Bitter 391

“Run?” said Dad.

“Wait,” said Britta. She had been in this position before. It felt like she was always in this position, and it was always the same mad dwarf hurtling towards her. Only, this time it felt different.

This time there was someone shouting, “Move, move, move,” at her.

The passage was long and not lit. It funnelled the sound towards her. There were feet, lots of them, and on top of that was a continuous stream of encouragement.

“Keep going. You can do it. Not much further.” It was Mark’s voice, she was almost certain, and it wasn’t aimed at her, that was just the way the acoustics worked. “Not too fast. We don’t want to lose them.”

He was shouting it at the rest of his party. But what were they doing here? They were supposed to be heading in the other direction.

“That sounds like Master Chief,” said Dad, peering into the dark.

“I think they’re being chased,” said Britta.

She swung her arm back, and then rolled the ball of light along the floor. It lit up the passage like a train going down a tunnel.

“What’s that light?” shrieked another voice, high-pitched and feminine.

“Ambush!” called out someone else.

“Don’t panic,” shouted Mark. “Heads down, power through.”

They were charging at full speed. The four of them literally had their heads lowered, ready to ram into whoever was ahead of them.

“It’s us!” shouted Britta. They didn’t seem to hear. The acoustics didn’t work so well the other way.

Behind them, weapons and armour glinted in the ball’s light. Then they emerged from the shadowy depths of the passage, kobolds, small and hairy, but not just running on the floor, on the walls and roof of the tunnel, too. At least six, maybe eight, maybe more.

“What the—?” Dad stepped forward, aimed a finger, and fired a Magic Bullet spell.

A streak of light shot down the passage, zipping through the onrushing team, and pinged off the helmet of one the roof-kobolds. It hit his helmet and he fell on top of the kobold beneath him.

They tumbled together, then both sprang up and kept running.

“Too weak,” said Dad.

The other party had seen them now.

“Run!” shouted Mark. “Run, run, run,” he added for emphasis.

Britta didn’t see the point, plus she really wasn’t in the mood for running with no plan. Dad was right, eventually she would have to face the brutal nature of the game. You defeated the opponent with violence. And then you were fine. No one got really hurt. No one real got hurt. No one stayed dead.

It was her turn to step in front of Dad this time. “Get down,” she shouted, and then she sent a fireball down the tunnel.

She hadn’t meant it to be quite so big. She hadn’t realised it was possible to make it that size. It practically filled the whole tunnel as it roared towards the four very surprised players.

Was there friendly fire in the game? Britta wasn’t sure.

It was only when the fireball flew over their heads that Britta saw they had thrown themselves flat on the ground. Then the fireball hit the kobolds, and there was an explosion that sent a wave of scorching air back towards them.

It only lasted a second, but when the flash of light faded, the far end of the tunnel was ablaze. Bodies were burning.

The other team got up. They looked a bit shell-shocked, but otherwise fine.

They looked back down the tunnel at the carnage, then at Britta.

“Why the hell did you do that?” screamed Mark, his eyes popping out of his head. It didn’t sound like he was very grateful.

“Sorry,” said Britta. “I never thought it would be that big. It must be a bug.”

“You stupid, stupid idiot.” Now he was taking it a bit far. She might have gone over the top with the pyrotechnics, but she had still saved them. “Who uses a fireball indoors? It’s a battlefield spell. Not for enclosed spaces. How are we going to get to the next floor now?” He was stomping towards her like an unhappy customer whose new car had broken down on the way home from the dealership.

“What do you mean?” asked Dad, re-taking his place in front of Britta.

“The kobolds had the password. On a bit of paper. You need the password to get to the next level. No password, no progress. Get it?” He was being very condescending, but he was upset. Britta didn’t take it personally.

“I didn’t know,” she said.

“Of course you didn’t. Because you didn’t want to listen. You just charged off on your own, never mind anyone else. And now it’s all burned to ashes. Gone.” He waved his hand like he was performing a magic trick. “Piff paff poof.”

“But how were you planning on getting the password from them?” said Dad. “They would have killed you.”

“There’s a spike trap down there.” Mark was still shouting. “We’d lead them to it, jump to the side, let them dive right in. You ruined everything!”

“That was your plan?” said Britta. She knew she had messed things up for him, but it was hard not to get annoyed back. “Make them run into their own trap?”

“They’re not very bright, okay? I’ve seen it work. That’s how the beta testers did it.”

“And you think they’d fall for the same trick twice?” she asked.

“I guess we’ll never know!” He turned to the others. “Let’s go. I suppose we can search a few rooms while we wait for a new patrol with a new password. Should only take a few hours.” He stormed off, livid.

The others followed him, quietly letting her know they didn’t feel the same way as Mark.

“Thanks anyway.”

“That was really cool.”

“I should have been a mage.”

They hurried to catch up with their irate leader.

Dad raised his hand to ward off the heat from the flames. “So, the fireball. Illusion, right?”

“Yeah.”

“Not really burning.”

“Nope.”

“Feels very real.”

“I know. Not sure why. It’s never been that powerful before.”

“Probably because of the difference in level. You going to get this password, then? I’m still finding it very believable.”

“Sure.” She wandered over to the kobolds who were lying on the ground completely unburned, and checked them for the password.

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