Bitter 256

Britta felt like she had found another piece of the puzzle. If the thing that the two men had fallen out over was the book, then it had been in her possession all this time.

Or, at least, that’s where she thought it was. She had put it away and forgotten about it. She hadn’t seen it in since—would it still be there?

Of course it would, but she still had a desperate urge to check.

She couldn’t, not here. Not in front of someone who knew what it was and could easily take it from her. She was in no doubt that Dennis’ mum, despite looking like a sweet little lady, was as deadly as she was charming.

The question was, what did the two men want the book for? And would it still be valuable with the last few pages missing?

If the book she had was the same one they were looking for, it could be useful as a bargaining chip. If she found someone who knew how to use it properly, she might be able to stop the dwarf in the mine. Could it perhaps bring back Freddy? Or would that just mean another banshee-possessed nightmare?

Plenty of questions and very few answers.

“I don’t suppose you know about the secret room in the Mayor’s bedroom?” asked Britta

“How would I know such a thing? Whatever kind of woman do you take me for?”

“Um, ah…” Britta hadn’t meant to imply anything untoward, although Dennis’ existence already implied it, and much more strongly. “I didn’t mean…”

Clara grinned mischievously while Dennis’ face had turned scarlet.

“You leave that room alone,” said Clara, wagging a finger. “Nothing of interest for you in there, not until you’re a lot older.”

Dennis put his spoon down, most likely due to a loss of appetite.

“You know what that means?” said Clara. “Time for dessert!”

She got up and went off to a cupboard. Britta had no idea what dessert would be, and she made sure not to ask.

“You can see the problem,” said Dennis quietly.

Clara was rooting through the cupboards while humming happily.

“Is the Mayor really a threat to you? I doubt you’re in any danger here.”

“That’s hardly the point. The Mayor, my father, has been conscripting people into his service. He’s bolstering his forces for some unknown reason, nothing short of war by the looks of things, and he wants my mother back in her old job. A lot of people are going to get hurt, maybe even her. Nobody wants to get involved in whatever this is, but he’s leaving them with no choice. Do you think you can stop him?”

“It would help if I knew what he was planning,” said Britta.

“You’d have to ask him,” said Dennis. Which was an excellent idea.

The game always put the answers in front of her, it just didn’t tell her. The book ending up in her inventory was a prime example. Not by coincidence had she stumbled across it, she was sure of that.

It made things unlike real life, where answers not only weren’t in easy reach, they often didn’t exist at all. Even if it took some working out, knowing there was an answer made the search a lot less frustrating.

The game wanted her to find a solution, and it gave her the tools, but it didn’t tell her what to do with them, or what exactly she was supposed to be aiming for. She wasn’t even sure what the question was, but there was definitely a way through this maze.

And now she had a dinner date with the man himself. He might not tell her anything, but she was sure he was the right person to ask.

“Here we are, suet pudding.”

It looked like regular pudding. It smelled delicious.

“Thank you,” said Britta.

“The secret ingredient—”

“No, please, don’t spoil the surprise.”

They chatted a little more over the pudding. Britta learned some new things about New Town, and some things that made Dennis go from scarlet to purple, but her main objective now was to go see the Mayor.

After her second serving of pudding she fought off the desire for a nap and said her goodbyes.

Dennis followed her out and walked her to the end of the road. It was dark and quiet, save for the occasional cat yowling.

“Are you sure you’ll be alright getting back?” asked Dennis.

“I’ll be fine. Adventurer, remember?”

“Of course. Sorry, didn’t mean to imply you couldn’t take care of yourself.”

“That’s okay.” Under other circumstances she would have gladly accepted the offer, but her second dinner awaited. The dwarves were probably also waiting for her. At least she had her teleport spell to get her out of trouble.

“Don’t worry about those dwarves, by the way,” said Dennis, as though he’d read her mind. “Once Mother tells someone to stay clear, they usually do.”

Britta wasn’t so sure, but she smiled and nodded like she was worry-free. “I’ll let you know how I get on.” She thanked him for dinner and set off.

The walk would also do her waistline some good—she felt stuffed. Hopefully, it would only be a snack at the Mayor’s place.

As she followed her map out of the ghetto, she had the uncomfortable feeling she was being watched. And then she saw them, dark figures approaching from all sides.

“Hey, little girl, come here.”

Not Scottish, not very short and, as far as she could tell, an absence of beards.

“Who are you?”

“We’re friends of Freddy’s. You done that poor boy no good. Time you got your punishment.”

They were Garbolum thugs. She recognised a couple of them as they closed in. Time for a quick getaway.

“Hello, boys,” said a sweet voice from behind Britta. “Long time no see.”

“Erm, is that…” said one of the thugs nervously.

“Red Swan,” squeaked another.

“Quick, scarper.” They all ran.

“Oh, fun. You get home now,” said Dennis’ mother. “Me and the boys have a lot of catching up to do.” She ran off into the night, spritely as a teenager, leaving behind only her laugh.

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