Bitter 270

“It’s probably burning poop,” said Dad.

“In the shape of a book?” said Britta.

“It’s only partly shaped like a book. And poop is very malleable.”

“We have to get it.”

Dad looked over the wall again. Britta joined him, only letting her eyes above the stonework. Hopefully anyone looking would think her bushy eyebrows were a couple of spectating caterpillars.

It looked like a battlefield, with shapes staggering through the smoke. Voices called out in distress, although they didn’t sound injured. Perhaps they’d been splattered with flaming faeces. Probably a war crime.

“I think we should stay out of sight,” said Dad. “Don’t you think the book will just destroy itself if we leave it up there?”

Flames danced around on the book as the wind ran across it. There was a good chance it would keep going until only ashes were left. But that wasn’t the only issue weighing on Britta’s mind.

“What if it sets the roof on fire? There’s people in there.”

Surprisingly, no one had come running out of their houses to see what all the commotion was about. Lights had appeared in some windows, but those had gone out again, suggesting either that the inhabitants didn’t consider the night’s events all that interesting and had gone back to bed, or that they were too scared and considered staying indoors to be the safer option.

They were probably right, apart from those unlucky enough to have burning debris sitting on their roofs.

“How can we get up there without being seen?” asked Dad. It was a reasonable question.

Here was a situation where invisibility would have come in handy. Every spell she hadn’t taken seemed to be the one she needed.

The shack wasn’t very tall, a single storey building with four walls. The roof was at a slight angle and made of wood. The flammable variety.

“Can you give me a boost?”

Dad didn’t seem overly keen, but he nodded. They stayed on their bellies and wriggled towards the shack. Once they got to the wall, Dad got onto his knees, had a quick look around, and then stood up.

Britta put a foot into his interlocked hands and he launched her into the air. He had augmented strength, and she had very little weight, so she went up quite high. She had to hope no one was looking in her direction, or if they were, that they wouldn’t think there was anything strange about seeing a flying gnome. It was a fantasy world, gnomes probably soared through the skies all the time.

She landed on the roof, the burning book right under her. She slapped it away, sending it fluttering to the ground. The roof was scorched, but didn’t appear to be on fire.

Britta scrambled to the edge and dropped herself down. Dad was there to ease her to the ground. They both dropped to their bellies again. No one had spotted them.

The book was smouldering but the flames had died down. It was definitely Dad’s book—there was about half of it left. Most of the pages had been eaten away, but the spine and cover were mostly intact.

Dad picked it up by one corner and patted it against the grass. His gloves protected his fingers, but he had to keep swapping hands to prevent burning himself.

“What do we do with it?” he asked her.

Britta looked around again. There was a fire off to their right. It looked like a mini-bonfire, the remains of an outhouse that had crash-landed behind a grouping of shacks. It wasn’t in direct sight of where the guards were.

“Over there,” said Britta. They got on all fours and crawled towards the fire. Once they were behind the buildings, they got to their feet and ran.

The fire was pretty intense. Judging by the smell, there was plenty of organic fuel powering the combustion.

Britta found a stick and Dad rested the open book on it so the covers hung over either side. Britta held it over the fire like she was toasting marshmallows.

The book caught fire easily, the flames tinged with green. Within a few seconds it had fallen off the stick and the flames rose higher and greener.

Dad stood by the corner of the nearest shack to keep watch. He had his status screen open to see if the boosted stat was affected. The book didn’t seem in any hurry to be destroyed and Dad shook his head every time she gave him a questioning look.

Then there was a pop and sparks began flying out, which was both a good sign and a bad one. Good because it indicated the book was probably about to be consumed, and bad because it was bound to attract attention.

The flames suddenly rose higher and then sank down, and went out with a sucking sound. All that was left was a ball of green light, hanging in the air. It wasn’t like the balls of light Britta could make, this one was fuzzy and not very bright. It looked more like someone had left a felt-tip pen to bleed onto a sheet, only the sheet was made of air. Very hot air. There was no way to get closer.

She looked at Dad who had come closer. He shrugged.

“I guess that’s the magic part of the book,” he said.

“How do we destroy it?” asked Britta. Dad just shrugged again.

The green ball trembled and shimmered, and then began floating up into the sky.

“Quick, stop it.”

“How?” said Dad. It was already out of reach.

“Shoot it.”

Dad took off his bow which had somehow found its way back onto his back. Trust him to leave no loot behind. He nocked an arrow and aimed, shifting the angle up and then sending the arrow soaring up.

Even if he made the shot, there was no reason it would do anything other than fly right through it. But Britta didn’t want to have to go through all this again if she could possibly help it.

The arrow hit its target, which exploded in a searing blast of white light that bathed her in warmth. When Britta could see again, there were two words floating in front of her eyes.

You died.

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