Joseph stared down at the slip of paper in his hand in disbelief. The words printed on it laid out his next Slayer’s Guild assignment: the demon lord Amato. The only issue would be reaching it.
“How do you expect me to travel to the planet Saturn?” Joseph asked. “Wouldn’t this task be better suited to someone skilled with spell-casting, someone who can teleport through vast distances of space?”
The man behind the counter sighed. “Joseph, we’ve tried sending wizards to fight Amato, but he’s too resistant to magic. We need someone who can defeat him with a bladed weapon.”
“But how am I supposed to get there? Are you going to summon a whirlwind to transport me, or do I have to grow a pair of wings and fly there myself?”
“Of course not, Joseph. We’ve got a wizard who’ll take you. Don’t worry about it.”
“Okay, if you say so.” Joseph turned to leave the building.
“By the way, there’s something I must warn you of before you go.”
Joseph glanced back. “Oh?”
“The wizard is your return trip home, so make sure nothing happens to him.”
Joseph stared at him for a time before speaking. “I’ll protect him.” Then he left the building.
Outside, Silver, his friend and wolf companion, lifted his head. He leaped off the bench and sprinted over to Joseph. “How did it go?” Silver asked. “Did you get a good assignment, so we can go wild a little?”
“I did, but…”
“But? But what? Is something wrong?”
“Well, the job is a little dangerous, and we’ll have to travel a very long distance.”
“Surely this job will pay us a lot if we have to travel so far. Where’s our next task located?”
“The planet Saturn.”
Silver’s ears drooped. “Saturn?”
“Yes, we’re going to fight the demon lord Amato. It says here that he’s been terrorizing various cities all across the country with his magic powers. He creates plagues that weaken the menfolk and turn their wives infertile, and he sends fragments of Saturn’s rings to destroy buildings.”
“Okay, that’s all well and good, but how are we supposed to get to him, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“Tomorrow we’re meeting a wizard who will take us there. He can’t help us fight Amato, but he can at least watch.”
“And I suppose I’ll have to travel with both of you. At that distance, I’d revert back to the state of a wild animal if we were separated. I wouldn’t even be able to speak.”
“Yes, of course. I’m sure the transport will have enough room to carry you as well.”
“There is one more problem, Joseph. What are we going to do about Ruth?”
“I don’t know, Silver. I just don’t know…”
Joseph found Ruth still in her nightgown when he and Silver arrived back at the inn. He couldn’t help but stare at her as she sat by the window, reading through the pages of a leather-bound book, the light blue nightgown like a cloud around her. Ruth’s orange hair seemed to glow in the sunlight as it tickled her shoulders.
As Joseph admired her, Silver bolted into the room and jumped into her lap. Ruth gasped, then found a smile on her face. She turned to see Joseph standing in the doorway.
Silver slipped off as she stood and walked over to Joseph. She smiled up at him when she got near, but Joseph pressed his lips together. His mind ran over how he could tell her his trip to Saturn and how to say goodbye, possibly forever.
Before he could say anything, she stood on her tiptoes and kissed him. His mind went blank for the moment as their lips touched, and when she pulled away, he just stared at her. She took his hand and pulled him into the room.
“So where is the slayers guild taking us next?” Ruth asked.
Joseph blinked at her. “Well, I’m going somewhere, but you’re going to stay until I return.”
“What? But I’ve gone with you on other slayer tasks. Why won’t you take me along this time?”
“Because it’s too dangerous. I don’t want you getting hurt during the trip or while I’m fighting the demon.”
“I can take care of myself well enough, I’ll have you know. What place is so dangerous that I can’t come along?”
“I’m traveling to the planet Saturn. The demon lord Amato lives there, and the guild has assigned me the task of defeating him.”
“S-Saturn? But that’s millions of miles away from our planet Earth. How will you even get there?”
“I am going to see a wizard tomorrow morning who will take me and Silver there.”
“How long will this trip take? Will I ever s-see you again?” Her eyes started to well with tears.
“I don’t think it’ll take too much time. The guild master would’ve said something if he thought I was going to be away a long time, I think.”
“You think!” She folded her arms, frowning, and stepped toward the window.
He walked closer to her. “Oh, Ruth, I’m sure that we’ll see each other again, even if it’s not for a long while.”
“I don’t want to be apart from you, Joseph.”
“And I don’t want to lose you, Ruth. I won’t be able to defeat the demon if I have to keep you safe as well.”
“But I don’t want to lose you either.” She drew near to him, and Joseph wrapped his arms around her, holding her close.
“I’m sure that we’ll see each other again soon. I won’t be gone that long.” As they held each other, Joseph looked down at Silver, who looked back up at him in silence.
That night, Joseph’s mind kept him awake as it ran over his trip that morning. He had spent the previous day enjoying Ruth’s company, talking with her, sharing meals together. Now that it was nighttime, she slept in the adjacent room. Silver lay at the foot of Joseph’s bed sleeping soundly.
In the morning, he would have to say goodbye to Ruth and travel to another planet. He knew that he couldn’t bring her, but how could he bare to be apart from her? What would he do if he weren’t able to return and see her again?
Still, that would be a better fate than watching her die during the fight. Even if he never saw her again, he would be glad that she was still alive and well. And there was always a chance he might see her again in the future.
When he closed his eyes, he opened them a moment later to see that the sun had risen. Time seemed to have gone by in the span of a blink. Silver had already gotten off the bed to look for food.
Joseph sat up and placed his feet on the floor, taking a moment to rouse himself before standing. Then he went into the other room to say good morning to Ruth, but she was still asleep. She lay on her back facing the ceiling, her mouth open a crack for air. He placed a hand on her shoulder and shook it. She groaned and rolled away from him.
“Just a few more minutes,” she said.
“Ruth, I have to leave pretty soon. Don’t you want to see me off?”
Ruth sat up and looked at him, her eyelids still drooped. “Oh, right. You have to leave today. Give me a moment to wake up and I’ll go with you.”
“Okay, let me get you something to eat.” He nodded to her and left the room. In the inn’s dining area, he found Silver sniffing around the tables.
“Silver, haven’t I taught you any table manners? You don’t go begging strangers for handouts. Besides, I have more than enough to keep you fed.”
Joseph brought him to the dining counter and ordered three plates of breakfast—a couple dishes of eggs, bacon, and toast and a piece of rare meat for Silver. Neither of them spoke as they waited for the food to cook, just stared off into the crowd of diners. Joseph’s mind returned to the task ahead of him.
A soft crash beside him brought him out of his thoughts, and he looked down to see a plate of red meat. Silver reached up to try and grab it, but Joseph snatched the plate away and held it above his head. The wolf climbed onto Joseph, but he still couldn’t reach his breakfast.
“Come on, Silver, at least wait until we’ve gone back to our room.”
“All right, all right…” Silver dropped back to the floor and went back to their room.
Joseph shook his head, picked up the other two plates, and followed him. “What am I going to do with that wild animal?”
When he arrived, Silver had already leaped onto Ruth’s bed. “Wake up, Ruth. Joseph is here with our breakfast.”
Ruth sat up and yawned, stretching her arms. The morning sunlight brightened her orange hair as it poured into the room. Joseph gazed upon her from the doorway, until Silver ran at him and almost pushed him over.
Frowning, Joseph set the plate of meat onto the floor, where Silver snatched it away. As the beef hung from the wolf’s mouth, juices dripped onto the wooden floor. Joseph considered scolding him again, but decided against it. Someone else would clean up after the animal anyway.
He sat down at the foot of Ruth’s bed and placed their plates between them. Silver wrestled with his plate of beef on the floor. After a while, Joseph looked up from his plate at Ruth.
“I had trouble falling asleep last night,” he said.
“So did I. I was so worried about what might happen to you that I stayed up half the night.”
“I worry about you too. I don’t know what I would ever do if something happened to you. That’s why I need you to stay here where it’s safe.”
“But what if you never come back to me?”
“Then I’ll take comfort in knowing that you’re alive and well here on Earth. I need to be sure that you’re safe so I can concentrate on defeating Amato.”
“I know, but…”
There was a pause. Silver growled as he ate.
“I’ll miss you,” Ruth said.
Joseph’s gaze fell down to the bed sheets. “I’ll miss you as well.” A moment passed, then he clenched a fist and looked up at her. “I’ll do what I can to make my trip short.”
Ruth’s face perked up. “You will?”
“Yes, I promise.”
After they finished eating, Joseph and Silver went to meet the wizard, with Ruth following along to see them off. It wasn’t too far from the inn, so Joseph didn’t worry much about her being able to return safely. They came to a small hut in the forest, and when they approached it, an old man wearing long purple robes stepped outside.
“Greetings, young travelers,” he said. “I’m Cedel. A messenger from the slayer’s guild arrived yesterday and said to take you three to Saturn.”
“Oh, no,” Ruth said. “I’m just here to see you off. I’m not coming along.”
“Ah, I understand.” He turned to Joseph. “Are you ready to go?”
“Just give me a moment to say goodbye,” Joseph said.
The wizard nodded.
Joseph turned back to Ruth, who looked up at him with wet eyes. He hesitated a moment, before taking her hand and holding it. She let out a gasp.
“Goodbye, Ruth. I hope that our time apart isn’t long.”
“I’ll pray for your safe return.”
“I appreciate that.” He sighed. “Stay safe while I’m gone, okay?”
Joseph pulled her in close and kissed her.
“So long, Joseph.”
“I’ll see you when I get back.” Then he turned back to the wizard.
“Try to bring Silver back in one piece too,” Ruth said behind him. “I’d miss him if he didn’t return with you.”
“Aw, how kind,” Silver said.
Joseph glanced back at her. “Sure, I’ll keep an eye on him.”
“Hey, I’ll have you know that I can take perfectly good care of myself, thank you.”
“Sure, sure, that’s why I have to order all your meals for you.”
“Hmph!” Silver ran to join him.
“You’re sure that you’re ready now?” Cedel asked. “It’s a long trip to Saturn, and we won’t be able to return if you forgot something. I don’t have the energy to make two round trips in such a short time, so I’d rather not come back here until after you’ve defeated Amato.”
Joseph pulled up his jacket and fingered the hilt of his sword. “No, I’ve got all that I’ll need right here with me.”
“Good, good.” Cedel clapped his hands together. “Let us be off then.”
He started to chant the words that formed his magical spell, and a warm glow formed around the three of them. Joseph turned back to watch Ruth. She smiled at him and waved. He waved back.
The aura turned into a bubble, and they shot off the ground at the speed of light. The world seemed to vanish, replaced with the stars and darkness all around them. Joseph blinked a couple of times and sighed. Every few moments, a planet came into view, loomed above them for a couple seconds, and then disappeared as they passed it by.
Silver rubbed a paw against Joseph’s leg, and he bent down to pet him. The wolf howled as Joseph scratched under his chin.
“Please keep your familiar quiet, Joseph,” Cedel said. “I still need to concentrate on reaching our destination.”
Joseph let his hand fall. As he rose, he scratched his chin and stared out at the starry space. He tried to find the speck of light that was his home planet, but they were already so far away that it was indistinguishable from the many stars around them.
Still, he continued searching for the planet Earth. But his search was interrupted by a tap on the shoulder. And when he looked back, he saw the iconic rings of Saturn closing in. “We’re here,” Cedel said.
In the blink of an eye, they had landed on a rock orbiting Saturn. Many other stones like it floated around them, racing around the planet. The bubble disappeared, yet Joseph found that he was still able to breathe.
Cedel pulled out a pocket watch and stared down at it. “Sixty-seven seconds. I must be getting slow in my old age.”
“Are you kidding?” Joseph asked. “That was the fastest trip I’ve ever had.”
“Well, we’re not quite there yet. We still have a ways to go to get on the planet itself.” He pointed a finger toward it.
Joseph turned to see the greatness of planet Saturn looming in the distance. He stared at the giant beige orb for some time with his mouth agape, before noticing a chill in his toes. Looking down, he saw that they were standing on a large block of ice. In the distance all around them were similar ice shards of varying sizes. They were standing on Saturn’s rings. Joseph looked around in awe at the many pieces of ice floating around them through space.
Cedel shoved a pair of boots into Joseph’s hands. “Here, put these on. Not only will they keep your feet warm, they’ll also help you reach the planet safely.”
Two sets of feathers poked out of the ankle of the boots, moving on their own as if alive. Joseph sat down on the ice, slipped off his old shoes, and put on the boots. With them on, his feet were nice and warm against the cold ice he stood on. When he looked back to Silver, he saw that Cedel had placed a collar around his neck with similar wings sticking out of it.
He laughed. “That’s an interesting collar, Silver.”
“Those boots you’re wearing aren’t much better.”
Cedel grunted. “Enough of this. Let’s move before Amato notices our approach.”
Then Cedel leaped from the block of ice toward the planet. Joseph and Silver shared a look, before following the wizard. As they flew through space the planet seemed to get larger and larger. Soon, it became impossible to view the entire thing with a single glance. He realized that Saturn’s size easily dwarfed that of his home planet Earth. Joseph aimed his feet toward the base of the orb when he drew close, though he was surprised to find his limbs pass through it.
The planet swallowed him, covered him in a haze of beige fog. He couldn’t see more than a few feet ahead. He looked around for Silver, then called out to him. A howl returned the call, so Joseph drifted toward the sound. He reached out his arms and grabbed Silver, holding him close.
“Joseph, I can’t see!”
“Neither can I, Silver. I think we’ve entered Saturn’s atmosphere.”
A moment later, the solid core of the planet met them. The ice appeared out of the beige fog, and Joseph landed on it. The feathers of his boots flapped fast as a hummingbird just before he touched down.
“Well, we’ve both landed in one piece,” Joseph said. “But where’s the wizard, Cedel?” They looked around, but the wizard was nowhere to be seen.
The cold wind blew against Joseph as he and Silver walked through the snow covered hills. He held a hand in front of his face to shield him from the falling snowflakes. The cold weather made him very glad that he remembered to bring his coat.
Silver kept pace along with him. Every few moments, he would let out a howl. Joseph called out as well in hope that Cedel would hear. By then, they had been searching for over an hour and were starting to think they would never find him.
The light around them began to dim as the sun set through the fog. After awhile, Joseph looked down at Silver beside him. When the wolf didn’t respond, he returned to searching the surroundings. Soon they came to a cave in the side of a large hill and decided to rest inside.
Silver crawled up into a ball on the floor, and Joseph lay down beside him. He took off his jacket and lay it on top of both of them to keep warm. They rested for a time as Joseph tried to keep his mind off of their search. His thoughts traveled back to Ruth, who was now millions of miles away. What was she doing, he thought, while waiting for his return?
After a while, he drifted off to sleep for some time. Silver’s wet tongue woke him up later. The sun was bright again when he opened his eyes, but it seemed to him as though only a moment had passed. His head ached as he stood on his feet and stared through the mouth of the cave.
“How long have we been asleep, Silver?” he asked.
“I’m not sure,” Silver said. “Maybe time on Saturn passes differently.”
“Maybe.” Joseph stared down at the cave floor, then put on his jacket again. He shook his head to remove the dreariness and stepped out of the cave.
Silver followed him as he returned to his search for Cedel. Even with the morning sunlight, he could still barely see a few feet ahead in Saturn’s thick fog. So his eyes opened wide when a black demon stepped out of the haze. It carried a shovel in its hands and ran it through the snow, clearing a small path ahead. It looked up from the snow at Joseph and stopped.
Joseph’s eyes narrowed when he realized that the creature was the demon lord Amato. Before he could react, it struck him with the shovel, and he fell into a snowbank. A cloud of white powder flew around him, further obscuring his vision. Behind him, he heard Silver growl.
Joseph stood and shook off the snow, then turned to find Silver leaping at the jet black figure. The wolf bit into its arm, but Amato shook him off.
Joseph drew his sword and advanced toward the demon. It stared down at him with eyes of bright yellow. It’s wings spread out across several feet, looming over Joseph.
He was sure now that this was the demon Amato, ruler of the planet Saturn. His grip tightened around his sword as it stepped toward him. Amato swept a claw at him, but Joseph moved his sword to block the attack.
Joseph shoved back against the demon, slicing against its hand. A small trickle of demon blood flew out as Amato pulled back. It screamed. He tried covering his ears to halt the noise, but that was difficult while still holding his sword. And he didn’t dare let go of it. Silver leaped at Amato and tore off a piece of its wing.
Amato swung its shovel at Silver as he ran away, but it slammed against the ground. Silver spat out the demon flesh into the snow and stuck out his tongue. The demon chased after him with its shovel raised to strike again, but Joseph stepped between them. He slashed his blade along Amato’s chest.
Amato screamed again and swung his shovel into Joseph’s head. He gasped as a jolt of pain ran through his skull. As he collapsed in a pile of snow, the last thing he saw was Amato flying back into the fog.
When Joseph awoke, Cedel was staring at Joseph with Silver beside him. The sky was pitch black, with the only light a lamp which Cedel carried. Joseph blinked at them a couple times, then held his head. It still ached from the fall, as did the side of his body.
“W-What happened?” he asked.
“I chased the demon off after you hit your head,” Silver said. “But I lost it in the fog, so I came back for you. Cedel eventually found us and woke you up.”
“He did?” Joseph turned to him.
“Yes, and you should consider yourself lucky that I got here when I did. Why did you even try to fight Amato without finding me first?”
“Well, we searched for hours but couldn’t find you.”
“That’s your own fault for getting separated in the first place. Now let’s get going.” Cedel turned. “While you were snoozing, I found the location of Amato’s castle.”
Joseph stood and followed Cedel into the darkness. He glanced down at Silver who walked beside him, then back to the path ahead. They could barely see a thing in Saturn’s thick fog, but Joseph trusted that Cedel knew where he was going. The wizard had gotten them this far; he could see them to the end.
Some time later, a large set of doors appeared, and Cedel stopped in front of it. The castle design reminded him of the sort of architecture Joseph often saw on Earth. Several bones and pieces of torn cloth stuck out of the snow. Joseph and Silver watched from behind him as he waved a glowing hand in front of the door’s lock. The door opened a second later.
They entered, and Joseph stared wide-eyed at the surroundings. The fog from outside hadn’t penetrated the castle walls, for he could now see all the way across the room without anything blocking his vision. The interior walls seemed bent at bizarre angles, and strange tubes and unknown devices stuck out of them.
A large multicolored carpet ran along the floor to the end of the room, where an ornate display stood. Joseph found the sculpture so hideously ugly that he could not bare to look at it for more than a moment before having to turn away. Silver started to growl, but Joseph quieted him.
Several doors lined the walls, and Joseph was curious as to what they stored, but Cedel paid them no mind. He decided not to risk angering the wizard again by venturing off the beaten path.
Joseph felt a pain in his gut when they reached the evil display against the far wall. He frowned as he glanced up at it again, then looked back to Cedel. “Shouldn’t we be searching for Amato? Why did you drag us here?”
“The demon Amato is currently busy tending to the wound your wolf companion here gave its wing. It would take hours to search this place. I think it’ll be faster if we attract Amato here.”
“But how are we going to do that?”
“Like this!” Cedel pounded his fist into the disgusting figure. It flew off the table and smashed into the wall. Seeing it crumble to pieces made Joseph’s stomach calm.
He was about to ask what that would do when a loud scream answered his question. His vision darted to each of the doors along the walls. Then the demon dropped down from the ceiling. A cloth was stuck to the bite on its wing.
Silver ran at Amato, and Joseph was about to join the fight when Cedel stopped him. “Let me see your sword for a moment, Joseph,” Cedel asked.
Joseph turned to him. “What? Why?”
“Because, I have one spell left which you might find useful.”
Joseph reluctantly handed him his weapon. “Couldn’t you have done this before smashing Amato’s shrine?”
“No, I couldn’t risk the spell wearing off before he appeared. It only lasts a short time.” Cedel’s hands glowed as he held the blade. The aura wrapped itself around the weapon, and it began to sparkle. Then he passed the sword back to Joseph.
It felt a little lighter in Joseph’s grasp, and he could feel his strength increase as he held it. Silver’s growling snapped him out of his thoughts. Joseph looked up to see the wolf and demon clashing several feet ahead. He ran to join the battle, leaving Cedel behind to watch.
When he arrived at the fight, Silver was sinking his teeth into the demon’s leg while it clawed at him. Joseph struck his sword against Amato’s shoulder. It screamed as the blade sliced into its flesh. Amato jerked away and leaped back. Joseph’s sword slipped through his fingers.
He glanced down at Silver, who in turn looked up at him, then they both ran at the demon. Amato tried to grab Joseph’s glowing sword, but shrieked when he touched it. Silver leaped at the demon and shoved him into the carpet floor below. The pommel of Joseph’s sword struck the floor and fell out of Amato’s shoulder. Amato took it, but shouted after merely touching it and shrieked back.
Joseph took his sword back and sliced through Amato’s forearm. Demon blood leaked out of it’s wound. The hand fell to the floor and quickly scurried up Amato’s leg. The appendage rested on its shoulder.
Silver barked at the hand, and it jumped off its owner and landed on his head. The wolf wrestled with Amato’s severed hand. Joseph turned his attention back to the demon.
Amato’s arm had stopped bleeding, so it let go and stepped toward Joseph. It reached out with its right hand to scratch him, but Joseph held the sword in front of his face and blocked the claws. Grunting, Amato shoved Joseph down to his knee. Joseph strained to keep upright, but soon fell back against the demon’s weight. He rolled aside to keep from getting struck by Amato and lost hold of his sword.
The demon stepped around the glowing weapon to Joseph. It barred its yellow-brown teeth at him and hissed. Joseph darted his eyes around, but couldn’t find anything to strike with. He backed into a crooked door, felt for the knob, and found it locked. Behind Amato, Silver still fought with its severed hand.
Amato stabbed its hand at Joseph’s heart. Joseph caught the claws in his bare hands, inches before his chest. He held it there for a short time, before dodging out of the way and letting go. The demon’s claw shot into the wooden door. Joseph ran past the demon, while it tugged at its arm to try and free itself.
Joseph picked up his sword and held it tight. The blade still glowed, and he felt the heightened strength return. He advanced toward Amato, who glanced back at him.
He swung his blade down against the demon. Amato ripped his claw out of the door. Wood splinters spayed around them. It moved its hand to block, but Joseph cut through its arm. The blade struck Amato in the neck, and the demon went down.
The sword in Joseph’s hands shined even brighter and then went dark. Amato stared up at Joseph, wide-eyed, then turned to the far wall. It shot out its left arm. Joseph turned.
Amato’s hand leaped out from under Silver’s paw and flew toward Cedel. Before either of them could move, it pierced the wizard’s chest. Cedel let out a gasp and fell back against the wall.
Joseph heard a low laugh and turned. Amato was cackling as he collapsed on the carpet floor. He frowned and raced over to Cedel.
Cedel groaned as Joseph held him up. Silver ran up beside him and peered over his shoulder. Joseph darted his eyes between Cedel’s face and the wound on his chest.
“Don’t worry, Cedel. We’ll get you fixed up and ready to go.”
“No, this is it, Joseph.” Cedel coughed. “Don’t worry over my death. I’ve lived a full life, and I know where I’m going.”
Joseph’s eyes pleaded. “But surely we can do something to save you. Isn’t there some healing spell you can cast?”
“Even if I knew of one, I don’t have the strength to cast it now.”
“Don’t worry, Joseph. I’ll keep an eye on you from Heaven above.” Then Cedel closed his eyes and grew still.
Joseph let go of Cedel’s body and stood. He turned around and stared down at Silver. “Let’s get going, Silver.”
“Aren’t you forgetting something, master?”
“Oh, what would that be?”
“How are we going to get home without Cedel to cast another spell for us?”
“That’s right. How are we going to get home?” Joseph’s face grew still as he stared down at Silver. Then he looked up toward the sky, to where his home planet was. And as he stared, he wondered how he was ever going to see Ruth again.