[Dunbarton: 125 Years after the age of Milletians.]
It was a long week but they finally made it. As the two cleared a path thicketed with dew-glossed groves, they could see the city of travelers; Dunbarton. As Semont, who was farther ahead, called out to Kenero, a tiny smile appeared on her face as it reminded her own days as an apprentice, traveling to Dunbarton with her father so that she could see the world with her own eyes. At the same time, she reminisced about the close relationship she had with her father. However, things were different now that-
“Kenero! Hurry up!”
That snapped Kenero out her nostalgia. She was annoyed at his rush to go explore the city, but she knew how it was with newbies so she ignored his cockiness and she ran off to catch up to him. Before she set out to find an apprentice of her own, it had been at least 5 years since she had visited the bustling city; it seemed livelier than she had remembered. That much should be obvious; this was common knowledge prior to the proven effectiveness of the fomor mist treatments. However, it didn’t help that it contributed to the growing problem of the slums.
Dunbarton prior to the disappearance of Eweca was once the most widely visited and most populated city in all of Erinn; even more so than the capital, Tara. This was due to the fact that Dunbarton was an intermediate city; all of its four exits eventually connected to another city and therefore it used to be filled with travelers from the far reaches of the continent. Once the irreversible incident occurred and Erinn’s inhabitants lost access to atmospheric mana, the number of travelers greatly diminished. People were now faced with the issues of having smaller amounts of Expendable Mana which was now harder to gain and at the same time, a minimum portion of it had to be kept in order to prevent mana stagnation. During the aftermath of the incident, it wasn’t surprising to have poorer travelers stranded in cities far away from their families. Citizens were now turning towards isolationism and a more closed life; at the same time, this has caused minor xenophobia towards other cities as well. The only people who could afford to travel were rich merchants who could hire freelance alchemists to provide a daily supply of mist. The opposite of a freelance alchemist would be a government alchemist. Government alchemists were employed to a government contractor who provided them with jobs at various towns whereas freelancers had to find their own jobs and advertise themselves. The simplest task for government alchemists was to prepare a supply of mist for select regions of cities that would last around a month. However, this was usually left for the new alchemists to do and if not, it was most likely a form of humiliation for dissident alchemists who shirk off work…
“So that’s why we’re here!” Semont could hardly keep his face straight after hearing the reason behind their work. As if trying to dodge Semont’s teasing voice, Kenero looked off in the other direction while hiding an embarrassed look on her reddened face. It turns out that while she was looking up information on the Caliburn, Kenero had been ignoring work orders from the contractors; this was already her third offence and another one would have had suspended her status as a government alchemist.
It didn’t take them long to reach the slums; they were just right on the outskirts of Dunbarton. The slums were the poorest sections of the city; the usual residents included the sick, uneducated, and the poor. Often times what would usually happen was that citizens afflicted with the smog would be banished to the slums due to the disease being reportedly infectious. At the same time, their families would be treated as outcasts and be forced to live in the slums as well. The terrible conditions and sanitation of the slums often became a barrier for outsiders and made them think twice before entering the area. This caused more misunderstandings, rumours and confusion about how the people of the slums were really like. Without anyone to help out the residents, the government routinely sends agents to generate mana mists to look after them.
Semont immediately noticed something was wrong after he saw Kenero fumble around her bags, “What’s the matter? I thought this wouldn’t take very long.”
Without any pause, Kenero fluidly turned her head towards Semont replied in monotone, “Say, going to the dungeons around here would be pretty good training for you wouldn’t it.” Semont looked back at her expressionless face and grunted, “Huh?”
Northeast of Dunbarton lies a secluded dungeon where no one wanders near. The vicinity of Math dungeon has always been a quiet place simply because it was situated in an area where people would rarely pass by. Over the years, plant wildlife has reclaimed the area around here which created a natural barrier. Additionally, Math was rarely spoken of so even long-time residents of Dunbarton wouldn’t even know there was even a second dungeon by their city. The reason being was simple; aside from the Lylimark priests who would go to clean the goddess statue for tradition’s sake, Math’s potential for adventuring in the past was so low that people eventually forgot about the place. After the Eweca incident, Math was eventually forgotten and no one visited it anymore. This has caused Math dungeon to be a haven for many Fomors to flourish even after the large scale hunts that took place.
Recently, a rumor has surfaced from the northeast territory of Dunbarton. While on the darkest nights, a three-headed hound will stray from the evening mist and wander into the city. Being one with the shadows, its form will make no sound or leave any trace leaving it free to carry out its bloodthirsty act. Then, on the eve of the next morning on the dew-settled streets, there will lay a disfigured body missing its head and arms; presumably ripped and brought back to hellish depths where they join a pile of the same. Other versions of the tale also speak of its master, who always is depicted as a goat-horned Fomor, being the one who orders the grisly deed.
As the two neared Math dungeon, Semont called after Kenero again, “Wait, you still didn’t tell me why we came here! You had a job to do back there right?” Right now, all he wanted was to hear her voice so he would know where she was; it was difficult to navigate through the thicket and the baggage that he had to carry was really weighing him down. As usual, Kenero remained unresponsive. It was incredibly tough, but Semont somehow managed to exit the miniature forest and enter a clearing where he could catch his breath; there he saw Kenero.
She remained silent as her eyes were fixed on the tattered ruins ahead of her which was covered in a wide assortment of vegetation. Semont couldn’t help but notice that the once beautiful outfit that Kenero was wearing now had some gashes left and right, seams were broken and worst of all, there were uncomplimentary grass stains and smudges of dirt all over her white and blue boots, kneesocks and skirt. Kenero didn’t seem to mind at all but Semont sighed at the waste of beautiful clothing. It didn’t help that the same thing happened to his own clothes which were a gift from the unpredictable alchemist herself. “At least we match… kind of.”
After he regained his breath, it finally dawned on Semont why they came to the dungeon, “Hey Kenero, you didn’t have a fomor crystal on you did you?”
That got her attention. It looked like she was going to start yelling but then she slumped over a bit as if admitting defeat, “… Yeah, there’s no use hiding it, that’s why we’re really here.. Well, let’s look for a way in; we’ll have to reopen the place since it’s so overgrown.” Her straightforward reply somewhat surprised Semont, “I guess even someone like Kenero can’t keep up her act forever.” Semont dropped their equipment and the two quickly scrambled to the ruins to find a likely entrance.
Even though the walls were riddled with vines, Semont could still see the faded runes covering the walls. He didn’t know why but it felt like he was here before, it didn’t make any sense to him since he lived his whole life in Tir but he felt absolutely sure that it was true. Before he had time to question his gut feeling, Kenero broke his train of thought, “Hey Semont! I think I found it!”
The area was completely filled with vines but it was definitely an entrance because there wasn’t a wall behind it. “Well, what are you waiting for?” Kenero smiled and pointed to the sword Semont was wearing on his belt triggering a rather negative response on his face.
The repetitive sound of the metal against the green foliage seemed to please Kenero as she sat on a nearby rock. After a couple minutes, she decided to it was enough and she told Semont to stop. Pretending to be disappointed while inspecting his work, Kenero scolded Semont for his lack of effort. He immediately saw through her and wiped his sword on the grass while muttering a few profanities. Swords nowadays are harder to come by and especially so for Semont’s sword since it was of a somewhat finer quality.
“Alright, step back a bit.” Kenero loaded her cylinder with a fire crystal and unleashed a torrent of flame straight at the chasm of vines. The cylinder’s automatic workings kicked in and they ejected the spent crystal. It really looked like it would take time for the fire to burn through all the vines since it was so thick.
“Well I guess we wait now,” Kenero sighed as she prepared a water crystal in the cylinder’s loading chamber “It’ll probably take at least an hour for all of that to burn up.” Semont took the time to ask Kenero a couple questions. Occasionally, there would be a break in their conversation because Kenero had to make sure the flames didn’t spread very far but otherwise, it was a peaceful conversation; perhaps the first one they’ve had since they’ve met. It turns out that Kenero wasn’t originally from Tara but was from Taillteann instead. Before she became an alchemist in Tara, she was living with her mother who was sickly and frail. Kenero’s father was a government alchemist as well and had already passed away shortly before she was born. Her father’s best friend, a top researcher in Tara had promised to take care of the both of them in case anything had happened to him. Kenero’s father was a very skilled combat alchemist who led many fomor hunts despite the pleas of his wife; he was a strong believer of the fomor mist crystals and deeply cared for the welfare of the citizens. Since Kenero was born after her mother had remarried with her father’s best friend, she considers him her real father instead but at the same time keeps a lot of respect for her biological father because of how he spent his life looking out for those who needed help. Kenero was pretty open with her past, up to the point where Semont almost found it a little strange although he didn’t want to question it out of respect. It almost seemed like staring at the hypnotic movements of the flames soothed her spirit and allowed her to speak her mind.
After some time, as the smoke progressively waned, the flames changed to a dark red hue until finally, Kenero decided that it was enough and she doused the flames with a burst of water. Semont was just getting ready to pick up the luggage when Kenero motioned him to stay put and said, “Wait, the smoke in there will be really thick.” Kenero loaded a wind crystal into her cylinder and aimed it at the entrance. “Looks like she’s more capable than she appears to be,” Semont thought. Smoke came rushing out of the dungeon lobby and then suddenly, a jet of air knocked Semont off his feet. Kenero looked at Semont with half a smile on her face and said, “What’re you staring at me for? Come on, let’s go.” Hiding his reddened face, Semont quickly got up and followed her into the dungeon.
End of Chapter 6