43. Flying Horned Horses of the Apocalypse

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As our heroic trio journeyed to Druscilla's tent, to take Ashley's mind off the roiling waves of acid inside her belly, she contemplated what to do when they got there. Surely there would be armed guards. And even though Ashley carried a spear, she had no idea how to use it, rendering the whole concept of it pretty useless.

Ashley had never donned armor before and now had a whole new appreciation for people serving in her guard. She would never admit to Derek that he was right about the discomfort. It was like walking with a bucket on her head, vertical sticks strapped to her legs, and washtubs on her feet. The helmet muffled outside sounds, making the rasps of her heavy breathing even more pronounced. And the smell! A mixture of the sweat of the helmet's previous occupant combined with a tangy rust-like odor, which was probably dried blood from the prior occupant.

Not to mention the poor fit. The helmet kept slipping to the side whenever Ashley turned her head. It was hard enough to see because it only had a slit, so she had to keep adjusting her head to line her eyes up with the opening, making her dizzy. And the boots made her nostalgic for the glass slippers.

Ash finally discovered a use for the spear, though; it made a handy walking stick. Hobbling in the mud inside an ill-fitting tin can was so tricky, Ashley was convinced she should win the quest by virtue of accomplishing this one feat.

Trolls did not design armor. It had to be the same barbarians who invented high heels and corsets.

"Someone keeps moving Druscilla's tent farther and farther away," Derek said. "We've been trudging along for about five hours, and it's no closer. Maybe it's been spelled."

"Oh, come on, Derek. This is fun," Layyin said, stomping extra hard in the mud, slosh slosh slosh, sending clods of muck flying, a good portion of which adhered to Derek's armor.

"You child!" Derek veered away from Layyin.

"I'm no child," Layyin insisting, giggling so hard, Ashley glanced around to see if anyone noticed.

"You are. Better try to sound more masculine," Derek panted. "Guards don't giggle. They are powerful and macho and in control."

"Uh, huh. And they definitely don't whine about uncomfortable suits of armor or ugly hats. Right?"

Derek huffed. "Guards are men, and men don't giggle. It's undignified."

"Note to Derek, I am wearing armor, ergo, I am a female guard. And watch this, Terry-poo taught me some moves," she sliced the air inches from Derek's helmet with her spear.

"Watch that thing," Derek said, batting it away. "You could poke out an eye."

"Isn't that the idea?"

"Just act cool," Derek said. "No showing off."

"Okay, Mr. Humble."

"That's Prince Mr. Humble, thank you very much."

Layyin laughed, triumphantly tapping Derek's breastplate with her spear. "Your humility is legend."

"Like everything about me," Derek gloated.

"Guys," Ashley said, feeling like the lone adult in the company of toddlers. "Let's review the plan."

"We know the plan," Layyin said. "We convince the guards we're here on an important errand for the prince. They let us in. We rush in, taking full advantage of the element of surprise. Before Druscilla can toss any spells or chairs or curses or letter openers at us, I tie her up, and Derek plants a spear through her black heart. Done and done."

"That is not the plan," Ashley sighed, slipping in the mud. Layyin grabbed Ashley's arm, preventing her from toppling like a rotted tree.

"Sounds like a good plan to me," Derek chimed in, perking up a little.

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