Bitter 178

The obvious thing to do was to take the loss and try again. Britta had been focused on getting further than before and didn’t have an endgame to her plans. That wasn’t surprising since she hadn’t known what would happen once the dwarf was under the curse. At least now she knew Charmer’s Fandango would work. She also knew the Kobold King and his elite troops would join the fight, once the dwarf wasn’t in control of its body.

Having established these things, she could use that information to better plan for the next attempt. It wasn’t like everything would repeat exactly the same, but with those two pieces of the puzzle, she was sure she could come up with a better way to deal with the dwarf, given enough time to think about it.

Cut her losses, regroup, work out a more specific way to stop the dwarf from fighting on once the curse took hold—there had to be a way to use those twinkling toes against the dwarf—and then use the dwarf’s capture to convince the kobolds they could trust her.

She didn’t know what she would do with that trust, or how she would stop Stan from breaking it, but that seemed like a reasonable goal.

The dwarf was all over the king who was just about managing to keep out of its clutches. He had a short sword out and jabbed at the dwarf. The dwarf swatted the blade away with its bare hands. The relentless dancing was all that was keeping the king from a certain death.

Stan was still on the ground trying to shake his head clear. He wouldn’t be of any use for a while. The elite kobolds were watching, occasionally looking at each other, probably hoping someone else would lead the charge.

And Derik was a trembling heap, trying to hide behind the king while looking for a way out of the firing line.

Britta sized up the situation and came to a decision. Waiting for others to sort things out wasn’t going to achieve anything. Even if they somehow succeeded, she would end up sidelined. As usual. She had to act, not only to prevent herself dying, but also so she could be part of whatever came next.

It was a strange way to think for her. She’d never been one to put herself forward when she didn’t really feel she was the best person for the job. Now, it didn’t matter. The job was what was best for her.

Britta ran forward, straight towards where the king and the dwarf were in the middle of their deadly two-step. She ducked under a sweeping sword and got behind the king. She grabbed Derik and pulled him away.

Derik was only too happy to be rescued. He had been trying to get out from under the king’s feet since the dwarf burst through the defensive line the kobolds had set up, but the wildly flailing sword of the king, and equally wild swinging arms of the dwarf, had worked in concert to keep him trapped.

Britta dragged him with her as she jumped back to the side. The fighters were too engrossed in each other to bother with them.

“Stop!” shouted Britta. “He’s the one you want. He summoned you.” She had Derik by one arm and thrust him in front of her.

The dwarf hesitated. It was the perfect opportunity for the king to make a strike, but he hesitated, too.

Derik struggled to get out of Britta’s grasp, horrified. “What are you talking about? It has nothing to do with me.”

Britta held on as tightly as she could. “He called you from your slumber. Only he can send you back.”

Derik was desperately trying to free himself. He had realised he’d made a terrible mistake leaving the relative safety of the king’s cloak. There might have been the odd blade or dwarven paw to avoid, but it was preferable to being served up as like a sacrificial gift to appease the dwarf.

Britta had no idea if what she was saying was true. Derik had been responsible, technically, since he cast the spell, but that didn’t mean she knew how to reverse it, especially as the dwarf had eaten the relevant page in the spell book. She hoped the dwarf wouldn’t remember that.

The dwarf’s focus shifted off the king and very much onto Derik, its glowing red eyes wholly fixed on him. This was good, Britta thought. Probably, good.

The dwarf had stopped trying to attack the king. It was still doing a jig, feet tapping and hopping, but it seemed a lot calmer, in an enraged sort of way. It began to move towards them.

Derik tore himself free and staggered away from Britta. The dwarf changed direction towards the kobold shaman. Derik jumped back into Britta’s arms and held tightly onto her.

“He can cast a spell to send you home,” said Britta, edging away from the dwarf. “But if you kill him, you’ll be stuck here forever.” She didn’t know where home was for the dwarf, or the banshee that was inside it. For all she knew, it was a terrible place and the dwarf would much rather stay here, but then there was nothing she could do. She had to rely on it wanting to go back.

The dwarf raised a hand and slowly pointed at Derik. “Home,” it groaned in a deep rumble.

“What? Yes, of course. Right away.” Derik looked at Britta. “How?” he mouthed at her.

“The spellbook,” said Britta. “Where is it?”

Derik rummaged around in his robes and pulled out the leather bound book, fumbling and nearly dropping it.

The dwarf howled and lunged.

Britta pulled Derik out of the way and together they fell off the edge of the platform and into the chasm.

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