DC/RH BK II, CH 29: Meeting New Faces

Chapter Twenty-Nine: Meeting New Faces

“Welcome to the fifth floor!” said the flaming sprite with a smile. “You’ve passed the preliminary trials and are now prepared to delve the dungeon in truth. May the core’s grace guide you!” 

Grimsby backed away quickly, nearly tripping over the dwarves behind him. The fourth floor was by far the worst. It was a full hour of near-aimless hiking made even more difficult by whatever magical field, the dungeon had cast over the marble pyramid. He had not been prepared to be confronted by this on reaching this new floor. 

The strange fae was cloaked in fire, with fiery wings, hair and clothes. What little remained of its brown flesh seemed to bask eternally in these flickering flames like a log in a fireplace or maybe a lit candlewick. When it moved, the air around it shimmered from the heat, distorting its movements. As it floated there above the clearing, it cast a trail of sparkling embers that vanished before they hit the grassy floor. Despite the dangerous and foreboding nature of its open flames, the small faerie radiated a friendly, welcoming aura. It was as if it were inviting them to come closer and gather around a warm campfire. Its eyes glowed like cherry red coals, but its smile was bright and warm.

“Everyone!” Thorn called out with a proud smile, walking up to meet his kin. “Meet my grandson Echo. The Flamebearer!”

The burning faerie laughed, a soothing sound that reminded them of the crackling of burning wood. It flitted closer, its wings leaving short-lived fires in its wake. These tiny flames danced around it like a flock of fireflies, making it seem even more otherworldly. The young faerie stared at them with obvious curiosity, its warm eyes seemingly tracing them and taking in every detail.

Grimsby exchanged a look with the druid. This was him, the faerie they had been warned about, the one who had become a champion of one of the dungeon’s divine domains. He hadn’t even known that was possible and yet, here he was, defying everything Grimsby had ever thought he knew about dungeons and divine champions.

The other adventurers gathered around their new fairie companion while his grandfather handled the introductions. 

“I suggest we have the children take a backseat at this stage”, Grimsby told the rest of the party once they got a move on. “The fifth floor is incredibly dangerous. We’ve only had one party beat it so far.”

Ulak shot Thorn a questioning look as if asking for confirmation. The dungeon knight nodded.

Echo, eager to contribute, had more to say. “The first four floors are meant to be simple trials. Every floor after that is specifically designed to take more than one try to defeat. You need better strategies that simply rush in, beat monsters to proceed. The rewards are worth the increased difficulty though.” 

Thorn chose to answer this time. “The greatest reward you can expect from the upper four floors is a piece of masterwork equipment but starting at the fifth floor, the reward is raised. Every boss will begin to drop skill tablets. Each tablet can be used five times to teach a person a skill unique to the boss.”

Ignoring the momentary surprise of those not in the know, Thorn pushed on. “The skill of this floor is called Fury of the Flames. It can be used to temporarily boost the power and speed of up to ten people. Unfortunately, it can only be taught to mages.”

“Grandfather wanted to leave a flaming punch skill for fighters instead but it was decided that would be useful for the later floors”, Echo informed them. 

“You discuss things with the dungeon?” Druidmaster Nader asked with an intense look in his eyes.  

“It is a divine creature”, Thorn said noncommittally. “It can understand conversations.”

He would have liked to continue that line of questions further but the dungeon knight’s tone made it abundantly clear that he was not going to tolerate it.

“I’m looking forward to skills now”, Sarrod cut in, breaking the tension.

“You should,” Echo told him. “The skill on the next floor lets you fly. You should get it. Walking is such a hassle.”

As everyone debated the use of flying skills, Grimsby caught the two fae exchanging a meaningful look. His stomach fell. 

‘It’s probably nothing!’ he told himself, desperately wishing that were true.

“Are you certain we should be doing this?” Verrin asked nervously. “Why not wait until the dungeon works a proper deal out with the dungeon fae?”

Surprisingly, it was Seig who provided the answer. “That could take ages and by the time it is settled, we’d lose our advantage. The faeries have shown that they are willing to negotiate. That means that we can too or rather we can have Jared do it.”

The druid looked up from his meal at the mention of his name. Seeing that they weren’t talking to him, he turned away but Sirai could tell that he was now paying attention. 

Sirai gave his friend a look. Ever since the faeries came to town. Sieg had gone from arguing that they take it slow to pushing them onward. He didn’t know how the two were connected but was a welcome change. The ranger was becoming a downer. 

Unfortunately, Verrin did not look convinced. It was time to step in.

“Look, it is simple”, he said, butting in. “We act now and we can cut a private deal… gain an edge. We wait and were stuck with what everyone else is getting.”

The mage wrung her hands. “Isn’t that better though? What if we cause an incident and the guild has to get involved?” 

“Relax!” he told her. “It’s not like we’re going to ask the faeries to hand over the dungeon core. We’re not going to interfere in anything. We’ll keep things minor, work our level and leave the big guys to handle the greater stuff.”

Sirai knew his cousin. Verrin had been in support of the plan before this. Sadly the same incident that brought Seig to their side threatened to pull her away. The ranger had gone about this wrong. Verrin’s concern wasn’t the actions they were planning but the guild’s possible response. Unlike him, his cousin had dreams of rising up in the ranks. Also unlike him, she was terrified she’d do something wrong and lose her chance. She already took the failure of The Bloodsoaked Foxes as a personal fault, she didn’t want to do anything that might compromise the Guild’s endeavours in the dungeon. There’d be no coming back from that.  

Waving the ranger away, he sat next to her and threw an arm around her. “Hey! Don’t sweat the small stuff, alright”, he said in a comforting tone. “The guild higher-ups are in the dungeon right now with Thorn Clearwing. The dungeon is pretty much closed for the day. We don’t need to move right this second.” 

“What say we go down to the Guild Hall and hang out in the tavern? That way, if anything changes due to the delve, we’ll be among the first to know. In the meantime, we’ll book a delve slot and start our own preparations–“. He bumped her with his hip in jest. “–Figure out how best to use our secret weapon.”

She smiled. Sirai smile back making sure to discreetly shoot Seig a thumbs up while he did so.

“I thought the plan was to ask the faeries for the locations of the secret chests?” the druid asked in confusion.

Sirai ignored him. 

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