Bitter 176

The elite kobolds surrounding the Kobold King were bigger and better equipped than the ones they’d encountered earlier. That was the same as last time she’d been here with Lord Jim and his party. It made sense the king would keep his best troops to defend him and the treasure room.

They even had actual weapons rather than the kitchen utensils the other kobolds used. Long spears with large, diamond shaped tips. All the spears were aimed at Britta.

“No, no, no,” she blurted out. “I’m on your side.”

They didn’t seem the type to stop and reevaluate the situation. She looked down and kicked Derik who was lying at her feet. There were actually two Deriks, but it was easy to tell which was the original—he was the one without an arrow sticking out of his head.

The shaman jumped up like he’d been waiting for just that signal. She had to hand it to him, he had really gone method with the acting. It would have made sense for him to stop once the Fandango took hold of the dwarf, but she couldn’t fault his commitment to the role.

“Your Majesty, I’m fine.” Derik waved his hands at the onrushing kobolds.

They pulled up short, confused.

“Leave them!” ordered the king. “The dwarf. Keep him on the bridge.”

The kobolds switched focus to the dwarf prancing about on the bridge, gradually getting closer as it forced its dancing feet to move in the direction it wanted. The kobolds lined up at the edge of the platform and thrust their spears out to form a barrier of sharp points.

Stan had to dive out of the way to avoid getting trampled but the intruders were all but forgotten once the kobolds attention moved to keeping the dwarf at bay.

The dwarf howled, its voice filled with anguish and frustration. It tried to reach for its foes with outstretched hands, while its feet dragged the helpless body back and forth and side to side.

The spears prodded and poked, but they had little effect in terms of damage. If the feet decided to charge forward, the dwarf would be unable to stop itself from being impaled. Whether that would kill it or not was impossible to say.

Stan moved over to Britta’s side as the king barked orders, making sure the kobold spears were always up and there were no gaps. They were trying to guide the dwarf off the side, but Britta knew from experience that the Fandango was aware of its surroundings and wouldn’t willingly sacrifice its dancing partner.

“We need to get into the king’s good books,” whispered Stan. “If we save his life, he’ll owe us one.”

The king was at the rear of the group, furthest from the dwarf and in no immediate danger.

“His life doesn’t need saving,” said Britta.

“Then we need to put him in danger so we can save him,” said Stan.

There was a certain logic to this idea. If they saved the king, he would definitely look on them more kindly. But arranging for him to get killed so they could rush to his rescue was very sneaky and underhanded. And if they got caught doing it, they’d be in all sorts of trouble.

“How?” asked Britta. There was no harm in just exploring the options. It wasn’t like she had to follow through with whatever unscrupulous act of treachery Stan had in mind.

Stan looked about to make sure no one was eavesdropping on their conversation. Derik had moved over to the king, along with his archery-target doppelganger, and was talking to the side of the king’s head as the king’s focus remained on guiding his guards.

He was talking quickly, pointing at his copy, then at Britta. He could have been telling the king how these adventurers weren’t like the others, how they were here to help and could be trusted. Somehow, she doubted it.

Stan moved a little bit closer to her and leaned to the side. “Simple. You get your shady friend there to give the dwarf a little help.” He contrived to point both his eyebrows at the shade which was hovering next to Britta.

She turned to look at the shade, all inky blackness, and then returned her gaze to Stan. “You want him to help the dwarf?”

Stan squeezed his lips into a pout and shrugged. “Tell it to go behind the dwarf and give him a push in the right direction. He can’t control where he’s going right now, but with a little guidance, he can smash through. I don’t think those spears are going to stop him.”

She looked at the kobolds trying to corral the dwarf. They weren’t really doing a very good job. The kobold faces had determined grimaces but with their heads leaning away like you do when you have to pick up a snail in the garden to move it but don’t really want to. She imagined if the dwarf really came at them, they’d all run away in panic. Which would leave the king exposed.

“But how would we stop the dwarf? He’ll be just as dangerous.”

“Yes, but he can’t control where he’s going. We’ll make a show of protecting the king until the kobolds regroup. We just need to show them our good intentions.”

Their intentions were clearly less than good, but if they could pull it off…

“We could die.”

“We could die, anyway,” said Stan. “And if we do, we’ll come back and try again.”

Britta frowned. “I don’t want to die. I want to treat this like we only have one life. Like it’s real.”

Stan fully turned to face her. “Oh. Okay. You want to play this hardcore—I like it. So we go all out, no save scumming.”

She had no idea what that meant but she nodded anyway.

“Go on then, tell it what to do.” Stan looked at the shade. The shade, which had no eyes to speak of, looked back at him.

“Yeah, that’s the other thing,” said Britta. “I can’t tell him. I can only ask.”

Stan looked confused. “What do you mean?”

“It means,” said the shade, “what’s in it for me?”

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