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Since I couldn’t see any nests nearby I decided to collect the several nearby copper ore. During my travel, a box and nest appeared on my mind map.

I also dropped my bow several times trying to get to my next possible diamond or death if a spider crawled out of it while I was unaware.

When I reached the box I prepared myself to fire upon any monster that could crawl its way out. I destroyed the blocks underneath the container and watched it crash. Surprisingly, a diamond did appear. I collected it.

That done I flew toward the nest leaving that necessary 1 block between us.

I put away my tool and called for a cage. When it materialized in my hand I winced. The burns itched so bad and using them to hold anything made it worse.

Since it worked so well last time, and since I didn’t need my feet to dig through blocks, I dropped the ball on my right foot, kicked it up a few times like a hackysack until I felt the button depress then punted it. It flew in a shallow arch and hit. I once again saw it separate and cage the cute little predators.

What, no blowing up my foot? No capturing myself? No dud? I guessed that not everything in this realm had to kill or hurt me in some way to work.

I flew after 3 more ore but since I concentrated so hard on levitating my weapon, I once again failed to notice a vine trap. I found myself teleported, but in a direction that revealed 2 more pieces of ore and a box. Conveniently, my weapon came with me.

Those traps were becoming the bane of my existence.

I collected the copper and once more prepared myself to face any monster that appeared.

I dug underneath it. It broke open. To my pleasant surprise, a fourth diamond key appeared!

“Whoop!” I threw up my hands but lost concentration. The smoky bow fell down a tunnel, landing near a jadinfray hole. My hands shook.

I thought for a moment that I’d just collect my bow and move on. Why risk my life for a mere crystal and a possible recharge box? But that was my fear talking.

I thought I’d understood the dangers of the Death Mind. I thought that using it as much as I had made me an expert. I’d been wrong and now I feared to lose who I was more than I cared about not losing this game. That was unacceptable. Winning against Nenvari was the only way I could save Matt and the others. I had to win, even if I risked succumbing to the Death Mind's psychopathic apathy.

Slowly, I flew down the tunnel. At 3 away I used Minor Telekinesis to lift my bow and bring it closer to me.

With a calming exhale I crept closer by two and began laughing hysterically. My bow crashed into to the ground. The creature slithered out of its doorway.

Fear of the monster and fear of the Death Mind froze my thoughts.

The jadinfray trilled happily and waved its spider tentacles.

My eyes began to water and my throat hurt from the laughing.

As I watched the tentacles drag the creature’s black body toward me thought I wouldn't be able to move, but my instincts to not die overcome my fear and ever so slowly I touched my thumb to my ring finger.

My laughter stopped and the pain and itching turned into an annoying existence I tolerated. I picked up my bow with my free hand and traveled down 2 blocks then darted under a light boulder. I waited for the creature to near me.

It bulleted forward. Just before it reached my block I moved away, crushing it under the bright rock.

I released the technique. With a jolt, the fear and pain returned.

“Ow!” I dropped the bow and hissed with pain. “Geez.” Just how in the hell could my Death Mind technique self be so nonchalant about experiencing pain?

I checked my hands. About half of each finger and all of my wrist appeared healed, unfortunately, my right palm, where I held my bow, looked worse.

Still, I was happy that at least this time I overcame my fear. Now I had to do it again. No big deal. Facing death, facing an existence of pure apathy, I did that every day.

I swallowed.

Since I had a hole to scour for prizes I slowly climbed back up and into the cave. Inside I collected a giant crystal ball that entered my inventory as, “Crystal Ball of Ancrick.”

 

***

 

“Would you care to continue, Miss Knight?”

“Tch.” I had kept going, almost reaching the end and collecting enough ore to bring me up to 4125 but I accidentally crushed myself and wound up in the gray. “Not yet. I can’t believe I trapped myself so easily.”

He smiled. “To be fair, you might have been okay if you hadn’t dropped your bow.”

I rubbed my palms together. “At least me dying has healed my hands the rest of the way.”

“That’s the way of things here.” He smiled sheepishly. “Unfortunately, I’m not ready to give you your book back.”

“Huh? Why not?”

“The spell that holds the pages together is more complicated than I first perceived, with layer upon layer of spells and traps for any who unravel it. I ordered a tool that should help me get past them without destroying the book but it may take two or three actual days to reach me.”

“Oh. Is your sister that good?”

“Charcoal has a few hundred years on me. She knows things I’ve never heard of.”

I sighed. “Since I need to wait anyway I may as well read the next section.”

“I read through that and frankly, some of it is inaccurate and some is outright lies. If you’re willing to trust me I can give you a summary of the truthful parts. It’s the least I can do since I’m making you wait so long.”

“That does sound better than reading it by myself.”

He sat down. Not wanting to feel awkward, I did the same.

“There is no map of the Realm Under the Hill because it is not a single world with a sun moving around a galaxy that is hurtling through an ever-growing space. It’s more like a vast unending bath filled with bubbles of various sizes and shapes. Each of these bubbles is, for lack of a better definition a country. They vary in size from a few meters to several thousand Earths.”

My eyes grew large imagining it. I remembered seeing a video where someone went into the desert and created a scale model of the solar system where the earth was the size of a marble. Seeing how far apart the planets were in comparison blew my mind. This speech was having the same effect. “Wait. So are the bubbles worlds?”

He raised a brow. “I said they weren’t.”

“Okay, then how do they function? Like a Dyson sphere?”

“How do you know what a Dyson sphere is?”

“My mom listens to a lot of SciFi books while taking me to school.”

“No, they function in different ways. One or two may act that way but a majority of the ones I’ve seen are a bubble with horizontal layers. Some have a kind of sky with a light and dark source, and others are completely underground. But they almost all have layers. For instance, one could have a light source layer, gas layers, a ground layer, and several underground layers.”

“So like a spherical jar that someone has layered colored sand in?”

He brought the tips of his fingers together. “Perhaps ‘bubble’ gave the wrong impression. The countries in the realm have shapes more chaotic and nonsensical than the countries from your world. They also brush up against each other in odd and often inconvenient places. Where they touch it creates a doorway from one country into the other.”

“Wait, so where are we?”

“In-between life and death.”

I rolled my eyes at him. “You know what I’m asking.”

“Well, you’re in a very small bubble. It is basically these mines. And at the bottom is the entrance to Goraitheshselan. Because that country is so large, and these mines so small, this bubble falls under that kingdom’s responsibility. It also connects with several other smaller countries.”

“So, if I wanted to, could I get from here to some other country that wasn’t Goraitheshselan?”

“You could. That’s likely how Engra comes and goes. If you knew your way around the local countries you could even find a different entrance or access to one of the light fae countries. But leaving would be the same as conceding defeat to Nenvari.”

A sharp laugh escaped my lips. “So, I can’t even go on vacation. Not that I was going to.”

“You should also be wary of traveling. While the rules of magic stay the same within the realm, the rules of each country may vary significantly. In one country, wearing red will have you marked for murder, in another, eating any local food will trap you there forever.”

“Woah! First of all, scary. Secondly, I was told the whole food thing was a myth.”

The corner of his lips turned up. “Reapers tend to have more experience traveling the countries than your average mine dweller.”

“Fair enough.”

“It can be frightening but one of the overarching laws of the realm is that everyone who enters a new country must have a copy of the bubble’s rules appear in front of them in a language they understand.”

“Wait, why didn’t that happen to me?”

“It's only between countries, not between realms.”

“That’s stupid.”

“Do you want me to continue?”

“You just told me I’m in a bubble country that might look weirder than a gerrymandered district and has rules I don’t know about. I need some time to process all this. Preferably while mining.”

“I understand. I’ll take you back now. But you shouldn’t be too scared of breaking the rules here.”

“Why not?”

“Because this is one of the countries where the rules are built into living here.”

“So that means?”

“If you can do it, it’s not against the rules.”

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A note from DragonOfRochester

Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story! You guys are kicking butt and taking names.

A couple things. 

Firstly, Wednesday is the start of NaNoWriMo, I'd like to participate and use this as a kick in the butt to finish writing Cold Steel Dig but it will be difficult if I have to edit and post 3 chapters a week without an unacceptable decrease in quality. Since you all have been fantastic, I’d like to know if you’d prefer the following options. A. I will continue the schedule as is, no changes. or B. I finish out the week and go on hiatus until December 1st and then start posting one edited chapter per day until the book is finished. I have added a poll to that effect.

Secondly, In Los Angeles, California on November 24-26 there will be a small SciFi, Fantasy, and Pop Culture event called Loscon. It’s fun. I’ll be there (but not in any official capacity). If you’re in the area during that time, you might want to check it out.

 

I edited this chapter while listening to "I'll Make a Man Out of You" from Mulan. 

Today's editing lol: Kelly almost wound up in the gay instead of the gray.

 


About the author

DragonOfRochester

Bio: Rochester has a degree in Videogame Art and Design and 8 years of industry experience. She challenged herself to write a LitRPG with a nonstandard game type and post the result here.

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