Chapter 2 banner
Dungeon Runner 1 · Chapter 2
Dustin Tigner

Entin stood in the dark entryway of the orphanage, a place he was lucky to call home. He pushed the door ever so gently until it clicked shut, not wanting to wake any of the children.

His Satiated stat read 23 points above max. Lourne—the short, gruff man, leader of the party of adventurers—made up for Entin’s losses with a large dinner. He now had the Overate trait, draining his Satiated stat 10 per hour instead of the usual 5.

He smiled. A dungeoneer. That was what they wanted, an agile addition to their party. He didn’t have to be a market Runner anymore, a Runner for all the ungrateful vendors that drove them like slaves.

He crossed the room with a scattering of tables to his left. Scraps of paper of all shapes and sizes were covered in sloppy, crayon drawings.

The game designers didn’t plan for an orphanage, or really, didn’t plan for orphans. While everyone eighteen and older received free housing and starting money, those without parents were given nothing.

Entin fell into the unlucky camp of being born two weeks late. Or was it a blessing? After everyone he cared about had been killed in the real world, he now had a new family, one that appreciated just how special life was and understood how fast it could be taken away.

Footsteps floundered in the hallway that connected to the bedrooms. “Entin!” Ohto yelled, laughing. He was no older than four with blond hair and hazel eyes.

He wore the default clothing all players were given: indestructible brown shorts and shirt, a mark of being too impoverished to own real clothes, but functional nonetheless.

The kid was barefoot with little pink nubs for toes. His tiny hands grabbed Entin’s leg and slid around him as if to hide.

“Ohto!” Ausemnie whispered from the hallway. “You were supposed to be in bed, you little demon.” She held a candle as she walked, casting a flickering light. She had auburn hair pulled back into a braid, contrasting her fair skin and warm undertones.

It was amazing how well she handled the orphanage. It was probably the only reason the place existed, and she wasn’t much older than the rest of them. Everyone had a part to play.

Entin summoned his inventory and materialized a single scyl. The silver disk glinted in the candlelight with a transparent and purple diamond shape at the center. It was enough money to feed a few of them for at least a day, if not more. He flicked the coin to Ausemnie, and she caught it.

“Doing Runs this late at night?” she asked, inspecting the coin.

“Got something new coming up. That was just the bonus.”

“Well, that’s exciting. You’ll have to tell me about it tomorrow. Ohto,” she said sternly, “Entin is very tired . . . isn’t that right, Entin?”

Entin turned to the kid and tossed his blond hair.

“Story! I want story!” Ohto said, his face full of excitement.

“Don’t think we have any books, champ.”

“Pretend, like last time.”

Ausemnie snatched the boy and threw him onto her hip. “It’s much too late for a story. But maybe . . . if you’re good, Entin can tell you a story tomorrow?” She looked at Entin when she said that last bit, and he nodded.

“For sure, Ohto. I’ll have the grandest of tales to tell.” A story about a dungeon, and it would, undoubtedly, thrill all the others as well.

“I don’t want tails,” Ohto protested. “I want story.”

Ausemnie laughed. “A tale is another word for a story. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.” She then nodded toward the balcony doors across the room. “I think Bailey is waiting for you, Entin. Hold on to your head, okay?”

“Tomorrow, tomorrow,” Ohto said, sticking out his lower lip.

“Yes, you little runt! It’s off to bed, so we can have fun tomorrow.” She spun twice, then carried the little boy down the hallway, echoing laughter.

Entin opened the balcony’s glass doors.

Bailey leaned on the stone railing, looking out over the city. She twirled an orange and red flower that seemed new, or . . . who knew with her. She had a different flower every day, like her mission was to find one and pester him about it.

“Where’ja go?” she asked, then turned to face him, forehead furrowed. “You didn’t bring back my water vial. I hit Exhaustion twice! And since you were gone, Hendrick forced me to do all the jobs—If you don’t Run today, you won’t Run tomorrow. You left me with a freakin’ slave driver!”

Oh. . . .” Entin had completely forgotten about the vials. He swiped left with two fingers and summoned his game screen to his inventory. With a few taps, the unused vial materialized in his hand.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I got a new job, and . . . I guess I lost track of time.”

Bailey let out a breath and dropped her shoulders. She was never one for staying mad. She took the vial and placed it in her inventory. “So you’re Runnin’ for a different vendor, now?” Her voice lost its edge, growing a bit uncertain.

“For dungeoneers!” Who would have thought he could use his Runner skills beyond the walls, outside of the market? He’d finally get to see a bit of this new world, see what was out there in the Wilds.

“The Wilds? That’s too risky!” she said in a loud whisper. Of course, she didn’t appreciate the job for what it was: freedom and opportunity. “What’s so wrong with bein’ a market Runner?”

“Everything!” he said. “No one values us. They shortchange us whenever they get a chance. When there are risks, we are the ones that take the full brunt of it. I’m just . . . I’m just sick of being undervalued.”

“You don’t have to take those jobs. Take the normal ones like I do.”

“Bailey . . . look, we’re working all day just to buy ourselves some food and maybe give Ausemnie a little something to help the others. How long are we going to do this?”

Bailey shrugged and looked down the street. Lanterns glowed a yellow-orange, casting light on the few people still out and about.

The sky was filled with thousands of white dots that blinked here and there. It was the only time Entin could see a bit of their old life, back in the colony charting its course among the stars.

Bailey didn’t say anything.

“I have to do this,” Entin said.

“It’s a dungeon,” she said. “You think takin’ timed Runs is a risk? You risk everything in a dungeon. Moment you step through the entrance, your items will take on the Droppable trait.”

“I know how it works. And that’s why they need me. I’ll stay back and pick up the items. I’m the safest person in the group. And if they die and drop their gear, I’ll get it out of there.”

Bailey exhaled. “And if you die?”

“It’s not like I am going to take much with me.”

“Just your clothes. Vendors aren’t going to hire someone who can’t afford real clothes. A Runner practically in underwear, you imagine?”

“I don’t want to be a Runner!” Entin said.

Fine! Do whatever you want. Maybe you’ll see how good we have it when you’re stuck in your dungeon with no way out.” Bailey said, nostrils flaring. “I . . .” Her voice cracked. She stopped and stared for a moment, then walked to the balcony’s glass doors and left.

What could he have said? That he needed this, needed to feel important, that Eizel would never respect a market Runner? That the adventure called to him? Things couldn’t—shouldn’t—stay the same.

He sighed and studied the stars. The constellations shimmered in all the wrong places, different shapes from the ones he used to study. These were nameless, without stories, without memories.

A piece of him felt cracked without Bailey. They were partners in this new life, weren’t they? Partners ever since their families died.

He’d just have to make her understand somehow.