After the trials and errors, the dying and dying, Entin didn’t know how to process the fluttery ecstasy of success. Bailey wouldn’t tell any of them about the loot, saying she’d reveal the treasures of the deep once they were back in the city.
And so she rode on Entin’s back—her leg regrowing ever so slowly—all smiles and pride. They were all that way, this fledgling group of Dungeon Runners that felt more familiar having endured such an event together.
The dungeon updated, replacing the 0/5 treasures with 1/1. This dungeon was entirely different than the others in that all it offered was a single event after clearing the initial mobs. There probably wasn’t a riddle, just a warning about the upcoming event should the adventurers wish to leave.
It was the first cleared dungeon in the world! Their names were added to the leaderboard for everyone to see: 27 minutes, 34 seconds. And it wasn’t only bragging rights. If they kept their first place position until the dungeon reset, they’d each receive some type of prize, Mailed to them by the System.
Triton crashed into the pillows near Mentof’s vendor booth. The old merchant said something about how the pillows were only for the working Runners, to which Triton promptly ignored.
Entin placed Bailey down, gently, then took up a spot next to her.
Aayra knelt, grinning.
“What’s up with you?” Triton asked.
“I died!” she said. “It wasn’t bad at all.”
“Oh yeah? I died twice!”
“As did I. And the next dungeon, I’ll die more than you!”
“Bring it on, girl.”
“The next dungeon?” Entin asked.
Aayra nodded. “I’ve never felt this way before. That was so . . . well, scary at first, but then thrilling and exciting and, just, wow. I guess it was like I was someone else for a time.”
Bailey summoned her screen with a right-swipe, trailing purple pixels. The air distorted, then fragments of light formed a window with an outline of purple and green. She made the screen public, then turned it.
Entin stared. . . . Aayra stared. . . . Triton grinned.
Mentof ogled the screen. “Oh my! A golden fishing lure?”
“Privacy, old man,” Triton said. “Get on back to your table.”
“Wait, wait! You’re on my pillows, so I have every right to be here. And you’re too dimwitted to even know what you’ve got there. A golden fishing lure can’t be crafted. It’s a requirement to catch [Jumbo Varicuda].”
“So! I’ll sell for you. I know exactly who would pay top dollar.” Mentof summoned a sellers’ contract and added some numbers. “I’ll take ten-percent as stipulated by the contract. And if I can’t sell it for more than four gyl, you get it back.”
“Four gyl!” Triton yelled, and market-goers turned to give him their curious stares. The talk of money in a time where every chyp was precious, would always garner the interest of others.
“Keep your voice down, son,” Mentof said. “And I think I can get more than that.”
Aayra slid her finger along the bridge of her nose, as if to adjust her eyeglasses. As soon as she realized what she had done, she pretended to scratch her nose instead. “The Fishing Guild.”
Mentof humphed. “Yes, though I’m the best one to negotiate a higher price.”
Aayra didn’t look entirely convinced.
Mentof licked his lips. “Fine! I’ll do it for eight percent. And then you don’t even need to worry about it. You’re a Runner; I’m a merchant. Let me do what I’m good at.”
Triton eyed Entin, raising an eyebrow.
This wasn’t really something Entin knew a whole lot about. Running, dungeons, and getting the loot was one thing. Selling it? But it made sense to let someone who had that experience, deal with it.
Aayra shrugged. “Let me see the contract.”
Mentof nodded and handed the paper over. “It’s all boilerplate terms. Everyone uses the same sellers’ contract.”
Entin glanced at Bailey. She seemed happy, excited. Then a chime resonated in his head. Someone had sent him a message. With it being early afternoon, it probably wasn’t Lourne. They only did dungeons in the morning and weren’t scheduled to attempt the water dungeon for another few days.
Maybe Hendrick wanted to beg him to return. Ha!
Triton clapped. “Boom! We could totally make this a business, right?”
“If we’re starting a business,” Aayra said, tapping the edge of the contract to turn the page, “I’m the best one for the job.”
“Pfft. The hell? It was my idea.”
“You’re terrible with money. You and your challenge runs are more akin to a gambler than a businessman.”
“It’s not gambling if you win!”
“I can track our assets and liabilities. I can make sure we each are paid fairly. And most importantly,” she said, pointing to the contract, “I can make sure we’re not cheated.”
“Cheated!” Mentof yelled. The market-goers glared.
“Keep your voice down, old man,” Triton said.
“Yes, cheated,” Aayra said. “This contract gives you an indefinite period of time to sell the lure and prevents any of us from selling or retrieving it for a minimum of one year. You can literally take the lure and use it yourself for free and we’d be powerless to do anything about it.”
“Well . . . you know . . . that’s not my intent.”
“Your intent should be communicated in the contract.” Aayra pressed a finger against the contract and a new screen materialized. She typed, tapped, and swiped, then handed it back to Mentof.
Aayra took on a professional air. “You have two weeks to get five or more gyl. Every week longer than two, you lose a percent of your commission. If you haven’t sold the lure after four weeks, you must return it. And,” she said, sliding her finger along the bridge of her nose again, “if you do a good job, maybe we’ll work with you again.”
Mentof nodded slowly. “How you know so much about contracts?”
“My daddy is— was . . . a lawyer.”
“Right . . . okay,” Mentof said, obviously eager not to dig into the depths of sorrow they all felt for lost ones back in the physical world. “You guys have a deal. And it certainly won’t take two weeks to sell, I assure you that.”
“Yeah-yeah, fine,” Triton said. “Aayra can handle the business stuff.”
Bailey crossed her arms. “I’m the treasurer.”
“We don’t need a treasurer,” Aayra said. “You can—”
“You can’t do it all. And I don’t think I trust ya with all the money. I’ll keep our records so you can’t screw us over.”
Entin looked between the two. “Bailey’s right. And it doesn’t hurt to have some redundancy. I’m our fastest Runner, but we still have Triton, right?”
“Hey!” Triton yelled. “We’re going to have that race. In fact! I think we should do it right now.”
“Now? We’ve burned half our Stamina. We should—” Another chime resonated in his head and he sighed. He summoned his game screen and there were two messages from a Dren Becker.
“What is it?” Triton asked.
Entin shrugged and tapped the Accept button to allow the message and alert Dren—why did that name sound familiar?—that the message had been received.
To: Entin Soroy
I need your help, Runner. We’re not getting out of this alive.
Huh. It was that guy and his family from yesterday.
To: Entin Soroy
For all of Redeemers’ stupidity, I can’t believe I am asking this, but Lourne said you could be counted on. Will you come? What’s it going to cost?
“We may have a customer,” Entin said. He made his screen viewable and turned it to the others.
“Fifty percent,” Aayra said.
“Ouch!” Triton said. “You are heartless.”
“It’s not about being nice, it’s about value. And we’re a business, right? It’s not only Entin, it’s all four of us, now. Besides, we don’t even know what loot they have. It might not be anything.”
“I agree,” Bailey said. “Besides, if they all die, they lose their gear. We could request all the loot and they’d take it.”
Aayra nodded slowly. “I change my mind, we should—”
“No,” Entin said. “We’re not taking all of their loot. Fifty percent. That’s the rate of a Dungeon Runner. It’s insurance. Everyone wins. And . . . that’s what I’ve sent.”
“Boom! Overruled by the leader!” Triton said.
Then another chime came with a message, a message that not only agreed to the terms provided but one that validated their business as being valuable.
Entin revealed the message and said, “Looks like we’ve got a job to do.”