Chapter 12:

Vol. 1, Chapter 12: Old Acquaintances

Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes

"Albert..." Auguste addressed the man who, upon entering the bar, came straight to him.Bookmark here

Henrietta, who had been rather excited since Albert showed up, started shaking Auguste violently with her tiny arms.Bookmark here

"Oi, Gusty, yer never told me that yer knew Sir Albert!" she said.Bookmark here

"No, I don't actually *know* him. We've only crossed paths once or twice."Bookmark here

"I think we've crossed paths more times than that, my friend," said Albert with a bitter smile before turning towards Henrietta. "Oh, and please, don't call me 'sir'. Just Albert is fine."Bookmark here

"Y-y-yes! My name is Henrietta. We've met once before as well, mayhaps you remember me?" Henrietta replied in a fluster, so much so that she dropped her accent completely and began speaking in a, frankly, uncannily elegant tone that made Auguste question if that had been the same person he's been traveling with.Bookmark here

"Henrietta? Hmm... Perhaps you could remind me of where we've met?"Bookmark here

"Oh, um, do you remember the Verdant Trails a few months ago by any chance?"Bookmark here

Henrietta was getting quite red in the face and rather giddy.Bookmark here

"Verdant Trails, you say?" Albert rubbed his chin for a short moment before snapping his fingers. "Ah! You're the dwarven peddler, correct?"Bookmark here

"That's right! Thank you so much for your aid back then!"Bookmark here

"That's quite fine. No need to worry about it," said Albert as he showed her a bright smile, causing Henrietta to become redder than a ripe tomato. "I was just passing by."Bookmark here

It was something that occurred before Henrietta had met Auguste and the others. While traveling into the territories of the Vestal Coalition through the Verdant Trails, Henrietta had been attacked by a band of highwaymen. It had been Albert and his companions that rescued her from the predicament and she had been smitten with her dashing rescuer ever since.Bookmark here

"At any rate, while I would love to sit down for a friendly chat, I am afraid and I have urgent business. Henrietta and Auguste, if you don't mind, can you tell me about what you saw down at the Dungeon the last time you were there?" Bookmark here

"Why us?" Auguste asked, his tone sounded a little less friendly than it usually does. "I'm sure there are plenty of others you can ask."Bookmark here

"Not necessarily," Albert's tone shifted as well, speaking more seriously, graver. "The talk of the town is that you and your party have brought back materials previously not seen in the Dungeon, and the timing in which you returned with them coincided with the outbreak of the giant insects. I'm sorry if I sound condescending, but parties with more experience than yours have attempted to hunt those insects and returned with casualties and hardly anything to show for. It appears that they're just far too aggressive and numerous. And yet, you returned with a bountiful of materials akin to those of the insects' carapaces. I'm curious. How in the world were you able to harvest such an amount?"Bookmark here

"Since when did you become a detective?" said Auguste, still appearing reluctant to cooperate.Bookmark here

"Oi, Gutsy, have yer lost yer mind!" Henrietta pulled Auguste down to her and whispered, if one could call that a whisper. "It's Albert, *the* Albert of the Lightbringers, and he's asking *us* for help!"Bookmark here

"Alright, alright! I'm not saying that I'm not helping."Bookmark here

Auguste sighed, though he wasn't sure why he was sighing. Perhaps it's because he didn't want to run into Albert. Maybe it's that Albert had essentially called out their party for being inexperienced, which was by no means untrue.Bookmark here

In a natural manner, Albert sat right down beside Auguste while he was still occupied by Henrietta. By the time Auguste had notice, even if he found it to be unpleasant, it would only make him look exceedingly petty if he complained about it.Bookmark here

And so, having given in, Auguste described the events down in the Dungeon, including that of the Cobalt Crawler's den, as he saw it. Though, he did leave out the part where he rescued the remainder of Conrad's party. It wasn't important and he didn't want to seem like he's tooting his own horn, especially not in front of Albert. Against Albert, anything he did would naturally be insignificant.Bookmark here

"I see..." Albert contemplated aloud, "So these Cobalt Shell Crawlers, as you call them, they suddenly became aggressive and some even underwent rapid growth all of a sudden, did they? In the Dungeon, sudden changes to the creatures within aren't unusual, not in a 'live' Dungeon that is. Though, such drastic change is more of a trait of areas closer to the Abyssal rift."Bookmark here

"The den was in a deeper floor, though I'm not sure whether or not if it was *that* deep."Bookmark here

"........."Bookmark here

"Well, I hope that's helpful. Now, if you don't mind, I'll be going."Bookmark here

Auguste got up from his seat and proceeded to leave for the exit, when-Bookmark here

"Hold on," Albert called out.Bookmark here

"What? Oh, that's right. If you want to go and investigate, I don't particularly mind letting you copy our map."Bookmark here

"While that's a fine proposal, I have a better idea."Bookmark here

"And that is?"Bookmark here

"I would like to hire you and your party to guide us down to where you found the den. It's faster than trying to copy your maps and we might have more questions when we get there."Bookmark here

While in reality, only one scout would have been sufficient, it was an unwritten rule amongst Dungeoneers that when a member of a party was hired, it usually meant that the entire party was hired. This was not only to avoid disputes within the party, but it was also due to the fact that dungeoneering parties were usually small and were formed in such a way that losing even a member would be a detriment to the party's ability to function and thereby causing a loss in profits. As such, Dungeoneers tend to avoid being hired individually as to not risk conflicts within the party.Bookmark here

"That's not my call, I'll-"Bookmark here

"Yes! We'll do it!" Henrietta, the 'official' leader of the Henrietta Company, interrupted.Bookmark here

"We'll have to talk to the rest of the party first," said Auguste, dismissing Henrietta completely. "How many people will we be guiding? Are there any non-combatants? And of course, what's the pay?"Bookmark here

"There's four of us, and don't worry, for the foreseeable parts, we will be the ones to handle the fighting. You just have to guide us to the destination. As for payment, how about sixty silvers to start-"Bookmark here

"Forty will be plenty. Sixty is overpriced."Bookmark here

If Elaine was there, she'd smack him over the head for passing up the extra twenty silvers. Twenty was by no means a small amount and their lives would most definitely be easier for the foreseeable future if they took it. In the end, it all boiled down to pride. Albert was a bright man. He wouldn't not realize that what he was offering had been too much. In other words, it was charity, charity for Auguste and the rest of his party. That's what Auguste believed, at least. And while Auguste wasn't averse to receiving help and in truth, he wouldn't have gotten as far as he did without help, he didn't like that Albert was essentially looking down on him, that Albert thought that he was doing so poorly that he needed the charity.Bookmark here

"Give me a day," Auguste added before finally leaving, "I'll get back to you tomorrow."Bookmark here

"I apologize," said Henrietta. "My friend here is always a little rude, not to mention slightly strange in the head." Bookmark here

Albert laughed it off. It didn't seem to matter to him.Bookmark here

"It's fine. I don't mind an honest fellow."Bookmark here

After leaving, Auguste headed straight back to camp. If Albert has returned from the Dungeon, that meant that the rest of his party must be around town as well. He didn't feel like running into them, one of them specifically.Bookmark here

When night came and the party gathered at the camp, Auguste brought up Albert's offer to them.Bookmark here

"In other words, we only have to show them the way, correct?" asked Gladiolus to confirm.Bookmark here

"That's what he said."Bookmark here

"Still, to think a member of the Lightbringers is asking us for help. Isn't this exciting somehow?" said Finn, his enthusiasm could be seen in his wide grin.Bookmark here

"How much are they paying us for this?" Elaine asked, ever materialistic.Bookmark here

"He offered sixty silvers," Henrietta answered, "but Auguste said that's overpriced and brought it down to forty."Bookmark here

Elaine then turned her sight towards Auguste. There were no words, only glares.Bookmark here

"W-well, it was! Right, Gladiolus!?"Bookmark here

"Certainly, sixty silver coins just for guiding the ways do appear to be somewhat absurd. I wouldn't pay that. Even forty I find to be rather pricy, though not out of the question, I suppose."Bookmark here

"Either way," Auguste pushed the conversation forward, "I don't think it's that bad of a job, considering that we might not be able to enter this Dungeon for a while."Bookmark here

"You say that, but are you sure we don't have to fight?" asked Elaine, "Though I suppose it's not exactly my place to bring it up."Bookmark here

"I do not think there's a need to worry in that regard," said Gladiolus. "The members of the Lightbringers each have their own talents. They wouldn't be recruited if they're unable to hold their own or provide something useful when dealing with the Dungeons and the Abyss."Bookmark here

"If they're so capable, I suppose there's no reason to turn it down," said Elaine.Bookmark here

"I say we should take the job as well. Perhaps you'll be able to learn a thing or two from watching," said Gladiolus.Bookmark here

"Of course, I'm certainly ain't going to turn down a request from Albert, he saved my life after all," said Henrietta.Bookmark here

"I don't particularly have a problem either," Morganna chimed in after being silent for most of the conversation.Bookmark here

"So we're going? This is going to be great!" Finn exclaimed, already rearing to go.Bookmark here

And so, it had been decided.Bookmark here

When morning came, Auguste went to sought Albert out. Figuring that the man had money to spare, he would most likely be lodging in the impromptu inn that the Dungeoneers' Guild had set up.Bookmark here

Entering the building for the first time, he was hit with the sweet scent of a boiling stew filled with both meat and a rich variety of vegetables. On the long tables set up in the main hall, there were baskets of freshly baked bread for the residents to help themselves to. The inn provided breakfast as well, it seemed. It made sense since only the best of the best and the sufficiently wealthy would be able to afford the prices of the rooms here. With the building and rooms being so shoddy, the least they could do was provide some good food.Bookmark here

Then, there was Albert and his party, who were actually not part of the guild. They were part of the Lightbringers, which was an outside organization that had acquired special permission from each of the five kingdoms to enter the Dungeons. On paper, they were a band of mercenaries with offices all over the five kingdoms. However, they do not fight battles or guard caravans. Rather, they have made it their mission to eradicate the threats posed by the Abyss, which included the Dungeons, the creatures within, as well as Demons. And while they do hunt Demons, they apparently do not abhor witches and have actually been actively recruiting them, treating them as experts on the manners of the Abyss.Bookmark here

"Oh... You must be the one Albert was talking about."Bookmark here

Greeting Auguste soon after he entered was a woman with long and ashen hair along with sleepy eyes that held the color of the winter sky.Bookmark here

The woman was most likely a witch, as she wore a black robe and a pointy hat, and at the tip of her pointy hat, there hung a red gemstone with the shape of a crescent moon. Apparently, all witches have such decorations on their hats, and they seem to not get stolen due to the fear of being cursed by the witches wearing them, demonstrating exactly how feared and respected the witches were during this time.Bookmark here

The witch led Auguste to a table where Albert and another two were having breakfast on. Of the two, one was a man with raven black hair and dark, narrow eyes. His fine and angled face had a mean and arrogant look to it. The other was a woman, she wore a bob cut and her hair was a golden brown, reminiscent of a field of wheat, and her sharp eyes had the hue of almonds.Bookmark here

Auguste ignored the man but exchanged looks with the woman before his eyes landed on Albert.Bookmark here

"Did you already have breakfast? You could join us if you want?" Albert extended his invitation.Bookmark here

"It's fine, I already ate," Auguste curtly refused. "I'm just here to tell you that we decided to take the job. When will you need us?"Bookmark here

Albert wiped his mouth with a handkerchief as he listened.Bookmark here

"Could you be ready by tomorrow?"Bookmark here

"So long as nothing serious comes up, it shouldn't be a problem."Bookmark here

"It's settled then. Shall we meet by the entrance tomorrow morning?"Bookmark here

"Fine by me."Bookmark here

The exchange had been stifling and rigid, and though he had kept a warm smile on his face, Albert felt troubled by how unfriendly Auguste was being. Not that it would prove a problem when it came down to it. It was simply a case of Albert not remembering doing anything that offended the person before him.Bookmark here

"I'll be taking my leave then," said Auguste.Bookmark here

"Very well, I'll see you tomorrow."Bookmark here

Auguste nodded before promptly turning around and headed towards the exit.Bookmark here

Once Auguste was out of sight, lightly, Albert sighed.Bookmark here

"I'm not very well-liked, am I?"Bookmark here

"Of course not," said the man with the mean look. "What's there to like about a goody-two-shoe like you? Besides, we're not here to make friends. I only care about whether this punk can do his job right or not, and he better, or else."Bookmark here

"I wouldn't worry about it," said the woman with sharp eyes. "While Gusty isn't exactly the hardest working person I know, once he decided to take on a task, he'll do it whole-heartedly."Bookmark here

"Oh, yeah? Do you want to bet on that? The loser will have to do whatever the winner says, how about that?"Bookmark here

"Sure thing," the woman with the sharp eyes showed a mischievous smirk. "Perhaps I'll have you jump off a cliff once this is done."Bookmark here

An audible gulp came from the man with the mean look.Bookmark here

"Wait, you're serious? Y-y-you know I was just joking, right?"Bookmark here

"Oh? Going back on your words are you? And here I thought you were supposed to be a man of integrity."Bookmark here

"Zeke, Helena, that's quite enough," Albert intervened before things got out of hand. "I'm sure whatever happens, we'll be able to handle it, right, Lyudmila?"Bookmark here

However, the witch, Lyudmila, did not reply. She appeared to be distracted by something.Bookmark here

"Something wrong, Lyudmila?" Albert asked.Bookmark here

"The child, there is something off about him?"Bookmark here

"Is it the Abyss? Is he a Demon?" asked the man with the mean look with excitement in his tone.Bookmark here

"No..." Lyudmila replied, "Just somewhat odd. That is all."Bookmark here

"And hopefully, that's all it will be," was something Lyudmila did not say, a thought kept to herself.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

End of Chapter 12Bookmark here

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