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I snapped. Tired of being afraid, fed up with being chased, beaten, ambushed, and humiliated. We stopped and turned around. The sounds of our pursuers grew closer, and fast. I planted the shield in front with a loud thud. A narrow tunnel with a blind corner - an ideal spot to face them.

Estra whipped her head around to me. "What are you doing?"

I checked my status screen, we had 2,554 Essence.

"Fighting back." I dumped Essence into Shield Charge, going down the line, upgrading the tiers until we only had 154 left.

Shield Charge [t1]
Purchased upgrades:
[t3] Charge speed +30%
[t3] Stun chance +30%
[t3] Knockback chance +30%
[t2] Shield Charge damage +20%

"Fireball them as soon they come around the corner." I pointed to the bend ahead.

"Are you crazy?!"

Maybe a little? "No. Just ... Please?"

Estra's face grew serious. Zoey vanished out of sight, whereas Globba stood right behind us, bone club at the ready. They came around faster than I anticipated. Adrenaline pumped through our veins, making me eager.

I had faith in Estra. She hurled the fireball, and time slowed as it sailed through the air.

The deafening blast of scorching hot air washed over the shield and around us. We got shoved back, but we didn't lose our footing. I could smell napalm and it brought back memories that I quickly repressed.

[Essence gained: +1127]
[Essence gained: +1089]
[Essence gained: +1146]
[Essence gained: +1152]

I grinned as the Essence messages swept by. The grin however, was short-lived. Fresh prey jumped over the charred and torn bodies of their fallen kin.

Gritting my teeth, we charged. The upgrades kicked-in making me feel energized. And as if spurred on by a strong tailwind, we gained speed and momentum. I felt the heavy thuds, the shield creaked and groaned with every impact.

Knocked aside, the rats laid stunned, whimpering. Globba came through mercilessly clubbing them like baby seals. Zoey finished them with assassin-like precision.

[Essence gained: +980]
[Essence gained: +1030]
[Essence gained: +975]
[Essence gained: +1049]
[Essence gained: +952]

Two snarling beasts remained. The stare-off lasted briefly - they turned tail and ran. Our hands trembled, the fatigue of the post-adrenaline rush set in. We slumped to our knees, panting, heart racing.

"How do you like that?" I said, trying to catch my breath. Estra grinned in response.

After a short rest we examined the remains. As big as a wolf, the carcasses were heavy and we already had two bats. Globba took it as an opportunity to munch on the freshly grilled ones. Whereas the stench of burnt flesh and fur made me sick.

Zoey smiled. "Good work. I didn't think you had it in you."

"Yeah," Estra said. "Me neither."

We let Globba have her fill, and she even took a couple to bring back with her.

***

Like a mad man yelling at a wall, I shouted Arthur's name a dozen times.

Finally, the section of the stone wall vanished and we walked through. Arthur sat slumped over his desk, a mug in his hand, our hard-earned keg next to him. His dragon laid unresponsive on the other side of the cavern.

After our bat adventure, we had gotten back to find that our beer keg had sprouted legs, and instead spotted a neatly written, wax sealed note. We cleaned and grilled the bat meat, then went to see him.

He looked up and his head wobbled to the side, a drooling smile on his face.

"We brought some grilled meat, just like you wanted," I said loudly. "And I see that you already have the beer." His state brought me to sadness, reminding me of someone I knew, and much like her, this would go absolutely nowhere.

"Mmm. So .. is that ... is that ... what." He closed his eyes. "Smells ..."

We placed a large clay pot with a lid beside him. I considered 'taking' some of the loot and equipment piled up at the back of the chamber, but didn't want to chance it.

"What's the Luck stat about?" I asked Estra.

"The servant of gods?" She scoffed. "It guides everything, yet silent, invisible, unfelt, unknown," Estra said, as if quoting from a book. "Nobody really knows, but it's generally agreed that it's useful to have more of."

"Is there a way to figure out how much Luck stat I have? It's just showing a dashed line on the status screen."

She shook her head. "No."

It didn't appear to be a shared stat between the two of us. I couldn't tell whether we have been lucky or unlucky the past few days. We had been chased by redheads, bombed by bats, ambushed by a pongor and a phasmid, and beaten by a fiend. Yet we survived it all -- though barely. Fed and clothed, we slept on the floor like a pet.

What if I'm super lucky, and she's super unlucky? If Estra and I flipped a coin a hundred times, what would it average out to? If luck affects everything, it should affect coin tosses too. Maybe?

I borrowed an ink pen and wrote a message on the back of the note he left us, 'Please help. We need to harvest mushrooms on tall cave ceiling. We'll come see you again.'

***

A short walk to the settlement, we returned to our spot by the wall in the central chamber. A mound of lizards indicated where Globba slept, her snoring muffled by the scaly blanket. Beside the mound strewn about the floor laid bones of various sizes.

"If we had more mana, we could make more steel, heal more injured, and maybe even take a peek at that dungeon," I whispered to Estra.

"No, no, no. Dungeons are death traps, everyone knows it."

The mound shifted, moved. Globba's head peeked out, "Globba dungeon."

We turned and stared at our ... companion? pet? stray? I wasn't certain what she was to us. A cheerful acquittance? Certainly loyal -- so far.

"Globba dungeon," she said it louder, emphasising the second word.

"I think she wants to go the dungeon," I said.

"No, we're not going there. No," Estra said sternly. "Besides, we're low on mana.

I checked our mana -- uncomfortably low. It was also getting late in the 'day' here.

"Let's go tomorrow."

"No."

"Oh, come on, just a peek."

"No!"

"You can spend our current essence on whatever you want." I grinned.

She scrunched her brows into a grimace. "Not a chance."

I rolled my eyes. "You're no fun."

"You're that eager to die?"

I laughed. "Wouldn't be the first time."

Zoey appeared as if out of nowhere, and quietly sat down next to us. She produced a bar and a coin purse. I weighed the purse, opened it, peeked inside. Then poured the jingling coins into my open hand.

"Four silver, and two kilograms of iron." Zoey said quietly, and handed a single bar over to me.

Two kilograms of iron would cost 4,000 mana, 2,400 if we spend the Essence to upgrade the spell. "Gonna take a few days. We still need mana for tomorrow's slime dungeon."

"No," Estra protested loudly. "We are not going."

"Really? It's not as dangerous as most people make of it," Zoey said nonchalantly.

"You been there? In the dungeon?" I asked.

"Sure, sure. A few times, but don't tell anyone, okay?"

"Well, could you take us with you next time you go?" I asked.

"Yeah, okay. Tomorrow?"

"I'm not going," Estra said even louder.

I nudged my head over to Globba. "I think she'd want to come along as well. How about after a good lunch? So we'd have more mana."

"Okay," Zoey smiled.

Estra grumbled, shook her head, then turned away. I checked an hour later, and our Essence was completely spent.

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Lord Zaika

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Bio: Sonny, I've got a whooooole theme park full of red delights for you.

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