Bitter 120

Britta immediately felt guilty. It was obvious how much Stan valued being in this particular dungeon. Getting kicked would be upsetting for anyone, but in his case, it would be doubly so.

She had no hard proof that he was planning to do any of the things she suspected. It was all assumption and a scratchy feeling at the back of her mind, and now that she had banished him, the scratchy feeling had turned into doubts about her decision.

She could invite him back, and for a second she considered it, but as soon as she thought it, the scratchy feeling reverted to its first position, warning her of sneaky stabs in the back.

Scratchy if you do, scratchy if you don’t.

It was unfair of her, but ultimately it was the right choice, she told herself. He definitely wasn’t to be trusted, even if he could have been useful.

Anyway, it was too late now. Even if she brought him back, she couldn’t see him being all humbled and keen to do as he was told. He’d be pissed off and even more likely to turn on her.

There was no point dwelling on it—what was done, was done. She headed up the tunnel to the treasure room and whatever puzzle awaited her. According to her map, there were no traps ahead and no side exits she might get ambushed from. The dwarf would have to get to her through this tunnel. Or meet her at the treasury via another route entirely.

She ran with her ball of light showing the way. With her hand held up, she noticed the soft red glow under the ball—she had a message. Unsurprisingly, it was from Stan.

That was totally uncalled for. I have just as much right to run that dungeon as you. Invite me back.

She closed the message without answering. He had a point, she had no right to kick him like that, but this wasn’t a court of law. She didn’t need proof to be suspicious of his motives. This was a game where you fought and killed to survive, and in that context, she was perfectly justified in throwing him out. She kept moving.

The next message wasn’t quite so restrained.

If you don’t invite me back, I’m going to report you. I have close connections with the mods and devs. You will be banned for an extended period, maybe even permanently.

The players were mostly investors in APE so it was very likely he did know some of the employees, but so did Britta. In fact, they were paying her to play the game, so it would be very unlikely they would ban her, even if she had broken the rules. Which she hadn’t.

However, his threatening manner did achieve one thing. It made Britta feel less guilty.

She reached the end of the tunnel and entered a large cavern. The walls were natural rock, craggy and uneven, stretching up into the dark to unknown heights. There was a flat area in front of her that had been laid with square paving stones. Two tall stands held bowls with flames dancing in them. The light was enough to illuminate her immediate surroundings.

The ground she was on ended abruptly and there was a deep black hole that prevented her going any further. And on the other side of the cavern, was a similar ledge, with similar torch stands, beyond which she could just about make out a door. She assumed that was the treasure room. How was she supposed to get across?

She looked around. Behind her, on either side of the opening, were two large vases. One was smashed to pieces, but the pieces were covered in dust and cobwebs, suggesting it had happened a long time ago.

The other one was taller than Britta. Presumably, this was the one Stan had hidden in. At its base were marks scored into the paving stones. It had been dragged across the ground. She followed the marks to the edge of the platform she was on. One of the paving stones was a pressure pad. She stood on it and sank a tiny bit.

There was a click, but nothing else happened. After few seconds, she stepped off—there was a gentle hiss as the pad returned to surface level. She looked around for more pressure pads and found one a few steps away. She stepped on it; same click followed by same nothing.

Since the scrapes on the ground suggested using the vase as weight, she put her arms as far around the vase as she could and tried to drag it. She could barely get her hands halfway round and it towered over her, but it began moving with only a small effort.

[ Silpling’s Might active]

The message appeared at the top of her vision. She thanked Derik under her breath.

Once she got the vase away from the wall, she went around the other side and pushed, which was easier than waddling backwards. The vase didn’t threaten to tip over, which was her main concern, and she guided it over the pressure pad. Click.

She quickly jumped onto the other pad. There was a slight rumble and a sheet of polished stone slid out from the cliff edge. It was about a metre wide and mottled white like marble. It stretched across the gap to the other side, taking about thirty seconds to do so.

Pretty easy puzzle.

Britta stepped off the pad and the bridge started coming back. Ah.

Still, not so hard to figure out. She just needed another weight. It would be an extremely easy problem to solve if you had a full party with you. Just leave two on the pads. Was that what why there had been two kobolds running around? Left behind to operate the bridge, unable to use it themselves. Were kobolds really that cold-hearted? Then again, it had probably been built by the previous owners, the dwarves, and Britta could easily believe it of them.

She looked at the broken vase. It was all in pieces, but they still had to weigh something, she just had to carefully pile them up on the pressure pad. She tried to pick one up but it wouldn’t budge. None of them would. She couldn’t even brush off the dust.

“This is just bad design,” she said out loud. If they’d wanted to make them unusable they should have found a way to do it that made sense, not just glue the pieces to the ground and make them non-interactable.

There was nothing else in the immediate area other than the torch stands which were buried in the rock. She could always invite Stan back but immediately put that idea to the back of the queue. Maybe this was why he had spent so much time here, trying to figure out a way across. It would have made sense for him to want her to come here so they could solve it together, but it spoke volumes that he preferred to go get his buddies than share the treasure with her.

One person on their own would have real problems solving this. But then Britta remembered she wasn’t on her own. She summoned her Shadow Guardian.

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