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It was the first time Amelia had seen Yik without her purple-haired muse riling her up, and actually the woman was fairly reasonable after all. Even knowledgeable.

"If you found the knives useful, you really probably want something cheaper and lighter,” she had explained to Amelia. “You say you don’t like weapons, but some bo spikes could really back you up, you know. Throw the needles in a pinch and hop off to some other place. Otherwise you might get cornered by mels and not be able to escape.”

“I see.”

Amelia had never truly considered any weapon use before; her Combat Module had always been enough, and the added weight was too cumbersome for her. But the throwing knives she used in the first dungeon dive ended up extremely useful... for the very short opportunities she had to wield them.

[Throwing Hands] and [Mana Burst] and [Overload] and the rest of her skills were powerful, but at a long range they were inaccurate and too costly in energy. An actual ranged weapon, though...

What Yik here was suggesting to her was to fundamentally alter her combat style to add these bo spikes to her repertoire, tiny sharp metal sticks that could be hurtled at foes from across a cavern or from up on high.

They were so small that they almost looked cute, Amelia thought. But she knew well that a blow to the head from a bo spike was exactly as deadly as a blow to the head from a flintlock blast.

She nodded at Yik and said, “Sure. I’ll take a bundle.”

“Really? No arguing about it? Sweet!” Yik did a cute little jig, as if she had won a bet or something.

Mino and Phelia, who had been elsewhere in the weapons shop, came up to the counter to greet Amelia. Phelia saw the bo spikes by the cash register, walked over to Yik, and placed a silver coin in her palm. The goblin woman’s jig continued.

“Darn,” Phelia whispered.

“Oh,” Amelia said.

“Well, are we about ready, then?” Mino asked. She held a kit of ropes and spikes and a whole harpoon launcher, so big that Amelia doubted it would fit into the bag she carried on her back.

“Yep.” Phelia, of course, carried an oversized-for-her axe, the same kind she lost on their first dungeon dive. She would have been much better off with a dagger or even a small crossbow, and yet she insisted on those power swings. Despite everything, Amelia was glad that everyone was around to humor the girl.

“Let’s get on with it,” Amelia said.

And they did. Not long after leaving the weapons shop, the trio (plus Otto the olm) went to the Beechhurst entrance to the Manadhmeth Dungeon and began their day trip.

Just something small, Mino insisted. Finding the treasure Phelia spotted, retrieving it, getting an early dinner, and heading right back up. Amelia felt for sure that it would never be that simple, but at least she had no ulterior motives this time. When things went wrong this time, she could rest easy knowing she had absolutely nothing to do with it.

As the entrance platform lowered onto Floor 1, Phelia jittered around like a vibrating servo, more excited than Amelia had ever seen her. She was so anxious that even Otto had trouble playing around with her. Instead, he spent all his time staring up at Amelia, longing for affection that she would not give.

“He really likes you,” Mino said. “I wish you’d like him.”

“You shouldn’t have brought a pet to a dungeon dive.”

“Otto’s from the dungeon, you know. He’s supposed to be down here as a legendary beast. Some time in the future, he’ll be just as strong as one, too.”

She looked down at the creature looking up. No eyes, just that too-wide mouth and keen sense of smell and slimy gray skin. She imagined him ten times as big, stalking around just before pouncing on its prey. Lean, nimble, and with enough teeth to rip a whale’s torso in half.

Now she somewhat understood the appeal in keeping a cute infant version of a legendary beast around.

The entrance platform reached the ground, and the moment the gates opened, the olm and the kobold rushed forward as if to chase a prize target. “Adventure!” Phelia giggled. Amelia and Mino strolled quietly behind them. Floor 1 and its massive expanse of buildings

“I’m honestly ecstatic you came,” Mino said once Phelia was fully out of earshot. “I really meant it, that you really didn’t have to join us, but... I really like having you around.”

“Thanks.”

“Dealing with Phelia all on my lonesome would have been pretty tough, so thanks.”

“You’re a better mother than you give yourself credit for.”

Mino gave that kind of smile that seemed reserved for Amelia in these quiet moments. The flush in her soft cheeks communicated something that Amelia was not quite prepared to investigate. “Well, I’d be more impressed with myself if Phelia wasn’t a grown woman.”

“Is she?”

“You’d assume so.” Mino laughed and then added, “Maybe we’re being a bit mean to the poor girl. Let’s let her have her adventure today. Maybe we can coax some melanoids out, and this time we’ll be ready for it.”

“You say that now.”

“I do say that now, you’re right. What, do you plan on any convenient absences this time?”

Amelia did everything in her power not to gulp.

Otto and Phelia were far up ahead on the street, but Mino and Amelia were finally catching up to them, thanks to the street ahead being completely blocked. An impromptu parade of dancing fools shouting as they marched from one pub to the next. They wore wreaths of tiny mana lights around their head, and one of them rode in a self-powered wheelchair that played fast-paced music from a built-in jukebox.

“At this hour?” Amelia asked.

“Time doesn’t really matter to Manadheads,” Mino said. “It’s morning on the surface, but in the dungeon, time is just a number. You know?”

“I’d hate to live down here. That sounds horrible.”

“And yet for them, it’s the life they prefer.” She put a finger to her lips. “Plus, it means lots of parties for us surface-dwellers. I know back in the summer Hummer used her diplomatic privilege to get a pass down here, so she and Aeo could come down to party and pick up dates. Didn’t see them for three days. They didn’t bring anyone back with them, so...”

“Wait, you know about Hummer’s family?”

“Yeah. She’s really shy about it, but it’s not a secret, really. I don’t know if Aeo or Gruzut know, but I’m sure Phelia does.”

Speaking of all that... “Don’t tell anyone,” Amelia said, “but I ran into Philip Koei the other day.”

Mino’s curiosity lit up. “Really? What the hell was he doing around here?”

“Said he was just passing by.”

“I guess Beechhurst really is growing, huh...”

Amelia tried not to roll her eyes, but it happened anyway. “He wanted to talk to Phelia and admit his love for her.”

“He already did that though.”

“Again, I mean.”

“Gods, no, we can never let him do that,” Mino said. “He was so awkward to be around after that. Constantly talking about his issues to each of us, like trying to get us to convince Phelia to love him back.”

“And then Philip and Hummer...?”

Mino shrugged. “I don’t know. I try not to get involved in any of that. All I can say is, Phelia and Hummer are great right where they are right now. In my hostel forever. That’s how I’d like it, at least.”

The way Mino beamed about some impossible reality made Amelia blush. Seeing those pretty pink eyes twinkle in light of a nearby mana lamp as she talked about her love for the hostel, for Beechhurst, filled Amelia with second-hand hope that she wished would never be diminished.

Even if it could never come to pass. If Beechhurst ever grew, it would be as a gentrified neighborhood spilling over from the other side of the river. If the hostel kept all of Mino’s friends around, it would hardly be a hostel at all, anyway.

“Why not just turn the hostel into a house, then?” Amelia asked. “There’s hardly any guests who aren’t boarders.”

“Well, everyone PLANS on leaving, so it wouldn’t really work,” Mino explained. “Hummer’s leaving in, what, a week? And Phelia’s moving on eventually, too. Aeo will get back on her feet eventually, and I don’t know about Gruzut, but I’m sure she’ll check out without even telling any of us.” She smiled. “That just leaves you, Amelia. You already paid for a whole year, so...”

“I’ll leave when I destroy the entire North Sunwell Company.”

“...You know, I just realized that that might impact my business if you do that. Can you become queen or something so you can help out Beechhurst?”

“I won’t become queen. Not my goal.”

“Then what is your goal? What are you going to do when you destroy all the bad colonizers?”

The way Mino looked at her caught her off-guard. It was not a debate-starter or some intentional provocation of her ideas. The woman legitimately did not know what Amelia planned to do after committing her acts of vengeance, and wanted to know what was coming next that might change Fleettwixt’s path forever.

Mino lived a peaceful life. Not an altogether happy one, but content enough that she could live in Beechhurst for another few centuries with friends and lovers and making ends meet. It was a sham existence supported by the horrors of exploitation... But it was still her life. Destroying the North Sunwell Company would potentially wreak havoc on the entire continent, the likes of which had never been seen before. It did not dissuade her in the least from her goal, but it at least poked in the side of her Access Core that all her actions, even her greatest, had rippling consequences.

“I don’t plan that far ahead,” Amelia answered, finally.

“Fair enough.” Mino fiddled a finger through her hair and said, “If you ever need to talk about... that stuff, I’m always here. I enjoy our little heart-to-hearts.”

“I’ll keep it in mind.” That was Amelia’s way of saying she enjoyed them too.

They caught up with Phelia and Otto and their conversation ended there.

“C’mon,” Phelia whined. “These guys are still dancing on the street. We gotta get through so we can get to Floor 3 already!”

“A little patience goes a long way,” Mino said sagely.

“I’m too short to be patient.”

Eventually, though, they did pass the blockade of dancing Manadheads and reach the central entrance to Floor 2. The passageway was blocked by several more golems than the last time, though; increased security checks likely due to the Fleet’s Pride attack. Or Amelia’s attack. Or the increased melanoids everywhere. Actually, it genuinely made sense why the security concerns were so heightened.

In front of them, though, was another adventurer by themself. Equipped with two flintlocks holstered at their side and a long crossbow at their back. Not-so-hidden knives strapped to both legs. A wide black hat and a dark cloak that stretched all the way down to their ankles. The only real hint to this person’s identity were the two twitching ears pointing out from underneath their hat—this was a felid, and one with considerable combat prowess.

Phelia gasped.

Mino blushed and tilted her head to the side. She whispered, “That’s a hunter.”

Amelia raised what would have been an eyebrow. “A hunter? More like an assassin.”

“A monster hunter, probably,” she said in an even lower tone to help suggest that Amelia should lower hers. “They’re probably going down to kill off melanoids or something. A real pro. Basically, if if the mage enforcers are too busy, they contract hunters out to get the job done. And that person looks...” Mino trailed off, clearly swooning at the presence of this fully decked-out hunter.

“They’re not so hot,” Amelia said.

“Want to beat them at their own game?”

Amelia looked over to Phelia, who had her hands over her mouth to prevent herself from running up to the hunter and gushing at them. This was her day, her search for treasure, and Amelia knew it.

“No.”

“Sounds like you’re just jealous, then.”

“No.”

“Sounds like you just wanna impress me, then.”

“No.”

Mino huffed. “Well, that hunter sure will if we follow them...”

As the trio descended into Floor 2, then 3, they exchanged few words, and the hunter, always just up ahead, seemed oblivious to their existence. That was until, right before the entrance to Floor 3, they stopped in their tracks. Tensed up their hands as if ready to quick-draw.

Phelia giggled nervously. “I wanna be like them, oh my gosh.”

“One day,” Amelia said.

“Today!” Phelia shouted. “I’m gonna find that cool treasure, and I’m gonna be a heroic adventurer!”

Her words echoed through the caves of Floor 2. The felid hunter turned their head back, whiskers showing, and winked at her. Then moved on.

Now, more than ever, Phelia had become one of the most adorably determined beings Amelia had ever encountered.

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A note from Thedude3445

Writathon first chapter! Hopefully many more to come. Also, today (11/2) is my birthday. My present to myself is a new hot felid monster hunter character who will almost certainly play a major role in this mini-story-arc.


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About the author

Thedude3445

Bio: I like to watch movies.

Avatar art by Bryan Lee O'Malley.

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