Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
With torches in hand, the party of six traveled down the dark halls. They prayed for no further hostile encounters and unforeseen circumstances as these were the last of their torches. Should they be forced to abandon them or burn them out before they reach the exit, they'll be left in the dark, lost and perfectly vulnerable for the creatures of the Dungeon to prey upon.
Soon, the straight and even halls of bricks were replaced by twisting and jagged tunnels of earth and stone. Having been through this area plenty of times, the party knew that they were nearing the exit.
It felt as if it had been so long ago since they last saw sunlight. It should only have been three days since they went down there, and yet, they were starting to forget what it was like to be under the sun. The Dungeon has such an effect on those that enter, almost as if it's trying to warp those that ventured into its depths into one of its twisted denizens.
The beam of light leaking through the hole in the ceiling was almost blinding. Even without looking at the source directly, the lights bouncing off the floor and the walls were enough to make them want to shrink away. However, they knew that was where they belonged. They still remembered the warmth of the sun, the relief of not being constantly surrounded by darkness, and why they went down into the dark depths of the Dungeons in the first place.
One by one, they grabbed onto the rope ladder hanging off the mouth of the hole in the ceiling, the order in which they ascend determined by which of them was the most likely to die in the case of a surprise attack. In other words, they were ordered from the least protected to the most. Beginning with Elaine, the one carrying their most precious of supplies and loot, then followed by Morganna, then Gladiolus, Auguste, Finn, and then finally, Henrietta, they climbed up the rope ladder and emerged out of an old well.
The old well used to be just an ordinary, dried out well, but somewhere along the lines, an Abyssal rift formed underneath it. As the Dungeon born of the Abyss expanded, it eventually reached all the way up to the well, which led to the Dungeon's discovery when the nearby villages reported sighting of unnatural creatures emerging from the old well. Since then, the area surrounding the well became a restricted area and was used as an entrance to the Dungeon.
Due to the appearance of the Dungeon, one of the nearby villages had swelled to the size of a town, going from a humble population of a little under a hundred to over five hundred in the course of a few days. It had become a Dungeon Town, something akin to a mining town, except that rather than dealing with ore, the town profited off of strange objects brought back from the Dungeon depths.
The party of six traveled down the path leading back to town, eventually arriving before the tall fences constructed to protect the town from the creatures that may emerge from the old well. Having been constructed in a hurry, the fences were crude with gaps here and there large enough for small children to crawl through. It was, however, better than nothing.
The six passed through the shoddy and misaligned gates and stepped into the muddy and barely paved paths of the town not too different from the ones they've traveled outside. The town was put together in a hurry after all, there weren't even that many proper building here, certainly not enough to accommodate a population of five hundred. Instead, there were mostly tents, belonging to merchants and Dungeoneers. What buildings that had been newly built were the building for the Dungeoneers' Guild and what could be called an inn, both of which were constructed in haste. The inn was especially horrible; with so many gaps in its rooms, it was about as breezy as it was outside. The rooms didn't even have doors, much less locks. The only good thing about it was the beds. They were made of straws and some who slept on it had found themselves waking up with bug bites all over, but it was agreed upon that they were at least better than sleeping on the ground. Especially after that one time Auguste found a snake slithering up his leg in the middle of the night, adding yet another thing that made it hard for Auguste to fall asleep.
Unfortunately, the rooms, shoddy as they were, were few and in demand and were certainly not cheap, and so, for the last several nights, the ground had been the party's constant companion.
Upon entering the town, the party headed straight for the Dungeoneers' Guild building to get their findings appraised and sold.
Speaking of the Dungeoneers' Guild, one could not begin to talk about it without first mentioning the Merchants' Guild, of which it has strong ties to. To begin with, the Merchants' Guild was an organization founded by the richest of traders of the five kingdoms, their network and resources were so vast, that if you were someone in the business of trading goods within the five kingdoms, you were either with the guild, or you're going to die starving by the roadside. The organization was without borders, their influence reaching all the way to the highest of courts of the five kingdoms, of which were the Principality of Zeth to the north, the Vestal Coalition to the east, the Theocracy of Arithmi to the south, the Republic of Magnolia to the west, and the Free Cities of Tuur on the Isle of Tuur off the northwestern coast.
The Dungeoneers' Guild began when one of the councilmen of the Merchants' Guild realized that one could make money off the Dungeons without any of the dangers associated. It was roughly ten-or-so years ago, during a time when people had only begun exploring the Dungeons, bringing back strange objects and materials of bizarre qualities to be sold on the market. Back then, there were no standard procedures when it came to exploring Dungeons and people could come and go as they please, usually at the cost of their lives, though many thought the risk was worthy of the reward if they knew what to bring back. Materials and objects of magical quality were usually highly sought after and sold for a good price. However, the problem lied with the fact that no one could quite agree on the prices of the objects brought back. After all, the world had never seen anything like these before. All that was known about them was that they could be profited off of, in selling them as materials, as samples to be studied, or even as oddities to some wealthy collectors.
Then, came Alastair MacFarlane, councilman of the Merchants' Guild and founder of the Dungeoneers' Guild. Employing a great number of scholars of the mystic arts, he first founded a company of appraiser specializing in investigating the applications of the various objects brought back from the Dungeons, allowing the determination of how much an object is worth. Said union would then become the Scholars of the Abyss, who then became the widely accepted authority on all things Abyss and Dungeon related. With the ability to set a standard price on the objects brought back from the Dungeon, Alastair then formed a guild around it, one specializing in exploring and acquiring objects from the Dungeon. That would be the Dungeoneers' Guild. Then, finally, as a masterstroke in solidifying the guild's monopoly of the dungeoneering business, the five kingdoms, one by one, suddenly passed Dungeon related laws, claiming it to be for the safety of the civilians. One of said laws forbade entry to the Dungeons without proper permissions and around the time of the law's passing, only one civil organization was deemed eligible by the law to hand out the permits, the sole organization backed by the Scholars of the Abyss, the Scholars of the Abyss funded by Alastair MacFarlane himself. The organization was the Dungeoneers' Guild, and in that one fell swoop, all would-be competitions were crushed before they could ever get onto their feet, and Alastair won the war for profit before it even began.
"Wait, isn't this too little!?"
Shouting could be heard from the guild appraiser's desk.
"W-what are you talking about? I only priced it accordingly."
The one sitting behind the desk was a middle-aged man with small eyes.
At the moment, the appraiser, a Scholar of the Abyss, is being yelled at by a rather unsatisfied customer, one of the Dungeoneers. Though not a combatant, this particular Dungeoneer was tasked with jobs just as important, such as carrying the most valuable of loots, the management and acquiring of supplies, and perhaps most importantly, bartering for better prices on both loot and supplies. The customer was Elaine, elder sister of Finn, the big guy in Auguste's party.
"You can't fool me! You gave the guy before us a much better price of the same thing didn't you?"
"No, no, no, you're mistaken. Those were of different quality."
While the guild appraisers were the ones setting the prices for the objects brought back from the Dungeon, said prices were only estimates, and due to the uncertain and bizarre nature of the objects, a truly accurate value was difficult to set for any given item. Such uncertainties gave some room for bartering. Of course, in the end, the guild appraiser has the final say on the prices and the Dungeoneers have no choice but to accept it. After all, it wasn't as if they have anywhere else to sell the goods, not legally at least.
Due to one of the laws in regards to the Dungeon, only individuals or organizations with the required permits have the authority to buy or sell any objects related to the Dungeon. Said individuals or organizations must have extensive knowledge of the Dungeon and has to be approved by the Scholars of the Abyss. So far, only the Dungeoneers' Guild and a few individual merchants have the permits to trade with Dungeon related objects.
Anyone could tell that it was rather unfair, but then again, at the moment, only the Scholars of the Abyss have the resources to thoroughly investigate the Dungeons. With the vast number of veteran Dungeoneers eating out of their pockets, they're able to go farther and deeper into a Dungeon than most. This ability to acquire man-power was what granted them the authority on the Dungeons and Abyss in the first place. At this point in time, the only ones who could possibly rival them were the researchers of the Principality of Zeth, who were less eager to share their secrets to the rest of the world.
"Don't you give me that! You think I can't tell the difference between what's good and bad because I'm a country bumpkin!? Is that it!?"
The bartering between Elaine and the appraiser was getting ugly. No, it had turned ugly a long time ago. At this point, the only party member that's still standing around, waiting for her to be done, was Auguste, who was there only because he had been slow to slip away and felt bad about leaving Elaine all alone by herself. He wasn't pleased about this, not at all, not about how much of a scene she's causing and how she's making them look rather bad. However, at the same time, he didn't have the courage to step in. He had no choice but to stand and pretend not to notice the eyes on them, like a child who tagged along with his mother to the marketplace.
After what seemed to be an eternity, the transaction was complete. Other than the objects sold were the pieces of armor and a few weapons found on some dead Dungeoneers, a green gem with something murky swirling within, samples of the creature known as the 'living clay' sealed safely in a glass jar, fungus-like plants that appeared to grow exclusively on corpses, and finally, the bone fragments from some re-animated skeletons.
All these things, aside from the green gem, were on the list that the party had compiled on objects that could be sold for a good enough price to warrant the effort in obtaining them. The green gem was something they just so happened to discover while searching the deeper levels of the Dungeon. It was found close to a lumpy black wall that was smooth to the touch. Auguste thought that it looked like some solidified goo. However, when he tried to take a sample of the wall itself, he found out that none of their tools could even scratch it and ultimately gave up. They also had a list of things too worthless to even bother or things that would disappear upon being brought out of the Dungeon. As each expedition of the Dungeon required a certain amount of monetary investments such as equipment and supplies, having these lists might be the difference between profit and bankruptcy.
All in all, a total of thirteen silvers were earned. It wasn't a bad amount but it wasn't exactly much either. A standard room from a regular inn in an averagely wealthy town would cost up to around two silver coins per night. With the amount earned, they'd barely be able to afford rooms for everyone in the party.
The party's lack of them aside, coins of copper, silver, gold, and platinum were the standard currency of the five kingdoms with an easy to understand conversion system. A hundred copper was worth a single silver, and a hundred silver was worth a single gold, and so on and so forth. To makes this easier for the ever-moving Dungeoneers, the Dungeoneers' Guild offered note bills that could be exchanged for coins from the guild's bank which was available only to Dungeoneers and merchants associated with the guild, and due to the borderless nature of the guild, the bills could be exchanged in any guild within any of the five kingdoms. The guild banks also offered deposit services to the Dungeoneers, though a percentage of the value of what was being stored, be it currency or items, would be charged for the service.
To access the bank's service, one must first possess a guild identification badge, a bronze badge worn around the neck used to identify the individual wearing it as someone of the guild. While becoming a member of the Dungeoneers' Guild was technically free, to obtain the identification badge, one must first pay the price of a single silver coin. Once paid, the badge should be available within two to three working days.
Auguste, along with Elaine, headed over to the banking section of the guild's building. There, Auguste offered the receptionist his badge, name, and a print of his fingerprints. After waiting a few moments for the receptionist to confirm his identity, Auguste requested to exchange the bill gotten from the appraiser for coins, a request that was promptly granted. With that, their business with the guild concluded.
End of Chapter 3