Bitter 117

The screaming stopped. Even through the thick rock now covering the tunnel entrance, Britta had been able to hear the kobolds. It had been shrill and unnerving, but at least it hadn’t lasted very long.

It wasn’t that she was being callous or wasn’t affected by what had most likely been a couple of very gruesome deaths, she just told herself they weren’t really dying. When the dungeon reset for the next players, they would be resurrected and carry on like nothing had happened.

Digital constructs didn’t feel pain. The screams were recorded by actors. It was kind of hard to think like that because everything appeared so real, but death was not the end.

Everyone in the game was immortal. Or maybe not immortal, since you could die. What was the word for someone who keeps coming back to life?

The rock slab filling the opening shuddered. Then it began to rise. The dwarf was on the other side and she was lined up as the next victim. Even though she would be able to return to the game in twenty-four hours, she preferred not to die, digitally or otherwise.

She was in a maze with pits and traps. There had to be a way to defeat the dwarf without fighting it hand to hand. Britta opened her map. Stan was no longer stationary in the top right corner. His marker was moving down the righthand side, hugging the edge of the map.

If he kept going, he would pass by in a few minutes. With the dwarf busy trying to raise the solid stone door, Stan might even be able to sneak past without being noticed and make it to the exit.

Britta looked for the shortest route to go around the dwarf and meet up with Stan, but it would require her to go quite far north before linking up with the tunnel Stan was in, and even then, she’d be a long way behind him. But she had her boosted speed to help, so not an unworkable plan.

Once she got to him, though, would they be able to escape? The dwarf seemed to have an uncanny ability to know where they were. It was a bit of an advantage having the game on your side.

There was a gap under the rock slab. The dwarf was grunting and gasping with effort. Britta decided she should move, even if she wasn’t sure where she was going.

“Group chat on. Hello? Stan?”

There was a crackle—completely unnecessary, she was sure—and then Stan’s panting came through.

“Stan? Are you okay?”

“Where… where have you been?”

“I was in a temple, and—”

“Why did you turn off group chat?” He sounded annoyed, as well as breathless. “I can’t contact you if you turn it off.”

“Oh. Sorry. I thought that was what you were supposed to do. To save batteries.” She wasn’t sure why she said that. Clearly, batteries were not an issue. Now he thought she was an idiot.

There was a long, possibly stunned, silence. “Have you seen the dwarf?”

“Yes, he’s here. I tried to get to the exit but the dwarf got in the way. He just killed two kobolds.”

“Good,” said Stan. “At least we can use them to slow him down.”

She felt like objecting to his anti-kobold attitude, but that would just make her look silly. He was right. Anything that took the focus off them was good.

“What were you doing in the northeast corner? You didn’t move for ages.”

“He’s there? Is he guarding the way out?”

“I’m not sure. Maybe. Is there anything in the corner we can use?” He had ignored her question about what he’d been doing up there all this time, which only made her more curious.

“No, only the treasury. There’s not much in there, it’s just a room you have to solve a puzzle to get into. Tier 5 gear—it’s trash, even for a beginner. I hid there for a bit.”

“You hid inside the treasury?” Did that mean he encountered the other kobolds and killed them all?”

“No, I hid inside a big vase outside. It wasn’t very comfortable. Listen, can you lead him away?”

He wanted her to be the decoy so he could escape? “You’re just going to abandon me?”

“Look, this isn’t normal. Level 1 dungeons shouldn’t have these kinds of mobs in them. It’s some kind of glitch or something. The loot chest is probably bugged out, too—that’s what usually happens when a dungeon glitches, so I doubt it’s worth completing the dungeon normally, but if we die, we get locked out for twenty-four hours. No point both of us getting hit.”

“So I should take the hit so you can escape?” It wasn’t that she didn’t agree with his logic, but his assumption he should be the one to avoid being locked out was treating her like she didn’t matter as long as he was okay. It wasn’t just unfair, it was bloody rude.

“I’m only saying that because he’s already with you and I’m nearly at the exit. That’s just how it turned out. If you’d kept your group chat on, we might have been able to come up with a better plan.”

Now he was blaming her, and it was even more infuriating that he was probably right. There was a loud, grinding screech, followed by a slam. The dwarf had dropped the stone slab, probably after passing under it.

“He’s coming after me whether I like it or not,” said Britta. “I’m going to head for the treasure room. You can make a break for it, if you want.”

“Wait, no, I’ll meet you there. We can fight him together.”

Why the sudden change of heart? Chivalry reborn? She doubted it. For some reason, he didn’t want her going to the vault without him. Was there a treasure that wasn’t Tier 5 trash? She sped up, suddenly as keen to get there before Stan as she was to stay out of reach of the dwarf.

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