Bitter 142

“How many goblins in a patrol?” whispered Britta.

“Not goblins, kobolds. Six.” Tal lowered the torch so its glow wasn’t so prominent.

Britta was so flustered she was getting goblins and kobolds mixed up. She’d been so fixated on how to deal with keeping her secret it never occurred to her the dwarf might not show up. She was supposed to be the trigger.

She tilted her head and listened. There was some talking that was too quiet to make out, followed by laughing. Far too relaxed and jolly for kobolds in fear for their lives.

The sound of footsteps receded and Talia let out a small sigh.

“Are there a lot of patrols?” asked Britta.

“Every ten minutes. They aren’t too difficult to kill, but I’d rather not have to take on six against two.”

She was being nice about it, but Britta suspected she wouldn’t have minded the odds if she’d had a more experienced partner. One who was better armed and wasn’t wearing a carpet.

“I’m going to take a quick look over here.” Britta pointed down the tunnel.

“We should wait for the others” squeaked Tal. “It’ll be a lot quicker if we’re all together.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I just want a look at the first room.” She hurried down the tunnel, further into the dark.

The light followed her. “I’ll come with you. To the first room.” Talia sounded a bit nervous, like she didn’t really want to come but felt obligated to back up her fellow party member.

Britta ran on tiptoe trying to not make too much sound, her long cloak dragging behind her. She wanted to see if this really was a different dungeon.

She reached the first room in a few seconds, a small, square chamber with three more doorways. Tal came in behind her with the torch and flickering yellow light filled the room.

It looked just the same as she remembered when she’d been here with Stan. Britta tapped the map in the top corner of her vision. It opened out in front of her, a full blueprint of the entire floor with traps marked. It was the map from when she was here before.

The dungeon, this floor at least, was the same. Same layout, same design. If this was the regular version, the version every other player had been experiencing with disappointment, then perhaps it wasn’t the dungeon that had been different for her, just the occupants.

That made sense. Stan hadn’t been surprised by the dungeon itself and he’d run it before. It was only after the kobold ran past them and the howling dwarf appeared that he expressed his confusion about what was going on. Britta stopped to listen again; there was no howling.

Tal’s reaction to the patrol also suggested there was nothing out of the ordinary here. Why? What had changed? Or, to be more exact, why had it not changed?

She wasn’t with Stan this time, but there was no obvious reason why that would make a difference. She looked down at herself. Same clothes, other than the cloak.

The cloak! Was that it? Did the game consider the cloak cheating? Did the game have the ability to make those sorts of decisions?

On one hand she could understand it, the cloak was clearly a direct counter to the dwarf, giving her an easy win. If she took it off and put it away, would that do it? Seemed unlikely but worth trying.

“Feeling a bit warm,” said Britta as she took the cloak off and put it in her inventory.

Nothing changed. Did she have to go out and come back in again? She could still take the cloak out when the dwarf appeared, so it seemed more likely that she wouldn’t be allowed to have it on her at all. This was all assuming she was right and the cloak was the cause of the dwarf no-show.

After all the trouble to get into the mine, now she was in, it was just a boring old dungeon for beginners. And if she went outside, Stan could be waiting for her and she’d be back where she started.

Which would be perfect, she realised. If she agreed to his demands and partied with him, cloak stashed in her inventory, the dwarf wouldn’t appear and he’d be convinced she wasn’t the key he thought she was. It was brilliant. Everyone would leave her alone and consider her a useless noob.

“Hey,” she said to Tal, grinning at her bad luck turned good. “I think I’ll just—”

Tal pointed behind her, wide-eyed. “Look out! Kobolds!”

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