Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
"Why is it so fast when its leg's broken!?" said the young man as he ran, occasionally looking back to measure the distance between him and the great boar.
"Less... talking... More... running..." said Morganna, barely keeping up and almost out of breath.
Even while limping, the great boar was fast. Not so fast that it was impossible to outrun should the two sprinted at top speed, but considerably fast nonetheless. It was odd for a creature of such a size to have such mobility, at least, the young man certainly thought so. It was almost as if the beast's weight was being supported by some mysterious force.
"Come on, this is no time to stop! We've got to keep moving!"
"E... easy for you to say..."
Morganna was leaning against a nearby tree, gasping for breath. She could run no more, even as the great boar approached. Her complexion was pale and her vision was fading, the only things keeping her standing were more or less her pride and stubbornness.
"If you stay here, you're going get squashed," said the young man as he reached out to Morganna only to have his hand slapped away.
"In that case...... Ugh!" Morganna paused. She could hold it in no longer. Right on the spot, she began throwing up. It was only by sheer force of will was she able to continue speaking right after. "In that case, I'll just make it go away. I'm sick of running."
Morganna readied her staff, prompting the young man to quickly back away. She breathed in deeply, letting the air settle in her lungs before releasing them. Then, as if reacting to her, flames gathered at the tip of the ashen staff, forming a crimson orb. With a swing of the staff, Morganna sent the crimson orb flying, and not only did it fly, it also curved and weaved through the trees, a burning trail forming behind it as it flew. Looking at the fireball move, the young man was impressed by the apprentice witch's degree of control. However, the truth was that Morganna had hardly any control at all and it took everything she had to keep the ball of fire from hitting anything other than her target.
In spite of it all, the fireball found its way and crashed into the great boar's side. Sadly, it was to no avail. The flames did little more than singe the great boar's thick coat of hair, doing absolutely nothing to even distract the creature, much less turn it away.
"It did nothing!?"
Morganna was in disbelief. She had put all of her hopes into that fireball and now the great boar is quickly approaching and Morganna has very little time to get away, if she even has the strength to move her legs in the first place.
No, not yet! Morganna cried out in her mind. One more! Give me one more!
Morganna straightened her glasses, framed by ebony wood, and once more readied her master's staff. If she can't penetrate the hide, then she'll just have to go for the eyes. She waited, bided her time even as the boar got closer, close enough that she wouldn't miss no matter what.
A bright light struck one of the boar's eyes. Following that, darkness and burning pain. Wincing from the pain, the boar inadvertently turned away from the path it was charging towards while letting out a sharp cry.
As the great boar shifted its head, one of its mighty tusks turned towards Morganna. In that instant, Morganna felt her blood freezing up, her mind's eyes already seeing the sight of the ivory puncturing her torso.
As the world around her began to spin, Morganna was swept off her feet. For a moment, it felt as if she was flying, though it was truly for but a moment. Soon, she crashed into the ground, tumbling and rolling and eventually came to a stop.
With her back against the dirt, Morganna quickly checked herself all over and found no holes anywhere on her, no pronounced injury other than a few scratches here and there.
"Can you move?"
Morganna heard the voice of the young man, and upon turning her head, she found him not too far away from her. Quickly putting the two and two together, Morganna realized that it was probably this young man who had grabbed and tossed her out of the way at the last moment.
At a distance, the great boar could be seen raging, twisting and shaking its body in its futile attempt to get rid of the pain.
"And here I thought you had some great plan," said the young man, his eyes locked onto the boar. "All you did was make it angrier!"
"Do you have a better plan?" said Morganna, not appreciating the criticism.
"How about this? I keep it busy and you pull yourself together and get running."
"I don't need your help."
Morganna tried to crawl up from the ground and get back onto her feet. However, her knees were wobbly and without strength. In the end, getting onto her knees was the best Morganna could manage.
"I don't care if you have to crawl out of here," said the young man, ignoring Morganna's previous comment and current protest as he dragged her away by her robes, dropping her off behind a tree out of the boar's sight. "Just get going."
With that, the young man began moving towards the great boar, now seemingly searching for Morganna. Sticking to the blinded side of the boar, the young man closed his distance and once he was close enough, he leaped right onto the boar's massive body, his hands gripped tightly onto the boar's fur as he climbed the beast's body.
The boar didn't seem to mind him. To it, the young man was probably not much of a threat. However, as soon as the young man pulled out a hunting knife and started stabbing, the great boar began running wild, trying to shake the young man off.
"Felt that, have you?" the young man shouted to fight off his growing terror as he held on for dear life. "This is what you get for ignoring me!"
"Tsk! I told him I didn't need his damned help!"
With the ashen staff as support and with her back pressed against a tree, Morganna forced herself back onto her feet. From within her robes, she pulled out a wand, a second catalyst. With the wand in hand, she drew a line in the air and as if a wound had been made in the fabrics of reality, golden liquid flowed forth like blood.
The liquid dripped and splattered onto the ground as a liquid would. Unlike fire, it has weight and thus more difficult to control. Even so, by the strength of her will, Morganna gathered up the liquid into a ball.
"Fly!" Morganna commanded with a swing of her wand. Words did nothing for her spell, but for just a moment, her mind focused on her own words and the golden ball of liquid flew off in roughly the desired path. And though it dipped and swung clumsily as if flew, it somehow managed to find its way towards its target, splashing into the great boar's side.
"This smell..." The young man, still holding onto the great boar, stabbing into it occasionally to grab its attention, was quick to realize what the golden liquid was as it splashed onto him. "You've got to be kidding!"
Without a single moment of hesitation, the young man leaped off the boar's back, crashing and tumbling onto the ground, before Morganna even has to warn him. Moments later, with a flash of heat, the boar's hide bursts into flames.
The great boar roared and cried in pain, crashing into trees, rolling and tumbling off the ground in an attempt to put out the flames. Amidst the chaos, the young man ran to Morganna's side, quickly picking her up and taking off from the area. Morganna did not even have the strength or will left to protest, allowing herself to be carried away.
"Will you be alright by yourself?" the young man asked after putting Morganna down beside a tree, far, far away from where the great boar was.
"I'll be fine," said Morganna, slumping against the rough tree bark. "I just need a little rest."
"In that case, I'll be taking my leave."
"Where are you going?" Morganna asked in spite of herself.
"Somebody has to take care of that boar before it sets the whole forest on fire."
"There's no need to worry about that. The fire would go out before it spreads too far. It was born of the Abyss and as such the Heaven's Ward will deal with it."
The young man tilted his head, not quite understanding what Morganna was talking about. After a brief moment of confusion, the young man looked towards the direction of the great boar, hearing its pained cries.
"But some things would still get burned, right?"
"I can't deny that... Think you can kill it?"
"If it's exhausted enough, then maybe..."
"Try not to get yourself killed."
"Oh, I'll try alright."
With that, the young man took his leave. Sometime later, a corpse of an unbelievably large boar was found. Its back was badly burnt and there was a makeshift wooden spear stuck into its throat, presumably killing the beast.
The next day, upon the return of Morganna's master, Morganna was quickly found out. It seemed that her master had heard about the boar on her trip back and quickly figured out what had happened in her absence. An argument broke out and upon the dawn of the very next day, Morganna left the only home she knew. While it hadn't been something she could call a complete victory, her triumph against the great boar granted her the confidence to strike out on her own.
As she traveled the road west, planning to head towards Fortuna to seek out new opportunities, she ran upon an altar by the roadside. She recognized it as the altar of Ceratias, a goddess worshiped in the region. Though she was raised around here as well, she herself did not participate in the regional traditions. She and her master were hermits after all.
Upon the altar of Ceratias, she spotted a familiar figure. By his side, there was a rucksack packed with all sorts of supplies. From the looks of it, he wasn't planning for a short trip.
"Heading somewhere?" Morganna called out with a tone more familiar than she had intended, surprising even herself.
The young man raised his head, turning around with a surprised look.
"I guess I am," he replied. There was a bit of an air confusion about him.
"What? Was it so odd to see me here?"
"Uhh... is it odd?"
"Why are you asking me?"
"Sorry, some things just happened and I haven't quite wrapped my head around it yet."
"You didn't hit your head did you?"
"I don't think so. Anyway, you look like you're heading somewhere as well."
"Want to head out together?"
"Depends. Are you going west?"
"West? West... Fortuna?"
"That's right. You're going to Fortuna too?"
"You see, the truth was," The young man scratched the back of his head. "I was apparently just kicked out of where I was staying, so I'm sort of at a lost."
"Well, I don't mind if you tag along, but if you try anything-"
"Yeah, yeah, I remember that you almost did, splashing me with oil and whatnot."
"Hey, I would have waited for you to get off!"
"I sure hope that's the case," said the young man as he went and slung his rucksack onto his back. "My name's Auguste, in case you were wondering."
"I wasn't, but since we're at it, I'm Morganna."
"Well met. Now, let's be off then, shall we, Morganna?"
"I'll be going even if you didn't tell me to."
"Of course you would."
"In the end, why were you at that pond? It seemed like an awfully remote place to fish, don't you think?"
"Huh? After all this time, you're curious now?"
"I've forgotten about that up till now."
By a clearing not too far from the road, the Henrietta Company went ahead and made a camp there. Coincidentally, it was roughly the same spot where Auguste and Morganna had camped when they first set out. On this night, Auguste and Morganna took the first shift of the nightwatch together.
"To be frank, I have no idea why I was there either. My master just woke me up one morning, tossed me a fishing rod, and told me to get her fish from that specific pond. And when I came back with none, since a certain someone boiled the entire pond, she went ahead and kicked me out."
Morganna tilted her head. This master of his sounded like an incomprehensible person.
"Your master, who did you say she was again?"
"I don't think I even told you in the first place, but well, she's the Oracle."
"I'm not sure if there's more than one, but that's what she called herself and that's what everybody else called her."
"You think she sent you there for a reason? To meet me, perhaps?"
The moment she heard herself uttering those words, she suddenly felt very dumb.
"What? Like some sort of fated encounter? Don't get sappy on me."
"Believe me, I don't like that way it sounded more than you do, but she *is* the Oracle of Ceratias, so that's something to consider."
"Maybe. But, we got here on our own two feet, regardless of her schemes."
"I'm not going to deny that," Morganna stared up into the starry sky as she spoke. "......Though, I don't think it was so bad, at least part of it."
"Hm? You said something?"
"I was just wondering if I would have gone through with this if I hadn't run into you. After all, I was incomplete as a witch, I am aware of that, and there was a threat of me turning into a Demon at any time. You were the only person I could ask. If I were alone, I'm wondering if I could have gone as far as I did without turning back."
"I'm sure you'd just get used to it. You're tough, so you'll figure something out."
"You don't quite understand, do you? Becoming a Demon is a terrifying thing. You lose yourself, but not enough to be completely oblivious, with what's left of your consciousness trapped within the twisted being you've become. It is a fate worse than death, or so I was told."
Auguste could somewhat feel the mood of the conversation shifting. Morganna was being gloomier than usual. Perhaps returning to where it all began had made her question her rather rash decision back then.
"Sooo... You're telling me that you're glad to have met me and wouldn't wish it to be otherwise? That if we were to live a thousand lives, you'd like us to meet a thousand times?"
"Ugh... That was the absolute worse. Don't ever speak to me again," said Morganna, glaring at Auguste with eyes colder than that of a dead, rotting fish.
"Well, what can I say? I try my best to please."
That being said, when Elaine revealed that she heard every word the next morning, it made Auguste wish he would drop dead on the spot.
End of Chapter 24