Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
While the entrance to the insect's den has been sealed, it was unknown whether or not there were other tunnels that the insects could emerge from. With both Tristan and Joseph heavily inured, the Henrietta Company and the remainder of Conrad's party decided that it would be best for them to rest on an upper floor before heading straight for the surface. After setting up camp, Gladiolus and Feris did what they could for Tristan's leg, cleaning the wound as best as they could before bandaging it. Meanwhile, Elaine tried to make things as comfortable as possible for Joseph as he lied down.
That night, or at least, they believed it was night, the ones taking the first shift of nightwatch were Auguste and Finn. Finn was tired from the day's events and was starting to doze off.
"Finn," Auguste called out.
"Huh!? What!? Something happened?" Finn replied in a panic as he snapped out of his drowsiness.
"If you're tired, then go to sleep. I'll handle the rest."
"No, it's fine. I'll do my job."
"If you say so..."
Finn, Henrietta, and Auguste were drinking buddies. That being said, Finn wasn't exactly the most talkative, or rather, he wasn't exactly one to voice his thoughts often. Despite being such a big guy, there's a timidness about him. Due to this, Auguste actually has a very small grasp in regards to how he's like.
"I thought you were incredible back there," Finn suddenly said.
"What?" Auguste was thrown off guard by the sudden comment.
"When you rushed to the rescue of the guys from Conrad's party. I thought it was incredible. You're like a real hero."
Finn was beaming as he talked. It was unknown to Auguste, but Finn had always held an admiration for the heroes of tales and legends. Growing up, he wanted to become like them one day.
"I was being stupid," Auguste replied in a harsh tone.
Finn let out an awkward laugh, once again throwing Auguste off. He wasn't expecting that kind of reaction.
"What's so funny?"
"No, it's nothing. It's just that my sister would have probably said the same thing."
"Yeah, I bet she would."
"Still, the way you just ran out there so fearlessly, it was... How should it put it? Inspiring? It made me a little ashamed of myself for hesitating before you jumped in."
Auguste frowned. Since Finn was a frontliner, he was too precious a teammate to lose. As such, no one could afford to leave him behind and everyone on the party would have to do what they could to back him up. Essentially, if Finn had gone out there, it would mean dragging the whole party down with him. Of course, Auguste has no right to criticize that, as that was exactly, precisely, word-for-word, what he had done.
"You better not let Elaine hear you. She's going to smack you over the head, or at least nag it right off," said Auguste, that being the extent of warning he felt he could give from his current position.
"I know, I know..." Finn scratched the back of his head. "Still, I can't help but admire it."
"Well, doing things to help others is something admirable, I guess. Even so, don't do what I did. Find a better way to do it. What I did... That was reckless and dumb. I wasn't thinking."
"You've said that already, but you know what, I'm sure we were all thinking of doing the same thing. Otherwise, I don't think we would have been so willing to jump in there with you and backed you up. We all wanted to help them, but we didn't know what the right thing to do was. You were the one who led us to it. That's what I think."
"Yeah? I don't know about that. I could have gotten you all killed. We only survived by a hair's width."
"But we're still here and we even managed to save a few people. Not to mention that my sister hadn't yelled at you even once. I think that is evidence enough that you weren't wrong."
"You say that, but I saw her giving me the evil eye just now. She's not happy, that much I know."
"That's just her way of showing that she cares."
"I don't know what she's showing but I'm going to avoid making eye contact with her for a few days."
The conversation eventually died down, with Finn being rather tired from what had transpired this day and Auguste contemplating his actions, no new discussions were kindled for the rest of the shift.
Once their shift was over, Gladiolus and Feris took their place. While talking, Gladiolus spoke with a controlled tone while Feris spoke only a little and in a quiet voice. Not that it made a difference to Auguste, who still couldn't sleep.
As he had said so himself, what he did was stupid. So, why did he do it? Because he couldn't just stand by and watch people die? Sure, there was that. Because if their positions were reversed, he'd like them to help him? That too. However, there was something else, ego, admiration, envy, and spite, all these things were muddled together. There was someone he aspired to be like. Someone he wanted to surpass, though he knew that there wasn't a single chance in the Abyss that could be possible. That might have been what pushed him to act in a way he did.
He sighed. Not only because he was frustrated with himself, but it was also because he sensed the others waking up, meaning that it might very well be morning and that he had gotten no sleep at all.
In contrast to their way down, their way back up had been riddled with encounters, all of which were with the insects, along with the discovery of new tunnels here and there. Having gotten tired of just referring to them as 'the insects', Joseph had gone and named them the 'Cobalt Shell Crawlers', due to the hue of their carapace. The party simply called them Cobalt Crawlers or just Crawlers for convenience, leaving old Joseph quite miffed about it.
More pressingly, however, was that the Crawlers and tunnels had never been seen in these parts of the Dungeon prior to the discovery of the den down on the lower floors. It's almost as though the Dungeon was changing, even though the heart of the Dungeon, the Abyssal rift, had been sealed. It was strange. Yes, strange, in an Abyssal kind of way. It was strange in a way that only a 'live' Dungeon could be.
Of course, the Henrietta Company and the remainder of Conrad's party had neither the ability nor leeway to get to the bottom of this mystery. They were struggling just to make it out alive.
Worse yet, during that time, Morganna was experiencing 'Rebound' which was, as Auguste understood it, another risk when it came to the Abyssal arts. As a practitioner takes in the memories held within the Ether of a catalyst, their own Ether is in turn affected. Practice the same spell long enough, the memories built up within one's own Ether will allow them to forgo the need of a catalyst, in essence becoming a catalyst in and of themselves. However, this process needs to be a gradual one, as one's body requires time to adapt to the changes within its Ether. If one does not pace themselves, one may come to find themselves embodying their spells far too much and end up harming their own bodies. Those practicing fire-based spells may find their body temperature dramatically rising and may burst into flames if they went further while those that practice with spells of frost may find themselves suddenly becoming cold and may end up turning their own blood to ice should they for some reason decide to keep on casting.
Due to the Rebound, Morganna could not risk casting any spells for the next few days. As such, they had no proper countermeasures against the impossibly speedy Winged Cobalt Crawlers. And so, to avoid them, they choose to take only the paths with low ceilings, where they could not make use of those powerful wings and stingers. However, even without the winged ones, they still had to be wary not to be surrounded by the grounded ones, as each one was tough to kill and with enough of them, they could easily tear everyone in the party apart. With every corner potentially leading to a deadly encounter, the lifeline of the party lied with Auguste, Feris, and Gladiolus, who have the job of scouting ahead and finding the safest path forward.
It took them three days to return to the surface, one more day than expected. Even though they've brought extra supplies just in case, the Henrietta Company did not expect to take on new, albeit, temporary member. And so, they were completely dry on supplies by the time they neared the exit.
Though, even after they've made it out of the old well that led into the Dungeon, the Cobalt Crawlers went after them still, with murderous persistence. Fortunately, a few moments after leaving the Dungeon and being exposed to the open sky where the star shined always, their thin legs became unable to support their bodies. It only made sense, as the shell that covered their bodies, even in pieces, weighed like stone bricks. With the Crawler's size, it was doubtful that they'd be able to support themselves with such thin limbs, not without breaking a few natural laws.
Upon returning to town, the party headed straight to the guild office. They couldn't wait to get rid of the weight from their backs and fatten their pockets at the same time. Not to mention, since their return, people have been eyeing them and their hefty rucksacks. Having spent enough time in the Dungeoneers' campsite, it's hard to not know a thing or two about the fellow Dungeoneers around you. As such, the Henrietta Company was known to be amateurs in the business and it was rare to see them bring in such a haul from the Dungeon. With so much attention on them, it would be wise to be prudent.
There was, however, something else that has been concerning since their return to town. Whispers can be heard here and there and an air of anxiety could be felt throughout. Most likely, it was about the infestation of the Crawlers within the Dungeon. It had never happened before, for such a drastic change to occur after a rift had been sealed. It was a never seen before problem and no one knew how long it would take for it to be solved, if it could even be solved in the first place. Every party in town must be questioning their livelihood for the coming days about now. Should they stay? Or should they be moving on while they're ahead? Auguste was sure they'll have the very same discussion soon, and with no news of fresh Dungeons discovered coming in, it would be hard to decide if leaving this place and going back to older Dungeons would be a good idea.
All in all, after rounds of ferocious bartering between Elaine and the guild appraiser, the total profit earned from the Cobalt Crawlers' carapaces was sixty-seven silvers, split in half, it was thirty-three silver and fifty coppers.
"You sure? You're the ones who carried those shell back," said Joseph, now recovered, as the money was being handed to him. "Heck, I'm wondering if we should be paying you for saving us and helping us out of the Dungeon."
"Fifty-fifty, that was the deal, right?" said Auguste.
"That's right, the Henrietta Company never goes back on a deal!" Henrietta exclaimed proudly.
"Looks like Conrad was spot on," Tristan came forward, aided by Feris at his side. "You people are honest folks alright."
"We're sorry. About Conrad and Muriel, I mean," Gladiolus gave his condolence.
"It's all part of the business," Tristan replied, forcing a smile to assure the elven male. "We're all preparing for what's coming. More than that, we should be grateful that you went through the trouble to save what's left of us."
Their eyes turned towards Auguste, who was the first to jump in.
"Umm..." Auguste wasn't sure what to say. He still wasn't sure if he had done the right thing back there. Sure, in the end, things went as well as they could have, but that was the result of luck. You won't survive long in the Dungeon if all you rely on is luck. In the end, he settled with a simply reply and went, "You're welcome."
Once the business had been taken cared off, they disbanded and part ways for the day. That being said, Auguste ended up running into Henrietta in the tavern just moments later. Coincidentally, the both of them felt like having a quick drink alone at around the same time. Elaine had said to not drink before dinner, but it was only a little after noon. It will be a while before dinner time.
"Well, sometimes yer just gotta trust yer guts. It ain't like we can see the future anyways, so who really knows what's what. Besides, they're alive, we're alive, it ended up all good, right?"
"Yeah... You're probably right. Still, I can't help it. I could have died back there. I could have dragged you all down with me. I feel like if I don't reflect on it enough, I'll just end up making the same mistake again, and next time, maybe we won't be so lucky."
Henrietta sighed, she wasn't sure how to deal with someone like Auguste, someone who has too much on their minds pretty much all the time. Instead, she decided she was just going to order another drink for both of them. No much thinking or worrying can be done when you're piss drunk after all.
There were a good number of Dungeoneers loitering about the tavern around this time. Not that there's anything odd about it, of course. It's not at all that unusual for Dungeoneers to return from the Dungeon early in the day and it's certainly a norm for them to take a day off or two after returning. Not to mention, due to the Crawlers, they're probably forced to take a day off regardless. Due to this, the tavern was lively and filled with chatter. At least, it had been.
All of a sudden, the tavern went quiet. Something, someone, had made everyone silent. Auguste had noticed the sudden shift in mood as well, and not even Henrietta was ignorant of it.
A man had entered, one with locks of hair that seemed as though they were silk made of gold, tied into a flowing pony tail at his back. His eyes were like the sky, a clear, open sky with the sun shining in all of its brilliance. On his waist, there hung a sword that felt like it was radiating an aura of a divine nature. The man walked into the tavern and made a beeline towards Auguste, causing Henrietta to rapidly tap Auguste's shoulder as the man approached.
"It's you, right, Auguste?" the man asked with a gentle smile on his face. "It's been a while. If you don't mind, I'd like to have a word or two with you. It's about what you saw in the Dungeon."
End of Chapter 11