“This way!” Rella pointed. The mist surrounding her body followed her arm.
“We just came from there,” Tafel said and frowned. “You’re lost. Admit it.”
Rella pouted. “It’s not my fault the witch rushed us all in here,” she said and landed on top of Tafel’s head. “Why don’t you do something instead of complaining then?”
“Watch me,” Tafel said and her horns started to glow green. She closed her eyes and a sphere of wind radiated outwards from her body. The wind howled through the tunnels, forcing the few fairies lingering around to lose their balance and tumble around. A minute passed.
Tafel opened her eyes as her horns dimmed. “This way,” she said. “I found the captives, but no signs of Charon or Bella. I couldn’t locate the birthflowers either.” Tafel sprinted down the tunnels, weaving past the few fairies.
The two traveled deeper into the cave until they reached a massive archway with three fairies playing cards in front of it. Tafel approached them, still cloaked by Rella’s invisibility spell, and drew her sword. She stabbed it between the fairies. A snake made of smoke sprang out of the sword and swallowed the three. It disappeared, leaving behind three sleeping fairies.
“It’s here,” Tafel said and resheathed her sword as she walked through the archway. She walked through the dark passageway with Rella flying next to her and rounded a bend. A soft blue light greeted the two. In front of them was a steep cliff, leading to a pit that contained thousands of bodies. The walls were peppered with blue stones that illuminated the captives.
Tafel wrinkled her nose and held back the urge to vomit. Rella pinched her nose as tears sprang to her eyes. “This smells so bad,” she said, her voice nasally. “Are they even alive?”
Tafel frowned. “I can’t teleport this many people,” she said and stepped towards the edge of the cliff. She drew her sword and held it in front of her. An orange flame blazed into life on its blade. The mist surrounding her and Rella dispersed. Whimpers rose from the bottom of the pit as the eyes of the captives were drawn to the flames.
“Is there anyone who can be counted as a leader amongst you all?” Tafel asked, her voice thundered in the ears of the captives. “I may be able to free you all, but there needs to be order.”
Murmurs rose up into the air. A few people shouted and begged while others cried. The captives’ heads turned towards the furthest region of the pit. A man staggered his way to the front, stepping over the living and stepping on the skeletons of the dead.
“My name is Opfern,” the man said. “I am the Baron of Blod. Who are you?”
“Tafel Besteck,” Tafel said. “The current demon lord.” More murmurs rose up, louder this time. The demons on the right half of the pit looked up in admiration and puzzlement. The humans on the left half trembled and muttered to each other.
“How do you plan on saving us?” Opfern asked as he gestured towards the people in the pit. “None of us can use magic. The fairies take them away first. Many people here haven’t lifted a weapon in their lives.”
“How long have you been here?” Tafel asked, ignoring Opfern’s question. Sweat rolled down her back as she gazed at the field of people staring up at her.
“Five years,” he replied. He stared into her eyes. “How are you going to save us?”
Tafel frowned. “How do the fairies bring you out of this pit?”
“A group of them come and levitate us with magic,” Opfern said. “The ones they take never come back.”
“I understand,” Tafel said as the flames on her sword disappeared. “I need to consult with my allies before I can proceed.” She turned around and walked back towards the entrance. Screams and cries echoed through the cave behind her as she rounded the corner.
Rella shuddered. “Can you save them?” she asked as she raised the barrier of mist around their bodies.
Tafel bit her lip, but didn’t reply. Rella opened her mouth to speak, but the sounds of fluttering wings cut her off. The two pressed their backs against the tunnel wall as a group of thirty fairies flew past them, all of them carrying baskets. “Why do we have to do all this work while those three slackers sleep on the job?”
“Hush. Don’t act as if you’ve never slept on the job either.”
“I don’t want to hear that from you of all people.”
“Huh, aren’t the fodder awfully noisy today?”
Tafel turned towards Rella and raised an eyebrow. ‘Food?’ she mouthed and Rella shrugged in reply. Thuds sounded out as the baskets crashed into the crowd of people. The fairies flew back, passing Tafel and Rella before stopping to pick up the three sleeping fairies.
“Hurry, hurry. Don’t want to stay here for too long,” one of the fairies said as she looped one of the sleeping fairies’ arm over her shoulder. The group disappeared from Tafel and Rella’s view. Screams and shrieks echoed through the tunnels.
“Oh, it’s already starting. Why did the queen tell us to do this though? Can’t they get out through magic?” one of the fairies asked.
“Don’t question the queen. And those were the weakest worms; they can’t use magic.”
Tafel and Rella had dashed out of the mist barrier, towards the edge of the cliff as soon as the screams started. Their eyes widened as they saw hundreds of people thrashing on the ground. The baskets lay scattered through the pit with their lids off to the sides and a few worms could be seen slithering through the throngs of people, searching for those who weren’t already infected. A few men were stabbing at the worms and twitching people with bloody bones.
“It was you!” Opfern roared as his gaze locked onto Tafel and Rella. He held a rib with a squirming worm impaled on the other end. “You killed us! The fairies never did this before. Not until you came.” He pinned the worm to the ground and stomped on it until it stopped moving.
“N-no,” Tafel said as she took a step back. “I didn’t. It wasn’t me.” She unsheathed her sword and took a deep breath as she approached the edge of the cliff.
“Stop!” Rella said and pulled on Tafel’s robe. “You can’t. There’s too many.”
“If not me, then who?” Tafel asked as she jerked her robe out of Rella’s grip. “I’ve fought thousands of worms and infected ones in Fuselage. I can do this.” Tafel’s sword glowed red as she leapt into the pit, plunging her sword into the chest of a man who was thrashing against the ground.
“I’m sorry,” she said as the man stared into her eyes. White flames enveloped her sword and burnt the man to ashes. She climbed to her feet and whirled towards the next person.
Rella fell to her knees and bit her lip. Please let her be alright, she thought and clasped her hands together. She closed her eyes and started to chant. A black mist rolled out from underneath her feet and formed a wall behind her, blocking out the sounds of slaughter. I won’t let anyone interfere. This is the most I can do.
The white flame danced along the bottom of the pit, casting grotesque shadows on the walls. It traveled in a spiral fashion, sometimes cutting towards the sides. Tears streamed from Tafel’s eyes as her sword passed through humans, demons, and worms alike.
“Why?” she asked as her voice cracked. Her movements flowed like water as she slipped through the crowd, leaving a trail of ashes behind her. “Why is it spreading so fast?” Every time she thought it was over, more screams would echo from a different region in the pit and she’d charge over there too. The worms entered their hosts and left behind a fraction of themselves before exiting again, seeking the next victim. Others burrowed into the ground and reappeared, striking at the captives on the other side of the pit from Tafel.
Rella opened her eyes and stopped chanting. The room was silent. Rella stumbled and her stomach sank as she climbed to her feet and peered over the edge. Soft sobs trickled into her ears. Tafel sat in the center of the room with her face buried in her knees, arms hugging her legs. Her sword laid next to her, resting on a layer of ash. A group of thirty survivors sat on the floor with their mouths open and eyes wide, staring at the demon lord.