Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
Before he became a Dungeoneer, Finn was a lumberjack under Wilmot's Lumbering Guild. Day in and day out, he would travel to the forest upstream of the river flowing through the town and swing his axe at the great trees with dark barks. These trees were heavy and tough, and as such, their timbers were highly sought after. When Finn and his fellow lumberjacks manage to bring one down, they would send the logs downstream, letting them float into town where they would then be towed to the sawmills by the riverside.
With the tress being as strong and tough as they were, naturally, they would be difficult to cut down. Despite that, the coins brought home by the lumberjacks were meager. While technically speaking, their salary wasn't poor, most of it ended up being deducted by the end of the day. The problem was the tools, the axes and saws used to fell the trees. The lumberjacks do not own their tools, most of those employed by the guild do not have the means to do so. As such, the Lumbering Guild would lend the necessary tools to them. However, should a tool be broken or damaged, the cost of repairs would be deducted from their salary. Against the tough trunks of the trees, it was not an uncommon occurrence for something to break. And so, in the end, most of the day's earning would go back into the Lumbering Guild's pockets. That being said, it was a living and was better than nothing.
After a hard day's work, Finn would usually return straight home, where a hot meal would be waiting for him. However, since a certain incident a year prior, Finn had been taking detours before heading home every now and then.
There was a man named Gilbert, a seasoned lumberjack who took care of Finn and showed him the ropes when he first started. He was a good man respected by those around him and many lamented when a work related accident forced him to retire. It happened in the summer of the previous year, during the rainy season. The rain beat down on them hard as the winds howled, yet in spite of it all, they had to work, they were made to work. The local warlord was expanding his manor and needed the lumber. There was a deadline for the supplies, one which the Lumbering Guild refused to miss. Due to pouring rain and howling winds as well as his own inexperience, when one of the trees fell, Finn did not notice it until it was too late. Gilbert had to push the large young man out of the way. Finn was saved as a result, but Gilbert's legs were crushed by the weight of the falling tree.
"Hey, Old Man Gil, how are you feeling?" said Finn as he peeked into the older man's room.
"I feel like shit, as usual," said Gilbert, being as grumpy as always. "What do you want, kid?"
The older man had become significantly thinner and frailer compared to before the accident. No longer did he possess the boundless strength he seemed to exude before. He could only lie on his bed, a blanket draped over his lower half so that no one, including himself, can see his mangled legs.
"I came to check on you. Maybe see if there's anything I can help with?" Finn answered with the same reply he always gave.
"I don't need you to check on me, and I most definitely don't need your help taking a shit. Just go along home, kid." And as always, the older man made his attempt to chase Finn away.
"Now, now, father. There's no need to be rude."
Intervening between them was Gilbert's daughter, Silvia. She was a woman with a gentle face framed with long strands of auburn hair, hair that was mostly like her father's but without much of the grey.
"Finn, I'll be making dinner soon, can you go and light the stove up?" Silvia asked, her gentle voice a pleasure to Finn's ears.
It was only after Finn was gone from the room did Silvia started to wipe her father down with a wet cloth.
"You shouldn't indulge him too much," said Gilbert.
'That's an odd way to put it. I thought he's the one helping us, and frankly I quite appreciate it."
"He's doing it because he thinks it's his damn fault."
"Is it not?"
"I'm kidding father, I don't blame him, not too much at least."
"The guild shouldn't have sent us out there. That kind of storm isn't a condition for anyone to work in."
"Well, the guild certainly isn't sending us any help, are they? If Finn wants to help, I say let him. I could certainly use it."
"Yes... if you say so. I'm sorry to have become a burden."
"You're no burden father, just be nicer to Finn when he comes to visit. I wouldn't want you to scare him away now."
"The way you said it, it's almost as if you-"
Before he got to finish the sentence, the cloth used to wipe him down rubbed against his back just a tab bit harder, causing an unintentional yelp.
"Was that too rough, father?"
"Yes, yes it was, do be gentler with this old man."
"I'll consider it."
"Consider it? Now listen here-"
Once more the older man was interrupted, this time it was a knock on the front door, quite a violent one at that.
When Silvia came to greet the new guests, she found Finn already at the door, his large frame standing firmly in the midst of the doorway.
"Finn, what's wrong? Who's at the door?"
"I-it's just the town guards. T-they were trying to come in s-so I was telling them to wait." Finn nervously turned around to reply, clearly not very comfortable with the situation.
Silvia visibly frowned upon seeing Eustace and his lot.
"Is this how you treat your guests? Tell this big oaf to move out of the way," whine Eustace as he gave Finn a push.
Finn was not displaced in the slightest.
"You're no guests," said Silvia, a scowl on her face. "If this is about the debt, then I've already paid the amount for this month."
"Oh, but I'm afraid there's a bit of a change in our agreement," Eustace said with a big ugly grin on his face, though it was likely not as menacing as he had intended for it to be when he's peeking through the gap in-between the doorway and Finn. "Our Lord William has gotten impatient with the pittance you call a payment. He wishes to collect the collateral now."
"You go back and tell your lord that it doesn't work that way."
"He is the warlord of this land, if he says that it works one way and not the other, then that is how it'll be. Now then, just come quietly with us and we won't have to get violent."
Upon realizing that Silvia was the collateral, Finn quickly went back to blocking the doorway and stared down the guards.
"S-she's already paying you, s-so tell Lord William to be p-patient and wait!" Finn yelled in spite of himself.
"How dare you! The likes of you do not get to tell our lord what to do!" Eustace shouted back, and as he did so, he grabbed a glass bottle from the hands of one of his fellow guards and smashed it into Finn's head, scattering glass pieces everywhere along with sweet smelling cider.
Blood trailed down Finn's forehead, but he stood firm, glaring at the guards while remaining utterly still.
"I-I'll give you one last chance," Eustace stuttered, taken aback by the fierce look in Finn's eyes. "Step out of the way."
But Finn would not. For as long as he remembered, Finn admired the heroic deeds of the ones whose tales were sung by the bards, the ones who dig their soles into the ground as they stand firm against adversity and injustice. In his heart, he knew that if those heroes were in his place, they would most certainly not move a single step.
"I said step out of the way!"
Eustace threw a punch into Finn's stomach, but the large man did not even grimace upon receiving the blow, standing as steadfast as ever. By this point, Eustace had half a mind to just cut this annoyance before him down. However, the thin guard was no fool, not a complete fool at least. It's one thing to rough him up, but if blood was spilled, if a life was taken, then there would be trouble. The people of Wilmot lived with their mouths shut and one eye closed, but even that has a limit. If there was a murder by the guards, people would talk, and with Wilmot being a place frequented by travelers and traveling merchants, word would spread. Fortuna or even the Council of Warlords might send someone to investigate, and who knows how much dirt they might dig up then. If that happens, the warlord of the region, Lord William, would no doubt have Eustace's head.
"Count yourself lucky, I'm in a good mood today so I'll let you off. Tomorrow, however, will be a different story. You best be prepared."
With that Eustace left with an irritated gait. From the looks of it, he would surely be back looking for trouble, in that there was no doubt.
"Finn, thank you..." said Silvia, an ill foreboding in her heart as her concern was evident on her face.
"I... I'm fine, I think," Fin replied weakly, sounding somewhat out of breath despite barely speaking or moving.
"No, you're not! You're bleeding!"
Finn reached up to his forehead and lightly brushed off some moisture he felt on his skin before taking a look at his fingertips, now dyed red.
"Oh, you're right."
"Come, let me treat you. Your sister will kill me if I let you go home like this."
Obediently, Finn let Silvia lead him back into the house all the while dreading what his sister would do to him if she found out.
That night, when Finn returned home with bandages on his head, his sister, Elaine, frowned deeply. In her eyes, there was a look of both concern and anger, it was a gaze that froze Finn down to his spine.
"U-um... An accident happened at work and a branch fell on top of me," said Finn with an awkward grin, an attempt to assure his sister that he's fine.
In response, Elaine let out an exasperated sigh.
"You really ought to be more careful. How badly hurt are you? Do we need a doctor?"
"I'm fine, really. It's not that bad. It's just a scratch."
Finn was acting somewhat nervous, he wasn't used to lying after all, and that made Elaine somewhat suspicious.
"Are you sure?"
"Y-yup, I'm fine."
Elaine's eyes narrowed as she watched her brother with scrutiny.
"If you say so."
Only when Elaine turned away did Finn dared to let out a sigh of relief.
Having finally returned home, Finn was eager for dinner. After helping his sister set the table, they both sat down to eat.
"Have you heard?" Elaine brought up something while they ate. "Someone said they saw a witch entering town. I hope she's just passing through. They're a bad omen."
"That's not a very nice thing to say. They helped us fight off the empire before, didn't they?"
"That was a hundred years ago. Who knows that they're up to now? At any rate, if you see one of them, just keep your mouth shut and stay away. If they talk to you, only say what's necessary and nothing more. Understand?"
"I'm sure they're not that bad."
"We don't know that, so better be safe than sorry."
After dinner, Finn headed straight to bed. The lumberjacks begin work early in the day and he was no exception. That being said, Finn had a hard time falling asleep that night. His mind was filled with worry for Gilbert and Silvia. No doubt Eustace will be bothering them again the next day. Though, worry as he might, Finn had no way of actually helping. Like so, drowning in a sense of helplessness, Finn slowly fell into slumber.
End of Chapter 26