37. Race to Silvergrove
Silvergrove was under attack.
It was a city around 30 miles to the southeast of Hazelbury. I wasn’t exactly sure how far a mile was, nor was I sure where southeast was, but I knew that meant he was close by. It would, however, take a few hours for us to reach the city if we went now. Or at least, with Daniel and Edithe’s running speeds.
Again, I wasn’t exactly sure how long ‘a few hours’ was, but I knew that it was far too long. By the time we arrived, Lucerna would be gone or dead. Apparently the king of Nixa himself would be riding out himself with his most elite bodyguards to slay the Demon destroying his lands. The capital city of Nightsveil was a little bit further away, at the other side of the Falisfield province. So we only had a short period of time to reach Silvergrove and face Lucerna ourselves before my only chance of going back to the Netherworld is gone.
That meant we had to get to the city as soon as possible, which was why Daniel and I were at a stable. It was a place with a lot of horses, and a Human managing said horses. Currently, we were waiting for the Human to return from the back with his four fastest horses. I spoke hurriedly to Daniel.
“Can we hurry up?”
“We are, Salvos. That’s why we’re getting horses. The stablemaster is getting his best ones right now. He’s a Level 35 [Beast Tamer], so they’ll be faster than even you.”
I raised an eyebrow dubiously.
“Are you sure about that?”
I glanced over at a nearby horse and narrowed my eyes. The animal whinnied and stomped a foot on the ground, huffing air out of his nose.
[Race Horse - Lvl. 12]
“You’re only Level 12. I can beat you.”
The Human man sighed.
“In a fight, sure. But horses are fast, and with a Class, they’ll be even faster.”
I turned back to Daniel and gave him a confused look.
“How does he have a Class, anyway? I’ve never seen an animal with a Class before.”
“I told you. The stablemaster has a [Beast Tamer] Class. On their own, animals don’t generally have the sapience or drive to level up. Most never hit Level 10 in their lives, and those that do don’t bother to accept the Classes given to them. But a [Beast Tamer] can train an animal, level it up, and even urge it to receive a Class. Of course, even the highest leveled [Beast Masters] can’t raise the level of their animals to equal theirs.”
“Well, it’s a good thing you don’t need such high leveled horses.”
The stablemaster spoke up as he returned to us with a single horse in tow behind him. I looked at the Level 13 horse as she softly whinnied, then back him.
“Unfortunately, Betty here, and Chase over there are all the horses I can lend you. They’re the fastest ones I have. There are Shirley and Johnson, but they’re [Pack Horses], they can’t help you out.”
“But we need at least three. Are you sure you can’t get us another? We’ll pay. We’ve got the gold for it.”
Daniel looked at the elderly man pleadingly.
“I’m sorry, but my Class has its limits. I can only train so many animals to even this level. I can get you a regular horse, but he’ll not be able to keep up with these two.”
I looked at the [Beast Tamer] and nodded reassuringly.
“Two is enough.”
I placed my hand lightly on Daniel’s shoulder. I tilted my hood up slightly and met his gaze; I spoke softly but resolutely.
“I can outrun a horse, trust me.”
He hesitated, glancing between me and the stablemaster. He opened his mouth—
“Please, is there any other [Beast Tamers] around Hazelbury that can help us?”
“Wait— why don’t you trust me?!”
“Unfortunately, we could only get two horses Edithe.”
The Human woman looked up from the summoning circle, wiping sweat off her forehead. She furrowed her brows.
“Only two? But Druma can’t possibly share a seat with one of us. He’s too heavy. And the three of us won’t be able to fit on only a single saddle.”
Mistshard wasn’t here. The [Ice Elemental]— or rather, the [Winged Elemental of Frost] now— would eventually freeze the back of a horse if she rode on one for too long, even if she weakened her natural cold aura. It was not something she could disable completely.
And since Edithe only had a single [Quick Summon] a day, she could call the [Elemental] out when arrive in Silvergrove. It would have taken too much time to cast [Summon Partner] twice once we arrived there.
“And Druma will be getting his own horse. Salvos is going to be running there.”
I nodded eagerly beside Daniel and pointed a clawed thumb at myself.
“That’s right! I’ll get there even before Chase or Betty does.”
The two horses didn’t visibly react, but I was certain that was because they didn’t believe me. We’ll see who’s the fastest one here, I thought, giving Chase a sidelong glance. [Race Horse]? More like [Slow Horse] once I win!
Edithe sighed resignedly.
“Huh. I expected you to be more against it. Even Daniel argued for a whole minute before we came back here.”
“I just know how to choose my battles wisely. And—”
The Human woman walked up to Betty, saddling herself on the horse and proffering a hand to Daniel.
“There’s a more important battle awaiting me in Silvergrove.”
Her gaze was steady. Even as she helped the Human man up, her eyes did not break from the city gates ahead. He murmured from his seat behind her.
“Are you sure Druma can ride a horse?”
“He can. I asked.”
“That’s a really useful skill for him to know.”
She shrugged, uncaring.
“He’s a Spirit. A [Yaksha] to be exact. Most of them can’t speak, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t incredibly intelligent and resourceful.”
I looked over at Druma inquisitively, seeing him easily— with more flourish than even Edithe— get on Chase. The horse did not exactly strain from him, but it was quite obvious that Druma was not exactly an easy person to carry.
I made sure everyone was ready, looking over my companions. Then I smiled.
“Alright then, now let’s see who’s faster.”
“...don’t you mean save Silvergrove? Or kill Lucerna?”
“Oh, that too.”
I ran alongside the two horses as they galloped down the dirt road, heading southeast of Hazelbury. I kept pace with them as we traveled quickly across Falisfield, past an almost familiar dirt road closer and closer to Silvergrove.
I could see the smoke rising up in the sky as the horizon turned blood-red at the dawn of dusk. Night was falling soon, and only the stars and moon would illuminate our path from then on out. But we were looking to arrive in the attacked city before then.
I looked over at my companions as they quietly rode on their horses; it was not unusual to see Druma remain silent, however hearing no chatter coming from the Humans stood out to me. Even when we had just found Edithe in Maplewell, she and Daniel actually engaged in some conversation. Now, a deathly silence held them and nothing else.
I decided not to break this tense atmosphere, recognizing that they preferred we didn’t speak. This was an important moment for Edithe— she had lost her previous companions to Lucerna, and I could tell she was afraid it would happen again when we met him. And Daniel was nervous. I did not know why, but he seemed nervous to me.
So I focused on only one thing: running slightly faster than Chase and Betty.
At the very beginning, I had used [Double Step] to speed ahead of the two horses. However, that led them to activate their own Skills and reach me. Then they began to get tired, and Edithe told me to stop.
I just had to be satisfied with barely beating them in this race. I could keep up this pace for quite a while, after all.
We continued on until we came across a group of felled trees. There was a plume of smoke, but it was coming from something to the side. A carriage lay broken and burnt off the road. Bodies were strewn all around it— Humans and horses both dead, having tried to escape whatever it was that attacked them. Ash covered the ground, and I knew it was Lucerna who had done this.
“Come on, let’s go.”
Edithe spoke softly, not even glancing at the destruction caused by the Greater Demon. We went around the minor obstacle, finally able to fully see Silvergrove now. Now that I had a good view of it, I finally realized that the billowing smoke I had seen earlier came not just from the city, but the forest around it too.
Destroyed caravans made up the path leading to the city; Humans and animals were all indiscriminately killed and buried under piles of ashes. The fire from a burning cart had spread to the nearby trees, setting it ablaze. Animals had tried to escape the forest fire, and they too were slaughtered by Lucerna.
I caught a glimpse of a group of dead gray animals. Wolves. An entire pack of them. They were all killed, except for a single one I recognized. I stopped for a moment, letting Betty and Chase pass me. The wolf limply stood up and looked at me. I looked into her amber canine eyes before nodding.
“Don’t worry. Once I make him tell me how to return to the Netherworld, I’ll kill him.”
She made no sound; she just stared at me as I ran off towards Silvergrove. My destination lay just ahead, at the burning city with Humans streaming out of its gates. All I had to do now was defeat Lucerna.
I knew I would beat him. If not for my confidence in how much I had grown or in my newfound companions, then for the simple fact that I knew what he wanted. Sakura had told me his goal— she hadn’t told me the reason behind it, but it was all I needed to know.
The reason why Lucerna had destroyed so many towns and cities— the reason he had killed so many people— and the reason why he had called forth the fury of the king of Nixa was simple:
He wants to die.
So I decided that I would be the one to do it for him.