Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
To the southeast of Iotas Tria, there lied an ancient stone circle hidden in the midst of a forest. Said to be constructed by the witches, few would dare to approach it without good reason. However, once a Dungeon was discovered beneath, in a mere three-day span, camping grounds had been raised around it and impromptu offices of the Dungeoneers' Guild were quickly set up. For those that make a living plundering the dark depths of the Dungeons, nothing was sacred and no grounds were too cursed to enter.
Amongst these fearless plunderers, there was the Henrietta Company. Though they were one of the earliest to hear about the Dungeon, they chose to wait rather than rush into the darkness. Newly discovered Dungeons, while unexplored and could potentially be greatly profitable for its earliest explorers, were also extremely deadly due to its unexplored nature. For many Dungeoneers, information was everything. Knowing what creatures and traps that lay ahead was the difference between a successful expedition and a gruesome death.
Usually, newly discovered Dungeons were tackled by larger clans with the resources and manpower to properly scout out the earlier floors of the Dungeon. There were even some clans that specialized exclusively in scouting out newly discovered Dungeons and making a profit from selling the information to the guild. Such a clan was the one that tackled the Dungeon beneath the stone circle, the Stone Circle Tombs, as they named it. The clan was known as the 'Luger Scouting Company'. It was only after waiting for three days, for the initial scouting reports to become available, did the Henrietta Company make their move.
The entrance to the Stone Circle Tombs was a circular hole in the ground about four to six meters wide. Once sealed by a large slab of stone that fitted perfectly on top of it, it had since been mysteriously removed, leading to the Dungeon's discovery. From the circular hole, there was a set of stairs leading deeper into the ground where one would arrive upon a hall. At the end of the hall, there was what appeared to be a large gate, seven meters in height. Once, it must have meant to protect the tombs from intruders who have made it this far, but somehow, at some point in time, a hole had been bored into the bottom section, allowing just about anyone to march right in.
The inside of the Dungeon was cold, even more so than others, enough for one to see their own breath. The Henrietta Company knew about it and came prepared, wearing thicker layer of clothing to keep out the cold. According to Morganna, the cold was not natural, that Abyssal magic loomed in the walls to keep the temperature low.
Going deeper, they found several sarcophagi, all lined up in neat rows, all of which appeared to have been pried open. It must have been the doings of Dungeoneers. Within these stone caskets, corpses could be found resting in eternal slumber.
"I'm surprised that they're not walking around," said Auguste.
"'That's what's surprises you?' was what I was going to say, but I know what you mean," said Elaine. "I think I've seen more corpses that were undead than those that were dead-dead."
"They're kinda unsettling though, these ones, I mean," said Henrietta.
"Yeah," Finn agreed. "They look kind of fresh, don't you think?"
"It must be the cold," commented Gladiolus. "This place was most likely created to store these corpses. I can only imagine why."
The preserved corpses aside, the Dungeon was a strange one. It was an oddly quiet place with neither traps nor creatures in its halls. The only things animated within this place were the gelatinous blobs wandering the halls.
These blobs were transparent and possessed no visible organs. Like slugs, they wiggled their way slowly across the ground, walls, and ceiling. When coming into contact with Dungeoneers, they have little to no reaction to them, not even when they were stepped on or captured. Upon their discovery, there's an ongoing argument amongst scholars as to whether or not these things could be classified as 'creatures', but as far as most Dungeoneers were concerned, they were profits to be made and nothing else mattered.
The thing was, the Scholars of the Abyss were interested in these blobs and would like them to be captured for study. In consideration of the Abyssal nature of these blobs, they were to be contained within a glass jar painted completely black to prevent the subjects from being exposed to the starlights, the Heaven's Ward. Currently, each jar would fetch for about a silver piece each. Luckily, the jars were lent out by the guild for free, provided that they were returned intact, meaning that so long as the party was careful, they could easily profit form capturing these slow, harmless blobs.
Due to the easy profits from the blobs, a great number had been brought in, so much so that in just mere three days, the bounty was called off. Any brought after that point was effectively worthless and rejected by the guild. The Dungeoneers who did not get the message soon enough would then release these blobs of mysterious composite into the wild, expecting the Heaven's Ward to eventually reduce them to puddles of water. In time, these blobs would be known as 'Slimes', and they would have proliferated all over the world, but that's a story for another time.
With the bounty called off, the Dungeoneers soon found themselves needing a new source of revenue and this drove many who wouldn't originally do so to delve deeper into the Dungeons, the places not yet scouted even by the Luger Scouting Company and other competing specialists.
Perhaps it was around that time, unbeknownst others, someone went and triggered something they shouldn't. Or perhaps it was just the nature of the Dungeon to cause something like this to happen. Regardless, things began to change within this tomb, as if the time that was long frozen had begun moving once more.
The most noticeable of changes happened when the corpses stored within the tomb had gone missing from their sarcophagi. They were later found wandering all over the Dungeon. It had just been a case of the undead, nothing out of the ordinary as far as the Dungeoneers were concerned. For them, it was common knowledge that if one were to leave a corpse in a Dungeon, chances were, they'll start moving in due time. The mistake here, however, was that these weren't truly undead, not as the Dungeoneers understood them, at least.
"Hey, check this out!"
At their camp, Henrietta gathered up the members of her party around the campfire and began showing them a poster she had gotten from the guild.
"Is that a request?" Finn asked.
"Yup, saw it on the guild board and picked it right up."
For the Dungeoneers, there were times when one party might require something from another, be it cooperation between the two parties for a specific task or requiring something one's own party does not have the ability to provide. At times like this, one party may extend a request to another, usually promising payment in return for service. A party may approach the other directly if they have the connection or have the guild advertise the request on their board in hopes that another party finds interest in it. Of course, a fee must be paid to the guild before they put the request up. There was also the option of finding a broker, who might find a suitable and perhaps more trustworthy party for the task, but those were more expensive and not everyone can afford them.
"Let me see," said Auguste, leaning in for a look.
The poster specified a request to delve into the Dungeon and retrieve the belongings of former party members who had presumably fallen in the Dungeon. One may find out more details by speaking with the one who submitted the request.
"So? What's yer thoughts? Are we gonna do it?"
"Depends," Auguste answered, "I wouldn't want to go too deep."
"Well, it's not like we have anything better to do anyway. It wouldn't hurt to hear them out, right?" Elaine suggested.
Being one of the earlier Dungeoneers to arrive at this Dungeon, the Henrietta Company was, fortunately, able to make a fine profit from the Slimes before the bounty was called off. As such, they had the luxury to sit around, waiting for new info of the deeper floors to be made available before taking further actions.
In the end, the Henrietta Company decided to go on ahead and meet with the client. Hearing his story, it was revealed that one of his teammates, one of the frontliners, suddenly started attacking them for unknown reasons. Due to him being one of the most heavily armored of the party, there were very little the client and the rest of his party could do to stop him with the weapons they have on hand. When members of his party began to fall one by one, the client, a noncombatant in the party, decided to make a hasty retreat, running without looking back. He, as it turned out, was the only one to make it out.
Without the rest of his party, the client could no longer operate as a Dungeoneer. At the very least, he wanted to retrieve his party's belongings and sell them off for as much profit as possible before retiring. Of course, if any of those left behind were found to be alive, the client would like them to be rescued as well. Should the Henrietta Company accept the job, their reward would be a third of what the retrieved belongings are worth and an additional reward for each member of the party rescued.
When asked about the location in which the client last saw his party members, the client refused to give out more details until the Henrietta Company accepted the job, fearing that they might set off to find the remains on their own and therefore keeping all of the profits to themselves. It wasn't until Elaine pressed him further did he finally gave vague hints as to where it might be.
After concluding that it was within an area that they had been to before, the Henrietta Company accepted the job and got the full details from the client. They then took the rest of the day to procure the necessary supplies and planned to set out the next day before the break of dawn.
End of Chapter 33