Chapter Thirty-eight: Aspirations
After rolling up their loot– some giant badger hide, they went left the cavern, going through the tunnels at a brisk march, weapons at the ready. Silent until one of the dwarves raised a question, “Been on many dungeon dives Coenbert?”
“Fewer than ten”, the Guardian admitted. “I went on a few when I was first starting out but I wasn’t very powerful then and never made it past the second floor. Between the entry fee, lodgings and equipment repairs, I barely broke even and sometimes not even that. Met some older adventurers headed east on my last dive and never really looked back since.”
The others paid attention to this, having never known this fact about their leader. The dwarf who asked the question laughed. “Well, at least, you’ve got the experience. First time going in one myself. I started out repairing equipment outside the one in Knesalt. Left because it was too crowded. Too many people offering the same services and don’t get me started on the rent.”
“Still, it’s good money if you can establish yourself, really good money”, the dwarf admitted. “Maybe when we get back to Anham, who knows? Maybe I’ll get my savings out or a few sponsors. Buy a plot from the guild and build a proper smithy.”
Sanzur turned to his colleague, “You can’t be ser…GOD BERYLS!”
“HELP!” he screamed as a powerful force plucked him into the air.
The swordsman made a grab for him only to get snatched as well. Thinking quickly, Coenbert dug his heels in and grabbed them, dropping his sword and shield. It was only then that he felt whatever it was that was carrying them away. It felt like something was tugging every single part of him upward at the same time. Sanzur, in particular, was already a couple of metres in the air, screaming up a storm. His sword floated up past him, prompting a curse. Luckily, his shield whiles straining to join its taken companion was held fast to his arm by his shield strap.
“What the fuck is that!” Sieg yelled as he pointed.
Right above the floating dwarf and fixed to the high cave ceiling was a hole about two or three metres wide. Extending from its lip were four lines esoteric letters that glowed a harsh blue. Not a second after they noticed it, the glow began to dim until it turned red. The instant the colour change occurred, the strange suction stopped as well.
“AAAHA!” Sanzur screamed as he fell.
“Boss! Shouldn’t we go after Coenbert and the others”, someone asked.
Ryan looked at the men he had with him. They were calling him boss again for the first time since the expedition took off and acting the last few days had not happened. At first, he said nothing still feeling a little bitter about the whole thing. The only reason they were with him now was that Coenbert, not wanting them, had left them behind. However, he thought about it critically for a bit and relented. He decided not to blame them. Were he younger, he might have done same.
“Coenbert is probably headed for the boss room”, he told him. “You don’t want to go there.”
“Why not ?” he asked. “That’s where the boss guards the treasure, isn’t it?”
Ryan sneered at him. Okay, he might still be upset at them.
“And you are going to fight the boss, are you?” he asked. “We’ve got no leader, no defender and no mage. Loads of monsters between here there too. What are you going to do when you get hurt?”
The young man scrambled for an answer.
“Hurry up now!” Ryan pressed. “Some monster has caught you with your pants down and your guts are falling out. What are you going to do?”
“I, I-I–I”, he blubbered.
The swordsman followed up with a series of rapid-fire questions, “Okay, say we meet some flying critter that shits fire or farts lightning. We’ve got no defender and no mage. How do we get at it? Rely on Harry’s crossbow? Or say a big’un is coming for us and we need someone to keep it busy while the others go around and stab its soft spots. We’ve got no defender. What do we do?”
“I er- I…”
“We’ll let it eat you and your fool head that’s what!” Ryan told him, much to the amusement of the rest of the party.
“Coenbert can go after bosses because he has the people and the tools. We don’t. Remember”, he told those listening. “Your life is the most expensive thing you’ve got. Don’t spend it foolishly!”
“Who else wants to go after bosses in an unexplored, uncategorised dungeon that we found surrounded by fae next to an Adept level restricted zone with an all attack party, no healer, no support and one to call on for help and rescue?” he asked.
No one answered. There had been some who had been considering it but once Ryan laid it out like that it was hard not to see his point.
“We’ve made more than enough money already. Our priority should be getting back home safely so we can claim it not jumping into our graves”, Ryan stressed. “We will collect whatever we can around the outskirts. The rest we’ll leave to Coenbert and the investigators. So stick close and keep… where’s Ered?”
Unbeknownst to him, Ered, their youngest recruit had fallen behind the rest of the party. Turning around they found him carefully digging out a knee-high plant.
“Fool boy!” Ryan yelled. “What on earth are you doing leaving the group?”
Frightened, Ered nearly dropped his new plant. “Sorry, sir! It’s just that I saw this Icefire Mint and I…”
Ryan sighed the boy was always so jumpy. He took a second look at the plant in the boy’s hands. It was pretty enough. long cyan slightly fuzzy leaves about ten centimetres long with red veins and stem. It had very fibrous roots but the boy had done well to uproot with it without much damage.
“You like plants?” he asked pulling him along.
“Kind of, sir”, he admitted. “My grandfather was an apothecary. I learnt a lot from him.”
“Really?” Ryan asked with genuine surprise.
Gesturing towards the plant he asked, “That good for anything?”
“Yes, sir!” he said excitedly, “It is the first time I have seen a full plant in person but I do know it is used as tea leaves and the oil from it is used in balms for treating colds, soothing sore joints and muscles, incense and even smoke bombs.”
“That so?” Ryan said with a smile. It was the first time he had seen the boy happy on this trip. “So how much will this go for in your grandfather’s shop?” he asked.
“About forty silvers a leaf!”
“Say what?” he asked in disbelief.
“Forty silvers a leaf, sir”, Ered repeated. “The finished balms and perfumes are more expensive but hard to make. You’d have to get an alchemist involved but just selling the leaves for tea or burning or extracting the oil is simple enough. Grandfather was on the retail side of the business so I don’t know much about that. I am just surprised to see a sole specimen. They are usually found in…”
The swordsman had stopped listening. His eyes were trained on the plant counting its leaves. There were at least sixty leaves on it. Some quick math in his head told him that the herb was potentially worth 25 gold. 25 gold for a single plant. Wait, he had just missed something. Did the boy just say the plants while rare were usually found in clumps?
And so it came to be that Ryan’s party of adventurers scoured a dungeon for herbs whilst fending off attacks from giant badgers and insects and vermin. Ryan stayed back, supervising and overseeing whiles they gathered the herbs. Coenbert might not have intended things to turn out this way but he had indeed earned a pretty big score. Perhaps after this, he could leave this life, return to the family homestead, or even start one of his own, and farm beets.
Not too far from him, a young man reached for a herb, unaware of a serpent beneath it, lying in wait, fangs dripping with corrosive venom.