Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
The Arithmi Theocracy was a nation founded by the followers of Arithmi, God of Quantification and Calculation. Here within the Theocracy, one's education, occupation, relations, and general lot in life, all these things were calculated. Of course, the calculations were but recommendations, one need not follow it to the letter or even at all, or so it was supposed to be. However, life, more often than not, tends to take shapes that were rarely intended for it to take, growing and spreading in ways often difficult to predict. As such, life in the Theocracy had become such that those who followed the guidance of Arithmi were often more favored than those that do not, creating an unintentional hierarchy within its society. There was, however, just one place within the Theocracy where one might find refuge from this inadvertently spawned system.
It was the Iotas region. With rolling plains as far as the eyes can see, it was the eastmost lands of the Theocracy, barely tamed and filled with new opportunities, where even those who follow their own path might find rich opportunities and prove their worth. It was, in a way, a frontier of the Theocracy.
Traveling across the straightforward road, windmills could be seen dotted here and there in the distance. Surrounding the road on both sides were fields of wheat, spreading as far as the eye can see. Then, at long last, the Henrietta Company rode in easily into Iotas Tria, the third town of the Iotas region, where the Scholars of the Abyss had set up their facilities, where the hi-catalyst was said to have been delivered to.
The Henrietta Company, upon entering town, headed straight towards the Lightbringers' office. They were eager to complete the job and following the directions given to them, they arrived finally at the office.
"Welcome, how may I help you?"
Greeting the Henrietta Company the moment they enter was a freckled woman wearing a pair of round-rimmed glasses seated at the front desk. Her tone was flat and her voice had little enthusiasm in it.
Being the one who entered the building first, Auguste felt the pressure to be the one to answer her.
"We have a message from the Fortuna branch," said Auguste, handing the receptionist the letter he was entrusted with.
The receptionist adjusted her glasses before receiving the letter. Soon after examining the seal, she excused herself briefly, presumably to speak to whoever was in charge of the branch.
"It's kind of barren isn't it?" Henrietta commented as she looked around the front hall with all the vacant chairs and desks, devoid of any human presence.
"I know, right?" Elaine responded. "I know they're shorthanded, but other than the girl at the front desk, there's not a single soul in sight. It's kind of concerning."
In a short while, the receptionist returned and upon her desk, she placed down two gold coins.
"The Lightbringers thank you for your services. Here is your payment," she said plainly, without any signs of emotion in her voice.
"Oh, we're getting paid right now?" Auguste let slip his slight confusion.
"Is there a problem?"
"Not in particular, I just thought we'd be paid by Albert once we meet up again."
"And when would that be, do you think?"
"Honestly, I don't know. It might take a while, especially if he runs into the rainy season in Vestal."
"Then this worked out just fine, no?"
"I guess. Yeah, this is definitely more convenient."
"Then our business is over. If there is nothing else, please be on your way."
For an instant, Elaine's brow twitched. She had found the dismissive demeanor of the receptionist irksome.
"You really ought not to let others walk all over you like that, Auguste," said Elaine.
"Well, I'm sure she had a long day. It's fine."
"That's what I'm talking about. You need to stand up for yourself more, otherwise, less than scrupulous people might find you an easy picking."
"Yeah, sure, I'll be more careful next time," Auguste shrugged, having no desire to argue.
Elaine frowned at his flippant response and was quite sure that he hadn't taken her words to heart. However, just as she was about to say something more, she was interrupted.
"Alright!" Henrietta exclaimed while practically bouncing in joy. "Now that we've finally gotten paid, let's treat ourselves, what do we say? It's fine right, Eliane?"
Elaine sighed, she realized that she'll have to let it go for now.
"I don't see why not. Just don't go overboard, you got it?"
"Of course, of course! Since when have I lost control?"
"Almost always?" Morganna cut in.
"S-shut up! Who asked yer damn opinions anyways?"
"It's no opinion, it's a fact."
"Bah, whatever, let's just go! I'm thirsty for a drink already!"
The receptionist watched impatiently as she waited for the Henrietta Company to finally leave, only then did she move from her position and headed into the back of the office. There, the bodies of the workers and clerks could be seen stuffed into corners and in whatever compartments that could be found, seemingly all done in a hurry. As the receptionist headed further into the back, towards the archives where the documents were kept, her body suddenly collapsed onto the ground while a shadow crept out of the husk that was the receptionist.
"I have returned, mistress," said the shadow with a distorted voice, as if it was forming sounds that mimicked human speech rather than having the natural ability to do so.
"So?" asked a knife-eared woman with long golden hair that has tinges of green. "Who were they?"
"I do not know," the shadow answered. "I've never seen or heard of them before, though one of them mentioned Albert."
"I see..." the knife-eared woman gave a quiet reply before turning her eyes onto the documents in hand.
"Correction:" the shadow suddenly spoke up, "I've never seen or heard of them before, all except one. The Alva was amongst them, the one who called himself Gladiolus."
The woman froze the moment she heard the name, her previously unchanging expression cracked ever so slightly to reveal a frown.
"Gladiolus..." she whispered.
"Should we alter our plans?"
"No," the woman gave a quick answer while regaining her previous composure. "In the grand scheme of things, it mattered not whether he is here or elsewhere."
"Very well, mistress." The shadow twisted and bent, seemingly trying to perform a bow. "One last thing: Should I keep an eye on them, just in case?"
The woman took a moment to ponder the suggestion.
"No, they are inconsequential," the woman answered, deciding that it was not worth the time or resources. "Albert, on the other hand, we should prepare for. If he had sent these messengers here, then sooner or later, he'll come as well."
"Understood, my mistress."
"Have you heard? About the stone circle to the southeast, I mean."
"That they found a tomb underneath? You'd think it would have been found a long time ago if they'd just turn around a few stones here and there."
"Don't be silly. They say the witches built it. Nobody is going to want to mess with that."
"Then how'd they find the tomb anyway if they weren't messing with it?"
"That's the thing. When they discovered it the stone sealing the entranced had already been moved. The strangest thing, however, was that the entrance was in the ground and the stone sealing it was not only heavy, but fitted perfectly into the entryway. They say it would have been impossible to lift it from the outside."
"You're not saying that someone pushed it open from the inside, are you?"
"It was the only way to open it. How else could it have been done?"
"You think it's 'that'?"
"Maybe. No, definitely. The witches were the ones who built that place didn't they?
"Well, it's a good thing that the circle is some ways from town. I didn't settle all the way out here just to move back again."
"I just hope the Lightbringers do something about it quick. As far away as it is, it's not far away from here enough."
The conversation caught the ears of Auguste while drinking in the tavern with the rest of his party.
"You hear that, Gladiolus?"
"I did. It does pay to open one's ears in places such as this. It's a good source of free information."
"I'll be sure to keep that in mind. So, what do you think?"
"There's no rush. We can talk about it tomorrow. We've just finished a job. Now is the time to relax."
"If you say so."
It was no sooner than the next morning, that an announcement was made by the local Dungeoneers' Guild. It would appear that a new Dungeon had been discovered beneath the stone circle to the southeast.
End of Chapter 32