hellhound. Thomas examined the man’s features as he got closer. His curly black hair framed his face well, and despite the multiple scars that lined the bridge of his nose and cheek, he still maintained a rather handsome appearance. Hero caught his friends glance and examined the guard as well.
Leaning over, he whispered into Thomas’s pointed ear, “You know, I don’t think you should take that line of thought any further. Looks like he’s taken.” Before Thomas could do more than spin around affronted, the hellhound broke into their conversation.
“You’re damn right about him being taken. And also he’s a bit,” she grabbed the chain connected to her collar with her free paw, “-slow!” The hellhound yanked the chain. Hard. The unsuspecting David, who was casually walking, made the mistake of keeping a hold on the chain and practically flew forward. To his credit however he managed to land on two feet with as much grace as he could manage. Even through his panicked cry on the trip there.
He rubbed his back, wincing in pain. “Love you too girl,” he muttered, much to the hellhound’s delight. Tail wagging estatically, she gave him a slobbery lick that turned into a slobbery kiss before turning her attention back onto the onlooking adventurers.
“Oh yeah. You guys,” she said, remembering Hero and Thomas’s existence. She turned and looked at David, “ Honey, how about you talk to them, I’m supposed to be the scary looking one, right?”
“Think that went out the window the moment you sicced me with your tongue.” He sighed and turned to look at the pair, disinterestedly appraising them. “Looks like they should be fine. Just have them pay the toll and let them through.”
“There’s a toll?” Thomas looked back at the dirt path leading to the wall, “It’s hardly the case that this place sees very much traffic, especially from merchants.” Hero gave her a sidelong glance and elbowed her to remind Thomas the reason that they approached the guards. Also to stop her from haggling. “Ah yes. Erm, is this the entrance to Illona? We’re new in this area, and we had no idea that there’d be a city around here.”
David shrugged. “Figures. Nobody ever really comes out through this way to trade in the east, and we see exactly zero people traveling here. Can’t say why but that’s how it’s always been.”
“So is Illona large? And if it is big, how have I not heard about it?” Hero asked, looking up at the sheer immensity of the wall before him.
“Yeah. It’s a city state, we have a pretty big main city and a little farther to the west we have a bunch of scattered farms. And as far as you never hearing about it, I dunno. Like I said, no one from this place ever goes east, but since it’s always been like that, nobody says anything.”
“I see,” Hero said skeptically.
Thomas decided to inquire about the city more once they were within the walls. They weren’t going to get too much more out of the apathetic guard. “Well, thank you. Anyhow, you mentioned something about a toll, but as we both mentioned, you don’t get traffic here and you’re still expected to collect toll?” Krula’s ear suddenly twitched as she was leaning on her halberd. Sniffing, she turned to face Thomas, red eyes intent.
“Well, I mean, if they do it at the West Gate, we probably have to do it on the East Gate too.” She yawned, exposing her teeth.
David continued explaining for her, “Yeah, we’re trying to refill our coffers too, because we had to pay a handsome amount of money to a bunch of dragons. Apparently they’re roosting on a plateau a little ways out. Don’t think they’d have too much use for it up there, but, hey, I dunno.”
Thomas frowned, now even more incredulous, “A bunch of dragons? When did this happen?” Hero had the same question. His interest was piqued immensely at the mention of dragons.
“Something like a week ago? We got a threat delivered from a wyvern who pretty much just outflew everything we sent at her. After that, we had a scouting party trail her back to wherever they were roosting up. They all come back, out of breath, and swearing that not only is there a wyvern, there’s a wurm, a full blown dragon, and a ryu. Everyone was saying how those don’t really live on the continent, but they swore by it,” David snorted. “The Prince didn’t want to risk it, so a pretty sum went to the dragons. So here we are, trying to refill our coffers.”
Hero nodded slowly. “So you people have a dragon problem then? Does that mean a Hero like me could get a favor out of your Prince if I got the dragons to scram and bring back whatever you sent to them?”
Krula stood up to her full height, standing a full head over David. Her ruby eyes glittered in curiosity, “Well, that depends. As a Hero, you should be doing this stuff for free, shouldn’t you?”
Hero’s shoulders sagged, “Yeah, I guess you’re right,” he said in a dour tone. “Whatever, I guess I’ll do it anyways. Seems like a nice place.”
David laid a hand on Hero’s armor giving some reassuring words. “Don’t sweat it that much, I’m sure if you actually do what you’re saying you will, the Prince will do his best to get you what you want. And since you’re Heroes anyways, I think I can waive the toll fee.” He turned to Krula and gave her a look. She seemed to understand immediately and they shared a smile, Krula’s bushy tail wagging. “Of course though,” he continued, unable to keep the excitement out of his voice, “we’re going to need proof that you’re Heroes.”
The two immediately understood what he meant by “proof.” Thomas put a hand on her hat, “I have some papers from the Church. But, I suppose that’s not what you’re looking for, is it?” A devilish expression touched her face.
David let a big grin escape. “You understand right? Heroes shouldn’t be defined by a scrap of holy paper or any of that. Nah, I’m looking for merit.”
“And it is so fucking boring here!” Krula chimed in, twirling her halberd like a baton, “Nobody comes, nobody goes out, and we can’t even pass the time by fucking! Seriously, this is the first time in a while we actually get to do anything.”
Hero put up his hands defensively. “You guys can’t be serious. Look, I’m fine with fighting a bunch of dragons who are laying it on a city for no good reason, but I’m not fighting you guys just because you’re bored. Sorry to disappoint, but randomly picking fights isn’t really mentioned in the job description. Come on, Thomas, back me up here.” He turned to look at his friend, but immediately regretted banking on his friend.
Thomas had already folded her robe neatly and placed it, and her hat into her bag. She straightened and turned to face the two guards in her half dressed glory, black fog pouring from her eyes and open palms. The appearance was not helped by the wicked grin spreading across her face.
The unpleasant experience of the previous night was all but forgotten as Thomas felt the Demonic Energy radiating from her and filling every corner of her body. In contrast the energy flowed smoothly and she felt her skin tightening as it strained to be loosened. Her opinion on Demonic Energy was quickly shifting.
Disapproval was radiating off of Hero, “Dude, you’re joking. You are not doing that.”
“You must be mistaken. I am most certainly taking up their offer. I’ve honestly been dying to practice my magic. It would have been better if I actually got any decent practice beforehand, but,” she shrugged and sighed, “I suppose I’ll make do.”
Hero muttered darkly, “Thomas, I swear if you get hurt…”
Thomas brought her palms up, purple sparks of energy arcing from one plume of smoke to the other as they melded. She laughed, bloodlust getting to her, “Using my full name then? Fancy. Well if you want to prevent me from getting scuffed up, I’m sure you know somebody who could help. If not, well he can just sit this one out and watch.”
Hero growled in frustration with his friend but stepped back slightly. Satisfied that her friend wouldn’t interfere, she turned back to the guards and ignited a pale flame at the tip of each of her finger. “So, how’s it going to be, David? Want any prep time? After all,” she blew out the flames dancing on her fingertips one by one, “it’s only a one on two.” Hero groaned at her outright grandstanding, but was ignored.
A look of amusement crossed the guard’s face. He pulled a sword from his scabbard, the sound of steel slithering against leather filling the air. Krula’s tongue lolled out involuntarily as she began to pant excitedly at the thought of action. The guards both brandished their naked weapons at Thomas.
“Pretty confident aren’t you? I guess we’ll have to knock that down a peg, shall we, Lala?” David asked Krula, using her pet name. He turned and gave a self assured smirk to her.
“Alright then, anything you want succubus? I don’t want this to end too quickly, alright?” Krula licked her chops, leering at Thomas.
“Well I suppose if I wanted anything out of you,” Thomas said thoughtfully, “it’d be for the two of you to have the first strike. That way, you’ll both get at least get one try at me.”