Bitter 122

The dwarf moved very slowly, lumbering across the bridge. He could definitely move faster if he wanted to, Britta had seen him at least stumble along at a jog. It was like he was purposefully playing the role of unstoppable killer, relentlessly bearing down, always there in the rearview mirror.

The devs indulging their monster movie geekdom.

Thinking of it in those terms didn’t help, though. It wasn’t some hokey guy in a rubber mask, or dodgy CGI with a pasted-in feel. The red eyes, the bushy beard, the stubby legs somehow combined into a terrifying whole that made her shake with fear.

She had nowhere to run. The door behind her offered her no escape and the dark abyss was most likely a one-way trip to deadsville. She considered jumping anyway. It would be preferable to having her arms ripped off and her head squeezed until her eyeballs popped out. She had seen Dad play enough fighting games to know what kinds of finishing moves boys liked to see.

Leaping to her death would at least be quick. She presumed. She peered down past the edge of the area she was standing on. It felt like a long way down, but she couldn’t actually see anything. It might only be a couple of metres deep for all she knew. Or there might be a secret area down there, only accessible by the daring and the foolhardy.

The dwarf had reached the halfway point. He stopped to lift his head and howl. The shrill, echoing scream filled the cavern for no obvious reason other than dramatic effect. It worked.

Britta considered firing off her spells, perhaps knocking the dwarf off the bridge, but the banshee was some kind of ghost, and undead creatures weren’t affected by her illusions. Still, it might be worth a try as a last resort.

Having nothing better to do, Britta ran to the door and banged on it. Her small fists barely made any sound. She used the hilt of her dagger, but that didn’t make much noise either.

The door was made of a dull, earthy material that could have been clay, could have been heavy duty rubber. Up close, she saw a line running down the middle. It wasn’t a straight line, it zig-zagged, went straight for a bit, zig-zagged some more, alternating the whole length of the door. It would open like a sideways mouth with crooked teeth. Unfortunately, she had no idea how to open it. She couldn’t even get her black fingernails into the crack.  If getting inside was a puzzle, there were no clues where to start.

The dwarf had paused again to howl, really milking it. There was still the pressure plate on the other side. The banshee must have had access to the dwarf’s mind in order to know a double jump would lock the bridge in place, which suggested that maybe the dwarf was still in there, somewhere. Maybe she could talk him into resisting the banshee’s control. She was doubtful.

But another thought occurred to her. If two presses of the pressure pad locked the bridge, perhaps more jumps would produce other effects.

“Hey!” she shouted across the gap. “Get back on the pressure plate.”

The shade materialised out of stealth mode, a dark blob from this distance. It appeared to be where the pressure plate was, but there was no effect on the bridge.

“Start jumping,” she called over. The shade didn’t do anything. Did it not understand, or was it unable to jump? It didn’t have knees, per se, so jumping might not be a concept it readily understood. “Like this.”

Britta bounced up and down. She found she could jump surprisingly high, perhaps another effect of the buffs she’d received. Or maybe gnomes were naturally springy.

The shade copied her, sort of. It rose and fell, rose and fell. It wasn’t exactly jumping, but close enough.

The dwarf stopped and looked back. It was hard to tell with the glowing red eyes, but it appeared to look a bit shifty. Nervous, even.

On the shade’s third ‘jump’ there was a click followed by a hiss. The bridge trembled.

The dwarf began running as fast as his little legs could carry him.

The bridge detached from the far cliff edge and fell. It was still attached to her side, so it slammed into the rock wall beneath her. The dwarf disappeared into the abyss without a sound.

She listened for him hitting bottom, but heard nothing. Was the dwarf dead? Had she won? If she had killed the dwarf, should she get a bunch of experience points and go up a level? Maybe two?

There was no indication she had levelled up, no congratulatory message. It could be the dwarf wasn’t worth enough XP, but that seemed unlikely. She called up her status screen to see if there was any change and realised she should have done that before. The whole screen was lit up in different colours and looked much bigger than before.

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