Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
It was three years prior, soon after Helena had left the village. Having been sent on an errand to town, little Auguste took the chance to visit the temple once more. He wasn't sure what he was looking for there. He didn't know what he expected out of it. Still, the words spoken to him by the Oracle lingered within him. At the time he was told of it, he wasn't sure what it had all meant. However, it did not take long before he got to experience it firsthand. To feel the powerlessness of being unable to do anything, unable to help even if he had desperately wanted to, to see a loved one leave without so much as a word or warning, to have someone who was up until recently a large part of his life just disappear into thin air, the experience tore at him, tore out a chunk of him and left a part of him empty. Will his life be like this from this point on? Will he be always feeling like that no matter what he does? Such questions were on his mind and perhaps he went there seeking answers.
Once again, without quite knowing how he got there, little Auguste found himself in the vast, seemingly endless hallway. Before him, was a massive gate carved from white marble.
"Returned have you?" a woman's voice called out to him. It was a woman shrouded in white, her jet-black hair hidden beneath a pure white shroud. "Were you not satisfied with my divination? Not that it mattered, I suppose. The results will not change."
"Will it really not? Isn't there anything you can do about it?" Auguste asked, not even sure what he himself was asking for.
"I am merely a guide. Changing fate is beyond me."
"On the other hand, if you seek a path to turn from fate, I might just point you in the right direction."
"Can you do that?"
The woman's lips turned upwards into a grin.
"That depends on you. To turn one's back against 'fate' is a crime against nature. However, if that's what you want from the bottom of your heart, then I do not mind being your guide."
Auguste reached for the ornate hunting knife stuffed into his belt, the one gifted to him by Helena.
"I... I want to see Lena again."
"She's going to a faraway place, to walk with her is an ambition too great for you, I am afraid."
"Is there a way for me to go there?"
"That depends. Would you like me to be your guide?"
"Well, might as well not, I suppose. To try and turn against fate is a fool's path, one filled with turmoil and agony. It would be better to be at peace with what you've been dealt."
The woman was leaving, her footsteps went further and further into the seemingly endless halls.
"Wait! Please wait!"
With Auguste's plea, the woman stopped, turning around. There was something about it that felt rehearsed, as if she had expected it to play out this way.
"C-Cera, please show me!"
"So this was your choice after all then?" The Oracle's grin cracked wider. "Very well, let us see how long you'll last."
The words spoken gave little Auguste an ill foreboding.
"W-what do you mean?"
"The path you'll take is not for the feeble of will and frail in flesh," said Cera as she slammed her fist into her palm in a gesture highly improper for someone known as the Oracle. "Be prepared, my child, for you shall be forged."
Following that, Auguste was, on paper, to become a priest-in-training at the temple. From day to day, he would perform various chores assigned to him as an initiate would do. However, there was one thing that separated him from the rest, and it was that he would constantly be under attack.
In order to 'train' him, for the first year, the Oracle would ambush him when he least expected, beat him up, and leave him to his chores once he has been beaten to a pulp. The attacks came regardless of where he was or what he was doing, whether it be when he's eating, sleeping, or even when he's taking a dump. The harsh 'training' was yet another reason why Auguste would rarely ever have a good night's sleep. It wasn't until his second year with her did she began to train him in swordsmanship which for the most part meant more of the same, just that this time, she'll be coming at him with a sword in hand.
Of course, she wasn't insane in how she trained her disciple, or at least Auguste hoped that she wasn't, for the fruits of her training granted a sharpened sense of alertness and reflexes to the boy, teaching him to make use of every single sense within his body to detect incoming attacks. Those skills, as it turned out, would prove very useful within a Dungeon.
"Good morning, lazybones," Cera said to Auguste as she knocked on the door to Auguste's room in the temple.
However, Auguste was already awake when he heard the Oracle's footsteps approaching.
In truth, he would have much preferred to stay at the inn where the rest of his party was. There, at least he would have someone watching his back. Unfortunately for him, Cera had ordered him to stay the night at the temple so that she could, as she put it, 'beat him into shape'. As such, for most of the previous night, he spent it trying to fend off Cera's assaults and was only able to sleep when his master finally decided that it was enough. Not that he had that much sleep either as she would later launch another attack as soon as he dropped his guard. In fact, Auguste wasn't sure when he had fallen asleep or even when he made it back to his bed, not until he found a bump at the back of his head at least.
Again, Cera knocked on his door while Auguste continued to ignore her. He wasn't sure if she was still in a mood for 'training' or not. Knowing her, there was a two out of three chance that he'd get attacked the moment he opened that door.
Hastily changing into his usual gear, Auguste left out the window, leaving his robes behind. However, upon leaving his room through the unconventional route, he found his master already outside waiting for him with a big, terrible grin upon her face.
"Quite terrible of you to try and leave without a word, don't you think?"
"I'm just thinking that it'll be difficult to leave if I get another concussion."
"If you're talking about last night, I'll have you know that I've sufficiently healed you with my 'miracles'."
"Then what's with this bump?"
"I said 'sufficiently'."
"Well anyway, I'll be going now. If I don't, we might get caught in the rainy season which means we'll be stuck here for a while."
The rainy seasons were something those traveling in and out of the Vestal Coalition must take note of. This was because when it rains heavily, the Verdant Trails, as well as the areas surrounding it, would transform into a difficult to traverse marshland. When that happens, one could either wait for the rainy season to pass, try to find a way through the mountains walling off the Vestal lands from the rest of the five kingdoms, or travel across the mountain pass up north into the Principality of Zeth. For the Henrietta Company's purposes, being able to take the Verdant Trails would be the quickest and cheapest way to get to their destination.
"I suppose you will do what you must. Still, do try to check in once and a while. There's not much for an Oracle to do without my dear disciples around."
"As if what you've been doing is part of an Oracle's job in the first place," Auguste could not help but retort. "But wait, you have more than one disciple don't you? What happened to the runt?"
"Apparently, she got kicked out of her home. Apparently, she went and hit her growth spurt finally," Cera said with a shrug.
"Oh......" Auguste said in a long breath, coming to an understanding. "But, couldn't you have taken her in?"
"The temple runs on alms, my sweet, dull-witted child. Taking her in would be the same as running this place into the ground."
"Oh, why the long face. I thought you never liked her anyway."
"This and that are different matters."
"If you say so."
"Well, there's nothing I can do either way. She's on her own and I've got my own business to take care of."
"I suppose that is for the best."
With that, Auguste bid his master farewell and headed off, meeting the rest of his party by the town square.
"Why can't we just wait at the inn?" asked Henrietta right after a long, drawn out yawn.
"Because you'd just try sleep in if we did," Elaine replied her.
"So, Gusty, how was your visit home?" Finn asked as Auguste approached them.
"Hm? It was normal, I guess. Nothing out of the ordinary."
"Normal? That's good, right?"
"Well, you want your home to be normal right? The way you remember it when you left it, I mean."
"Um, not really no, but I guess that's just for my case."
"Yeah, you and your sister left under some messy circumstances didn't you."
"We practically had to run away."
"That you did."
"I'm glad we did though, otherwise we wouldn't have tagged along with you."
"Hey, I'm glad you're here too, buddy."
Auguste patted Finn on the back and that somehow made the big guy smile.
"And you, Morgan?" Auguste turned to Morganna."Did you visit home too?"
"Of course not," Morganna replied, being rather grouchy either because it was morning, or because Auguste mentioned home, or both. "Why would I want to go see the old hag's face?"
Unlike Auguste, Morganna has a bad relationship with her mentor.
Then again, thought Auguste to himself, do I have a particularly good relationship with mine?
It was hard to tell, but Cera did seem to enjoy her time with him, or at least her time spent beating him, kicking his ass, and wiping the floor with him.
"Let us be going," Gladiolus announced. "There's much ground to cover."
With that, they set off. For the foreseeable future, the road would be their home.
End of Chapter 22