Soon enough we reach the top of the staircase, the group behind me is absolutely out of breath and exhausted even after taking another break on the way. Stairs are hard work I suppose if you’re dressed in plate armor. As we reach the breach and a dim blue light shines out from above, I can’t help but feel like we forgot to do something, but I can’t quite place what exactly that thing is. I turn around and look back at the young goblins behind me, all thirteen of them.
Thirteen? Ah! It hits me now. We forgot to take others with us. Usually when the trash-mob group comes up from below they are some fifty strong. But they were so caught up in me being the one to lead the group they must have entirely forgotten their orders to bring reinforcements. Not great for the goblin-elite, but, well. Maybe it’s for the best in the end honestly. Less red.
All of them are murmuring and whispering at the strange blue lights shining out above us.
“What’s that?” asks Rif’ral, his voice breaking out alone from the swarm of whispers around him.
“Mushrooms” I say as we take the final step up and enter the moonlight-arena. Awestruck “wows” and “ooohs” come from behind me as they see the spectacle of the dark-fairy sub-boss arena. Honestly I think it’s neat, but not that neat. Then again they’ve never seen anything like this so I suppose it’s special for them. Still. I guess it does have a sort of quaint, charming aesthetic. We stand there for a moment looking at the cavernous chamber mostly devoid of fairies now, save for the one or two odd-balls who still float around the room for some reason.
A hand taps my shoulder and another points past me, to the figure sitting on the lonely toadstool in the middle of the room. “Look! Human!” says Hil’zal.
I shake my head and correct her, telling her that it’s just the fairy-mother. She’s on our side. Walking forwards I wave my hand to the awkwardly shuffling troop still behind me. By the sounds of their movements I can tell that their formation is broken and loose. Maybe a little due to exhaustion, but I think they’re just mostly excited. Their young hearts beating wild, having tasted this new thing. Having felt a new thing for the first time. The lure of adventure is drawing them in with promises of exciting places, peoples and experiences.
I hear the whispers, now sparse but more concrete and formulated. They are realizing what this means. If they can go up stairs, maybe they can leave the dungeon too? Maybe they can become adventurers? They’re young and for the first time they realize that there can be more. That there is more to begin with.
Shaking my head I keep walking and let them have their moment. I don’t have the heart to tell them honestly. Not that they’d believe me. Didn’t I know somebody else who wanted to be an adventurer? Hmm. Whatever. I hear a splashing and turn around to see a few of them playing in the water, splashing around like children. It’s barely up to their waists and they seem to be having fun. It’s highly unprofessional mind you and as their instructor I feel an urge to snap at them and tell them to get it together and act like the royal-guards they are.
But as me, I decide to hell with it. Let them have their fun. Walking forward alone I move towards the great toadstool and then stand before it on the other side and look up. A faded, shadowy face looks down towards me from up so high and so far away as the fairy-mother notices my presence once again. Through her shadowy hood I see her glowing eyes peering out, stabbing into me with that questioning, curious and melancholic gaze I can’t remember the image of. But I remember the sensation of her prying eyes on me. It is the same as it was back then.
I raise a hand to her to wave, but I feel weird as I do so. Awkward. It’s an unenthusiastic wave. It’s the kind where you raise your hand limply up into the air for a second before letting it fall with a pursed expression of your lips. The kind you give when you wave to someone in the distance but you aren’t really sure if it's actually them or not. “Hi mom” I say. She stares down at me, her expression not changing or altering itself in any fashion. Stiff. Mechanical like the undead she is. My arm falls back down and we stand there for a while, just staring at each other as the sounds of splashing and laughter ring out from the children playing behind us.
The cold air is stiff and pungent, smelling of fungal waters and cave walls. The mildewy odor fits my sober mood in an odd way. Soon enough though I hear the steps come towards me as they have managed to pull themselves together, to brighten their mood and to fill their hearts with a little more joy than they might usually carry. “Elder?” asks Gil’zal. I look towards him and see the water still dripping out from beneath his metal plate that he kept on while playing in it. All of them did.
“What is this place? Why are we here? Why is there big fairy?” he asks. Many questions. He’s not usually the questioning type. The others look on curiously as well, him having asked their questions for them all at once. I suppose he’s trying to reestablish his place at the front of the hierarchy.
“This is moonlight-arena, home of fairy-mother. She is like goblin-king but for fairies. Fairy-queen.”
A collective “ahhhhhh” rings out from the group as they understand now. They are quick to learn. Turning around I walk away hoping they don’t realize that I only answered two of the questions and a moment later I hear thirteen water-laden metals boots slosh on behind me as we walk. I sigh and shake my head before telling them to take off their boots and get the water out. They’ll get rotten feet otherwise.
Another collective “ahhh” escapes the group and I’m not really sure what to feel anymore honestly. Bless their dumb little hearts.
I look up to the fairy-mother who is still watching us, watching me. Then she moves, moves in the only fashion she can before her fight is triggered. A single hand rises into the air as if she were holding a fairy aloft up high, giving it a platform to fly on free from. To launch and make its way out into the bright, vivid world beyond this place. A springboard to leave home. To leave the nest and go follow the call of adventure, to seek brighter and darker things in places elsewhere. That is the final gift a mother can give her children.
I’m not a fairy, but I know the gesture is meant for me nonetheless. I nod to her and silently promise to make her proud. I do it for her after all.
Turning away I walk towards the next staircase. “Come on, get your boots back on. We have long ways to go and less time than ever.”
Henry Morgan, Shadowsmage, The Grey Mage, Spencer Seidel