"Thank you," Tyra said, nodding her head as she accepted the gnawed lump of flesh wet with saliva.
In response, the dark blue creature twitched its long segmented antennae a few times before skittering away from the hexagonal cell's opening, eager to feed on the bubbles some of the grubs were blowing out of their mouth. Merrily twirling around her, the odd flowing consciousness encouraged her to quickly eat the food.
Tyra sighed, something she found she was doing more and more since three days ago, when she woke up for the first time within the peculiar monsters' nest. She had expected a deadly fight, a risky escape, not this, whatever this was.
'Lily would have loved being spoiled,' she thought sourly.
Sighing again and closing her eyes, the green-haired fairy seized the small amount of mana within the flesh. The Dark-Attuned energy was converted without a problem as it surged within her body, and Tyra felt her injuries heal a little bit more. Afterward, she threw the remaining flesh to one of the grubs grinding on their cells and requesting food with their mandibles. The ethereal mana swirled disapprovingly around her, but the fairy waved her hand in response; it was an old argument she had no intention of reviving again.
'My wounds are almost gone,' she thought, stretching the right arm ahead, her fingers spread apart.
Her body had some new scars, and her condition as a whole was far worse than before, but her magic and time couldn't do anything for the permanent destruction the blue flames brought with it.
Tyra absentmindedly chewed on her lips as she thought about how close she came to disappearing without even realizing it. After being Tricked outside the Cage and scorched by the fires in the process, she was left with only a few drops of mana inside her body, barely enough to stay awake for a few days. Summoning her innate magic after arriving worsened the problem, and her body collapsed to preserve the precious resource, keeping her away from death.
The fairy was sure that without the mana she took from the piece of flesh that first day, she would have never awakened again after falling asleep. Luckily, even while being confused and half-delirious, she had the presence of mind to consume it.
However, after resting for three days and having so many 'meals', she was almost in peak condition. Her body had enough mana to keep her alive for a month or so if she didn't use any magic or exert herself too much. Besides, she was going mad thinking about her dungeon all alone, and her nature was pushing her to move as quickly as possible.
"It's time for me to go, little one. Thank you for the help." She said aloud, knowing the peculiar flowing mana could understand what she was saying thanks to one of her innate abilities as a dungeon fairy; her magic would convey her intentions to every creature she spoke to.
The ethereal consciousness wrapped around her, the message clear. 'Stay.'
Tyra's lips twitched. Even if it was connected to the dangerous and rather brutal monsters, and shared some of their personality, the odd flow was surprisingly innocent and naive like a newborn. Even when trying not to, the fairy was starting to feel attached to it. "I am not your mommy, little one. I have things to do."
The ethereal being froze a few centimeters away from her nose, and Tyra had the impression of a cub tilting its head while facing a complex challenge. After a few seconds, it started to whirl happily around her. 'Mommy?'
The emerald-haired fairy groaned, running a hand on her face. The being had no idea of what the word even meant and just copied the thought her magic sent to it. "No mommy."
For a few seconds, it slowed in its movements around her, before it kept going as if nothing happened, happy to just be. Tyra sighed in relief.
"Why?" She asked, letting her own magic convey the whole question inside her head. 'Why didn't your creatures eat me, why are you giving me food, and why did you spend so much time around me?'
The odd being spun a few times around her body, and Tyra got its answer, even if it didn't make any sense whatsoever. 'Watch! See. Swarm! Same Life! No same Life?...Same and no same Life?...'
The ethereal being kept going, but its thoughts became more and more confused as it tried to explain, and the fairy couldn't understand what it was trying to convey anymore, a slight headache growing as she tried anyway. From the apparent chaos it was projecting, she was rather sure the half-sapient mana didn't really understand either.
It began to flow faster and faster around her, making her head spin.
"It's okay! It doesn't matter." She said hurriedly, grimacing at how aggressive the words came out of her mouth.
Tyra sighed in relief as the half-sapient flow slowed down. "I still have to go, you know? I cannot stay. I am sorry, but I have to find someone." she said after a few seconds.
The odd being projected hunger, prey, shelter, and swarm one after another in a questioning tone.
"Family, little one. My swarm," the green-haired fairy said, moving near the opening of the cell and looking around to check if she could see the exit. The nest was a dark labyrinth-like construction, but a greenish glow coming from below was seeping between the material.
It was a start.
The fairy gingerly grabbed the odd blue substance the nest was made of and began her descent, making sure to give a wide berth to the hungry larvae. Their mandibles were bigger than her arms, and she didn't want to test how much control the ethereal consciousness had of them.
She went down a few cells when the mana being caught up with her, flowing inside the grubs and circling around her body every so often. 'Stay. Swarm. Us.'
"Sorry." She said, her head held low while she kept descending.
'Stay! Swarm. Us!'
'Stay! Swarm. Us!'
'Stay! Swarm! Us!' It kept projecting to her every few seconds when she didn't answer.
The being got more and more confused and agitated as time went by, and hearing the entire nest suddenly buzz and awaken, the fairy grabbed her stone knife. Turning around while keeping a hand on the walls, she watched the arrangement full of scary blue creatures, grubs, eggs, and chrysalis.
Her brown eyes were sharp as she spoke, "Are you going to imprison me, little one?"
Tyra tightened her grasp on her knife and stirred her magic.
The consciousness froze, taken aback, and the few monsters coming her way skittered off after a few seconds. This time, as it flowed around her, the ethereal being felt even more confused and troubled, 'Swarm. Us. Stay?'
The fairy bit her lips as she sheathed the knife on the fern belt and began to climb down again, "I can't."
Tyra moved toward the feeble light for half an hour while the entire nest hummed with activity. The den was designed in concentric layers, with some free space for the creatures to move in between, and she had been on top of the structure, making the journey rather dangerous and long. Fortunately, it wasn't completely vertical, but at a moderate inclination, giving her the chance to rest every so often and find her footing more easily.
She ignored everything else and kept going, not reacting when the flow called to her or the flying monsters tried to give her some food.
Her palms were sweating, and her heart was beating faster and faster as the creatures started to surround her while she approached the light source. Even if they had fed her for three days, the fairy didn't know if they would allow her to just leave.
As she reached the bottom, the nest curved rapidly upward, and 50 or so centimeters above her head, she could see the hole letting the green light pass through. Tyra slowly climbed up between the amassed buzzing beasts, her heart in her throat as the consciousness kept moving inside every nearby creature and circling around her body.
Even if the fairy jerked one hand toward the knife every time one of the beats snapped their ragged mandibles or twitched their feelers, they didn't attack her, and she safely reached the opening. While gripping the flimsy-looking but solid edge and keeping most of her body still inside, Tyra peeked out.
A whole new world unfolded within the brown fairy's eyes.
Emerald light brightened everything within the giant vertical shaft, shining out of a veritable forest of dense and vibrant moss. Thousands and thousands of small droning insects moved around and inside the plants, with droplets of water splattering and falling down, giving the enormous tunnel an almost magical feeling.
The fairy heart was beating in excitement and wonder at so much motion and life.
Fairies had known for thousands of years that the world was different from how it was within their prison, but seeing it with her eyes, Tyra knew that none of them could have ever imagined even a fraction of this. The earthy smell of moss and flowing water, the vivid colors from all the insects' bodies, all the different chirping and buzzing and squeaking sounds.
Everything felt so real, so tangible, even her dreams paled in contrast to what she was seeing from within the nest. The difference from the barren Cage was so stark the fairy felt small and sorrowful at the same time; she would have loved to see Lily react to this spectacle.
Shaking her head, she quickly refocused on her goal: finding her own dungeon.
Tyra watched the long drop before raising her head, her expression growing uglier and uglier by the second. Retreating inside the nest while on all fours, she took a seat between the creatures and pinched her nose. After a whole minute in silence, she spoke up, "Damn. I am stuck here."
The mana being whirled around her so fast it blew some air on her face. 'Stay!!! Swarm!!'
The fairy couldn't help but sigh again.
Tyra tilted her head while swaying a leg over the edge, "So, you cannot move outside this place?"
'Swarm. Nest. Me!' the ethereal consciousness sent, flowing between the material and skittering beasts inside.
The fairy turned around, observing the structure and creatures closely. However, even after a few minutes, Tyra couldn't detect anything special about it. She couldn't perceive mana at a deep level like a dungeon core could do, but she wasn't completely blind as well. If there was something else different within the building, it was subtle.
"You are the nest itself?" She asked in the end, her eyes wandering back to the outside.
'No! Nest. Swarm...' It slowed down, uncertain, 'Swarm? Nest?'
The fairy chewed on her lips as the consciousness went on and on, trying to explain.
The last two days had been tiring on her, and forcing herself to stay composed wasn't working; she was barely able to not take out her anxiety and stress on the innocent being. She still needed the ethereal consciousness's help, and she knew that blowing out wouldn't solve anything.
'If only it wasn't so hard,' she sighed internally.
After realizing she was stuck, she had wasted hours thinking of a way to climb the long tunnel to no avail. In the end, the only method she could think of was the same that got her in, the flying creatures.
After shifting her perspective on the dark blue beasts, going from seeing them as a threat to a possible ally, and a few more hours of deliberation, the fairy recognized that gaining their help would solve some of her other problems as well.
She was alone, without her wings, and her body was damaged as well. Tyra knew she didn't stand a chance against the dangerous world outside, and her drive was a double-edged sword that could push her to do something reckless. Besides, it wasn't like she knew where her dungeon core was, and slowing down to make some allies could only help her in the long run.
Knowing all of that didn't make it any easier to put in practice, and her own nature was straining under the forced stop.
Still, she tried. And failed. Multiple times.
Gaining the support of the creatures meant reaching a proper level of understanding with the odd consciousness since it seemed able to control the entire nest. However, it didn't have the maturity and experience necessary to understand what she was asking of it. It was basically a child, with everything that entailed.
"Please, stop doing that." She said as it started to flow around her like a storm when it noticed she wasn't keeping her attention to what it was trying to convey.
It ran away as soon as she spoke.
"Sulking is not going to help either, little one," Tyra said, nibbling on her cheek and trying to be as patient as possible. "I can barely catch half of your emotions and simple thoughts. You have to understand what you want to tell me yourself."
The ethereal consciousness flowed out from its hiding spot inside one of the dormant beasts' body and swirled around her body. 'Swarm?'
The fairy tilted her head, trying to guess, "I am not one of you, though. I cannot-"
Tyra froze as the nest stirred for no reason, and the flow quickly left her, rushing between all the monsters as fast as it could. Gripping her knife and narrowing her eyes, she watched the dark blue monsters hurrying outside and flying in formation.
The fairy observed the ethereal consciousness as it swirled around her a few times, 'Food! Life!' Food!'
As more and more flying beasts flew near the opening nest, the buzzing sound of their combined beating wings made her whole body vibrate. Tyra nibbled on her lips for a while, her eyes narrowed and sharp.
"Let me help," she said all of a sudden.
The flow increased its pace in its orbit around her, its excitement clear. 'Swarm! Food! Food!'
"Yes, I will help with the hunt. I need a lift, though." She murmured.
The ethereal being rushed away, flowing inside one of the creatures. Immediately after, the beast flew near her side, and the fairy climbed on its legs, making sure to not injure herself with the sharp claws.
While the ethereal being swirled the last few times around her body, the giant insect took off and joined the rest of the swarm.
Tyra's stomach dropped as she saw how deep the tunnel really was, but she chided herself slightly after; even without their wings, fairies didn't have a fear of heights.
After a few more of them joined from everywhere, the army sped upward, and Tyra did her best to hold on for dear life on the creature's legs.