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“Explain these bosses to me,” I asked Mordecai. I fingered the chain wrapped around my right fist.

We found a tutorial guild about a quarter-mile from where we’d killed the Hoarder. Her body only dropped a single piece of loot, a scrap of paper called a Neighborhood Map. It didn’t disappear when I looted it, and Donut was able to grab one for herself.

The moment I touched it, about a square mile of my minimap automatically populated. I could zoom out and see all the red dots in the area—there weren’t any now. A couple rooms with white dots appeared, and upon closer inspection, they were all tutorial guilds, all with Mordecai inside. Other than Donut, there weren’t any other blue dots visible in this area.

There was, however, the X of a corpse on the very edge of the giant neighborhood square, right on the edge of the main corridor. This X was different. It was twice the size and pulsing. I hovered over it, and it said. Corpse of Crawler Rebecca W - Level 3.

I didn’t know how long she’d been there or how she died, but she’d been killed less than 200 meters from the safe room.

“Let’s go loot her corpse!” Donut said the moment she saw it on her map.

“I want to talk to Mordecai first,” I said. I noted the location of the closest tutorial guild, and we angled over there.

We opened the door to the guild to find Mordecai on his cot asleep. He had that photo of his brother cradled in his rat arm, and a pile of empty bottles littered the floor. The upset urn had been fixed, and the ashes all cleaned up.

“There are six main types of bosses,” Mordecai said after we woke him up. His voice slurred ever so slightly, and I could smell the alcohol on his breath. “Neighborhood, Borough, City, Province, Country, and Floor bosses. There are also others, but those are called elites. You won’t need to worry about them just yet.”

“So that thing we just fought was the most common type of boss?”

“Yes,” Mordecai said. “And now you’ll know how to recognize their lair. It’ll probably be pretty obvious to you from now on. The neighborhood bosses are the easiest to kill and easiest to find.”

“Easy,” I grumbled. My now-healed legs and fist still ached with phantom pain. “So, the one we fought, she was obviously a person from our world. Is it always going to be like that?”

I hadn’t understood a word the woman was saying, and I was glad for it. I already had enough trouble sleeping.

Mordecai didn’t answer for several moments, like he was trying hard to think of a proper response. “No, not always,” he said finally. “There will be a lot of… recycling… from previous iterations of the game. Some will be human stock, but most won’t be, or even human from this world. Or they will be human, but it won’t be as obvious.”

“It was quite the disappointing battle,” Donut said. “A Bronze Boss box? That deserved a Legendary at least.”

We hadn’t opened our boxes yet.

“All bosses drop persistent loot, and their corpses stay there for any crawler to pick it up. A neighborhood boss will drop a neighborhood map, as you’ve discovered. Higher bosses will drop other public items, which I’m not allowed to tell you about yet. But,” Mordecai added, “the ones who actually kill the boss also receive an achievement and a Boss Box. Bronze for Neighborhood, Silver for Borough, and so forth. Also, as you can now see, there’s a bronze star after your name in all notifications. You’ll get a star after each boss you kill.”

“Are there harder bosses on this level?” I said. “It’s not exactly fair. Most of us can level up, but we don’t get anything out of it until we can distribute the points.”

“The first three levels won’t have any of the Province, Country, or Floor bosses. But there are some powerful bosses out there. They’re meant to be taken on by larger groups than just two crawlers. You can’t run from most boss fights, so be careful.”

“Okay, I’m opening my boxes,” Donut announced, turning away.

I had 15 achievements and seven boxes to open, including that boss box and the Gold Crowd Control box. While Donut grunted with annoyance at all the torches and pet biscuits, I turned back to Mordecai.

“Is it normal? This number of achievements?”

He nodded. “It’s not normal to get that Legendary box you did, but the first three floors are designed to drown you in low-tier loot and achievements and beginner skills. By the time you have to choose a class, you should have a good idea of what’s going to work for you. Once you hit the fourth floor, the achievements are harder to come by.”

“A spellbook!” Donut cried when she opened her Bronze Boss Box. I didn’t have time to read the description before she glowed, indicating she’d already applied it to herself.

A moment later, Donut cried with rage.

Mordecai grunted with amusement.

“What is it?” I asked.

“Little one, you really must examine these items before you equip or apply them,” he said.

Donut glowered. “It’s a stupid spell.”

“It’s a very useful spell,” Mordecai said. He turned to me. “She just learned a spell called Torch. It makes a curl of light follow you around. The more she uses it, the more powerful it’ll become.”

“It’s a good spell,” I agreed.

I pulled up my notifications. I was awash with odd skills, like a skill level increase in Dumpster Diving and Jump Attacking. One was particularly interesting:

You’ve gained a skill level! Iron Punch level 3.

When simple brutality isn’t enough. Newsboy cap not included.
With a skill like this, you can always find work as a 1920’s street tough or a collection agent for a bookie.
War gauntlets and lumpers will protect your hands and enhance your punching damage without losing your bare-knuckle bonus. Each level of this skill increases the enhanced fist damage bonus by an additional 10%.

If I was going to utilize my bare-knuckle skill, I really needed to find something to protect my fists. Breaking my fingers every time I punched something was not a good long-term plan.

My lower-tier boxes were all crap. The last three were more interesting.

Bronze Boss Box (5/7)
Tome of Wisp Armor

Silver Goblin Box (6/7)
Stick of Dynamite X5
Lighter
Satchel of Gunpowder

Gold Crowd Control Box (7/7)
Enchanted Spiked Kneepads of the Shade Gnoll Riot Forces
Scroll of Confusing Fog X3
Potion of Iron Skin X5

“That tome is a good find, but it costs 5 mana to cast it, and you only have 3 right now. I would hold onto it until you decide what your build is going to be. It’s quite valuable. Or give it to the princess,” said Mordecai.

“I’ll take it,” Donut said, looking up at me. She didn’t even know what it was yet. I read the spell’s description.

Wisp Armor
Cost: 5 Mana
Target: Self Only
Duration: 5 minutes + 1 minute per level of spell. Requires 5 minute cooldown.
Surrounds your body with tendrils of light. While ineffective against physical attacks, this spell negates 75% of incoming damage from magic-based attacks. Provides temporary immunity to mind-control effects. Higher skill levels increase both effectiveness and duration. It also makes you look all wispy and ethereal and druid-like. A great spell to have if you’re a club kid or trying to bang a vegan.

A magic protection spell. That would be useful. I’d hold onto it for now.

The Scroll of Confusing Fog filled the room with a mist that only the mobs could see, and the Iron Skin potion raised my physical armor by 100% for five minutes.

The real prize was the kneepads. While it wasn’t pants, I was happy to finally have something to put on my legs. I pulled them out of my inventory and examined their properties.

Enchanted Spiked Kneepads of the Shade Gnoll Riot Forces
Adds 10% Damage Reflect to all equipped armor.
Cancels all Momentum-based attacks.
Made of skin and fur and the spiky things from the back of Thorn Cadavers, these kneepads are both good protection and they’re stylish. Stylish, that is, if your knees are cosplaying as hedgehogs.

The kneepads were built like slip-on knee bracers, so I pulled my feet through each one and pulled them up. They appeared much too small, but they magically adjusted. The spikes were thin, needle-like. Each spear was about eight inches long. They were retractable and appeared to only magically pop themselves out when needed. I hoped I wouldn’t end up skewering my hand if I reached down to scratch my legs.

“Remember when I said you looked ridiculous before?” Donut said, looking me up and down. “Mordecai, darling. Is there a worst-dressed award for the dungeon?”

“Actually, yes. Sort of,” Mordecai said. “After the main episode tunnels, a hosted special comes on where a couple commentators discuss the state of the game. They usually do a segment on weird things happening in the dungeon. They do a lot of contestant profiles and such. Sometimes when people win boss fights, they’ll pull them out of the game for 10 minutes to do an on-camera interview. The show is almost as popular as the official program, though they’ll never let you watch this one.”

Donut’s eyes got big as saucers. “They interview people?” She looked at me. “Carl, we need on that show. Make it happen.”

I sighed. “That’s not how this works, Donut, and you know it. And besides, I am not your agent.”

“No, no you’re not. Miss Beatrice is my agent, and once we reunite with her, she’ll make sure I get on that show. But she’s halfway around the world. I figure we’ll have to wait until the fifth or sixth floor before the dungeon shrinks enough for us to find her. I really hope we don’t have to wait much longer than that.”

I exchanged a look with Mordecai.

“Sure,” I said finally. “Now let’s get back out there.”

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About the author

DoctorHepa

Bio: Doctor Hepa is person who likes angels, demons, pugs, and cats.

He's also known as Matt Dinniman, the author of Dominion of Blades and Kaiju: Battlefield Surgeon. He's here to read stuff and to post stuff.

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