Bitter 291

The shade disappeared into the house. It just strolled in through the front door, or rather, it wafted in.

Britta had the impression the only reason it had decided to go was because it’d had enough of her and Dad bickering. If she’d known it was going to be that easy to get the shade to do what she wanted, she would have brought Dad along much sooner.

“What kind of spell is it?” asked Dad, bow at the ready and craning his neck to get a better look through the doorway. “Limited uses?”

“It drains mana as long as it’s active,” said Britta.

“Oh, yes?” Dad sounded mildly interested. “How long does that last? Couple of minutes?”

“Three or four hours.”

“What?” Dad turned to face her. “That’s ridiculous. You could scope out an entire dungeon in that time.”

“Yeah, I can.” She hadn’t really thought about it as a particularly powerful ability. Knowing where something was didn’t help with how to stop it trying to kill you.

“Honestly, the balancing in this game…”

She would have probably paid more attention to his complaining if he hadn’t made the same complaint about every game he’d ever played.

“It’s not that useful when the spell won’t do what it’s told half the time.”

Dad considered this slight wrinkle. “Half OP is still too OP.”

“I have no idea what you just said. All I know is that it would be a lot more useful if I could work out what’s wrong with it.”

“Ah,” said Dad, like he was some wise old sage with all the answers. “Not so easy being a parent, is it?”

“I’m not a parent,” said Britta.

“Aren’t you? You’ve got a kid acting strange and refusing to tell you what’s up. Sounds like a classic parent-child relationship to me. Congratulations, sweetheart, you’re a mother.”

Probably not often a dad said that so gleefully to his sixteen-year-old daughter.

“Any advice, oh great expert?”

“Your sarcasm won’t work on me. If I wasn’t an expert you wouldn’t have turned out so well, would you?”

“Mum says she did her best to keep your influence limited.”

Dad’s mouth fell open in outrage. “How dare she? She was barely involved. I was elbow deep in poo and nappies for years. Years!”

Britta could tell he was about to launch into his tales of parental strife  —  the vomit, the fountains of urine, the upholstery ruined  —  so she was relieved to see the shade come out. It stopped in the doorway and wobbled.

“What’s it doing?” said Dad. “Dancing?”

“It’s calling us over.” She began walking across the road.

Dad stuck his arm out, like he was worried she wasn’t following the Green Cross Code.

“Dad, it’s fine. There’s no danger.”

Reluctantly, he let her go, making sure to keep ahead of her. The shade waited, its outline undulating gently. There was definitely something inside all that smoke.

“There is only one occupant in this building,” said the shade. “She is near death.”

“Quickly, take us to where she is.” Britta hurried after the shade as it went back inside.

It smelled musty and fetid. The floor was sticky. Bright red blood was streaked across the walls, and had formed red puddles in various places. It looked like paint.

“For Christ’s sake,” said Dad. “Bit over the top, isn’t it?” He said it to the ceiling, aiming his comment at any watching devs.

Britta wasn’t really bothered by it. Dad probably wouldn’t have been, either, if he’d been on his own. It was the sort of excessive gore he usually found entertaining. It was tough being a parent and an overgrown child at the same time.

There wasn’t time to be revolted by the grisly setting, her focus was on the figure spreadeagled across the stairs, lying in a circle of red that was slowly dripping down the steps.

“Frau Magda,” Britta called out. “Are you alright?” It was a dumb thing to ask, but she didn’t know how else to start a conversation with someone about to die of stab wounds. She was covered in cuts, and had a couple of daggers still sticking out of her torso.

“You… came…” Her voice was thin and weak. Not at all her normal harsh Teutonic tones. “They took her… They took my mistress… Those filthy....” She tried to push herself up on her elbows, but fell back with a groan.

Britta ran up the steps, careful to avoid the blood, and knelt down next to Frau Magda. “Don’t worry, I’ve got some medicine.”

She opened her inventory and grabbed her last healing potion. She unstoppered it and poured it between Frau Magda’s lips. Most of it dribbled down her cheeks.

Frau Magda began coughing, spluttering up red liquid that could have been the potion or her own blood.

“That won’t do any good,” said Dad. “She’s been hit with a bleed debuff. Won’t stop unless you remove it.”

“How do I do that?”

“A Cure scroll would be your best bet. You got one?”

“No,” said Britta. “Do you?”

Dad looked shifty. Which could only mean he did have one, but didn’t want to give it away. She stood up and clenched her fists, her voice shouting and whispering at the same time.

“Dad? Come on, this is important. She’s going to die.”

“She’s an NPC,” said Dad.

“What difference does that make?” Britta was angry, now. “She needs help and you can help her. She might be an NPC, but you aren’t.”

Dad winced, his face contorting from defensive to embarrassed. He opened his inventory and took out a scroll. He unrolled it and read some words that sounded like nonsense.

Light bathed Frau Magda. The shade drifted closer and quickly plucked the daggers out of her body. Under the light, Britta caught sight of hands covered in fur reaching out of the smoke. Then the scroll disintegrated and the light went out.

Frau Magda sat up, all her wounds gone.

“Thank you,” she said to Dad. “Ve must hurry. Ve must save my mistress.”

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