Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
A shrill, ugly cry that would shock even the most experienced of Dungeoneers erupted from within the Dungeon. It came from a creature, small but nasty, possessing the temperament of a demonic boar. It was a creature named Henrietta.
"I can't believe we lost it! We lost it all!!! Our loot, our profits! Gone!"
The business of the Dungeoneers was that of looting and scavenging. They delve into Dungeons to find anything of worth and bring them back to be sold. From fantastic materials to magical artifacts, the Dungeons yield plentiful rewards for those that dared to brave them.
"You exaggerate," said Auguste, "we still have the ones Elaine was carrying."
"But we had such a big haul today. We could have been well off for weeks. Maybe we'll finally be able to afford the rooms."
"I-I'm sorry," Finn apologized once more. He had been doing it since they got away from the corpses.
"It happens, don't worry about it," said Auguste, hiding his frustration. Finn was tall and wearing a helmet that covered his face, so it's natural that he might not notice something that's on the ground. If anything, Auguste, the designated scout, should have noticed the trap in the first place.
When the trap triggered, the combatants had to drop whatever they were carrying, and when they decided that they were overwhelmed, they had little time to retrieve them, not to mention that it would have slowed them down. In the end, only what Elaine was carrying made it.
"As Auguste had said, it happens. Don't let it affect you," Gladiolus added. He too was a scout, but he let Auguste go on alone.
"Of course you'd say that," Henrietta scoffed, "you two are the ones most at fault."
"You are most right," said Gladiolus, "I apologize."
"Hey, I only have two eyes and one torch and I can't see in the dark, cut me some slack," said Auguste, taking a completely opposite attitude.
"Shut up!" Henrietta snapped. "What do you think I paid you for-"
The flames of their campfire, all of a sudden, shot up into the ceiling. The sudden increase of heat caused Henrietta and Auguste to wince. Then, as suddenly as it erupted, the flames subsided, and across the campfire, sitting on the opposite side, Henrietta and Auguste found a pair of eyes glaring daggers at them through a pair of circular glass. They're called glasses... That's what Auguste thought they were called, at least. He thought it was weird that someone would wear a pair of glass on their face, but apparently, it helped with one's eyesight if they happened to be bad.
"You two are being a little too loud, don't you think?" said the woman in black robes, the one wearing the glasses, Morgan.
"Uh, yeah... Sorry about that," said Henrietta, apprehensive of the magic user.
Auguste, on the other hand, said nothing. He wasn't about to apologize but he at least made sure not to irk her any more than he did.
The Dungeons are dangerous places, crawling with horrors of all sorts, with different shapes and sizes, all of which unnatural, all of which would kill on sight. One could not afford to let their guard down even for a second within the Dungeons. However, there will come a time when one must sleep, and at those times, the party had set up three shifts of nightwatch, each shift taken up by two members. The first shift was by Auguste and Gladiolus.
Sitting by the fire, Auguste fiddled with an olive-colored cloak, the one he had taken from the corpse he had fought moments ago. It was fireproof, as he had seen during the fight and then tested on the campfire. It would probably sell well. With a needle, he pried at the stitches around the emblem at the back of the cloak. It was an emblem of a spear pointing skyward with spiraling flames coiling around it. It probably belonged to some organization and might cause him some trouble if he tried to sell it as is, and so he decided to removed the emblem beforehand.
Sleeping to his right was Finn, the big guy. Finn was one of the party's three frontliners along with Henrietta and Auguste. He's tall, muscular, has broad shoulders, and was quite a looker with his red hair, blue eyes, and refined jawline. It's a shame he had such a withdrawn personality. While he's not exactly cowardly or even shy, he's rather apologetic, always terrified of causing trouble for someone, always afraid that he's doing the wrong thing. It might have something to do with his tendency to run into and knock over things. It must be because he's so big. He breaks things from rather often too as he has the strength to match his size.
Then, to Auguste's left was Henrietta, or Henri as they called her. The girl was the party's sponsor, boss, leader-on-paper, and so on and so forth. She's short and stout, two words that would describe her aptly and get one beaten to a pulp if said right in front of her. It can't be said that she's happy with the way she looks, but there's nothing she could do about it. Being of gnomish and dwarven descent, no amount of milk, dieting, or exercise was going to change her shape in any drastic way. On her round face, she has a big round pair of emerald for eyes and to match her child-like height, most likely unintentionally, her fluffy head of golden locks were tied into a pair of pigtails, one of each side of her head. From afar, she could be mistaken for an adorable child. Up close however, one will find a rabid demon whose temper was about as short as her height. She also spoke with an accent, one that no one was quite sure if it was faked or not.
Sitting across Auguste was Gladiolus, his partner for this shift of nightwatch. He's a 'Guide', someone experienced in Dungeon delving and can be contracted by newcomers to mentor them for a set period of time. Gladiolus was tall and slender, with a pair of ember-like eyes and a head of long, silky blonde hair with a tinge of green. Apparently, his hair would turn entirely green during times when there is little food. The man was an elf, long-living, knife-eared, lived in a forest and so on and so forth. He was what's called a waifish elf, an elf that had no tribes or clans to speak of and wanders the land without a place to return to. These sorts of elves tended to have either left their forest voluntarily or had been exiled for one reason or another. Gladiolus here appeared to be the former case. The elven kind was also said to be proficient in the mystic arts, a school of spellcasting, though Gladiolus had not once shown such proficiency, at least not in the eyes of Auguste, who has no magical abilities whatsoever.
To Gladiolus' left, there lied Elaine, the noncombatant of the group, tasked with carrying the most important of supplies and the most precious of finds. She was Finn's older sister, and so she too has red hair and blue eyes, her eyes have a shaper look than her brother's and her hair was tied neatly into two braided pigtails. Compared to her brother, she's rather small, her fingers boney and her arms thin. Even so, she has a strong back for her size, acquired from years of hard labor.
And then, to Gladiolus' right, there was Morganna, otherwise called Morgan. She's the young woman wearing black robes and a pointy hat. She was a witch's apprentice, *was*, being the keyword. She had short black hair and a pair of eerie red eyes. On her face, she wore a set of clear stones known as 'glass' which were set in a frame made of ebony wood. They were called glasses and apparently helped with poor eyesight. People from the countryside, such as Auguste, thought the glasses to be some kind of witchcraft, but it was said that some people from big cities wore them as well. Glasses aside, the girl wearing them was a quiet girl with few words, though she's certainly not shy about letting others hear her thoughts, even the harsh ones, especially the harsh ones.
Finally, there's Auguste, his narrow green eyes staring at the threads he's picking at with the campfire as the backdrop. Every time a sound was heard, even the crackling from the flames, he would jump ever so slightly. Beneath his eyes were heavy bags, it's been a while since he had a good night's sleep. Occasionally, he'd reach up to scratch his head, brushing through his hair, yellow and dry, like straws. When was the last time he washed them? Perhaps four or five days ago, since the day he entered the Dungeon. In this place where the sun does not reach, there were few ways to tell time accurately. Auguste in particular, liked to tell the time by how much his stomach was grumbling.
"That trap door..." Auguste started speaking even as he picked at the emblem. "It came down rather slowly didn't it?"
"Slow enough that only one of us might have made it perhaps," Gladiolus replied. "It was fortunate that we have someone strong, like Finn and Henrietta, with us. To hold the door open, I mean."
"So about that door..."
Auguste's mind was still on the trap, he had been dwelling on it the moment they returned to their campsite within the Dungeon. One of the reasons why he could never get any proper sleep was his tendencies to agonize over every little thing. Though he would never outright admit to it, as far as he was concerned, Henrietta was right, he was the one most at fault for the triggering of that trap. He was the one who had gone on ahead to scout, and he was the one who convinced Gladiolus to let him try doing it on his own. As a result, Finn ended up stepping onto that trap and started that whole mess back there. It was fortunate that they made it, but it could have also gotten them all killed.
"Wouldn't it have been better to simply seal off the exit immediately? Was that what you're thinking?" Gladiolus replied, trying to direct the conversation to a different place, knowing that nothing good would come in indulging Auguste in his mullings. "I am afraid the Dungeons are only as rationals as our own dreams and nightmares. I've taught you all before, yes? That the Dungeons were born of the Abyss."
"I was listening, but I didn't understand a single word so they didn't stick."
"I suppose now that you've seen a Dungeon or two for yourself, you'll have a better context for it this time."
The Abyss, as Gladiolus explained, was a realm that existed alongside theirs. Theirs was the surface realm, where reality resided, where there were rules that cannot be violated by mortal hands. Then, there was the Abyss, the realm that existed beneath the surface realm, where there were no rules, where there was everything and nothing, where nothing was impossible and therefore everything was impossible. It was a realm with neither rules nor logic, a realm of dreams and nightmares, a realm that was never meant to mix with the surface realm.
It begins when an Abyssal rift is formed, usually deep underground where the starlights could not reach. The Abyss twists the underground, forming tunnels and caverns, halls and rooms. They call these places, Dungeons.
As the Abyss is the realm of dreams, the Dungeon born of the Abyss would, of course, be constructed of nightmares. Its traps, its layout, even the twisted creatures, formed from the minds of men and elves alike within the Dungeon's vicinity.
"So that trap was there because someone was afraid of a slowly closing door?"
"While that may not be entirely impossible, any part of the Dungeon is usually the result of multiple factors. I would suggest that, however the trap came to be, it might have to do with the experiences of having to leave something or someone behind to save themselves. A path of survival that only those who had abandoned everything, treasures, friends, lovers, might be able to take. Such things happen often in the Dungeons. If you're in this business long enough, chances are, you're bound to experience it, a time when you'll be caught in a trap in which you must choose to save yourself or die with your colleagues. At the very least, that was my conjecture on why that trap was the way it was. In the end, trying to decipher how a Dungeon came to take the form it took would be as difficult as deciphering the intricacies of the human mind. Better to focus on something more simple, such as surviving, than something so esoteric."
Auguste was silent, but he's listening. There's something soothing about Gladiolus' voice that made him want to listen. Must be that elven charm.
"How long do you plan to do this?" Gladiolus couldn't help but ask. Auguste was young, even for a human's standard, and he didn't seem too badly off. The young man at least seemed rather educated, so his family was likely well off. Not that a wandering elf would be all too clear on human circumstances in human lands, but from what Gladiolus knew, under normal circumstances, there must be plenty of other options when it came to work.
"We'll see," Auguste replied, sounding as if he's playing coy. Though, in truth, those were his honest thoughts. He has no idea for how long he'll be doing this and has no plans whatsoever for the future. No, rather than no plans, he generally has no idea where he's going, like a ship lost at sea, just going wherever the winds and currents take him, hoping that it'll wash him ashore.
Tap. Tap. Tap. Footsteps that were unmistakably claws tapping against the floor resounded from a dark hall. Auguste immediately tossed the needle and cloak aside and reached for his sword while Gladiolus already had his bow pointed in the direction of the hall. This room was the safe room, called so because it was a relatively safe spot within the Dungeon without any traps or creatures lingering within. However, it was only relatively safe, and one truly ever knows if something might come creeping around. The room had two exits, one hall towards the north and the other towards the east. The one where Auguste and Gladiolus picked up the sound was from the north.
The two waited by the fire. The enemy could clearly see them there, true, but without it, Auguste and Gladiolus could see absolutely nothing while the enemy, having existed in darkness since the Dungeon formed, would undoubtedly be able to detect them. They stayed still and low, their ears perked, waiting for the sound of their traps snapping upon this invader.
Then, the distinct metallic snap that they were expecting... it did not come. The tapping had trailed off into the distance. For whatever reason, the creature had let them be, or perhaps it had never noticed them in the first place. Either way, the safe room was once again safe, relatively, for now.
Auguste breathed easy and went back to the cloak. The creature may return, but the trap would likely get it first, so there's no reason to be too tense. Traps were an absolute necessity for those planning to set up camp within the Dungeon, a practice that was common amongst Dungeoneers. After all, the deeper one goes into the Dungeon, the better the chances of finding valuables that had not yet been discovered or taken by others, and such trips weren't something that could usually be done within a single day.
To prevent other Dungeoneers from walking into another party's traps, it was common courtesy to leave signs in chalk or whatever writing tools one may find as a warning. The warnings should not be ignored as even if one manages to evade the traps, they would usually be attacked by the camping Dungeoneers on sight, for in the Dungeon, there was the unspoke rule of finders keep all, including the objects found on the corpses of other Dungeoneers, and in the Dungeon, where danger lurks in all corners, deaths were all too common, a fact utilized to the advantage of the more unsavory of Dungeoneers looking for an easy profit from a party that made the mistake of letting their guard down in this unholy place.
After finally removing the emblem from the cloak, Auguste tossed it into the fire, only to be disappointed that it did not burn. It seemed that the patch of emblem as well, was insusceptible to fire.
"That's the symbol of Zethos," said Gladiolus, noting the unburning emblem of the flaming spear in the campfire. "Those undeads must have been agents from the Principality of Zeth."
"The kingdom to the north?" Auguste quirked a brow, "What are their agents doing all the way over here?"
"Likely studying the Dungeons here." Gladiolus stared into the fire, drawing from his years of experience traveling the land. "The Principality of Zeth is a studious one, of the five kingdoms, theirs is the most advanced in terms of technology, an advantage that they do not take lightly. Removing the emblem was smart, but just in case, I wouldn't try to sell it."
"What happens if I do?"
"It depends on how much they value the knowledge put into making that cloak. It's entirely possible that they'll just let you off without doing anything, but you can't rule out the possibility that they'll try to silence anyone who had even the slightest contact with it. The Dungeoneers who looted the agent's bodies probably knew that and didn't want to take the risk. That was why only their armor was taken. Either that or they did not know the cloaks' true worth."
Auguste gulped down a ball of saliva that had been building up in his mouth.
"And this cloak? How valuable do you reckon it is to them?"
"It is an object imbued with a property that makes it immune to fire or perhaps even the witches' magic itself. As far as my knowledge goes, there has never been such a thing artificially created, not by the hands of mortals. Outside of the divine relics, which are objects of an entirely different nature, such things could only be found in the Dungeons. If I had to make a guess, these must be the fruit of their research into the Dungeons. I'm sure they won't be too happy about others getting their hands on it."
Auguste was calm, appeared calm at least, but cold sweat was running down his back and his forehead. It would appear that he, in a moment of pure whim, had picked up something he really ought to have left alone.
"I best leave it here then," Auguste concluded quickly.
"Why not keep it?" From Gladiolus, came a bold proposal.
"Didn't you just tell me how dangerous it would be to keep it?"
"I said that I wouldn't try to sell it. But, so long as you keep it secret, I don't see a problem in keeping it. It could be useful."
"That's rather bold, a little too much, don't you think?"
"Boldness is required for this business, otherwise, one would not even be able to step into the Dungeons in the first place. Still, get rid of it if you feel like it's too much, but if it were me, I would keep it, albeit, under wraps, perhaps dye it in another color and stitch on a new emblem."
Auguste fell silent, considering the advice. Then, in a moment's whim, he brought the cloak close to his face and sniffed it.
And as soon as he brought it to his face, he pulled it away.
"I'll have to find a place to wash it first and then give it some good sun."
"I may have found a place for that, actually. I'll show it to you once we returned to the surface."
"Please do," Auguste said gratefully as he tried to remember the last time he had felt the warmth of the sun on his skin. "Cloaks aside, I would like some sunlight myself."
End of Chapter 2