“Of course it's me,” Phenic said. “The moment you beat Merchant Meeks you became my opponent.”
“Is that what all that weirdness was about? I was your opponent so you wanted me to feel attacked?”
“Those were tests to see how you handled a variety of situations.”
“Did I pass?”
He sniffed. “As if I'd answer that.”
“So I passed!” I said, messing with him because I needed some kind of revenge.
“No! You did no such thing!”
I wagged my finger at him. “No take backsies.”
“Who said any—” He sneered. “Think whatever you like, it's time for an explanation.”
“Isn't this another battle?”
“I'm sure you’d love that! No. It's not. We’re going to have a little race.”
“A race?” I said with derision thick in my voice.
“The first floor was a handshake compared to this, you child! That floor tested your current fighting ability. This floor is about speed. We have two finite rooms with the exact same ore, monster, box and trap placements. Whoever gets to the bottom first and has collected the most amount of ore wins.”
"So even if I race to the bottom, if you have more ore I still lose?"
"What if I'm first but we have the same amount?"
"You'll win," he grudgingly said.
I thought about it for a second. It didn't seem too hard. “That’s it?”
“You only have 200 chances. If you lose all of them you'll be sent to the Garden of 1000 Kindnesses.”
“200? I bet I could do it in half.”
“Is that so?” he said in a way that warned me that I'd spoken the wrong thing.
“That doesn't mean I actually bet that.”
“But that would make things so much more interesting.”
“I'm too young to gamble.”
“Down here you're not,” he said. “If you win I'll give you 700 crystals, but if you can't defeat me within 100 chances you’ll begin to use them immediately.”
I frowned. That seemed uneven. “Is there some reason you need me to use them?”
“That is none of your business.”
“If you're not going to tell me then no deal. Let's go now.”
His pointed ears twitched. “Fine! The things here often resort to gambling to stave off boredom. We place wagers against things like, how many hours it takes them to get to the floor protectors, how many deaths it takes them to succeed in a given task, and how long they can resist the temptation to use a crystal.”
“You bet on me?”
“I bet against you. That you'll use a crystal before you reach the third floor.”
“So, if you win our wager then you also win those.”
I thought for a second. This could be my one chance to get more information. “What others do you have that are about me?”
“That you'll completely fail before defeating the third-floor protector.”
“You’re definitely going to lose that one. What else?”
“That you’ll last no more than 5 minutes after you defeat me. But I doubt you'll even win.”
I began to suspect I couldn't change our challenge based on his others. That left me one option.
“Throw in the answers to 7 questions and I'll accept.”
He snorted. “Not likely.”
“600 crystals and 6 questions,” I tempted.
“No crystals and only 6 questions,” he replied crossing his arms.
“500 and 5,” I said, copying his gesture.
His eyes narrowed at me. “100 and 1.”
“333 and 3,” I said.
He rose both of his needle-thin brows. “Interesting. Pulling in the rule of three. I accept.”
“Good. And if I ask something you don’t know or can't speak about you must say you can’t answer and it also won’t count towards my 3.”
“Fine. In that case, you must imply them so I can laugh at your attempts.”
My cheeks burned. “If I imply them, how will you know I’m asking?”
“Please. Being on the receiving end of your implied questions is like being hit on the head with a warhammer of stupidity.”
“Thanks a lot,” I said, not thankful at all. “Since we’re done betting, let’s open up the boss room.”
Two doors slid open on either side of the hallway. He entered his and I entered mine.
The thin room had blueish lighting and a chill that sunk into my bones. Oddly, my mind map had expanded to show Phenic’s location.
A low drumbeat echoed through the room. An invisible stick tapped a rim. Then once more. The shock of a familiar gong crashing made me jump.
Phenic dove down. I followed his movements as close as I could, speeding faster than I'd ever dared to. I took an aluminum, pushed ice onto a badger, crashed a box onto a nozzle destroying both.
He collected another ore and rammed into a wall of mushroom traps. Instead of dying he teleported below it 3 blocks.
I followed his movements too closely. When I rammed into the trap my armor saved me from death but instead of moving 3 down I moved 3 up.
I had to assume the fairy could control what direction his armor teleported him. He likely had a few more of those cheats hidden somewhere.
A leftover ice bolder sat on a sandstone block above me so I destroyed it. Ice crashed into and obliterated the trap then fell through, killing the human-faced spider below. By the time I’d passed the mushroom traps Phenic had a huge lead.
My heart beat like hummingbird wings. Even pushing myself to a dangerous speed, wouldn’t let me catch up.
Dread crept into each move I made until the walls glowed with bolts. Light burned my eyes. My muscles froze and jerked. A spike of fear. Shocking pain.
As the gray world appeared I sucked in a breath. I collapsed into a sitting position on the grey ground.
Just how was I supposed to defeat a cheating cheater? I didn't even get a chance to use a death saving crystal.
“Would you care to continue, Miss Knight?”
And how could I have forgotten Mr. Black? I scrambled up and hugged him. “Are you alright? What was the price you had to pay? Please tell me you’re still you.”
I stared into his fathomless jet eyes waiting for his answer.