There was nothing like a weapon upgrade to make a girl feel powerful. After hours of careful ore gathering, I upgraded my bow to have a durability of 72, a range of 3 blocks and a charge of 16. With a smile, I waved goodbye to everyone before entering the mine.
I carefully descended, nearly going straight down, only pausing to collect ore close to me while ignoring those further away. After about ten minutes I again noticed that long horizontal corridor at the bottom of my map.
Had I finally reached the end?
I broke through to the empty space faster than I thought possible. It went down for a good four blocks creating a massive room that echoed with silence and smelled of rain.
When I saw Merchant Meeks standing at the bottom and carrying a giant sword I flew back involuntarily.
“What are you doing here? Have I reached a save point of some kind?”
“Afraid not, miss. Ye see, I’m the protector of the first floor. To go beyond, ye first have to fight me.”
“I don’t want to. I like and respect you.”
“Sometimes ye haveta fight the folks ye like and respect, especially if ye think they’re wrong.”
“But what if I kill you for good!”
A wide grin appeared on his face. “Glad to see ye care. I cannot die here, miss. It’s both a curse and a blessing.”
“If you control who comes and goes, can’t you just let me onto the second floor?”
“I may be stoppin’ ye from continuing, but I’m also protectin’ ye from all the gruesome things below. I don’t think yer ready te face’em. And even if I did, ye’d still need te prove it.”
My hands shook. Just what could be worse than what I’d already been through? I couldn’t begin to guess, and it didn’t matter. I had to save Matt.
“Fine, let me through.”
A section of the rough glowing wall opened beside me.
“Then this next room’ll be our battleground. If ye die here, ye’ll come back until ye win.”
“That’s a relief.” I imagined continuously going down the mine every time I lost and the thought did not please me.
“No miss, it’s not. Ye shoulda upgraded yer equipment a few more times. At least gotten yerself a better weapon than that silly bow. It’s not too late. I can wait.”
“I’ll be fine. And I prefer bows.”
“Then we fight at the sound of the gong.” A section opened on his side and he entered. I followed.
The lighting in the new chamber had a lavender tint. My mini map showed a line of stone blocks overhead with boulders above them that sat like waiting cannon barrels. Traps and magic bubbles were strewn about on some of the layers below, but no spiders crawled through open areas on my map.
The sound of a gong rang through me like a speaker’s bass on full volume.
I immediately broke every block I could see until my bow’s charge filled. A nocked arrow of spinning light appeared. I didn't actually have to pull it back to fire unless I aimed diagonally, otherwise, it would automatically fire in the general direction I willed it.
Meeks barreled toward me and I flew at him. When he entered my range I mentally released my arrow. A blast of energy enveloped three blocks, leaving two stone bricks unharmed but decimated the third block Meeks had just broken.
He blinked out of existence for a second and appeared next to the block where he’d died.
Shocked that he hadn't disappeared right away, I spent too much time staring at him in my mini map. He moved forward. I moved back. He swung.
You are about to—
“No,” I said, possibly from denial that I died so stupidly fast.
Even though the blade didn’t touch me, it’s invisible force tore into me like a million needles. I watched as my arm split into a thousand paper thin triangles of blood and flesh.
I reappeared where I started. The cavern looked the same.
“Give up, miss. Please?” Meeks' cheeks lacked their normal red hue.
I glared. “I will not! Now would you please tell me why everything looks the same?”
He looked around and shrugged. “This be called the boss room. Every floor has one and they’re different fer each floor.”
He ran a hand over the wall as if treasuring it. “Te keep things even, the room doesn’t change but my memories of it do. Fer example, I remember cuttin’ ye down, and I know I’ve been down here too many times te count but I couldn’t remember the lay of the mine for even a million boulders of Cold Steel.”
“So I have an advantage if I can memorize the map?”
“Ye have no chance against me miss. At least not with the equipment ye have on. Please, give up.”
The gong sounded and I bolted downward. I didn't bother attacking and instead worked on memorizing the mine.
Meeks flew after me. He came so close that I couldn't focus on the map. I rammed backward, avoiding his sword only to smell mushrooms.
Meeks exploded and I waited for him to reappear but he didn't. For a second I thought I'd won, then the walls changed into two towers made from my dead bodies.
“Oh, I'm hallucinating.”
After the burning, when The gray appeared, I paced.
“I need a moment.”
I peered at him as he stood calmly with infinite patience. Well, at least I could think out loud and not feel my sanity crumbling... unless this was all in my head. No, I'd get nowhere thinking like that. I'm perfectly sane. Right?
I cleared my throat and opened my mouth to start talking about the boss room. “I'm perfectly sane, right?”
Okay. I hadn't meant to ask him that.
“As much as anyone who’s died as often and as painfully as you have.”
“You're not helping.”
“I'm not here to help.”
“Bringing me back to life feels like helping to me.”
“That’s what I am, just as Merchant Meeks is the first floor protector. Even if he hates it, he cannot stop being it.”
“You think he hates it?”
“I could not say. And aren't you stalling?”
I flopped to the ground and rolled around. It felt like cold and nothingness, which was odd.
“Okay, I'm stalling. I need to think of a way to memorize the layout of the room. If I try, I get distracted by Meeks coming at me. Once I memorize it I can lure him into traps and kill him.”
“Often, the only way to memorize something is by going over it again and again.”
“You’re basically telling me to die over a hundred times until I've memorized how to go through the boss room. Then come up with traps and die a hundred more times until it works.”
“Do you have a better idea?”
I blew a lock of hair out of my eyes and stood. “I'm ready to continue.”
Merchant Meeks took off his helmet and swept his hair back. I must have imagined it but I thought his hands shook.
“How many be this now? 15, 30?”
“24,” I said.
“You’ll never win against me.”
The gong sounded.
I barely reached a box I’d broken the previous time before my flesh exploded into triangles.
Merchant Meeks’ skin looked like wax. When he saw me he covered his mouth and turned around. It sounded like he was hyperventilating.
“Are you alright?”
His breathing normalized. “Miss, enough. Just admit yer defeat and go rest in the Garden of 1000 Kindnesses. It's a nice place. A much kinder place than the mine.”
“Ye won't have to die anymore. Ye won't have to scream like that. Please, miss?”
“No,” I said. “Let’s fight!”