Chapter 4,
Enter the Hero

Apprehensive of entombing herself for all eternity if the door jams after closing, Shantae none the less went into the... sacrificial...? slaughtering...? the room with mutilated corpses and a bloody altar. There, she pushed at the metallic skull. There was a deep click, the light in its eye-sockets died and the door began unhurried descent, cutting her from the outside world.

Only then did she think to check for hidden traps and doors. Because being in an enclosed space with so many dead bodies was creepy! It felt like something would jump out of the darkness any minute. She checked everywhere, including behind the altar, but the walls were solid.

Sitting under the lone torch in the hall, Shantae pulled the loot out. First, the white boxes with green emblem. Opening one revealed... Lots of little things most of which she couldn't even identify. There was a small roll of gauze, tiny vials of transparent liquids and boxes of pills. So, this was a doctor's kit. She tried reading labels but found they were written in the Old World Tongue. Groan. Lots of medicine, and she could only use the bandages. Well, at least until she meets someone who could read this stuff.

Next was the pistol. Small, sleek and having too many parts to make heads or tails out of it. At least the trigger part was obvious. She fiddled with it for a while, always holding it carefully pointed away from herself. The top part around the back could kind of slide back. There was a long, thin box hidden inside the handle. Its top part could be pushed in, feeling springy. Other than that, the pistol wouldn't fire. She learned how to make it click, after sliding the top part back and turning a tiny lever on the side into correct position.

So, it was out of charges. Shrugging, Shantae set it aside. She had a perfectly working pirate pistol with infinite magic ammo.

Next were the tinker muskets. The two thin ones were... weird, but not really more complex than the pistol. She decided to begin with ammo, four small flat metal boxes looted from... ahem... dropped by zombies, the same as ones sticking out of the muskets in the bottom, forward of the trigger guard. These appeared sealed at first, but further inspection revealed their top side could be flipped open in pushed just so. Inside it were... brass charges? Sort of a pointy bullet attached to a brass cylinder that contained black powder. Probably. This was her first time holding a weapon that fired real non-magical bullets.

More could be glimpsed underneath the top one them. After some fiddling Shantae managed to pull one out, it had to be pushed in certain way to come loose. The next one was pushed in its place as if by a spring. Ingenious! But now she had one charge less. Her tongue stuck out in concentration, Shantae kept trying until she managed to push the charge back into the box. Hmm... But how many does it hold...? There was only one way to know. Sigh. She began pushing the charges out. After the thirtieth one the box showed its spring-pushed bottom. So each box held thirty in total. Next came the tedious work of putting them all back in.

All right, with four boxes it was one hundred and... Wait. Could she really trust unfamiliar semi-feral zombies to keep their gear in perfect order?

Groaning loudly in frustration, the girl sitting cross-legged began a long, boring task of pushing all the charges out of all the boxes, then pushing them back in.

..Someone, jump me now..

Argh. There were indeed 120 charges in four perfectly full boxes. Plus however many in the boxes still attached... Shantae let out a defeated sigh. She had to count those too, hadn't she?

Pulling the box out of the musket wasn't hard if you knew where to push before you pull. She knew now. Next, did this one have any sliding parts? She pulled and pushed and nudged until the top of the musket suddenly came loose leaving her with a cover of sorts in her hand, staring at the complex innards of pistons and springs and fiddly thingies... Ugh. She spent considerable effort finding how to put the cover back. Sooo... There was a knob on the left side, framed by a long thin slit. Pulling it back resulted in a charge falling out of the musket. When released, the knob sprang forward. Oh, this was the counterpart of pistol's pully butt. Fiddling some more, she determined this was exactly what allowed the weapon go click when she pulled the trigger. When a small lever on the side was in one of its tree top positions, not its bottom-most one. Next came inserting the little box of ammo. Huh, this was the simplest part. Then pulling the trigger - just to check the hunch. No boom. Right, so pulling the sliding part either makes these weapons ready a charge or makes them spit one if it was already there. She did just that. Now—

Her danger sense prickled making the girl yelp and jump onto her feet dropping the musket. What...?

There was still the same silent hall around, ill lit and permeated with revolting stench of decaying flesh. The dead brute, still as ever. So what could... Oh! She slapped her face. Of course bullets could bounce off stone, she was in a small danger of hitting herself. So, she had to open the door and bring her shooting experiments outside. Which may attract spiky apes while she'd be distracted. Or... She eyed the dead brute speculatively. What a bad thing to do, but... She concentrated making herself think of it as ham. A large ham.

Pistols were easy and familiar. Just point, squeeze one eye shut to aim better and shoot. Exactly like her fire magic, while she still had it, using her index finger to shoot fire. But muskets were two-handed weapons. Shantae tried holding it differently to see which way would be more comfortable. The weapon was big and unwieldy either way, but she found it best holding the under-handle in front with her right hand while the butt rested in the crook of her left elbow, her left index finger on the trigger. Directing the musket at the... ham, she pulled the trigger. BANG! Owie, her ears rang. Also, a small shiny something had zipped in front of her. She bent down to pick up a brass cylinder that had been formerly attached to the bullet. Ouch, hot!

Soooo... Shantae contemplated while sucking on her finger. She should probably switch hands. Otherwise - she just knew it - one of these hot rejects would eventually find a way into her top.

With her left hand on the handle under the barrel and her right hand on the trigger it felt... More proper. Shooting again and again she explored the effects of the small lever. The bottom position, the trigger won't even move. The second position. Firing one shot each time she pulled the trigger. The third position. Firing two shots when she pulled the trigger. In a very quick succession. Then, the final position should be the gatling mode! She tried it. The gun roared struggling in her hands, and then it was out of bullets. Gosh, that was fast!

So, she thought pulling the ammo box out of the second, identical musket. How much were 120? Oh, with eleven from this one it was 131 in total. Not much, probably. The spiky apes were hit and then fought and still one was left standing, with two of them against three zombies — by the way, shouldn't she visit there and collect their ammo? — and the pink gorilla was hit at least twice but had still defeated that last spiky ape and took a dozen shots from the pirate pistol. So, let's say, one ammo box for one pink gorilla. Making her limit just a few of these beasts in total. Reassuring in case of a random encounter, but assaulting some place similar to that courtyard? No way.

Deciding to leave one musket out as her subspace pocket was finite, Shantae pulled the next weapon out. The grapeshooter the deceased green guy used. This one was black color with dull shine, the outer shell around the barrel full of small round holes, the butt dark red wood. All in all it looked simpler, more robust. A fitting dangerous look for a powerful weapon that makes people explode.

It turned out this one's pully part was the handle under the barrel. The red charges had to be fed manually into the bottom. Having only four, she didn't risk firing it.

Next, the cannon. Now, this one was big. And bulky. And heavy. Being five times stronger than any untrained girl of her build, this was the first time Shantae felt the weight.

...aaand it had holes at both sides, which left her stumped until she just looked at the trigger to tell which end was the front. Still, why a second muzzle in the back? Pulling the ammo drum out after some effort, she looked through the barrel at the torch. Yep, it was see-through, a smooth round pipe.

A mystery. One that could get her killed if she figured the weapon's function wrong. Leaving the ammo drum aside for now — it had four charges left — she examined the cannon. There were two handles, both close to the front. One was just a handle, sticking at an angle to the left, opposite the ammo drum, the other was at the bottom, the trigger built into it, a bit further back than the first one. Now how would... Aha. With her left hand on the forward handle and her right hand on the trigger handle, her arm around it and the weapon resting on her forearm. She twisted her head to look back. Yes, it was sticking past her elbow. She was pretty sure it was how it should be held. It felt over-sized and heavy, even without the ammo drum.

Fiddling with it some more revealed a tiny lever that made a protrusion on the left lit with green light. Looking into it, Shantae found it was kind of looking glass, making the opposite wall appear closer and much better lit. It had sort of criss-crossing lines, mightily convenient. But how was she supposed to be looking into it...

Figuring the weapon could be also held on her shoulder was a no-brainer after that. But there was something gnawing at her. Shouldn't a cannon this big have a huge kick? Wasn't that why they always put cannons on these heavy wooden things?

Wracking her brain for a solution, Shantae tentatively put the ammo drum back in. The answer was on the tip of her tongue, something Uncle Mimic told her about forces and counterforces... Hmm... Non-magical cannons worked by blackpowder exploding and pushing the cannonball forward, right? And the kick was because of the, howzit, conversation law stating that the same explosion had to push the cannon back. So, if you removed the back of the cannon, the explosion just could come out freely and there is no kick?

It looked very much like it, leaving her puzzled why wasn't everyone using see-through cannons with two holes. Must remember to ask the Uncle when she comes back.

On the practical side, she had to watch what was behind her, lest the unleashed explosion bounces off a wall or something to kick her in her derriere.

Retreating into the corridor and angling to the side a bit so that cannonball hits a wall if it bounces, she tried firing the cannon. Then she found that tiny lever that kept these weapons locked and tried again.


She had to rotate the drum making sure a charge was actually inside before her experimenting succeeded. The cannon barked, with nearly no kick just as predicted, but the boom was earth-shakingly deafening as explosion bloomed on the stone door. Shantae's ears were left ringing.

Such terrible power! Whatever things this weapon was firing, these were definitely not cannonballs. Any closer and she'd be hurt by the explosion. Not a safe weapon to use, not by a long shot, but this may be what would let her explore the local dungeons. She couldn't imagine a spiky ape, or even a pink gorilla, surviving such a blast.

Pulling all the crates out of her subspace pocket, Shantae carefully opened them — which required the scimitar to pry the covers — to swap the half-empty drum with a full one before putting everything back in hammerspace. She had five full drums, which made for 33 blasts in total.

Oh yeah!

Well, it was time to head out, wasn't it?

She practiced for a while, growing accustomed to three new weapons in addition to the pirate gear, swapping them back and forth. Then she donned her habitual pointy red shoes and went to the altar room — the bloody mess there still making her uneasy — to push the skull button and head out...


What if she died again — a real possibility — and was brought back here, only for there to be a couple brutes investigating their friend's lair?

She shuddered imagining herself being torn apart by the angry beasts, then returning to life in a green flash, only to be killed again, and again, until auto-potions run out.

No, no, no. This spot was too important. Losing the ability to return here at will would be a small price for having a peace of mind. Waiting until the door finished ascending, Shantae pushed the button again, then ducked under the descending door on her way out. Here. Now it could only be opened from the inside.

The door thudded down with finality. Shantae jogged down the slope with her usual confidence, ready to pull out the grapeshooter or the scimitar. Yes, she couldn't use the dash anymore, but she still could jump high and land on their heads point first. Yes, getting away would be harder without the boots. But she was still very good at running, she managed without the boots all these years.

Moving deliberately towards the yellow key cave, a known landmark, she chose to go along the blood channels. She regretted that decision the first time she had to step in, without the boots. There was no helping it, the shrubbery was just too dense. Pulling her shoes into hammerspace, she stepped into the channel barefoot. "Yeech!" She shuddered in revulsion as the slimy bottom filtered between her toes, lukewarm blood lapping at her ankles. Still she pressed on, the disgusting mess squelching underfoot.

Nobody confronted her, there were no new monsters around. Coming to the three zombies' ambush spot she found a horrible sight, their bodies were savaged. The spiky ape had the top of its head blown off. Holding her bile in, Shantae looted the corpses. She only found two ammo boxes partially full, others were either emptied or caked in blood.

Flamings skulls were still milling about behind the blue grate, the body of the pink gorilla in the blood pond untouched. Climbing up beside the gurgling bloodfall, she found sort of a path running along a blood brook flowing from the grand bloodfall that was streaming in terraces down the cliff of the plateau.

She did not have to descend into the jungle again because the rock she was on ran straight up to the towering wall of jagged rock. Just as she thought, there was a path up, partly natural and partly carved into the cliff face, winding up criss-crossing the terraced bloodfalls.

Peering cautiously over the edge, the purple-haired dancer climbed onto the top. She found herself on a jutting peak connected by a bridge to a small castle of dark crimson stone.

The space was partly flooded with slowly flowing blood, framed by a jutting rock wall. There was a flat stone ring resting on raised columns, decorated with mutilated corpses and parts thereof. Gah, the stench!

Avoiding these decorations carefully because they were dripping writhing maggots, Shantae happened to step into the blood... Which turned to be hot, but bearably so. Well, this place was anything but natural.

The big castle was in clear view from the bridge to the left of her, the bonfires on its wall burning brightly. There was a ruined bridge running across the ravine separating the crag it stood on, its middle part nothing but a pile of rubble far, far below. Good, that meant no monsters were coming that way.

The small castle in front of her - its wall barely half a dozen fathoms high - sported a sturdy looking door with a decoration above it, the cross they put o gravestones, but it was upside down, for some reason. Also, there was a window in a sunken depression to the left! A chance!

Shantae hurried to the window, crossing the bridge quickly, to peer inside. Only to recoil in surprise: there were too many spiky apes for such a small room. And two or three red spheres who at close look resembled giant carnivorous raspberries with a single cyclopic eye, more than a fathom wide, their bottoms festooned with growths that looked like dangling red guts.

As she watched, two brutes entered the room. And not the ones she was used to seeing. These two had dark red hides with sort of leathery shine. She wasn't sure what the different color meant, except she didn't want to learn right now. Those brutes looked even more intimidating. The monsters in the room must have shared that thought because they were giving a wide berth to the two - who headed straight for the door leading to the bridge. Oh no!

Jumping away from the window, Shantae climbed the wall in a hurry, barely managing to reach the top and hide herself on the flat roof before the door rattled open. Well, she wasn't going inside this way. Who could have thought that even such a small castle could hold so many monsters? And this was only the first room. What if there were even more of them further inside?

Going for easy pickings, like a vulture, seemed the most sensible course of action.

This mesa had a relatively flat top, cut through with pits and gorges, many seemingly framed by castle walls. Whoever built this, decided that drilling tunnels and closing natural gaps with fortifications was the way, letting roofs be level with the wild rock, which was interspersed haphazardly with flat stone covered with some prickly black substance, the portion she was standing on top was a convoluted shape of right angles hugging jagged cliffs, like a red crown resting on the broken rock formations.

There was no cover from flying ones, a risk, but she could always jump off the edge and drop into the sprawling jungle below. Keeping that in mind, Shantae followed the a broken end of the mesa, sheer cliff jutting out as peninsulas and falling apart into lone jutting bluffs. She was still barefoot but the rocky ground wasn't bothering her: her shoes had quite thin soles, only to protect against scraping, really. So her feet were hardy after years of running through all sorts of wilderness.

After a while, blood congealing between her toes and gluing them together felt supremely icky so she took a moment to pick it out. Well, most of it. And now her finger was messy too.

Surveying the horiozon again did not reveal anything new. The red sky was glowing brighter in the distance, creating a feeling of a perpetual all-around sunset. While she was peering into distance, something glinted brightly down below. Leaning over the edge revealed a shiny blue sphere on a rock ledge not far below. There was sort of face floating inside. Finally, her first item!

There was a problem presented by a spiky ape lazing on the same ledge as the precious find, but the dancer girl solved that by jumping down fearlessly to engage it. The brown beast failed to react when she performed a forward power kick. The hapless thing was launched well over the edge, disappearing from sight with a growl that sounded like it was pouting.

No monster stands between a relic hunter and her find, yeah!

Shantae approached cautiously. There was a large barred window in the rock wall next to the artifact. Peeking into it revealed a corridor going away into distance, choke-full of pink gorillas. Glad she had decided not to go inside — because this corridor had a t-junction branching towards that room at the bridge — she investigated the artifact. Her relic hunter expertise told her this item was magical, likely triggered by touching it. So she didn't, just put it in her inventory without making contact. Score!

After that, she climbed back to the top and continued on her way. Very soon the cliff receded sharply to the left, barring her passage with a modest-sized castle yard, the red wall plugging a deep ravine, protruding in a semi-circle, the massive merlons of its battlement twice her height. The yard itself was a mess of ruined cobblestones and pools of blood, looking like it was eroded by the flowing red liquid, some of it streaming out through wide cracks in the crenels.

There was nobody there, all was silent except some faint sounds like distant crackling — where were those coming from? The left side of the yard was a red castle wall with two small arched openings at its bottom, the sides framed with the everpresent brown of natural rock. The only other feature, beside a couple dried up trees, was a massive door in the rock wall she was leaning over, probably connecting to that monster-choked corridor. Thanks, but no thanks.

Jumping across the flat-topped merlons to the other side would have been a child's play, but Shantae followed the edge to the left instead, wild rock soon replaced by castle roof. To the left of her there was a ragged gorge going away towards the big castle - which was still a constant ominous presenceits dark windows seemingly watching her every move. Moving ahead she found yet another yard, this one more like a cracked rocky cauldron with a blood lake on the bottom, overflowing into the jungle below. There were red stone bridges arching through it, and rock ledges along its sides, but Shantae was already pulling back: there were at least half dozen of those red balls nesting in the blood below with their eyes closed, two unfamiliar huge cacklers wearing shiny breastplate walking around and too many spiky apes to count.

Tiptoeing around this deadly depression brought her closer to the gorge, its far end opening onto that broken bridge she had seen earlier. The bottom of this gorge was pockmarked with craters bubbling with red-hot lava, flames dancing above. There were lots of zombies and spiky apes on terraces where the gorge widened in front of the gate she stood above. The brown beasts were emitting chittering sounds. Good to know, this may help identify them out of sight. And on the bottom of the gorge there were a few brutes hiding behind jutting rocks.

It was almost like they set an ambush, expecting someone to come! But where from, if the bridge leading to the big castle was broken?

Shrugging, Shantae continued to the right, the mesa here nothing more than a narrow isthmus between the drop into the jungle and the vast emptiness to the left. Still, there were gorges and small castles built to plug them, just like that first one. Should she try entering one? Shantae thought of approaching a castle on the ground level, along the bottom of one of these gorges. But what if there was a horde of monsters waiting just inside?

She imagined herself fleeing down a gorge under a barrage of deadly fireballs, only to meet a dead end. Or trying to climb out of a gorge under similar barrage. Brrr. So, correct approach would be finding an entrance into one of the castles from above, where it merges with the tops of the broken rocks. And that entrance had to allow for expeditious retreat.

Shantae sneaked deeper into the broken terrain, the pirate hat proving invaluable as it let her cross any gorges wherever she wanted.

Here, yet another castle, built of the same deep crimson stone in huge blocks. Its great gate down below wasn't even guarded. The problem was, it had no openings. It was one solid, massive tower. She circled it, climbing and gliding between rock tops. Just when she was ready to move on, she spotted a tiny courtyard cut into the rocky top of the mesa. A square pit, really, but with a door leading into the castle. It was probably an entrance for flying monsters. But more importantly, its uneven wall to the right of the door had several protrusions she was sure she could use to get out in three jumps. All the while concealed from anyone inside the castle.

This was a perfect spot! She made to jump down but froze, sudden apprehension overcoming her. Come on, the girl told herself, it's just an empty yard.


Feeling foolish, she called: "Hello? Anybody down there?"

Something replied, animalistic growls and snorts sounded from the empty yard startling her. As if she alerted a pack of... somethings. Shantae squinted in suspicion. In fact, all that snorting was suspiciously similar to the sounds the pink gorillas make. Pulling out the cannon, she fired down into the yard...

...and the seemingly empty air exploded with body parts and other viscera. One pink gorilla was brought to partial visibility, standing there with its arm torn off and roaring in pain, transparent like a pink shadow. Then it bled out and collapsed, gaining full visibility and... dropping a peculiar sphere that looked like a cross of crystal ball and an eye with a blue pupil floating inside on a red background.

She was unsure how to feel about this development. On one hand, finally! They do drop items! On the other hand, invisible pink gorillas. As in, totally invisible. The stuff of nightmares, she won't feel safe ever.

Shooting the corners with the pirate pistol proved she had got them all, so Shantae jumped down into the yard, to tiptoe between the remains trying not to step into gore. She quickly whisked the eye-like sphere into her inventory. Ugh. It felt like she was at her limit again. Not weight, but her ability to keep track of different things in her mind.

The door looked like it should rise into the wall, not swing. It was wider than it was tall. Trying to find a way to open it, Shantae bumped the door. It was all it needed to begin rising with a rattle.

The chorus of angry hisses that greeted her made the girl jump. Several spiky apes, crowding a particular spot in a medium-sized hall, most of them already lighting fire in their claws... She fired unthinkingly. There was a mighty boom and the apes were gone in a macabre mockery of fireworks display, lots of parts flying, the ceiling above where they stood painted red.

Shantae gulped, revolted at the carnage she herself wreaked. That was careless. Both standing in front of the door as it was rising — her legs were visible long before she could see past it — and entering an enclosed space with the cannon readied. If any of these monsters stood next to the door, this entire yard would've been painted with her.

Taking several calming breaths — the ever-present carrion stench was helping as it was sufficiently distracting — she put the cannon away and investigated the room. There was nothing of use, some iron ornaments were just that. Sharp fragments of bone and occasional sticky, squishy, still warm pieces she felt with her bare feet weren't helping her equilibrium.

Approaching the next door, Shantae stood beside it against the wall when she rapped it. The door obliged, rattling up. There were no sounds so far. She leaned around the doorframe to peek into the next room.

Five or six brutes stared back at her. A lone red flying ball in the back was almost an afterthought.

Shantae stared at the gathering of brutes, her eyes like saucers.

Then the silence was broken by a powerful chorus of angry roars. The flying maw adding its own crackling hiss went almost unnoticed.

Shantae ran very, very fast, her feet slapping against the floor, terror giving her strength, deadly green bolts flying past her, the heat of their passage against her bare skin motivating her go even faster.

She actually slipped on the pink beast remains, failed to slow down properly and fell down after rebounding off the far wall of the yard with her hands. It was a good thing too as several bolts of green fire zipped just above her, exploding against the wall, washing her with intolerable heat. Jumping onto her feet, Shantae rushed to the rocky protrusions — which looked much smaller now — and began jumping up them.

Her foot slipped when she was almost there. She clawed at the edge, practically throwing herself out of the deadly pit with her arms. Looking frantically around, she saw no flying monsters, so she took a second to choose a good spot. Finding a place where the jagged rock dropped just so.

Crouching behind this small drop with only her head and the cannon muzzle visible, she waited. Tense, exerting her will to slow her breathing and heartbeat down. Could brutes climb? She doubted that, but what if? Was there one of the red orb monsters? She was unsure.

Nothing came out of the pit yard. There were faint sounds of vicious tearing at first, then silence accentuated by that mysterious, faint, ever-present crackling. So, if there was a red ball, it just managed to hit the brutes. Rest in pieces, stupid thing.

Catching herself on actually growing used to gore — imagining that monster's demise in too-too graphic detail didn't make her as horrified or nauseated as it should have — Shantae sighed. How much gore would she see - and inflict - before she finds her way back? Would she even fit back in Scuttle Town? Could she talk to children there again?

Putting the cannon away, she stood up. The monsters here were just reaping what they sow. She won't let herself be tainted by their blood — although she'd probably have to sit in the bathhouse for a week, to get the stench out, and dump everything she currently wore. When telling about this adventure she'd just be vague, mentioning "terrible" monsters and ordeals, but never, ever going into any detail.

She wiped gore off her sticky bare foot against the rock ground.

Even if she had to literally swim in blood it didn't matter while she held to the ideals of goodness in her heart. And she'd eventually meet someone else good... Or at least non-evil. Heroes fighting to clean this place? Rogues fighting to steal its treasures? If she finds them, she will help them.

And, maybe, would learn something without stumbling around blindly.

The faint crackling was growing more distinct, coming — she was now sure — from the great void in the general direction of the Boss tower. Which she could currently observe clearly in the distance against the red sky. Something was going on!

Deciding she had to observe — the possibility to gain useful insight ganging up with curiosity on caution — Shantae began sneaking along the part of the mesa separating the ambush-laden gorge from the void. No one accosted her on the way, the flying red spheres being conveniently too lazy to be up there. Soon she reached one of the bonfire-bearing towers on the wall framing the big castle. And again, the wall was guarding nothing but bare rocks and that great ravine with its bottom being a part of the jungle. Searching for a good hiding spot, she found a rock outcropping breaking the wall and climbed up it. Reaching the edge, she peered down.

The sound was definitely coming from down in the abyss. Now more distinct she could tell it was probably shooting. Like, a lot of shooting. Like there was a whole army worth of gatlings going off. Accentuated by deep rumble and crackle of explosions.

The great red boss was agitated, walking around twice as fast as the last time she saw him.

Fascinated, she froze on the edge, hoping no one would spot her if she wasn't moving. With her tan body agaist the brown rock, and her red clothing with black pants seat in this world of red and black... Only her purple hair was contrasting with her surroundings. Shrugging, she flipped the ponytail over her shoulder to hug it, making less of the purple visible.

Then she waited.

The crackling was rising in intensity, powerful booms rumbling more often. Then stray fire began coming from beyond the many ledges and drops obscuring her direct view. She thought of gliding down there, then thought better. There was a fierce battle raging around the base of the crag this tower stood upon.

She saw a mechanical contraption once, resembling a cross of a dragonfly and a fish, it zipped far below. Was that a propeller on top? Sadly, it disappeared too fast to take a good look at it. After all these tinkertech muskets and cannons she wouldn't be surprised to see something that would make Techno Baron green with envy. Oh wait, he was already green, what with him being a gator-man.

The battle was gaining in intensity. She saw both gates on the ends of the bridge lower, a large group of red brutes leaving the castle to walk purposefully towards the boss tower. A dozen or so pink gorillas trailed them, making a run for it before the gate closed again cutting off most of their herd.

Have she been feeling powerful and confident and stuff after finding the cannon? No, no. She must have been mistaken. If this hell could roll out armies like this, they'd simply stampede her, leaving a bloodstain beside an empty cannon — and not even slow their march. These monsters were brutal, pig-headed and never backed from a fight, no matter the odds. The only way to get through them, besides sneaking, was having more ammo than they had warm bodies.

She glimpsed the boss having mechanical feet with huge metallic hooves before the gate closed again.

The wait continued, tense. Then boring. Minutes were stretching into what felt like hours. The sounds of battle from below were receding, cracks and booms sounding at a slower rate. Huh, that was it?

Then her world was shaken by a roar so mighty even the rocks under her hands and knees trembled. Frozen in terror, Shantae only realized a few seconds later it was the boss roaring his challenge.

The tower top erupted with titanic explosions. Roaring in fury, the boss was chasing someone hidden by the tall embattled walls. Twin streams of tiny bluish-white lights were whipping back at him, tiny flashes blossoming on his massive body.

It should have ended quickly and decisively, but whoever was down there, their dodging skills must have been outstanding. The boss was chasing them left and right, firing his huge cannons and breathing fire - whole rivers of fire! - but still the battle raged on, the streams of bluish sparks rarely ceasing, even if sometimes missing, their curves disappearing in the red sky in dispersing arches.

How much stamina and ammo did the unknown challenger have?

The boss was looking more and more charred, his health being slowly chipped away. Shantae noticed with alarm half a dozen red balls rising from somewhere in the mesa behind her, moving over her head towards the tower, undoubtedly to ambush the hero — for who but a hero would be brave enough to stand against such a titan?

Unsure what to do, Shantae hesitated. She should probably help, but she didn't know how far her cannon could shoot nor how fast the things it shot really were. So far it had been press the trigger and instant boom, at fairly short distances. And these monstrous raspberries were deceptively nimble.

While she was caught in indecision, the boss exploded, shaking the earth, the resulting cloud of fire and blood and black smoke rising higher than the central tower of the tower top. The gate opened... Wait, both gates opened releasing the full load of monsters! There was a river of pink flowing across the bridge now, too many gorillas to count.

Then explosions began blossoming among their front ranks, blood and parts flying into the abyss or staining the bluish-black obsidian of bridge. But the herd pressed on, flowing in faster than they were obliterated. Shantae saw a man in familiar green armor with a beige-gray helmet walking out onto the bridge, visible beyond the monsters thanks to her elevated position. He was holding a familiar cannon, firing from the hip. Six shots - he throws a drum away - six shots - he throws another drum away. It looked like he may mow the pink beasts down before they reach him, but then the red orbs began shooting at him, belching thunderballs, making him pause to dodge.

Her decision made, Shantae pulled out her own cannon to aim at the red spheres. Wow, they exploded into a cloud of bright blue blood after a single hit. Also, her suspicion was right: the booms this cannon fired were rockets! She replaced an empty drum.

The red monsters lost half their number before turning on her. Dodging their thunderballs was easy, but she had to watch behind her to avoid hurting herself with the butt blast. And they were dodging her rockets, she wasted four by now failing to hit even once.

There was a crackling buzz, which made her gut clench for some reason, then the spheres were hit by a hail of bullets from behind, wincing and twitching and just hanging there in indecision. Exploiting the moment, Shantae hastily replaced the ammo drum and hit two more, exploding them into blue viscera. One glance at the man in green showed he was now toting a painfully familiar sleek gatling, the nigh-solid stream of bullets cutting into the last monster's back. Finally it fell, its last sound a pitiful bleating.

But now the bridge was full of spiky apes, the man in green dodging a hail of fireballs even as he was mowing them down.

Glad to be helpful, Shantae fired three rockets into the brown crowd, wreaking havoc and devastation. Surviving apes turned to lob fireballs at her. She was dodging and ducking easily, until the hero cut them all down.

Kicking the last brown ape to the ground, the man in green pounced it and began beating it to death with his bare hands until its skull just gave, brains splattering the ground around them.

"Sh..should you do that?" Shantae called, unease creeping into her, only to be met with inscrutable glass of his helmet as he froze turning his head at her, blood dripping slowly from his upraised fist stilled mid-motion.