Chapter Fifteen: New Acquaintances
The dungeon town was exactly like Jared pictured it would be albeit a little less complete. Huge walls of stone marked its boundaries, towers dotting its length. He could just make out the large manor like stone building to the east. The town was being built in the style of a citadel only it currently had more tents and loghouses than permanent brick and stone buildings.
Once through the southern gates, he and a few others disembarked the wagon. Stretching he waved goodbye to the driver. He was lucky to gain passage in a small caravan bringing food, amenities and men to the adventurers stationed here. That alone shaved days from the trip. The added security was a bonus too. Jared was shaken from his contemplation by a hard shove from behind. Stumbling in surprise, he turned to see a sweaty team of adventurers traipsing through the gate. His assailant, a tall burly man, scowled at him as if daring him to do something. Annoyed and unafraid, he opened his mouth to protest but a fellow traveller grabbed him and pulled him out of the way.
“Come here boy!” the middle-aged man said.
Jared glanced at the small with a frown but kept silent. Together they watched the adventurers pass.
As they did, Jared finally caught on to the atmosphere. The dungeon town was tangibly different from practically every other settlement he knew.
The air was charged in an imperceptible manner. It took Jared a few minutes to connect the strange tension he felt in his chest with the sweaty adventurers walking around with their swords loose in their scabbards. The people here were not just used to violence, they were right on the edge. They were both expecting it and ready to commit it at a moment’s notice.
It honestly reminded Jared of the time he was attacked by highway bandits. The promise of violence that hung in the air was very similar. Thankfully, this one was not directed at him. Wisely, Jared held his tongue on the matter, keeping the comparison to himself. No need to offend scores of armed mercenaries on his first day. A bit more self-aware, he thanked the adventurer who pulled him aside.
He was here to meet Druidmaster Narder in hopes of an apprenticeship. It was best to stick to his goal. Still, Jared could not help thinking about the thing that drew all these people out here. He looked to the north, where the dungeon was presumably located, curious thoughts burrowing into his heart.
The guild house was usually crowded in the evenings. Lack of other entertainment in the town ensured that but Sieg had never seen it so charged. Everywhere, adventurers crowded around tables, speaking in hushed tones. As he and his party pushed their way to the counter, he perked his ears but failed to make anything out. Everyone was talking and what little he could make out made little sense.
“What’s with the hubbub?” He asked one of the barkeeps.
“Haven’t you heard?” the barkeep asked, leaning over. “They say Thorn Clearwing is running the dungeon.”
“Who?” came his patron.
“You know…” the man asked incredulously. “Thorn Clearwing from the stories. The fairy that cursed the necromancer of the north.”
“Wait? The Silver Spindle Hero? That Thorn Clearwing?” Sirai cut in, his eyes wide with disbelief.
“The very one”, the barkeep acknowledged with a smile. “The Warden gave notice this evening that the dungeon’s threat was being temporarily raised. Apparently, some fae have garrisoned it and he wants everyone to wait until he’s worked out an agreement first. Didn’t take long for news to break that it was Thorn Clearwing that did it.”
“See… I tolds yous”, an adventurer at the counter said with a drunken slur. “Says I saw them flitting about did I! Next thing you know they be stealing your firstborns and calves. We don’t do something and…”
“Oh shut up, Derlon!” his companion remarked, cutting him off. “Leave the Guild to sort it out.”
“Well they better ’cause I’m not setting one foot in there till they do!” someone on a nearby table yelled.
“Is how you wake up with your face on the wrong side of your head!”
One of the guys sitting at the counter took that chance to put his two cents in. “I was there. They brought in some big shot druid. One of his apprentices spilt the beans.”
“You sure?” The barkeep asked, wiping a mug with the air of someone who had caught a liar. “I know for certain was the dwarves. Thorn’s old teammate lives near here. They were rushing to send a message to him and were overheard.”
Affronted, the adventurer slammed his tankard on the counter. “I said was there!” he yelled. “The Bitter Pills cornered the brat and had him spill his guts. You fools have no idea what you’re in for. Clearwing is no wee fae. They say he is as taller as… well taller than a dwarf. He walks with shadows now.”
The air chilled at his turn of phrase. Sieg shot a glance at the barkeep but the man simply shrugged and drew some ale. Sirai, however, pressed the issue.
“But isn’t Clearwing supposed to be a Hero?” he asked.
“Even heroes can turn, boy!” the man barked.
“I know that but Clearwing was like one of the best right?” the assassin argued.
“That just makes it worse”, the man countered. “All the people dead in that dungeon. Do you think that is a coincidence? Clearwing was an adventurer for decades. Combine his experience with the power of a dungeon and it all makes sense.”
His voice dropped low, “Look you didn’t hear it from me but they say something bad happened in the forest. Something dark. To fight it, Clearwing sold his soul to the dungeon in exchange for power. It twisted him. You don’t come back from something like that. The hero he used to be is gone. What’s left would no sooner feed us to the dungeon than save anyone.
“Oookaay!” Sieg said drawing out the word even as he shot Sirai a look that told him not to ask any more questions. He dropped a few coins on the counter and grabbed a tray full of tankards. Sirai grabbed the other tray and together they left to find the rest of their group. Hopefully, Geoffrey and the others had found a table.
The adventurer’s guild was everything, Jared imagined it to be and more. A sprawling stone manor, divided into three wings, it catered to the rowdy mercs that made up most of the population of the dungeon town. There was little he wanted more than a tour, but the people he came with pulled him straight to the eatery.
It was crowded, filled with the contradictory smells of unwashed bodies, alcohol and good, hearty food. He was in luck. His group had friends here. That meant a secured table, and an opportunity to catch up with the latest news. Of course, all talk was dominated by the dungeon.
“Heard today that the place was infested with fae!” A shaggy-haired warrior informed them.
“Aye!” another concurred. “They say Thorn Clearwing holds court in its depths.”
“Thorn Clearwing?” One of the newcomers asked incredulously. “Sits on a bird with a silver needle Thorn Clearwing? The one who curses children who run in the dark? I guess I best get started on my chores then.”
“You laugh, but he was a B-ranked adventurer before he retired”, one of the mages said reproachingly.
“That was two hundred years ago. Only the spirits know how powerful he has gotten now.”
“And it’s not just him either, is it? There’s a whole bunch of fae in the dungeon”, the first adventurer added. “I’ve seen them about, skulking in the corner of my eye. When you turn around, they disappear, but as soon as your back is to them, you hear them chittering. Thought I was seeing things. Now? I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re intending to drive folks mad.”
“The wee folk never fight fair”, he warned. “No one wants to into the dungeon and come back with a faerie curse. Imagine me with an arse’s head.”
“It’d be an improvement!” someone cut in with a laugh.
“Hey!” He exclaimed in protest.
“Are they really doing that?” Jared asked. Hostile fae could be the stuff of nightmares. He had seen more than a few incidents to turn his stomach.
“Are they really cursing people who enter the dungeon?” he clarified.
“NO!” the warrior answered emphatically. “Not yet! They’re fae though. Anything could set them off. It’s only a matter of time before some idiot blunders over a faerie ring, kicks over a toadstool or does something that makes them take it out on all of us. Right now, every adventurer is concerned about the matter. We are all waiting for the guild to finalise a proper deal with the dungeon. Until then, only the big parties or the very stupid would delve in there.”
“That sucks!”, one of the newcomers sighed. “I came all this way for the loot and now you’re telling me we can’t go in.”
“Hey. If you want to take your chances be my guest!” the warrior said in resignation. “Word of advice though, the dungeon is dangerous. I cannot say this enough. It is like nothing you’ve ever seen. I can’t describe it. You’ve got to experience it for yourself.”
Many of the newcomers ignored him but Jared caught some of the other adventurers nodding gravely.
“There’s already a lot in there that could kill you, without adding faerie antics to the mix so unless you have some way to treat with the fae keep your ass in town and don’t ruin things for the rest of us.”
“That should be the easy part”, Jared said adding his two cents in. “Fae love bargains. The real problem is getting them to recognise boundaries. If they already live in the dungeon that might be a lost cause. They probably consider the land as theirs. It would be hard if not impossible to get them to give up their dominion. Of course, that would mean that anyone in the dungeon would technically be trespassing. That could be very bad. You’d practically be giving up all magical protections.” No sooner had he spoken than Jared found all the eyes at the table staring at him.
“What?” he asked. “Treating with the fae is pretty simple once you know what you’re doing. I’ve done so for years.”
A hand clamped down on his shoulder. Turning, he was confronted first with a smiling adventurer who was struggling to balance a tray of drinks in his hands. Jared would have smiled back if not for the roguest looking rogue next to him. He crossed the drinks laden man, sideways nearly toppling him so he could loom eagerly over the now distressed Jared.
“You can treat with the fae?” The rogue asked.
Mea Culpa! Mea Culpa! Mea Maxima Culpa!
For those of you who didn’t grow up catholic or learn a dead language for whatever reason. It’s latin and translates loosely as; my fault, my fault my great fault. The last two years were not… pleasant for the world and while I would have loved to come back much sooner that did not happen for a variety of reasons.
Three months ago, I logged back into discord aiming to resume writing. I received a warm response and was eager to get back into it. Would you know it, very soon after that I broke my leg at the knee (yeah, yeah, make your adventurer jokes). Fast forward past the surgery, ten screws and three months of physical therapy and I’m pleased to say…. LET’S DO THIS!!!
If I was to dedicate this chapter to anyone or group then it 100% has to go to the folks on the discord server who kept the hope burning and accommodated me during my recovery. You guys are AWESOME!