Chapter 6,
Almost too Easy

She was accompanying an actual, honest hero, adventuring together and helping him, even if a little! Shantae wasn't exactly giddy — this was a grim adventure — but she was feeling the well of inexhaustible optimism deep in her heart bubbling and swelling, washing away doubts and fears.

"And here," she told Doomguy as she hopped lightly over a pit of stakes, "lies the yellow key." She pointed to the right, at the blue skull bars, flaming skulls milling behind them. "I know where the blue one— Wait, is that light reaching from above?" She climbed the rock with gusto, only to find that yes, the skull room had an opening in its roof, and no, it was barred. "We won't be cheating around this one," she admitted jumping down a four-fathom drop without a second thought. "If only we had a rope! I know where the blue key is, but that place is... It's a trap but I couldn't figure it out."

They came upon the blood channel.

"Huh," Doomguy said surveying their surroundings with caution. "Hell really is Vyhentham."

"Veeth.. Nam?" She repeated the unfamiliar word.

"Never mind," he grumbled. "That's ancient family history now. Think of jungle swarming with bad guys and devious spike traps. When I was told we were going to sortie into Hell, I thought there would be more... fire and molten sulfur."

Shantae recalled her la— her most recent dungeon. "Fire and boiling sulfur? That sounds like Oubilette of Suffering. And it would be... much easier to deal with. I suppose this is just a harder hell?" She glanced around at thee walls of dense shrubbery.

"They set ambushes along these blood-rivers," Doomguy said like he was stating a fact, following her gaze.

"Well, yes. I found one, with three zombies sitting just behind bushes, not far from here. I only scouted thoroughly in a... different place," She pointed, "but there were pink gorillas, and spiky apes hiding along the channels... And those things blend into this brown thicket really well..."

"We just go forward and see how they cope with my speed," Doomguy said grimly. "In the open, I have overwhelming advantage... Unless it's viles or revenants."

"I don't think I saw any of those," Shantae said. "But I can't vouch for it. I saw bru— knights, and no less than two of those... really fat ones who cast avalanches of fire, and the brains on tinker-legs things. Also, some monster had fired a long, really straight stream of thunderballs at me..."

"The two last ones are one and the same," Doomguy said as he made a cautious step into the blood. "We call them ᚨᚱᚨᚻᚾᛟᛏᚱᛟᚾᛋ." ("spider-bots", she recognized with some difficulty). "Not too dangerous while you keep moving, but they can corral you with their streams, crossing these could be a problem. But we should get moving!"

"Right!" Shantae exclaimed eagerly, because he was absolutely right. She stepped into the blood, shuddering in revulsion at the familiar feeling of slimy bottom filtering between her toes and thick, tepid liquid lapping at her ankles. Then an idea hit her. "Let me scout ahead! With my danger sense I'd make the gun-toting ones show themselves!"

Doomguy wasn't looking happy at her proposal, but she was too pumped up now to stay still. Following the winding channel, she jogged forward, splashing liquid fouling up her silk pants. Doomguy was splashing close behind.

The walls of brown foliage erupted with angry hisses, fireballs started flying at her. Shantae ignored them for now, her speed enough to not even bother dodging. Then, an opening to the right - and her danger sense prickled forcing her into a ragged rhythm of slowing and pushing faster. Bullets were zipping by, in front and behind her, raising a patter of dull impacts from the jungle wall to the left. It was time to pull back and let Doomguy deal with the monsters.

Shantae performed her trademark sliding dodge backwards... It didn't work! Being barefoot shouldn't have been a problem - this was how she trained it - but there was no traction. The channel bottom was too slippery and too sticky at the same time.

Having stopped, Shantae had to twist and contort to let bullets pass by. Then there was a barrage of fireballs, still coming from all around. And if that wasn't enough, her danger sense blared with a shaft of death coming from a steep hillock to the right, bluish-white light serving as visible confirmation a fraction of a second later.

Hearing Doomguy growl in frustration behind her, Shantae did the sensible thing and disengaged by running forward, following the channel in a sprint. Several times bullets and fireballs almost grazed her, their passage felt on her skin, but the channel eventually curved, the stream of thunderbolts from the - how did he name them? Spider-bot? - ceasing.

Sharp reports of gunfire from behind told her that Doomguy got to business. It was time to turn around and head back. Ignoring scarce fireballs still flying unexpectedly from the jungle - her danger sense wasn't working too well on such relatively slow things, so she had to watch out - the intrepid girl turned around only to meet face to face with a spiky ape jumping at her from the nearby wall of concealing brown.

She tried to d— She couldn't! And she forgot to reload her assault rifle!

Feeling a momentary stab of fear, Shantae whipped her hair with all her might, interrupting the pounce. The monster landed heavily in front of her and she didn't have time to whip again. It leaped, both arms upraised, vicious claws gleaming. She grabbed the thing by the wrists, stopping it. Its ugly, snarling rictus was inches from her face, fangs bared, eyes like burning coals of red-hot hatred.

Shuddering, the dancer girl gave ground, the bigger and heavier thing pushing her slowly backwards. And yet, she was the stronger. Baring her teeth in return, Shantae twisted her body bringing her foot up between them. She then push-kicked, sending the brown thing flying a short distance to splash-land on its back. She then attacked it fiercely with her hair, finishing it off before it had a chance to get up.

Shantae hurried back to Doomguy, finding him surrounded by corpses of spiky apes, zombies and pink gorillas, all partly exploded, their gore blending into the blood channel with sort of macabre aesthetics. The hero himself was dodging fireballs, shuffling sideways at impressive speed to avoid the stream of bluish-white thunderballs from that hill, returning fire with his cannon, the hill erupting with flying dirt and shredded plants but the actual enemy somehow surviving.

Shantae tried to help, firing her pistol into the jungle in the assumed direction of the concealed enemy, hoping maybe it would focus on her, but then Doomguy hit the spot, the hill erupting with flames and one mechanical leg tumbling through the air. "Get behind me!" the grim hero barked as he swapped the cannon for big shoulder pads with sort of small cannons stuck to them. "I don't trust whatever ee-ef-ef this thing has!"

Shantae hurried to oblige, curious. His shoulder-cannons began spewing surprisingly large churning fireballs, flying haphazardly in all directions, some rising, some spiraling chaotically. Fwoosh, fwoosh, left, right, left, right.

And then these smoky fireballs began swerving sharply, diving into the jungle, erupting with powerful explosions, each accompanied with a dying moan or bloody chunks flying, spiky ape legs and arms tumbling through the air. Doomguy was turning around slowly, Shantae scuttling to stay behind him, cowed by the unavoidability of the devastation being wrought.

Doomguy stopped shooting. The jungle, but half a minute ago full of well-hidden spiky apes, was eerily silent. Shantae shivered, feeling chilled despite the warm air, as she realized the true menace hiding under such a simple word as "homing". There was nothing alive left in their vicinity, only flies buzzing attracted to fresh meat. The black clouds were creeping silently in the crimson sky overhead.

"This... thing," Doomguy patted the shoulder-cannon before swapping it for the black explodey grapeshooter, "I tore off a Revenant. Now you know what they can do... Please don't get caught in the open."

Shantae could only squeak in confirmation. It took her a minute to find her voice again. "C..come," she urged. "The blue key isn't far from here."

Following the blood channel — and blasting at occasional spiky apes lobbing surprise fireballs from their hiding spots — the two soon reached the arch through a rock massif ending in that lake of blood with a familiar hut on its shore. It went almost uneventfully, if you don't count the burned knight who had wandered there, and the painfully familiar gatling zombie in red armor who emerged from behind the hut. Both got exploded by Doomguy in one rocket each, reduced to chunks and viscera decorating the oppressively drab brown shores.

"Here," Shantae led her still-faceless companion to the left side of the hut. Her curiosity was itching: what was his face like? But she wasn't going to bring the issue up. "The blue key is about this spot inside, but the room is so full of raw meat it couldn't be anything other than a trap. If only we could—"

And then the idea hit her, having been squirming just below the surface of her thoughts for a while. Scimitar dash! Against the force that could smash weak stone walls and knock treasure out of cliffs, this wooden wall would be nothing! Shantae ran purposefully towards the back corner. She only had... to...

Her steps faltered, Shantae found herself unable to continue. There would be... dead herself, her toned body shredded into a mutilated mess, her still, glassy eyes staring into the sky, maggots... No. She couldn't. She just couldn't.

"Uh, could you..." she turned to Doomguy hesitantly. "There may or may not be a... body behind this corner. You see, I died there. The auto-potion brought me back, back in the room where I first appeared, but that's not how it is supposed to work... Back home it just heals you fully if you get too hurt, warping you to a safe place you walked through recently if something tries hurting you again in that moment. But here this place, it... it changes how things work. So, maybe...? I just don't know..." She found herself almost pleading.

"What?" Doomguy stared at her incredulously. "Did I get it right: you have many lives and there may be your dead body over there?"

"Well... yes. I can die four more times without it sticking. But I'd like very much never have to. It was... painful."

"All right, I can see that," he said, back to his stoic self. "What do you want me to do with it? If there's a body?"

"Uh, could you, please, loot the boots?" Shantae asked sheepishly. "If they are there and salvageable, of course. I'd do it myself, but I cannot stomach... seeing."

"Boots?" he asked incredulously looking down at her bare feet caked with blood.

"Pirate boots," she clarified. "When combined with the pirate scimitar I can perform a dash that makes me pretty much invulnerable while I keep running. But when I was brought back, they were gone."

"All right," he grumbled, disappearing behind the corner. Shantae felt her stomach churn and clamped on her imagination, hard. She tried paying attention, watching out for sudden monsters.

A long minute later Doomguy returned, blood-caked boots in hand, to hold them out for her.

"Oh yeah!" Shantae felt a surge of optimism as she pulled the boots onto her incredibly messy feet. Supremely icky, but there was no helping it. She already resigned herself to getting so dirty and stinky that people would pinch their noses shut around her. What with there not being clear water anywhere in sight.

Glad to get such a powerful trump back, she used the dash blurring back and forth across the lake, none of the splashing blood landing on her. "Now we can just break the wall and take the key from the outside, fooling the trap!"

"So... You got invulnerability at will?" Doomguy asked, sounding relieved and a tiny bit envious. "On top of impressive speed that even exceeds mine?"

"Yeah, but I have to have a whole second to get running fast enough," Shantae corrected him. "And there should be enough space to keep running. And I couldn't steer well. So this move is useless without a large, open space or a long, straight corridor. But! I... ugh... I can run through weaker monsters without even slowing. They just explode. I'm not sure about the beefier ones, we have to try and see."

"Still extremely useful," Doomguy said.

"Let me be your skirmisher," Shantae suggested. "I can dash ahead, poke the beehive, so to speak, foul any ambushes and make all the monsters after me. Then, either find a hiding spot or dash again, leading them back to you."

"A quite good plan," her stoic companion approved. "Considering we got no time to learn each other's fighting styles and communication signals, acting semi-independently and exploiting opportunities arising from each other's actions would be for the best."

Shantae beamed.

"Now," Doomguy continued, "I believe you proposed a method to get the blue key?"

"Yeah! Stand back, I got to curve just right between these bushes and the wall."

In the end, Shantae just tore a tunnel through the dense shrubbery, running in an arch into the jungle and out, to ram the hut at the right angle. The world shook, as always when colliding with something not quite penetrable. Shantae struggled to keep her footing, thrown violently backwards as usual.

The hut was now sporting a large, ragged hole in its wall. The blue skull-key just fell out landing on the ground.

Both heroes froze, listening and watching, but nothing else happened. Whatever the trap was, it seems they had fooled it.

The backtracking to the yellow key room was totally uneventful. Touching the blue skull grate with the blue skull key, Doomguy made it start retracting into the ceiling. The flaming skulls fell to his grapeshooter and Shantae's hair quickly.

There were ammo boxes as well! Letting Doomguy grab them all, Shantae walked out... Wait, the silence was broken by...

"Monsters are coming!" she shouted, tense. There were lots of growls and hisses and splashing steps coming from the swamp. "I'm going to test my dash!" she shouted, hearing Doomguy right behind her. Taking a running start, she pulled the scimitar out and shot forward with a powerful battle cry, the edges of her vision blurring. All too soon she was amid a crowd of monsters, fireballs splashing against her to no effect, pink gorillas rushing her only for their bodies to part in front of her like water, flying apart. Grazing a spider-bot she knocked one metallic leg off, speeding forward, unable to see anything behind her. A cacodemon dodged her, pulling upwards swiftly. A hell knight's burly body made her stumble, almost dropping out of the scimitar dash. It seems she tore his leg off, she wasn't sure, everything was blurring together so fast!

And then she was suddenly pushing against a torrent of fire, feeling like she was swimming against a current. It felt painfully hot, even through invulnerability. If she stops here... The thought made her skin crawl in horror, Shantae pushing forward desperately, feeling like she was going uphill... Then, suddenly, a quelch of collision, more springy than usual, and being thrown back, even more violently than usual... A terrified moment later she realized the flame was dissipating. The air around her was painfully hot, but that was all. Grabbing the pirate hat by reflex, she found herself floating slowly down a small distance away from that mound the two flame-throwing fatsos were stuck on. Now one lay burst, moaning in pain as its innards were spilling out, and the other one was rising to its feet, knocked down by his friend's body. Shantae gasped, but then all the fireballs aimed at her finally caught up, flying over her head and hitting the fat monster instead. It took offense, aiming somewhere behind it with a growl of "Rhanghemaaah!". Shantae paid attention to its second attack method: instead of a terrifying wall of flame, at large distances it was firing lots of haphazardly aimed fireballs. Huge, churning fireballs that turned lesser monsters into screaming torches in one hit and exploded into billowing clouds of fire when hitting scenery.

Very, very dangerous this one was, but possibly very useful, seemingly able to torch whole crowds of spiky apes and pink gorillas.

Gliding forward to land on the slope of the mound, Shantae flipped and ran down to gain momentum and go into the scimitar dash, just in time to meet approaching spiky apes head-on. She was going to speed back towards where she left Doomguy, but as she was plowing through the monsters in explosions of gore, something vibrantly blue caught the corner of her eye.

Shantae made two more passes to mop the monsters up, noticing they were backing away from her now, not completely mindless but still too stubborn to retreat. One of them dropped a strange item, resembling a flat lattice-like ward of glowing yellow wire, with a five-pointed star and a stylized demon maw and stuff. Mindful of the fatso on the mound, she pulled this thing into her inventory, then hurried into a small glade on one of the islands, almost completely concealed by bushes. Illuminated with several torches, there was yet another blue sphere with a face floating inside.

Oh yeah!

Now having two, Shantae hurried back to Doomguy, dodging huge churning balls of fiery death before dashing away. She had to loop around and follow the trail of bodies to find him. Ironically, next to the mound with now two dead fatsos. Lesson learned: her companion could move fast!

"Come," she beckoned him. "I'll lead you to the yellow door."

She actually had him wait, climbing onto the rock massif to check the twisting gorge and the road from above. Both seemed deserted, only dead bodies laying unmoving. Soon Doomguy was on the glade, Shantae gliding down to land next to him standing over that other guy in green armor.

"I f only I could—" she began.

"Hush," he interrupted her quietly. "He was reckless and paid for it." He touched something small to the dead man's armor, causing a tiny beep. "There was nothing you could do to shield him from his own stupidity. Rather, he would have gotten you killed as well."

"Uh..." That was incredibly rude to say about someone deceased... but also true. She grew sure in her impression of Doomguy being brutally honest. "What are you doing?"

"I collected his dog marks. So, this is the door, huh?" He walked to the building, avoiding a suspiciously discolored patch of the ground.

"Dog... marks?" she asked, confused.

"His name, rank, confirmation for time and place of his death documented by his armor," Doomguy explained touching the door framed by yellow panels with the yellow skull. The door retracted up into the wall with a loud creak. "Well, isn't this nice and inviting."

Shantae peered inside. The entire interior of the gray building was one large hall, with two rows of round columns framing the central passage leading to a similar door on the other side. There were rows of open coffins taking up most of the space along the side walls.

"There are two knights and two spider-bots behind that door," she warned pointing at the far end of the hall.

"I'm more concerned with what surprises the hall itself hides," Doomguy replied. There were candles burning in niches in the columns, adorned with long messy beards of dripping wax, adding to the spooky graveyard atmosphere. "I wonder..." He sneaked to the nearest coffin. "But of course." He then turned to Shantae. "Be a dear, drop a grenade into the hole in that other coffin, will you?" He produced a grenade.

"Uh, sure," she replied sneaking to the nearest coffin on the other side. The coffin itself turned to be a fake without a bottom, just an oblong shape of six boards on the stone floor, but there was a hole in the floor inside it. Shrugging, Shantae took a grenade out, pulled the pin, then dropped the implement of death and destruction into the hole. And then she performed her trademark sliding dodge twice in a row, to huddle down in the corner.

Doomguy, presumably, did likewise because, with two almost simultaneous booms, geysers of blood and viscera erupted from the coffins, to rain down or stick to the ceiling, hang there for a few seconds and only then fall down with squelches.

"Aha," Doomguy said with satisfaction and she imagined a bloodthirsty grin on his face. "Now to check the rest of these."

"I got a better idea," Shantae said. "Let me dash to the far wall, stop there and dash back. Even if all these coffins have monsters pop out of them, they have to regain their bearings, right? I mean, you can't just immediately aim if you can't see what's out there. And that will give me enough delay to begin another dash!"

Doomguy agreed - grudgingly, as if she wasn't the one with four spare lives here!

Shantae walked out to a have space for a running start, Doomguy following her to stand next to the door - a perfect ambush for anyone rushing out. She pulled the scimitar out and dashed into the hall, hearing some growls around her but focused on stopping short of the other door to avoid stunning herself. With just enough momentum to absorb with one outstretched leg and push, bouncing back, twirling to face the exit, already crouching low...

The sight caught by the corners of her eyes made Shantae's blood turn cold. She was surrounded by gatling zombies in red armor, lots of them, barrels already pointing at her, spinning up!

With a weeping cry of terror, she pushed and pushed, but couldn't move, her feet slipping on the stone floor, suspended like she was swimming through molasses, memories of dying painfully flashing through her mind... Make it stop...

And then she was moving fast enough to dash, the edges of her vision blurred signaling invincibility, just in time as bullets started whipping her body from all sides like a vicious hailstorm, painful and biting but at least giving her extra speed.

Stampeding through a group of pink gorillas almost without noticing them, Shantae tore out of the hall like a bat out of hell, zipping across the glade, tearing through shrubbery and only stopping when she collided with a rock wall.

When she gathered her wits and trudged back, Doomguy was dueling the last of these deadly zombies, competing in who aims and hits faster by popping from behind the doorframe with his cannon. He was tsking at his misses, rockets exploding against the far wall uselessly.

Her knees suddenly shaky, Shantae reminded herself that fears had to be faced lest they stew and linger and poison your resolve. Pulling back a bit, she took a running start with a shout, going into the scimitar dash, through the doors and at the last zombie - he was in the far right corner - speeding against the stinging hailstorm of bullets...

Something hit her in the small of her back like a sledgehammer, making her go so fast everything blurred. The zombie grew close instantly, then a stunning impact, blood and sparks in her eyes, floor and ceiling flipping rapidly!

A second later Shantae regained her bearings, finding herself tumbling through the air shapely posterior over teakettle. Twisting in mid-air - ouch, but her back hurt! - she righted herself before touching down in the row of coffins, stumbling, tumbling again and finally coming to a stop by landing in one on her back.

"Shantae!" Doomguy shouted, his footsteps approaching rapidly.

"I'm fine!" she rasped, laying in a coffin and blinking at the dimly lit ceiling. Had she been superstitious... As it was, she chuckled, finding her position hilarious. Well, macabre kind of hilarious. "Owie. What hit me?"

Doomguy was leaning over the edge, his posture conveying concern and reproach.

"Oh!" She got it, face-palming. "Oh, that was so stupid of me...! Rushing in without warning you... I'm sorry!" She dragged herself to her feet with a groan. The wall in that corner was splattered red, the gatling twisted into a pretzel being the biggest chunk remaining of the zombie. "Well, at least your rocket turned me into a deadly projectile. We may remember this as a fighting technique for future reference, powers combined and all that." She rubbed her back and winced. "A dangerous, forbidden technique never to be used again."

"You have severe bruising there," he warned with a resigned sigh.

"I certainly feel it," Shantae agreed, bending this way and that, to test her flexibility. "Ow. No, this won't do. But I don't want spending a healing potion!" She really didn't. Who knew how long this adventure would take, they had to finish it with only the six, or so, doses she had remaining. Then she wanted to slap herself for forgetting important things again. "Here," she produced one of the doctor boxes, holding it out for her companion. "Could you use this to make my back better? I can't read any labels, the only thing I recognize in there is the gauze."

"And you were going to tell me that you had it... when?" he asked flatly as he browsed the tiny vials and inserted one into some fiddly thing. "Turn your back to me."

"I... Uh..." She obliged. "I'm too used to adventuring alone. Let's recount what I have before we move... Ouch."

"I agree." Doomguy began poking her bruise with that fiddly thing causing quiet clicks accompanied with stinging sensations that soon changed to numbness and feeling of warmth. The pain was receding.

"What is that thing?" Shantae asked, feeling curious. She tried bending again and found herself able to move without restrictions. The small of her back was feeling hot, almost burning. "Reminds me the times when our doctor poked me with that big scary needle."

"It's a jet injector," Doomguy explained replacing the healing implement in the box. "Basically, it fires medicine at such speeds that liquid itself becomes a needle, penetrating into your skin or even muscle, however high you set the power."

"Amazing tinker-tech!" Shantae approved wholeheartedly. "Thanks to it, I'm ready for action!" She made towards the still closed door, then stopped herself. "Uh, sorry. So, I got four more such boxes, then six or so gulps of healing potion..."

"Healing potion?"

"Well, you drink it and your wounds vanish," she explained. "Depending on how badly you are hurt, it takes up to three gulps to return to full health. So, um... say, we have enough to heal a deadly wound two times. Next, the auto-potions." She took one winged vial out staring at it. "This thing could heal any wounds, but it can't be divided. You open it, you may very well drink it all. Also, these are my spare lives, so to speak." She suddenly had an idea. "Here! Take one, you should have it in case—"

"I refuse," Doomguy said flatly. "You... Aren't you our skirmisher? You need them more."

"But... All right, but, really, why?" She disliked the idea of him not having such a sorta-emergency-miracle.

"It could lull me into complacency," he explained reluctantly. "I can't afford that... So, you got anything else useful?"

"Hmm..." Shantae pulled the assault rifle out. "Let's take care of the weapons first. I only realized I forgot to reload this thing when a spiky ape was descending on me with claws raised." She fumbled a bit, replacing an empty ammo box with a full one. "Here, my `ack, they jumped me` life-saver is in order. Now, the... grapeshooter?" She pulled out the massive black musket. "I... I think I should leave it. This one requires knowing how to handle it, and I only got four charges." She pulled the handle four times, then put the weapon down and held the red cylinders out to Doomguy. "I think I'd be better off having a spare room in my inventory, in case something unusual pops up. Never miss an opportunity and all that."

"All right." he took the ammo making it vanish.

"My last weapon that needs ammo is the cannon."

"Bazooka," Doomguy corrected.

"Uh, buh... bazooka," she repeated. Why do people keep inventing weird names for things? "I have three full drums, including the one loaded, and one with one rocket left. That's 19 rockets. Next, the items. Oh, and I have five grenades left! So, items. My last three scrolls of Bubble I handed to you to hold onto because, honestly, I'm not sure that spell is up to stopping lots of bullets or fireballs so devastating, and finding out it doesn't would probably end in me dying horribly. Then, two bento boxes and three lobster tails... Ugh, I'm hungry but this hell stinks so much I feel sick even thinking of eating."

"You could make wicks out of gauze," Doomguy offered, "and stick them up your nose. If you dab them in disinfectant, its sharp smell would drown the local... odors and may even knock your sense of smell out."

"That's great!" Shantae was overjoyed. "Show me which one is it and let's have lunch!"

They then moved to a small side room with an obvious exit button - who saw one iron skull ornament built into a wall, saw them all - because it had stone slabs that could serve as a table. An incredibly messy table crusted with wax from drippy candles, but still.

Doomguy staunchly refused sharing lunch with her, from saying he wasn't hungry to outright stating he was fasting to keep his focus. The last one sounded far-fetched but she relented and stopped pestering him. Who knows what horrors did he see in that invaded town of theirs? Maybe he couldn't eat now until he defeats the ultimate evil. What a depressing thought.

The smell of disinfectant was eye-watering but it kept the hellish stench at bay! Only now realizing how hungry she was, Shantae wolfed both bento boxes down. Burp. Ow. That was... too hasty, she was feeling stuffed now, her stomach aching. Well, at least she had one more free space in her inventory now.

She made to the button, but Doomguy stopped her:

"Are you sure you aren't forgetting something else?"

Shantae hummed, going through list in her head. She then gasped in realization. "You're right! I was collecting all these but forgot to ask you what they do!" She then deposited all the local items she have collected on one of the "tables" so that no one activates them by accident.

Doomguy stared at the small pile of artifacts, unmoving. She got an impression, for some reason, that his eye should be twitching now.

Two blue spheres with faces floating inside, one eye-like red and blue sphere and one creepy lattice-like ward were hovering there, flashing softly like they were staring back at him.

He then slumped with a sigh. "But of course you forgot about your most invaluable ability."

"Huh?" Shantae said, puzzled. "Invaluable? But they are just touch-activated magic items, I simply... don't... Oh! Ooooh! You can't put things into your inventory without touching them, aren't you...? So you would be... forced to use these items where you find them, or leave...? Oh, I'm so sorry! That would be mightily inconvenient! Let me be your magic item bearer!"

"Thank you," Doomguy replied tiredly. "And yes, tactical value of being able to carry them is... invaluable. The blue soul spheres there," he pointed, careful to stay away from the items, "heal any wounds instantly, bringing you to full health and giving you a serious boost of energy if your wounds weren't severe. The red-and-blue orb looking like an eye is invisibility sphere, it makes you invisible for a while. They sometimes fall out of specters as you kill them."

"You mean, invisible pink gorillas?" Shantae said, shuddering. "Are they..." She gulped. "..common?"

"They're rare, I'd say," Doomguy replied. "You usually encounter small packs of them in dark and narrow places." Seeing Shantae pale - she almost missed his next words! Because dark! And narrow! And then they come! - he elaborated: "They aren't that stealthy because first, they snarl and growl, too stupid to keep silent, and second, their eyes glow, making their invisibility moot when they face you. So, pay attention to sounds, keep your eyes peeled and they aren't that more dangerous than common pinkies."

"Whew! That's a relief!" Shantae felt a mountain of worries fall from her shoulders. "And what does this creepy wiry thing do?"

"It's a demon strength rune. Can fall out of any enemy you kill, gives your barehanded strikes unnatural strength. You can tear weaker demons apart like cardboard. Pinkies and cacos you need to hit more than once and beefier demons could be dangerous because they can take several hits and retaliate before you could rip and tear them. But this thing doesn't just increase your strength, it also makes your interaction with other living things disproportionately brutal. And it has a severe side effect, making you extremely angry. You literally see red."

"Hmm, so it's like super monster milk turned up to eleven, then," Shantae mused replacing the artifacts in her inventory. "The milk makes you mildly angry," she explained, "and increases potency of your strikes twofold... Or even less, it's not like I got a strike-o-meter to compare them precisely."

This time it was Doomguy who made towards the button and it was Shantae's turn to stop him: "Wait, let me draw them in!"

And so it went, almost too easy. Shantae jumped out, shot all four enemies with the pirate pistol making them angry at her, then ran back to the first door and kept shooting them in the face while dodging their fire as Doomguy standing next to the far door was shooting them in the back. Two knights and two spider-bots went down quickly, the last one getting torn off its tinker platform to crawl around like a snail, moaning pitifully. Doomguy punted the gray brain-like thing into the jungle where it landed on one of the innumerable sharp stakes with a wet splorch.

Shantae made a face, but internally she was wondering if Rotty would find the idea of eating such things fascinating. They weren't really brains, weren't they?

"Here ends the land I scouted," Shantae said while they were waiting for the huge iron pillars barring the dark tunnel passage to retract into the ground. "There is probably an another fortress up ahead, on that lone bluff. I think..." She glanced back to the gray building they had so much adventures in. "Wait, I think it is wider than the hall!"

Running back to the building, she confirmed that yes, there was quite a space unaccounted for. The iron face ornament on the wall opposite the button room was looking suspiciously like a door, placed in a big sunken square. But neither pushing nor shooting it produced any results and hasty search for a hidden switch turned up nothing.

The two heroes had to leave this mysterious treasure-room unmolested, hurrying forward, toward parts unknown.

( 。◕ シーンブレイク ◕。)

A/N 1: You may have noticed that Shantae hears Doomguy's words sliiiightly differently from what he really says in English: "molten sulfur" instead of "brimstone", "spider-bot" instead of "arachnotron" and so on.

Also, if you wondered, I use transliteration to Elder Futhark for Doomguy's words Shantae doesn't recognize, and transliteration to Mkhedruli for Shantae's words Doomguy doesn't recognize.

A/N 2: Can you use this fic as a walkthrough for corresponding maps of Extermination Day? The short answer: don't. Shantae uses shortcuts that don't exist in the game while the terrain I describe may or may not match actual map layouts.

A/N 3: The demon strength does NOT transform you into a revenant — such a thing was added to the vanilla Brutal Doom much later than me writing this chapter. It acts like berserk pack but only heals +10.