As those on the Discord would readily tell you, I am having computer trouble I am going to try and schedule the next few chapters (like that ever works) while I have someone look at my laptop. Enjoy the chapters!
Chapter Forty-nine: Loyalties
Thorn stood and listened to his master deliberate making one of his killer serpents an elite on the second floor. He stared at the snake in question. It lay in a hollow crook having doubled in size since it killed that poor herb picker. Now, Brandr wanted to place it in a fruit tree so it could kill even more. The Sprite Lord tried reminding himself that it was necessary but some part of him rebelled.
‘Those adventurers are people’, it argued. ‘[They’re just trying to make a living. If they were attacking them or trying to destroy the dungeon, sure but you couldn’t just lure them with treasure and then kill them for touching it.’
“You are troubled”, Brandr told his assistant. The sprite made to refute the claim but he quelled it.
“Do not deny something that is laid bare on your face. You are troubled sprite and have been for some time. While I would prefer to have you deal with them on your own, it has become clear that you cannot. So speak. What is it that troubles you?”
Thorn did so, spilling his feelings concerning the killing of adventurers and the militarisation of his people to the dungeon core.
“I am hard pressed to understand your concerns”, Brandr told him. “You do not want us to kill the people coming to kill us?”
“Yes-I mean NO!” Thorn said.
The dungeon core sat back saying, “It seems you are the one confused here.”
“Me?” the Sprite Lord asked in disbelief. “I’m the only one still sane around here. The world has gone mad. Dungeon cores can now grant skills and bind the elements. They can call the down fire and fly. You say the sky is green and it becomes green. No one even questions what you do anymore. A few moons ago, you were their death and now, they cannot do without you. They are all happy and willing to become your killing machines and attack innocent adventurers.”
“Which of them bothers you?” Brandr interjected.
“Which of these issues bothers you?” the dungeon core asked in a straight tone. “The wonders that I seem capable of, the fact that your people listen more to me than they do you or the fact that we will be killing your precious comrades?”
“You spent time with the humans, did you not? You served with them, adventured with them, became A HERO?” his master asked saying the last word in a way that made it come off as mockery. “From what I hear, you have spent more time among humans than you have your people. Your time with them has marked you. It is understandable for you to care about their wellbeing.”
Thorn balked at the claim but try as he might, he could not refute it. He searched himself and found that it was true. He left his first enclave when he was fifty and joined with a group of passing adventurers. Elaine, the adventurer he befriended, was the one responsible for showing him the world that existed beyond the limits of The Galronde. He stayed with her even after she retired and when her grandson took up the sword and life, he followed, honouring a promise to keep him safe. A promise he would eventually fail to keep.
One mission gone wrong was all it took. Their caravan was beset by brigands and the adventurers slaughtered. He, the party’s mascot, only survived because his captors mistook him for a pixie. They would learn their mistake when he failed to produce pixie dust and recover by selling him into slavery. This slight recollection of his bondage was enough to cause dark thoughts to fill his head and leave his hands curled into tight fists.
A hundred and four. That was how many years the slavers kept him. At first, he was but a novel decoration. Pixies were the most iconic of the small fae. The dust from wings was a precious magical reagent, making them favoured targets of traffickers. Sprites, brownies and the rest were not on the same tier of use to a criminal organisation. It was only when they discovered that he could fight that he gained use in their eyes. Sent to the fighting pits, he would remain there until rescued by the adventurers contracted to depose the organisation.
With growing reluctance, Thorn was forced to admit that he had a special place in his heart for adventurers. Besides Elaine’s family, they were the only ones to show him the good that existed in humanity. Becoming an adventurer in the wake of his slavery had been the only thing he could do. Not only was it a way to pay back the debt he owed for his liberation, but it was also the only place something like him would be accepted. Which other guild would want a fae who blighted everything he touched?
“It bothers me a lot!” he ground out to the dungeon core. The words were like gravels in his throat. “What bothers me the most, however, is buyer’s remorse. That and the fear that I may have doomed us.”
The dungeon core stared attentively, saying nothing. Merely watching.
“Before Makas fell to you, I knew that if nothing was done, he would slaughter us all. With every attack, we lost more of our remaining members. We could rely on no one for help. All the communes in the vicinity were gone, gobbled up by the cursed troll. For a time, I considered fleeing deeper into the forest for aid but hesitation robbed us of the chance. The dryad responsible for carrying messages between territories was slain and our sole route in, a fae passageway was destroyed both to slake the hunger of again, Makas”, Thorn revealed. “You were our only hope but even as I made that call, I knew it could easily be akin to drinking our own blood to quench our thirst.”
Brandr’s eyebrow rose, an impressive show of emotion for a dungeon core. Still, he kept silent and let the sprite tell his tale.
“Fae are spirits of nature and change. It affects us more than any other race but few even among ourselves understand what it truly means. We sprites are affected by our surroundings”, the sprite lord was saying. “We adapt to fit it; growing stronger, faster, larger, developing the resistances and abilities needed to thrive in it. I knew, better than most that even if you did not kill us, the cost of living in a dungeon would warp us beyond recognition. I knew this from experience.”
“Surely, you have noticed?” he asked his ‘master’. “I alone in the enclave am incapable of the most basic of sprite activities. I cannot grow a weed to save my life. Have me deliver a birth and you’ll end up with a stillborn. Even my mana is caustic and dark.”
“Believe it or not, it used to be worse”, he said with a deprecating laugh. “For a time, people around me would meet with ‘accidents’. Milk used to curdle in my presence. I once caused a litter of my master’s dog to be born deformed. Wounds caused by my blade would not heal, period. I could afflict people with nightmares and curses of despair. In essence, I was a walking jinx. All this because of the oppressive nature of my ‘home’.”
With a dark snarl, he made his darkest secret known to the dungeon core. “I was a slave!”
“I lived in a cage and only left it to fight in front of a screaming crowd drawn in by the promise of watching a tiny thing like myself kill people several times my size”, he said. “It changed me, warping me into a dark, twisted thing that both willingly and involuntarily strangled life and happiness in his presence. Had I not refused the numerous offered rank ups back then out of horror, I might have become even worse. Even the adventurers who saved me considered killing me. I would not have blamed them. I was a monster.
“It was the Grand Master, a half-elf who knew a thing or two about fae, who made them stay their swords. ‘If I could be made into this, I could be made better’ he reasoned. He took the risk onto himself and the only thing he asked of me was that I prove him right. That I prove to him and everyone else that I was not a monster”, he said, allowing himself a small smile at the thought of the man who once put his job on the line for him.
“It has been nearly two hundred years since and through those years I have worked to remove my taint. I would hate to have to look him in the eye and tell him that that’s changed.”
“You think the killing and fighting will warp your people into monsters. That it would prove the people who saved you wrong. That I would be no better than the creatures that kept you in bondage and made you fight others for their profit and amusement”, Brandr said calmly. None of these were questions but statements summarising the sprite lord’s issues better than even he could. “You have seen the changes already happening in your people and now you worry that your choice, made in desperation, was in error and it has yoked you to an eternal plough.”
“Do you know why I chose you instead of your grandson, Thorn?” the red-hued crystal asked. “When first I saw you, I saw someone who had gone through much and was made wiser in turn. I saw a leader and a fighter. Since knowing you, I have seen someone who is not afraid to make hard decisions. I see someone powerful, wise and strong-willed.
“It is why I grew concerned when I saw you waver and slump under your troubles. I believed that you needed help but I see now that this matter is something that you can and need to sort out on your own. So I will give you this order. You will leave here and go into seclusion unable to leave until you have come to grips with your choices and decided where to go from there. When you sit in contemplation I want you to consider these questions.
Ask yourself if I truly am analogous to your enslavers. Your life was once so precious to you that for a hundred and four years you regularly killed others for the right to keep it. Ask yourself what the lives of your enclave is worth. Above all, ask yourself this, ‘Why did the adventurers save me?’ Then, if you are brave, you may consider why it is you left.”
Thorn stared at the dungeon core, his heart twisted in feelings he could not clearly distinguish. For a few suspended moments, he did nothing but look at his master. Then, nodding, he turned and flew away.
We now, know Thorn’s backstory and it’s pretty dark. Man, I love foreshadowing stuff. Hero and former adventurer with curse powers who is from a fae race whose powers are determined by their surroundings. Come on, I know some of you saw this coming. Please don’t judge him too harshly. He had some good points in there somewhere. Besides, he made his bed when he accepted the pact. He is going to have to lie in it.