He was alive, and he was unharmed. Technically. But the blade that had scythed into the top of his head was still there. And it was still chained to the ceiling, so Dad was chained to the ceiling, too.
He tried moving as far as the chain would allow, and then a little more. His face showed the strain, but the blade showed no signs of coming loose. It was fully embedded.
“Does it hurt?” asked Britta.
“No, not really,” said Dad. “Tickles a bit.” He used his hands to feel around and get an idea of how it was positioned. A mirror would have helped, but the only one in the room was lying face down under his feet.
“You might have to find a way to unhook the other end of the chain,” he said.
It wasn’t clear how the chain was attached up there. Even if they could get it free, that would mean Dad having to wander around with a blade stuck in the top of his head, and carrying a chain attached to it.
He could use the chain as some sort of weapon, and his headbutt would be lethal. It would be a very odd look, though.
“The problem,” said Dad as he leaned forward to test how far he could, “is that I’ve been increasing the strength of my healing potions. I’ve been using a special recipe to make the effect a bit more intense. Unfortunately, it looks like I’ve been more successful than I expected. Ngggh. No, no. Not going to come out that way.”
“You are vasting time,” said Frau Magda. She had allowed Dad a little leeway, seeing as how she had been the one to force-feed him the potion, but she had about reached her limit. “The solution is simple.”
Before Dad could tell her to stop, she had grabbed the chain, and yanked.
There was a wrenching sound that did not suggest skin and steel. It reminded Britta of a newspaper being torn up. The blade jumped out of Dad’s head, nearly catching Frau Magda in the face. She moved aside at the last moment, and the blade swung up, and then back the way it had come. Dad dived out of the way.
“Phew. I guess sometimes route one is the best route.” He grinned at Britta, but began frowning when he saw the look on Britta’s face. “What?”
“Nothing. We should probably get a move on.” She was finding it hard not to stare.
When Magda had prised the blade from Dad’s skull, it had taken a chunk of Dad with it. There was now a V-shaped gap in the top of his skull.
The rest of his head was the same as normal. There was just a valley running through the middle of his forehead.
Dad raised his hands and tentatively fingered the gap. “What the… What have you done to me?”
“It’s not that bad,” said Britta. “You’re still functional, right? That’s the important thing.”
“I can’t walk around looking like this. What are people going to say?”
“It’s not real, Dad.” She paused, realising Frau Magda was listening. “I mean, it’s not really important. We have a woman to save. And we have all these new weapons to help us.”
If anything was going to snap Dad out of his shock, it would be a bunch of new toys.
“Yes, you’re right. I’ll go in first — to make sure there aren’t any more traps.”
Britta wasn’t fooled. He’d rather risk being decapitated than let someone else take the best item in there. That little room was every gamer’s dream. The secret room with all the cool stuff.
“Go ahead,” said Britta. She didn’t care what he took, she just hoped it would help them when faced with bigger, stronger and more violent opponents. She also didn’t fancy getting her head cleaved. At least Dad was already disfigured. Another strike wouldn’t make much of a difference.
Dad entered the small room. It was narrow, but long. Shelves lined the walls, and a variety of small weapons were on display. They looked like they had been carefully placed to look as impressive as possible, each with its own pool of light.
“Nice, nice,” said Dad as he perused the merchandise. He picked up a long thin blade with a very curved handle. “Lapel knife. You put it around your neck, they search you all over, never think to check behind your lapels.”
Having established there wasn’t another trap, by not getting impaled on anything sharp, Britta followed him in. There were a lot of items. They all seemed to be specially made to be hidden on your person in the least noticeable way. There were also a couple of empty places. Presumably the ones the mayor had taken with him when he went to the mines.
“Check it out,” said Dad, holding up what looked like a heavy bangle. “Dart bracelet.” He put it on and then flexed his wrist. A dart shot out, whizzing past Britta’s ear and landing on the wall behind her. “Brilliant! I’ll have two of those.”
“Just take vhat you need,” said Frau Magda. “Ve must hurry.”
“Sure, sure, just give me a second.”
It turned out Dad ‘needed’ quite a lot of things. Pretty much everything, in fact. By the time he’d finished, he had difficulty moving around.
“Don’t you think you’ve overdone it a bit,” said Britta.
“This is all going to come in handy, just you wait and see. Now, let’s go.” He pointed the way enthusiastically, and a dart flew out of his sleeve. It hit Frau Magda in the chest.
She pulled it out like it was nothing, and threw it aside. “We have no time for games.”
“Yes. Sorry about that.” He waddled out of the room with a bow-legged gait. He had stuffed his trousers with all sorts of goodies.
“You vill have to remove everything before we see the Dwarf Council,” said Frau Magda. “They won’t let you in armed.”
“They won’t even know,” said Dad as he struggled along the hall and down the stairs. “This stuff’s practically invisible. Here, someone help me with these steps. I’ve got a mini-grenade launcher right where you don’t want one.”
Bitter is now available as an eBook.
Afterword from Mooderino