My One Last Shot

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Sam stares down the gooey monster with the best fierce glare she can muster, her emerald eyes showcasing a surprising amount of bottomless rage. Such animalistic anger leaves me floored, even downright intimidated, honestly. You’d think that the Slime owed her money with the way she’s staring at it.

The tension breaks in seconds as the Slime ceases its staredown, lunging towards the young warrior. Sensing danger, it aims to strike first with malicious intent before Sam has a chance to end its life. Unfortunately for the somewhat self-aware puddle, Sam has me here to guide her.

“Dodge left,” I offer a suggestion to test her footwork, knowing it's just about the most essential tool in any fighter's arsenal. Sloppy footwork will get you killed on the field faster than almost anything else.

“Ugh!” She barely manages to pull the dodge off, her boots awkwardly skidding against the grass below as she almost trips. Sam is well aware of how poor her dodge looks, but she pushes down her hurt pride long enough to look to me for feedback. “Something like that, Boss?”

“It's not looking good. Your footwork is sloppy, worse than I expected..." I don't pull any punches, and as a result, her spirits dampen as she dwells on my words, and I remember how important it is to manage her morale. "But that's ok. You're just starting out, right?"

"Right," Sam nods her head, blushing. She feels terrible about inconveniencing me like this, I think, but what Sam doesn't understand is I'd be a lot more inconvenienced if she wound up getting herself killed out here.

"Lead with your dominant foot and try it again. Don't let it intimidate you. If you get scared or nervous, then the battle is already lost."

The hot-head bristles and her cheeks redden. "This thing is literally just walking jello! I am NOT scared of it!" Sam barks.

"Good. I want you to know that a basic Slime of this level is very simple-minded, what with being an overgrown single-celled organism and all. This means that it will certainly attack using the same strategy over and over again. Let’s make use of this fact and have you practice dodging. Shall we?”

She considers my words once more before smiling and nodding. “We shall!”

Sam enthusiastically begins to play a complicated game of cat and mouse with the blue goo. I watch her with great intent for several minutes, correcting any mistakes I notice as the warrior Princess weaves, leaps, and strafes her way out of danger. A jump to the left. A twirl to the right. Side-to-side, barely even weighed down by her hulking weapon. It's small, but progress is being made. I can see slight improvements to her form the more she follows my instructions, and with every small step forward the young warrior takes, the more an optimistic smile starts to spread across my face. 

Sam displays more promise than I initially gave her credit for.

As I continue studying her every move over like a hawk, I find a curious feeling burning within me bit by bit. It's not the overwhelming sense of beauty and joy I experienced when looking at her without my glasses on. No, it's something a little more grounded. If I didn't know any better, I'd say it was hope.

Honest to goodness hope.

Maybe Sam really is my last shot at this...?

“That’s good,” I shake my head and interrupt my own train of thought, motioning with my hand for Sam to stop. I really need to stop thinking like such a sentimental old man... I’m not that old, dammit. “It'll forget all about you as soon as you step far enough away. Let’s back off for a moment and let the Slime cool down while I teach you what to do next.”

Together, we do just that.

“Slimes can be taken down in two blows by a sword. First, slice it in half. Doesn’t matter how. Just do it. It will have no choice but to summon its core to regenerate the lost liquid matter. The core is basically its heart." Technically it's a nucleolus, but I think that would be a bit over Sam's head. "Think of it as the Slime's weak point. Once it's visible, that's where you must strike.”

She cocks her head to the side, making her twintails fray in the slight breeze. “What if I just splattered the whole Slime in one blow with the broad side of my sword? Wouldn't that be faster?”

That's definitely something an amateur would say, but I keep that to myself. I don't want to overwhelm Sam and make myself sound like an insufferable know-it-all. I teach her the correct way by explaining, “No. If you did that, the slime would fly all over the place. You might not notice where the core appears. By the time you find it, it’ll likely have fully regained all of its slime."

“Shit, good point...” Sam nods her head up and down, taking mental notes on the proper technique. “Where’s the core when it doesn’t need it, then?”

“Whereas some monsters walk around with huge, glowing bits and bobs that adventurers can exploit to deal massive damage, the humble slime knows better. Its weak point is microscopic when not in use.”

“Dork,” She giggles.

“Yes, yes. Once the core appears, you just need to remove it somehow. Ah, also. When you attack, swing your sword like this, or like this.” I demonstrate some of the basic swinging techniques that I read about in a class guide to Great Bladers once upon a time. She picks up the proper way to do it after showing her a few times, but she stumbles her way around at first.

I can only help her so much- my experience is limited to what I’ve memorized in dusty tomes. While it’s a bit far off to think about, Sam would genuinely benefit from a dedicated combat instructor. If we can ever manage to find one who isn’t too expensive.

After making damn well sure the Great Blader Princess knows how to swing her weapon of choice, we head on back to the Slime, which has since returned to... idling around, doing nothing but continuing its meaningless life. It turns to face Sam, looking at her with its big, round, overly cute-looking eyes. It's already forgotten her, just like I said it would, and it hasn't yet sensed danger.

“Do it,” I warn. “Whenever there’s a chance to strike first, don’t hesitate. Your enemy will never give you the same courtesy, whether it’s a Slime or the Demon Lord himself.”

Her body language becomes rugged and stiff as she considers my advice. Something about me mentioning the 'Demon Lord' specifically triggers Sam, but she corrects herself right away and blows some steam through her nostrils. Odd, but it's not something worth dwelling on for now. Sam briefly looks over her shoulder to nod at me a single time in confirmation. Pushing her initial reaction to the back of her mind, the wannabe warrior raises her great blade into the air as if it weighed little to nothing at all, bringing it down to the ground and slamming it on her slippery foe.

Just like that, Sam slices the Slime clean in two. Unfortunately, she gets ahead of herself.

“Heck yeah! I got it!” She grins, taking a step forward before looking back at me- rookie mistake.

I warn her as fast as I can, calling out, “SAM-”

Her eyes open wide from the sudden shock that my booming voice instills, and her head twists speedily back to face the oncoming threat. “Damn it! Sorry-” She grunts.

The Slime’s right half jumps toward her, attacking while its bright orange core materializes, hoping to heal itself by generating more slime. Sam corrects her error by punching the leaping goo before it can latch onto her pretty face, and it splatters against the gloved fist into a million tiny droplets of clear, slimy liquid.

The core falls limply to the ground, luckily in a dry spot of dirt. With no fluid left around it to bask in the Slime can’t shrink its core to protect itself or even generate more slime. It’ll die from oxygen exposure in a matter of minutes unless an outside force scooped it up and put it back into a source of water.

Sam doesn't know that, though, so she strikes at the orange core with her sword. With a flash of her blade, the core is cleaved in twain. The Slime dies, defeated totally and utterly by the Great Blader.

Sam looks down at her prey as if unsure that she really took it out before she comes to terms with that the monster is indeed dead and that she was the one who killed it. Realization hits. She understands the gravity of what just happened, and she smiles with all of her soul behind it.

She did it.

She really, really did it.

With her first monster defeated, Sam is well on her way to becoming a bonafide adventurer in her own right.

As an added bonus to the kill, Sam learned a precious lesson just now, and I aim to hammer it home the good old-fashioned way. Even if I want to be proud of her, I have to suck it up and play the whole mentor thing straight.

“Don’t take your eyes off of the monster, Sam. Not even once. The difference between life and death could be decided in a single second. It would serve you well to remember that.” I tell her, comically bopping the Princess on her forehead with my closed fist.

“Ow-” She rubs the spot I lightly hit, “C’mon Boss, I did fuckin’ good, and you know it.”

“You performed well above my expectations,” I tell her as truthfully as can be.

“Hell yeah! ...Wait, just how damn low were your expectations, huh?” Sam glares at me as soon as she catches onto the unkind implication I teasingly tacked on to my statement.

“It matters not,” I adjust my glasses and turn away before looking back to give the girl a playful grin of my own. “You did well. I mean it.”

The Princess stares at me, her face becoming a flushed mess all of a sudden. Soon, she finds it hard to maintain eye contact. Dropping her sword into the earth below, she leans on it with her elbow and begins twirling her lengthy blonde twin-tail with her free hand, “Damn straight,” She mumbles, bearing an embarrassed frown on her youthful face.

“...You’re getting slime in your hair, Sam.”

“Wha?” She takes her fingers out of her twin-tail, noticing right then and there that she was using the hand which she punched the Slime with. Flustered, the inexperienced monster-slayer shakes her red glove free of blue goo in an embarrassing frenzy. “Shit- SHIT!”

I find myself unable to control my laughter, and... it occurs to me this is the first time I’ve laughed in five years. I laughed while reading erotic comedy novels or remembering something from the past, sure, but it was never like this.

Right now, I actually mean it.

It feels good to mean things again.

Ultimately deciding to wipe her glove clean on the grass below, she speaks up, saying, “Gotta ask, though, Boss. How the fuck did you make it all so easy to understand? You don’t strike me as an adventurer, but the shit you taught is legit.”

“It may surprise you to learn that I read a lot. I studied many, many subjects to run the Guild as best I could. Of course, this includes numerous books on the different classes of adventurers and the art of fighting. I had hoped that one day I’d be able to guide people such as yourself who were just starting out, but...”

“But?”

“Not a whole lot in my life panned out the way I wanted it to. You’ve seen the Guild. Hell, just look at me.” I scratch my head and sigh, knowing how ragged and sleep-deprived I must look under the afternoon sun.

Sam stares at me in silence until she crosses her arms and gives me a determined look. “Great. You got a big-ass brain and nowhere to use it, and me? Thinking ain’t my strong suit. We make a perfect team, Boss. I already told you I need a place to crash from now on, and I can’t think of anywhere I’d rather be than the Dewhurst Adventurer’s Guild.”

Her little comment hits closer to home than I think she realizes. The fact that someone after so long wants to be a part of the Dewhurst- no- wants to be a part of MY Guild, well... it gets me rather emotional.

"...Really?" I ask, trying to fight back against a slight crack in my deep voice.

"Well, I can think of one other place I'd rather be, I guess..."

"You're going to say my bed, aren't you?"

"...N-No?" She looks away, cheeks red and arms crossed. Predictable, but a cute attempt at riling me up as it is.

My face remains calm, collected, and business-like as usual, but there's little I can do to stop my poor little heart from beating out of excitement. This girl is riddled with problems. She's none too bright, for one. She’s crude, a bit vulgar, and more than a little promiscuous... but... flaws or not, she's genuine and fun to be around.

I already know I'm not going to last long against her advances if she really intends on staying by my side.

Turning away out of embarrassment to hide me from her increasing cuteness, I toss Sam a little burlap pouch I kept carried in my pocket. “Playful bantering aside, we’ll discuss the living situation later on tonight. For now, go over and grab the Slime’s core and stash it away in here.”

Her Highness catches it right out of the air. It's branded with the Association of Adventurers logo, but it's not one of those fancy magic bags that can carry colossal monster trophies, sadly. The Association charges an arm and a leg for those, and I disapprove of the malicious business practices they use to sell them. Thank the Twins that I'm not subject to their forsaken sales quotas.

Sadly, the bag doesn't distract her from the topic at hand. “Stop lookin' away from me and blushing, you total wuss!” Sam angrily stomps her foot, slightly disrupting the earth beneath her. Then, she snatches the bag out of the air and holds it in her hand. “You’re a man, damn it. Act like it! Do you want this hot, young piece of ass to live with you or not?”

“Sam, that’s hardly a way for a Pr...” Her eyes open wide in panic as I begin to unintentionally speak the P-word. “-etty girl like you to behave. Not around someone like me, at least.” Crisis averted, Sam's face relaxes... until it twists into a suspicious yet smug smile.

“Someone like you?” She tilts her head, not giving this up. That devious smirk of hers becomes increasingly comparable to that of a nasty Gremlin. "Surely you aren't saying you're the type who would besmirch the honor of a lady such as myself if given a chance?" 

With a sigh, I rub my temples. I don't know if I'm going to get used to this sort of teasing, but I can't deny it’s fun. “That's enough out of you, already. I'll besmirch a lot more than just your honor if you keep it up."

"Whoa there, Boss. Is that a promise, or...?" The almost-certainly-a Princess laughs, then pauses as a thought comes to mind. "...Hey, Wait just a sec, how are we gonna turn in the Slime core? I cut it in half!"

Guess that slipped my mind between all of the flirting. "It's made of magical gelatin, silly. If you push back the two halves, they'll fuse back together."

"But... won't the Slime come back to life if we do that?"

"It's already dead. The core is inert." She looks at me like she doesn't understand what the word inert means, and I shake my head with a small laugh under my breath. "Just trust me, alright?"

"Yeah, yeah..." Sam goes over to her prize and curiously pushes the two halves together. When they fuse just like I told her they would, she lights up like a child seeing magic for the first time. "Whoa, damn, that's cool! How the heck do you know so much about monsters, Boss?"

"Part of the job, my dear." Guild Masters are expected to study and research the near-infinite threats that plague the Realm of Karnalle so that they can better impart to their adventurers the knowledge it takes for them to overcome any foes in their way.

Taking up a large chunk of the shelf space on my office bookcases are numerous bestiaries from both the modern era and antiquity, some so old and outdated that the pages threaten to crumble into dust. I've read them all. Multiple times, at that. I'm proud to say that my brain is bursting to the brim with knowledge regarding the subject of just about any creature native to the province of Arrark, and indeed, the Realm as a whole.

If a monster has been documented, there's a good chance I can tell you the most effective way to kill it.

When I tell her all about this, Sam looks at me with quiet respect. I think she's starting to believe there might be more to me than meets the eye, which isn't really true. I'm only a man who's read an almost comical amount of books. I suppose I can take the adoration if she's so insistent on giving it to me.

Anyways, we've idled around doing nothing for long enough. Trying to get a move on, I ask the girl, "Are you going to kill the rest of those Slimes, or do I have to go home without you, Sam?”

“Home?” She catches my deliberate choice of words and stares at me with a look of optimism at the thought.

“Home.” I nod and watch the ecstatic girl pick up her weapon with a renewed spark of enthusiasm, eager to impress me for whatever reason and earn her place at my side.

"So... you really will let me stay with you, Boss?"

"You've seen how rough this town is. I can't in good conscience let you hit the streets now, can I?" Especially not in that outfit, but I'll keep that comment to myself.

"Hell yes!" She pumps her slimy fist in the air, a big goofy grin on her face.

Honestly, I’m just as happy as she is, but I'm also more conflicted. I still don’t know how I feel about all this. Everything is happening faster than I can handle, and I'm helplessly being swept up along for the ride.

At the very least, it seems like I won't be alone...

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