Author’s Note: Back at this again (See what I did there?). Yeah… it is healing. Enough that I can sit up longer and even start going back to work again (which I did). What else to say… painkillers do their job. Leave me fuzzy a bit but other than that thumbs up! I get to give this another go. Book two launch has been delayed. Will get on that later right now let’s just get back into the normal scheme of things starting of course with a mass release, DC/RH first and then HoGW.
Chapter Thirty: Progress Report
Dungeon sickness. That was what adventurers called it. A more apt term would be dungeon corruption or mana contamination. A dungeon was a living domain, yes. However, it was also everything in that domain; mana, creatures, features and items. The mana of the world did not exist within a dungeon, only its own. All foreign creature or substances had to withstand this invasive mana or their own reserves would end up contaminated and their bodies corrupted.
It started with a feeling of sickness. Then came weakness as the dungeon’s mana replaced your own. Eventually, you would fall under the sway of the dungeon and become part of it, no different from any other monster within it. Simple non-magical creatures were especially prone to this as they had no mana to put up as a defence. The more powerful a creature was, the more resistant it was to dungeon corruption. However, that did not mean that a dungeon could not wear you down if you were not careful. With the absence of normal mana in your environment and constant exposure to the dungeon’s own, even a ninth-ranked dragon would fall eventually. The only way to cure this was to get out of the dungeon and restore yourself with normal mana of the world. However, that solution only worked for those who got out in time. The ones who fell completely were forever lost to the dungeon.
Thankfully, sapience was a boon in the face of such corruption. Creatures with souls possess a secondary defence to dungeon corruption. Having a conscious will of your own helped ward off a dungeon’s pervasive influence even under mana contamination. Thus, adventurer’s, especially those with high will ratings, actually stood a fighting chance to get away even when their mana and resistance was whittled away. It did not prevent the weakness though, hence the term dungeon sickness. Still, it was all too easy to get killed by a random monster when your body was weakened and your mana was unresponsive. As such, all adventurers were trained to recognise the onset of dungeon sickness. The moment they began feeling its characteristic symptoms they abandoned their dungeon dive and made their way back to the surface.
Brandr digested this newfound information. It all pointed to one thing. He did not have to kill and create to gain new creatures. He could simply ‘corrupt’ them until they became a part of him. Additionally, as the red thrush had demonstrated, any kill committed by his creatures counted as his own. Anything they ate was something he had eaten. It was an interesting mechanic that required some pondering over. His mental opinion of the creatures called dungeons went even higher. A living world with powers to create and destroy, over life and death, the ability to convert ether into mana and matter to energy, to learn from what it devoured and now, the power to subvert influences and add to its ranks.
The new addition was an eyeopener, letting him know that his new form was even more mysterious than he had first thought. However, he could already see its uses. Was there a way to maximise it? It worked off mana so more mana or greater concentration should help but what of the soul defence? He would work on the mana aspect for now. It seemed like a solid start but the only way to know for sure was trial and error. A wild grin split Brandr’s face, things were getting interesting.
Thorn, the sprite lord, first ever sprite to be bonded to a dungeon core, guide to Brandr, the dungeon under Black-Briar hill stood before his master and gave a report on the activities taking place in his domain.
“Bellwhispers says that the Faerythorn is completely settled”, he was saying. “He’s still crosschecking to make sure that all the sprites are provided with amenities but surprisingly there are no complaints. Not even from the fussy ones. As a matter of fact, he expressed some admiration for what you have done and asked if you wouldn’t reconsider living in the faerythorn with us. There is more than enough room.”
“Anything else?” Brandr asked making it clear that that avenue of discussion was a dead end.
“Yes. But it is nothing that requires immediate attention”, the sprite lord admitted. “The sprites are content with eating the elderberries for now. I imagine that most never thought they’d ever taste some again. Nevertheless, Bellwhispers brought up his concerns for procuring other forms of sustenance. He has already marked out plots for growing more varieties of food and nectar giving flowers but planting will have to wait until Lindrea and her fae are done with their current tasks. Same can be said with Nettle when it comes to livestock.”
“Oh!” his master exclaimed softly. “You eat meat?”
At first, Thorn appeared confused but it left his face quickly, “Of course we do! My kind might have sweet tooths but we love a good roast and milk is just as good as nectar.”
“I see”, his master stated in surprise.
Choosing not to say anything else on the matter, the dungeon guide continued with his report, “Anyway, Lindrea wishes to thank you for the permissions that let her control and reposition the plants in the dungeon. She’s confessed that she would be at a loss without it. Also, she was wondering about those hay like plants, the ones that act like kindling. What is she to do with them? It seems irresponsible to leave plants that so easily burst aflame in the grassland.”
Brandr raised a hand and rested his chin on it. “She has a point. The risk of fire is high and the more tinder grass burns, the more it spreads. If we had some furnace beasts we could control them but we do not. I will think of something. Maybe I can modify some of the herbivores to help. For now, she should directly get rid of most of it leaving only a couple dozen strands scattered in places where they would do the least damage.”
Thorn nodded at this, taking mental notes. Despite having no idea what furnace beasts were he was able to infer a bit from the dungeon core’s words.
“Nettle is the one who has made the most progress so far”, he stated. “Probably because he has the most sprites with him. Bellwhispers doesn’t need any help and all those under Lindrea are specialists. Thus, Nettle was able to take the warriors, the scouts and what few beast tamers remain with him. He’s put them to work in three-person teams convincing what animals they can to come to us whilst foraging for anything that may be of use.”
“Their results are incredible but you probably know more about that than I do”, he added, referencing Brandr’s ability to know and observe what happened in his domain. “He has informed me that he intends to make a few overtures on some of the magic beasts as well. For that, he has recruited my grandson, Echo as well as Proudsprout and Bluecap.”
The dungeon core’s interest was visibly roused a this, just like Thorn hoped. Currently, the only magic beasts in the dungeon were the cursed abominations it cooked up in the vats. They were going to need a lot more if this dungeon was going to be successful. Elaborating on his last point, he added. “We are not very familiar with this area but we have identified a few magic beasts in our time here. There is a pack of nighthounds that hunts not too far from here.
“Nighthounds are creatures that have the head and forelimbs of an owl and the hindquarters of a wolf. They are silent, mostly nocturnal predators who have the ability to summon wings and fly for a short time. I’d say they are one of the more dangerous predators in these woods. Besides them, there’s a young armoured bear. When we first took refuge here the scouts reported it as lean and scruffy. That plus its apparent age leads us to believe that this only its first or second year on its own. It seems to be having a difficult time and will surely be more appreciative of our offers than the nighthounds.”
“Sadly, these are the only magic bests we know of at the moment”, Thorn confessed. “There should be more but unfortunately we did not discover them when we first moved here. Admittedly, we weren’t concerned with neighbours but rather anything that potential predators at the time. Thankfully, we shall know more when we speak to the ones we’ve identified. They will certainly know the notable figures in the area.”
“Good!” his master acknowledged. “Keep me apprised!”