“You’re… you’re human. That’s perfect.” The nymph’s clothes were rotten, his hair had fallen out. His body was gaunt and shriveled. He strained to push himself against the wall to stand, lacking the strength to support himself. “Pull the sword out! Please! Hurry!”
“That’s not a good idea.” Theodore was no field medic, but he had read enough to know this much. “I won’t be able to stop the bleeding. You need a doctor!”
The nymph choked up a bitter laugh. “Does it look like I’m bleeding?! I’ve been stuck down here for years!”
Rupert was staring, his fur puffed in fright. “That sword. There’s something wrong with it. Something really, really wrong!”
Theodore squatted beside the nymph. The wound was old, the flesh around the sword was petrified like stone. “What happened to you?”
“Assassin…” The nymph groaned, his breath turned ragged. Talking so much seemed to weaken him. “The champion. Tried to stop him. Couldn’t. You have to help me. Please.”
“The Hero Champion?” Theodore’s eyes went wide, he moved closer, eyeing the Grayweather crest on the sword. “You said he was an assassin? Who sent them? Who was he trying to kill?”
The growled in pain, wheezing through his teeth. “Devil damn you! Pull it out! This is torture! I’ll tell you whatever you want, just pull it out! Pull the sword out, damn you! Hurry!!”
Theodore saw the agony in the nymph’s face and felt ashamed for asking so many questions. He set the spool down, wrapped his hands around the hilt the sword, and pulled.
“Wait!” Rupert said.
The nymph’s scream of pain turned to gasps of relief as the sword slid free from his chest.
“Finally,” he said. Tears rolled down his face. “I can die.”
The wound burned, spraying raw stinging magic free of the nymph’s body. Theodore’s was seized by coughing, and watched as the nymph’s convulsed. The color drained away from the fairy’s body, and Theodore watched with horror as the nymph crumbled away to ash at his feet.
“No!” Theodore shouted.
The nymph was gone. Theodore was left standing there holding the sword that killed him. He stared at it, wracked by the sick sensation that he had killed a creature. His hand trembled. The Grayweather crest stared back at him, a thundercloud pierced by a blade. There was no mistake. He recognized the sword. A claymore, the same one his father had taken with him before he died. The same one he had seen in his fairy dreams. It was broken in half at the shaft, and steaming with noxious magic.
“It was keeping him alive,” Rupert said. “He’s dead.”
Theodore forced himself to swallow. He tried to tell himself it wasn’t his fault. “Do you know something? What just happened?”
“Keep that thing away from me!” Rupert jumped back. “I don’t know, but there’s magic on that sword! Bad magic! Get rid of it!”
No. “I… know this sword. I need to find out what it’s doing here.” He lowered it. “He said something about an assassin.”
Rupert covered his snout, thinking. “I heard a rumor,” he said. “Some palace Spriggan told me about an attack from seven years ago. They said some big deal human went nuts. Snuck into the Inner Circle and started murdering Titled fairies.”
“What?” Theodore’s mouth hung open. “Nobody knew what happened to him. Do you know anything else?”
“Not really.” Rupert sniffed. “Commander Épée was furious when she caught us gossiping about it. Never got to hear the rest of the story, but I bet we had to kill the human. He turned up dead, right? Something like that you got to keep hush hush, otherwise the humans will start a war over it.” He blinked. “Oh, crap. You’re a human! Forget I said any of that!”
“Don’t worry.” Theodore threaded the sword through his belt loop. “I’m not going to do anything stupid, but I do need to get to the bottom of this.” What was his father doing killing fairies with a magic sword? What the hell was he thinking?
“Hey, that’s great and everything, but we’re kind of still stuck in the labyrinth!”
Theodore felt along the ground and found the thread spool again. Escaping would have to come first. He reeled in what had come loose and found the far end of the thread was hanging taut in the air. Not through a wall like before, but caught hanging on nothing.
“Well, I guess we’re dying down here after all,” Rupert said, grumbling.
Theodore tugged on the string. It gave a little. He got a better grip and gave it a firm yank. Thread crisscrossing through the air came undone like stitches. When the last suture snapped, a flame sparked and raced down the thread as if it were soaked in kerosene. A portal roared opened in front of them. Light and fresh air poured through. Rupert squealed with delight. Theodore dropped the spool before it burnt his hand and watched it fade to embers.
“Let’s go!” Rupert said, grabbing Theodore’s hand and pulling him into the tear. The world rippled as they passed through. Theodore felt his stomach. His body snapped like a rubber band and he found himself standing in the palace again.