The air was reeking of desolation and dread. Two horses rapidly galloped onwards with a relentless monster hard on heels. Those soldiers who had now been bestowed a respite looked on in shock and trepidation.
For one, never had they seen a Lark give chase as such; and two, one of the persons in the trotting pair was the most unexpected.
With the Lark right behind, Sven couldn’t stop mid-way. He couldn’t even turn around to gauge the distance between them. There was only one goal now: follow the queen’s plan to lure it to the square until the very end. He had to put as much distance between him and the trailing death, hoping to find a warrior when they got there. A lot depended on luck and a lot more on speed.
From time to time, he’d side-eye to check on the queen. To guide the way, he was but one large step ahead of her horse. However, never once did he slow down nor did the royalty ever fall behind. It was only now that he remembered the queen was said to possess remarkable equestrian skills, and today he had had a chance to experience it first hand.
“To the right!” Sven shouted pointing at the approaching crossroads.
Both horses turned at the corner, this straight road led right to the square. A tree could be seen in the middle of the square in the distance.
There we go! She wouldn’t need my lead anymore.
Sven turned to look back, planning on drawing the Lark’s attention to himself.
He gritted his teeth, just when he thought they had gained some distance the Lark had caught up already. It looked as though it could almost bite the tail of the queen’s horse. He’s alarmed! Although the square was right in front of them, getting the monster off the queen’s back was the top priority.
He slowed down his horse and threw the hidden shuriken at the Lark. It was an emergency hidden weapon that all warriors possessed. The long needle-shaped weapon was capable of breaking through Lark’s membrane shield and directly injure it.
The weapon flew straight to the monster’s ear. Although the shuriken could not cause fatal injury it was still effective in distracting it. He prepared himself for the ensuing attack.
Alas, to his astonishment, there came none. The Lark simply flicked its ears and didn’t even look at Sven.
It seemed like today the world was dead set upon defying him. First, the queen refused to return to the palace. Then the Lark refused to attack him. And now, his horse had resolved to disregard him.
Even though Sven kicked the charger in the ribs with all his might, it slowed down rather than follow his instructions. The horse that was regarding the Lark with wary eyes refused to go any faster, acting like a harmless herbivore facing a predator. As the tug of war between the master and steed continued, the distance between him and the queen charging onward kept growing.
Just a little further.
As she turned the corner, Eugene spotted the tree in the middle of the town square. She slouched in order to reduce wind resistance. All she had to do was go straight, so she focused on speeding up her horse.
She, who didn’t know how to ride a bike in her world, was sprinting skillfully. The sound of the wind crashing into her ears, the view of the streets breezing past, and the rumbling of the hooves from under, all felt surreal.
On the right flank, she noticed a movement catching up from behind.
When did Sir Sven change sides?
Eugene glanced to her left but couldn’t spot Sven who was supposed to be helming the snare. She then looked to the right and her gaze met a huge, gray-furred thing that could not possibly be a man on horseback.
The moment she realized that it was not a knight but a Lark running abreast, her horse had noticed the monster as well.
Startled, the petrified animal lost the chase. Out of habit, it raised its front legs in the air while it’s terrified neighs resounded through the streets. The abrupt halt threw the momentum of the racing horse into disarray; it lost balance, twisted, and tripped over its own leg with a loud thud.
Eugene bounced off the horse, her body flew away at a rapid pace. It all happened in the blink of an eye…
Her first feeling was very ominous, the upside-down world unfolded like a panorama before her eyes. Was this the near-death experience that people talked about? She saw a white light drawing closer and closer… gradually, her world plunged into darkness… she lost consciousness.
Before she could touch the ground, out of nowhere, a black beast appeared by her side. With nimble movements, the black panther gently caught the plummeting figure in its mouth.
Abu carefully laid Eugene down on the ground. Her body staggered, appearing even more weightless. He gently nudged the motionless woman with the tip of his nose. He whimpered at her lack of response.
He waited, patiently guarding her… never once leaving her side.
After a while Eugene regained consciousness. As she slowly opened her eyes she met a pair of red orbs looking down at her.
Her mind was vacant. She was not afraid even when she saw those eyes as big as a child’s head boring into her. All she saw in those blood-red orbs was warmth.
“… Abu?” She whispered.
Abu’s sudden sharp holler shook the surroundings, Eugene snapped back to her senses and the peaceful reunion turned into a pandemonium.
While Abu was focused on tending to Eugene, the giant rat had bitten his tail. Right now, the king’s Hwansu in his original form appeared colossal even against the giant rat. Such a scenario, where a little Lark launched a pre-emptive strike against a larger one was simply unheard of. It was a basic survival instinct after all.
This was also the reason why Abu had completely ignored its presence in the first place. But this ‘little one’ had dared to sneak attack him.
Despite Abu’s thunderous warning, the giant brown rat didn’t back down. It shrieked, flourished its pointed front teeth, seemingly ready for an assault.
In response, brandishing his claws, Abu swung his front paws at the ‘little one’, the power sending it staggering to the ground.
Unnerved, the Lark floundered to its feet, lifted its head, snarled, and dashed towards Abu without hesitation. Its sharp front teeth pierced into Abu´s forelimb like a knife.
Abu was seething with rage, murderous intent flitted past his red eyes. Larks were forbidden from hunting without their master´s permission. Since the time he had arrived, Abu had been controlling himself, only looking to keep this errant ‘little one’ subdued until its master arrived. But now, he couldn’t stand it anymore. This one was asking for a good spanking!
Shudders spread through the skies as the two giant monsters faced off. The ground thumped as the duo flipped over and over. This fierce and frantic battle between the Lark and Abu would certainly not end easily.