Bitter 174

Britta ran to the edge of the platform and looked down. The bridge had fallen with one end still attached to the other side. It was vertical, running down the far wall like a strip of fly paper, and stuck to it were two figures.

The bridge was made up of thin sections linked together, but when it fell, the individual parts flipped like the slats of a window blind, turning the bridge into a ladder.

During her previous trip into the chasm, Britta had been too preoccupied with the falling to her death part to notice what had happened to the bridge. This could be a way out if she found herself down there again.

The immediate problem, though, was the imminent return of the dwarf. It was climbing up and would soon be at the top, although it was a little hampered by Stan clinging to its back.

He had managed to grab onto the dwarf’s large belt and was hanging off it like a key chain. His legs swayed from side to side as he was carried up. The dwarf stopped and tried to swat him off but its arms, although powerful and muscular, were too stubby to reach around far enough.

Britta watched the dwarf clamber up and occasionally stop to try to shake off Stan, who clung on. He didn’t give up easily, that was for sure. Even when he had a steep drop into the void beneath him, Stan did an impressive job of refusing to let go and die. His hands were firmly wrapped around the dwarf’s belt as he swung around to avoid getting slapped off.

The question, though, was what would he do once they made it back to the top?

“Stan!” she called out. “Sorry.” She felt bad for having ordered the shade to drop the bridge. She had hoped he would make it across in time, but she’d known his chances were slim.

Stan swivelled to look across the gorge at her. “You did what you had to.” He called back. “And I’ll do what I have to. Hey! Mr Dwarf! We can work together, you and me.”

Britta was shocked. She had expected him to be mad with her, but she hadn’t expected him to try and make a deal with the dwarf against her. Was that even possible? The dwarf wanted everyone dead, didn’t it?

The dwarf didn’t respond, as far as Britta could tell. It seemed to have given up on trying to get the monkey off its back and was determinedly heading up to the ledge.

“You won’t kill her on your own,” said Stan. “She’s a powerful mage. I know her weaknesses, though. I can help you, if you spare my life.”

Powerful mage? All her weaknesses were right out in the open, the dwarf didn’t need anyone to point them out. So what was Stan up to?

The dwarf reached the top of the bridge-ladder and heaved itself over. Stan came over with it and let go of the dwarf’s belt. He flopped onto the ground, lying on his back.

The dwarf got from its knees to its feet and turned around. It reached down, its large hand closing in on Stan’s face.

Stan didn’t move, he just lay there waiting for the inevitable.

The dwarf grabbed the bow slung to Stan’s back and pulled it off him, jerking Stan to his feet in the process, clipping his ear as the bow was removed.

Stan stood rubbing the side of his face. The dwarf held out the bow, thrusting it as Stan. He took it. The dwarf pointed across the chasm at Britta.

“Oh, I see,” said Stan. He nocked an arrow and lined it up. He lowered it again. “It’s too far.”

The dwarf double-stamped on the pressure pad and then did a strange one-footed tap dance on it using heel and toe.

The bridge rose, the slats flattening one after the other as they came up level with the platform, reforming the broken bridge just as it had been before. The mines had belonged to the dwarves so it made sense they would know how all the moving parts worked. Britta wondered what else the bridge could do.

The dwarf pointed again. Stan nodded and started across the bridge, his bow drawn and ready to fire.

“He’s going to kill us,” squeaked Derik, positioning himself behind Britta.

“I don’t think so,” said Britta. She turned and put a reassuring hand on his shoulder. “Stay behind me.” It wasn’t really a necessary command since that was exactly where Derik was already.

The dwarf howled and Britta spun around to face front again. Stan was about halfway across and had stopped. He was well within range. He pulled the bowstring further, his hand past his ear.

Britta tilted her head, nodding it towards Derik standing beside her.

The arrow was pointed at her. She nodded her head more insistently. Stan moved his aim and fired. The arrow struck Derik in the middle of his forehead.

Derik didn’t move. He stood very still, arrow sticking out of his head, blinking slowly like he wasn’t sure what had just happened.

Britta leaned her head back and said, “Fall down like you’re dead,” to the other Derik behind her. He dropped to the floor and the mirror image Derik did the same.

She’d managed to cast the spell to create a simulacrum easily enough, she just needed Stan to understand he could shoot the copy. Presumably he’d had enough of an angle to see the second Derik and realised. Either that or he just decided to kill Derik, anyway. She wouldn’t put him past it.

There wasn’t really a plan, they were working together to keep the dwarf busy until the anti-curse spell wore off and the curse spell took effect. Another ten minutes. Just draw things out and hope they could keep it going between them, as a team.

Stan raised his bow again, this time pointed at her. She wondered what he would do now. Whatever he said, she would find a way to back him up, convince the dwarf they were now enemies. But he didn’t say anything. He fired the arrow.

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