I appeared in the main cavern. Meeks sat at his desk reading a romance novel titled, The Devilish Rogue’s Caress. Keymaster Korren stood to one side studying a key with a jeweler's lens. Tasker Phenic reached up to tug on her shirt. She looked down.
He pointed to me and flew up on effervescent wings.
I walked up to Merchant Meeks and set my bow down.
He jerked in his seat but didn’t look up.
“Merchant Meeks. I know you love your romance novels but you have a customer here.”
He slowly peered up at me. “Yer less angry than I thought ye’d be.”
“I’ve had time to calm down and really think about things and I know you did what you had to.”
“So, can a girl get an upgrade?”
“Aye miss. How much ye got?”
I grinned. “Bank, Mr. Meeks. I got Bank.”
“Let me see.”
I handed him my inventory pouch and he tapped the glowing screen on its top.
“925! Not bad, Miss. considering it took ye 4 hours te get 600 for yer previous upgrades.”
Tasker Phenic snorted with derision.
I shot him a glare.
“What? I’ve never seen anyone as slow as you. 4 hours to barely get ore worth 600 coins! You’ve only upgraded your bow two times and you’ve only earned 8 of my crystals!”
“Hey. I happen to be very careful down there. If I die I actually feel it, unlike the other people who come down here.”
“So what? It’s just a little bit of temporary pain. It can’t be as bad as all that.”
I shared a look with Meeks.
“A weakling is what you are. Both you and our dear Merchant here.”
“Ye can get 5 upgrades, Miss. And ye’ll have 25 coins left. Yer next upgrade’ll cost ye 200.”
“Deal! How many can I get at 200?”
“5 more after that. Then it’ll jump to 300.”
“You’re killing me here.”
He took out two pencil shaped crystals and three thicker crystals with a clearer color. The two pencil ones wiggled and shot into my bow, then the other three.
“That’s the cost of upgrading, Miss,” he said. “But, Phenic is right about one thing. Ye do need to stop being so afraid of death here and start mining faster.”
“Perhaps I could help with that,” a new voice said as something clanking tapped my shoulder. I turned around and had to look down to stare into a new face.
“You are such a delightfully adorable child,” the small creature said. She looked like a very short human with a pudgy face, bulbous nose, and a tinker’s hat. Probably irritated at my staring, she tapped my forehead with her thin tall stick that curled at its tip. A lantern was chained to the top of it and it hit my chin. “Armorer Engra’s, my name.”
As I rubbed the spot the square lamp had dug into, I heard groans from all around.
“What are ye doin’ here Engra? And visible at that?”
“This child needs armor, and I happen to need something from the second and third levels of the mine.”
“And what might that be?”
“For the second floor. Honey! Glorious, glorious honey. It’s for my special Honey Wine.”
“Come off it. What’s the real reason? Honey from this mine ain’t worth your level of crafting.”
Korren crossed her arms under her breasts and raised a brow. “Indeed. For a single armguard, any village of Dark Elves would gladly trade a thousand pots of our exquisite Precipice Honey, made by bees we’ve selectively bred for millennia, who have access to the finest and rarest of flora.”
Engra waved at Korren to stop. “Relax. I’m not offering her good armor. Just my old work from when I was an apprentice. It’s not worth the metal it’s made from.”
“I’ve heard of your apprentice work,” Phenic said. “It’s known for blowing up in people’s faces.”
She looked at me. “Child. I will offer you a set of armor if you collect 10 honey traps.”
“Miss Knight. I will offer you one Death Saving Crystal for every honey trap you destroy.”
“Um. I accept both.”
Engra’s laugh sounded like the jingle of small bells. “There you have it.”
Feeling awkward looking down at her, I sat. “But I don’t understand why you would want honey from the mine and not from Korren’s people.”
She tapped her nose. “I could scent it on you, even though you’d died.”
“—Dear child! You encountered a badger, correct? No, no, don’t answer, I can tell from your face you did. And did the badger eat the honey trap or attack you when it had the chance?”
“It ate the honey.”
She nodded sagely. “Mine Badgers are the most critical of honey connoisseurs. And mines are very regular. If one honey trap is so good a badger will die to eat it then you can rest assured that your mine has the best honey.”
“So, how do I collect it?”
She pointed a finger at me. “You have to figure that out yourself. Not all mines are the same, you know?”
I guessed a direct answer was too much to ask for in this place. “And what will your armor do?”
“Not too much. If you’re about to die it will teleport you once to a safe square within a radius of 3. And after that, you’re on your own until you die and it resets.”
“So it’s almost like a free reusable Life Saving Crystal?”
She tilted her head. “You haven’t used one of them yet, have you?”
She giggled and winked at Phenic who glowered at me. “In that case you delightful little girl. I will give you a gift.” She pulled out a crudely made tiara with a blue gem at its top. “Wear this instead of that bulky helmet.”
I took it. My helmet appeared in my inventory and the tiara disappeared. I assumed it was on my head. “I don’t understand. What does it do?”
“It’s an upgrade. A very slight upgrade. Instead of having the information projected in front of your face. It will appear in your mind, much the same way your inventory does. Also, it has a scanning radius of 10 blocks.”
I raised both brows, impressed. “Thank you!”
“Don’t thank me, sweetpea. Just get me that honey. I need to present a gift to King Zoichenrei in a few days and if it’s not ready by then I’ll be done for.” She made a throat-cutting gesture, tilted her head to the side and stuck her tongue out.
“I will. It shouldn’t take me too long to get it. A half day at most.”
I stood and moved to talk to Korren.
“Is the war going so poorly then that you have to offer your scraps to children?” Phenic asked.
I stilled. This was the first news I’d heard of the strange world outside my mine.
“Goraitheshselan is not at war,” she said. “Everything is perfectly fine. And if you talk like it isn’t, even down here in these mines that are not technically within the kingdom, something could happen to you, Tasker.”
He snorted but did nothing to contradict her. That more than anything made me believe that things were not as they seemed or as simple as the mining game first lead me to believe.