After the Wasps bring the mortal deep within their nest, I shift my awareness away, knowing I can trust the voracious creatures to not let the invader reach my core's room without a fight.
I didn't think enemies could appear as this one did, and if not for my Trait, my core could have been in danger. It still was, now that I think about it. If that mortal wasn't already half-dead, my heart could have been caught up in the ensuing fight and destroyed rather easily.
However, how can I prevent something like this from happening again?
I cannot hide the emerald gemstone deep within the wood since too much matter around it would interfere with my consciousness and growth, but I do not have a way to stop something from just teleporting inside my core's room either.
Should I have some Wasps inside just to be sure? My first Title would deactivate, but it would be reassuring to have some ready defenders. Or maybe move my heart inside the nest? The mortal is there, though, and the Title would not work in that case too.
Still, why would my instincts react in such a way? Until now, they pushed me to kill every single creature not born within the dungeon, but they acted strangely with this specific mortal.
When I selected my first creature, I found myself thinking about traps and creatures to defend myself from invaders, so it is clear they do not want to spare all of them. So, why is this one special? What makes it so different?
The mortal is connected to those damned flames as well, but I am starting to think something is going on. When it appeared from the fissure, I initially thought it was sent to kill me. However, its body was burnt and damaged by those same fires, and I doubt my instincts would protect it so much if that was the case. I cannot think of any other option, though.
I have no idea of what I should be doing with my dungeon right now. I might know how to support and nurture others, but I never had to defend myself or keep an eye open for predators. This was the first real intruder, and even while unconscious and half-dead, it could have killed me.
Perhaps this is why my dungeon instincts push me to grow as fast as possible. I have natural enemies that can come as they like, and even with the Trait hiding me, I am not invincible. The invaders do not need to find my core if they can just destroy everything around them. Yet, I don't know how to stop something like this.
After a few minutes spent slowing the mana near my core to unwind my stressed consciousness, I decide to keep going as if the incident with the mortal never happened. Wasting time like this is useless, and it's better to do something while I think.
At least, I need to grow as fast as possible and have more powerful defenders since enemies will have a harder time destroying everything, and maybe one of my creatures will have a solution in the future.
Looking for a good spot for a Dark Cloud Basilisk within the upper part of my dungeon, I let mana flow near the area.
I have to slow down the process as I attune it to the Dark since I still don't have much experience with the element, but I manage. However, as time goes by and I am about to use everything I have, my senses still tell me the creature is only a juvenile, and I will need even more mana to create a full adult.
A Natatory Wasp required 1 unit, but the Dark creature already took over 20, and it still wasn't enough.
Feeling the mana within my core reach the last drops and the patterns starting to destabilize after staying in place for such a long time, I let it go. The Dark-Attuned mana shimmers before changing, and the new creature is born.
The Basilisk is even smaller than the first, less than a meter in length, with scarlet blood eyes, red fur running over its spine, two long sharp fangs, and smaller silver teeth. As it gains life, the creature uncoils before swimming near the blue Vines and staying still, ready to snatch an unaware prey.
My core is almost empty after this, so I let my focus wander within my dungeon and unwind a bit more after the scary intrusion. While this happens, I practice attuning neutral mana to the Dark element.
Three hours go by in a flash as my mana regenerates, and I am ready to restart.
The Basilisk is doing fine, already having caught a Stixrant Frog, and the other creatures are holding on as well. However, it is clear I need much more space than I have right now if I want a healthy ecosystem.
After ordering my Wasps to keep their attention on the mortal, I devote all my consciousness to my dungeon's growth.
It is time to expand as much as possible.
Tyra slowly regained her consciousness, the pulsing pain demanding her attention speeding up the process. Her body was aching everywhere, and the burning sensation was much stronger than before. The fairy cracked one eye open and instantly closed it as a spike of drilling agony reached her brain.
'How am I still alive? Why didn't those monsters eat me?'
Grinding, buzzing, and snapping reached her ears as the pain dulled a bit, and the fairy jerked her hand toward the stone knife. With her heart beating inside her throat, she forced her eyes open. Some of those sounds were so close, she wanted to be ready to react as soon as possible.
Tyra bit her lips and endured the pain as she watched around within the darkness while laying down. While fairies couldn't die inside the Cage, she knew that outside was another story, and she had no intention of falling before she found her dungeon.
The green-haired fairy froze, truly realizing for the first time she was outside the prison.
Disregarding anything else, she closed her eyes, trying to track the incomplete connection. She followed her end as fast as she could, and the fairy shivered as the link simply faded away within the void.
Tears fell from her brown eyes, her mind already envisioning her core broken in pieces, when she realized something didn't add up; she was still alive.
Everything about her instincts and innate knowledge told her there was no way she should be still breathing if her core was destroyed. The link should have completely disappeared as well, not fade away at the other end as it did.
'My Core has to be out there! It has to be!' She thought, clenching her hand around the knife. The situation didn't make much sense, but the fairy had to believe that her dungeon was still alive with all her heart.
She bit her lips, truly thinking about its possible situation now that she had a chance to join it. It could be in danger at this moment, and she was incredibly worried about its state of mind too.
The Elder telling her it had been a Tree before didn't help to lessen the worry she felt. The fairy knew every monster had to spend some time in hibernation after their evolution, and dungeon cores often required months, if not years, since the change was so drastic. It should have been her job to protect it while it was in its most vulnerable state, but she hadn't been there for it, leaving it all alone.
However, even if staying without defenses for all that time was dangerous, Tyra hoped her dungeon spent as much time as possible sleeping. That kind of danger was insignificant compared to what three and a half years without a true connection with her could do to its mind.
Other than guiding the dungeon and being a trusted partner for life, fairies existed to balance the powerful emotions a pure soul being like a core felt. Both of them would become much more stable after completing their link, sharing a bit of the other's personality as well.
Without it, she was scared her core would have problems with its new sense of time and existence, following too much its own instincts and powerful urges that would inevitably try to compensate for her absence.
She didn't precisely know how the instincts would manifest and try to balance the incomplete link in her own dungeon’s mind since her personality was rather different from other fairies, and her innate knowledge was rather general and vague. However, it couldn't be something positive since the urges would be inconsistent and chaotic, pushing her core in a thousand directions at once.
Her heart twisted in a knot as she thought about her own core slowly becoming a distorted version of her.
It wasn't only that. The massive amounts of mana stored within the small gem would influence its thoughts as well without her sharing the burden, and it would slowly cause her dungeon to become more and more insane, paranoid, and single-minded as time went by.
It should have been her job to gently guide it as it explored its new self without worry or simply be there as a friend and companion.
Yet, the Cage denied her the possibility. Denied every fairy the possibility for thousands of years.
Tyra slowly opened her brown eyes, glaring ahead and chiding herself. She didn't have any time to waste in pointless worries, and had to find her core as soon as possible, no matter the consequences. She would think about those matters when she could do something about them.
Shaking from the burning pain, the fairy pushed herself up and explored the strange place she was in. It wasn't much, just a small hexagonal cell made of a dark-blue and thin material, with a single end open. Keeping a hand on the odd and flimsy wall to help herself up, the fairy pushed her head out to observe what was making all these unfamiliar sounds, but she immediately rushed backward, her heart racing inside her chest.
She was surrounded by tens of those giant flying dark blue creatures, all rushing around with their jagged mandibles and sharp claws, feeding pieces of chewed-up flesh to hundreds of pale-blue grubs as big as her. It was clear she was inside the creatures' nest, and Tyra was sure she would soon become the next meal if she didn't do something about it.
The fairy spent a few seconds breathing heavily before forcing herself to look out again. She had to understand how the monsters moved and had to study the structure's layout before thinking of an escape route. This time, she kept her back on the wall and peaked with only one eye, ready to bolt immediately as the first hint of danger.
As she did, the only thing the fairy saw in her vision was the head of a giant beast watching her, two dark blue claws kept together and extended in her direction. For a second, she froze, her mind not catching up with what was a few centimeters away from her face. As her brain finally restarted and recognized the monster, Tyra jumped backward with her heart ready to burst out of her chest and her stone knife ready ahead. Wincing, she tried to summon her magic, but it felt sluggish and weak, unresponsive.
The fairy clutched her knife as hard as she could to give herself strength. She wouldn't go out without a fight, even if her magic was spent.
The creature moved over the opening, blocking every escape route, and it shifted its claws in her direction.
A few tense seconds went by as Tyra kept herself ready to react to the creature's slightest movement. And as time passed, the beast looked more and more impatient.
In the end, it snapped its mandibles a few times before attacking with its two claws. Seeing the blow coming, Tyra dodged the strike on the side and kept her knife trained on its head, ready to deal a lethal blow if the monster overextended.
The giant insect looked confused as to why she would avoid its attack and moved its claws in her direction again. She ducked behind them with ease and moved closer to its head, ready to strike.
The beast struck a third time, and Tyra launched herself toward the creature's eye after evading the blow. The beast moved backward and quickly blocked her strike with a third leg, the stone knife not doing any damage to the exoskeleton.
The fairy fell back on the strange material after impacting the appendage with her body, wincing as the intense pain from the still fresh burns screamed for attention. Without hesitation, she rolled a few times toward the back of the area, taking a knee and moving her eyes on her opponent. She was just in time to launch herself away from something falling on her head.
The creature snapped its mandibles in her direction and flew away, leaving her alone inside the dark cell. Completely exhausted, aching, and confused.
Tyra blinked her eyes, her brain spluttering for an explanation.
Making sure the monster was truly gone, she moved her sight toward the last thing the creature tried to hit her with, a damp, smelly, and chewed-up piece of bloody flesh.
The green-haired fairy poked the thing with her foot to make sure her mind wasn't playing a trick with her. It was the same thing the flying creatures were feeding their young.
'Was that monster trying to give me this the whole time?'
Tyra thought about their 'fight' and grimaced as she realized how slow the creature's movements really had been. She had been able to easily dodge every single one, and she knew she was far from her peak condition. It never attacked with its mandibles as well, just shoving its two front legs in her direction.
'This is awkward.'
After watching outside the hexagonal cell and making sure the other creatures were occupied with the pale-blue grubs, Tyra reached a hand toward the lump of flesh and seized the few drops of attuned mana inside. As it swirled within, she sat down as far as possible from the opening to give her magic enough time to heal her body a bit.
Without realizing it, she almost passed out in exhaustion when she sensed something watching her. Forcing her hurt body to move again, she sprang upward, observing around her but not seeing anything.
Furrowing her eyebrows, Tyra closed her eyes and tried to understand where the feeling was coming from. Her hand twitched toward her knife when she realized the impression was all around her, but she calmed down a bit when she noticed it wasn't malicious.
It felt friendly, playful, and incredibly interested in her, almost like Lily acted the first time Tyra met her. However, the feeling carried with it an intense and familiar conviction and stubbornness the fairy couldn't help but compare with her own.
Tyra sensed the presence flow all around her, moving within and without the creatures' bodies and grubs, never staying in the same place for more than a second. It made her head spin.
'The outside world sure is complicated.'
Recognizing she wasn't about to immediately die and tired enough that she couldn't do anything to prevent it anyway, the fairy allowed herself to relax for a few seconds and fell asleep soon after. While the ethereal feeling swirled playfully around her body, she dreamed of her only friend waiting for her within the Cage of flames.