As soon as the main cavern came into focus I ran to Merchant Meeks’ desk and slapped it.
He closed his book and looked at me expectantly.
“Why didn't you tell me I had to die to leave the cave?”
“How could I know ye didn't?”
“I don't know anything. I didn't know that sometimes rocks fall off other rocks and—.”
“—Miss Knight, dying is how ye get the knowin’ of things in this world. And dying is how ye begin anew.”
I couldn't accept that. “How do I avoid dying?”
“By knowin’ ahead, thinkin’ ahead and bein’ quick on yer feet. But ye’ll still die. Nothin’ fer it.”
My hands shook. Despite the pain and terror of death, I had to go back into that mine. Matt was in the Garden of 1000 Kindnesses but I couldn’t trust it to be kind to him at all.
I went to number 7 this time and willed myself down but nothing happened. I stared at Merchant Meeks.
“Don’t go lookin’ at me like I betrayed ye.” He pointed at the ground next to me. The number 6 was lit on each of the floor squares. “Ye’ve claimed that mine now, It’s yers. But ye be careful. It changes with every death.”
“And be sure ye pay up ‘fore ye leave.”
Oh, right! I stepped back up to his table and handed him my Gluttonous Nickel.
“40 more to go.”
Someone tapped my shoulder and I screamed. I turned to see a creepy, potbellied fairy with bluish skin and polished obsidian eyes.
“Wh-What are you? Where did you come from?”
“I’ve been here the whole time, Miss Knight, you just haven’t seen me. I’m Tasker Phenic.”
“A-Are there other things I haven’t seen?”
He smiled showing rows of black needle-teeth. “Many.”
As cold tingles ran down my spine I automatically scrutinized the room, searching for invisible monsters.
“So,” I tried to say casually. “What do you do?”
“I give you tasks. Your first is killing a Man Faced Spider and bringing me it’s carapace. Complete it and I’ll hand over a magic crystal that can save you from death. But be careful, the more of them you use before dying, the more you have to use.”
What? A chance to avoid death?
“Alright, I’ll do it.” I walked to one of the blocks marked with a 6 and glanced back.
Phenic flew next to Meeks and they exchanged something gold.
They were betting on me and against me. I wanted to stop them, to say something, but it was pointless.
I willed myself into the mine and appeared at the top of a long tunnel.
My mini-map showed that down 3 and to my left 1 was some kind of energy bubble and behind it were two boulders of nickel, there for the taking. I didn’t want to touch the energy just yet, in case it was some kind of explosive so I mined around it, quickly collecting the ore.
Up close, the energy appeared as glowing green ripples in a pond, if the pond’s surface was 3 dimensional and floated in mid-air.
“The only way to learn is by doing.”
I willed myself into its square. It popped, creating hundreds of small bubbles that rushed into my pickaxe. Its durability said 40/40, and a feeling similar to stepping into icy air conditioning on a hot summer’s day overwhelmed me.
“Okay, so I need to save these until the last possible moment because I don’t know how often I’ll find them,” I said. “... And now I’m talking to myself.”
I sighed and moved down a few blocks, then I noticed a spider on my minimap trapped in a 4 block vertical corridor with a boulder to the left and near the top. I really wanted anything that could prevent death.
I moved down to the block above the boulder and waited.
After a few heart-pounding moments the spider in my minimap crawled down to the bottom of the pit. Within a blink, I stepped into the block’s area, destroying it, and freeing the boulder for rolling. After moving over and down I rolled the boulder into the corridor. It tumbled down crushing the nasty insect.
A black shell with a very fleshed out human face grown on it flew into my cargo satchel.
Then I noticed two more nickel boulders down 3 and left 5. they were surrounded by boulders and a very solid and uncarved block of stone. I figured, that if I was quick enough I could get in and out before the rocks collapsed. It would also make me square with Meeks.
I would risk it.
Clutching my pickaxe tight, I traveled to the precarious area.
For a solid minute, I stared at the two boulders, working up the courage to risk getting crushed again.
“I can do this!”
I bolted into the two nickel boulders. They wobbled, but I immediately flew out. The stones collapsed. I flew back through several blocks to avoid the avalanche I’d created.
A massive black spider with a human face on its back crawled into my space from below me. I sucked in a breath.
It jumped forward and dug its fangs into my shoulder.
My blood boiled. Screams echoed through my body. Darkness.
As I once again faced the gray world of the reaper, my heartbeat slowed. I stared up at Mr. Black’s uncaring face.
“Would you care to continue, Miss Knight?”
I would get no sympathy here, but I didn’t want to go back into the mine.
Still, I said, “Yes.”
“Are we even now?” I asked.
Merchant Meeks grinned. “Yes, miss. Be sure ye come back when ye have inventory worth 100 coins so I can exchange yer pickaxe fer a better one.”
I handed over the spider carapace to Phenic and a Death Saving Crystal appeared in my inventory. I needed to only use it when I had to, or when I couldn’t take it anymore.
“Your next task is to find and destroy a Fae Mushroom Trap. They will make you briefly hallucinate before killing you.”
“How do I destroy that?”
“The same way you destroyed the spider.”
A woman cleared her throat behind me. I jerked towards the noise and saw a thin dark elf in purple trousers and a flowy silk shirt that reached her mid-thigh.
“Miss Knight. I’m Keymaster Korren. While you’re down there if you come across any boxes that happen to have keys in them would you kindly give those keys to me? I shall exchange your first two for a weapon. Then your next four for a better weapon.”
I narrowed my eyes. “What do these weapons do?”
“A variety of exceedingly advantageous things. The most prevalent is to send a projectile through blocks to eradicate traps and monsters.”
“That sounds a little too good to be true.”
She smirked. “Well, they do require you to charge them with kinetic energy.”
“And, like, how do I go about doing that?”
“Why, by shattering 20 carved blocks, of course.”
I held out my hand. “Deal.”
As soon as I entered the mine I noticed a box in my mini-map. I flew towards it shattering blocks as I went.
I froze when I saw it with my eyes for the first time. A massive crate made from gunstock stained oak filled a whole block. Magic symbols crawled all over its surface in an ethereal color changing scrawl.
I tried walking through it, as I did with everything, but it stayed in the same place. It didn’t even roll away like the boulders did. But. Maybe it would fall?
I knocked out the block under it and watched it break. A giant spider crawled out and immediately jumped toward me.
Time froze. A bell-like voice spoke in my mind.
You are about to die. Want me to save you?
The spider’s fangs were inches from my face, dripping poison. I swallowed, body shaking with fear.
“I think choosing death like this is worse than suddenly dying.”
Then you choose to continue?
I didn't want to die, especially not by a spider. But if I used it here and died in a few more blocks I would pointlessly be out a crystal.
Licking my parched lips, I said, “No.”
Burning pain. Screaming. Darkness.
And once again, I looked into the reaper’s world and the dark scythe-wielding thing within.
I sneered at Mr. Black’s cold face and wondered if, behind those black eyes, he laughed at me.
“Would you care to continue, Miss Knight?”