Chapter Eleven: Negotiations
‘Hero of the Grey Reaches’. Thorn had not heard that title in a long time. It almost seemed like another life. ‘NO!’ he asserted mentally. It was another life. Remembering his purpose here, Thorn tried to play it cool.
“You’ve heard of me?” he asked nonchalantly.
The Warden’s eyes appeared to bulge in disbelief at the statement. “You are one of the five Heroes of the Grey Reaches, my order was formed to follow your valiant steps! It would be impossible for me to not have heard of you.”
“Wardens?” Thorn asked in genuine confusion. “I thought you were a keeper, combat instructor or something along those lines.”
Gauwyn shook his head. “I can understand your confusion. The Wardens of the Golden Empire were formed a few years after your…” here he searched for a better word. “…retirement. Our mandate is to regularly patrol the blessed land and keep a wary eye out for threats to the people. It is our duty to prevent another disaster of the Grey Pass from ever occurring.”
“Aahh” Thorn intoned. He understood now.
It felt strange to hear his party’s deeds had actually caused lasting change in the empire’s policies, but that was good. Before his retirement, the incident the Warden spoke of was referred to as the Massacre of Grey Pass Town.
“So you do know of me?” he asked again, his face suddenly unreadable. “What is it you know exactly?”
“I know you were born a sprite and that you grew up in a small faerie settlement in the plains to the west of this forest. It no longer exists, but there is a small monument there to you and your people. I know you joined a party of adventurers, travelling the blessed land for over a decade. Your journey came to an abrupt end after a run-in with Pezal’s Hounds. Eventually, you were rescued from their clutches.”
The Warden paused here, unsure of how to continue, “Unfortunately, certain damage had already been done. It was then you decided to join the guild in a more involved capacity. From there, you run with several different parties before finally settling with The Five. I know you eventually tired of the adventurer’s life, and sometime after the death of the necromancer the party was… disbanded, and you retired, returning to your betrothed and your people.”
Thorn nodded to the story. It was a fitting summary of his life among the humans. The Warden did know a thing or two, maybe even more given how sanitised his summary was. Something told him that it was for his sake. However, there was one small discrepancy. Their party was not disbanded. That implied a command from higher up or some mutual understanding. It split due to irreconcilable differences. Though from the man’s second pause, he might know something about that as well. Their leader, Guillaume, decided to use their newfound hero status to buy favour and lead a rebellion in his kingdom in an attempt to recover the throne.
Thorn and a couple of others realised it was time to jump ship. Guillaume’s coup was eventually successful, but Thorn still chose to decline the invitation to his coronation. That was because, contrary to popular belief, there were not five heroes of the Grey Reaches. No! There were only four. Tearing his mind away from that example of human deception, Thorn focused on the situation before him and disregarding the burning desire to ask about his old friends, he did what he came for.
“You came to my master’s domain for a reason, Warden?” he asked.
“We simply needed to learn more about the dungeon and what it held. I am sure a retired adventurer like yourself can appreciate the circumstances we find ourselves in”, Gauwyn began diplomatically.
“You want to know its secrets; monsters, treasures, how it gained its power, whether Nader is right and it is truly extra divine!” Thorn said, winking at the stunned druid. He already knew their names. He did not spy on them through the panels for nothing. Before, he was merely pushing their boundaries and establishing his own power to make his negotiations easier.
Keeping their objective at the front of his mind, Gauwyn ignored the druid’s affront, he asked, “Is it truly as powerful as he said?”
Thorn thought back to the many wonders he saw Brandr create and the many he was surely capable of. “Quite the opposite, your druidmaster might has underestimated its power.”
Nader raised his voice, pushing to be heard, “Really? You’re certain?”
He was definitely invested. Being able to prove that this was a variant divinity dungeon would mean a lot more than he could express.
“If I let you ask your questions one by one, we would not leave this place today”, Thorn said as he walked into the circle. Reaching down, he picked up a couple of the offerings. A block of azurite, feathers from a giant eagle, a flask of holy water and ashes. Sighing, he clenched each item in his fist, sending them directly to the dungeon core.
“I will permit you to ask three questions. Decide which ones you want answered or decide who gets to ask those questions”, he told them.
To their credit, they did not dilly dally. The humans knew their mission, and more importantly, they knew who was in charge. Thus, it did not surprise Thorn when Gauwyn spoke up only a few seconds later.
“We ask for information on the dungeon’s capabilities and how it is possible for you to be its guide. Our third question can wait until after we hear answers to these two”, the armoured man said.
Thorn nodded to himself, they were good questions. Nice and general enough that an overeager fae could easily end up saying more than he or she intended. Thankfully, he had played this game many times.
“The answers you seek are more connected than you would think. In fact, they might be one and the same. But before I answer them, I need answers to a question of my own”, he informed them.
“That was not the agreement!” the Warden pointed out, curtly.
“Humour me”, Thorn said with a strained smile. “It ties directly to the answer you seek.”
The small council consulted each other with the mage, the dwarf and the count giving their assent. Only the druid refused.
“Ask your question”, the Warden said.
“A lot is happening in these hills, there are a lot of people out and about. You have a lot of work being done. Did anyone perchance meet or see any faerie in the area?” Thorn asked.
Gauwyn glanced at his council. This was exactly one of the issues they had wanted to ask. “There was a single sighting before the dungeon was discovered but none since. All attempts to contact the faerie in the area have failed, and our contacts in the woods have failed to send any news.”
“I had hoped, but I guess there was no chance after all” Thorn said, allowing his inner sadness to bleed through.
“You know where the problem lies?” asked the warden, hopefully.
“I should. I lived through it”, Thorn revealed. “Some time ago, a disaster fell upon these woods. A troll by the name of Makas, came upon a damaged fae relic and it mutated him, transforming him into a monster that preyed on faerie creatures. Makas fed on every fae he could find, save those that live in this dungeon.”
“There are other fae in here?” the druid asked, scanning their surroundings suspiciously.
“Every fae?” the dwarf asked horrified.
“How is that possi…”
“LET ME FINISH!” Thorn yelled, buffeting them with wind and shadow. They quietened instantly, eyes widening at the display of power. It felt like all the mana in the cavern had come alive all at once. Spellcraft always had visible signs; a gathering of mana, a soft chant, a quick or slow shift in elemental forces…this happened all but instantaneously. The power such a feat required had everyone looking at the dark fae warily.
Thorn looked at their faces and found himself actually enjoyed their stunned, frightened expressions. Straightening himself, he pushed those feelings back. Ever since his promotion, he was forced to battle certain newfound urges. This was one of them.
“Where was I?” he asked no one in particular. “Ah, yes! I was about to tell a story. You might want to sit for this one. It is the sequel to the one our good warden told earlier. It is about how a Hero of the Grey Reaches sold his soul to a dungeon.”