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A note from Wilson A. Bateman

Okay, okay. It's a long prologue. We'll get to the end of it someday.

Let it be known that due to the heroic efforts of Reymond, Sarvaal’s Shield; Daida of the Searing Light; and Torgun of the Most Enviable Title, a new Dungeon Heart has been born!

 

Let it be known that Reymond, Sarvaal’s Shield, has claimed The Dungeon Heart of Fin Bambular, in the great city of Sarvaal, in the territory of the Penfold Confederacy.

 

Fin Bambular has been destroyed.

 

Shayla stared at the notification in shock. What were they doing? If Grimauld saw—if he discovered she’d been complicit…

Matters only worsened once the heroes exited. Once again, Torgun put his hand on her shoulder and handed her an item.

 

Bambular’s Molar — 54/54

The Dungeon Heart of Fin Bambular

The necrotic tooth of Fin Bambular.

???

 

Shayla was speechless. Grimauld would skin her alive if he saw her handling this!

“We don’t have time to explain, friend Shayla,” Torgun said. “Penfold will need you to guard these if we don’t return.” He waved away her protests. “Also, if you see anyone, anyone at all, you must join us in whatever dungeon we’re in. Swear it.”

Shayla looked at the Gardener King, confused, but there was no refusing orders. “I swear it.”

He patted her on the back and withdrew his hand. “Good girl. Now let’s get on to the next one.”

Shayla’s head spun with possibilities as the heroes disappeared a second time. Were they thieves disguised as heroes of the realm? Impossible. There was no way to fool the announcements. Those came from Unity themself! Could they be betraying Penfold? That was laughable. They had all but founded the confederacy after all, along with others of the First.

What does it matter, soldier? A voice in her head asked, borrowing the manner of her old drill sergeant. Are you questioning the orders of a superior officer?

Sir! No, sir! Shayla thought wryly to herself. She’d maintain discipline. Still, as time passed her thoughts did drift longingly to the skin of wine in her quarters, especially as the announcements piled up, advertising the destruction of one after another of the country’s most treasured dungeons. It’d make dealing with whatever Grimauld’s going to do to me easier, at least.

There was no time to leave though, because just then silent fanfare announced the fall of the latest dungeon. The heroes would be back within moments.

Daida led the way out, as fresh as when she’d entered the first dungeon. Torgun and Reymond weren’t faring as well, but Shayla wasn’t going to judge. She’d ended up in a similar state often enough, clothes torn, and beaten bloody. Hell, at least they’d gotten thrashed for a good reason. The Shayla of earlier that night might have argued that point, but sober Shayla was the one who had to deal with the bruises, and she foolishly found them to be more at issue than her wounded pride.

“Five minutes,” Reymond announced, and sank down against the wall between entrances. “Five minutes and we’ll be underway.”

“There’s only one left,” Torgun said. “Are you sure you want to?”

“She wouldn’t forgive me if I didn’t.” The Shield sighed. “Not after what she paid for it.”

“About that…” Torgun hesitated.

In some preternatural way, Shayla knew what would come next. She met Reymond’s gaze and held it.

“Absolutely not!” Torgun said, looking between them, and for an instant he wore Hannick’s face again, filled with rage.

“Her compatriots are rallied above,” Daida murmured. “How many of them won’t see the morning?”

“I still don’t fully believe the news. Luctus would never!”

Reymond was subdued. “You know what he’s been through, Tor. How many have we seen break for less?”

The man shrugged and looked away, expelling a defeated sigh.

Shayla felt like doing the same, but she refused to allow herself to look at things too closely. There was only one dungeon left, and while there were no runguides for it, word had traveled. She might be a drunkard and more than a bit of a cad, but Shayla was part of Penfold’s army. Others might look down on her, relegated here to purgatory, but she had never run from a fight. She wasn’t going to start now.

Before her feet could freeze, she turned again to the princess’ statue. She searched the stone gaze, hoping it might carry some secret message. Instead, the royal eyes carried a challenge, as if daring her to run.

Before long, Daida joined the guard. Shayla appreciated the unspoken support.

“Are you sure you can’t undo your ‘cure’ from earlier?” she asked.

The other woman laughed, then rummaged in her bag. “Actually, I might be able to do you one better.”

Shayla took the offered flask, which fit neatly in her palm. Even the flask was beyond anything she had ever owned.

 

Calsicum Preservative Flask — 520/520

Storing anything but the finest spirits in this bespoke flask would be blasphemy.

Contents: 5 ounces of Fairfeather Brandy

 

“Only a sip now. This might be the last of it.”

Unbelieving, Shayla pulled the stopper and raised the flask to her lips. The aroma was heady, and the brandy burned like creation itself, exploding inside her chest like a thousand suns. The pressure inside was too much, and so Shayla grew to accommodate it until she encompassed all of existence. Her atoms were stars, her skin was…

Her skin snapped into place, and Shayla was back. She looked at Daida with wide eyes.

“A little better than the swill they serve at festival, no?” the reluctant healer asked. Shayla could still feel the stars inside her, pulsing just under the surface.

“It’s amazing, no doubt,” she answered. “But does it get you drunk?”

Daida cackled and threw an arm around the guard. “I like this one!”

Shayla grinned. With the fire of the goddess inside her, she might as well be a hero herself. She could tell that Daida was similarly uninterested in reckoning with what lie beneath the merriment.

Torgun joined them to receive the buff and to reclaim the dungeon hearts from Shayla, secreting them into a satchel on his back. Then Reymond came as well, though he kept his eyes on the ground until he reached the foot of the statue. He steeled himself, and then raised his eyes to meet the princess’. The air between them felt as brittle as glass to Shayla, as though any movement could shatter it, revealing cutting corners. Lord Reymond gazed at the face, himself as rigid as stone. He whispered something, too low to hear and too private to try.

After long moments, Reymond broke his gaze and settled it on the dungeon entrance instead. Then, with a nod, he strode inside. Daida and Torgun followed him, and then it was Shayla’s turn. She strode forward before she could think twice.

 

THE SORROW






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About the author

Wilson A. Bateman

Bio: Wilson A. Bateman was raised all around the world, but predominately in Utah. Never able to constrain his interests to one field, he has degrees in German, Biology, Professional Writing, and Computer Science. He thrives on mixing Psychology and Philosophy into his work, and has recently made his debut in the Fantasy and LitRPG genres with his books: Auger & Augment and Serpent & Spirit.

He lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with his beautiful husband and their three hideous children.

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