Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
"Sounds like you've had a rough time."
"Yeah... 'Rough' wasn't the half of it. Had I known it would get that bad, I would have pulled out immediately."
"Sure, and if only I knew that my wife would run away with a ninny, tights wearing bard, I wouldn't have gotten married."
"Wait, I thought your wife went back to live with her parents because you were piss-poor and wouldn't get a proper job."
"Maybe that has a little to do with it too, but forget that. What I'm trying to say is that life is unpredictable like that. You could have been safer, sure, but you could have also missed out on some easy coins. Just be happy that you made it out in one piece, won't you?"
In a small workshop in a corner of Iotas Tria, there was Auguste, chatting with the owner of the place, the self-acclaimed alchemist, Tobias. He's the friend mentioned by Joseph when he saw the Henrietta Company off as they were heading towards the Arithmi Theocracy.
"We barely made it out though, just barely."
"Argh, by Arithmi! This is why no girl is looking your way! Just get over it already! Sheesh, see what you've done? My mood's completely ruined! Now I can't get any work done today!"
"Just get to work, you lazy bum! Speaking of which, did you even finished the thing I ordered?"
"Yeah, about that. I'm still working on it. Can't quite pin down the right amount of water to mix in you see."
"How long is it going to take?"
"No long... If I'm in a good mood..."
Auguste let out a blatant sigh.
"It better be."
"Hey! Is that the attitude you take with the guy who let you stay in his home?"
"We paid rent for it, mind you."
"I rent it out to you in the first place because Joseph asked me to."
"So that you could pay back a favor, right?"
"Technically, yes. But, deep down, I did it out of the kindness of my heart."
"Sure you did."
"You're damn right I did."
Auguste sighed again, this time he paired it with a shrug.
"Well, whatever, I'll come back tomorrow."
"Sure, do that. Maybe I'll have it done by then."
Leaving the workshop, Auguste returned to Tobias' house a few blocks down. It was a two-storied building with five rooms and a kitchen. The Henrietta Company got to rent it for twenty silvers per week. It's a good bit cheaper than the price they would get if they rent two large rooms in a local inn and rather than just two rooms, they have practically the whole house to themselves. Apparently, ever since his wife left him, Tobias stayed mostly in his workshop and rarely returned home.
Entering the house, a sweet aroma entered Auguste's nostrils. It was the scent of fresh vegetables being stewed, a welcomed change from the dried fruits and meats they usually have. Curious, he entered the kitchen to find Elaine over a boiling pot.
"Did we finish the leftover rations already?" Auguste asked.
"We still have some left, but I thought it's about time we change it up a little. Besides, the vegetables here are cheap, so we can afford a little more variety."
"Huh, that's surprising. Usually, you'd be the last one here to suggest we splurge even a little."
"Hey, even I want to eat something good sometimes. Besides, just eating salted meat and the likes all the time isn't good for you. We should balance out our diet when we have the chance."
So she said, and not that Auguste doubted her, but he did suspect that part of it might also have to do with the fact that she almost died the other day. That was two days ago, two days since they left the Stone Circle Tombs and returned to town. They reported the Mimic incident to the guild office soon after returning and investigations had been ongoing since. Auguste prayed that they'll resolve it soon, shuddering at the thought of what might happen should the Mimics find their way to town.
"So, how did it go? Did you get the thing you ordered?" Elaine changed the topic.
"Not yet. Tobias said he still needs some time."
"What did you order anyways?"
"That's a secret. You'll have to find out when it's done."
"It's not anything bad is it?"
"Why would it be?"
"I don't know. Though I can't imagine anything good from the strange concoctions these alchemist makes."
"Well, it's less of a concoction and more of a construct. Apparently, Joseph mentioned it in the letter he wrote and Tobias said he could build it."
"Wait, Joseph's in on it too?"
"I only mentioned the idea to him briefly before. It looks like he jumped right on it and even came up with a way to make it."
Elaine was beginning to frown. The more she heard about it, the more worried she became.
"What in the world are you trying to get made?"
"Oh, don't worry about it. Just know that it's going to be great once it's done."
"I sure hope so..."
Feeling that the stew was about done, Auguste began setting the table, though he got stuck thinking about how many it ought to be for.
"Where are the others, by the way?"
"Gladiolus went out to see a fletcher, Finn went out fishing at a nice pond he found the other day, Henri's still asleep, and as for Morganna, she's in her bed too. 'Didn't feel like getting up' was what she said."
"That's what it looks like. What happened the other day really bothered her, it seemed. I wonder if there's anything we can do to cheer her up a little."
"She'll be fine. Give her a bit of time and she'll figure it out. Probably."
"That's not very encouraging."
"I'm sure there's nothing to worry about. She's never been not fine before, right?"
"So it'll just be the two of us them?"
"So it would seem."
The two went ahead and had their meal. The taste of the vegetables was gentler than what they usually had, a welcomed change, while the soup was sweet and refreshing. Now if only they had some salt, it would have been perfect. Unfortunately, salt was not all too common around the region and was a bit on the expensive side on the market, too much for Elaine's consideration even at her most indulgent of moods.
But wait, Auguste had a thought, what if we took a lump of salt, made a catalyst out of it, and have Morganna create salt through the Abyssal arts? We'd have as much salt as we could possibly want, flavoring wise, as least.
Auguste shuddered at his own brilliance. The next time they're near a salt mine or deposit, he'll definitely find a chance to pay a visit.
After giving a little time for the food to settle, Auguste began to think of how he'll be spending the rest of the day. On the days when they were not dungeoneering or traveling to the next Dungeon, there wasn't much to do till evening.
Without a Dungeon to explore, there was very little for Auguste to do other than loiter about. Currently, the nearest Dungeon to them was all the way to the northeast, in the territories of the Vestal Coalition. If they want to get there, they'll either have to go through the Verdant Trails, which should be flooded around this time. Or, they could go up north into the Principality of Zeth, where they could take the northwestern mountain pass into Vestal, bypassing both the Verdant Trails and Wilmot, which again, would be too troublesome for it to possibly be worth it.
Other than that, there are a few more likely profitable Dungeons far to the west, deep into the lands of the Magnolia Republic and another one into the far north, near the northern mountain range bordering Zeth. They were considered too far away to travel to and as such, the Henrietta Company decided to hold off for ten days or so to see if anything else pops up before making their decisions.
Of course, there were more Dungeons than those three scattered around the five kingdoms, but those were considered far too dangerous for the party to be worth it. These sorts of Dungeons were old and have expanded greatly since they appeared and were full of dangerous creatures that would make the Mimics adorable in comparison. The only ones who would dare to tackle them were the mid to large tier clans made up of tens if not hundreds of different parties. One day, if they've made enough of a name for themselves, the Henrietta Company planned to join one of these clans. As they are at the moment, however, most would probably not take them in and even if they did, they'd be down on the lowest rung of the ladder where they'd be kicked around by those on the higher up and would probably not even get a decent share of the profits.
If they're going to be poor, they might as well be poor on their own terms. That's what Henrietta had decided anyway, not that anyone objected to it. Besides, as things were, they actually did pretty well for themselves, what with the rewards from Albert's request and the bounties from the Slimes the turned in.
Currently, the party had in total of three gold pieces and forty-six silver pieces between them, that's three hundred and forty-six silvers, a little more than ten times what they had around a month ago. Of course, it's not exactly a wealthy amount, but they won't starve for a good while if they manage their budget well enough.
What did I use to do in my free time again? Auguste thought to himself.
A little while back, it was just being trained by his master, Cera, and doing chores for the temple. Occasionally he'd humor a certain runt with a mock duel, but those weren't exactly what he'd choose to do if he had the choice. What about before that? Before meeting Cera, before everything changed? Those were the times he spent mostly with Helena. Sometimes they'd play, sometimes they'd chat, sometimes she'll read him a book or two, but it really didn't matter what they did, so long as Auguste was by her side, he was content. Those days, due to his mother's mental condition and her sudden outbursts, Auguste was afraid to be at home. With Helena, he had a place to be, a place where he felt at peace.
It really didn't hit him until he thought about it, but Auguste was practically stuck to Helena any moment she's not out on a hunt. He wondered if he ever annoyed her with his need for her attention. He didn't think he did but perhaps it's just that she never showed it.
"Guess I'll just take a walk," Auguste announced to no one in particular and headed out, feeling that his mind would wander too much for his liking if he continued to sit around with nothing to do.
With no particular destination in mind, Auguste spent the rest of the day getting familiar with the layout of the town. He was hoping for something interesting to happen as he wandered around, but it wounded up to be just an ordinary day with nothing in particular going on. Compared to exploring a Dungeon, exploring the town was relatively dull. It was a strange relationship. Auguste had no love for the Dungeons, he dreaded them, as any proper Dungeoneer should. Yet, if he weren't running around in one or preparing to head into one, he'd have no idea what to do with himself. In just a little over three months, four now, actually, dungeoneering had become a part of his life and if he weren't dungeoneering he's not sure what else he'd do. While it's true that there were plenty of safer jobs to do and despite all the dangers and dread, the longing for the adventures and excitement that could only be found in the Dungeons would probably never leave him. Could this be the effects of the Dungeons? Or was it simply part of his nature?
Before long, as he spent his day dawdling about, evening approached. Returning to Tobias' house, Auguste had dinner with the rest of the party before heading out to a tavern with Finn and Henrietta. Tagging along with them was Gladiolus, who suddenly felt like joining them, seemingly on a whim.
That night, only Elaine and Morganna were left in the house.
"Morgan, how about a drink?" Elaine extended the invitation. In her hand, there was a bottle of ale she had brought from a nearby store. It was, of course, the cheap kind, but the taste shouldn't be too bad.
"What's the occasion?" Morganna questioned, one of her brows quirked.
"Well, I know you don't like crowds so I thought that we could enjoy a drink or two with just the two of us."
"I guess I could..."
Setting down the mugs she had found in the kitchen cabinet, Elaine poured out the golden brown liquid into each one.
"Go on, drink up," she said with a gentle smile.
The two then proceeded to drink in awkward silence for a while. No one spoke, or rather, Elaine had difficulty finding the right words to say and Morganna simply didn't feel like saying anything. However, as the silence persisted, someone eventually decided to break it.
"Is there something you wanted to talk about?" Morganna asked, noticing something off about the woman sitting across her.
"W-was I being that obvious?" Elaine let out a forced chuckle. "It's just that, you seemed a little down lately."
"Maybe a little," Morganna meekly replied before taking a little sip from her mug.
"Is it about the other day, the fight with the Mimics in the forest?"
Morganna did not say anything, but the frown on her face more than told the story.
If it was just her letting her guard down fighting that witch, maybe she wouldn't have gotten so down about it. However, it was more than that, it revealed to her the shallowness of her understanding of the Abyssal arts. For all she knew, the magic of the Abyssal arts was to create a phenomenon within the Abyss and bring it forth into the real world. The infested witch created dirt and soil that she could control, that much was clear, but Morganna did not expect her to be able to move the earth beneath her feet as well. How was it done? Morganna already had an idea, though it was long after the battle was done.
Most likely, the witch had mixed in her Abyssal soil with the surrounding earth, using the soil to move it, to push it around, granting her a measure of manipulation of the natural dirt beneath her feet. That was likely how she dug underground and created the pit.
The battle made Morganna realize how simplistic her understanding and application of the Abyssal arts were, and her foolishness almost cost not only Elaine, but her entire party their lives. If it had not been for the Slimes, they would have all been done for.
"I just realized that I might not have been as skillful as I thought," said Morganna after taking another sip. "I wonder why I couldn't have figured it out when I was facing her. I didn't see it coming at all. I thought I was good at figuring things out even without relying on someone else to teach me, but when push came to shove I ended up being surprised by the most obvious of things."
Morganna felt that it should have been obvious from the start that the infested witch could do that. Even Morganna herself had used her flames to push air around to create gusts, after all. Using dirt to push around dirt should not have been a foreign concept. Yet, she overlooked it, like some kind of bumbling apprentice.
"Well, it was in the middle of combat, after all. I mean, I'm no expert, but you must not have a whole lot of time to think when you're busy trying to not get killed."
"That kind of thing is no excuse!" said Morganna after taking another sip, though it was more of a gulp. "I messed up big time! You even had to jump in to save me! Everyone could have died because I was a big dumb-dumb..."
"A big dumb-dumb you say..." Elaine noticed that Morganna was getting a little red. The witch might be even weaker to liquor than Henrietta was. "Even so, we all made it out alive, right? That's the most important thing. Just learn from the experience and do better next time."
"But what if I mess up the next time too? What if I mess up something else!? You can't say that it definitely won't happen, right!?"
Morganna started hitting the table. It would seem that not only was she weak to liquor, she was also a terrible drunk.
"If you do, then I'm sure the others will help you," Elaine tried to comfort her, hoping that Morganna would calm down. However...
"What if somebody else gets hurt because of me!? What if somebody dies!? I don't want anybody here to die because of me! I don't want that! I don't want it!"
Morganna started to cry, tears and snot flowing out of her face without any measure of restraint.
"There, there, nobody is going to die," Elaine said, pulling Morganna into her embrace and began caressing her hair. "As long as we're together we'll be alright."
It had been a surprise. Elaine didn't realize that Morganna cared so much. She never did show it, but if one looked closely, she had indeed been doing her best for the party. Always, she watched over them from the backlines, constantly thinking about what best to do next, firing off spell when and where the party needed it before she even had to be told. The fact that no one ever complained about how she would cast spells without being told to was testament to how much she had grasped the party's needs and wants.
"You've been doing your best all this time, haven't you?" Elaine whispered gently into Morganna's ear as she continued to hold her in her arms.
That night Morganna cried herself to sleep, though no one other than Elaine would be wise to that fact.
End of Chapter 40