Chapter 85: Surprise
Following the path outside the door, Andrew couldn’t help wondering if he was in the right place. He recalled the Dungeon in the game being fairly open, but the path connecting to the oubliette he had dropped down was a long, cramped tunnel that ran along a largely dried-up, mud and sludge-filled waterway.
Reaching the end of the path, Andrew found himself in a hallway that curved around a massive, seemingly bottomless shaft encircled by thirty door-sized archways. Peering out the one closest to him, Andrew noticed the shaft had a similar number of cages suspended by chains dangling at various heights. The corridor encircling the shaft was lined with cells and dark passages like the one Andrew had emerged from, but as he made his way around its circumference, he found they were all empty.
Peering out into the fog-filled shaft a second time, Andrew counted as many levels as he could to get a feel for how many people the Dungeon could accommodate. There were only four floors above the one he was on, but with his enhanced eyesight, he could make out at least fourteen more below, each level having a clearance of three meters and containing around twenty decently sized cells.
‘I get that prisoners of war are a thing, but why would a relatively small fortress have such a massive Dungeon?’ wondered Andrew, feeling that the shaft and the network of corridors extending from it were far too large for a conventional prison. The logistics of it didn’t make sense, especially since the only expedient way to move supplies between levels seemed to be the cages suspended in the shaft.
‘Well, not like it matters,’ concluded Andrew, stepping out into the shaft and floating to the top. He was pretty sure he was in the location where Vaan, Baltheir, and Fran encountered Basch, but Andrew didn’t see him in any of the cages above, indicating the former Captain was somewhere in the fog below, presumably to sap his strength as the temperature fell the further you descended the shaft. Andrew could search for and save him, but as Basch had survived more than two years under such conditions, he wasn’t too concerned the man would keel over while he handled his other business.
Fortunately for Andrew, there was only one entrance to the massive shaft of prison cells. Unfortunately, when he ascended the stone steps leading to it, he found a magically sealed door with an intricate design resembling the twining roots of a tree. He was sure he could force his way through or dispel the magics with Dispelga, but if the barrier were paired to anything, the Mages assigned to monitor it would surely notice. Not that he cared if they did.
Equipping Etro’s Gauntlets, Andrew pressed his right hand to the door, causing blue light to shimmer across its surface with greater intensity as he applied greater force. The sensation was similar to pushing together a set of powerful magnets, but Andrew managed to overpower it, causing the barrier to flare brightly before the light disappeared, allowing him to press his gauntleted palm to the door.
As a measure against intruders, the roots forming the seal became more prominent, growing to cover the door’s surface in its entirety, but Andrew just tore them away as if he were pulling up weeds. It took him six and a half minutes, but just as he had aboard the Ifrit, he eventually managed to create a hole large enough for him to pass.
Emerging on the opposite side of the sealed door, Andrew found himself in a short stone corridor lined with pillars whose surface had been coated with red paint. The ground was cobbled with bricks of a similar shade, but their color had faded with time.
Looking overhead, Andrew felt a sense of incongruency seeing the ceiling more than ten meters from the floor. Instead of harping over it, however, he carefully moved to the end of the passage, finding a spacious chamber with two levels and multiple stairways. Artificial light illuminated the area, emanating from orange crystals that looked like they would dim and turn dark at any moment.
“Weird…” muttered Andrew, expecting to find guards patrolling the area. He knew most of them were stationed in the fortress above, but since they went out of their way to secure the site with a magical door, there should have been at least a few soldiers present.
Feeling the hairs on the back of his neck rise, Andrew looked up just in time to see a stilettoed foot falling toward his face. To the surprise of his would-be attacker, his hand moved from his side like a viper, catching them by the ankle before casually flinging them down the corridor he had just emerged.
Flipping through the air, Andrew’s attacker landed on their feet, the three-clawed tips of their two-heeled, dagger-like stilettos leaving deep scratches in the ground as the remarkably long nails of their left hand left similar but shallower tracks as they skidded to a stop. In their right hand, a highly condensed, tear-shaped mass of ice-elemental energy began to form, but Andrew’s figure disappeared before they could unleash it.
As his attacker stared at the spot he had been moments prior with wide red eyes, Andrew pinched the tips of their large, rabbit-like ears, casually remarking, “I always wanted to meet a Viera.”
Flipping forward, the Viera attempted to kick Andrew in the face, but he stepped back, effortlessly evading the fierce-looking black heels. The Viera then leaped away at high speeds, taking advantage of her species’ powerful jumping abilities as she half-turned and threw the condensed tear of ice Andrew’s way.
Instead of evading the attack, Andrew made it clear he wasn’t a foe the Viera could face as he moved forward, grabbing the tear of ice with his gauntleted hand and crushing it. An explosion of frigid mist surged from his hand, but while his surroundings became enveloped in ice, the energy spread over his body and dissipated harmlessly as he remarked, “Attacks like that don’t work on me.”
“What are you…?” asked the Viera, her distinctive, incredibly husky accent causing Andrew’s eyes to twinkle. He wasn’t sure how to describe it, but it was reminiscent of the Gaelic of Northern Ireland or the Germanic tongue of Iceland but far more refined. Regardless, it was incredibly pleasant.
“My name is Andrew Ashford Alexandros,” replied Andrew, waving with the tip of his monkey-like tail as he added, “As for what I am, my species is a Genome. I would be very surprised if you’ve heard of it.”
“Andrew Ashford Alexandros…” repeated the Viera, her accent naturally emphasizing each a, d, o, and s in his name. Andrew was tempted to ask her to repeat it a few times but settled on nodding in affirmation, stating, “That’s right,” before asking, “And you, my chocolate-skinned friend, are called…?”
“Fran…Fran Eryut…” replied the 187cm tall bunny, rising to her full height. She had dark skin, thick white hair formed into a long ponytail, white brows, wine-red eyes, and long nails like other Viera, and her full height, including her ears, was around 215cm. As for her outfit, it consisted of a revealing set of black armor resembling lingerie in the style of a teddy, filigree-patterned metal greaves, three-toed-two-heeled stilettos, a filigree helmet that framed her eyes and had holes for her ears to pass through, a faux rabbit tail, and a piece of sheer white fabric that hung over her otherwise exposed abdomen.
Maintaining his smile, Andrew replied, “It’s nice to meet you, Fran. But I prefer my women to remove their shoes and ask permission before they try stepping on my face.”
Though she narrowed her eyes slightly, Fran got straight to the heart of the matter, asking, “Why have you come to this place? It’s clear you’ve come by way of the oubliette, but for what purpose?”
“Would you believe me if I said it was to get you out of here…?” asked Andrew.
“As this is our first time meeting, I doubt it,” replied Fran, crossing her arms and shifting her weight onto her left leg in a way that implied she wouldn’t humor him for long.
“Well, it’s true,” replied Andrew, shrugging as he added, “Or, to be more accurate, I came to get you, your partner, and the boy named Vaan out of here. I was originally going to make a scene in the fortress to provide you the opportunity to break out on your own, but I wasn’t sure of your status or if you could take advantage of said opportunity. And that’s what brings me here.”
“You don’t appear to be lying…” muttered Fran, shifting her weight to her right leg, sizing Andrew up as she asked, “But ‘why’ have you come? We are not acquainted, and judging by your talent and attire, you ought not to be associated with that boy, Vaan…”
“I came at the behest of his childhood friend, a courageous little lass by the name of Penelo,” revealed Andrew, mirroring Fran’s posture, crossing his arms, and eyeing her up as he added, “As for you and your partner, we can discuss compensation later. For now, let’s just say you owe me a favor or three. One for breaking in here, another for helping you break out, and a third for not breaking you despite your sneak attack…”
Though she furrowed her brows, Fran did not attempt to refute Andrew’s words. She knew from their brief exchange that he was ‘much’ stronger than she was. The way the ‘Mist’ was attracted to and flowed around him was also unlike anything she had ever seen, so she suspected he wasn’t just a capable martial artist but a powerful Mage.
Averting her eyes, Fran expressed, “I will return to Balthier and apprise him of the situation. But there is a problem. The one called Vaan, he has yet to awaken. Due to his actions at the time of our confinement, he was beaten severely. I treated him with White Magick, but it will be some time before his stamina recovers and he regains consciousness…”
“Then give him this,” said Andrew, pulling out an Elixir from his Item Box. It was overkill for simply waking someone, but he didn’t feel like waiting ‘some time’ for Vaan to recover. The sooner they could rescue Basch and return to Rabanastre, the sooner events could be set in motion to rescue the Princess.
Removing the crystalline stopper from the unfamiliar blue bottle, Fran took a whiff, causing her eyes to widen, the hair on her ears to stand on end, and goosebumps to spread across her body. It differed from the Elixirs produced by the Salve-makers of her home wood, but she could tell it was a powerful restorative, the kind that would cost no fewer than 50,000 Gil on the market.
“This is too precious a tincture for such a purpose…” said Fran, carefully corking the Elixir and attempting to return it to Andrew with both hands. She and Balthier would be fortuitous to earn 50,000 Gil in a month, so she didn’t have the stomach to see such a valuable item used for so mundane a purpose.
Shaking his head, Andrew asserted, “I didn’t ‘ask’ you to give it to him; I told you to. If you don’t want to feed him the whole thing, that’s fine. Just make sure he’s up and ready to move within the hour. Once the Imperials notice their magic door is busted, they’ll swarm like ants.”
Though she still had misgivings, Fran retracted the Elixir and replied, “I will see it done…” before walking away with careful steps. As she went, Andrew’s eyes were immediately drawn to her full and toned butt, one of the most notable ‘asspects’ of the Viera race. Unfortunately, he was fairly certain Fran was romantically involved with Balthier, so Andrew only stole a brief glance before turning away and retreating to the corridor, widening the hole he had created in the door so that he and the others would be able to pass through more easily once they arrived…