As soon as the familiar patterned stone came into view the urge to test my armor almost overwhelmed me. I couldn’t use the free out until it really mattered, such as getting attacked by one of those terrifyingly scary badgers. With an involuntary shudder, I soared down.
After an hour of precise mining, I observed an obvious gap in my mini-map, similar to the first-floor boss’ gap. I froze. At this point, I wasn’t ready to face the protector. There were too many upgrades I needed and I still hadn’t tested my armor.
After not listening to Merchant Meeks and dealing with too many deaths, I considered myself more cautious than I had been. Instead of mining down, I flew up, gathering the ore I’d missed.
Unfortunately, since I wasn’t used to mining in an upward direction, I soon drilled into a very long badger cage.
The soft growl vibrated through my bones. From across the room, the creature’s angry eyes locked on me. Fear ran down my spine as it darted towards me and filled my vision. I jumped up two blocks and ran into an ice ball.
The monster climbed, claws gouging holes into the walls.
Expecting it, but still freaked out, I moved to the side. Ice smashed into the beast. It let out a scream. The ball froze and crushed it to death.
I sighed in relief and moved up one when the ice beam hit me. I only had a moment to register my mistake.
The map in my head changed giving me a brief moment of vertigo. Soon I realized that I’d teleported to just above the nozzle that had almost killed me.
I rested my hand against the stone. Okay, I could have handled almost dying a little better. It’s not like I wasn’t used to it by now. Okay, no, I totally wasn’t used to it but I was trying my best.
If I couldn’t get accustomed to vertigo after my armor’s teleport feature I wouldn’t be able to use it in battle. Since the next boss waited a floor below Meeks’ it had to be harder than my previous battle. Good preparation and getting used to my new stats would ensure my victory.
I clenched my jaw and made my way up.
Days of grinding later my stats looked something like this:
Battle Miner Kelly Knight
Ore Worth: 100
Death Saving Crystals: 45
Keys: 1 gold
Weapon Charge: 0/13
Weapon Range: 5
Weapon Damage: 2
Armor Teleport Radius: 3
Armor Charges: 1/1
I traveled down and touched the last block. At this point, I could go on to the boss, but really, I should collect more ore and honey.
I turned and shot up. Half an hour later, I almost died in a rock fall but was saved by my armor; unfortunately, it teleported me into a square next to a spider and I died.
“Would you care to continue, Miss Knight?”
“Let’s go. I’ve got ore to mine and crystals to collect.”
He rose a brow at me. “I'd like to point out that you're stalling.”
“I am not stalling.”
“Then you're procrastinating.”
“In what way? I’ve barely spent any time here and I've done my best to improve.”
He took his hand off his scythe and crossed his arms. The scythe stood straight as if it too looked down on me.
“Do you really think getting a few more death saving crystals and durability upgrades will improve your chances with the Second Floor Protector?”
“How can I know that? Every time I ask someone about it they change the subject or pop out of existence. I've even taken the advice from my Fae etiquette book and implied the question. They laughed at me. Laughed!”
“It won't change anything. Go face the protector now.”
I eyed him. “This is the most anyone has acknowledged the boss’ existence.”
“I'm getting tired of watching you.”
That staggered me. “I thought you were my friend.”
He sighed. “I like to think so. And as your friend, I'm telling you to stop. You're ready as much as you can be.”
“You think I don't know how over-prepared I am? I feel like I've wasted these past three days. My brother is in some kind of fae hostage area, I assume, and my parents have no idea where their daughter and son are. They probably think I've run away with Jake and Matt or that we’ve been kidnapped by some sicko who is doing terrible things to us.” Horrifyingly, my eyes started to water. “But if I go up against this next guy, whoever they are, and I fail. If I'm not prepared... I'm my brother’s only hope. I have to do this, I’m partially responsible for him getting taken in the first place.”
My eyes widened and I covered my mouth. I had no idea my feelings were still being influenced by that. Shouldn’t I have overcome these emotions of making a horrible mistake through my many deaths? Through trying my best to rescue everyone? But somewhere, deep inside the mistake ate at me.
Mr. Black’s eyes narrowed. “How are you responsible?”
I said nothing, too engrossed in my thoughts.
“Did you force him to play the game? Did you? No, of course not.”
“I closed the laptop when he still had one more chance. He’s smart. He could've had a plan.”
He snorted. “Most children who play the game spend all their crystals to immediately get to Nenvari. They barely bother to upgrade their weapons and durability except through their human money. This gives them substandard upgrades.”
My eyes grew large with every sentence he spoke. This was the most I'd heard about other players since I'd started.
“My point is that the next floor protector won't be easy to fight, but you've been ready to face the challenge for far too long already.”
“Okay.” I nodded and slapped both cheeks. Since I still had my bow in hand the tingle of smoke and glass pinched my cheek. “As soon as I get back I'll go down and face them.”
“Good,” he said. “Oh, and don't expect me to tell you when you're ready for the next protector. This is a one time situation and it will cost me.”
He started walking.
“What do you mean by that?”
I chased after him and found myself standing in the main cavern.
“The next time I see him he better be okay or I'll...”
“Who are ye talkin’ about, Miss?” Merchant Meeks asked.
Once again I tried to say his name but my mouth wouldn't move. Frustrated I stomped my foot. “I'm going to face the next boss. Any advice?”
“Give up,” all three said at the same time.
Actually, Meeks said, “Give up, Miss,” Phenic said, “Surrender now. You don't have a chance,” and Korren said, “I suggest you spare yourself the trouble and concede,” but it was basically the same thing.
“No!” I put my hands on my hips. “You all keep saying that. It makes me think you have no choice.”
All three disappeared and I threw up my hands in defeat.
“Fine. I'll do this on my own. Not like I expected help anyway.”
I flew into the mine and made it to the bottom of the second floor in record time. Three chests sat arranged in the center of the room. The familiar sound of wing beats echoed and the effervescent wings and potbellied body of Tasker Phenic flew into view. The smirk he made with his many-toothed mouth had me suppress a chill.
“I should have known.”