Chapter Eighteen: Dungeon Defence
At the foot of the Battle Hammer Mountains, there is a large, briar covered mound called Black-Briar Knoll. Given that there no human settlements this close to the mountains and the woods around them are filled with many strange creatures and hidden dangers, the mound was so named by the people that once lived not too far from it, a people of fae called sprites. Sadly, these people were all but gone and until you saw the tunnel leading into the knoll and walked its depths you would never discover those that remained.
Unceasingly seeking these remaining sprites was their foe, a great troll named Makas. Unfortunately for the troll, the fae he sought lived in no haven, commune or warren. In spite of being the last refuge for the sprites, Black-Briar Knoll was no faerie mound and they did not rule it. Something else did. Something that plotted Makas’ death, a task that proved difficult on account of its assistant.
“Th-this is insane, you can’t have a trap like this on the first floor!” Thorn was arguing.
“Why not?” Brandr asked.
“It’ll kill everyone!” Thorn answered.
“Isn’t that what it’s meant for?” his master asked.
The trap in question was a simple one by Brandr’s standards. Thorn had told him to that having traps was imperative for the first floor and in their implementation, he had gotten creative. This particular one was similar to the spike traps he had seen in Brandr memories only better. Instead of a set of spikes shooting from the wall or floor when a trip wire was triggered, he used a proximity ward. If the essence sensor was not disabled the right way, an entire section of the hallway filled with spikes.
After seeing it displayed once, Thorn was horrified. The thing was a party killer. He could already see droves of beginner adventurers being culled by it. In fact, he doubted even he could avoid it. He had not sensed anything wrong with the place until Brandr did his demonstration and he doubted anyone without great mana sensitivity could.
Without realising it, the sprite lord, who had just hours before been running around like a headless chicken had forgotten all about the troll coming to eat him and his people. Perhaps, it wasn’t that he had forgotten. he simply could not consider the troll a threat with Brandr at his side. But then again, after seeing the power the dungeon core packed, who would? That notwithstanding, it was a bit funny how his priorities had shifted from trying to survive to trying to ensure his master did not slaughter everyone who walked into his dungeon.
Brandr frowned. The trap truly was simple. He’d used Thorn and his people as the basis for it. His assessment showed Thorn to be at the cusp of foundation establishment and his sprites, the essence condensation stage. Something like this was only supposed to catch the unwary and the foolish. Were they really that bad at sensing essence?
A few questions later, he discovered that yes, they were. Thorn had looked completely lost when asked questions about spiritual sense and scrying. In the end, he revealed that the majority of people had no way of extending their senses past their bodies. Most, like Thorn himself, relied on techniques similar to his world link to identify anything they encountered. Such techniques were important for adventuring and though the majority of them were relatively poor you couldn’t be trusted to lead a party if you did not have any such skill.
One of the perks of being a divine artificer was that lots of deities came to you for commissions. Want to leave a legacy but have no expertise in building a testing ground? Go see a formation expert or better yet, just find someone who can make specialised estate treasures. Is your longevity running out? Do you want to build a befitting tomb or mausoleum? Do same. As a divine smith capable of creating divine tier estate treasures, Brandr was contracted to build a few from time to time. In fact, at one point, he tried selling pre-made, fully customisable ones. It was a poor business venture. The thing about immortality was that people tended to forget to plan for death.
The point was, he’d believed the skills would be easily transferable but now, he wasn’t so sure. Shooting a withering look at his so-called assistant, he tried to come up with something else. There was a reason he’d asked the sprite lord about the things he could or could not do. In the end, however, it had talked a lot and said nothing. What happened to no matter how dangerous it was, adventurers will come if there’s loot? He needed to come at this from another angle.
He could make things more obvious but the irony of using obvious traps to lure in prey was not lost on him. As stupid as it sounded, he didn’t think he had much choice. He’d probably have to make the traps obvious in the beginning and reduce their lethality then, remove the warnings and training wheels after the third floor. Anyone who died to them then, deserved to die. Back when he scoured mystic realms, he had nothing to rely on but his skills, wit and gear. They’d have to learn to do same.
Reaching the last chamber before the one he designated for his guardian, Brandr pulled the sprite in close.
“Remember when I said we will train your warriors so they’re up to snuff?”
Thorn nodded eagerly.
“We’ll be doing that sooner instead of later”, he revealed. “But first, explain your skills and combat styles to me.”
Thorn dived right in. Most of the sprites were good with a sword but the majority of them never trained for combat. They tended to the forest and its inhabitants. They did keep a small standing army in case of goblin incursions, etcetera but most the warriors were already dead. As he got down to how they usually dealt with their enemies, Brandr cut him off.
“Stick to what you do and what you can do!” he told the sprite.
“Well, we’re fae”, the sprite lord tried to explain. He knew that the dungeon knew little about the world. “We’re good with charms, illusions and enchantments. Because of our ties to the forest, we can influence it to an extent. Some of us take this further by devoting ourselves either to caring for plants or animals. Others bond with a beast and keep it at their side as companion and friend. We are small, fast and stealthy.”
Brandr glanced back at him before turning back to his current task. Using hand gestures, he raised gigantic vats of quartz from the ground. Once he had the three he needed, he set about inscribing glyphs on to them. Thorn watched all this with his jaw hanging loose.
Ignoring his assistant’s gawking, Brandr asked, “I saw your skills. You’re quite different from the others. How did you learn your techniques? Scratch that. How do any of you learn techniques? How do they work?”
Thorn quickly composed himself. “Well, we’re fae!” he repeated.
Rushing to explain himself, he added, “Fae adapt. Our magic largely does whatever we need, wish or ask of it. It takes a while but if you do something long enough you adapt and it becomes easier. Some fae are lucky and get skills from it.”
Remembering the second question, he continued, “Using magic itself does not require any technique besides the mana manipulation skill. However, skills boost the effects of your actions which is why they are so important. A few of us are lucky to have innate skills. Tignar sometimes bestows them on the worthy but if you’re wealthy or connected enough, however, you can just buy a skill book or have a master teach you theirs.”
Brandr nodded softly to this. It was simple and familiar. Their worlds were not so different after all. Still…
“You said skills boost actions. What of things that aren’t necessarily actions; supplementary things like boosting or growing your magic? What of skills that allow better training than just waiting to adapt?”
Thorn looked pensive. “I think I know what you are talking about. Such skills are extremely rare. Some adventurers have them but it’s usually only nobility that do. Everyone else just relies on feats.” With a small smile he added, “Fortunately, we fae have our own edge. Our magic grows with us. The older we get, the more magic we get and the more powerful it becomes.”
Brandr’s hand movements stopped. As a matter of fact, he ceased everything all together so he could turn around and look the sprite lord in the face.
“Are you serious?” he demanded. “You just sit back and grow old hoping your reserves will grow with you?”
Brandr had only one thing to say to that. “That has got to be the dumbest thing I have ever heard!”