Metal, Magic, and Monsters Chapter 2

Thomas finished cataloging every detail of the tent’s sloped roof. A rip here, a stain there, and a dead insect stuck somewhere in between. The mess was to be expected. After all, the tent had weathered the abuse of the entire journey that Hero and Thomas had made since they left their village, spurred on by the allure of adventure. It had been a gift from the very shopkeeper that Hero had pickpocketed. Back then, his name wasn’t Hero, but likely something much more ordinary.

Unfortunately for Hero, punching one of the most magically potent monsters on the continent wasn’t a terribly bright decision on his part.

Thomas rolled over, suddenly uncomfortable on her mat. Today, the tent was unusually empty, missing a particularly cumbersome suit of armor. Hero had decided that he would be able to sleep much better outside on account of not having to keep one eye open and one hand protectively over his nethers.

Usually, he would be taking up nearly all of the room inside the small tent and otherwise attempting to roll out of the slight shelter it provided. This drove the much the smaller mage into despair in what little space she had. However, without the hulking presence to give her a healthy dose of claustrophobia, it was fairly lonely. Before Hero had vacated the tent, taking a comically undersized blanket along with him, he detailed the kinds of gruesome tortures that Thomas would receive should she try anything.  He then groggily made his way to the extinguished fire, collapsed bonelessly, blanket barely covering his left pauldron, and then drifted off to sleep.

How insulting. As if she would do anything. Granted, her thought patterns from before were slightly worrying, but still. All the more things to keep her awake then.

Thomas often stayed awake deep into the night. Mostly due to Hero’s tossing and turning, granted, but she had long accepted she hadn’t the easiest time getting to bed. Sometimes, she would leave the tent altogether and practice her magic, sending bolts streaking across the sky or even making sparkling were-lights fill the sky. She didn’t take any particular care not to wake Hero, but rest assured, he slept heavily. Then, invariably, she would fall asleep, magic fizzling at her fingertips, and awaken back inside the warmth of the tent, two blankets draped over her. After the first time that happened, she’d made it into a habit.

But now, she wasn’t sure if she could practice any magic.

She was a talented mage. By any standards, clergy or layman, her magical power was enormous. According to the head Father of her monastery, she had enough power in her pinky finger as the rest of the brothers had combined. He made sure to remind her of the value of humility and the fact that the monks weren’t exactly omnipotent mages, but Thomas’ ability often got to her head. Preservation of ego is a very powerful motivator.

Sitting up, she resolved to learn the magic herself or beg the next succubus that she encountered to teach her. She was confident she could learn.

Thomas threw off her sheets and clambered out of the tent, exiting into the crisp night air. Barely flapping her wings, she lifted herself into the air above the tent and hovered above the blackened timbers of the fire. Amazing how intuitive a new organ could be.

Next to pit was Hero, peacefully asleep with his head nestled by a log. Despite his lack of a mattress, pillow, sleeping bag, or any other sleeping amenity other than grass, he appeared very comfortable. Wearing a helmet at all times greatly reduces the need for anything soft beneath your head at night.

Thomas shivered from her vantage point. Despite her sheer attire and its mysterious heating properties, the garment gave more than an ample opportunity for the wind playing across her exposed skin to deliver a touch of nighttime chill. She sniffled but remained in the air as she began to test her magical capabilities. After all, why not take risks while ten feet in the air?

Glancing up at the winking stars and accompanying moon, she attempted to shoot out a bolt of light at the stars.

Before her change, the mage had no problem shooting off endless barrages of bolts into the sky. It was entry-level magic, something she barely had to think about for the mental locks to unleash. She felt something catch inside of her arm. She grimaced. It felt as if a pocket of tar were caught inside of her vein, forcing its way upward.

Then the feeling completely numbed, the absence of any sensation disconcerting her more than the sensation itself. Writhing in discomfort, she gritted her teeth and quickly made a landing, her boots digging into the slick grass.

Once she touched the ground, she began vigorously shaking her wrist in an attempt to bring feeling back into her hands. She grimaced as sensation within the hand crawled back, starting from her elbow.

Once the ebbing finally returned, she noticed her palm was tingling. Wispy black smoke exuded from her palm. It smelled like brimstone.

Feeling a bit unsteady, Thomas held her palm up to the night sky and again tried to force a bolt out. With scarcely any additional pushing, a thin glob of shadow shot through the air. The inky black orb leisurely made its way into the night sky, eventually melting into the blackness of the night.

Thomas was unsure how useful firing a bolt of amateurish shadow would be, but she resolved to test it more thoroughly later. She wondered if it was any different than the quick, sharp bolts of light she used to be able to cast with similar impunity.

“I’m a smart person. I’ll pick it up as I go,” she reassured herself.

The alp stared at the puffs of fog from her breath and hugged herself to ward off the chill. The mage suddenly noticed that casting magic made the surrounding night seem colder. Or perhaps it just lowered her temperature exclusively. As she was about to eagerly trudge back the relative warmth of the tent, her gaze fell on Hero.

The knight was quietly snoring under a wool blanket. Too peacefully, even.

An idea popped into Thomas’s head.

With an impish expression on her face, the alp tiptoed towards the armored giant. Stopping just short of the slumbering knight, she knelt down and, with no small effort, lifted his arm. For several seconds, the peaceful night air was filled with the sound of tiny grunts of exertion. After no small amount of work, Hero’s arm presented a gap small enough for the alp to slide into.

Slipping in, she tried to get as comfortable as possible underneath the plate. The plate was fairly warm. Unfortunately, the metal covering the knight’s other arm was not necessarily made for lying on.

After some struggle in finding a comfortable position for her back, she eventually settled on laying on her stomach beneath his outstretched arm. The alp supposed that being this close to the warm giant was worth a mouthful of grass. Several minutes passed until Thomas tired of the taste and decided to go back into the tent. In the process of getting up, she first had to shift the arm she was using as a blanket.

Eventually, the incessant jostling of his arm caused Hero to stir. He groggily opened his eyes and stared at the offending alp. From the sight of his slightly sweaty friend tucked beneath his arm, in what he could only interpret as an embrace, he had the impression he was in a terrible nightmare.

He shattered the peace of the night as he leaped to his feet with a string of curses. Thomas rolled onto the ground shouting for the hulking mass of armor to regain his senses and telling him not to trample her.

After much din in the campground with Thomas and Hero both trying to shout each other down, they finally managed an agitated standoff. Hero stared down at Thomas from behind a disapproving glare and crossed arms.

“Thomas, how late is it?” Typical adult question.

“Extremely?” Typical adolescent retort.

Hero sighed heavily. While it was late, the moonlight provided more than ample lighting for him to see Thomas still draped in her parent’s disapproval manifested as clothing.

“Alright, I wanna get back to sleep, so whatever you wanted from me, you should probably tell me.”

“Couldn’t sleep, so I decided to practice my magic and test out if I can do anything new,” she yawned and rubbed her eyes, fatigue finally overcoming the excitement of the day, “turns out I can fire black bolts now.”

Her friend’s helmet gave no indication that he was impressed.

“Then I wanted to go back to sleep, and you are generally a smart choice if I want to be warmed up.”

Hero shook his head, then began to walk in the direction of the tent.

“Where are you going? I thought you weren’t going into the tent with me since I’m an alp now.”

She added a subtle, mocking sing-song to her words.

The knight groaned as he bent over to enter the tent, “Whatever, couldn’t stop you from trying to have a go at me-”

“That is not what I was doing!”

Hero dismissed his friend’s indignant response, “Couldn’t stop you and I tried my best. Going back in the tent. Need sleep.”

She fought to suppress a grin. “Alright, if you’re sure about this, I’ll go back into the now crowded tent with you.” She walked up to the flap at the front of the tent and hesitated. “Thanks,” she muttered.

The knight responded in a groggy a voice as he could muster.

“When we get to another inn, I’m not sleeping in the same bed as you. Paws off—,” he paused for a long yawn, “—ya whore.”

Hero smacked his mouth, sounding quite smug.

A smile touched Thomas’s face. Perhaps things weren’t going to be very different at all.

With that foolish optimism, she went into the tent and curled up against the cozy suit of armor. Finally, she closed her eyes and nodded off.

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