Chapter Eleven: A Step Forward
Brandr continued to surf Thorn’s memories. The sprite lord’s instincts were right. It only took a couple of days for the troll to find them again. This time, even more sprites died. The time after that, they were more prepared, ready and willing to fight and yet their numbers continued to decrease. Worse than that, Thorn discovered to his dismay that the troll had grown far more powerful than it was when they first encountered it. Each sprite it ate added to its power and soon he could barely keep up with it.
What followed next was a deadly game of hide and seek that was only midway through its third moon when they discovered Brandr’s new domain. In that time, the population of sprites continued to dwindle until they reached their current numbers. There was nothing they could do. Fighting was hopeless and running away was impossible. The best they could do was hide and even that never stayed safe for long. Sooner or later, the troll would suss them out. It always did.
Lucky for the sprites, their lord knew a thing or two and that was all that allowed them to keep ahead of their adversary. No one wanted to admit it but the reduced population helped a lot with this. It was much easier to hide forty-eight sprites than two hundred.
Brandr watched all of this dispassionately. As terrible as the events were, particularly from this point of view, it was nothing he hadn’t seen or heard before. Even so, directly feeling Thorn’s emotions proved challenging. With his own psyche still recovering, it was actually dangerous for him to do what he was doing. The sprite lord’s despair, worry, fear, guilt and dread hammered at the walls of apathy that he steadfastly placed between them but he remained steadfast.
He continued to peruse his guide’s mind, searching for even more information. Knowledge of an enemy was the first step to defeating it. Thorn himself had proved this. It was only his experience and knowledge that kept their predator at bay. Knowledge that was now Brandr’s as well. Now, he knew its weaknesses and more importantly that he could beat it as well as the how.
Thorn was a greater fount of knowledge than he had imagined. It turned out the reason he knew so much about trolls was that he had fought a few long ago, with his party of adventurers. The trolls were guarding a bridge in a dungeon and though they proved very challenging, Thorn and his party eventually overcame them. The memories of this event were particularly useful. Satisfied, the former dao lord withdrew from his servant’s mind.
Thorn blinked slowly, his surroundings coming into focus though his mind remained fuzzy. He shook his head softly, trying to clear it.
“Take it easy!” a voice told him. “I understand that the experience can be unpleasant and jarring.”
Without quite knowing why, Thorn flinched, backing away from the source of the voice as fast as he could. His memories were slowly coming back to him together with the realisation of what just happened. Terrified, he stared at the red-hued dungeon core in front of him.
“You have done well”, it assured him. “Thank you! Without your help, I would never have found the solution.”
The sprite did not know it but should consider itself lucky. Soul searches weren’t always so delicate. Thankfully, Brandr could be considered accomplished at the art. That and his ability to leverage the link that already stretched between them were the true reasons the sprite hadn’t gone insane or ended up with its brains trickling out of its skull. While these were the worse case scenarios, they could happen, especially if the technique went wrong.
In spite of this, for most, the worst part of soul searches wasn’t the possible side effects but the feeling of being violated that came after. Soul searches were perhaps some of the most invasive techniques known. Having another person roving through your thoughts, memories, hopes, fear and dreams was revolting. They could make you relive your worst memories, tease you with unfulfilled dreams and toy with your very being. That was if they did not simply rework you to their desires.
Even if the person did not, the unconscious part of the mind knew this hence the terror many felt. Who wouldn’t be frightened at knowing that someone could do this to you? Even when pulled away from the edge of the cliff, the fear of falling could grip you for hours and linger for days. With such standards, Thorn was handling this quite well. The sprite was actually forcefully composing himself. You had to admire that level of bravery and comportment.
“Do not worry, I will handle everything from here”, he told his guide.
The sprite’s eyes widened. For him, practically no time had passed. Despite having some understanding of what had been done to him, in his mind, they were still talking about the troll. Thus, it wasn’t hard for him to pick up what his master said.
“You need not bother yourself anymore”, Brandr said confidently. “Recall your warriors…” he added, subtly removing the barrier he had placed earlier as he said so. “I will handle this.”
“Are you sure?” Thorn asked hopefully.
“Yes!” Thanks to you, I have everything I need”, Brandr reassured him. “Now, recall your warriors so we can begin our preparations.”
Acting quickly, Thorn barked a few orders and ground his makeshift army to a halt. Those who were leaving came back and the ones not present rushed over. Soon, all twelve sprites came together, hovering in a circle around their lord and their new dungeon overlord. This allowed, Brandr to scan them all. He was not impressed.
“Your warriors…” he said sombrely. “They are not very useful are they?”
The face of the sprite lord flushed, turning a dark green. He was not the only one. The sprites were insulted and a few even worked up the courage to protest. Thorn quickly reigned them in, glancing fearfully at the dungeon core out of the corners of his eyes as he did so. Truth be told, he had thought much the same over the last few moons but he worked hard not think so of his people.
“My warriors are fine!” he said, rising to their defence. “Each of them is at least rank two. Eten is rank three and Proudsprout is not far from it”, he added pointing to an older one-legged sprite and much younger sprite with dragonfly wings.
“It’s just…th-they are just outmatched.”
“Clearly!” Brandr said much to the indignation of his audience.
“It matters not!” he pronounced silencing everyone. “We’ll see about increasing their strength later. For now, we’ll simply make the warriors we need.”
This was the solution that he had come up with. Whilst he had no doubts that he could defeat the troll he’d rather not involve himself in direct combat especially now that he knew how fragile he was. He’d seen Thorn’s memories with the troll’s strength it probably needed only one single direct hit to leave him as shattered shards on the floor of his new domain. So, why not do what all dungeons did. He’d seen enough in the sprite lord’s head to know that dungeons could create all kinds of creatures. All he needed to do was create some warriors of his own and all his problems would be solved.
Nevertheless, he’d have to start slow. Who knew what was waiting to go wrong? With that in mind, he brought to mind one of the creatures that had perished at his hand after ‘invading’ his domain. Recalling everything he’d gleaned about skills and how to invoke them, he focused his will on the image of a simple black beetle and intoned mentally, ‘Come to life!’
It did not. However, in recognition of his intent, a strange pattern took shape in his mind. A full diagram of the black beetle showing every part of it in minute detail filled his head. He could tell how the surface area of its wings, how much upthrust it created to fly, the density of its exoskeleton and all sorts of things Brandr would honestly never have cared to know. Acting purely off instinct, Brandr focused on this pattern and poured his essence into it, tracing each line in the diagram as he did so.
Instantly, a black beetle appeared a few inches in front of him. Brandr did not have to check to know that the beetle was made to the exact specifications of the pattern he had used. Not only that he could feel the presence of the insect in his mind. It wasn’t in the same way he could sense intruders or even how he could tell where everything was in his domain. It was more like the connection he had with Thorn only far more intimate and dominant. In his gut, Brandr knew that if he ordered the beetle to keel over and die, it would instantly do so.
|You have created a black beetle!|
You have unlocked the creature creation skill.
All three primary skills have been unlocked.
Would you like to begin building your dungeon?