Okay enough with the side stories. Let’s back to our regular programme.
Chapter Twenty: Visitors
From the west, a strange wind blew and wherever it passed, the plants and animals grew frenzied. This late in autumn, flowers bloomed again. The beasts of the plains went wild as if drugged. The sun was already high in the sky and yet for a moment, it seemed to grow even brighter as if the great ball of fire was also being fanned by the strange breeze. In the west, The Galronde seemed to sigh or rather, the breeze was its sigh. The great trees of the faerie forest were almost shuddering with unreadable emotion as all at once, the eyes of the forest turned to face their target, the dungeon of Black Briar Knoll.
The adventurers patrolling the outskirts of the place felt nothing but a warm breeze on their skin. Even the ones going in and out of the dungeon thought it nothing more than a draft. Its passing went unnoticed until it crossed the threshold of the dungeon. There it triggered every single warning bell the dungeon had arrayed to protect itself.
[Activate Dungeon Rage?]
The warning system practically screamed into Brandr’s mind abruptly ending his meditation. Annoyed, he check the entrance and found…nothing. For a moment, he was confused but the next instant, he sent out a dungeon wide alert. All over the dungeon, every guardian, every sprite, every beast, every plant down to the lowliest gnat or blade of grass was instantly made aware of the threat.
For the adventurers still in the dungeon, it was as if everything stopped. The dungeon beasts which seemed to go about their normal lives all paused. The usual beats and sounds of the dungeon suddenly cut out. Even the winds and swaying grass went still. Time itself seemed frozen and when it resumed things were very different. Adventurers backed away as every dungeon beast turned to face them, some raising themselves out of the tall grass so they could stare at the interlopers.
“What the hell is happening?” someone yelled as his party was slowly herded against a wall.
He held his sword out in front of him but he was unsure where to face. They were monsters everywhere and with each frightened beat of his heart, they seemed to multiply.
All over the dungeon, similar scenes were being repeated. In some cases, bosses came out of their rooms to stare down adventurers. None of them attacked. No. They just stared, fixing them in place with their eyes as they marched them against the dungeon walls or surrounded them so tightly not even a fart could slip loose. This strange behaviour was bone-chilling and most of the adventurers were all too scared out of their wits to dare throw the first blow.
In his crystal abode, Brandr hesitated, unsure whether to escalate. He had yet to find this new mysterious intruder but he still had cards to play. However, they were the sort that could not be unplayed. Once the adventurers guild learned of his formations and what they could do, things would get tense. For a moment, he wondered if he had gone too far before quickly dismissing the notion.
The dungeon’s natural early warning system tended to announce every living thing that came into his domain. Every ant, bird and even the parasites the adventurer’s tracked in. It also gave everyone an initial threat rating. Some, like the aforementioned ants, could be ignored. However, it had never gone as ballistic as it did now, not even when the Warden and the other guild high-tiers came.
Whatever was out there was a genuine threat to his survival. It even suggested he should activate his berserk option, Dungeon Rage. If he did that, everything in his dungeon would fight to the death to protect his core. Sacrificing their lives and future for more power until they slaughtered every invader, died in battle or were consumed by their frenzy.
Brandr scanned his dungeon. The wasps were still alive so the intruder was still on the first floor. However, it did not show up on his panels. Evidently, it had some way to avoid being seen and conventional mana scans.
‘Some sort of spiritual entity then?’ he mused.
Again, he itched to activate his array formations. This would go so much quicker if he could just lock down all the essence in the area. The only reason he hadn’t was because there were other options. Pointedly ignoring Thorn’s anxious messages, Brandr forced himself into a meditative trance. The intruder had made one big mistake, he was not just a dungeon, he was a world god. This was his world, everything in it existed by his will and under his heavens. Now seeing with more than his eyes and dungeon senses, Brandr quickly found the intruder.
“Thorn!” he called. “Take your best warriors and go to the third chamber on the first floor. The intruder is there!”
“You found it?” the relieved voice of his dungeon guide asked. “What is it?”
“Some sort of dream entity”, Brandr revealed. “It was parasiting the creatures on the first floor, slipping from one to another by hiding itself in the layers beyond conscious thought. I have blocked it. It cannot jump to any of the dungeon’s creatures. However, as soon as I did, it stopped and went to the third chamber.”
“What is it doing?” Thorn asked in a subdued tone.
“It is waiting”, Brandr confirmed. “Whatever it is, it wants to talk. Go and meet it!”
“This… Lord Brandr, this could go badly.”
Something in his voice caused the dots to connect in Brandr’s head. “You know what it is?” he accused.
The dungeon knight did not deny it. “I think so”, he admitted. “The Duke of The Galronde is the Lord of Delirium. Many in his court have power over dreams.”
Brandr considered this for a moment. The fae were finally making a move then. If so, he needed to answer in kind. Fundamentally, nothing had changed. They still had to confront the intruder, only now they had some understanding of what it was. They could be better prepared.
“Do you need Bellwhispers to help?” he asked.
“No!” Thorn exclaimed. “Maybe after”, he amended. “Higher fae have a serious effect on lower ones. He would be useless in their presence.”
“Then take the evolved!” Brandr stated matter of factly.
“I…” Thorn began, suddenly unsure. Despite being the one to initiate this, the dungeon knight found himself apprehensive.
“Don’t worry”, the dungeon assured him, his voice echoing in his mind. “I will be with you.”
As he spoke, he selected the necessary welcoming party. Nettle was a given but he would add Proudsprout, Flix and Bluecap as insurance.
Dark shadows covered the left side of the chamber as the dungeon fae announced themselves. Rising like flames, the shadows allowed Thorn and his cohort to march out of them like an advancing force. It was a good entrance.
As if answering an unspoken challenge, the chamber filled with light as the invader revealed itself. The once darkened cavern changed, the atmosphere becoming more vibrant as warm lights lit up the small cavern. Three figures appeared in the middle of the display, starting out as faint outlies in the air before growing more tangible. Two were man-sized figures in silvery armour. They stood on either side of the third in a defensive stance.
As soon as they revealed themselves, Thorn’s mind went blank.
“Hello, father!” the grinning figure on the right greeted. “You look… well!”
If he was expecting a reaction he expected to come from this reunion, he failed to get it. Thorn only had eyes for the figure in the middle.
Delicate elven features stared back at him out of a face so beautiful he could not put it to words. His eyes were like rippling pools of honey mead that begged you to drink of them. Four rams horns curled from the front and sides of his brow and wound around them was a simple circlet of mithril. The half-smile on his face caused Thorn’s heartbeat to triple but when he looked down and away, his eyes were immediately caught by the man’s chiselled abs. Dizzying lines of white and black were traced over his body, clearly visible through his sheer sleeveless robes, left open to tantalise his viewers.
Cursing mentally, the poor dungeon knight dragged his eyes back up to the man’s face and found it smiling at him with an amused expression. It took everything he had and the help of Brandr, still riding in his mind, not to fall prostrate before the man and worship him. He was not alone. Even the least educated fae in his group knew who this was.
Duke Galronde, The Archfae of Delirium himself, was standing in the dungeon.
Things had just gotten very complicated.