DC/RH Special

DC/RH BK II, CH 22: Confrontation

Chapter Twenty-two: Confrontation

Duke Galronde and his company whirled around to face the newcomer and found nothing!

“I have spent much of my life listening to tales of the mighty Duke Galronde, greatest Faerie Lord in the Empire. I had childhood dreams of one day meeting you and serving in your court. Now, confronted with the real thing, I am left disappointed. Dreams seldom compare favourably with real life.”

Again, the voice came from behind them. They turned again only to be confronted with more of the same. 

“Come now”, the handsome Archfey questioned with a disarming smile. “It is far too soon to conclude thusly. Not when thou hast yet to reveal thine own self. Ti’s a grave lack of confidence that drives a person to skulk in the shadows. Mayhaps, we may be the one left wanting.”

“That so?” the voice said, speaking from the right this time. “Somehow, I find that hard to believe.”

The fae lord laughed, a beautiful sound that rang in the small cavern. “Tut tut! How unbecoming. You are in the presence of your liege lord and still, you lurk when you should show fealty!”

Scornful laughter rang in the chamber. “Do you even understand where you are?” the voice asked from the left. “There is only one lord here. Only one being gets to make demands of me.”

“You are not him!” it yelled from above.

The Fae lord’s brow quirked up at this. “Then have him come to me. Let me speak to he who would usurp mine place in the hearts of my people.”

“OH?” the voice asked sarcastically. “Now you wish to talk. After you have brought chaos and insult into our domain. After you trampled over common courtesy and tradition. After you injured fae sent to greet you. You are lucky we do not strike you down where you stand.”

“Sheltering in this dismal pit has’t made thee take leave of thine senses. Ye seem to forget those same tales thee did confess to know. As if ‘t be true a thing that would not even showeth its visage couldst standeth ere ‘afore me.

From his place half kneeling on the floor, Thorn tried to stand. Feebly reaching out to some place on his right, he croaked out a warning, “No… don’t! Provocation…”

There was no telling if his compatriot heard his strained whispers but if they did, they chose to ignore them.

“You came here searching for a fight, right?” the voice spoke coldly.   

“Very well then, prepare to face Echo, Bearer of the Golden Flame!

At first glance, the creature that stepped out of the shadows towards them seemed more elemental than fae. For one thing, it was half made of fire like a humanoid phoenix. Its hair was fire, same with its wings. Its eyes burned like bright coals and behind its wings floated a strange golden sigil wide enough that if it stretched, its fingers might just touch its edge. Despite this, its fae characteristics shone through clearly. It had the same physical features as your standard sprite sans the flames. Better still, it registered as a lesser fae to the Duke’s powers which meant only one thing.

His aura settled on the chamber once more.  

“Come on now”, the fiery sprite said teasingly. “It didn’t work on my grandfather, it’s not going to work on me.”

“Echo?” the huntsman asked in bewilderment.

Ignoring him, the flame bearer responded to the Duke’s assault with powers of his own. At once, the world dimmed as strange clouds of mana condensed on the ceiling. They flared with a baleful light shedding an intense heat on the cavern below. The larger they grew, the brighter they got, and yet conversely, the chamber got darker as if the clouds were sucking in all the light. Soon there were just shadows and the glow of fiery clouds that threatened t wash the world with flames.

Duke Galronde sighed audibly. “I hath shown courtesy to thy grandsire on account of his status. Doth not think I would not crush thee whither thee standeth, huntsman’s whelp ‘r nay.”

Echo laughed. In response, the fiery clouds overhead roiled like a frothy sea. The mana growing within continued to skyrocket and worse, a strange hair-raising feeling filled the atmosphere.

Smile fallen, the fae lord stared up at the ceiling with trepidation as he realised just what it was he was facing. 

“Divine Punishment!” he breathed out slowly. 

“You!” he said, sharp eyes focused on Echo. “Ye called forth divine punishment!” 

Echo laughed again. “Not so confident anymore, are you? We’ll…”

He twitched, staring first up at the clouds before levelling a shocked look at the fae lord. 

“How?” he asked with an eerily familiar look of bewilderment. “The clouds can’t target you. You’re not really here?”

As if mirroring his confusion, the fiery clouds swirled around on the ceiling, searching. The Archfae watched all this with amusement.

“An illusion!” You’re a projection! Ho..w?”

Realisation dawned on Echo as he turned his gaze towards the one person in the Duke’s party who he had overlooked. The one person who never spoke or drew attention to himself. Only now did he realise that the other fae was himself wrapped in illusion. In truth, he was completely insensate. “A dream projected from the mind of a subordinate.”

Now it was the fae lord’s turn to laugh, covering his face in bashful merriment. “Truth dawns at last!”

“Yond one such as I would be challenged so readily by lesser fae in mine own demesne. T’would seem I has’t been too lenient. T would be sore to liveth down this disgrace at the hour I walketh out of hither!”

Echo continued to stare at the Archfey in confusion not knowing what to do or say. 

“Thou has’t acquitt’d thineself well oh Bearer of the Golden Flame”, the Duke pronounced. Truly incredible. I only wish I wast here in person. With grandsire and grand issue so talented, I fear I have squander’d thy father’s talent. This dungeon is fortunate indeed to have thy fealty.”

He turned to look at Thorn but by this point, the dungeon knight had long since slipped into unconsciousness. Duke Galronde sighed softly. 

“Tell the hexknight his proposal shall be reviewed carefully. His request to be recognised as a separate court shall be dismissed of course but there is room enough for negotiation on the other facets.”

With a dismissive wave, the fae lord turned to leave.

“Wait!” Echo called out. “That’s it?”

“Yes!”, The Archfey answered with a jaunty smile. “The message has’t been delivered. That which remains will be deliberated by lesser parties. For now, ‘that’s it'” 

With a snap of his fingers, the faerie duke and his entourage faded away like they were never there. 

Caius sat in his private study, surrounded by reports and maps. The fire in the hearth cast a warm glow on the room, illuminating the shelves filled with books and scrolls. He was deep in thought, studying the latest updates from his provinces and analyzing the current state of his empire.

He was dressed in simple robes of dark blue, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows as he carefully reviewed the documents before him. As always, the spear of Basileus floated at his side, an ever-present companion that symbolized his status as the ruler of the land.

The emperor was acutely aware of the many responsibilities that came with his position, and he took them all seriously. He was determined to make informed decisions that would benefit his people and ensure the prosperity of his kingdom.

He looked over a report detailing the progress of a new crop in a southern province, then moved on to a report about trade in the north. He made notes in the margins, considering the impact of each situation and formulating a plan of action.

“The exception made for you in the wards isn’t so you can skulk in the shadows”, he said, speaking up suddenly.

With an annoyed sigh, a lithe figure shimmered into existence in a settee on the far side of the room. “This one was merely inspired by some events in thy new dungeon.”  

The scratching of pen on paper stilled. “You went yourself?”

“Aye! How couldst I not?”, the Archfey said with a dramatic flourish. “Mine own honour and right to rule were questioned.”

“I see”, Cauis said, going back to his work. The silence stretched but he was used to it. Best get some work done in the interim. Any second now, it would be interrupted again. 

“Thy druid wast right! The dungeon of Briar Knoll doest possess divine might!”

The emperor sighed and sat back in his chair, reports forgotten. Pressing his finger against his tired eyes, he asked, “How do you suppose we deal with it?” 

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