Dungeons of the Abyss and the Unchosen Heroes
Having been obscured by rainy clouds during the day, the sky was clear at last during the night, letting the lights of the stars and the moon to shine through. On this night, unusually, Henrietta had not headed for the tavern. And without anyone to invite him, Finn stayed home as well. It had become something of an unspoken pact for the three of them to either head out together or meet at the location. With one missing, it just didn't feel right. Of course, that didn't mean Henrietta wasn't drinking. She's just doing it at home on her own.
Upstairs, in an empty room, Finn was doing some form of meditation with Gladiolus. He had asked Gladiolus for some advice in bolstering his resolve in battle. In response, Gladiolus suggested a few forms of elvish meditations that might help.
On the dining table downstairs, there was Elaine, trying to figure out the budget for the coming days. While she had thought that they've been doing rather well recently, with Gertrude being added into the equation, staying afloat had suddenly become something of a challenge for the party. For the sake of staying in the black, several things will have to be cut down, including visits to the tavern. She's currently dreading over breaking the news to Henrietta, who will most certainly make herself very difficult.
Then, there was Gertrude. Attracted by a sweet aroma in the air, she drew close to Henrietta who was drinking by the fireplace. Her approach did not go unnoticed.
"What? You want a sip?"
Gertrude said nothing. In fact, she hadn't said anything for the whole time she was there. She only stared intently at the mug.
Quirking a brow at the lack of response, Henrietta got up and left for the kitchen, returning with a second mug moments later. After pouring a rich golden liquid into the mug, she promptly handed it to Gertrude, who silently accepted it and took a sip.
That was the first sound Gertrude had made in front of the others and it sent Henrietta into a fit of laughter.
"Too bitter for yer taste, eh?"
Having been laughed at, Gertrude began to pout. When Henrietta offered her something sweeter, Gertrude made no response and continued to take small sips from her mug, her disdain for the liquid grew clear with each sip. In the end, she managed to finish it through sheer stubbornness alone.
"A tough one, aren't ya? I respect that. That being said, just because yer tough, it doesn't mean you gotta be a mess."
Gertrude frowned, seemingly confused by Henrietta's remark.
"I'm talking about yer hair. Look at it, it's messy and dirty. Now look at mine, look how nice and clean and fluffy it is."
Henrietta showed off her pigtails to Gertrude, even letting her touch it. With her eyes widened in excitement as she stroked the golden bundle of fluff, Gertrude seemed to be enjoying it a whole lot.
"It's nice, ain't it," Henrietta proclaimed proudly. "The downside is that it's a pain stuffin' it into my helmet, and it makes it all stuffy inside. I ain't cuttin' it though. Yer hear me, Elaine! I ain't cuttin' it!"
In the kitchen, Elaine held back her urge to shout back at the dwarf, there's no point when Henrietta's tipsy like this. Chances were, she was only going to make more noises if Elaine told her to shut up.
"Anyways, you wait here, I'll go get my brush."
Returning with a brush in her hand, Henrietta made her attempt to groom Gertrude's hair only for the other party to stop her.
"Come on now, it ain't gonna hurt."
To her surprise, Henrietta was pushed back. Gertrude's strength matched hers, no, Gertrude might actually be stronger.
"Damn it! Just let me clean it up for ya! You've got such nice hair; it's a waste to leave it like that!"
Hearing the compliment, Gertrude unconsciously loosened her grip on Henrietta's arms, allowing her to close in.
"There, there. See, it's fine, nothin' to be scared of," said Henrietta as she gently brushed her tiny hand through Gertrude's hair.
"Ugh," though she found it less pleasant than she was expecting. "This is filthier than I thought."
Having heard Henrietta's clear disgust, Gertrude turned to glare at her.
"What? It's true. Even I never got this dirty. Have you been sleeping in the mud? Ah, whatever, I'll go get the bucket."
With a bucket in hand, Henrietta went to the barrels of water they've placed outside to collect the rain. With how much it had been raining, all of the barrels had been filled to the brim. Carefully, Henrietta dipped the bucket into the water as to not spill it, though to no avail as a sudden voice behind her startled her and caused her to make a big splash.
"Hey, you there!"
It had been a guard and from how much he was sweating from his forehead, it seemed that he had been running all over town.
"There has been an emergency! Orders have been issued to have everyone stay indoors. Do not go outside under any circumstances."
"H-huh!? Okay, sure. I was just out here for some water," said Henrietta as she showed the bucket in her hand. "What's goin' on anyway?"
"I don't have all the details, but something's happening in the old town. They said that something got out of the Scholars of the Abyss' laboratory and it's causing havoc. All the gates to old town have been shut but we don't know if some might have gotten through so stay inside."
"Right, gotcha! I'll go tell the others."
With that, the guard went running off, probably to warn the others in new town.
"Hey guys, apparently we got to stay inside now," Henrietta announced after gathering everyone. "They said somethin' is happenin' in the old town."
"Wait! The old town!?"
"Yeah, that's what I said. Somethin' wrong, Elaine?"
"That's where Auguste was headed. He was taking a visit to the temple of Arithmi there."
The room fell silent as the grim realization dawned upon them.
"H-he'll be fine, right?" asked Henrietta, trying to be optimistic.
"It depends," said Gladiolus. "To begin with, we don't even know what's going on in the old town."
"What should we do? Is there even anything we can do?" Finn sought answers from the room, somehow holding back his panic.
"Think we could climb the wall?" Morganna suggested.
"No, the wall's too tall," Finn promptly shut her down.
As her idea was rejected, Morganna was quick to think up another one, her eyes tilting towards one of the wands tucked away in the hidden pockets of her sleeves.
"Maybe we could blow up the gates? I haven't tried it, but Auguste suggested something called a 'dust explosion'. That's one of the reasons he got me this new wand."
"That's likely a bad idea," said Gladiolus. "The gates are shut because they were trying to keep something in. We can't have them escape into the rest of the town, especially if they're what I think they are."
"Hold up, you know what they might be!?" Henrietta was surprised.
"Mimics, right?" Morganna took an educated guess.
"We know that Scholars were collecting samples, so it's likely."
"Then what do we do? We can't just wait here right?" Henrietta was panicking. "We can't just leave him there all alone, right? Those things might be wormin' into him while we're standin' around talkin'."
"He'll be fine as long as he stays indoors. Maybe..." said Gladiolus, regretting that he added that last part.
"Maybe? Maybe!? That ain't good enough! He's part of the Henrietta Company, *my* company! We've got to do something!"
"Hey," said Elaine in a tone strong enough to get the attention of the rest. "Isn't someone missing?"
Henrietta was the first to rush outside and off in the distance, she saw a shadowy silhouette running into the night.
"Oi, where do you think yer going!?" Henrietta yelled, but perhaps due to them being too far away, there was no response. Then again, the girl wasn't exactly a talkative one, so perhaps Henrietta was just being ignored.
"After her, now!" said Gladiolus in a commanding tone, and in response, the party reflexively began moving their feet.
They chased Gertrude all the way to the walls dividing the old and new town, the walls that were originally raised to protect the town when it was first built, when there was only the old town. The new town simply expanded outwards as more settlers moved in. Now, the walls protecting the old town had been turned into a cage for whatever's inside and the townsfolk trapped in there with them.
Standing before one of the massive gates, Gertrude stared up at the top of this thirty meters high wall. As they did not know her all that well, whatever was going through a mind was a complete mystery to the rest of them.
"Oi! Didn't you hear! We've got to stay indoors. Bad things are happenin'," said Henrietta despite wanting to come out here herself. In the end, she knew quite well that there wasn't much she, or anyone here could do, or so she thought.
Those were the first words Gertrude had uttered to the others, all the while pointing at the gates, or probably, what's on the other side.
"And what's yer plan, just jump over the wall?"
While Gertrude did not say anything more, at Henrietta's 'suggestion', her head tilted towards the sky, gazing at the top of the massive wall. Then, she bent her knees and braced herself. Just a little, the ground beneath her sank. Her calves, at least what could be seen of it under the skirt borrowed from Elaine, seemed to swell to a disproportionate size compared to the rest of her build.
"Wait, wait, wait! Hold on!"
Sensing something wrong, Henrietta rushed forward and tried to grab onto the girl, feeling that if she didn't, Gertrude might pull something incredibly reckless. They could at least talk about it first, or maybe not, since Gertrude wasn't exactly the one for words.
All of a sudden, Henrietta was hit with a force that could have torn off her shoulder if it weren't for that dwarven sturdiness and before she knew it, she was in the air. She wasn't sure how high she went, but it was high enough that she wouldn't dare look down and had to hang on for dear life.
With a thud, the floatiness felt by Henrietta went away. While she realized that she's probably on the ground, or at least, solid footing, Henrietta found herself unable to release her grip. They're locked tight around Gertrude's neck, too stiff to let go.
"W-w-w-w-what the flying turd was that!"
Gertrude turned around after being screamed at, looking rather surprised that there was a passenger on board. She didn't seem to realize Henrietta was there. It was unusual, as while Henrietta was not tall, she certainly was not light either.
"I jumped," Gertrude replied plainly.
"Yer call that a jump!? What in the deepest depths of the Abyss kind of jump was that!?"
Being shouted at for what seemed to be for no reason at all, at least for Gertrude, she began frowning deeply. Henrietta, at that moment, instinctively felt danger, even more so when she realized that she's atop a thirty meters tall wall.
"Alright, alright, I'm sorry, okay. It was a jump, just a plain ol' leap that anyone can do. Nothin' wrong with it at all," Henrietta blabbered out. In the back of her mind, she was surprised by how sincere she could sound even while saying complete nonsense. Perhaps she had a talent for being a merchant after all.
Appeased, Gertrude looked into the distance, staring down at the old town from above the wall. She had made it on top of the wall, but there was one problem. She had no idea where to go next.
End of Chapter 46