Katryn ran down the corridor as quietly as possible, broadsword gripped tightly in both hands. She vaguely remembered someone telling her once not to run with sharp objects, but she’d been doing it for years and had never…. Well, hardly ever… Well, anyway, that was why her team had a healer, wasn’t it.
She stopped at the appropriate doorway. She knew it was the right one; most of the castles in the Damsel District were built by the same contractors, and they all had pretty much the same layout.
She raised a boot to the thick wooden door, breaking it open with a satisfying crash. She staggered forward a bit, managing to catch herself.
A wide-eyed princess looked at her in surprise.
“Princess Amariel?” Katryn asked.
“It’s Amariellannettee,” the princess said uncertainly. “Um…”
“Whatever. I’m here to rescue you.”
“We don’t have all day,” Katryn said impatiently. “My team is distracting the sorcerer, and this castle’s rigged to blow at any minute.”
“It’s just that I expected you to be more…male.”
“Ah, Pratchett, not this again.” Katryn sighed. “Look, this is just a basic contract, you know. I’m here to rescue you, not marry you. Anyway, the economy’s tight right now. You’re just lucky that your father could afford real heroes. I heard there’s some kingdom south of here that had to hire a plumber to do its rescue jobs.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry…”
“Besides, it’s not like I wouldn’t rather be off rescuing some handsome prince for once, but no, they always have to be the big damn heroes, the selfish bastards, and the few I do find just hit on Cory or Lorien…”
“I said I’m… Hey, didn’t you say this castle is rigged to explode?”
Reluctantly, Katryn broke off her rant. “Yeah, come on.”
They ran back the way Katryn had just come. At least, Katryn ran. After several mishaps with shoes and gown, the princess was scooped up unceremoniously and carried.
At the front gate, they met Ezra and Lorien, running in the same direction.
“Cory’s waiting down the hill,” Ezra panted. “Minions coming…”
The four of them ran until they finally, and rather literally, stumbled across Cory, lying in the grass beside his dragon.
They crouched down beside him. “Ready?” asked Katryn.
Cory nodded, causing his mop of brown hair to flop madly in his face.
“Right,” said Katryn. “Lorien, raise the shield.”
The elf gripped his staff tightly, slowing his breathing as he concentrated.
After a moment, the tip of the staff shone as a glowing green dome appeared, neatly encasing the group. Cory reached into the bulging knapsack beside him, pulling out a small metal box studded with a variety of seemingly cosmetic gears and switches.
“Okay,” Katryn said, “Ready in five, four, three…”
Cory flipped a switch.
“Two one,” sighed Katryn as the explosion rocked the ground.
Chunks of stone and minion rained down, bouncing harmlessly off of their shield.
The princess gave Katryn an annoyed look. “I thought you said it was rigged to blow at any minute.”
Katryn shrugged. “It got you moving, didn’t it?”
The princess gaped in outrage.
“In her defense,” Ezra said, “Cory sometimes blows up buildings with people still inside them.” She gave him a pointed look.
Cory cringed. “That only happened once! Muffin got impatient and stole the remote from me!”
“Severe burns and eight broken bones!”
The dragon grinned and flicked his tongue at her.
“Your dragon’s name is Muffin?” said Amariellannettee, wrinkling her nose in distaste.
“So? Your name is Amariellannettee,” said Katryn. She shook away an uneasy feeling that she may have unwittingly said something deeply ironic.
“I’m putting the shield down now,” Lorien said. The green dome flickered and died, leaving them standing in the midst of a field of rubble.
“Right,” said Katryn. “It’s a three day walk back to the king’s castle, so we’d better start now while it’s still daylight.”
The princess gave her a disbelieving look. “Walk? You mean you don’t even have horses? What kind of adventurers are you?”
“Cheap ones,” Katryn snapped. “Now let’s go.”
It was going to be a long three days.