It was only a few hours later when we emerged from the darkness of the cavern. Even that seemed to take too long. Lucy, who had been clinging to my arm up until that point, pulled away as soon as the light of the afternoon sun hit us. She wasn’t wearing her usual armor, but the clothing I had dug out of my backpack. It was something the goblin women had made for Olivia. However, having no chests of their own, they hadn’t made it in a way that made adequate room for her chest, let alone her tail.
For the flat-chest, bunny-tailed Lucy, the dress actually fit a lot better. It was nothing beautiful, but it was very functional. As for the rest of the clothing, I had presumed to leave it in a pile in the underground pathway, but Lucy insisted on burning it.
“There may be creatures in the dark who will follow our scent from those clothes.”
I supposed that was true, so our clothing ended up being burned to ash before we left. It was much more difficult without Olivia and her spells. I was beginning to realize traveling with Lucy how fortunate I had been to be with Olivia. Lucy was good at bossing people around, and she may have had a bit more stamina and dexterity than her sister, but when it came to useful skills outside of a fight, she was severely lacking.
I didn’t say any of this to her face, but I definitely had the thought when a few-hour walk felt like days. I finally stretched my arms and basked in the noonday sun. Luck withstanding, the chimera was still at the hole trying to dig his way to the attractant. I really wanted to know what the ingredients used on that thing were. It had smelled like piss. The only thing I could think was that it was the urine of a member of the opposite sex and that the smell was intended for procreation. That would also explain why the chimera was so violent. If it was in a mating frenzy, I could definitely understand.
Of course, I didn’t share these thoughts with Lucy. I shared very little with Lucy. It wasn’t that I was afraid of giving her too much information. Rather, I felt she was not someone who appreciated the little things. With Olivia, I was able to win her over little by little through kind actions and stability. Lucy was the impulsive and emotional type, and she only responded to grand gestures. Unless I did something remarkable, it was unlikely her opinion of me would change after a few hours or even a few days of a journey.
“The road is about three miles that way.” I pointed toward an area that was thankfully downhill and easy walking. “Once we reach it, we should only be a day’s travel from Greenvale.”
She nodded and then glanced at me uncertainly. “You… saved me, back there.”
“You’re my sister.”
She looked away. “I’ve tried to kill you before.”
“I know…” I responded, sighing lightly. “That doesn’t mean you stop being my sister. Even if you did it again, you’d still be my sister.
Her long ears twitched, but she gave no other sign that my words had gotten through to her. The pair of us started heading down toward the main road to Greenvale. After that, we started heading in the direction of the Capitol of the elvish realm. We were two nobles of the human realm. Neither of us should have technically been walking around in elvish lands unsupervised. It made me feel uneasy and exposed, but at this stage, I didn’t feel like we could afford to take our time.
I had a foreboding feeling like this attack was a prelude to a bigger move. It was an impression like I was just loose ends that someone was trying to tie up neatly. There was something bigger going on, and it started with the goblins wreaking havoc in the countryside.
“This doesn’t make sense?” Lucy said, frowning as she looked forward and back down the road.
“Was is it?” I asked.
“Our escort, where are they?”
“What do you mean?” I didn’t say the obvious, that they scattered when the Chimera came because I knew that wasn’t what she meant.
“The men all fled on horse,” She responded. “That means that they all can move much faster than we can. Either, they got back onto the road behind us or in front of us. If they were behind us, they should have caught up quickly. If they were in front of us, they should have already been sending people along the road. Not just to find the missing members, but to scout for the chimera, so it doesn’t become a threat to their own merchants. Yet, this road is completely empty. Not just the escort, but there are no elves traveling this road either. For a major road, only a day’s travel out of Greenvale, that makes no sense.”
I nodded. I had noticed a similar discrepancy, although I had already reasoned that they might have shut off the road and prevented travel. As for not sending guards back, I didn’t think the prince who wanted me dead would do that. He’d wait as long as possible before responding, to ensure that I was dead. Still, their efficiency at keeping no one on the road was suspect. It felt like something big was happening. We traveled along the road for another ten minutes when I noticed a group riding towards us.
“Ah, finally!” Lucy sighed. “I thought we’d have to walk the rest of the way to the Capitol without an escort. They seriously treat their guests so poorly.”
At that moment, I was looking back the way we had come to see another group coming at us. Horses were riding towards us at full gallop from both sides. Short of abandoning the path, there was no way to go. Furthermore, this area had a particularly thick forest, making travel somewhat difficult.
“How bold…” I said, my brow furrowed as I looked between them.
The one’s behind had pulled out their weapons, and it was clear they weren’t peaceful. Lucy was only just starting to take it in. She drew her blade, spinning around like a trapped… well, rabbit.
“What’s the meaning of this?” She cried out, glancing at both groups coming from either direction.
“I’ve already said.” I grabbed my sword while squinting in the distance, still unable to make out who these attackers were. “The prince is trying to kill me.”
“You’re wrong!” A horse burst from the forest, causing both of us to jump.
As the person brought their horse around in front of us, I recognize General Tucci. However, from earlier today until now, he had accumulated countless wounds.
“General! You didn’t end up fighting the Chimera, did you?”
“No… my lady…” He shook his head. “As soon as I split from you and saw that that creature was chasing you specifically, I tried to collect the troops to cut off its pursuit. I had thought to put our lives on the line so that the prince and princesses could escape.”
By prince, it was clear he meant Prince Gantar. If I was included, he would have said ‘princes’. Even though I had managed to keep my sister safe, it hadn’t earned any credit with this man. Beastkin were very hard to please; it seemed.
“However,” He continued. “They attacked me while my back was turned. I only barely managed to escape. Since then, I’ve been trying to find you, and have faced a half dozen attacks. The pair of you haven’t encountered any so far?”
We looked at each other and then shook our heads. This went beyond an execution at this point. This was flat out a cleansing!
“I don’t understand…” Lucy shook her head, her ears flapping.
“They’re trying to kill us! All of us! The elves have chosen war! That damned prince ran off with Olivia. He had her tied up and over his saddle like a villain! It is clear the elves mean to be at war with the beastkin!”
“Olivia was already in their arms. Why would they kidnap her?” I asked.
He shot me a look and then ignored me. “Come, princess. We must get back to the King and inform him. We must close our borders to the elves and prepare for war!”
“If they were just opposed to the beastkin, then they wouldn’t be trying to kill all of us!” I declared, “This is just too suspicious. We need to get to the bottom of this.”
“You and what army?” General Tucci snapped. “You don’t have a stolen undead army to protect you this time. It is too dangerous to remain in this country anymore.”
He reached out to bring Lucy on to his horse. “Come, we must flee.”
“I haven’t delivered my letter to the king yet!”
“Hang that king! He’s already given his answer when he tried to kill us!”
“There are multiple factions at play here. I don’t believe this is occurring with the King’s permission.” I insisted.
“Enough, devil! I have already tolerated your existence, do not push me further. You can stay and be cut down by these knights. We will be leaving!”
That wasn’t an offer. There was no ‘or’. He came here to take Lucy with him, but there was no place on that horse for me. He planned to leave me here to my fate either way. It wasn’t like I was surprised by this result. The man still hated me. Not cutting someone down was a lot different than not lifting a hand to save him. The quick-witted Lucy seemed to grasp this as well.
“Brother…” She glanced over at me helplessly.
I could only give a gentle smile as I pulled my sword. “Go on. I’ll be alright. Let’s just hope none of these knights are will users.”
It would be difficult for them to escape through the thick forest, but with the knights focused on me for a bit, they might have a chance of getting away.
The knights halved the distance now, and the sound of the hooves falling could be heard clearly. They all had shawls covering their mouths, giving them a nefarious look that said they were all up to no good. They didn’t want their faces seen while they were conducting such an ugly business.
“Come, princess! This isn’t our fight!” General Tucci encouraged her.
Lucy turned between the General and me one more time, and then a familiar stubborn look covered her face.
“No! I’m going to make it my fight!” She turned with her sword up and ready toward the position of the horses coming from the opposite side I was facing.
Tucci’s expression flashed with annoyance. “Young lady…”
“I’m not your son!” She yelled back.
A flash of pain showed on his face, and Lucy looked guilty for a second, but then she put on a stronger face.
“I must stand and get to the bottom of this! I will complete my mission.”
General Tucci looked at her for a moment and then gave a growl. “You better be certain then!”
He pulled his sword and turned to face the knights who would reach first. His movements were clear. He was staying and wouldn’t leave Lucy alone. I shot her an appreciative look, but she didn’t glance at me, instead, staring right at the incoming enemy. I did notice that a slight shading touched her cheeks, though. I stood among enemies to fight enemies coming from every direction. If I had expected things would come to this point so quickly, I might have made a different choice.
“For Benatang!” General Tucci began to charge the incoming horses.
There were ten coming from that direction in all. I sighed and began running after his horse while Lucy covered our back. The second their horses collided with his, it was pandemonium. The difference was instantly clear. General Tucci’s warhorse was a steed trained to storm the frontlines and fearlessly run down any opposition. The elf horses weren’t charging horses but likely trained to skim the outer edge of a battle so that they could pelt the enemy with arrows.
These men hadn’t anticipated the presence of a horse at all, let alone for the rider to then charge them in turn. Not only did the General make it through their ranks without a cut on him, but he had knocked two men off their horses and completely defeated the charge. He was already turning around, ready to charge through them again and likely try to take on the other horses coming from the other direction.
The sound of a spell was cast, and vines erupted from under General Tucci’s horse. They immediately attacked its hooves, trying to tie up its movements. The horse made a loud whinny and reeled back. It was only the skill of General Tucci and the training of the horse that kept him from being upended.
At that point, I only just reached the horses. The men had their eyes on General Tucci, who was roaring and waving his sword wildly, cutting vines and soldiers indiscriminately. I grabbed the saddle and leapt on one of the horses, kicking the man who was on it off in a single motion. I had to pull from my will to accomplish such a feat, but there was no point holding back now.
My sword stabbed into the back of a second man before anyone else had realized I was there. With three of the horses now without riders and two mounted men within their ranks, the horses grew even more disorderly. Some of the men tried to pull out their bows, more comfortable as archers than as swordsman on horseback.
It looked like they were unaccustomed to this kind of maneuver. Perhaps they were ordered to do this and didn’t have a choice. It was my advantage, and I intended to take it. I was against a third man and with three will infused strikes and knocked him off his horse as well. It was at that moment that another soldier came at me. His strike was far more powerful than I had been prepared for, and my balance on the horse had been hastily established anyway, I fell off the back of the horse and ended up barely managing to land on my knees.
As soon as I hit the ground, three of the men who had fallen immediately tried to attack me. Even though I had been training, I wasn’t at the stage where I could handle this many trained soldiers, especially in the disadvantaged state I was in. The best I could do is redirect their strikes. They would assuredly be hitting me though and causing a great deal of damage.
General Tucci was busy, and Lucy was just greeting the other side. It was too ambitious to think 3 people, even will users, could take on twenty skilled men on horseback. The blades came down, and just as I raised my sword to send them low into my stomach rather than my head or my heart, the three of them were blown back. A woman appeared as if from nowhere, wind snapping like a whip at her extremely speedy movements. I could only see her backside, but I recognized that backside immediately.
The guards were the ones who let out a cry of shock. “Bala!”
Bala was standing there with a sword in hand, coldly facing the now four soldiers. A fifth got off his horse willingly, pulling his blade and standing at the forefront of the other four. As for the five men still mounted, they were focusing on General Tucci, including the one who was still manipulating the vines. He was losing, taking more and more hits as the vines continued to tie up his horse.
Just as it looked like he was in serious trouble, the magician who was controlling the vines suddenly flew up a few feet off his horse. The expression on his face was one of pure disbelief. However, he couldn’t even see what was going on as he was suddenly tossed to the side like he had been picked up by a giant and discarded. He slammed into a tree. There was a flash of light, and all of the surrounding vines became ash. General Tucci exploded out, his movements becoming lightning, and the other four soldiers started to fall one after another.
“Hmph… you call that a spell?” Baba snorted, her horse coming up to my side.
She was on a normal-sized horse, but due to her small size, it was clearly mismatched. She truly looked like a child on a giant steed. This diminished all the impressiveness her magic had done, and I could only give her a flat look as I stared back.
The other knights who had followed us were now fighting Lucy, although they did surround her cautiously. Pulling off their face-coverings, it was my remaining guards, including the loyal captain, and a few elves who appeared to be following Aunt Ayda. They had a haggard look like they had been traveling hard to get here. The ones who looked the most haggard though were two women in the rear, Mother and Aeryn.
“Princess Bala, what are you doing?” The man in charge declared.
“Brother, what is the meaning of attacking a guest I have personally escorted into our realm.”
“He is with the beastkin! The beastkin are no allies of ours!”
I blinked, completely shocked. It wasn’t, ‘he is a devilkin, and any who are with them must also be devilkin.’ I was used to being the cause of much trouble. Lucy’s superior ears had also heard this, as she immediately spun toward his direction and shouted.
“What does that mean? We’re here on a mission of peace!”
“Peace?” He spat. “What peace? You’ve already attacked! It is official. Peri has declared war on Benatang.”