Rella opened her eyes. Her lips cracked when she inhaled after she peeled her tongue off the roof of her mouth. I’m alive? she thought. She turned her head to the left and saw Bella lying next to her. Rella sat up and the remainder of her manacles fell off her wrists with a clinking sound.
“Bella,” Rella said and leaned over the blue-haired fairy’s body. She shook her shoulders with her hands. “Wake up, Bella. Please, wake up.” She took her fingers and placed them along Bella’s neck, feeling for a pulse. After a moment passed, she heaved a sigh of relief and started to observe her surroundings.
The metal bars with the runic inscriptions, that had previously blocked the entrance to the cave, were gone, only a faint trace of metal residue remained. The chains and manacles on the two fairy’s bodies were reduced to a similar state. Rella picked up a manacle and saw teeth marks on a broken edge. The image of the amber-haired fairy eating the chains appeared in her head and cold sweat rolled down her back.
Rella whipped her head around and stared at Bella. “Bella! We have to get out of here,” Rella said and helped Bella onto her feet.
“We’re free?” Bella asked. Her eyes widened. “Is this a trap?” She shoved Rella over and retreated backwards until her body collided with the cave wall behind her.
“You stupid nit!” Rella said as she picked herself off the floor. “I’m not a trap. One of the tertiaries messed up and got infected by those worms.”
Bella shivered. “You know what happened the last time we tried to escape,” she said as tears formed in the corner of her eyes. “I don’t want to go through that again.”
Rella crossed her arms over her chest. “This is the only chance we’re going to get,” she said. “I saw the infected tertiary with my own eyes. Come on.” She extended her hand towards Bella.
Bella trembled, but walked towards Rella and took her hand.
Rella nodded. “Let’s go,” she said. “We need to tell someone about the worms. We have to find Vur. He can stop Mom.”
“Where’s Roy?” Vur asked Lillian. He stood over Michelle and wiped the sweat off his brow. Paul was starting to stir behind him. Grimmy had lifted the roof of the temple off the building and was peaking inside. Tafel held Floofykins in her lap as she watched Vur work.
Lillian shook her head. “I don’t know where Roy went. Trent attacked me after Paul and Michelle,” she said as she clutched her shoulders and shuddered.
“Who’s Trent?” Lindyss asked as she inspected the altar in the temple. She took the bowl that held the remains of the crystals used to summon the spirits.
“He was one of the winners of the competition,” Lillian said. “He was the second-place warrior.”
“Did you notice anything strange about him?” Lindyss asked as she rummaged through the rubble.
Lillian shook her head. “I never met him before, so I wouldn’t know,” she said. “And we didn’t see the competition either because we were… preoccupied. He seemed norm- wait. His eyes. When he stabbed me, they looked like Stella’s.”
The rock in Lindyss’ hand turned to dust as she made a fist. “Stella?” she asked, narrowing her eyes at Lillian.
Lillian took a step back and gulped. “Yeah, Stella was a warrior in the competition, but she lost in the first round,” she said. “Her eyes were reptilian and they kept changing colors. It felt like they could see through to your soul.” She shuddered.
The floor underneath Lindyss shattered. “I see,” she said with a tight smile. “This may be a bigger problem than I thought.”
“What do you mean?” Charon asked. He had ‘borrowed’ a set of priest robes to cover his naked body.
“The queen of the fairies kidnapped the pope and the crown prince,” Lindyss said. “And somehow, the crown prince’s dragon gets infected by parasites at the same time.” Lindyss chewed on her lip.
“So the fairy queen has access to the worms?” Charon asked with a frown. His brows creased. “Didn’t you sell her off around four centuries ago?”
Lindyss nodded. “That’s the problem,” she said. “I wouldn’t put it past her to breed the worms and unleash them all over this continent. We’ll have to let the humans, demons, and elves know about this. I don’t suppose you have a way of stopping the worms?” She turned to Charon.
Charon nodded. “I do, in fact,” he said. “You can squish them easily as long as they don’t have a host.”
“And if they do have a host?” Lindyss asked with a raised eyebrow.
Charon shrugged. “Tear them apart with orichalcum,” he said.
“Isn’t that what they did in Trummer when Johann first arrived?”
“And now Trummer is completely overrun except for Fuselage, right?”
“That is also correct.”
“Goddamnit, Exzenter. What the hell have you been doing for the past millennium?” Lindyss asked as she kicked him. “You seriously banked the future of the world on you stopping yourself?”
Charon made a face. “It was a good bet,” he said. “After all, I got to spend a thousand years studying to my heart’s content. If I was going to stop existing after I stopped myself, then of course I wanted to know how everything in the world worked. What would you have done if you knew you were going to vanish after a thousand years?”
Lindyss sighed. “Get out,” she said and rubbed her temples. “I don’t need your existentialist nonsense right now. Bring the king and his advisors to Konigreich. A meeting needs to be held.”
“I can bring the demons,” Tafel said as she stood up.
“Alright,” Lindyss said. “We will c-“
Lindyss stopped talking and frowned.
Tafel tilted her head. “Did something happen?”
Lindyss creased her brow. “A squad of skeletons was just eliminated by a group of infected fairies,” she said. “Stella’s making her move. She was hiding right under our noses on the border between the three nations. My bats located a series of underground caves that must’ve been hidden with illusion magic.”
“Infected fairies? Like, by the worm things you were talking about?” Lillian asked.
Lillian’s face blanched. “The Leonis household is stationed on the border. My grandfather’s there.”