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A note from Wilson A. Bateman

Only one more piece of the prologue after this. Guess I'm going to have to get writing again soon.

This picks up from Daids asking Shayla to kneel.

Let it be known that Shayla, Private First Class of Sarvaal’s Silver Gate Brigade, has been titled by the authority of Daida of the Searing Light.

All hail Shayla the Unflinching!

“All hail,” the heroes intoned in unison.

Shayla appreciated the gesture, though she was nowhere near as pleased as she’d always dreamed she would be. Oh well, she thought. At least Mum will see it. I hope that makes it easier for her.

“My thanks,” Shayla murmured as she stood, then bowed again to Daida. The woman pursed her lips and nodded but didn’t smile. Instead, she reached out and gave Shayla’s arm a squeeze. The two men nodded their farewells, and Shayla turned toward the white again. It wasn’t two steps before someone grabbed her arm again. Reymond this time, with Torgun close behind him.

“If you see her, friend guard, if anything lies beyond—could you give her this?”

Shayla looked at the trinket in her hand. That made two Legendary items in one day! Torgun’s eyes widened in surprise, but his surprise couldn’t match Shayla’s. This was…

Singular Love — 360/360

Gifted by his betrothed, this locket served Lord Reymond, Sarvaal’s Shield, as a symbol of love gone beyond the pall of death.

+10% to Wisdom

Clasping this locket to your heart grants immunity toDespair.

“I ca—” Shayla started, but Reymond cut her off.

“If she’s still there, if there’s any chance… I have to let her know...” Reymond’s eyes were red as he pulled her into an embrace.

Shayla’s surprise at receiving the Legendary item paled in comparison. As well be embraced by a god! She tentatively reached to pat the man on his back. You’re the one dying here! She thought to herself. And he’s the one sending you! Still, even given the current circumstances, she couldn’t deny him the comfort.

Lord Reymond broke the embrace after a few moments, then rested one hand on either of her arms and gazed at her. He’s not sending me to my first day of school! She thought, but she couldn’t ignore the honor of such attention, nor the heat. Damnit, woman! Even with your head on the chopping block?! The latest timewave crested over them and on toward the others.

She met Reymond’s eyes then, glacial blue and as fierce as a raptor’s. Beneath those eyes, however, he smiled, self-effacing and apologetic.

Shayla’s eyes widened in outrage, but she didn’t have time to finish her thought. Reymond’s hands tightened like vices around her arms, and within an instant Shayla found herself airborne and rocketing toward… Torgun?

She slammed into the druid with impossible force, knocking him backward into the receding timewave. She heard Daida shout, sped into unintelligibility by the relative timeframes, and then there was a flash of white.

...

Lord Reymond, Sarvaal’s Shield, has died.

...

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

“Double damnit!” Daida shouted.

Torgun pushed Shayla off him and rolled to his feet, looking for all the world like he was going to dash into the white himself.

There was no white though. From her vantage on the floor Shayla could see that all that was left where the square had been was a palm-sized cube.

Daida reached down and, with a single hand, hauled Shayla to her feet. The guard winced. That’s a cracked rib, broken clavicle, and… is that a punctured lung? She tallied the familiar injuries like the notes of a fine wine.

“Oh, for gods’ sake,” Daida growled, and restored Shayla to health within seconds. Then she stalked over to the newborn dungeon heart and punted it with all her strength into the darkness.

“Hey, we need that!” Torgun protested.

“Like hell we do! This dungeon can rot. If Luctus claims it, so much the better. I for one have had enough of it taking my friends.”

Torgun nodded wearily, his eyes downcast. “What a waste to come back in here.”

“I’ll say. We shouldn’t have let him come.”

“I’m sorry,” Shayla said, glancing toward where the white had been. “It should have been me.” Her relief that it hadn’t been her only added to her guilt.

“It’s not your fault,” Daida said, glaring after the kicked cube. “He never planned to let you go in. That stunt with the necklace was just to get us to let our guards down.” She turned to face Shayla. “Oh well, let’s go. We still have Luctus to deal with. Maybe Reymond could have thought about that!”

They backtracked through The Sorrow. The dungeon had once again lived up to its name, though, given Daida’s response, Shayla thought it might be better named "The Fury." The woman periodically broke the silence to curse her long-time teammate. Torgun kept quiet, trudging somberly through the timewaves. It might have been faster to end the dungeon by taking its heart, but no one had it in them to retrieve it. They were all anxious to reach the exit.

Once there, Shayla followed the heroes out, taking one last look at the most infamous dungeon in Penfold’s history.

Torgun and Daida had frozen just outside the entrance though, and Shayla walked directly into them. With their stats she couldn’t so much as jostle them, but—

An apology died on her lips. In the light suffusing the space around Daida, Shayla could see the man. He was barring their path, standing almost casually, but the heroes’ defensive postures screamed a warning to Shayla.

“Daida. Tor. I’d almost hoped you wouldn’t be here. Still, it’s good to see you again.” His voice carried almost no emotion, malice or otherwise. He was taller than either hero and seemed taller still with both of them crouched.

“Luctus,” Daida growled. “Finally lost your mind, have you?”

The Great Sage straightened his robes, momentarily bringing Shayla’s attention to his equipment. Every item was Legendary, boasting stats that even Reymond hadn’t matched.

“Probably,” he answered, expressionless. “It’s about time, isn’t it?”

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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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