Bitter 172

Britta went through the explanation of how they were going to deal with the dwarf. She rattled through it but this time focused more on the effects it would have on the dwarf and how that would lead to it no longer posing a threat, and less on the actual mechanics of how to place the curse on the dwarf. She deflected his questions and impressed on him the need for all of them to work together, using the story of the Great Kobold and the Great Gnome working together against the Great Dwarf to lend it credibility.

If she kept some information back until it was necessary, she felt there was less likelihood of Derik thinking he didn’t need her. As long as he didn’t figure it out for himself.

“You really think you can activate the curse?” asked Derik. He was a lot less sure of himself without his boys there to back him up. Another reason he might go along with the plan this time.

“With your help. We just need time to cast all the spells on the dwarf while he’s trying to kill us.”

Derik mulled it over. He was at least thinking about it seriously, which suggested he believed it could work.

“We need a decoy, someone to keep the dwarf busy.” He slowly turned his head to look at Stan.

“No problem,” said Stan, taking the baton and running with it. “That’s why I’m here. These long human legs of mine will keep me out of his reach.”

“Hmm,” said the kobold. “A human being useful. I suppose it’s possible.”

There was a howl from outside the room that made them all jump.

“He’s here!” said Derik, not so much an announcement as an exclamation of terror. “It’s too late. We’re doomed. Doomed.”

Stan grabbed him by the shoulders. “Pull yourself together. You’re a kobold, damn it.” He slapped Derik across his hairy face.

“Yes, yes, sorry,” said Derik, shaking his head like he had just woken up.

The way Stan had thrown himself into that little scene, completely prepared, Britta suspected he’d been waiting for the opportunity to play the part of ‘guy who slaps sense into panic stricken colleague’ his whole life.

There was loud pounding on the door.

“Let’s leave through the secret passage,” said Britta.

Derik hesitated but his eyes went to the far wall.

“We know about the passage,” said Stan. He walked over to the wall and touched it. “Around here somewhere, isn’t it?”

It seemed Stan really hadn’t let himself be blindfolded properly last time.

“No need to worry,” continued Stan soothingly. “This is all part of the Great Kobold’s plan. He wouldn’t have told us all this if he didn’t want you to help us.”

There was more pounding. Derik nodded, wanting to believe Stan. The alternative was to face the dwarf alone, and surely the Great Kobold didn’t want that. He hurried over to the wall and pressed three different stones. A section of the wall slid aside, revealing a dark passage.

Britta lit a ball of light that filled the room with a wash of white and Derik flinched, shying away. “No. No, lights.”

She put it out. The temple was lit only by a few candles burning low. She picked one up.

The passageway wasn’t very long and ended in a blank wall. Derik again pressed some stones and it slid aside. On her map, Britta saw they were now much closer to the treasure vault. She also noticed the secret passage did not appear on the map.

“Now,” said Britta, “let’s go to the treasure room.”

Derik balked at the idea. “Was this your plan all along?”

“The bridge, Derik, we need to use the bridge to keep the dwarf off us.”

Derik looked at her through narrowed, beady eyes. He wasn’t completely convinced but he seemed to at least understand the logic.

“We know where it is,” said Stan. “If we wanted to rob you, we would already be there. This is about survival. We need to work together if we’re going to beat this thing.”

There was a howl in the distance.

Derik nodded and led the way. They moved quickly, their flight punctuated by howls that sounded closer and closer. They reached the bridge room and Britta immediately went to the pressure pad and stood on it. The bridge started to slide out and cross the gap to the other side.

Stan stood by the entrance, keeping an eye out for the dwarf. “How are we going to fix the bridge in place? The other vase is broken.”

There were two vases which were supposed to sit on the two pressure pads that activated the bridge. One was already in place, the other had been smashed and was unusable.

The bridge reached the other side and Britta jumped up and down. There was a click and the bridge locked itself to the far side.

“Like that,” said Britta, enjoying the impressed look on Stan’s face. “Quick, let’s get across.”

They all ran to the other side and waited. They didn’t have to wait for long. The dwarf appeared a few moments later, its eyes glowing red. It stomped into the chamber and stopped at the bridge.

“Hey!” called out Britta. “Over here!”

“What are you doing?” squealed Derik. “He’ll see us.”

“I know,” said Britta. “Start buffing him.”

“Which spell?” spluttered Derik, unable to keep his eyes off the dwarf slowly crossing the bridge.

“All of them. Go, go, go.”

Derik was too flustered to argue. He began casting his first spell. Only six more to go.

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