Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
"A priest from the temple? What business do you have us?"
As he approached his old home, Auguste was greeted by a woman, one that has long, silky hair, demure looking eyes, and some freckles on her face. He did not recognize this woman.
"I'm Auguste. I used to live here," Auguste replied.
"Auguste? Ah, you must be one of Marcus' brothers."
Marcus, the eldest of Auguste's brothers. Incidentally, Auguste has eight siblings, five brothers and three sisters.
"And you are?"
"That's right, where are my manners? I am Eliza, I'm Marcus' wife, your sister-in-law."
Was his brother ever married? Auguste can't quite remember. It's been a while since he had lived in this house, three years to be exact, and it had been six months since he last visited.
"Well, pleased to meet you. Is Marcus home?"
"He's at the barn making repairs to the roof. You know, since the rainy season is coming."
At the mention of his mother, for just a little, Eliza frowned.
"She's inside, as always."
"I'll go see her."
"Please do, I'm sure that'll make her very happy."
Auguste made his way into the house. The place wasn't exactly huge and considering that he had to share all the space with the rest of his eight siblings, it was somewhat cramped. However, returning for a visit after so long, it seemed almost too spacious. Most of those that once lived here had moved on, having found work in towns or gotten married off. The only ones living here now are Marcus, his wife, and their mother.
In the back of the house, Auguste found his mother, churning butter from the milk of their very own cows.
Hearing Auguste calling out to her, the woman's thin and rough hands stopped in their motion. Slowly, she turned around to face her youngest son.
"Auguste dear, how have you been?" she greeted him warmly and smiled at him, though as always, there was a certain emptiness behind her smile.
"I'm doing well, mother."
"You look like you've lost weight. Have you been eating well on your pilgrimage?"
On the day Auguste left town, a letter was sent to his home, telling his family that he had been sent by the temple on a pilgrimage. The one who sent it was Cera, covering for Auguste as he went forth to become and Dungeoneer.
"I eat when I can."
"Do look after yourself. You're not a child anymore."
"I know, I know."
"Oh, but look at me, nagging again. Is it any wonder that all of my children had left me?"
The woman smiled. It was a bitter smile without any semblance of joy.
"They haven't left you, they're just a bit busy with their own lives now, I'm sure. Besides, isn't Marcus still here with you?"
"So you say, but I'll bet he can't wait for me to finally kick the bucket and be rid of this walking nuisance."
"Don't be silly, you're our mother. We wouldn't want you to die."
"That's what they all say. That's what they always say. But those are just words, just words..." Auguste's mother began to trail off, mumbling to her herself about something.
"I'm sorry, dear. I'm a little tired now. I think I'll have a nap. Yes, a nap..."
With that, his mother walked off, disappearing behind the door of her bedroom. Sometime later, one could hear a sharp, soul-rending cry coming from beyond those doors. Auguste then knocked on it, but the woman on the other side would only ask to be left alone. That's how it always went.
It began when Auguste was of a young age. He couldn't have been older than eight or nine at the time. Their father had disappeared. Auguste didn't know much about at the time, but from what he heard, he apparently ran off with another woman. He left some debts for the rest of the family to take care of as well, so that wasn't great either. To clear the debt, many a cow was sold and the family lived in poverty for a while. In time, the household recovered and things went back to normal. Their mother, however, was never quite the same again.
Ever since the incident, her mind has been ill. She became very untrusting and every so often, would have an outburst in which she would scream and cry till she was tired. In fact, such outbursts occurred nearly every day when she first found out about the father's betrayal. The daily outbursts left a bit of scar in little Auguste's mind, too young back then to fully understand what was going on.
Often times, he would rather stay outside till it was dark so that he may avoid having to endure one of his mother's outbursts. During those times, it was Helena who hung out with him. The older girl was caring and understanding, oftentimes keeping him company till sundown if she could. Every time he felt like crying, she would be right by him.
"It's alright, I'm here," she would whisper as she tenderly rubbed his back. "I will always be here. That's why, if you're ever feeling afraid or lonely, come find me."
Being with her, running about and chatting about a whole bunch of nothings, that was little Auguste's sole refuge. Even after she had gotten older and began going out on hunts with her father, she would still find time to check in on him.
"Sorry about that, even though you took your time to visit," a man approached Auguste while he was sitting out in the porch. He was tall and muscular, with a broad face and a smile to match.
"It's fine. It must be tougher on you, Marcus, since you're the one who has to deal with it."
"I don't particularly mind, she's our mother after all. Though, I am worried about Eliza. She's not taking it as well and she's concerned about when we have kids."
"Yeah, I can see how that's a problem."
August remembered how much he was terrified of the screams. Even now, he can still occasionally hear them in his sleep.
"Have you ever thought about moving her to Delphina's place? She has a big house, doesn't she? Not to mention plenty of servants too." Auguste suggested.
Dlephina was one of their sisters, the second eldest of the family. She got married to the grandson of the lord of Lars.
"I did try to suggest it to her, but that just made her think that we're trying to get rid of her. Besides, now that I think about it, it might be better for her to stay here. This is her house after all. And I think she might take issue with being taken care of by servants she barely knows."
"I guess there's no helping that, huh."
"No, I suppose not. Don't worry about it though, we'll figure something out."
"Oh, and congratulations on getting married. When did that happen?"
"Thanks. I got married just last month."
"She seems nice."
"She is! Your brother's a lucky man I tell you."
"Well, good for you."
"So, are you planning to stay over for the night?"
Auguste frowned at the question, and after considering it for a moment, he shook his head.
"No, I'll be staying at the temple."
"That's fine, I understand. Will you be staying for dinner at least?"
"That, I can do."
"Good, I'll let Eliza know that we'll be having a guest tonight."
The rest of the night went on peacefully and with an extra person on the dinner table that night, Auguste's mother seemed to have gained a bit of cheer and that made Auguste stay around a little longer, leaving only after they had put their mother to bed.
"Are you sure you won't be staying the night?" asked Marcus once more as he saw Auguste out.
"No, I'm afraid not," Auguste replied, curtly and bluntly.
"Well, be careful on your way back. The roads around here are safe but you'll never know."
"I'll keep that in mind."
Being used to the Dungeons, places where neither the sun nor starlights reach, the darkness hardly bothered Auguste. He was used to it. With the limited lighting provided by the lantern in his hand and the stars above, he was able to traverse the dark road without much issue and made it back to the town of Lars.
Dropping by the inn the rest of his party had stayed in to check in on them, he was then coerced into drinking with Henrietta and Finn. On the ever so rare occasion, Gladiolus, Morganna, and Elaine joined in as well. He stayed with them late into the night, leaving only after Morganna decided to retire.
Feeling a little light-headed as he enjoyed the nightly breeze, Auguste found his way back to the temple, now completely dark with not a single soul in sight. The serenity added to a sense of eeriness to the temple. With a lantern in hand, Auguste paced through the front hall, the echoes of his footsteps being his sole companion. Just for a bit, the place felt as if it was a Dungeon and Auguste couldn't help but become alert, sobering up in the process. Perhaps it was because he had gotten used to it, to expect something to jump at him from the darkness.
Suddenly, Auguste came to a stop. He wasn't sure if it had just been his imagination, a trick played by his mind due to the alcohol left in his system. He stood still and listened. It was only after hearing nothing but absolute silence did he decide to move on. Once more, echoes began to resound throughout the great hall, bouncing off of the far off walls. Then, he came to a stop once more, lifting up his lantern and blowing out the fire.
Auguste's back was against the entrance of the temple. If he were to turn around, he would be able to see the star-filled night sky. His shadow stretched before him, long and dark, and beside his shadow, there was another.
Immediately he turned around, sword drawn just in time to receive a curved blade coming down upon him. His hefty shortsword absorbed the blow easily but the assailant was not done and pressed closer with a dagger in her other hand. Quickly, Auguste pulled away and at the same time, he drew his second blade, his parrying dagger, to match the assailant.
Squinting his eyes to observe the shadowy silhouette of his assailant, Auguste made out the shape of what appeared to be a woman in robes.
"Foiled me, did you," the shadowy figured spoke out in a mocking voice.
"Don't you think I'd be used to you sneaking up on me by now, Cera?" Auguste replied, feeling a little cocky after defending against the attempt at a sneak attack.
"Oh please, I was going easy on you. You can't learn if you're out cold."
While she had matched his footsteps while sneaking up on him, she made sure that the sound of her steps was just loud enough for him to pick up on. If she truly wished to strike him down, she would have made no audible noise at all.
"Then show me."
In the darkness, the blades danced as starlights glinted off the silver steel, clashing against one another as crude, metallic chimes echoed off throughout the great halls.
End of Chapter 21