Bitter 146

“So,” said Lord Jim, “we better get the introductions out of the way first.” He turned towards the people entering behind him. He pointed at the archer girl. “This is Welsh Rarebit. Refer to him as a she or he gets upset.”

“Shut up,” said the archer in a deep, mildly irritated voice.

“This is our healer, Father Paddy. You’ll always find him as far from any fighting as possible.”

The man in the grey robes nodded at Britta. “You two have been busy, I see. Nice bunch of bodies you got lined up in the tunnel there.”

“I think I took a little damage,” said Tal. “Can you give me a quick heal?”

“Funny,” said Father Paddy with a weak smile. “Walk it off.”

“He’s very stingy with the heals,” said Lord Jim. “You can expect to be knocking on death’s door before he decides to offer you any assistance.”

“Let me tell you about the art of healing,” said Father Paddy. His words were met with groans all around. “Knowing who to heal, when to heal them and in what order is a delicate balance of intelligence and wisdom. Your main goal should always be to keep me alive at any cost. A dead healer can’t heal anyone. Resource management is—”

“Okay, okay, you can bore the pants off her later. And the last member of our group is our tank, Fizz.”

Britta waited for someone to step out of the tunnel but no one appeared. She looked around and then at Lord Jim. He smiled at her and leaned his head towards his shoulder.

Hovering next to his head was a small, winged creature. A fairy.

“That’s your tank?” She didn’t mean to sound quite so doubtful, but a tank was supposed to be the first line of defence, holding off the attackers while everyone else fired shots without being attacked. How was Tinkerbell going to keep anyone at bay?

“You’d be surprised at what she can do,” said Lord Jim. The fairy zipped around his head.

Britta leaned forward to get a better look. Her height made it difficult but from what she could see, the fairy really was like Tinkerbell, a pretty girl with wings.

“Hi,” said Britta.

Fizz didn’t say anything in return, she just flitted about.

“She doesn’t talk,” said Lord Jim. “And also, she isn’t actually a player.”

“She isn’t?” said Britta. “What is she?”

“She’s a pet. A rare one. You get them in the gift boxes, if you open enough of them.”

“You have to open hundreds,” said Rarebit.

“Or get very lucky,” said Tal.

“I opened hundreds,” said Lord Jim. “Why not? It’s only money. And she is very useful.”

“Isn’t she a bit small to be a tank? Won’t she die if she gets hit?”

The fairy moved very fast, zipping around, but she looked small and fragile.

“Can’t be hurt,” said Lord Jim. “Doesn’t take damage, feels nothing. But wait till you see her in action.” He raised his hand and Fizz landed on the end of his finger.

Britta was certainly curious. Perhaps the tiny fairy transformed into an enormous beast when the fighting started.

“You’re a shield maiden, right?” said Lord Jim. “You probably want to do some tanking yourself.”

“Ah, no, not really. I’ve never been in a group before so I’d rather see how you guys operate without, um, getting in your way.” She would have to tell them she wasn’t a shield maiden eventually, but for now it seemed best to watch and learn, and hopefully not get under their feet.

“Fair enough,” said Jim. “We’ll show you the ropes, no problemo. So, no sign of the mysterious dwarf, then?”

“Nope,” said Tal. “Just the usual. Kobolds and more kobolds.”

“You got the key, though, right?” said Rarebit.

“Yep.” Tal held up the key.

“That should speed things up,” said Jim. “Usually, you have to wander around this level hoping to bump into the patrol with the shaman. Nice of him to come to us, for once.  Now we just have to get to the stairs without bumping into any of the other patrols. Not that we won’t be able to handle them. It’s when you accidentally pull two patrols at once that things get a bit dicey.” He let out a low whistle.

“Can we get on with it?” said Rarebit impatiently. “This is my last run for the day. Don’t look at me like that, I think it’s pretty obvious the whole dwarf thing was a mistake. I’m not blaming anyone, it was an honest mistake, but I swear, if I ever have to do this stupid dungeon again…” He shook his head.

“Okay,” said Jim. “Let’s go. And watch out for the tripwires.” He carefully stepped over the wire as he exited through the north tunnel.

The others followed, each high-stepping over the wire. Britta was in the middle of the group, nervous excitement filling her tummy. Partially in anticipation of running into monsters and partially because she didn’t want to let down her new friends.

They moved quickly through the tunnel and followed Jim as he took them left and right. He seemed to know exactly where he was going. He’d done this so many times he didn’t even need to look on his map.

Britta had her map open in front of her and could see their route was taking them to the middle of the floor where there was a way down to the lower level. No one spoke as they jogged along, other than Jim who would occasionally say, “Trap!” and point at the floor.

They would all avoid that flagstone, Britta taking extra care not to set off whatever the trap was and get everyone killed. It felt like that would make a poor first impression. They made it to the stairs without encountering any kobolds. Apart, that is, for the ones waiting for them. Six of them between them and the way down.

“Right,” said Lord Jim. “Hang back and watch the show.”

Britta was only too happy to comply as the others rushed into battle.

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