Bitter 173

There was a glow around Derik as he cast his spells. The dwarf wasn’t hurrying over the bridge, that wouldn’t have been dramatic enough. Instead, it took one thumping step after another, shaking the bridge as it crossed.

This gave Derik enough time to get one spell done and the next one started, but then they would have to deal with the dwarf being on their side of the gap. And that was going to be a problem.

Britta summoned her Shadow Guardian. The shade materialised in front of her, a black whisp that grew into a vaguely humanoid figure.

“Go across and unlock the bridge like last time.”

The shade hovered away, drifting across the chasm, its outline just about visible as it reached the other side. Stan watched it closely but didn’t ask her what kind of spell it was even though she could tell he wanted to. The shade stopped on the pressure pad and bobbed up and down.

The bridge unattached itself from the cliff edge on their side and began rolling back. The dwarf stopped. Thanks to its need to create a mood, it had only got about halfway across when the bridge started retracting.

It hesitantly moved forward, quickening its pace, but reached the end of the bridge with too large a gap to be able to make it to the platform. It stood there, slowly receding into the distance. There was no discernable expression on its deathly white face, but it didn’t look happy.

Then, it turned around and stomped away.

“He’s out of range,” said Derik. “I only managed to cast two spells.”

“Don’t worry,” said Britta. “He’ll be back." She raised her hand and waved. “Hey! Come here.” The shade drifted away from the approaching dwarf and returned to Britta’s side.

The dwarf reactivated the bridge by pounding hard on it with one foot. The bridge stopped and began moving forward again. The dwarf made its way onto the bridge and resumed its attempt to reach them.

“Quick, more spells,” said Britta. “Hurry.”

Derik began casting again.

“This is good,” said Stan. “We can keep this up indefinitely.”

“I don’t think so,” said Britta. “The buffs will make him stronger.”

“Yeah,” said Stan, “but he can’t hurt us if he can’t get to us.”

The shade was sent over again to repeat its job. The dwarf’s head followed it as it hovered past, working something out.

The bridge withdrew. The dwarf stormed back to the pressure plate and banged on it even harder. This time it waited, one foot on the pad, glaring across the divide like he was daring the shade to come over while he was there.

“How many spells?” asked Britta.

“Five,” said Derik. “I only have two left.” He sounded more optimistic now.

“Okay, but be ready to kite him.” She was looking at Stan who shrugged, agreeing but not thinking it would be necessary. Britta had a feeling it would.

This time, the dwarf waited until the bridge was locked in place before it attempted to cross. The shade was sent over and the dwarf speeded up to a jog. The shade called the bridge back. The dwarf kept running. It reached the end of the bridge, the distance to the other side several metres already, and it jumped.

Not a small hop, this was a mighty leap. It came down on their side with a hefty thump.

“Buffed,” said Britta. “Your turn.”

Stan was frozen for a second, then he fired three arrows in rapid succession. They all hit the dwarf, and had little effect.

“Come on then,” he shouted. “Let’s have you.” He moved away from Derik and Britta, drawing the dwarf to the far side of the platform. It had resumed its more menacing slow-mode of relentless pursuit which gave Stan time to stay out of reach.

Britta sent the shade to the other side again and turned to Derik. “Keep going. How many left?”

“Just one more,” said Derik, raising his hands wearily. He cast his last spell as the bridge returned to give them a way to escape.

“As soon as he finishes the last spell, you need to get to the other side,” Britta called out to Stan as he skipped past, taunting the dwarf with arrows and the occasional insult about its body hygiene. He was doing an excellent job of holding its attention.

“Done,” said Derik, his body slumping from the effort.

The dwarf stopped and stretched out its arms, roaring and howling at the same time. Then it hurled itself at Stan.

“Run,” screamed Britta even though Stan had already set off across the bridge. The dwarf moved faster than before, rapidly gaining.

“Why isn’t it dancing?” shouted Stan.

“Yes,” said Derik. “You said this would put the dwarf under Charmer’s Fandango.”

“We need twenty minutes for the Great Blessing to wear off,” said Britta.

“I don’t think I can…” Stan didn’t have the breath to finish his sentence. He was only just keeping out of the dwarf’s clutches.

“Jump,” shouted Britta.

“Jump where?” shouted Stan.

“Not you. Shade, jump.” She began jumping up and down where she was. The shade copied her.

The bridge detached from one side and fell. Stan jumped but it was too far. Both he and the dwarf fell from view.

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