Hero ran a hand down his face.
Or at least, the equivalent. He couldn’t actually run anything along his face without his skin quite literally exploding in pain.
Hero was, as always, impressed by his friend’s magical aptitude. Of course, he was less impressed by her foresight in trapping herself in a thick layer of enchanted metal.
It dumbfounded him that Thomas failed to understand the consequences of melting metal around something, particularly when that something happened to be your body. No wonder she failed to join her dad’s blacksmithing business.
However, the lack of any sound from within the smooth, metal globe was unsettling. Hero immediately thought the worst but forced himself to assume that perhaps the metal was muffling Thomas’ squeals of fear.
“Can you get this off?” Hero asked, placing his hand on the cooling surface of the orb.
The two guards had just reunited beside the metal ball. David was fussing with Krula’s ruined garments while the hellhound pouted. The guardsman answered Hero without looking up from her liquefied hauberk.
“I don’t think I can. Pretty melting it disenchants the chains. Otherwise, I could just make the whole thing disappear.”
The guard fiddled with his colleague’s armor one last bit and handed Krula his chain. The hellhound rehooked the shrunken links to her collar.
David. made his way over to Hero.
“This is pretty thick. I’m sorry, I definitely got a little carried away with the wrapping.”
“I’m not sorry,” Krula complained, “the quartermaster’s gonna kick my ass when he finds out that I melted my armor. And it wasn’t in ‘the defense of the city.’”
David grabbed the hellhound’s fluffy ear and tweaked it. David and gave Krula a stern glance, which she returned for several seconds. Then 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, pinching the hellhound’s face. That 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 mayb-”
Hero made a fist and casually threw a punch into the metal orb. The slagged orb made a dull ringing sound and the knight withdrew his first, revealing a sizable dent. Then another punch. With a grinding whine, the metal gave in.
David’s eyes widened as Hero withdrew his gauntlet from the new hole he had just torn in the surface.
The knight tried to peer into the new opening. 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 was a foot of magical steel. Are you even fucking human?”
David let out a low whistle that implied a, ‘oh yeah, he can do that.’
Hero ignored the stupefied guard’s reactions. The knight gripped the edges of the small hole he had made and began pushing. With a slight grunt of exertion, he tore a huge portion of the metal and threw the jagged piece into the grass. He ignored the blast of heat from the interior and looked in again.
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. She was unconscious and despite the heat, she was 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 lifted it above his head and turned it upside down. David and Krula watched in amazement as Hero caught the unconscious alp and forcefully launched the mass of steel into the field. It landed with a dull boom.
Though he had deposited her coarsely, Hero cradled Thomas with a surprising amount of tenderness. Hero lightly shook the mage in her arms. 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 slightly labored.
“I thought she knew what she was doing. I should have tried harder to convince her not to fight you guys.”
Hero hugged the unconscious mage closer. He carefully walked over to Thomas’s bag, still where she left it.
“I’m still a little bit mad,” Hero murmured as an afterthought.
David and Krula watched the lumbering man kneel and bring a woolen blanket out of the bag. The two felt sweat drip down their backs as a cold knot of fear developed in their stomachs. Silent, they retook their position in front of the castle gates, all humor drained from the two.
They had just almost killed this monster’s girlfriend.
David called out in a slightly shaking voice.
“We can call a cleric. 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.
Hero slung both his own and Thomas’ 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 they relaxed slightly.
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 sighed, his 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 crooked grin broke out on the guardsman’s 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, “she makes dumb decisions, but that’s part of the fun, I guess.”
He paused for a while and then shook his head.
“Anyways, you guys can take it easy on the worrying about her. 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 get pissed that she lost, though. So enjoy that”
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.
Now that that entire affair was over, Hero let out a deep breath. Then he looked finally looked around him.
“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. Its 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 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 its farms for a while.
The mage fussed while and shifted in his arms. Hero looked down at his friend softly breathing in his arms and any remaining dregs of anger evaporated.
He hoped that when Thomas woke up, the alp would like this view as much as him.
Thomas began to stir around an hour later. Hero had refrained from falling asleep for fear of Thomas waking up pinned beneath his drooling bulk. He had the tendency to move around in his sleep.
Watching in rapt attention, he remained still as he could manage while Thomas shifted underneath her blanket. The alp’s eyes twitched and she emitted a long, contented groan. She lifted her arms out from under the covers and rubbed the sleep from her eyes with monumental slowness. Thomas blinked uncertainly and turned her head around to peer out at the city, before snapping her eyes shut. The transition from the shade of the wall to the radiant palace proved to be too much.
She looked back up at Hero and a look of confusion spread across her sleepy face before instantly melting into a look of regret. Now that Thomas was awake, Hero was ready to appear slightly less caring. He wrapped the alp in a bear hug, doing his best not to squeeze her to death. Now, he would appear less caring. Thomas was taken off guard by the hug and was even more muddled after the knight put her back down.
She shivered slightly. “I thought you were going to be angry at me because I ended up fighting,” she yawned.
Hero didn’t answer immediately, instead slinging their bags over his shoulders again and walking out into the road, making sure the drowsy alp could keep up. Thomas scrambled to follow her taller friend, scything through the foliage with her boots.
“Yeah, a little.” They continued walking towards the city, listening to the rustling of the grassland.
“I should apologize then, I take it?”
Hero stretched with exaggerated satisfaction. As Thomas’ best friend, he was against any kind of scolding, though that was strictly for a fixed amount of time after. A day later was fair game, of course, but…
Hero did what any other friend would do and completely avoided the topic, instead artfully changing the subject.
“You know, this place is still here. Wasn’t it, you know, not supposed to be here?”
Thomas exhaled out through her nose in annoyance.
“Fine, fine, you’d rather bury this until tomorrow and drop it on me when I least expect it. You can have my apology now anyways.”
She looked up again at the visage of the city and its lofty towers in the distance. The alp could have kept up with Hero better had she flown, but she didn’t trust her wings enough to use them again so soon.
“Anyways, this city seems very real. But it shouldn’t be here unless somebody actually moved an entire city and all of its people here through magic. Then that leaves us with about two suspects, the Goddess and the Monster Lord.”
Hero peered off at the city and shielded his eyes with a hand.
“The flag of this place doesn’t have the Church’s Mark. I’m pretty sure the Goddess wouldn’t bother.”
A strong breeze blew across the field, causing Thomas to shiver. She realized exactly how cold she was from exertion. The mage’s fascination with the skimpy clothing’s aesthetics was forgotten in favor of warmth.
“I noticed that too. I also don’t see any cathedrals in the skyline, and on top of that, this is still technically a Demon Realm, even with all this greenery,” she said, her breath coming out in spurts of fog.
Hero glanced at his friend and produced a heavy woolen blanket out from his own bag and draped it on the alp.
She gave him a nod of appreciation before continuing. “I can’t imagine what the Demon Lord’s agenda was for moving this city though. It just seems kind of inane.”
They walked in silence for a little, silent save for the sound of their footsteps on the now gravel path. Eventually, Hero interjected.
“Silly. Foolish. Not-right-in-the-head motivation,” she explained, “anyways, I can’t say I have too much of a grasp on the Demon Lord’s motivations. But I suppose for now we’re going to just go into town and fix their dragon problem?”
The knight immediately lit up at the prospect of fighting a dragon. “You think I’m actually going to get to fight one? Dude, David said four of them, and man, am I hyped.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it. Also, don’t you believe that you’re getting just a little ahead of yourself? We hardly know if the Prince will just jump at the opportunity of letting a strange adventurer handle his city’s affairs.”
She frowned. Four whole dragons. This might even be another ploy on the Demon Lord’s part. But why?
“You know that’s how things work around here. Nobody’s going turn away a Hero who’s been knighted. Besides, even if he doesn’t want me screwing around in his walls, I’m still going to fight those lizards.”
Knighted by a monster, she thought. Aloud, she was more tactful, though there was a snort nonetheless, “I’m sure you will. They are, of course, some of the most powerful monsters that exist, but by all means, I’m sure that you are above the consequences of challenging them to a fight.”
“Hey, I’m not the one who lost to a hellhound and a dude with a chain,” the knight retorted.
Thomas clutched her chest in faux agony at Hero’s passing remark. “Must you make me relive that? I felt like I was dreaming as soon as David flew over me and started twisting around me with his chain.”
Hero snorted and pinched Thomas’ horn, much to the alp’s visible displeasure.
He looked down at the frowning mage beside him, “Oh yeah, I completely forgot about that, you were supposed to tell me what happened. I didn’t really get to see all of it because of the smoke and the whole you flying thing.”
The alp shrugged, “If you really wanted to see what was happening, you could have just leaped up the walls or something along those lines. There were boulders there.”
She tapped her chin and frowned, “I’m sure you won’t mind if I withhold my tale for a little bit.”
“No!” Hero half shouted. Catching himself, he stammered out a less impassioned plea, “Uh, I mean, come on Tom, just tell me.” He stretched the last syllable, prompting a smirk to break out across Thomas’ face.
“Alright, if you absolutely must know…” she began, much to Hero’s delight. Thomas spun her yarn to Hero, her hands and face wildly expressive as they made their way towards the city and its looming palace.
All in all, Thomas was a mediocre story-teller. But nobody would tell Hero that.