The moon shone overhead as Mina meandered through the camp. After walking for a while, she looked up and saw the camp’s makeshift barrier leading outside.
“Halt,” a voice called out above her, “who goes there?”
Mina looked up and saw a familiar figure. Her chest tightened. “Dustin,” she said with a neutral face.
“Mina…” Dustin said and let a breath out, “you shouldn’t be wandering around at night; it’s dangerous.”
“I appreciate the concern, but I can take care of myself,” she said and asked, “Why are you on guard duty?”
“You’re underestimating the undead,” Dustin said and shook his head. “I’d like to not get robbed this time. I figure the best way to do that is take up guard duty myself.”
Mina nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind,” she said as she started to walk outside the camp.
“Stop,” Dustin said. “I can’t let you leave. No one’s allowed to go out during the night in case of ambushes.”
“You think I can’t handle myself?” Mina asked. Her horns pulsed with a faint red color.
“That’s beside the point,” Dustin said and sighed. “I know you’re worried about Tafel, but she’s strong, Mina. She inherited your personality, you know? We’ll get her back tomorrow. I’m sure the you from back then would’ve loved to explore the undead kingdom, wouldn’t Tafel too?”
Mina clenched her hands and glared at Dustin. She stood there for a five seconds before turning back towards the camp. “Thank you…” she muttered towards the ground. Dustin watched her back disappear into the shadows before turning around to face the fields again. He sighed.
“Auntie!” Tafel shouted. Lindyss was in her room, sitting on the edge of her bed with mana crystals lying around her. She looked up and saw Tafel in the hallway running towards her. Tafel spread her arms open for a hug and leapt at Lindyss.
Lindyss stuck her finger out and poked Tafel in the forehead before she could reach her. She fell to the floor and looked up with tears in her eyes.
“You smell gross,” Lindyss said as she got off the bed. “Take a bath first.”
She bent down and ruffled Tafel’s already disheveled hair. “It’s good to see you again, Tafel.” She grabbed Tafel’s hand and pulled her to her feet.
Tafel pouted. “I couldn’t take a bath for a week,” she said and looked down at her dress while frowning. Lindyss smiled and rummaged through her closet. She pulled out a Tafel sized sweater and pants.
“Vogel, take Tafel to the baths and then bring her to Vur when she’s done,” Lindyss said as she passed the clothes to Tafel. A vampire bat dropped down from the ceiling and perched on Tafel’s head.
“Yes, master!” it said and grabbed Tafel’s upper horns like reins. “This way,” it said while tugging on her right horn.
Tafel nodded and made her way to the baths. Lindyss watched Tafel leave and then stored the mana crystals in a chest underneath her bed. She stretched her arms above her head and motioned for the skeleton messenger to come in.
“Report,” she said.
The messenger nodded. “The demon lord saw me take Tafel away. They sent men to stop us, but they couldn’t do anything,” the skeleton said and scratched his head. “I suspect I may have angered him as I left.”
“So we should be expecting company?” Lindyss asked as she rubbed her chin.
The skeleton nodded.
Lindyss smiled. “Good,” she said. “Let’s ready a welcoming party for them.”
Clanging sounds rang throughout the field as metal collided against metal. Bones snapped and crunched as blunt weapons smashed against them. Cackling filled the sky as skeletons laughed and swung their weapons. The final line of defense in front of them wore full mithril plate armor and stood in front of a tent. The skeletons surrounded the knights and swarmed them, bringing them to their knees with sheer numbers.
The undead leader cackled while standing in a tent behind his army. “You lose again,” he said. The skeletons tore down the tent in front of them and knocked over Vur’s table. He pouted.
“That wasn’t fair,” he said. The undead leader and Vur were separated by a field filled with fallen skeletons that started to collect their bones and rise again. The two were seated in tents with a table that let them command the skeletons on the field.
“All is fair in war,” the leader said and grinned. “Dead men can’t complain about a loss.”
Vur tilted his head. “But aren’t yo-“
“Hush, it’s just a saying,” the undead leader said. “Want to play again?”
Vur turned his head and got tackled to the ground by Tafel.
“Tafel,” Vur said with a smile as he put his arms around her.
“Never leave me again, okay?” Tafel asked as she buried her head into his chest and clutched his back.
Vur ran his fingers through her hair. “I won’t,” he said and closed his eyes. “I promise.”
The nearby skeletons all inched away from the two and tiptoed back to the leader across the field. The leader approached the two children on the floor.
“So this is Tafel, eh?” the undead leader said as he sat down next to them. “Isn’t it a little too early in the morning to be doing this?”
Tafel climbed off of Vur and sat up with her face red. Vur got up and held her hand.
“You’re the princess of the demons?” the leader asked.
“I have to thank you,” the skeleton said. “I haven’t had this much fun messing with people since I died.”
Tafel tilted her head. “Err, you’re welcome… I guess?” she said.
The leader’s teeth clacked together as he chuckled. “I look forward to serving you in the future,” it said.
“Me?” Tafel asked. “Why me?”
The leader stared at her. “Because you’re going to be our empress, no?” it asked and pointed at Vur. “If he’s the emperor, then you’re the empress.”
“Wait. What about auntie Lindyss?” Tafel asked with wide eyes. “Isn’t she the ruler?”
“No,” the leader said, “she’s our lord and resurrector. Our god, if you want to call her that.”
“God…,” Tafel mumbled. “What does she get from creating this empire if she doesn’t want to rule it?”
“Mana,” the skeleton said, “everyone here pumps their mana into crystals to exchange for food and shelter. Our lord takes the crystals and uses the mana to purify the illness in her body.”
“She’s sick?” Tafel asked. She thought back to all the times Lindyss cast magic and shook her head.
“A long time a-“
Lindyss appeared behind the skeleton leader and punted his head off with her foot. “Stop spreading rumors about me,” she said.
The undead leader saluted with its headless body and walked over to retrieve its cranium. It twisted its head back on and looked at Tafel. “Maybe some other time,” it said and went back to the army of skeletons on the other side of the field.
Lindyss smiled at the two children. “We’re throwing a party,” she said and turned to Tafel. “I think I interrupted yours. Sorry about that.”
Tafel shook her head. “It’s okay,” she said. “I didn’t like it.”
“What kind of party?” Vur asked. “Will there be cake and cookies?”
Lindyss paled. “Only two slices of cake at most for you, okay?” she asked. The first time Vur discovered cake, he ate three of them and wrecked a portion of the forest in the following sugar rush.
Vur pouted. “Okay,” he said.
“Wear nice clothes too,” she said. “Tafel’s parents are going to be there.”
“Yes, Auntie,” Vur said.
“Really?” Tafel asked. “My parents will be here?” Her body trembled. Vur tightened his grip on her hand.
“Don’t worry,” Lindyss said and smiled. “You won’t be in trouble. Come, the party’s starting in a few hours.” She turned around and walked back towards the city. The two children looked at each other and followed behind her.
“When did you start wearing nice clothes?” Tafel asked Vur who was shirtless.
Vur shrugged. “Grimmy said that even dragons have to look nice sometimes to impress the ladies,” Vur said, “and since I don’t have my scales or wings yet, I have to wear clothes to look better.”
Lindyss laughed. “Didn’t you also want to wear a bow tie like the one I made for Grimmy?” she asked and turned to wink at Tafel. “He’s dressing up just for you.”
Tafel and Vur’s faces turned red as they looked away from each other, but their hands held each other tighter.