Bitter 109

It was called the Mines of Korlath, so it stood to reason it would go deeper underground, but Britta had been too focused on not getting caught by the dwarf to think about the mining part.

The tunnels on this floor had smooth walls and sharp corners. There had been no signs of digging. No carts on rails, loaded up with ore like all mines in fantasy games were supposed to have.

The mine part was obviously lower down, but how big was it? Was there another level below that? It was supposed to be a beginner dungeon—Britta had expected it to take half an hour at most, and she’d already been down here that long.

What would happen if she logged out? Would it send her back to the temple in town next time she played? Was there a respawning point down here somewhere? And what effect would being in a party have? It was all very confusing.

She decided to keep going and hope the exit wasn’t too far.

The stairs leading down had been cut into the rock quite steeply and she kept one hand against the wall to help keep her balance. It was dark and her ball of light felt oppressed into a dim glow, lighting up just the area around her.

There were fifty steps (she counted them) and then a tunnel that wasn’t at all like the ones above. This had very rough walls and was circular, with curved walls and ceiling. Water dripped somewhere nearby. Devs playing with their sound effects.

Britta opened her map. Most of it was blank, but there was one clearly defined trail zigzagging away from her, on the far end of which was Stan’s blue marker. He was moving pretty quickly, which suggested the dwarf was down here, too.

She took a few steps forward and immediately found turnings left and right. Unlike the uniform pattern the tunnels upstairs had made, these tunnels felt anything but planned. It was like a bunch of burrowing animals had gone off in all directions at once.

Britta checked the map again and then took a tunnel heading in the opposite direction to Stan. She would have a look around first, just to see what kind of a place this was, and then get the shade to do a more thorough search. She didn’t want to use up too much mana just in case she needed to cast one of her other spells.

Everywhere she went, there were more tunnels left and right. Her map was quickly turning into a mad scribble. She had the horrible feeling she was going in circles.

A couple of times, she was sure she heard something. The patter of feet, maybe? It could just have been her imagination. After about ten minutes of aimless wandering, she saw a flash of something moving and before she knew it, she was running after it.

Even as she ran, it seemed like a dumb idea. Why head towards whatever it was? Wouldn’t ‘away’ be a better idea? But she was getting quite bored and somewhere in the back of her mind was the hope that whatever she was chasing knew where it was going. She certainly didn’t.

She ran full speed through the curving tunnel, not quite able to see what she was chasing, but able to catch the merest glimpse at the edge of her light. She ran into a small chamber, no more than a junction for a bunch of tunnels, and there was a kobold waiting for her.

It was even smaller than the other one she’d seen, but hairier. And holding a large wooden spoon. Its eyes, large and milky, with pale grey pupils, glared at her and then it charged.

“Glamor passive off,” said Britta. She was plunged into darkness, which was probably just how the kobold liked it. She made the hand movements to cast Glamor, the non-passive version, and a flash of light exploded in the darkness. The kobold screamed.

“My eyes, my eyes.”

“Glamor passive on,” said Britta. A ball of light dropped onto the ground, revealing the kobold lying next to it, writhing around with its hands covering its face.

Britta decided this was her chance. She jumped on the kobold, its warm, hair body struggling under her, and managed to twist its arm behind its back so it was face down with her sitting on top of it. She was bigger and stronger, which were both firsts for her.

“Help! Help!” called out the kobold.

Britta leaned down so her mouth was near one of the kobold’s large, flappy ears. “Quiet! You’ll attract the dwarf.”

The kobold shut up immediately.

“I don’t want to hurt you, I just want to get out of here. Where’s the way out?”

“Above. The way out is above.”

There had been no exit in the level above. Not to the outside. The kobold was still and quiet. They sat there for what seemed like forever, and then in the far distance, there was a howl.

The kobold’s body tensed. Britta tightened her hold of its arm.

“Why is that thing down here?” she whispered into the kobold’s ear.

“The High Priest,” the kobold whispered back. “He summoned it. He said it would be our servant, help us dig. We’re all going to die.” The kobold began to cry, sobbing with fear.

“You have a priest? So there’s a temple down here?”

The kobold sniffed. “Yes.”

“With a stone altar, like a big slab?”

“Yes,” said the kobold, slightly confused.

“Take me there.” Britta wasn’t sure what was going on but a temple meant a save point. And a save point meant she could log out and have breakfast. Death by the hands of a murderous dwarf could wait until later.

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