Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
With torches in hand, the Henrietta Company marched through a tunnel over five meters tall and about two to three meters wide. It was the same tunnel they had discovered the day prior, the one that lied behind a collapsed wall. It seemed that while Auguste and the rest were hesitating on whether to explore it or not, Conrad's party had already been scouring it.
Entering the tunnel, Conrad's party took the lead, both because they knew their way around better than the Henrietta Company and so that they could show a sign of trust in letting Auguste and the rest watch their backs.
"Oh, and watch out, there's some ground sticking out here and there. Careful not to trip," Conrad called from the forefront of his party.
At Conrad's side were Muriel and a man named Tristan, who, similar to Conrad, was armed with a sword and a shield. He was a handsome man with short black hair and the second most brilliant blue eyes Auguste has ever seen, accentuated by a small mole just beneath his left eye.
Behind the three was a small girl, though not as small as Henrietta and much more slender. Her name was Feris. She wore a cap of hardened leather on her head as well as a padded jacket over regular clothing. On her waist were two leather belts. From one, hanged a short-sword and an assortment of knives and dagger, each seemed to have a different purpose. On the other, a small pouch was attached. Finally, at their furthest back, was a middle-aged man with a balding top named Joseph and he wore nothing but a gray robe tainted with dust and dirt and a blue sash tied around his waist. From the way he dressed, it was easy to tell that he was a scholar of the mystic arts.
The Henrietta Company trailed behind them, and on their backs were cheap linen bags they've brought to replace the ones they had to abandon a few days ago. The bags were of poor craftsmanship and some of which even had straps that weren't appropriate for the bag's size. For this reason, Finn and Auguste both found the straps on their bags tighter than they would have liked. Still, they were at a good price and should be able to hold together so long as they do not take too much abuse. For something they plan to replace as soon as they've made a profit, it was good enough.
Suddenly, Conrad's party came to a stop.
"Do you hear that?" Conrad whispered.
The Henrietta Company opened their ears, and though it was faint at first, soon the pitter-patter became clear.
Quietly, they all waited for the creature to approach their torchlight, however, the pitter-patter came to a sudden stop. Whatever creature was making that sound seemed to have sensed danger and became cautious. Seeing that the creature probably won't come any closer, Conrad tossed his torch toward the sound's direction. As the torch flew in an arc, an iridescent glitter could be seen reflecting off something.
The flames bloomed and danced upon hitting the cold ground. With its light, a creature was revealed. It had six legs, like that of an insect, a pair of round black eyes, a pair of antennas on its head, and a set of pincer in front of its mouth. Its body was somewhat flat and was covered in a hard carapace with ridges, one with a dark bluish hue and an iridescent surface. The creature was like a cross between an ant and a centipede. It was the one, the one they're looking for.
"Joseph!" Conrad called out as the creature was about to run
"Gotcha!" the balding middle-aged man replied as he thrust his arm forward.
Then, as if grabbing onto something, Joseph's hand squeezed down upon the air, and all of a sudden, the creature could run no more. While its six legs were still moving, clawing at the ground, the iridescent insect was unable to move further.
With the insect immobilized, Conrad got to work. Dropping his rucksack onto the ground, he pulled from it a pickaxe, and with precision, he plunged the tip in-between the gap of the insect's iridescent carapace, causing the insect to screech in a high pitch cry, and it would cry louder as Conrad then proceeded to pry its carapace open and revealing the soft flesh beneath. Once open, Tristan moved in with his sword and buried his blade deep into the revealed flesh before pulling it out and stabbing it again, and again, and again, till the insect finally stopped moving.
Once the kill was confirmed, the small girl, Feris moved in and proceeded to peel the carapace off the creature with one of her knives and some hook-like tools she produced from her pouch. She worked quickly and unlike the carapace pried open by the pickaxe, the ones she peeled off were clean and without bits of flesh clinging onto it.
"So that's how you do it," said Conrad as he turned towards the Henrietta Company. "It's easier when there's one of them, but they tend to be grouped up more often than not, so what we need from you is to cover us as we deal with each one."
"And it's going to be a fifty-fifty split, right?" asked Auguste, just to make sure. He wasn't someone who considered himself to be particularly materialistic, but he was at least prudent enough to make sure he was paid for his work.
"That's the deal, wasn't it? There's not much to worry about, there's plenty of these things around. We wouldn't e able to carry it all back if it were just us. It wouldn't do us any favors to stab you guys in the back midway."
"Alright. It's nice to be working with you... I guess."
Conrad lets out a laugh.
"The pleasure's all mine. And you know what, if this all works out, we should work together more. We like to be independent, but it's nice to work with others now and then."
"Uh..." Auguste looked back at his party. While he wasn't an expert on reading someone's expression, he could somewhat tell that most of his party were pretty neutral about it, all except a certain someone who still held onto a grudge for being mistaken for a child. "I guess we'll see..."
"We'll see indeed," said Conrad, understanding the hesitation one would have in committing to a deal made with someone you've met only the day prior. "Now then, let us focus on the task at hand, shall we?"
Auguste nodded, and after waiting for Conrad's party to finish stuffing the carapace into their bags, the parties moved in deeper into the tunnel.
As they moved further and further in, the tunnel eventually opened up to a cavern, one where the walls were dotted with holes and craters on every surface. Upon seeing these, Auguste felt an unnamable discomfort and a sense of vulnerability, as if something could suddenly crawl out of the holes and attack them.
"We should mark our paths," said Auguste. With so many holes and tunnels, it was going to be difficult for them to find their way back with memory alone.
"Agreed," Conrad replied before looking towards Feris, who then pulled out a piece of chalk and started marking the way they came.
The two parties continued their exploration, taking down any of the iridescent insects they could find and harvesting them for their abnormally sturdy exoskeleton that had never been discovered in this Dungeon before. They were convinced that this would bring them a good amount of profit.
"I'm not exactly an expert on the Abyss, but I was wondering..." Auguste spoke to Morganna while the parties decided to take a break in a cavern they've just cleared. "The Heaven's Ward erases everything that came out of the Abyss, right? Why is it that some things we bring out of the Dungeon disappear and some don't?"
"You're correct about the Heaven's Ward. So then, why do you think that is?" Morganna replied and presented Auguste a question, seemingly a test. In truth, however, her jaws were just sore from trying to grind down the coarse dried meat that had been their rations and had little desire to use them.
"Huh..." Auguste crossed his arms, taking the quiz seriously and thought for a few moments. "Is it because the Abyss is too strong in some of them or something along the lines?"
"That's not how the Abyss works," Morganna's jaws were still sore; Auguste had been too quick to answer, "The Abyss isn't some kind of energy that just sticks to stuff. It is a whole other realm and required a rift connected to it before it could influence anything in our world."
"Is that so? Hmm..." Auguste continued to think, his head tilting as his mind continuously produced no answers for him.
"Come on now, stop teasing the boy," the balding, middle-aged man, Joseph, decided to jump in on the conversation. "He clearly doesn't know the answer, so why don't you cut him some slack."
"What do you want, mage?" Morganna practically hissed at him. The man was a scholar of the mystic arts, more commonly known as mystics, enchanters, magicians, or mages. Of these titles, they found 'mage' and 'magician' to be the least desirable titles. Morganna had known that.
However, Joseph only laughed it off. He knew how witches felt about them, how in spite of the fact that both groups practice the magical arts, the disparity of the treatment and prestige between them was akin to the heavens and the earth, only because the witches were slightly more dangerous due to their connection to the Abyss. Well, a lot more dangerous actually, but he's not here to discuss that.
"Just to share some knowledge with the youths. The passing down of knowledge is part of a scholar's duty as well."
"There's no need for your knowledge here, mage. I can teach him what he needs to know in due time."
"Very well then," Joseph kept a smile on his face, seemingly not at all affected by Morganna's sharp tongue, something that only stoked the flames at the pit of her stomach. "Though, I too am curious about the witches' perspective on this phenomenon. You don't mind teaching me as well, do you?"
"Even if I disagree, you'd listen in anyway, right? That's how you mages operate, stealing knowledge and claim it as your own."
"That I have no excuse for," Joseph rubbed the back of his head, feigning embarrassment. "Still, 'stealing' is yet another way to learn, don't you agree? You too have eyes to see and ears to hear with, don't you? If you use them well enough, you may learn without being taught."
"I don't need YOU to tell me that!" Morgan stood up, staring the older man down.
"Hey, hey, hey! Stop it!" Auguste stepped in, telling off the two with a strong tone. "Are you forgetting where we are? This is hardly a place to be fighting amongst ourselves.
"He's right, Joseph," Conrad called out. "Stop provoking our friend there."
"Right, right, sorry about that," Joseph said to Conrad, a grin still on his face. "I got a little too heated. It's been a while since I've been berated by such a lovely young lady."
Joseph laughed as Conrad buried his face in his palm. Meanwhile, Morganna's face twisted in disgust, unable to believe what she had just heard. Her distaste for the mystics will not go anywhere anytime soon.
"So... About what I was just asking..." Auguste tried to bring their previous conversation back from the rather bumpy detour.
"Yes, about that," Morganna tried to be calm, but inside, she was fuming, so much so that she forgot about the pain in her jaws. "My guess would be that some creatures and objects were formed from the fusion of things that already existed within our reality in such a way that the Heaven's Ward simply couldn't repair them. You see, the Heaven's Ward merely fixes distortions of the natural law and erases only the objects born directly from within the Abyss, it cannot reverse the damage done to what is in our realm. Think about it this way: Even when the fire from a witch's magic is erased, the things it had burned will remain scorched. Those harmed or even killed by the Abyssal arts will remain as such. The Heaven's Ward merely repairs the twisting in the natural laws and it cannot break the very same laws to bend what had been twisted back its original state. The broken will remain broken and the dead will not return to life. Scars will always remain. In a sense, you could say that the way these creatures are twisted is not dissimilar to how a witch is transformed into a Demon. There is no way to reverse or erase the changes and the only thing you can do is kill them."
"Is there really no way?" asked Auguste, though somehow, Morganna felt that he's no longer talking about the creatures within the Dungeon.
"There is none," replied Morganna, her eyes meeting his. "That is why you must not falter, no matter what."
"Yeah... I know."
"Are you two still talking about the same thing or..." Joseph had been listening and could not help but speak out when the conversation seemed to have taken a strange turn.
Morgan sighed deeply and moved away, unable to even muster up the strength to glare the man down. In the end, there were only Auguste and the balding middle-aged man, Joseph.
End of Chapter 8