Adorel’s first thought on falling into the belly of the worm wasn’t of self preservation or fear. The sensation of falling was a viscerally terrifying one, but his mind locked onto something even more bizarre and clung to it, refusing to even acknowledge the rest of the horrible situation he found himself in.
“How can teeth that big be inside something that burst up inside our tent?”
He didn’t mean to scream the question at the top of his lungs. Not once, not twice and certainly not over and over, but it was, he felt, a perfectly reasonable thing to wonder about.
Everyone inside the tent, sunlight dwellers and Shadowfolk, were tumbling into the ever widening shaft of the worm’s gullet. As they fell they passed rows of the pointed, stalactite-like teeth. Each tooth was three times as long as Adorel was tall and there were more of them than he could even begin to estimate much less count.
Below them, the teeth were slamming together in an undulating wave that raced up from the fiery depths they were plummeting towards. The bits of rock they’d been standing on met the compressing fangs and were shattered into dust.
Adorel considered his robes and their toughness vis-a-vis solid rocks.
They were enchanted with protective magics. The magics however did not make them as hard as stone however. Far from it. In practice they could turn aside a knife blow and blunt a limited number of arrow strikes. The twenty foot tall, rocking crushing, teeth however were neither knives nor arrows and even if his robes could withstand the destructive force at the tip of the fangs, Adorel was entirely certain that he could not.
As he lacked the ability to fly, Adorel was also certain that he was going to need a miracle to survive longer than the next second.
Less than half a second later his miracle arrived.
Massive translucent wings of rainbow light flared and enfolded everyone Adorel could see.
The worm seemed to choke as they fell through the spiky tunnel of its throat. Adorel almost felt sorry for the best. Its teeth struggled to grind up the solid ball that was dropping farther into the worm than than physics should have allowed.
The other thing physics should have had problems with was the Queen’s Guard and the Shadowfolk continuing their battle while the plummeted. Each side had access to enough magic to tell physics to sit down and shut up though and so they’re clash continued unabated as the inside of the worm’s gullet began to show rivers of fire where its veins should have been..
One of the Shadowfolk appeared in puff of purple smoke – decloaking from invisibility, not teleporting, Adorel observed – and tried to throw Adorel out of the protective radius of the wings that Guardian Pelay had summoned.
As deaths went, it was certainly one Adorel could fight against. As fights went though it was one he knew he was doomed to lose.
One of the curses of limited precognition was perceiving the most likely course of events and yet being aware of them too late to have any impact on their outcome.
By the time Adorel foresaw himself tumbling out of the glowing shelter of Pelay’s wing shield, the Shadowfolk warrior already had a grip on his arm and was spinning him towards the teeth.
Adorel swung a fist at the blazing light in the warrior’s eye socket but he was too weak and too slow.
Jyl’s sword blades were neither weak nor slow though.
The arm that had hold of Adorel ceased accelerating him the moment it ceased to be connected to the Shadowfolk warrior.
Using her own wings for leverage Jyl hurled Adorel up to Pelay who already had a constellation of people floating around her.
“Why are we still falling?” Adorel asked as his fellow seer Glyra caught him.
“We’re not,” Pelay said. “This isn’t falling.”
“It feels like falling,” Adorel said.
“Listen for the shadows,” Glyra said, closing her eyes as an instruction for Adorel to do the same.
There were still Shadowfolk around, though far fewer than before, but a scrying trance still struck Adorel as a terrible idea under the circumstances. Terrible circumstances however sometimes call for terrible ideas, so he followed Glyra’s lead.
They weren’t falling.
From what Adorel could perceive, they were traveling between the layers of reality, or at least that was the best guess Adorel could make of the shredding magics that fluttered around them.
He had read of the places they were passing through. The Shadow Worlds. Remnants of the Sleeping Gods failed designs. The places no one came back from.
“How wonderful,” he said, addressing no one in particular but proud of himself that he’d gotten the whole ‘screaming about teeth’ issue under control.
“What is this place?” Lipa asked.
She and the other Faen kit looked angry. Adorel was concerned that they were looking angry in his direction, despite being reasonably certain that they had no particular reason to be angry him specifically.
“It’s not a place. It’s a thing,” Adorel said.
“We’ve been swallowed by a World Eater,” Glyra said.
“A what?” Kai demanded.
“They nibble on the lost worlds,” Glyra said.
“Supposedly,” Adorel said. “They’re mythical, so we can’t say for sure that such things even exist. No one’s ever captured one after all.”
“We’re literally seeing one with our own eyes! How can you possibly think they’re mythic?”
To be fair to Glyra, their day had not been an easy one but Adorel knew they had to be accurate.
“We’re seeing the inside of something,” he said. “We don’t know what this is. We can’t say it’s a World Eater until we examine it. Do try to maintain proper research standards.”
It wasn’t at all professional that she tried to strangle him. Understandable, or so everyone he ever told the story to would inform him, but hardly the mark of a professional to try to do in one’s own colleagues.
The good news was that when he regained consciousness, they’d stopped falling!
“What happened?” he asked, gazing around the quarry they had landed in.
Rocks of every shape and size were scattered around them. Many glowed with their own light, pushing back the starless night with illumination that flickered through dozens of different pastel shades.
“We hit bottom,” Jyl said.
Adorel noticed that the rest of his team and the Faen kits had setup a small camp and were working to get a fire going in a pile of branches taken, no doubt, from the short, scrubby trees that were entwined around the various clumps of rock that surrounded them.
“What happened to the Shadowfolk?” he asked.
“They left,” Pelay said. She and Jyl weren’t wearing their Pact armor, which signalled that either the party was safe or that they were in so prolonged a state of peril that the Pact Knight’s weren’t able to maintain their transformations for the duration. Adorel didn’t want to know which scenario was true. The first was so much more comforting than the second and in neither case was there much he could do about it.
“Most of them,” Jyl said, nodding towards a captive Shadowfolk on the far side of the firepit.
“Is it dead?” Adorel asked.
“No, but it probably wishes it was,” Jyl said. “Or it would if we let it wake up.”
“It’s been the topic of conversation while you got your naptime in,” Glyra said.
“I don’t recall napping?” Adorel said.
“That’s because we hit the bottom too soon,” Glyra said.
“But we weren’t falling. How did we ‘hit the bottom’ if we weren’t in fact moving?” Adorel asked.
“The World Eater puked us out,” Jyl said.
“After it lost enough of its inner teeth, it sent a wave of…what would you call it? Magma bile?” Pelay said.
“I would call it that if I had any desire to ever experience something like that again,” Jyl said. “I do not, so I’m just going to call it gross.”
“Ok, that’s an accurate description too,” Pelay said. “Whatever it was, the goop lifted us up and when we fell out of the worm’s mouth we were here.”
“And where is here?” Adorel asked.
“That’s what we intend to ask our friend over there once we figure out how to wake him up,” Jyl said.
“Why is he asleep?” Adorel asked.
“Because we keep knocking him out,” Jyl said.
“That would suggest an obvious answer as to how to wake him up wouldn’t it?”
“If we allow him to wake up, he will leave,” Glyra said. “Which in turn would present problems with getting our questions answered.”
“He’s not going to talk anyways is he?” Lipa asked. “I thought they were all mindlessly loyal and unthinking servants to their cause?”
“Also a concern,” Jyl said.
“Do we know of any limitations on their ability to teleport away?” Adorel asked.
“It seems to be an instantaneous talent,” Jyl said.
“We saw two of the vanish faster than a Faen could move, and she started with her hand on their throat,” Pelay said.
“Maybe we’re looking at this from the wrong perspective,” Glyra said.
“I would be delighted to find another one,” Jyl said. “The view here is otherworldly, but I suspect whatever’s on the bottom of that cliff would not be to our liking.”
Adorel looked down the rolling hill of the quarry floor to where the land dropped away again into, as far as he could see, a starless void of space.
“We’re thinking of him as being our prisoner. What if the reverse was true?” Glyra asked
“Then we’d all be dead and he’d be back home,” Adorel said.
“No, they weren’t fighting to kill,” Jyl said. “I think I see what you’re saying.”
“It was very chaotic towards the end of the battle,” Glyra said. “If we make it appear that we’ve been captured by another of the Shadowfolk, he may be willing to stay behind until he can find them.”
“And in the meanwhile we might be able to get him to gloat a little,” Jyl said.
“Do the knots need to be so tight?” Adorel asked.
“If it looks comfortable or staged, he won’t believe it,” Pelay said, tightening the rope that lashed his feet to his hands.
“Finally something went right!” Dorokath said as he rose from his restorative trance and discovered the mostly unconscious humans and Faen lashed individually to the trees that dotted the Abyssal Quarry.
“What do you want with us?” Glyra said, struggling weakly against her bonds.
“They haven’t given you the treatment yet?” Dorokath asked.
“Your friends? No they went looking for someone else. They said something about doing something to us when they got back,” Glyra said.
“Where are they?” Dorokath asked.
“I don’t know!” Glyra’s anger bubbled up through her words. “We were all scattered when we landed. I think that’s why they left. What are you going to do to us? Where are we?”
“This is the end of your world,” Dorokath said. “The end of all the worlds. Beyond this is the Great Abyss.”
“Why are we here?” Glyra asked.
“We need to erase you,” Dorokath said. “We’ll float you out into the Abyss. Those who survive will be blank slates that we can fill with whatever story we want.”
“Why?” Glyra sounded as genuinely horrified at the idea as Adorel felt about it.
“You’ll make much better witnesses once we’ve whipped your minds clear.”
“But then we won’t be able to bear witness to anything,” Adorel said, unable to restrain himself.
“Starting to wake up already?” Dorokath said. “You must be a hardier group than we thought they’d send. Doesn’t matter though, once you’re erased you’ll tell them everything we want them to know.”
“What if we don’t survive being erased?” Glyra asked.
“Won’t be my problem because I don’t care, and won’t be your problem because you won’t be around to care any longer either.”