Bitter 114

Britta didn’t feel anything at first. Then there was a tingling all over her body and the hairs on her arm stood up on end. It was strange but it didn’t feel bad. In fact, it was quite invigorating. Her red skin even looked less red, although it was hard to be sure in the low light.

The priest continued to chant, changing tone and cadence. After about five minutes, the singing stopped and the priest opened his eyes. He looked a bit dazed but blinked a few times and snapped out of it.

“How do you feel?” he asked, peering into her eyes.

Britta backed away. “Fine, thanks. What was that fandango thing you mentioned?”

“You don’t feel… jumpy, or anything?”

“No. Should I?”

“No, no. Just checking. Charmer’s Fandango is a side-effect of putting too many spells on one person. It’s quite rare but the more spells, the more chance. But you don’t seem to be affected.”

Britta stood there, trying to search inside herself for signs of anything unusual. She didn’t really know what she was looking for, but nothing stood out as a cause for concern.

“I don’t think there’s any problems,” she said. “Is it bad?”

“Oh, it’s terrible, but no need to worry about that now. The dwarf, remember?”

How could she forget? “Yes. Right.” She checked the map again. For some reason, Stan was now in the top right corner and stationary. Had the dwarf caught him? “What’s in the northeast corner?”

Sidney and the priest exchanged a look.

“Nothing,” said the priest. “Nothing important.”

“Is it the vault?” Another look. “Because that’s where the dwarf is, so that’s where I’ll have to go.” She had no intention going anywhere near that area as long as the dwarf was there, but it would be good to know where the treasure room was, for future reference.

“Yes, that’s where the treasure vault is,” admitted the priest. “They’ll have barricaded the door, so they should be safe. Until the food runs out.”

Britta was aware of what could happen to men trapped in mines for long periods of time, she didn’t want to think about what it would mean in a fantasy setting. She would have assumed nothing beyond a PG 13 rating, but the devs’ tendencies to overdo it, and the game’s tendency to behave oddly whenever she was involved, made her wary of opening the vault door and finding cannibal kobolds who had turned into ravenous zombies.

“Can you show me the best way to get there, without setting off any traps?” More information she could use another time. The vault was in the northeast, her best bet was to head southwest and back up to the floor above. The kobolds had to have a way to get in and out. She could ask them, but it would be too obvious she was going to make a run for it. Although why that made her feel embarrassed, she had no idea. It was just a game.

Once they’d told her the quickest route and helped her mark the different traps on her map, Sidney opened the door, quickly sticking his head out to check the tunnel.

“You are very brave,” said the priest. “I gave you all the spells I had, including Fungus Detector. If you feel hungry, just follow your nose.”

“Thanks.” The idea of eating mushrooms growing in an underground tunnel didn’t sound very appetising. “I thought one of the spells was oak skin or something.” Her skin felt smoother and softer than it had before. Not oaky, at all.

“That will only activate when you’re attacked.” The priest patted her on the shoulder. “You will be remembered as a great hero.”

He sounded like he’d already made up his mind how this would end.

“I don’t plan on dying,” said Britta. He was right, but it was still irritating.

“Of course. You have a good… you have a chance. You always have a chance,” said the priest. “I will pray for you.” He was practically giving her the last rites.

“I’m not going to fight him, I’m going to… get him to chase me and head for an exit. Once he’s out of the mines, he’ll be easier to deal with.” She was making it up as she went along, but it actually sounded like quite a reasonable plan. “Where is the nearest exit, so I can lead the dwarf there.” She suddenly felt nervous, seeing a way out of this place and just needing the priest to give her the vital piece of information. She was even holding her breath.

“There’s a shaft in the southeast corner,” said the priest excitedly. “It’s not very big, and you have to climb a tall ladder, but once you’re out, you can’t get back in that way. The dwarf won’t be able to get back in, either.”

The mood had suddenly shifted from wake to victory party.

“Okay, then,” said Britta. “Let’s do this.”

“Yes, yes. Good luck.”

“Good luck,” joined in Sidney. He opened the door wider and Britta walked into the passageway.

The tunnel went from north to south. One way was the dwarf, the other was the exit. Britta waited for them to close the door. They stood there, waiting to see her off.

She took a few tentative steps north. “Right. Bye then.”

“Bye bye,” said Sidney, waving.

“Toodle-loo,” said the priest. Neither moved to close the door.

“You should shut the door. Terrible draft.” Britta walked north, trying to make it look like she definitely wasn’t planning to go south as soon as the door closed.

She kept walking and finally, when she was nearly at the end of the tunnel, she heard the door click shut.

With a sigh of relief, Britta quickly jogged back, running on the balls of her feet to keep the sounds of her footsteps to a minimum. Just as she got back to the door, it opened. The priest’s face looked out at her, his eyes narrowing with suspicion.

They stood there, staring uncomfortably at each other.

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