Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
The first time Auguste visited the temple, even before setting foot upon the place, his mind was blown open. He had heard that the temple was the largest building in town, but his concept of what was considered large wasn't even close to meet the scale of what was before him. Just the staircases themselves reached higher than his family's barn and even a single pillar was about half the width of his home. Then there was the ceiling, which was so high up that by looking at them, Auguste would get dizzy and his knees would feel weak. As far as Auguste was concerned at the time, the inside of the temple was another world in and of itself, though that was less of a testament of how vast the temple was and more of how small Auguste's world was up until this point.
To the village boy, the sheer size of the temple was intimidating, so much so that he feared that he would get lost and never find his way back. In fact, he did get lost, and by the time he realized it, he was already in an unknown part of the temple, in the middle of a vast hallway that seemed to go on forever and in front of a large gate carved from white marble.
"How very rare, a visitor in this part of the temple. What might you need?"
A woman had called out, a woman that appeared out of nowhere. Truly, it was out of nowhere. The hallway was long and straight, if someone was approaching, there had been no way that Auguste could not have seen them.
"Ah, I see," said the woman, her otherworldly golden eyes glancing down at the ornate lantern hanging off the boy's belt. When a child is of age, they'd wear the symbol of Ceratias, marking them as those about to have their fates foretold. "Here to have your fate divined have you? You've arrived at the right time. I was just about to look for something to do."
Back then, Auguste took her words at face value, but thinking back, there was in no conceivable way that this woman would just be 'looking for something to do'. She was someone who knew to be in the right place at the right time.
"You may call me Cera, I am the Oracle. A high priestess of a sort, you could say? I tend to loiter about in Fortuna, but I've since decided to come down here on a whim." She had a mischievous smile hanging off of her face as she spoke. "Yes, a whim. Regardless, come now, child, let me tell you of what lies before you."
At the time, little Auguste felt in his guts that he probably shouldn't follow this woman. He felt that there was something off about her, something that made Auguste uncomfortable about being around her, something uncanny and not of this world. However, Auguste was also lost and scared, and this woman, claiming to be the Oracle, was offering to show him the way. Weighing the risks and returns in his little mind, in the end, little Auguste willingly followed her.
"Returned, have you?" Cera said as her golden eyes captured the young man's posture, seeking the slightest weakness and finding too many for her liking. "You've slackened, haven't you? I'll have to whip you into shape while you're here."
"That's the first thing you say to your disciple after not seeing him for so long?"
The woman smiled, grinned even.
"Ah, that's right, isn't it? It's has been a while since you're actually here in person. What do you want? A hug? Well, I can provide that much, I suppose."
The woman stood up, her hands extended towards the disciple before her. Seeing this, Auguste flushed. He did not expect such a warm welcome. Then again, it *has* been a while. Even his cold-hearted mentor would feel lonely being by herself after all this time.
He walked into her embrace, and though for a moment he felt his mentor's warmth, the very next instance, he was feeling the cold floor on his back.
"I should have known..." said Auguste, his body laid upon the spotless floor, his master standing over him.
"Indeed. It's a wonder you even survived this long with so little wit," Cera scoffed. "Ah, but you haven't returned just to have your behind kicked have you?"
Walking away, the woman snapped her fingers. The snap echoed across the chamber of white, and before Auguste's eyes, the room shifted. Instead of a hard marble floor, beneath him was a velvet rug and above was the ceiling of a pavilion raised around him. With the pavilion at the center, an enormous garden larger than what the chamber initially seemed spread out, and though there was not a single light source within the chamber and there was not a single bird in sight, it was all lit as brightly as day and songs of birds could be heard.
"It's been a while since I did some decorating," the woman said. "No one else ever came visiting you see."
"I come to visit now and then. Not in person but-"
"And when was the last time, weeks ago?"
"It's not as if altars could be found all over the place, you know."
"I'm sure you'll find some abandoned amongst the underbrush if you only look hard enough."
"I don't have the time for something like that, and speaking of time, I really ought to be heading home. Do you still have my robes?"
"Of course," said Cera, reaching into a wardrobe that wasn't there before. "Oh, and do drop by before you leave tomorrow. In truth, there's hardly time to actually whip you back to shape, but I'll at least give you a pointer or two."
"That'd be nice," said Auguste in a flat tone as he received his robes.
Having put on the white robes belonging to the priests of Ceratias, Auguste left the chamber and found his way back to the temple's entrance. From there, he made his way out of town and began heading towards his village. If he were to walk, it'd take him a little under an hour and a half, but fortunately, he ran into a donkey-drawn wagon belonging to a farmer that was just returning from the town's marketplace and hitched a ride for the rest of the way.
In a way, it was somewhat nostalgic. About three years prior, on that overwhelmingly eventful day, he had returned home the same way.
"Hmm... your name is Auguste, you say? I see, I see. It certainly doesn't sound like something that would be remembered all too well."
"It just means that your name would not be superbly famous, that is all."
Little Auguste sat down with the Oracle, listening to her divinations. He sat with her in neither a special place set for ceremonies nor a room built for rituals. Instead, it was a place where the priest and priestesses maintaining the temple would gather and eat.
"Do you have anyone you like?"
"Someone I like?" Auguste blushed slightly at the questions. "Well..."
"It seems like you do. Well, you best steel yourself then."
"Because it is not going to happen," she said with an unfading smile on her face, showing neither sympathy nor concern as if it was all someone else's problem. Granted, it was, but there was something psychotic in her lack of care.
Auguste was shocked by the straight and merciless answer and didn't quite know how to respond.
"Oh, and try to curb any ambitions too big for your own good, because it would all come tumbling down on you. Humility and simplicity suit you better."
"And lastly, and this is... Well, how am I to put it? Do try to have a happy and fulfilling life, for it is certain to not be of any sort of delight near the end."
"W-what do you mean?"
"Oh, there is little need for you to worry about that. Few get to live the last stretches of their lives in comfort in this day and age. Now then, allow me to summarize this neatly at the end here, as per custom. Be sure to remember it, or don't, the consequences are few either way."
The Oracle then took a pause, breathing in a deep breath before resuming, her tone changed to bear some gravity as she spoke the following words.
"Never will your name be written down in history, every ambition within your heart would be but futile and your love would be without fruit. Destined to struggle you are, always in vain. Then, finally, at the end of your life, you will rot away in a faraway land, your body devoured by disease. This shall be your fate, your burden tied to this existence. Fear not, however, for from your ashes a fruitful future shall spring forth for those to come."
Throughout the whole conversation, the other priests and priestesses were listening as well, though they could do nothing but watch on with pale faces. The words that were chosen by the Oracle, the language spoken, their mean-spirited nature were plain for all to see. No one there would even dare to speak such a way to a grown man seeking guidance, much less towards a child. However, the Oracle, Cera, was considered the highest authority within the temple, and as such, no one could stop her.
In shock and not quite knowing what to think, feeling only a throbbing pain in his chest, little Auguste made his way back home, hitching a ride from a donkey-drawn wagon.
To tell the truth, Auguste did not understand all of what was said to him. In fact, most of the time, to the young ones especially, something vague and usually encouraging was told. Never would there be someone so blunt and excessively mean-spirited be allowed to divine the fates of those coming of age, or anyone for the matter. By the end of it, all that Auguste truly understood was that bad things lie before him and he wasn't exactly sure what to do about it, if there was anything to be done at all.
That being said, it was still something far away. Once Auguste goes to sleep and wakes up the next morning, it would all be gone from his mind and he'll spend the days just as he had always done. At least, that was how he had hoped things would play out.
That night, still rather haunted by what was said and can't quite go to sleep, Auguste looked out of his window, staring into the stars. In the star-filled sky, he noticed that some of them had been obscured and it was not the doing of clouds. It was smoke, smoke rising from somewhere within the village.
Little Auguste poked his head out of the window, and there, he saw light, he saw embers rising into the sky, and it all came from a cabin at the edge of the village, the home of those who bear the name of Cless, the home of Helena.
Auguste went and woke up his family and was the first to rush outside. He ran to the village well all the while screaming, "Fire! Fire!" to wake the villagers and with a bucket of water drawn from the well, he ran towards Helena's home.
By the time he arrived, however, the cabin was completely ablaze. Little Auguste splashed his bucket of water over the entrance, dousing the flames for but an instant before it flared to life once more.
"Lena!" Auguste cried out, hoping for some kind of response. However, he heard nothing but the crackling of the fire.
Staring into the inferno, feeling the heat upon his skin, the young boy felt a creeping despair slowly wrapping its fingers upon his heart. He did not want to believe. He wished that this was all a nightmare.
Then, he heard a cry from the woods, the woods in a distance. At first, he had thought that it was but his imagination or that it belonged to some beast. However, he then heard a second one, a cry that he found familiar. It's a sharp, pained cry that haunted his nightmares, a cry that he would sometimes hear in his sleep, waking him up. The cry came from the forest.
Little Auguste ran into the woods. There was no need for a torch or a light source, for there was a trail, a trail of fiery footprints and burning branches providing the light. Auguste wasn't sure what the trail was, but he was sure that he recognized the voice of the pain cries. And though it felt nothing like her usual gentle tone, he was sure that it was Helena.
"I'll kill you! I swear I'll kill you!!!"
As Auguste drew closer, he could hear her, screaming threats at something. A fire seemed to be spreading throughout the woods. If he doesn't get Helena and leave soon, they might be caught up in the growing forest fire.
"Lena, wait!" Auguste called out, but Helena did not give him any heed. Her attention was elsewhere.
With her father's bow in hand and arrows drawn against the bowstring, again and again, Helena let loose arrows after arrows into the trees, trying to shot down something weaving its way through the woods. Auguste thought that he could almost see what it was, no, he could definitely see it, as it seemed to be on fire, but he can't quite make out its shape through the flames. At times it would run on its two legs like a human but at others, it would be on all fours, moving like a beast. In time, an arrow finally struck the creature's back, causing it to fall over and allowing Helena to catch up.
As Helena approached, two more arrows were sent flying, smashing into the burning creature's body. Those two were the last of her arrows. Grasping at her empty quiver and realizing that she had run out, Helena drew her hunting knife and approached the burning creature, not caring for the heat or even the fact that she might be burned, and plunged her knife into the creature, or so she tried.
Sensing its own doom, the burning creature cried out with an unnatural, otherworldly voice, and following that, a wave of heat burst forth from the creature's burning body, scorching Helena and causing her to back away.
As she retreated from the flames, Helena tripped and fell onto Auguste who had been running after her. It was only after hearing his pained grunt did she return to her sense.
"Lena, what are you doing here? What happened to your house?"
Helena turned towards the burning creature, crawling up to her feet, limping towards Helena and Auguste.
"That thing... It killed them... Mother and father... It killed them!"
The burning creature cried out once more in its otherworldly voice, the flames on its body burning with even greater intensity than before. It seemed to have decided to stop running.
"Gusty, run!" Helena shouted, scrambling to her feet and trying to get Auguste to run. However-
"I can't! My leg, it hurts!"
It turned out that his ankle was sprained when Helena fell on him.
"Just go, get away!" she urged him on but only caused him to stumble and fall.
Running out of options, Helena turned around to face the burning creature with her knife in hand. Even if she dies, she'll kill it. She'll avenge her family and protect Auguste. Helena had made up her mind. She was going to go down with this monster.
She charged forth, embracing the flames surging from the creature. The heat burned her and the light blinded her, but in spite of it all, she thrust her blade forward, hoping to hit something, anything.
Helena felt a gust blowing by, and when she opened her eyes, the flames were gone. Her hunting knife, held against thin air had struck nothing, as if this whole time, she had been fighting against a phantom, a dream. If only it had been a dream.
With the crackling of fire drawing her attention, Helena soon found the burning creature again, fallen against the undergrowth. It wasn't moving, but Helena could tell that it was still alive. There was no proof, but she had a feeling that so long as the creature was burning, it still lived.
A voice called out to her, a strong, but kind voice. A gentle touch upon her shoulder caused her to remain in place. At the same time, the burning creature began to move, standing back up with the sole support of its back.
"Leave this to me," said the kind voice.
As soon as it stood back up, the flames around the burning creature flared up and a torrent of fire flooded towards Helena and Auguste. It was then, the young man, the one with the kind voice, moved to stand in front of them. With a hand outstretched, he received the flames.
Upon contact with the palm of his hand, the flames parted like waves splitting against a steadfast stone. It had been the mystic arts, something that the young man had dabbled in, enough to protect both himself and the two behind him. It was the very same power that knocked the burning creature into the shrubs.
"It's fine now, there no need to worry," said the young man without taking his eyes off the burning creature. "I'll protect the both of you, I promise."
With those resolute words, all of a sudden, Helen was hit with a sense of relief. She fell to the ground on her knees, strength leaving her body. What happened afterward, Helena could only recall vaguely. However, Auguste remembered it all, the sight of the young man cleaving through the fire with his sword, rushing the burning creature despite its best attempts to keep him away with its flames. He couldn't take his eyes off of them, off of the captivating sight of steel dancing amidst the flames.
In the end, the young man chased the burning creature off. He was unable to finish it off and decided not to give chase. Part of the reason seemed to be that he's worried for Helena and Auguste, but he appeared to have other considerations as well.
With his mystic arts, the young man treated some of Helena's lighter wounds and once she had regained enough strength to walk again, he escorted both her and Auguste back to the village. Midway, he ran into the other villages.
The young man introduced himself as Albert, a member of the Lightbringers, who had been tracking down a certain Demon reported to be sighed around the region. He came to the rescue of Helena and Auguste after he spotted the dancing flames afar from his camp. After hearing his story as well as Auguste's, the villagers invited him to stay the night.
That night, Helena stayed in Auguste's home. While she had responded when spoken to, it was only to a minimum degree. At that time, it was agreed upon that they should leave her alone for the night, that too much had happened and she must still be in shock. Thinking back, Auguste thought that perhaps he should have stayed with her, but then again, what could he have really done for her back then?
When the sun rose the next day, Helena was nowhere in sight. A note was left behind with a few words of thanks and that was that. It was only after asking around was it revealed that she had left with Albert, presumably to join the Lightbringers. It won't be until about three years later does Auguste gets to see her again.
End of Chapter 20