Chapter Thirty-six: Invaders of the Hidden Dungeon
The adventurers loitered whilst they watched the dwarves work. It had been a mean couple of days and they had little to show for it.
“Okay!” Sanzur announced. “I think we have got it!”
Had he made this proclamation even two days ago he would have had them rushing over now, however, they just turned languidly towards him.
“Are you sure?” someone asked. “I don’t want to dig for hours just for a shard of topaz.”
The dwarf’s upper lip bristled. “That was a mistake”, he forced out. “I searched by value and it turned up a piece of a relic.”
“Yeah?” another adventurer challenged. “Says you! I don’t see no relic. Don’t see no more pieces either. Might as well been a
“Now you listen here you oversized oaf!” the dwarf warned, the pick in his hand suddenly no longer innocent. “That was a piece broken off an enchanted masterwork. The fact that you lot were too uneducated to tell changes nothing and if I have to explain that one more time…”
“Woah!” Sieg exclaimed as he cut in. “Fellas…please! Calm down!”
“Sanzur… you’re confident about this deposit?”
“Aye!” the dwarf confirmed. “We search first for reachable deposits of reasonable size before testing for value and attempting the identification test.”
“Oh, so you know what mineral it is?” the ranger asked.
“No”, the dwarven craftsman admitted with a frown. The geodes are a bit scattered and our skills are not good enough to get that accurate a read. However, their contents should be the same and so cracking one open will tell us what is in the others.”
“Good!” Sieg acknowledged. “Let’s do that.
“Guys!’ someone called softly.
“Keep your fingers crossed guys and remember what’s at stake here. Every little bit counts…”
“Everyone…” the voice called again.
“…we might only make a little here and there but it’ll add up, you’ll see. We might even get lucky and…”
“Quit yer yapping and look at this!”
As a group, they all turned to the source of the yell. Even Sieg, originally miffed at getting so rudely interrupted, found himself staring over the perpetrator’s shoulder. There, hovering over the brush was a tiny feminine figure. Wings, clear and ribbed like a dragonfly’s stood outstretched from behind her. She stared back at them, her tiny petulant features filled with curiosity.
“Is that a faery?” a low voice asked.
No one said anything, after all, the answer was right in front of them, answered. They were all quiet, staring at the beautiful lady that only stood at thirty or so centimetres tall. Seasoned adventurers, they may be but none had ever seen an actual fae before. They had heard of them, yes and even seen elven and gnomish goods at one point or another. Coenbert had once escorted a pixie dust merchant. Faeries, on the other hand, were different. Elves were, for all intents and purposes, haughty magical humans but faeries were tiny, shy and fickle spirits that either brought good fortune or bad. This was why none of them blinked when she waved and beckoned them closer, flying backwards.
Unable to contain her curiosity, one adventurer found herself stepping towards the sprite only for another to grab her hand and shake his head.
“Didn’t yer mama ever tell you to stay away from the wee folk?” he hissed.
The word resounded in all of their ears, especially when they realised that the faerie was headed closer to the Galronde Forest. Unbidden, tales of people getting snatched by fae or lured into traps and hunts rose in their minds. One even remembered a horrifying story about a lady who got replaced by a changeling.
“Do we shoo it away?” Ered asked nervously.
Ryan the swordsman spoke up, “Just turn about gentlemen and don’t give her the time of day. It’s just a faerie. The Galronde is full of them. Remember, fae can’t do anything to those who keep out of their business!”
Listening to him, they tried to get back into the sway of things. Making a point to no longer stare at the faerie, besides the stray glance or two, they prepared to start their dig. Sure enough, after several unsuccessful attempts, she got fed up and flew away leading to sighs of relief all around.
“What did I tell you boys?” Ryan bragged. “Faeries only mess with you if you invite them. Mind your business an they’ll mind theirs!”
The dwarves said nothing, fae were enigmas even to them. Whilst some in their clans usually had better relations to some of the fae than the humans did they, personally, were not among those that did. Giving the brush the sprite had flown through one last look, one dwarf turned back to the plot he had outlined.
“Why couldn’t it have been a coblynau?”
What went unseen among them was the look Coenbert short his cousin. The ranger nodded in understanding and picking up some fruit and berries, set off after the faery.
Thirty minutes later, Sieg was back. He was out of breath and sweating profusely but he had a wide grin on his face.
“You fellas have to see this!”
The entire party of eighteen stood a good one hundred metres away and stared at a structure in a hill. It was a giant, ten-metre tall ornate entrance carved from marble. it looked like a giant archway that served as a portal. Strange symbols carved into it glowed softly in the light of the sun. There were all sort of figures carved into the archway but unfortunately, they were too far away to make them out. Thus their eyes were drawn to the sculptures that flanked the entrance. It was as if the creator felt that a ten-metre tall enchanted archway was not impressive enough and so added the sculptures to intimidate any visitors.
Massive four-metre tall beasts of marble and gold stood at each side of the entrance. The creatures were unfamiliar but they stood on all fours and had vaguely feline features. They were solidly built with large broad chests and menacing teeth and claws and a mane of incredibly curly hair. One had its right right foot placed on a golden ball. The other had two small versions of itself trying to climb its back. Even over the distance, their large bulbous eyes seemed to follow you staring right into you.
“Is that a faerie haunt?” asked quietly referencing the faeries that seem to flit in and out of the entrance.
“That is doubtful”, Ryan answered. They turned to him and he shrugged. “Not that I’m an expert or anything but faerie haunts are revels, aren’t they? This is something else.”
Some turned to the dwarves.
“Don’t look at us!” Sanzur yelled defensively. “That thing is definitely not dwarven!”
“Oh come on!” Sieg said in exasperation. “That is clearly a dungeon!”
A muffled argument quickly followed. How could there be a dungeon so far out here? Wasn’t the entrance too exquisite for a dungeon? What were fae doing about a dungeon? In the end, however, there was only one way to answer. They had to confirm for themselves. Soon a small group of five was sent and just like the ranger leading them suspected, it was a dungeon and the proof was inscribed right on the sides of the archway.
Warriors! Men-at-arms and Soldiers of fortune!
Step forward and prove your mettle!
Before you lies The Realm of Valor, an elite dungeon.
The sacred ground for all who stride the martial path.
Only the strong and daring may delve into its depths,
And only the victorious may receive its bounty.
Courage. Power. Skill. Will. All may be found within.
Wealth, Glory, Honour and Power beyond compare await you.
There is but one absolute command;
Covet not the Realm Heart!
Brandr and the sprites waited with baited breaths as they watched the adventurers mill about the entrance. They seemed enthralled by the entryway itself with the shortest among them– ‘Dwarves’, his mind supplied. –running their hands over the marble and marvelling at the craftsmanship. For a moment, it was a toss up on whether they would enter or not. There seemed to be some dissension in their ranks. Their leader, a burly man in full plate was of no help. He was too busy speaking tensely into a medallion. Perhaps he was contacting a superior for directions. The thought of the superior forbidding them from entering.
The dungeon core weighed his options. All the sprites had returned the minute Bluecap had revealed the existence of humans so they were not in danger. Even the ones who had posed at the entrance to draw the attention of the adventurers had returned to Heim. Speaking of, he had to reward Bluecap for the initiative and quicking to lead them to the dungeon mouth. That meant they had the luxury of time. They could wait. While he was eager to test his domain against the adventurers, any extension would only help him fortify his defences even more. Conversely, these adventurers could help him better prepare for the organised offensive that was no doubt coming his way. For a moment, the dungeon wondered if there was a way to influence their decision. He need not have bothered.