At thirty-four centimetres tall, Thorn was good a deal taller than most sprites. The four hundred years he'd lived made him a good deal older as well. Sadly, despite how longlived his race was, his harsh childhood, turbulent youth and stressful rule caused him go appear older than his age. His head bore a golden circlet and he wore clothes of spun spider silk as well as a sword at his hip. The first spoke of his status. The second, his wealth and the third, his might.
"Yes, Lord", the scout affirmed. "I went there myself to be sure. It is as the birds say. It even looks like described in some of the old stories. An unnatural cave mouth from which mana pours forth to lure in the unwary. Though the light of the sun shines on the entrance it may not cross more than a yard into it nor can any yet outside see what lays within without first stepping in. No creature I've seen enter has ever come out
"I can say without a doubt that there's a dungeon in Blackbriar Knoll. Any creature with sense still in it has left the hill. The rest, I fear, are already lost in it", she said.
The Sprite Lord, stood still and silent for several long seconds, prompting some of the watching sprites to begin chattering amongst themselves. Eventually, one brave young sprite stepped forward to ask.
"Milord, what were we going to do?"
Thorn continued to be lost in thought.
"Milord?" the young sprite called out. "Grandfather?"
"Quiet, Echo!" the Sprite Lord commanded. "Give me a moment to think!"
All chattering seized and the sprites grew still as they waited for their Lord to speak. Once quite happy and carefree, they all carried sad looks and wan smiles. The last few moons had been a nightmare for them all and it was only by the grace of the gods and the wisdom of their Lord that they still lived. They knew to trust his judgement.
"I do not know what omen this new dungeon signifies or whether its appearance is for good or ill but I do know that we are running out of options", Thorn began. "That evil troll grows smarter and more powerful as the days go by. This week alone we have lost two of our number and I fear that if this continues we'll all be dead within three moons.
"Even if it does not succeed in wiping us out, the appearance of a new dungeon will draw all sorts of creatures to our neck of the woods and the effect will only increase as time passes. The result will be the same. However, we have a choice. What I am about to propose is incredibly risky and even absurd but I feel it is our only chance", he told his people.
"We have to try and enter a pact with the dungeon and ask for its protection!"
Gasps of shock could be heard from his audience. Murmurs broke out. The few sprites who had been flying, with the exceptions of the lookouts, quickly landed.
"Milord, I must protest" a senior sprite yelled as he pushed himself to the front. "A pact with a newborn dungeon? That is foolishness!"
Another landed next to him, his dragonfly wings buzzing in agitation. "Flix is right, your majesty", surely there must be some other way.
Ignoring them, a sourfaced sprite hobbled forward on a single leg. "What are we going to offer it?"
They were not the only ones speaking. There were others, many not even addressing the Lord but rather each other.
"Quiet!" Thorn commanded. Silence came upon the gathering once more.
"I understand your concerns but listen to me first", he said.
"We have nowhere to go. Our home is gone and with it, our kingdom. What remains of our people are gathered here", he said staring at each member of the forty sprites. "Something must be done to preserve what we have left!"
"Then why do you want to feed us to the dungeon?" someone yelled.
Thorn glared at the dissenter, causing her to pale.
"Listen first to my words before you argue", he continued, turning away from the scared girl. "I proposed that we enter into a pact with the dungeon not that we go there to die."
"Milord", a young male sprite ventured. "I thought dungeon pixies are the only fae who can make pacts with dungeons."
"That is an assumption that is only partly true", Thorn answered. "Dungeons can make pacts with practically any being should they wish it. The major requirement is that the dungeon has to be self-aware enough to understand and willing enough to accept the terms of the pact.
"Dungeon pixies are merely the only beings that can safely make pacts with dungeons, regardless of all factors. Most dungeons would try to devour any creature that walks into them. Dungeon pixies are exempt from this. No dungeon, not the holy or the most vile would attack a dungeon pixie and all will be willing to discuss terms with it. They even have a racial trait that allows them to communicate with the dungeon core itself", he clarified for the audience.
"B-but, milord, the dungeon in Blackbriar Knoll is a newborn, will it be aware enough to form a pact with us?" the young sprite asked.
"No, it would not", the first senior sprite to speak out answered. This was the very same sprite who had pushed to the front earlier to protest the Sprite Lord's decision.
"We will have to hope", Thorn said continuing to defend his decision. "If the dungeon is not developed enough, the burden will fall to us to communicate effectively with it."
"It can't be done, Thorn", the sprite asserted.
The Sprite Lord smiled wryly, "You forget how dungeon pixies came to be, Flix!"
Turning to his people, he regaled them with the tale.
"Once, long ago, there was a young pixie named Honeysuckle. One day, the valley Honeysuckle lived in was attacked by orcs. Confused, scared and with no place left to run to, Honeysuckle chose to enter a nearby dungeon believing it was better to die in its depths instead of in the hands of her enemies. With some luck and liberal use of her pixie dust, Honeysuckle snuck her way past the dungeon's monsters and into the core chamber.
"The dungeon was new and younger than even the young pixie. Unafraid, Honeysuckle went up the dungeon core and spoke to it. She would tell it stories of the world outside and sing to it of the wonders of sunlight and morning dew, of moonlight and fireflies, of twinkling stars and night frost. The dungeon core would listen, enraptured by her voice and tales and before either knew it, the two had become fast friends.
"Honeysuckle would eventually, live out her life in the dungeon, living with the core in the innermost chamber. She would be its lifelong friend, confidant and guide. When the time came and she had children of her own, they too would go out and find dungeons of their own to live in. Moons came and went, and years did too but the bond between Honeysuckle and her dungeon only grew ever stronger. The same was true for her children. Until it came to be that from one brave young pixie a new kind of fae walked Tingnar. Each would seek its own dungeon becoming like Honeysuckle; a friend, confidant and guide."
"That's what you want us to rely on", one elder exclaimed in shock. "The repetition of an age-old miracle? One that has never again be repeated, mind you?"
Thorn's eyes narrowed. This was getting out of hand. "It seems you forget your place, Arbor", he said in a dark tone, advancing aggressively towards the sprite.
"I-I I, forgive me, milord!" the sprite identified as Arbor begged as he took swift steps backwards.
"Your Majesty, please forgive my uncle his disrespect", a young sprite said, stepping in front of the grateful elder. "He is merely worried and he is not wrong to do so."
Thorn stared the newcomer down. Once, he would have let something this trivial slide but that time had gone. He had been too lax in the beginning and it cost them precious lives. He could allow them to question him but he could not let them do so in a way that undermined his authority especially not in a gathering such as this. It had been done too often already. An example had to be made.
"Be that as it may", he said. "He will be removed from this gathering. Those who do not know how to speak properly shall not be granted the chance to do so."
With a simple signal, some relatively burly sprites came and carried the elder sprite away, ignoring his protests.
Continuing as if nothing had happened, Thorn addressed his people. "Many of you forget that before becoming your ruler I was an adventurer. I have forgotten more about dungeons than all of you know combined!"
"If I say there is a chance then there is a chance!" he declared. "All fae possess gifts of charm and speech. We also possess the ability to adapt to anything. Sprites are the closest kin to pixies. If Honeysuckle's brood could adapt to dungeon life then so can we!"
No one said anything, at first. After a second or two, one of the more confident elders ventured forward. "If I may, milord. Pixies adapt to magic whereas sprites adapt to their environment. We are forest sprites. How are we going to adapt to a dungeon, much less convince it to listen to us?"
"That is true. Tell me, what then is a dungeon, a place or a spell?" he asked the purple winged sprite. The elder had no rebuttal. Looking past him, Thorn announced, "Tomorrow, Echo and I will go to the dungeon and see if indeed the chance exists."
"Echo, milord?" the one-legged sprite inquired. He no longer asked the terms of the pact. Thorn's intentions were clear. He wanted the same deal that dungeon pixies got.
"Yes", the Sprite Lord answered. "He is young enough and his magic is vibrant and strong. He is the best choice to bond with the dungeon."
His grandson had really shaped up since the crisis. He was proving himself to be a good leader. This would cement his place, both future and current.
"You're are going into the dungeon, your highness?" one of his guards said speaking up. "Is that wise? Why don't you let us lead the young prince in your stead?"
"I am a Rank Four mage, Proudsprout!" Thorn said good-naturedly. "I think I can handle a newborn dungeon with a couple of rooms. My experience will be needed on this, have no doubts. I'm the only one here who has ever been in a dungeon.
"What if the troll comes while you are away?" Proudsprout asked.
"Should that happen, deal with it as I would", he told him. Looking back at the gathered sprites, he reiterated. "We cannot avoid the troll forever nor can we rely on anyone either than ourselves. Pray that we are successful tomorrow because our only other alternative is to wait meekly for death."
We'll have an HoGW chapter next. I've been working on editing the tags and the chapter titles. It's a lot of work, the tedious kind since I'm doing it manually.
Worst part, I'll have to do lupineking.com, Royal road and fantasy-books after this.