Instead of the gray stone blocks, I found the whole place covered in intricately tattooed sandstone. Instead of stone boulders, I had to worry about ice balls. Two new traps appeared, a nozzle and a block covered in yellow goo I assumed was honey. Lastly, there were badgers instead of spiders. But how badgers could be worse than spiders, I had no idea.
I decided to go after the new type of ore that glittered in my heads-up-display called Mystical Aluminum.
As I traveled towards it the durability on my pickaxe depleted twice as fast. That just meant that I needed to do more grinding for ore.
With a name like Mystical Aluminum, I expected something silvery. What I found was a ball of translucent purple metal. No wonder it was called, “Mystical.”
I stepped into its block and the aluminum appeared in my inventory listed as 25 coins. Over twice as much as the Gluttonous Nickel. This made all of my effort to reach here magically worth it, and in a much more real way, totally not.
How many more floors did I have to pass through to get to Nenvari?
2 more? 10 more? If I asked Meeks, Phenic, or Korren would they tell me?
Oddly, I wasn't in a rush to get to the end. I don't know if I subconsciously understood that I had far too much to learn before I even attempted it or if there was something about the mine that made me believe I had forever to finish.
Thinking of the reaper’s poem, I wondered if it was more a warning to me that I shouldn't tarry because in this world, I may be immortal-ish with infinite time, but my brother and family were not. I shuddered at the thought of letting 100 years pass only to find him as an old man in whatever hell he experienced in the Garden of 1000 Kindnesses.
I slowly made my way down, collecting Aluminum and the rare batch of Nickel.
I noticed a badger in my mini map with a hallucination trap a few blocks below it. It appeared to only be able to go left and right over the solid ground, unlike the spider that could crawl anywhere.
I assumed that meant I could make it fall into the hallucination trap.
After carving an area under the badger, I cleared a path to the trap. Then I waited for it to get to the other side of its sandstone cage and punched through.
The spider had moved slowly allowing me to outrun it. With the badger, as soon as I punched a hole into its area the giant bolted toward me almost as quickly as I could blink and I barely dove out of the way before it fell. As it hit the trap, sending a puff of spores through the block, I relaxed, which was a mistake.
Even though I was diagonal from it, it’s claws reached toward me. Fortunately, my honed reflexes from many hours of fighting Meeks kicked in and I dodged up. The badger snorted and rubbed the spores onto the now bare walls of the trap block. Then it jumped onto the block I'd vacated and I moved up again.
It glared up at me with red angry eyes and its sharp yellow teeth visible.
Unnerved, I backed up enough to charge my bow.
I heard it snort once more and it jumped up one and used its giant claws to dig into the walls. Then it did it again.
Really freaked out, I shot my arrow down at it. It fell but didn't die.
It made a stuttering creepy barking scream as if hyping itself up and jumped toward me.
I moved right to avoid an ice boulder and saw one of the yellow traps. Maybe it was a honey trap for the badger? That was a thing right? Badgers liking honey?
I didn't have much time to think because the monster ran toward me.
Since it was slower going up than left and right I went in a stair step toward the yellow trap while ignoring the delicious ore I’d missed on my downward dive.
When I finally reached it I let out a sigh of relief. The block was coated in glorious falls of yellow honey. I swiftly cleared an area around the trap and my bow charged.
The badger jumped to just before the trap as I stood on top of it to better look at the monster. It had a skunk patterned long face and fluffy ears, but something that angry wasn't cute at all.
It's furious gaze bore into me, and I thought for a moment that it was going to attack me instead of go for the honey. Then it moved into it and it's pink tongue darted out to lick the walls.
Both trap and badger disappeared.
I rested my hand against the wall and sighed. Badgers were so mean and scary!
I continued down the way I’d come, collecting ore as I went. I was dangerously low on durability. I tried to remember where I’d last seen an energy orb but couldn't.
Soon, an energy orb bubbled at the corner of my map and I went for it. One away from it my durability depleted to 0. My bow shattered into a mixture of fragments, both glassy and smoky.
You are about to die. Want me to save you?
From the front and back walls of the cavern, lightning gathered and struck me.
I couldn't think. My body jerked uncontrollably. Fear shot down my spine.
The sweet gray world of Mr. Black made it all go away.
“Congratulations on defeating Merchant Meeks and choosing knowledge.”
“Are you trying to make me angry?”
“No. Why would you be angry?”
“I didn't win. He gave up.”
He sighed and leaned against his scythe. “This too is a form of winning, that many attempt to complete through subterfuge.”
“By not giving up and forcing Merchant Meeks into doing something he loathed over and over for hours on end, your determination and constant refusal to lose reached his heart. With his conscience, he couldn't allow this torture of you and himself to continue. Especially when you were already getting close to defeating him.”
“But it doesn't feel like I deserve the win.”
“Not everyone receives what they deserve. Trust me when I say life is often better for it.”
I sighed. “You really love to lecture don't you?”
The corner of his lips turned up. “I don't lecture, just shepherd those through the right path.”
“Right. You have fun with that.” I slapped my face to hype myself up for facing Meeks. “Anyways, I'm ready.”
“Then follow me.”