Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
The stars blanketed the sky as the sun faded away into the horizon. A whole day had passed since the hectic morning.
From the corner of Finn's mouth, drool slowly dripped down his cheek, to this chin, then onto the ground. He had been sitting there, at the front of the wooden shack he called home since he returned, his eyes set upon the dusty path leading up to his home, hoping to spot his sister returning. He had not moved for food or water or for anything else, but in time, fatigued got to him, and he fell asleep where he sat.
"......" Someone blew a silent sigh. "You'd think having grown so big, he'd have learned to take care of himself by now."
The familiar voice stirred Finn from his sleep. Sluggishly, his eyes opened and was blinded by the light from a lamp.
"Come on, it's time to wake up. I bet you've been idle for the entire day, haven't you? Well, it doesn't matter now, I suppose."
"Elaine...?" Finn muttered. For a moment, he thought that he was still dreaming, until Elaine smacked him over the head that is.
As soon as he realized that it was all real, Finn sprung from the old wooden chair and held Elaine by her shoulders.
"Elaine, you're back!?"
"Why would I be here if I'm not? Now let's go inside. I'll fix up something quick for you to eat. You haven't had anything for the entire day, have you?"
"Well, no..." Finn was taken back by how nonchalantly his sister was behaving. "Hey, they didn't do anything to you, did they?"
"Fortunately, no," Elaine answered straightforwardly. It didn't seem like she was lying, not that Finn would be able to tell if she was. "A man named Albert came to my rescue."
"Albert!?" Finn got excited the moment he heard that name. "As in, Albert of the Lightbringers?"
"I'm not sure," said Elaine as she tilted her head, "but he sure seemed important, enough to demand a meeting with Lord William on the spot and spoke with him on equal footing. He had a mannerism that didn't feel like that of a commoner's either. I didn't know if he was from the Lightbringers though."
"I see. Well, never mind that. I'm just glad you're back."
"So am I. For a moment there, I wasn't sure what might happen to me. But, enough of that. Let's have some dinner first. After that, I have something to discuss."
That night, dinner consisted of stale bread and small strips of dried meat. It was hardly magnificent and neither was it filling, but it was enough to curb their hunger. More than anything, Finn was just happy that he was able to eat with his sister just like every evening before.
"Had your fill?" Elaine asked.
"Not really. I could go for seconds, to be honest."
"Well, you'll have to settle for this much for the time being."
"Oh, right. It's because I missed work today, right? I wonder if I'm going to get fired."
"You might, or you might not, but that hardly matters now." Elaine looked her brother in the eyes, her hardened gaze brought forth an ill foreboding in him. "Finn, we're leaving this town."
"We got off the hook this time, but there's no telling if they'll come back for us as soon as this Albert person leaves town. Besides, I've been thinking of leaving for a while now, though the plan was to wait till we've raised enough money to keep us from ending up in the streets. There's no future for us here."
"B-but, where do we go then? The frontier?"
"We don't have nearly enough supplies to make that journey. We're heading to Fortuna, then we can decide where we want to go, be it Zeth, Magnolia, or Arithmi, anywhere is better than here."
Finn's mind went to Gilbert and Silvia. They too, like them, were being hounded by the guards, but unlike him and his sister, they do not have the ability to simply get up and leave. Finn felt guilty about having to leave Gilbert and Silvia behind, especially since he played a part in them ending up that way. However, if he has to choose, then he would no doubt choose his own sister. He felt bad, terrible even, but abandoning his sister was not an option.
Finn knew the truth, that Elaine could have left a long time ago if she wanted to. He had no doubt in his mind that she would have been able to survive anywhere she went. However, because he was born, because he was her brother, she stayed and raised him, fed him, keeping him alive to become who he was. He could turn his back on the rest of the world, but not his sister, the one who did not ask for him to be born, yet gave up so much to raise him regardless.
"I got it," Finn finally replied. "When do we leave?"
"Right now," Elaine replied resolutely. "We leave before Eustace and his lot get any bright ideas."
The siblings quickly gather what little they have and crossed the stone bridge to the western side of the river. Of course, they paid the toll as all seeking to cross do, but what they found surprising was that no one tried to stop them. That was fortunate. It did not seem like the guards were trying to trap them there, not on this night at least.
It was only after making it out of town did they relaxed a little, knowing that they've made it out of the cage that had trapped them for so long.
"Good riddance, we're finally out," said Elaine.
"Yeah, I guess we're really leaving," replied Finn.
After walking a distance, the two stopped and turned around to gaze upon the town of Wilmot one last time. It was dark and difficult to see, with everything dimly lit by the moonlight and a scant few torches. Even so, they could more or less tell where was what. It was, after all, their home and it was what they had come to know for most of their lives. Life wasn't great there, but it could be worse. Now they're leaving it, for better or for worse, they've made up their mind to bid it farewell and face whatever uncertainties that lie ahead.
As they traversed the dark of the night, their path illuminated by a single lantern and the stars and moon above, they soon found themselves in a predicament. They were low on oil for the lantern. There was no one to sell them more in the middle of the night and the siblings were in a hurry to leave. As far as Elaine was concerned, waiting until the next day was not an option. Considering what the local guards might pull, this could very well be their only chance to leave.
Not all hope was lost, however, as even while their lantern dimmed, they spotted a light in the distance. As they came closer, they saw that it was a campfire by the side of the road with a pair of travelers warming themselves by it. One of them was a young man, perhaps not too much older than Finn. The other was a young woman in black robes with a pair of black-rimmed glasses hanging on her face.
"Excuse me," Elaine called out, "but do you mind sharing the fire?"
Briefly, the young man turned towards the young woman who, in response, lightly nodded.
"Go ahead," the young man replied as he turned back to them.
With that, Elaine and Finn sat down by the flames, with Finn sitting right across the young man.
"Is this your sister?" the young man asked.
"That's right," Finn reflexively replied. "I'm Finn, and this is Elaine."
"I see. It looks like she's doing fine."
"Y-yeah, I guess..."
Listening to the conversation between the two, Elaine gave the young man a side glance, wondering what he was getting at.
Then, suddenly, Finn stood up.
"Wait, I remember now!" Finn exclaimed. "You're that guy, the one I ran into this morning."
"That took you a bit didn't it?" the black-robed woman chimed in.
"Right, sorry, things were kind of a blur for me at the time," said Finn, awkwardly scratching the back of his head.
"Cut him some slack, Morgan," the young man retorted. "Not everyone has as good a memory as you do."
"Finn?" Elaine couldn't help but ask. "Do you know these two?"
"I... umm, I ran into them in town earlier today. I went and asked them for help and..."
Finn fell silent. Piece by piece, his mind was beginning to put it all together.
"Wait a second. Don't tell me, you're Albert!?" Finn cried out in excitement. "Thank you so much for helping out my sister! I've heard so much about you and the Lightbringers. I've always-"
"Calm down, seriously!" the young man waved Finn down. "I'm not Albert. I'm Auguste."
"Oh... S-s-sorry," Finn uttered as his face turned bright red. In complete embarrassment, the large young man finally sat back down.
"He *is* friends with Albert though," said Morganna, feeling the need to add that last part.
"Is that true!?" Finn got excited all over again.
"We're not friends," Auguste corrected her, a mild annoyance in his voice. "We've just met a couple of times."
"For someone who's not your friend, he sure was happy to help when you talked about this big guy here and his sister."
"I'm sure that's how he is with everyone."
"I know, right!" Finn cut in, unable to contain himself any longer. "That's why people are calling him a true hero."
"Alright, maybe you should stop making so much noise in the middle of the night," Auguste rebuked him, annoyance can be heard in his voice. "We don't want to attract any unwanted attention now do we?"
Morganna took a side glance at Auguste. Feeling that his tone with Finn was stronger than how he usually was. Unless they were in some kind of danger or stressful situation, Auguste usually wasn't so harsh. She figured that it must have something to do with Albert, or rather, it was that woman with Albert they've met that very afternoon. Ever since that meeting, Auguste had been acting kind of weird.
"Oh, s-sorry." Finn shrank, though it hardly made a difference for someone his size. "I got carried away."
"Well, just keep it down from now on."
That night, Finn and Auguste were the first shift of nightwatch. It was the first time Auguste had someone to keep watch with. They didn't talk much, with Finn asking questions here and there about Albert, the Lightbringers, and how Auguste met Albert. Auguste answered whatever he can, though keeping the more personal details to himself.
The Henrietta Company waited by the western exit of the town of Wilmot. The original plan was that they would resupply before immediately heading out of town to avoid any possible trouble with the conniving guards of Wilmot. However, the plan was rearranged slightly when Finn said that he would like to pay a friend a visit and promised that he wouldn't take long. Realizing that he'll probably not be returning to this town any time soon, the party allowed it, provided that he returns as soon as possible.
"He's taking too long. Where is he?"
Elaine stood with her arms cross and her foot tapping against the ground. Of the five within the party, she was the most anxious at the moment.
"It hasn't been that long. We can wait a while longer."
At the opposite end of the spectrum was Gladiolus, leaning against a nearby wall as he habitually kept his eyes on the surroundings.
Meanwhile, Auguste, Morganna, and Henrietta are playing a game that required only the use of their hands to decide who would take the first shift of nightwatch. Since Auguste would always take the first shift, he was actually playing for Finn.
"Crap!" Auguste cried.
"Ha! Tough luck Gusty!" Henrietta cheered.
"Not that it matters to him, Finn on the other hand..." Morganna made mention.
"Alright, now let's play for the second shift and see who gets stuck with Elaine."
"What a pointless game. There's no skill involved whatsoever. It's all luck."
"What's this? Is that fear I smell from the witch?"
"Hmph! Your cheekiness won't last, dwarf."
"Come at me!"
Eventually, Finn did show up, looking no worse for wear. It didn't seem like anything happened to him, not that he was taking that long in the first place.
"Sorry I'm late."
"That's fine," Gladiolus reassured. "We didn't wait that long."
With Finn rejoining them, the Henrietta Company took their leave, continuing their journey west till the sun began to set, forcing them to make camp.
"So, how was your visit?" Auguste asked, sitting across the campfire from Finn.
"I, uh... I couldn't find them," Finn replied with this eyes casting downwards. "Apparently, they're not there anymore."
"What do you mean? Did they move?"
"Sort of... My friend, he's called Gilbert, by the way, I was told that he died sometime after I left. His daughter got married soon after, to a young traveling merchant who settled her debt and they left town together. Anyways, I went looking for Gilbert's grave for a visit. I thought I ought to do at least that much."
"So that's why you were late."
"Yeah. Sorry about that."
"That's fine, we weren't waiting for that long. Gladiolus said as much."
There was a bit of silence after that, ending only when Finn spoke up again.
"What is it?"
"I think I want to be a hero after all, like Albert, I mean."
"Sure," Auguste gave a curt answer. It wasn't that he didn't think much of it, no. It was quite the opposite actually. He had too many thoughts in regards to that matter.
Auguste still remembered that time when Albert was able to so simply accomplish what he had considered impossible. Watching Albert confront the local warlord, Auguste saw within him a sort of confidence and boldness that he did not think he'll ever be able to muster. Then, there was Helena, who seemed so joyous and proud when she's beside him, the deep sorrow in her eyes from three years ago could hardly be seen. It must have been back then, when jealousy against Albert took hold of his heart.
"Y-you're not going to laugh?" Finn meekly asked.
"I mean, Albert's a great guy. I don't see a problem in aspiring to be like him," said Auguste, pretending that nothing in particular was on his mind. "Just don't go get yourself killed, alright."
"I know. I won't be much good dead after all."
"But what brought this on?"
"Well, the thing is, coming back here, to Wilmot, it made me realize that all I have been was trouble for other people around me."
"No, you're not. You've been quite helpful to us, to be honest. The party wouldn't be complete without you."
"You think so? Then I'm glad." Finn was blushing, and in his embarrassment, he reflexively started rubbing his nose. "B-but you know, I might be a bit too ambitious, but I want to do more. I want to be able to help people, to save people, like Albert did for my sister and me. Do you think I'll be able to?"
"If you're going to stop when I tell you that I don't think you can do it, then maybe you should stop while you're ahead. That's what I think."
"Yeah, you're right! You're absolutely right! Thanks, Gusty, for listening. Oh, and for back then too, for getting Albert to help us. I know I've been talking about Albert a lot, but I'm grateful to you too."
"I know, I know. Now pipe down, people are trying to sleep."
"Right. Sorry about that."
End of Chapter 28