“Bella and I were imprisoned for nearly ten years, but we managed to pick up some gossip here and there,” Rella said as she scratched her head. “I’ll start from when Mom captured one of those worms from the demon’s capital. She wanted to experiment with the worms after seeing their destructive power while fighting against you, so she abducted the rest of the demon’s royal family members.”
Bella shivered as she hugged her shoulders. “She tortured them,” Bella said, her voice quavering. “It was horrible. She hung them upside down by chains and had them vote on who to infect with the worms. I’ve never seen her act that way before.”
Lindyss and Vur frowned while Tafel’s face blanched. “Well, that’s to be expected,” Lindyss said with a sigh. “She was imprisoned and used as a mana source for over four centuries. What else happened?”
Rella and Bella looked at each other. “Well, she came back and overthrew the secondaries’ and tertiaries’ queens. She seized all their birthflowers and ordered everyone to set up the tunnel system. Afterwards, she had us kidnap humans and demons who wandered into our illusions,” Rella said as she looked down. “Bella and I refused, so she imprisoned us for being bad children who didn’t listen to mommy.”
“Ahem,” a voice said from under Grimmy’s wing. “I couldn’t help but overhear about secondary and tertiary queens?” Charon’s head peeked out and he climbed up Grimmy’s scales before standing behind the fairies.
Lindyss furrowed her brow. “And what exactly are you doing here?” she asked.
“Now, now,” Charon said as he raised his arms in front of himself, “don’t be mad. I did everything you asked me to before coming along.” He turned towards the fairies. “I never really had a chance to study fairies before, such elusive creatures. Come, tell me about these queens.”
“But,” Rella said and looked at Lindyss before turning back to Charon, “there’s more important things.”
“Nonsense,” Charon scoffed. “Knowledge is power. Nothing is more important than knowledge.”
Lindyss sighed. “You continue telling me about what happened,” she said towards Rella. She pointed at Bella. “You go entertain the crazy old man.”
“Eh?” Bella asked as she pointed at herself. “No wa-“
Rella shuddered as Bella was dragged away by Charon. “Anyways,” she said and cleared her throat. “We heard a lot of conversation between the fairies who watched over us. They’ve been breeding the worms in pools saturated with mana and letting them infect the humans and demons that they kidnapped. Just very recently, one of the fairies screwed up and the worms infected at least one fairy who freed us, most likely by coincidence.”
Lindyss nodded. “So it wasn’t a planned attack,” she said as she thought back towards the Leonis household’s farmland. “Why didn’t Stella stop them? I don’t believe she was unable to.”
“She locked herself in a room and told everyone not to disturb her,” Rella said. “That can only mean two things since she didn’t come out to quell the commotion: she’s focusing on a long-distanced mind-control target or she’s making seeds for new birthflowers.”
“It’s the mind-control,” Lindyss said. “Her objective was most likely to bring the humans’ ancestors’ powers or pope back here. If we can use this opportunity to eliminate her while she’s in someone else’s body, then we wouldn’t have to resort to genocide.”
“Are there any uninfected humans or demons?” Tafel asked.
Rella nodded. “Most of them are just locked up because they’d be too hard to store if they were infected,” she said. “I heard some fairies complain about having to deliver them food.”
“That makes things more problematic,” Lindyss said. “It’s hard enough to deal with Stella on her own turf without having to worry about collateral damage. Do you know many humans and demons there are?”
“No, but there should be no less than a thousand,” Rella said. “Mom wanted the tunnels to be big enough to house over ten thousand humans.”
“How do they feed that many people?” Tafel tilted her head and muttered.
Rella’s face turned green. “You don’t want to know,” she said and shuddered. “You really don’t.”
Vur raised an eyebrow. “Cannibalism?” he asked. Rella turned her head away.
“Forget it,” Lindyss said. “Can you draw a map of the place with all the important locations we have to look out for?”
Rella heaved a sigh of relief as she turned towards Lindyss while avoiding Tafel’s and Vur’s gazes. She raised her hand up and started to draw on the air with blue lines of mana. “These were the original plans for the tunnels,” Rella said as a web of tunnels came into view, “but I don’t know how much has changed over the years. Over here is where they imprisoned Rella and me. The fairies living quarters are over there. Their birthflowers are beneath Mom’s chambers, which are down at the lowest level, with the worm pools a passage away. The humans and demons are supposed to be stored over here.”
“It looks like a mixture of an ant colony and a bee hive,” Charon said as he rubbed his chin and peered over Rella’s shoulder. “Very interesting.”
“I understand the layout,” Lindyss said, ignoring Charon’s comments. “We have three objectives here, it looks like: take down Stella, eliminate the worms, and free the humans and demons.”
“Can you save the birthflowers too?” Bella asked. “It’d be bad if they got damaged during battle. A fairy can be reborn as long as their birthflower is still alive.”
Vur’s eyes widened. “Then Yella?” he asked. “You said yo-“
“No,” Rella said in a low voice and shook her head. “She gave her soul to you. She can’t come back.”
Vur’s shoulders drooped. Rella flew up to him and kicked his bicep. “Stop looking so droopy,” she said and pouted. “She gave her life for you. You have to live yours to the fullest now. For her. It’s the least you can do.”
Tafel squeezed his hand. “Me too,” she said and sighed. “Yella wouldn’t have died if I didn’t act so rashly. We owe it to her to save her sisters.” Vur nodded, eyes still downcast.
“Then it’s settled. Charon and Bella will free the humans and demons. Tafel will move the birthflowers with Rella. Vur will kill the worms,” Lindyss said and clenched her hand. “And I will take care of Stella.”
“I think you’re forgetting someone,” Grimmy said with narrowed eyes.
“What are you going to do?” Lindyss asked. “You’d never fit in the tunnels. They’re only big enough to transport humans with.” She pat his head and smiled. “Just wait here like a good boy, alright?”
Grimmy snorted and growled. The passengers riding on his head and back screamed as he dove headfirst towards the ground. His body shattered the ground like a black meteorite, causing plumes of dust and earth to shoot into the air. Screams whistled out the tunnels and into the air around them, sounding like a discombobulated organ.
Grimmy roared and stomped his front right claw against the ground, causing a cave-in under him. “I’ll wait right here,” he said as he shook his passengers off of him, “but I’m not your dog.”
“Ah,” Lindyss said and sighed as she fixed her ruffled hair. “It was just a joke. Dragons and their pride.” She clicked her tongue and looked around at the rest of the people who were on the ground with pale faces. “Well, what are you waiting for? Go on. We all have jobs to do.”
“Yes!” They shouted and rushed down the closest tunnel entrance as Lindyss watched from behind.
Grimmy flicked her forehead. “I have to watch my appearance when we’re in public, you know?”
“I know,” Lindyss said and stuck her tongue out at him before entering the tunnel herself.