Bitter 162

Stan adjusted his clothing and checked his equipment. Britta’s clothing would probably fall apart if she pulled too hard on the straps, and she didn’t have any equipment to speak of. She had some money now, but she was afraid to change her set up in case it prevented her from triggering the dwarf story line.

It probably wouldn’t, she could only afford slightly better gear than what she already had on, but it didn’t seem like it would be worth the risk. The dwarf would still be able to kill her in a single punch.

“There’s a lot of questions I’d like to ask you,” said Stan. “But I won’t. I respect your right to privacy.”

Britta looked at him with a sideways glance. “Thanks.”

“You lead the way, I’ll be your trusty sidekick. Well, I’ll be your sidekick, at least. This will be fun.”

“I don’t mind if you lead the way,” said Britta.

Stan raised a curious eyebrow, and then settled into a knowing smirk. “Human shield. I like the way you think.”

Britta didn’t say anything. There was a long silence as they stood there.

They were second in line for the mines with a party of four in colour coordinated clothes. There were two fighters; a big one with a giant shield and a smaller one with two swords; a female with a hooded cloak that hid her face; and a short, round man in what looked like a chainmail dress. She wasn’t sure what class the last two were. What made them stand out, though, was how they had all chosen garments that were bright red with gold trim.

They looked like idiots, but they chatted excitedly about what to do once they were inside.

“We don’t have to wait, you know?” said Stan.

“It won’t take that long.”

“I could loan you some money, if you like,” said Stan. “You know, so you could get a decent weapon.”

“No thanks,” said Britta. “I want to try and repeat what we did last time, as much as possible. And I don’t plan to kill anyone.”

“That’s going to make levelling up a bit tricky. Are you a pacifist now?”

“No. You don’t have to always fight to win.”

Stan scrunched up his eyebrows. “Sure, if you’re on a quest to find something, but in a dungeon? It’s kill or be killed.”

“Not the way I play the game.”

The barrier over the mine entrance flashed blue and the four ahead of them went in.

“So, you want me to hold fire when we see the dwarf?” asked Stan, plucking at his bowstring.

“I’m not sure it’ll have any effect if you hit him, but yeah, pretty much. Wait until I give you the signal.”

“And what will the signal be?”

“Me screaming, probably,” said Britta.

The entrance flashed blue again. “You first,” said Britta.

Stan nodded and entered. Britta waited a second, and then followed.

The tunnel was dark. Stan lit a torch and his face glowed in the reflected orange light. “Looks the same,” he said.

Britta nodded. “We didn’t see anything unusual until the first room.”

Stan turned and led the way.

The first room looked like it always did. Four exits, three of them with traps that lowered slabs of stone to block them off. They stood in the tunnel, peering in.

Last time, a kobold had appeared running for its life. The dwarf had been close behind. She didn’t know if it would all begin from the start or carry on from where they’d left off. She didn’t know if this was the right dungeon, either.

They waited but nothing happened.

“This is the right dungeon,” said Stan confidently.

“How do you know?”

“There would have been a patrol by now, otherwise.”

It was a reasonable point. But hardly conclusive.

Britta opened her map. “We’ll go to the temple.”

“What temple?” said Stan.

“Follow me.” She set off, remembering to skip over the twine stretched across the opening. She stopped. “The tunnels were all blocked off last time we were here. That’s how we got split up.”

“So? The dungeon probably resets after a certain amount of time.”

She had a bad feeling. She raised her hand and made a ball of light. It went shooting down the tunnel.

“How did you do that?” said Stan, astonished. “What class are you?”

The sounds of running feet echoed down the tunnel. A figure appeared in the distance. From behind it, there was a deafening howl.

Britta turned. “Run!”

Her foot caught the tripwire. The slab of stone fell behind her with a crash, trapping Stan, the kobold and the dwarf in the tunnel behind her.

Britta winced. He was never going to believe that was an accident.

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