Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
As the Henrietta Company went about the marketplace set up near the Dungeoneers' campsite, preparing for their next expedition, Auguste was looking around for weapons to deal with armored enemies.
According to their client, there was a possibility that the traitor of their party might still be lurking around somewhere in the Dungeon. The traitor must have figured that warrants for his arrest had been issued and bounties were sent out. With the Dungeon entrance surrounded by well-armed groups of Dungeoneers always on a lookout for a quick profit, the moment the traitor steps out will be the moment he's finished.
His wisest move would be to wait for someone to seal off the Abyssal rift of the Dungeon, making the place 'dead' and the Dungeoneers flocking off to seek greener pastures elsewhere. Only then, will he be able to emerge from the Dungeon safely, if he can even survive and avoid detection for that long, that is. For him, letting one escape and live to tell the tale must have been his greatest failure yet. If only he could have slaughtered them all while they were in the Dungeon, then no one would be the wiser. Sure, some may be suspicious, but there would have been no way to prove his guilt.
While Auguste was quite confident that the traitor would not be able to deal with five of them attacking him at once, he wanted to be sure. His party wasn't versatile enough to function properly if even one of them was out of commission, and as such, he wanted something that could increase their odds.
From the details provided, the traitor also wielded a halberd. Auguste couldn't help but find the weapon unpleasant, not just because it would be difficult to deal with due to its reach and power, but also because he had the pleasure of meeting a certain member of Albert's party who also wielded the polearm. Zeke, Auguste remembered he was called and he didn't like the man, not a single bit.
Arriving at the place where a blacksmith under the Dungeoneers' Guild had set up shop, Auguste found that there was already a customer before him. They seemed to be discussing something with the smith. Since the workshop was kind of small and stuffy, Auguste decided to wait outside till they're done with their businesses.
"So I want you to add a weight over at the end here," the customer said, pointing at something to the blacksmith.
"Simple enough," the blacksmith replied, "but just to be sure, what are you going to use it for?"
"Oh, you know, I heard a guy attacked his own party and is hiding out in the Dungeon. So I thought I'd go in and drag him out."
"I see you're after the bounty then. In that case, you might want to use something stronger."
"What's your recommendation?"
"Well, let's see here..."
The conversation went back and forth, with the customer wondering if certain materials were too expensive and asking questions here and there. It ended up taking a while, enough for Auguste to consider coming back later.
"Oh! Sorry about that. Did you wait long?"
It was not the blacksmith who said those words to Auguste. Instead, it was the customer who talked to him as she was leaving. She was a woman with snow-white hair and a pair of big, round, blue eyes. Being a bit on the short side while exuding an air of cheery friendliness about her, she likely seemed younger than she really was.
"It's fine. Are you done with your business?"
"Pretty much. Farewell."
She waved at Auguste as if they were already good friends before taking her leave. Inadvertently, Auguste waved back at her in response before entering the blacksmith's workshop.
"Well, what do you want?" the blacksmith greeted, far less friendly than the young woman that was his customer.
"About what you and that woman discussed..."
"What's this? You make a hobby out of eavesdropping, do you?"
"You two weren't exactly whispering. Anyways, that first item she was talking about, think you can make that for me too?"
"Can I? As long as you pay up, I can make anything."
"Depends, when do you need it?"
"Tomorrow, eh... Well, I've got some spares lying around that I can fix up real quick. They're not going to be of the best quality, but whatever, beggars can't be choosers."
"Yeah, that's fine."
"Come pick it up after lunchtime, it'll be ready by then."
With that, Auguste obtained the 'secret weapon' he could use should they ever encounter their client's traitor. The quality wasn't the greatest, or so the blacksmith claimed, but it seemed that even his most mediocre work had a decent quality to them.
By the next morning, the Henrietta Company was fully prepared and ready to go. If all goes well, they'll be back in six to seven days. If all goes well, that is.
Passing through the fence constructed around the entrance to the Stone Circle Tombs, the Henrietta Company arrived into the Dungeon. With torches in their hands and thick layers of clothing on their backs, they began their exploration.
Going through the first floor, where empty stone coffins lined up, they encountered a few undead wandering about. Due to their fine condition, the moved less like the usual stiff, animated corpses and more like one of the living. Had it not been the fact that they were pale and completely in the nude, it might be difficult identifying them from other living people across a distance. Still, these undeads, uncharacteristically, were not hostile. At least, there weren't any reports of them attacking anyone. They simply wandered about, moving, but lacking any semblance of a will.
On the second floor, the party encountered the Slimes. After being hunted and captured en masse by Dungeoneers for their bounties for three days straight, their numbers had dwindled significantly. As usual, they were found wiggling along the floors, walls, and ceiling, being largely harmless. When they first saw these creatures, Henrietta had a bold idea of trying to eat them. Apparently, in her eyes, they looked delicious somehow. It took some convincing to dissuade her from actually going through with it.
Then, by the end of the second day, they arrived on the third floor, where the client had separated from the rest of his party. This floor, much like the first floor, had stone coffins lined up in neat rows within each room. They were, however, mostly empty, even when the floor was first discovered. It would seem that the witches had prepared these coffins ahead of time to place the bodies in. As for what purpose, no one truly knows, not even Morganna, who was well versed in the history of the witches.
Here, the Henrietta Company began their search. Hopefully, their belongings had not already been taken by the other Dungeoneers. The plan was to search the floor thoroughly for the next three days and head back before their supplies run out. If they do find something, good. They'll head back and get paid. If nothing was found, that would be that. They'll be compensated for the attempt at least.
Upon finding a seemingly safe spot upon the third floor, the Henrietta Company decided to set up camp here. It was a small room with two entrances, with stone shelves that were filled with urns of various shapes and sizes. Within the urns, they found various organs submerged in some kind of bitter smelling liquid. It was decided that they would leave the urns alone. No traps were found in the room, but just in case, they tried giving the walls a few good swings of the pickaxe. They proved to be breakable, meaning that even if they were somehow trapped, they might be able to dig their way out.
Once the camp was set, they went about marking the nearby hallways, informing other Dugeoneers that the spot was taken and that they should not approach carelessly, less they wanted to be shot. After that, traps were set. While hostile creatures had not yet been discovered in this Dungeon, it by no means meant that they do not exist. Even if they don't, one could never know what sudden changes the Dungeon might undergo. The Dungeon from before, the one with the Cobalt Shelled Crawlers, made them realize that first hand.
It was in the middle of the night, during the second shift of nightwatch, that something occurred. The sound of the wooden clackers they've hung on robes nailed to the walls warned them of an approaching presence and the metallic clank of the bear trap snapping shut was enough to wake everyone in the party. Alerted from their sleep, each one sprung into action, grabbing their weapons and in their muddled state, reflexively fell into formation.
They waited behind their campfire so that its light might reveal the intruder who had set foot upon their camping ground. They could hear something moving, the shifting of metal, presumably armor. Suspecting that it might be the traitor of the client's party, they further raised their guard. A minute passed, then ten, but no one came through the entrance and into the light. The sound of heavy footsteps and scraping of metal along the ground only went further and further. The steps were labored, likely due to the fact that a leg was caught by their bear trap. Slowly, the footsteps and scraping faded away. Amongst the party, there was an urge to give chase, but it would have been unwise to leap into the darkness, the darkness of the Dungeon no less. No one slept a wink for the rest of the night. Fearing that whoever it was from before returning, everyone was at their utmost vigilance.
Soon enough, morning came, or at the very least, their stomach began grumbling for breakfast. Without sunlight, they only have their biological clocks to keep time. After a light breakfast, the party began their search.
Checking where the trap was triggered the night prior, Gladiolus found scrape marks and drops of blood along the ground. If they follow it, they might find their intruder from last night. And if the intruder was indeed the traitor, then they might find the belongings of the client's party with him. It was as good a plan as any at the point in time when they had nothing else to go on.
Following the scrape marks and blood trail, the party eventually found a small room. Much like the one they had camped in, this too had shelves of urns line up against the walls. However, there was one thing that was different. The urns here were empty. It wasn't that they were empty from the beginning, that wouldn't be right, as within the urns there was a bit of moisture left behind. It smelled like the liquid the organs were submerged in. Someone or something had opened up these urns and took out the organs and drained out the liquid. And that someone was in that very room.
By a corner, hidden in between two shelves, there was a figure. It seemed to be a man, rolled up and tucked away, remaining so still that if he weren't breathing, he would have been mistaken for a corpse.
Gladiolus approached the man with Auguste right behind him, and as he brought the torch near him, the man began panicking, backing further away into the corner. When he realized that there was no more space to back into, he started to scratch the walls with his bare fingers with such ferocity that his nails began peeling before Gladiolus had the chance to stop him.
"Auguste, Finn, give me a hand!" Gladiolus called.
Quickly, Auguste moved behind the man, reaching his arms under the man's arms and then up to the back of his neck, locking both the man's arms and head in place. Once the man's movement was sealed, Finn moved in and helped pull the man away from the wall. The man, in a panic, struggled and clawed and even chomped at both Auguste and Finn. If Auguste hadn't had such a tight lock on him, someone might have gotten seriously hurt.
Moving onto Auguste and Finn's side, Henrietta as well tried to hold the man still. As she lent her aid, Henrietta noticing the bear trap that had bitten into the man's left ankle and with all that struggling, it seemed to be about to tear the man's leg off. With the combined strength of Finn, Henrietta, and Auguste, they managed to hold the man still enough for Gladiolus to remove the bear trap before it did any more damage.
The man wore a breastplate as well as pauldrons of steel, however, covering his arms and legs were gauntlets and greaves of padded leather. It seemed that he wasn't able to afford a full set, something commonly seen with many Dungeoneers. While his leather greaves should have at least cushioned some of the damage done by the bear trap, it seemed to have dug deeper due to the man moving about so much with the bear trap stuck on him. No one could say for absolute certain why he did not try to remove the trap, but for the most part, it seemed like he was not quite in his right mind to begin with.
After waiting for the man to calm down, the party had Elaine apply first aid to the man's leg while Finn, Henrietta, and Auguste continued to hold the man down. After being told that they were not going to harm him and that they'll get him out of the Dungeon, the man slowly nodded, still appearing somewhat out of it. It was only when he seemed like he wasn't about to pull anything did Auguste remove his arm lock.
The party kept a distance from the man while waiting for him to gather himself. The man, on the other hand, sat down on the floor as he unfocusedly stared at the party before him, his hands busing themselves by scratching here and there on the body and under the armor with bloodied nails. It was only several minutes later did he began talking.
"You... you're real, right? I'm not dreaming this up, right!?" the man asked, his eyes wide and dilated.
"Yes, we're real," Gladiolus replied him. "As we've said before, we're here to get you out of here. Will you come with us?"
"Yes... Yes! Please, take me with you. I- I can stand this place any longer. I'm hungry s-so hungry. And it itches, it itches so bad!" The man kept scratching and did not seem like he was going to stop any time soon.
The man did not match the description of the traitor who had a full set of armor and a halberd. The halberd he might have lost, but he likely wouldn't be getting rid of his armor. Not while in a Dungeon. Considering that this man might be one of the client's party members, the party decided to take the man back to their camp while keeping a close eye on him.
End of Chapter 34