Bitter 293

“Actually,” said Britta, “maybe war isn’t the best idea.”

“No var?” said Frau Magda, sounding disappointed.

“No,” said Britta.

“Really?” said Dad, sounding equally disappointed.

“We don’t want to get lots of people killed,” said Britta. “Better to sneak in and out without anyone even knowing.”

“Stealth mission,” said Dad. “I like it. Your buddy should come in useful.” He nodded towards the shade who was lingering on the stairs.

Frau Magda turned around to face the black cloud behind her. “Vhat is this thing? Vait, I see you, there. I see you... Come closer.”

“I have to go,” said the shade, backing away. “Conserve mana.” The smoke dissipated, taking its contents with it.

Britta couldn’t blame the shade for leaving. The idea of having Frau Magda giving you a thorough inspection would be enough to send anyone running.

“Enough vasting time, ve must go. Ve must speak to the Dwarf Council.”

“Hold on,” said Dad. “Before we leave, are there any items lying around here that we could possibly use.” He was acting casual, like it was just a passing thought. “Maybe a scroll, or a magic book. Anything that might help us to rescue your mistress.”

Anything he could stick in his inventory when she wasn’t looking, more like.

Frau Magda took a moment to think. “Hmm. The Mayor does have some special devices, but he keeps them locked avay.”

“In the secret room upstairs?” said Britta.

“How do you know about the secret room?” demanded Frau Magda. “You vill answer me!”

“It’s my business to know these things,” said Britta, hoping she sounded like the sort of person who said such ridiculous things. “It’s what I do.”

“Yes, of course,” said Frau Magda, relaxing her tone slightly. “I understand. But there is no vay to enter the room without the key. And I do not have one.”

“Leave that to me,” said Dad. “I’m sure I can get us in. Just show me where it is.”

Frau Magda was hesitant, to say the least. But after Dad gave her an impassioned speech about how they had to use every available means to get her mistress to safety, she relented and led them upstairs.

“I bet she turns out to be a vampire,” muttered Dad under his breath.

“Who? Frau Magda?”

“No, the wife.”

“What? No way.”

“I’m telling you, he kept her locked up at home for a reason. Look at all this blood.”

“Vampires don’t throw blood around,” said Britta. “It’d be a waste of food.”

“Please. This is what happens when you only watch romantic vampire movies. Remind me to make you a list of proper vampire films when we get home.”

Britta made a mental note not to remind him.

“Here,” said Frau Magda. She was standing in the middle of a large bedroom, pointing at a mirror. It was roughly the size of a door.

“Can’t we just break the glass?” said Britta.

“No,” said Dad, “he’ll have taken precautions. Probably got it booby-trapped with all sorts of glyphs and wards.”

“So, you’re going to… pick the lock?” Britta couldn’t actually see a lock, but Dad might have some skill or talent that helped him open sealed doors and chests. It was the sort of perk he would take.

“Nope, don’t have anything like that. Don’t need it.” He walked up to the mirror and felt around the edges. “What we’ll do is place a few carefully targeted explosive charges here, here and here. And then we get well out of the way. Booby trap can’t hit us if we aren’t anywhere near.”

“You want to blow it up?” said Britta. “Won’t that destroy whatever’s inside?”

“Come on, sweetheart, you know me better than that. I’ll set it up so the blast only takes the mirror off. If it’s going this way—” he pointed away from the mirror, into the room “—everything inside won’t be affected.”

“But ve are this vay,” pointed out Frau Magda.

“We’ll be well back. Completely safe.”

He sounded confident. Britta wasn’t so sure. She’d heard him be just as confident when driving and insisting he wasn’t lost.

Dad took out a book and removed small blue flowers from the pages. They were dried and pressed flat. He applied them to the wall where they stuck. Once he was happy with that, he opened all the windows.

“A bit of ventilation in case of poison gas. If it is gas, leave the room until it’s had a chance to clear. It might be poison darts, though. That’s the other common one. Probably fire in a straight line so we’ll be off the side. Might ricochet, so don’t forget to duck.” He looked down at Britta. “You should be fine as you are.” Then he took out a small pouch. He inserted his fingers and withdrew pinches of black powder which he threw around the mirror. He bent down and tapped the pouch, sprinkling the contents on the floor, leading away from the mirror

“Is that gunpowder?” asked Britta.

“No, they don’t have that here. This is fairy dust. Very hard to get hold of. You have to grind up a hell of a lot of fairies.”

She decided not to ask him any more questions, in case he wasn’t joking.

Once they were on the other side of the room, he said, “Okay, that should be far enough. Let’s see what the mayor’s got stashed behind door number one.”

“Are you sure ve are safe here?” said Frau Magda nervously, edging closer to the door.

“Of course. I have nearly a fifty percent success rate with this method.” He stamped on the fairy dust.

It immediately caught light and a flame ran along the floor, hissing and fizzing as it went. When the flame reached the mirror, it shot up the wall, circling the frame, and making the flowers burst in a quick series of pops. Then the flame went out.

“Is that it?” said Britta from over by Frau Magda.

Nothing happened for a moment. Then the mirror slowly tilted forwards and dropped onto the floor, landing with a muted thump on the thick carpet.

There was no poison gas and no poison darts. They edged forward and looked through the doorway that had appeared.

Inside was a small room lined with shelves filled with an assortment of glinting weapons.

Dad’s face lit up. “Secret weapons cache. Jackpot! They’re gonna be magic, I can feel it.” He was bouncing around on his toes, barely able to contain himself. “I call dibs on any bows.”

He ran into the room.

“Wait, what if—”

Britta didn’t manage to get the rest of her warning out before a large blade swung down from the ceiling, and struck Dad in the head.

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