Realm of Valour

DC/RH, BK II CH 17: Sprite Work

Chapter Seventeen: Sprite Work

Brandr watched as Utir’s Bears gathered in amazement at their loot. Beside him, Thorn looked a little uneasy.

“Are you sure you want to give the adventurers skill crystals?” he asked.

“Of course!” It is in my best interest for them to grow stronger. “They will need to if they wish to overcome the later floors.”

“This might bring more attention than you can handle”, the dungeon knight warned.

“More?” Brandr asked with a laugh. They were long past warnings. There was very little that could dissuade the adventurers now. With the kingdom and now, the fae courts getting involved, the only way to ensure their safety was to become indispensable. He had to bind their enemies so tightly to them that they would prefer to cut off their arms than destroy him. More monsters wouldn’t hurt either.

He waved his hand, causing the panel to display a different location. The gesture itself was unnecessary given that it took barely a thought but he liked it. Their view changed from the fifth floor to right under the faerythorn. There, a group of sprites sat in front of an obelisk.

“At first, I believed the power system here to be crude”, Brandr began as they watched the sprites cultivate. “Your people did nothing but sit around and wait for their power to grow with age. It was you who taught me differently. Secret arts to grow your mana. Skills to augment your parameters. Weapons to amplify your attacks. It was just as complete and complex as any I knew. The problem is access.”

Thorn nodded. Secret arts were so precious that only the wealthy and powerful had access to them. Gaining skills often took years of study and training. Some were lucky enough to study in the various colleges for exorbitant fees. Even for the rich, it was either that mortgage your inheritance to buy a skill book.

“I’ve watched the adventurers closely these last few months”, Brandr confessed. “Some are surprisingly talented. However, few are like the team that Warden led. The differences in training, skills and equipment were stark clear. Entire teams come in here with only two or four pieces of ranked gear between them. I have seen mages with only four spells in their repertoire. Watching them, I am tempted to restrict entry to only higher-ranked adventurers but quality isn’t enough. To fuel my growth, I need quantity as well. If the adventurers aren’t up to snuff, I’ll just have to train them.”

Through the panel they watched as one of the sprites slowly levitated into the air, its mana surging wildly as it broke into the third rank or as Brandr referred to it, the Heaven Reaching/Foundation tier. Strange clouds of mana appeared in the air above the sprite. Slowly, they showered him in rarefied mana, aiding in his transformation. Eventually, the impromptu baptism ended and the sprite floated lightly to the floor to the admiring and envious gazes of the onlookers.

The joyous sprite tossed back his bright white hair and laughed. It was a strange tinkling fae laugh that lingered in the air, taking a while to fade even after he stopped. His lilac eyes shone with triumph. The surrounding sprites cheered. His mother even rushed back home for cake. Soon, the gathered fae clamoured for him to showcase his new powers and he obliged with a proud smile. Orbs of sparkling water appeared around him and with a hand sign, they jetted forth, skidding across the small pool like pebbles.

Around him, the other sprites oohed and ahhed. This sprite was not the first to advance using the [Sigil of the Elements] and he would not be the last. Yet, every fae knew this would be impossible without the dungeon. Thus, the newly advanced sprite did not forget to give a small but heartfelt thanks towards the edifice over the faerythorn that housed the dungeon core.

Understanding dawned in Thorn’s eyes as he realised the dungeons plans. Behind his navel, his aurous core throbbed.

“You said it yourself. I am the dungeon god”, Brandr told the former sprite, his voice taking on an ominous tone. “What is a god without worshippers?”

“I will fulfil their desires; wealth, power, fame. All these and more they will gain in my realm. I will open up new paths of power before them, even unto godhood. In return, they will protect me even against themselves, even from their masters.”

Thorn half-listened to Bellwhispers, his mind still reeling from his last conversation with the dungeon core.

“Of course, I told Titter ‘Absolutely not!’ The first birth in the dungeon must be celebrated properly. I mean, this is the first true-born dungeon sprite we’re talking about. She is still insistent on only having the traditional naming ceremony. I mean, can you imagine?” his chamberlain rattled.

Eventually, though, he did catch on that his friend was elsewhere. They were sat in his room, part of a portioned off space in the faerythorn. An onlooker would be forgiven for mistaking it for a small wooden house with hand caved decals. In truth, it was a small branch of the faerythorn, its relative space bent in a way that only faerie magic could make sense of. The magic of its weaving evoked images of gigantic world trees that held whole cities of people on each leaf.

“Thorn? Thorn, are you listening?” he called leaning forward in his lush vine rocking chair.

“What?” the startled dungeon knight exclaimed. “Of course, I’m listening. Arbor is pushy. Titter’s. A child.”

Unfortunately, not even his quick scramble was enough as evidenced by his friends raised eyebrow.

“Sorry!” he said apologetically.

“Honestly”, Bellwhispers said with a sigh.

“First you’re not here and when you are, you’re still not”, he complained as he picked up his cup of honey mead. “You need to get yourself together, Thorn. Your absence did not go unnoticed. Nettle and I kept things together but fae talk you know.”

Thorn winced at the reminder. “What are they saying?”

“Don’t worry about it”, Bellwhispers said comfortingly. “It’s nothing serious. Just the usual malcontents saying the usual things. Arbor and his ilk trying to throw their weight where it is not wanted.”

Of course, it was. There were times Thorn wished he had thrown that sprite to Makas and saved someone else instead. Settling back into the settee, he chased away those bitter thoughts with a sip of honey mead. “What did you tell them?”

“That you were busy with business for the core”, his chamberlain informed him. “They couldn’t exactly argue with that though they did try. Echo was a great help there. The fact that you came back evolved has helped. Just… be careful. There are some who wonder if we still need a ruler given that we are all subject to the core now. Don’t give them more excuses.”

“I understand”, Thorn said absentmindedly as he reached for the spread on the table. Stuffing a few treats into his mouth and filling the space that remained with more honey mead, Thorn relaxed as the tooth aching sweetness took his worries away. He was initially concerned when the first four didn’t do it but that was probably due to his advancement. The realisation made him frown. On one hand, more sweets. On the other hand, he would need more food on hand.

Thinking about his own advancement reminded him of something.

“How many sprites have ranked up since I left?” he asked.

“Sixteen or so, I think”, Bellwhispers mused with a thoughtful look. “You should probably ask Nettle or Lindrea, if you want a more accurate picture.”

Curiosity perked, Thorn enquired further. “How many evolved?”

“Maybe nine”, Bellwhipers replied before a sudden smile split his face. “You should definitely see Nettle. He is so tall now. Not as tall as you of course.”

He had. The old sprite commander had transformed into something called a bladewing. Yet another kind of fae that did not exist before the dungeon appeared.

“And Lindrea?” Thorn asked. He hadn’t seen the flower maiden in weeks.

Bellwhispers gave a small cute frown that made him look like a confused toddler. “She’s still waiting. Not sure what for. Maybe, she’s not getting the choices she wanted.”

“What of you?” he asked tentatively.

“Bah!” his friend exclaimed with a half-drunken laugh. “I’m fine being a sprite. I have never been very interested in being more.”

“Truly?”, Thorn pressed. Despite their close friendship, he and Bellwhispers had never discussed the topic. Admittedly, this was due to Thorn doing whatever he could to avoid his personal issues. However, he found it hard to believe that commune’s most fervent organiser would deny himself so.

“You never considered it?” he asked Bellwhispers. “Not even a little.”

“Well… maybe a little”, the sprite admitted to Thorn’s knowing gaze. He waved his hand, conjuring a stream of golden particles that lit up the cosy room with glittering stars. In doing so, he revealed that he too had practised the [Sigil of the Elements].

“I like the extra magic for sure and gold is very pretty”, the red-faced chamberlain expressed.

“It is, isn’t it”, Thorn obliged distractingly as he reached for the tray. Sadly, there were no more sweets left. That was probably a cue to leave.

A vast plain spread out before him, so wide that you could see the horizon. Grass, nearly a metre tall in some areas, bent in waves to the slow winds that swept across the place. Scattered shrubs dotted the plains, birds nestled in their branches and as he flew upwards, Thorn could make out a watering hole off to the east. Above the plains floated five gigantic chunks of rock, miniature islands topped in trees and in one case, the waterfall responsible for the watering hole. He searched the sky, looking for the ceiling but finding only clouds.

‘How is this possible?’ he asked himself in wonderment.

As the dungeon’s guide, Thorn had access to some of the dungeon’s powers; including remote viewing through archive screens but this… this was something else. Nothing could have prepared him for this sight. He found it very difficult to believe he was in a dungeon.

“It’s incredible, isn’t it?” Lindrea said beside him, giving him a start that sent him reeling.

“Summer’s Grace! Lindrea!”, he exclaimed. All he got in response was a laugh.

“Come!” she told him. “Let me show you around. Now that the adventurers have made it past Irak and his hobbes, they’ll be coming here next. However, I think we are ready. The night hounds understand their tactic well enough and the Gylfi is already impatient.”

Together, they flew around the place inspecting the preparations. Lindrea was not the only fae working the fields. Thorn counted four others on his first pass. Surprising, two of them were field spirits. One was one of the newly converted dungeon sprites and the last was someone he knew well. Flix waved as they passed. He sat perched on the back of a night hound, a massive canine creature with the forequarters of an owl. Besides Flix, who seemed to be joining the night hounds on a hunt, the others were busy tending to the plains.

In the time he was gone, Thorn had wondered how his sprites would cope with living in a dungeon. From time to time, he would spy on them through the archive screens. Now, he got to see it for himself. He looked on as a field sprite slowly rearranged a copse of small trees so they formed a natural alcove. When she finished, she took out a small object and buried it right in the centre. On the other side of the field, the dungeon sprite helped an illusory hare with a difficult birth.

Memories of working the forest in the summer, watching his subjects growing fruit and flowers came upon a Thorn in that moment and for a minute a feeling of intense nostalgia filled his heart. They would never have that again but as he watched a sprite stand on the antlers of a gleaming deer to coax the flower buds of broom shrub to open, Thorn knew that maybe, just maybe, they could have something better.

A/N: Jump onto the discord server to complain about Brandr’s dastardly plan or the fact that Thorn and Bellwhispers did not share some of their sweets.


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