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Lohne was adamantly opposed to our interference in what was in truth Duke A’Daoine’s responsibilities. The dungeon and the Knockers were located within his territories. The Kelpie herd were granted their lands based on treaties they had signed with him. She argued, effectively, that interfering in the management and responsibilities of a Ranked Duke could be seen as an affront to his prerogatives, even a declaration of war if he chooses to construe our actions as trespass.

Uron and Cedric were both adamant that we had both an opportunity and responsibility to act. And as a Ranked Prince, I not only outranked Duke A’Daoine, but was System supported since my efforts to return Blayney and his family, and see that justice was served was part of a quest.

I myself was more curious than anything. I wanted to know what a dungeon was like on Talahm, and if it remotely resembled what was detailed in novels and games on Earth.

"That’s crap and you know it," Lohne argued, gaining my attention.

"Just because System generates a quest, doesn’t absolve an individual from Seelie law. Otherwise, every criminal action could use System quests as justification and defense. ‘I had to kill this family and steal their wealth; the System gave me a quest.’ is not an excuse.

"You are simply engaging in sophistry. There is no way to prove System generated and gave you a quest. They can’t be shared, and they can’t be displayed. Quests are unique to each person and are generated in response to that person's specific circumstances."

"There are no ways to share quests or standard quests that everyone can do for experience?" I asked Caraid.

[Not really. There are quests that are generated and offered to many people. A battle, for instance, may generate a quest to defend a location or rescue someone.]

[As for standard quests, I’m not sure I understand what you mean?]

"How to explain.

"For example, a blacksmith apprentice is tasked to make a dagger from his Master. He crafts the dagger and turns it in. Isn’t that a repeatable quest?"

[No. Of course not. That’s his job. He may gain skill progression in crafting or blacksmithing, but there is no quest associated with that.]

"So, no quests to seek out 10 herbs, or go kill 10 rats for Farmer Brown?"

The sound of Caraid’s laughter was interesting. I don’t think I’d experienced this before. It was very similar to the rush you get when you drink that first cup of coffee in the morning or smoke a cigarette after a good meal. Our souls were linked, so his emotions actually had physiological repercussions on my body. It was interesting to discover, and I made a mental note to experiment with the parameters of this link.

I was reminded that there would be a time he must serve the Hunt, and I wondered if his actions and emotions when he was fighting would bleed through and transfer through this ‘emotional’ connection.

[No. There are no NPC’s standing in the same spot offering quests to anyone that opens a dialogue box.]

[Not a game. Remember?] Caraid said laughter evident.

"Wait," I said as the arguing around me began to intensify allowing me to ignore Caraid’s, which was helpful because his laughter was at my expense, "There is an easy solution to this."

Activating the communication crystal on my watch, I connected to Brianne, my assistant. She and Basil had traveled ahead with Jennie to set up our next staging area. I was worried about bringing to many people to the Kelpie settlement, unsure if we would need to fight. By splitting those I considered staff and individuals with no combat ability and sending them ahead, I thought if the worse happened and we had to fight our way out, there would be fewer people that were more dead weight than helpful.

"Your Highness?" Brianne said once our crystals had connected and a magical holo projection of each of our forms was created.

"Brianne, we’ve hit a snag here. It seems there is an undeclared dungeon that the former Kelpie Lord hid from Duke A’Daoine and his people. To make matters worse, there is a Knocker community and Duchess that has been trapped within and exploited.  I’m unsure what condition they may be in, or how long they have been trapped in this dungeon.

"Contact Duke A’Daoine’s people for me. Give them my contact information, and explain I need to speak with someone, preferably the Duke," I said explaining.

It was at least an hour before my communication crystal beeped. Connecting, I was a bit surprised to find Brianne contacting me, and not Duke A’Daoine or his staff.

"Sir. I’ve explained the situation to Duke A’Daoine’s staff. They reminded me, that courtesy forbids Duke A’Daoine or his people from contacting you until after he had paid his respects in person.

"They have been apprised of the situation. Lord Blayney’s people were in talks with Duke A’Daoine’s staff at the same time as I was. They have decided they would send people to audit the Herd, examine the mine, and try to categorize the dungeon.

"In the meantime, Duke A’Daoine has given permission for you to contact the Knocker Duchess.  But asks that you refrain from exploiting, mining, farming, or claiming the dungeon," Brianna informed me.

It seemed prudent; I wasn’t really interested in a dungeon dive.  I did want to satisfy my curiosity and find out what dungeons were like, but I could do that without exploiting the dungeon.  The conditions were acceptable because they allowed me to do what I wanted, while secretly acknowledging I would have paid a visit to this dungeon even if the Duke had refused permission.

I readily agreed to the Duke’s limitations and began making plans to move out as soon as possible. I spoke to Blayney about a guide to the dungeon and proctored an invitation to him to join me.  I didn’t think he or Una would wish to join the group, they would have their hands full with Herd re-structuring, but it would be rude to not offer them the choice.

They thought it best if they were there to receive Duke A’Daoine’s people, and trusted Irvin to update them after our return. They were able to locate a suitable guide. A young runner that often-ferried gear and supplies to the mining camp.

A quick meal.  A restock of provisions.  And a communication crystal conversation with Brianna and Jennie to inform them of our plans, directing them to head to Duke A’Daoine’s Fief instead of awaiting our arrival.  And we were ready to set out.

We skirted the edges of the lake until eventually encountering a tributary. To say it was a spring or creek would be disparaging. It was at least a small river, about a mile across as it emptied into the Herd’s waters. The Kelpies had no need for bridges, they simply forded the river in their water form. It was here that riding mounts made more sense to me than using a Skimmer.

The gentle beasts that had bonded and imprinted on us were easily convinced to traverse and follow the Kelpies into the waters. What was surprising and was really interesting was the adaptability of the riding equipment. A few adjustments to frequency and attunement and the force barrier that was usually projected to keep out wind and bugs was, instead, adapted to generate a field of energy that would keep mount and rider dry.

The mounts still had to wade and swim, but their progress was made much simpler as the water was displaced. A wedge of force creating a path that eased travel and kept mount and rider alike from panic when strong streams and rushing waters were encountered.

I wondered, briefly, why the equipment didn’t come with a setting to allow the animals to simply walk on water. It seemed an easy adjustment to harden the force barrier under each mount so that they could step on the projected energy barrier. I added it to the growing list of items that I would need to understand, and as a possible technological innovation, something I might be able to cobble together as a source of funding when I had my own lands.

The only difficult part of the trip occurred when we needed to cross a ravine. It was the reason we hadn’t simply been given a map and coordinates and sent on our way.

Our guide led us to a felled tree that served as a pathway and shortened the distance we would need to go. If not for this crossing, our journey would be extended for days longer. And although the path was tricky and hard to navigate, the real challenge had been discovering the starting point, the way through was glamoured and camouflaged making it hard to find.

Lord Haygan had used brush and forest growth to hide his actions and enhance the glamour that had been cast. A hedge had been crafted and encouraged to grow into a maze-like structure, protected by small arrays had been stationed strategically along the maze path and if triggered would cast confusion. Those not versed in the secrets of this maze might find themselves trapped here, indefinitely.

The further we traveled the more sense that made. The lands we were crossing could no longer be logically claimed as Herd lands. How they found this mine, would need to be something else Duke A’Daoine would have to discover.

It was possible that this area was unclaimed, and the Kelpie could by treaty or eminent domain claim possession. But if they had encroached on another Lord’s territory, withheld taxes and failure to register a dungeon would be the least of the issues Blayney would need to consider.

Lord Haygan may have invited war between territories.

We entered the maze cautiously. Marked out a trail, and always made left turns.  The guide was uncertain of the correct path, never having actually walked the maze.

It made no difference that we were systematic and methodical in approach, the more we walked the paths that had been constructed, the more lost we became. It was after the third time that we found the entrance to the maze that Lohne realized that the arrays that cast confusion were placed there as misdirection.

They were formation keystones, arrays linked to a much more powerful formation that continuously allowed the maze to restructure paths, move markers, and would always lead the party back to the entrance.

Our guide had no idea how to turn off the formation or negate the effects. The Kelpie didn’t use this path. It was easier for them to assume serpent form and simply swim upstream using the river. Which is probably how they managed to find the mine in the first place.

"You could burn the maze to the ground," Uron suggested, "I doubt the formation is powerful enough to re-grow destroyed hedges."

"I wouldn’t be so sure of that," Lohne replied, "Kelpie make the best farmers for a reason. It’s not just because their horse form allows them advantages in tilling and plowing the land. They have a connection with plants.

"If they fertilized these hedges with their blood, I doubt fire will work. The regenerative properties of the blood will mean the hedges simply rebuild and repair the damage."

"Are they still tied to nature and the cycle of dormancy that happens during winter?" I asked.

"They should be," Lohne answered after taking a moment to consider my question, "but we are in a temperate zone. It never really gets cold enough for plants to enter dormancy here. And winter is still months away."

"Did you get a new Aura?" Cedric wondered.

"I’m not sure," I responded. "If I can radiate Belenos Aura, wouldn’t it make sense that I would be able to do the same with a Cyronax Aura?"

"That might just work," Lohne agreed.  "And depending on the temperature you can generate with the aura; you may be able to destroy the formation."

Cyronax was the God of Winter. When I’d fought with the Wild Hunt, I’d managed, somehow, to change the properties of Belenos Aura so that it burned cold fire. The principles should be the same.

I knew how to create spells. Creating the fireball spell had shown me that the process was pretty straight forward. Will. Form. Intent. I connected almost instinctively with magic by now, shaping paths and holding the possibility in my mental grasp.

Motioning for everyone to stand back, I moved to the entrance of the maze and released my intent.

[Cyronax Aura learned -You have imbued your aura with aspects and power from the Cyronax bloodline.] [Cyronax Aura - Elemental Ice Debuff. Increase Ice Damage.]

Extending Cyronax Aura as I would Belenos Aura, I watched as plants fought against the effects of cold and winter. Regenerating and repairing any damage they took. The aura I was generating wasn’t cold enough to do what I’d envisioned.

Reaching deeper, I fought to grasp that part of my bloodline that made me Unseelie. The magics and inheritance that the God Cyronax had gifted me. Slowly, as I coaxed and harnessed the bits of me that I had long ignored, that had just awakened, I began to gain control.

As I gained control, I experienced the same pleasure, the same satisfaction I experienced when I projected Beleros’ Aura.  I realized that I had fallen into a trap. A mental bias and prejudice had somehow taken root. In my mental landscape, I had assigned values and traits to the Unseelie that had no reason.

Good and evil.                                                                                  

Seelie versus Unseelie.

I had allowed myself to become inured into attitudes and beliefs that had no basis. I hadn’t met an Unseelie yet, but still, I’d begun to think of them as others. I knew the fallacy of logic that kind of thinking generated. Good and evil existed in all people.

I had been holding back from embracing my Unseelie nature, not because I’d had no time to really compartmentalize or examine the benefits that bloodline might bring, but because I had erroneously linked that Unseelie with Evil.

 

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About the author

flriley

Bio: I'm a fanatic about reading. To say I read two to three books a day would not be exaggerating. If it's Urban Fantasy, Sci-Fi, or Fantasy, I play no favorites and give everything a chance. I love hard hitting sci-fi like David Weber. Urban like Ilona Andrews, and Fantasy like Mercedes Lackey.

I've beta read for a few published authors, most notable Robin D. Owen's.

I've always wanted to write a novel, so did so during the last NaNoWrite Month. This is an edited version of that novel.

Maybe someday I'll release the original chapters so you can see just how badly mass producing a book in only 30 days can be.

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