Merchant Meeks avoided the boulder trap I’d set up for him and jumped forward, slashing toward me. I dodged down. With a grunt, he followed.
After racing through several blocks he stabbed at me.
Seeing it coming, I rammed left three squares, collecting a boulder of nickel and a ball of energy. My Bow’s durability jumped to 72/72.
After ramming down through several more my energy arrow appeared pulsing with ivory light.
Seeing him coming I turned and released the charged arrow at him. It bathed his block with light. Having seen him take too many of those without a scratch I bolted backward.
“Kill me ten more times like that, miss, and ye just might win.”
I’d already done it ten times this session. Did that mean he had the equivalent of 20 hit points with me doing 1 damage each time?
This was so hard!
I collected another boulder of nickel as I ran from him and passed a mushroom trap I'd memorized the position of.
He followed me directly and passed through the hallucination trap. He yelled in pain and clawed at his skin. Within a tenth second, he blinked out of the trap and appeared above it.
I winced but kept moving. I’d almost charged my bow again.
Ahead was a block with several boulders above it that would make the perfect trap. I destroyed the block but had misjudged how close he was.
Want me to save you?
“No,” I said, with too much sulk in my voice.
How did I even die this time?
A wave of crushing pain overwhelmed me as I had apparently gotten caught in the fallout of my own trap.
“Would you care to continue?”
The gray world between life and death appeared before me.
“Please let me rest here for a little while?”
He nodded and sat down, setting his scythe across his legs.
I sat down behind him and leaned against his back.
“You were close this time.”
“I really wanted to use a Life Saving Crystal.”
“It's possible that it could have worked, but they are very tempting for miners. If you use one once you’ll want to keep using them. I’m impressed that you’ve stopped yourself for so long.”
“I'm saving them up for when I battle Nenvari.”
He didn't say anything.
“What? You think it's a bad plan?” I had been saving them, assuming I could use them in the last fight but I didn't remember Matt using any save crystals during his game, but that could have been because he had used his up getting there in the first place.
“That’s not it. It's just that I've never seen him.”
“Huh? But he’s in the mines and you’re the reaper for the mines, right?”
“I am, but he is not. When you enter the area to fight him you are entering his kingdom and I have no jurisdiction there.”
“So, when I die fighting him some other reaper will save me?” I didn't like that idea at all.
“Maybe. But it's more likely that Nenvari will save you himself.”
“Wait, he’s a Reaper?”
“No. He’s a magician, who happened to learn a few things from the Reapers.”
“Do you know anything else about him? Like why he’s kidnapping children in the first place?”
“I don't know much else. Just that those who leave to fight him never come back.”
We sat in silence for a moment. I couldn't get my mind off of the Life Saving Crystals so I willed one to come out of my inventory and onto my hand. It cast a yellow light making it extremely eye-catching within the gray world.
“Please put that away. It's too Bright and might bring Others.”
“Wait. There are others here?”
“What do you think this place is?”
“My own private death? I don't know. I didn't really think about it. I've been too busy memorizing the mine layout and working to get Matt free.”
“It is the space in-between life and death, and there are far too many things here. Things that feed off unprotected souls. That more than anything is why Reapers carry a scythe.”
I swallowed and put the crystal away.
“I need more information about Nenvari and about the other bosses.”
“Yes. I've often found that information is better than a weapon or money.”
“Money and weapons will not last forever. Information can. And it is often both a weapon and profitable.”
I leaned against him harder. “But how do I get information about him?”
He said nothing.
“I'll find it deeper in the mine, won't I?”
“The mines contain uncountable dangers and treasures. Look for those that matter, not for the ones that sparkle.”
“Vague as always. Is that, like, something you were trained to do?”
“Are you ready to continue?”
“Not yet. I was so close. I think I'll beat him given a few more chances. I just need to watch out for his sword.”
“As you say. However, the beings in the mine may surprise you.”
“What? Does he get faster when he gets down to 25% of his life?”
“I cannot reveal specifics.”
I sighed. Stupid Reaper and his closed mouth.
When I reappeared in the room Meeks looked like he’d just thrown up. His hands shook visibly.
“We’ve been at it fer four hours already. Don't ye think yer parents will be worried?”
“If I don't win, I'll never see them again. Start!”
“I don't want te,” he said.
“Ye think it does nothin’ to me te see a child die over and over by me own hand? And screamin’ with pain every time? This wasn't what I agreed to.”
He hung his head.
“I'm not a child.”
The gong sounded.
“Ye’ve won, Miss. and frankly ye were ready for the next level twenty minutes ago.”
“No, I haven't won. If I can't defeat you I'll never win against Nenvari.”
“Ye don't have te be ready for him right this second. Ye’ve been gone near a day already, what’s a few weeks or months?”
My mom would definitely ground us but after dying so many times I didn't fear her.
“Well, I haven't killed you. I don't accept your defeat.”
“Miss, I cannot keep goin’. I concede.”
Merchant Meeks disappeared.
I couldn't believe it. It was too easy. Suspiciously easy. “Get back here so I can beat you!”
After a minute, an ethereal wind picked me up and threw me out into my mine. Three chests sat on the floor in front of me and behind them a hole sunk into the ground to the next level.
I stepped forward and someone grabbed my shoulder. I swung around to face an old woman in a brown dress with an apron.
“Miss Knight, I'm the Brownie Mattie. Since ye defeated—”
“I didn't defeat him.”
“—Since ye defeated Merchant Meeks ye must choose yer prize. The right chest has a weapon upgrade in it. The middle ‘un has a pickaxe upgrade. And the left ‘un has a tome of history and a guide to etiquette.”
Weapons and pickaxes were temporary. Knowledge was forever.
She nodded and vanished in a poof of smoke.
These mines were so weird.
I opened the left chest and two books flew into my cargo satchel. Since I couldn't let myself die just to talk to Meeks or review the books, I decided to see what were the horrors I was being protected from in the floor below.