Bitter 189

“Nonsense,” said Aunt Ginnie. “Of course you’ll be rewarded. The Garbolum family knows how to take care of its friends, and I can tell we’re going to be very good friends. Very, very good.” Her eyes flashed at Stan. He took an involuntary step back.

For all his swagger and bluster, seeing him in an awkward position with an opponent even more self-serving than him made Britta realise these things were relative. And that there was always someone worse out there. Or better, depending on your perspective.

“Thank you,” said Stan, switching tactics to buy himself some time. “We will do our best to earn your gratitude.”

“Perhaps you’d like a little in advance?” She pulled a face Britta guessed was a suggestive leer, but which could have been the first signs of a stroke. Britta enjoyed Stan’s discomfort, but it was getting to be a bit much. Whoever programmed Aunt Ginnie had gone a little over the top with the whole cougar angle. Even though this was the game giving its characters free rein, they were still based off their original incarnations, and Ginnie clearly had been coded with a one-track mind.

“You’re very kind,” said Stan. He was better at handling Ginnie when he didn’ have her too close to him. “But we have to make a start on our investigation before the trail goes cold.”

As far as Britta knew, there was no trail, and if there had been, it would have gone cold many years ago, but she nodded in agreement. “What I don’t understand is, if the kobolds bought the mine off the dwarves, why do people go in there to kill them and steal their treasure. Isn’t there a law against that sort of thing?”

The whole concept of adventuring and going into dungeons to find loot was an excuse to play a game, but in this world, there was no game. This was real life as far as the NPCs were concerned. So what was their rationale for allowing the mass slaughter of the mine’s rightful owners?

“You’d have to ask the mayor,” said Ginnie. “The dwarves felt they’d been cheated, the kobolds felt they’d been cheated, everyone blamed someone else and the mine was declared in violation of the health code, or something. It’s all politics.”

“So, the dwarves weren’t happy with the deal?” asked Britta. “You said they had to all agree to the sale.”

“They agreed to it, but then they tried to back out. It’s all far too complicated for a simple girl like me.” She batted her eyes at Stan, one eye flickering faster than the other, making her appear to be having a partial seizure.

“And Roman was okay with the deal?”

“Of course. It was his idea. His and Gabby’s. Those other dwarves were just jealous because Roman had married a beautiful human female. They didn’t like it. They couldn’t understand that we loved each other. Often for many hours at a time.”

Britta had a horrible feeling she was about to go into details. Judging by the look on Stan’s face, he had the same fear.

“The dwarves killed him!” shouted Freddy.

“I doubt it, my dear,” said Ginnie. “Dwarves don’t kill their own. Although they might hire someone to do it for them, I suppose. There’s always a way around these things.”

“We should talk to them,” said Britta. “Where do they live?” Other than the one in the mine, she hadn’t seen any, apart from a couple of player characters.

“In the mines, of course,” said Ginnie, like it was obvious. “Once they sold the mine, they dug down to a deeper level and opened a new one. New Korlath. That didn’t go down well with the kobolds, obviously.”

Britta turned to Stan. “Is that the epic dungeon?”

Stan nodded. How were they supposed to talk to the dwarves if they weren’t high enough level to enter?

“Isn’t there anywhere else they hang out?” she asked. “A tavern or something?”

“They never leave the mine,” said Ginnie. “Afraid someone will try to take it from them. Quite, quite paranoid. The mayor had to declare it an illegal operation. And ordered it cleared.”

“Perhaps we should speak to the mayor,” said Britta. “He seems to be heavily involved in this, too.” She gave Freddy a look, trying to get him to ask Ginnie about the mayor. They had come here to find out what the mayor had on Freddy’s dad. Even though things had gone in a different direction, it would still help to know what that was.

Freddy didn’t notice, or if he did, ignored her. He was too worked up about murderous dwarves.

“Well, there’s a lot to look into,” said Stan. “We should get started right away.” He was keen to leave and was already edging toward the door.

“Already?” said Aunt Ginnie, a little disappointed. “The sooner you go the sooner you come back, though.” She smiled and Stan moved quicker.

They were shown out by the butler and walked back towards the centre of town. Freddy led the way, muttering to himself and glaring at the Garbolum family guards they passed. No one bothered them.

“How do we get inside the epic dungeon?” asked Britta.

“We could level up,” said Stan. “Might take a while.”

At her current rate, it would take more than a while. “If it’s next to the kobold mine, isn’t there a way to get in from there?”

Stan thought about it. “It would be under it and there isn’t a way down other than.... What’s under the bridge?”

Britta had fallen into the chasm a couple of times now, but still hadn’t had a chance to look around, on account of being dead. Could there be a way into the epic dungeons hidden down there? It would mean going back in and finding a way down that didn’t involve falling to her death. And then there was dead-Roman to deal with.

Freddy turned around and confronted them both with a determined look. “I think we should find a dwarf and beat him up until he tells us which of them killed my uncle.”

It was a very direct plan, but not without merit.

“Do you know where we could find one? I thought they were all in the mine.”

“There’s one over there,” said Freddy, pointing at the Adventurers' Guild. There was a dwarf standing outside. A player.

“No, that’s—” She wasn’t sure how to explain it.

Freddy wasn’t in the mood for waiting. “A dwarf’s a dwarf. They all know each other. We just have to beat the truth out of him.” Freddy set off across the street.

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