Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
Foreseeing her own death and unable to draw forth any more strength, Morganna shut her eyes tight as she prepared for the inevitable. Even if she could somehow summon the strength to move, the earthen spikes surrounding her gave no opening, no path to escape to. The only thing she could do was hope for a quick, painless death.
She could feel it, something warm on her skin, enveloping her. She wondered if it was her own blood.
Somehow, it felt comfortable. It felt as if the weight of her body had been lifted from her.
"Morgan! Pull yourself together!"
When she came to, Morganna found herself being held by Elaine. In her grogginess, she was unable to understand what was going on. All that she knew was that her head was pounding, everything on her body ached, and she felt like vomiting.
In the distance, the fight raged on. Dealing with the top and bottom halves of the naked corpse, was Auguste and Finn. Regardless of how much they kicked and cut them, they kept coming at them. Without Morganna's magic, their ability to deal with enemies that won't die when they're cut open was severely limited. A little ways from the two, Gladiolus and Henrietta were contending with the spearman who had gotten free by dismembering its own head. Without a proper way to kill these things, the only thing the two could do was try to restrain their opponent.
"Seriously, why did you have to overdo it like that!" Elaine complained as she tried to drag Morganna out of the field of spikes.
On Elaine, she wore an olive cloak that was long enough to cover most of her body as well as Morganna. As the spikes extended out of the ground, trying to strike her down, they quickly broke apart and vanished upon contact with the fabric. Indeed, this was the very same cloak that Auguste had retrieved from the previous Dungeon, the one that made the undead wearing them immune to Morganna's flames. As long as Elaine had the cloak on, it seemed like the magic of the Abyssal arts won't be able to touch her. However, just because she herself could not be touched, she was by no means invincible.
Beneath Elaine's feet, the ground gave way, collapsed into a space hollowed out beneath. There was nothing Elaine could do but hold Morganna in her arms as she fell, crashing into the soft soil beneath with Morganna on top of her. There, she found herself in a pit too deep to climb out of. Right before her, there was the witch, untouched by dirt despite being in the ground moments prior.
Hastily, Elaine shoved Morganna behind her before pulling out the woodcutter's axe she had tucked into her belt. It had been a gamble when she put on that cloak, not knowing whether or not it was resistant to fire or magic in general. However, now that she knows what it can do, Elaine has a bit of confidence in winning.
As the witch drew close, Elaine swung the axe in her hand without hesitation, hacking into the witch's left shoulder. White, string-like creatures surged from the wound, coiling themselves around the axe head in their attempt to remove it from their host's body. Imitating Auguste, Elaine then delivered a swift kick to the witch, knocking the relatively lean woman back and extracting the axe from her shoulder at the same time.
Seeing the witch on the ground, Elaine began to think of her next move. Her eyes darted around quickly to find a way out of the pit only to realize that there was none. The walls around seemed soft and while she might have been able to climb out of there if it was just her alone, it would be impossible to do so with Morganna in tow. The weight of both of them would collapse any footing she could dig her feet into. Realizing that, Elaine began to panic. She was stuck in a pit with a witch who could create and manipulate the earth. She might as well be standing on her own grave.
Should I leave Morganna and get out on my own? Such a thought briefly went through her head. It was, however, swiftly discarded as she knew that while Gladiolus and Henrietta would probably understand, Auguste and Finn would most likely never forgive her for it. Most of all, she probably would never be able to forgive herself. If she goes through with it, if she abandons Morganna here, she would never be able to look Finn in the eyes ever again. She was the elder sister and as such she must set an example for him, always.
Elaine tightened the grip upon her axe. She was going to have to hold for as long as she could, hopefully long enough for rescue to come.
With gusto, Elaine swung her axe at the witch before she could get up. Swinging for the head, Elaine smashed the axe into the witch's skull again and again without pause, desperately trying to keep the witch from casting a single spell. By the time Elaine had run out of breath, the witch's face was unrecognizable. Yet, even then, the witch rose up. Even with her head caved in, even with her lower jaw missing, even with her eyeballs hanging outside of their sockets, the witch got up and crept towards Elaine.
With a tired grunt, Elaine brought the axe down once more only for the witch to stop her mid-swing, catching her arms and griping onto them with unnatural strength. Prying Elaine's arms open, the witch leaned her disfigured face towards her as white, string-like creatures came worming out of the cavities made in her skull. Elaine recoiled in disgust and fear as the witch closed in but she was unable to break away from the witch's grasp.
Slowly, the Mimics made their way up to Elaine's nose and ears and began wiggling into her nostrils and ear canal. Tears streamed down Elaine's eyes as she struggled in terror while suppressing her urge to scream and cry, knowing that the moment she opened her mouth, the Mimics will make their way in there too.
Someone... Elaine prayed. Someone save me. Please... Please, someone save me.
But no one came. To begin with, no one in the party even realized that she and Morganna were gone. It was dark and each of them was too occupied with the opponents before them to pay attention to the backlines. Even Gladiolus, who was supposed to watch over them, made the decision to rush upfront to help Henrietta, leaving Elaine on her own. It wasn't to say that anyone's at fault. The enemy was simply too troublesome and they were far too inexperienced to deal with them effectively. If they were only a little bit better, a bit more experienced, then perhaps Gladiolus wouldn't need to rush forward and Morganna wouldn't have been caught off guard by the witch.
It couldn't be helped. Those were Elaine's final thoughts. They can't all be some flawless heroes who would prevail no matter what. Even so, there were regrets. Why did it have to end in such a frustrating fashion? Was there really nothing more they could have done? Did they really all do everything they could up until this point? Maybe... Maybe this was the best they could have done. Maybe it just wasn't enough. Thinking back, Elaine thought that becoming Dungeoneers was the best course of action for Finn and her. It even worked out for a while, enough that she hadn't really considered taking Henrietta's money and making a run for it like she initially planned should things go south. She even grew to enjoy being in the party, being with the others, being in a place where it wasn't just she and her brother against the world. For the first time in her life, she had found people she could rely on other than herself. Despite the dangers, despite not having a stable income, for a moment, it seemed like it was for the best. Thinking back, it might have been the same for her parents as well. Elaine's parents probably thought that moving to Wilmot was for the best. They'll make a profit in Wilmot before leaving for the frontier, building a new future for themselves, a future that won't have anything to do with their respective backgrounds. That was the plan, at least.
Perhaps this was the nature of fate. Despite doing one's best to see their desired future to their fruition, there were simply too many things beyond one's own control. Perhaps this was why there were those that would lay their fate at the feet of something as nebulous as a Goddess of Fate and Guidance.
Plop it went. Something wet could be heard hitting the ground, hitting, bouncing, and wiggling. Plop it went again, this time, one landed on Elaine, engulfing her head. She found herself drowning in it. She tried holding her breath, but she felt something forcing its way into her mouth, up her nostrils, and even her ears. Then, just as she thought that she couldn't last any longer, it fell from her face, releasing her.
Elaine fell to the ground, gasping for air. When she looked back up again, she found herself staring at a gelatinous body, bouncing and wiggling. Inside its transparent body, there were the white, string-like creatures, the Mimics, floating about and slowly, breaking apart.
Rising to her feet, Elaine turned her gaze towards the witch. All over her, there were those gelatinous creatures, attaching themselves to her. Within their soft bodies, they formed pockets of vacuum that sucked up the Mimics infesting the witch's body.
It would seem, at least as far as Elaine could tell, that the Slimes were the Mimics' natural predator. Perhaps the witches that made the Stone Circle Tombs placed them there to keep the Mimics from getting out. That might explain the outbreak sometime after the mass hunting of the Slimes from the Dungeon.
"Oi! Elaine! Morgan! Where'd ya went off to!?" In the distance, Henrietta's voice could be heard. "Say, Gladiolus, can't yer spot them with them elf eyes of yours?"
"I have good hearing, but I see in the dark about as well as the rest of you. Still, I remember where I last saw them. We might find trances of them over there."
"Damn it! If I only paid more attention!" said Finn, his voice frantic and anxious.
"Finn, calm down! Stomping around in the dark isn't going to help anyone," warned Auguste, "you'd only get yourself hurt and give us more trouble."
Hearing the voices of her teammates, there were both relief and elation in Elaine's chest.
"I'm here! In the pit!" she shouted. "And Morgan's here too!"
Following Elaine's voice, the party quickly located her and pulled both she and Morganna out with the weighted chain Gladiolus was using. When she finally emerged from the pit, Elaine saw the other victims of the Mimics. They too were surrounded by Slimes, pulling out the Mimics from orifices and wounds, trapping them within their gelatinous bodies.
"Still feel like eating them, Henri?" said Auguste, teasingly.
"I, uh, I think I'll pass."
After lifting Morganna onto Finn's back, the Henrietta Company made their way out of the forest. Since the appearance of the Slimes, there had been no more encounters with those infected by the Mimics. By the time they left the trees and underbrush behind and entered into the plains and meadows, the dark sky was turning blue.
As fate would have it, the Henrietta Company survived to see yet another dawn.
End of Chapter 39