Hero ran a hand down his face. While fairly impressed by his friend’s magical aptitude, he was less so impressed by her trapping herself in a thick layer of metal. He suspected that she failed to understand the consequences of melting metal around something, particularly herself. This was possibly one of the reasons she failed to join the family business and become a blacksmith. However, the lack of any kind of cries for help from within was unsettling. Hero rationalized it by assuming the metal was thick enough to muffle any noises from within.
“Any chance you can get this melted chain off?” Hero asked, placing his hand on the cooling surface of the orb.
The two guards had just reunited beside the metal ball, and David was fussing with Krula’s ruined garments while the hellhound pouted. He responded without looking up from Krula’s liquefied hauberk, “I don’t think I can. I think melting it kind of disenchants the thing.” The guard fiddled with Krula’s armor one last bit and handed Krula his chain. The hellhound rehooked it onto her collar and she followed as David made his way over to Hero. “This is pretty thick. I’m sorry, I got a little carried away with the wrapping.”
“I’m not that sorry, the quartermaster’s gonna kick my ass when he finds out that I melted my armor. And the fighting.” David grabbed the hellhound’s fluffy ear and tweaked it.
David and Krula gave each other a irked look. Finally, the hellhound looked away in a huff. Satisfied, David turned back to Hero, “Well, I think I can get you some help with clearing away the metal. But we should probably figure out a way to poke some holes into it so that she has air.”
Krula leaned her head on David’s shoulder, still somewhat miffed, “We could’ve probably used my halberd, but you know…” She waved a paw at a half-melted weapon in the middle of the road. David shrugged, jostling the other guard’s face which earned him a low growl. He quickly appeased her with a scratch behind her ear while she settled her head onto his shoulder.
“I doubt it. And I don’t think my sword’s gonna do anything here, so wha-,” His eyes widened in surprise as he watched Hero rear back with his fist and slug the metal wall himself. The melted chain made a dull ringing sound as it was effortlessly breached. Hero withdrew his gauntlet from the new hole he had just torn in the surface, and attempted to peer into the new opening, though it was too dark to make anything out.
Krula’s jaw dropped, making an audible clink as her chin hit David’s pauldrons, “Wait. Wait. That’s like a foot of steel. Are you human?”
Hero ignored the stupefied guard’s reactions as he gripped the edges of the small hole he had made. With a slight grunt of exertion, he tore a huge portion of the metal and threw the two jagged pieces into the grass. He ignored the blast of heat from the interior and looked in. His heart sank. With the inside of the orb now fully lit, he squinted into the barrier and saw Thomas. The magic keeping her aloft was long gone, and she lay unconscious, shivering at the bottom of the ball.
Hero grabbed the edge of the ball with one hand, his grip crushing the metal, and hefted the ball up. He turned it upside down. David and Krula watched in speechless amazement as Hero caught the unconscious alp and forcefully launched the mass of steel into the field with a reverberant thud. Though he had deposited her coarsely, he cradled her with a surprising amount of tenderness. Hero desperately shook the mage in her arms, whispering to her. Thomas shifted slightly in her sleep at the disturbance, and Hero visibly relaxed, letting out a sigh. His tensed shoulders lowered in relief and he adjusted her into a more comfortable position.
The knight’s breathing was clipped. “I-I didn’t think that this would have happened. I thought she knew what she was doing. I shoulda tried harder to convince her,” Hero managed as he hugged the unconscious mage closer. He carefully walked over to Thomas’s bag, still where she left it. David and Krula watched the lumbering man kneel and bring a woolen blanket out of the bag. The two felt a sick sensation in the pit of their stomach. Silent, they retook their position in front of the castle gates, all humor drained from the two.
David called out to the slightly shaking knight, “We can call a cleric. Would you like me to? Krula would be fine with running to the city and bringing a medic back, right?” Krula nodded, her ears pressed flat against her head. She already regretted saying anything critical of the mage.
In response to the guard, Hero slung their two bags on his back and shook his head, “She’s alright. I hope. We’ll just go to the city and find the prince.” He didn’t appear to be angry with the two guards and had slightly regained composure.
David nodded, squeezing Krula’s hand, “Alright, we’ll open the gates. If you want, we can probably take you to the prince directly after our shift’s done. We’ll go to this tavern called the Pork Head in probably three hours. It’s right on the corner of the market square, and has a huge sign. You’ll find it.” He ran his hand through his hair and chuckled nervously, the curls bouncing up and down.
“We’re really sorry about hurting your cute girlfriend!” Krula burst out suddenly. The hellhound latched onto David and abashedly looked down. “I’d be really, really, angry with anybody who would hurt Dave so if you want to be angry, just say something instead of being so quiet.” David seemed surprised at the hellhound’s outburst, but was impressed by her earnesty. He gave her a quick peck on the forehead and turned back to Hero.
A sheepish grin broke out on his scarred face, “You really care about her, don’t you?”
Hero nodded slightly, still holding the mage draped in a blanket. “This is my best friend, dude,” he thrust out the sleeping alp with something approaching pride, not taking his eyes off her, “Yeah, she makes dumbass decisions, but that’s whatever.” He paused for a while and then with a free hand gave them a dismissive gesture. “Thanks, but you guys can take it easy on the worrying. I’ll do that on my own.” He returned Thomas to her position nuzzled against his breastplate. “Alright, I guess I’ll see you two in a couple of hours,” he smiled ruefully behind his helmet, “I’m pretty sure Thomas is gonna be pissed of that she lost though.”
Krula nodded, ears beginning to perk up again. Pulling herself from David’s arm, she approached the massive wooden gates and touched them lightly. A massive rumbling sounded from within the stone walls, and the massive doors slowly swung open. Hero strode through the portal and turned around to see them already beginning to close. Must be well oiled. David and Krula gave him a friendly wave, which Hero returned cheerfully. Then, the doors pulled shut, leaving him to look at the plain wooden planks of the massive gate. He glanced down at the now peacefully sleeping face of Thomas before he turned around.
“Woah,” he breathed. Hero’s eyes swept across the emerald fields before him. Expansive orchards dotted the grassy hills and farther down, a sprawling city dominated the landscape.
Above the simple stone roofs of the city outskirts, scattered harpies flew about intermingling with flocks of doves. Nearing the center of the city, Hero could make out gracefully thin stone towers with pennants waving around at the top and people patrolling their battlements. Around the foot of those towers, large wooden halls commanded attention with their intricately carved roofs and even from the wall Hero could see a bustling open air market assembled around them.
Finally, in the middle of the city, a staggeringly large citadel dwarfed every other building in the city. It’s impressive walls were nearly the height of the towers and behind them towered a monolithic palace. Radiant stained glass decorated the sheer walls of the citadel and the entire building could have been mistaken for a giant cathedral had it not had battlements and sentry towers. At nearly every available space of the citadel, banners with the trident and rope insignia hung conspicuously.
Hero walked off of the road into the grass. Readjusting the softly breathing Thomas’ blanket again, he sat noisily down in the greenery against the wall. The knight simply gazed across the scenic view of the city and it’s farms for a while.
He hoped that when Thomas woke up, the alp would like this view as much as him.