Bitter 195

The dwarf sitting opposite her certainly wasn’t dead. He looked very alive and healthy. No glowing red eyes, no howling. But was he really Roman?

Britta was free to move in her chair. She wasn't tied up or bound in any way. She could use her status screen and log out if she wished. She leaned forward in her seat and looked into the dwarf’s face.

The lighting in the room wasn’t the greatest, but she could see a resemblance, both to the painting hanging in Ginnie’s house, and to the dwarf running amok in the mines. This dwarf was older, though. His beard was full of grey streaks and his thick eyebrows were nearly white.

“You’re Roman?” she asked.

“I am.”

“You’re married to Ginnie?”

“I was. She believes me to be dead and I would prefer to keep it that way.”

“Why?” asked Britta.

The dwarf sighed. “My life was in danger. The only way I could protect myself was to fake my own death. To protect myself and those I cared for. It was unfortunate, but there was no other option that I could see.”

Having seen how it had affected Ginnie, it seemed a very cruel thing to do. Then again, maybe Ginnie had been like that to start with.

“Why was your life in danger? Who was trying to kill you? Gabriel?”

“Before I answer any more questions, I wish to know your role in this. I know you went to see Ginnie, and you have been to the mines a number of times. What is your interest in this matter? I am not your enemy. Just tell me the truth.”

It wasn’t quite as straightforward as just telling him the truth. This wasn’t a game to him.

“One more question,” said Britta. “I’ll tell you whatever you want to know, but first, just tell me who the dwarf is.”

“Who are you talking about?” said Roman.

“The one in the mines. The one the kobolds raised from the dead using a spell book they didn’t really understand.”

There was a look of shock on Roman’s face, and also on the dwarves sitting either side of him. Judging by their reaction and the questioning looks they were exchanging, this was the first they’d heard about a dead dwarf running around the Korlath Mines.

“He’s terrorising the kobolds and killing anyone who crosses his path.”

“Are you sure it’s a dwarf?” asked Roman.

“Yes,” said Britta. “He’s definitely a dwarf. And he looks like you, only younger. I thought he was you, to be honest.”

Roman’s face fell. Crumpled, even. He was clearly upset. “I fear that it is probably Tibor. My son.”

Now it was Britta’s turn to be surprised. “You and Ginnie have a son?”

“No,” said Roman. “He is from my first marriage. I wed his mother when I was very young. We went our separate ways.”

Dwarf divorce. There was a non-classical archetype for you. It explained why the dwarf looked so similar to the painting. But not why he was in the mines.

“He died?” asked Britta.

A pained look passed across Roman’s face. “He wanted to heal the rift between us and the kobolds. He felt it was time to tell them the real reason we sold the mines to them, and ask them to forgive us. Many of us were against it. What’s done is done, revisiting it now would serve no good purpose, other than to stir up old wounds. But he was always a headstrong one. He went to see the mayor to ask him to arrange a meeting. He disappeared before he had a chance to speak to him. No one’s seen him since.”

Britta wondered if that was true. “Are you sure he never met with the mayor?”

Roman nodded. “We have… contacts in the mayor’s office. Tibor went there to make an appointment, but never turned up for it.”

If Tibor had wanted to smooth things over, then someone else wanted to keep them as they were, and was willing to kill to do so. But it raised another question. If Tibor had been murdered, why didn’t he respawn like any other NPC? Was it different if an NPC was killed by another NPC?

“I went into the mines as an adventurer,” said Britta. “You know that’s how we treat the mines, right? We go in there to kill kobolds and steal their treasures.”

Roman nodded, his proud demeanour wilting a little, Britta thought.

“And the kobolds don’t really stand much of a chance against our superior weapons. They mostly fight with pots and pans.”

“It wasn’t our intent to put them in that position. We had no choice.”

“Yeah, you said that before. I don’t understand why you think that, though. What could force you to sell a worthless mine to another race and then let them be used as target practice by a bunch of overgeared tomb raiders?”

The dwarf on Roman’s left angrily thumped the table with his fist. “They understood the arrangement.”

“What arrangement?” There was definitely more to this than the dwarves had told her so far. She just needed to get it out of them.

There was a flashing message in the corner of her vision. Someone was trying to chat with her.

“Sorry, I just need to take a call.” She pressed the screen, which would look like her randomly patting the air from the dwarves’ perspective. “It’s a magic thing.” She hoped that would be good enough.

“Britta?” said Stan.

“Yes. I’m a bit busy right now. Is it important?”

“Yes, sort of,” said Stan. “Freddy’s dead.”

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