I laughed when I faced Korren and handed her the 16th diamond key.
It may have taken me a couple days but my range upgraded from 5 to 6. I’d already upgraded my charge down to 12 and I’d collected 6 more Death Saving Crystals. Since it took 8 jadinfray to equal 1 crystal, that also had me increase my Weapon Recharge Cube count to 69.
I used my cleanliness spell to wipe the small amount of sweat and grossness from my face. Using it felt unsatisfying. I really missed showers. I’d almost give up a weapons upgrade just to experience one again.
“Alright, I’m going to reach the fourth floor!”
“Wait!” Phenic said.
“I bet you 1100 Death Saving Crystals that you can’t defeat Korren without using one of my crystals.”
My gaze darted to Korren who calmly watched us. “And if I lose?”
“Give me your earrings.”
“You want me to give up part of my armor? No way.”
“Fine, then give me the clothes Engra gave you.”
I narrowed my eyes at him. “They’re my clothes, what are you even going to use them for?”
“That’s my own business.” He stared at me. Just as I was about to tell him no, because I didn’t know what the fight with Korren entailed he added, “After you go down there I won’t be able to offer you this bet.”
I looked down at my new clothes. I liked them. I liked that they came from a friend. But they were only clothes and Phenic was offering 1100 crystals. I swallowed. “Okay. I accept.”
He looked like a cat who’d convinced its human to feed it early and I immediately regretted my impulsive decision.
I reached the bottom of the third floor and broke into the boss room. Unsurprisingly, Korren stood in the center, a war hammer resting on her shoulder.
“It’s time,” I said and floated down to her.
The corner of her lips turned up. “Indeed, Miss Knight.” She cleared her throat and adjusted her shirt sleeve with her freehand. “I would be remiss if I did not try to talk you out of this battle.”
I laughed without mirth. “I’ve already been through two of these conversations. Next, you’re going to tell me that there’s no way I can win against you and that I would save everybody time and effort if I would just give up and let Nenvari take me. Well, it’s not happening.”
“No. I want to tell you... to explain to you that below our feet is a floor with creatures far more dangerous than you’ve ever faced. If you do not stop now, if you choose to continue, there’s a very real chance that you’ll die. Actually die. And nothing will be able to bring you back.”
My first urge was to scoff, but truthfully, out of everyone I’d met in the mines, Korren had been the most realistic and honest, even if she was wrong sometimes. She always told me, in her calm classy accent, exactly what she thought.
“So, you’re saying that even if I defeat you, if I’m not careful I could still die on the next floor?”
“Yes. Please give up here. It will save you a lot of effort and may save your life.”
I shook my head. “I can’t. I’ve come too far to give up now.”
She sighed. “You’re too predictable, Miss Knight. Don’t expect me to go easy on you.”
“Good! If I can’t defeat you here then I’ll never defeat Nenvari.”
“While that is true you must keep in mind that, while you are battling to save your brother from a magic school that treats him well, I’m fighting to save you from permanent death. If you were here like the others of your kind it wouldn’t matter. But you’re here in person. Your soul is here.”
I tightened my grip. My bow felt cold against my skin.
“What are the rules? And don’t be like Phenic and try to obfuscate the way I can defeat you.”
She smirked. “The rules are simple. Your goal is to hit me with a killing blow. Each time you do I will switch to a more powerful weapon. When you hit me the 6th time I will be out of weapons and you will win.”
That actually sounded doable. Much easier than Meeks or Phenic. I narrowed my eyes. “What’s the catch?”
“I will have 2 types of disposable weapons. I get five of each type. Also, and this is the most important part, you only get 5 chances to defeat me before you fail and get sent to the Garden of 1000 Kindnesses.”
My mouth dropped open. “But I had like 200 chances with Phenic and infinite with Meeks.”
“And you’ll have only 3 with Prince Nenvari.”
“That just sounds unfair.”
“When has this game ever been fair to you?”
I clenched my jaw.
“At least you’ll get to go back to the main cave between losses but this will be the only floor you get to do that.”
I nearly dropped to the floor in shock. “Wait? I get to go back? That means that Phenic tricked me. That means I’ll have to watch him gloat about how I’ll lose our bet!”
She sighed. “Miss Knight, never wager when you are not positive you can achieve victory.”
“I’m new at this. Where I come from we don’t make bets on things. At least not until we turn 18.”
She smiled down at me. “One of your weaknesses is that you’re too honest and you take everything at face value.”
“I was able to defeat Phenic using deception.”
She shook her head. “That’s not what I mean at all. And using deception one time and being successful does not make you a good deceiver.”
I bit my lip. “I never said I was. I know that people are deceptive. They lie all the time to themselves and others. And they cheat to get ahead. But I don’t want to be like that. I’ll use deception in a fight as a tactic if I have to, but I’m not gonna live my life deceiving and tricking others. I also don’t want to live in a world where I need to assume everyone is lying to me for their own gain. I don’t have the time or energy for that.”
She smiled at me. “Engra was right, you are an adorable child.”
“I’m not a child.”
“Choose to live your life how you like, but be wary, because the worst people will tell you the truths or lies you want to hear, the ones you believe in, to deceive you for their own benefit.”
I raised a brow at her. “You don’t need to lecture me about that.”
“It’s one thing to know that, it is another to recognize it.”
“So, are you saying all this because you’re planning on twisting the truth somehow?”
“No, I’m telling you this because it’s something you’ll need to know in the future.”
“Since when were you an oracle?”
“It’s a logical deduction from the knowledge I know, so don’t argue with me.”
“Fine. Let’s start.”
She nodded and two doors opened.