Bitter 163

There was banging from the other side of the stone slab. Loud, desperate shouting. Britta heard both Stan and the kobold yelling for her to unblock the opening, but she had no way of doing that. It was nice that they had joined forces, even if it was only to scream at her.

And over the top of all their pounding and shouting was the howl of the banshee-possessed dwarf closing in. They were going to die.

Britta made a decision. She opened her status screen and went to the group page. She was the party leader, as expected. She tapped on Stanley’s Cameo and kicked him out of the party. Just like old times.

Once that was done she sent him a message. She tapped it out on the keyboard that appeared in the air in front of her, accompanied by the sounds of a kobold being ripped apart. Even before she’d finished typing she was moving away, down the east tunnel, now very aware of not setting off any more traps.

She sent the message and hoped Stan would be calm enough to follow instructions. She heard the stone slab being lifted, scraping the walls on either side. She couldn’t see it because she was already running.

With the map open in front of her and a ball of light in her hand, she raced along the route to the middle of the map. That’s where the stairs to the lower level were. She ignored everything else other than trap placements. She knew the dwarf would be after her. It did feel a little like the game made sure he knew where she was, but she had no proof of that. He might just have an uncanny ability to track gnomes.

She reached the central room and raced down the steps. The tunnels down there were like spaghetti but the map clearly showed the path she needed to take. She got to the ladder without any sign of the dwarf. She couldn’t even hear the howling.

It was a long ladder that seemed to go on forever inside the pitch black shaft. She needed both hands and had dropped her ball of light. Finally, her head popped out into another tunnel, this one with a blast of cold air running through it.

The exit wasn’t very far. She ran out even though there was nothing behind her, but she wasn’t going to get caught out at the last minute the way they did in horror movies. The monster always makes one more appearance at the end.

Stan was waiting for her, just as she’d told him to. She was gasping for air and couldn’t speak at first. He stood there, waiting for her to catch her breath.

“It was an accident,” she managed to blurt out.

“I know.”

“You did the same to me last time. I didn’t want you to think I was trying to get you back.”

“I didn’t,” said Stan. He seemed to be taking it very well. “Like you said, I did the same to you. It’s hard to stay cool when that thing turns up. I think the howling might have some kind of magical effect. Confusion or stupidity or something.”

Britta stood up straight after took a deep breath. “Okay. Try again?”

Stan nodded. “That was quick thinking, to get us both out before we got killed and had to wait a whole day. Very smart.”

Whether he was trying to flatter her or not, he was right. It had been smart, and it had also been fun. She had made snap decisions in a way she had never even tried before. It didn’t matter if they were the right ones, it only mattered that she didn’t waste time and followed through. If she was wrong, she’d die. But if she was right, but too slow, she’d also die. Just going for it and accepting it could all go horribly wrong was freeing. And no matter how it turned out, she could try again.

It wasn’t very much like real life. It was better.

They made their way to the entrance, walking along the path around the mountain.

“So, you’re a magic user. Explains a lot. Why you’re so weak. Why you don’t like fighting. Pretty bold for a first character.”

“I didn’t really choose it. I only planned to have a quick look at the game. I chose my class at random.” There were a lot of different types of magic users. He had guessed the right ballpark, but that didn’t mean very much.

“Do you want to tell me what spells you know? So we can coordinate our attacks better?”

“No,” said Britta.

Stan shrugged his shoulders and didn’t say any more about it.

There was no one waiting to go in. Across the way, the queue for the epic version was humongous. They took a moment to compose themselves and went it.

They went down the tunnel, entered the first room and then waited by the north exit. And waited. They didn’t doubt what was coming, had a clear idea of what they needed to do. They also knew they would die if they mistimed it.

They heard the kobold's slapping feet first. Then the howl.

“Quick, hurry,” they shouted down the tunnel, encouraging the kobold to get a move on.

The kobold seemed a little surprised but he hardly had a choice. As soon as he was through the opening, Britta kicked the tripwire and the slab fell.

The kobold had stumbled and landed on the floor. He got unsteadily to his feet, took one look at Stan and Britta, and turned to run.

He wasn’t quick enough. Stan pounced, sending the kobold back to the floor, this time with Stan on top of him. The kobold struggled but he couldn’t escape. A resounding bang rang around the room as the dwarf smashed into the stone slab.

“Look at this,” shouted Britta. She thrust her hand in the kobold’s face. “The ring, do you recognise it?”

It was the ring she’d been given to gain safe passage and help from kobolds. Now she’d see if she was doing this right.

The kobold didn’t look, he was too busy trying to squirm out from under Stan. Britta grabbed the tuft of hair on his head and forced his attention on the ring.

“Shaman. High Priest. Derik!”

The kobold stopped struggling. “You know Derik?”

Britta smiled. “Get him up. We’ve got to go.”

Behind them, the stone slab began to rise.

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