Bitter 296

Britta managed to convince Dad he needed to shed a few pounds. It wasn’t easy — he was adamant he needed every item he had pilfered, or borrowed, as he put it — but in the end, gravity made the most convincing argument. He could barely move.

“I’ll just leave a few things here.” He unstrapped a leg-catapult (Britta didn’t even ask for an explanation), and stuffed it into the toilet under the stairs. He tossed in dozens of small metal stars after it. “Don’t suppose I need all of these.”

“I vill return them to their correct place, later,” said Frau Magda, watching him closely.

He reluctantly closed the door, no doubt intending to come back and get them when he had the chance. He had been unable to confirm if the Mayor’s items were magic, which was what he had both assumed and hoped. Whatever they were, they were too high-level for his Identify ability, which had only excited him more. His plan had been to test them in the heat of battle.

Now, he had divested himself of at least half of them, and he looked very sad about it as he slowly closed the toilet door. His motto had always been: Leave no epic-quality loot behind.

“Let’s go, Bruce,” said Britta in an attempt to snap him out of his separation anxiety. “We have to focus on not getting killed, remember?”

He nodded and pulled his hood over his head to hide the unsightly dent. It was an improvement, but the cloth fell into the gap a bit, making his outline rather distracting.

There was a mirror in the hall. He stood in front of it trying to arrange things to look more natural.

“Come on, come on,” said Britta impatiently.

“One minute,” said Dad, constantly readjusting and repositioning. “I can’t go up in front of the Dwarf Council looking like this.” He put his thumb in his mouth and blew hard, puffing up his cheeks.

“Are you trying to inflate your head?” She knew this was a fantasy world where normal rules didn’t apply, but surely that wouldn’t work.

“Worth a try,” said Dad. He settled for pulling the hood tight around his neck so the top was taut and didn’t sink into the gap. He looked like a baby wearing a bonnet.

Frau Magda waited with her arms crossed and one foot tapping. She was deep in thought about something. “Ve must be careful how ve make our request to the Dwarf Council,” she said, barely noticing Dad’s faffing. “It is a delicate matter.”

“What exactly is so delicate?” asked Britta, sensing she might be able to get some more information out of her.

Frau Magda had her lips firmly closed, like she feared words would slip out, otherwise.

“Remember,” said Dad, as he checked his reflection from various angles, “the more you tell us, the better chance we have of saving your mistress. If we get taken by surprise, something we could have prepared for, our odds of success go down. And they aren’t so hot to start with.”

Britta tried to look Frau Magda in the eyes, which was difficult because of the height difference. Both she and Dad were laying it on thick in an attempt to get Magda to reveal the truth about what was going on.

She resolutely kept her lips sealed, although her eyes betrayed her desire to tell them. At least that’s what Britta assumed the twitching was about.

“We’ll do our best,” said Britta, “but we’ll do a lot better if we know what it is the Mayor and Mr Garbolum are meeting about. What do the mines have to do with anything? Why did they sell it to the kobolds in the first place? It can’t have just been to make money. Magda, if you know anything, you have to tell us. For her sake.”

Even Britta felt she was overdoing it with the theatrics, but Magda did seem to be buckling.

“If you tell us,” said Dad, “we promise to tell no one else. You can trust us.” He got down on one knee. “You can trust us to save her.”

Compared to Dad, her performance hadn’t been positively restrained.

Magda put her fist in her mouth in a last attempt to stop herself. “It is a dreadful thing that they did. The two of them, together. Neither is faultless in this matter.”

“Yes,” said Britta, like she had the faintest idea what she was going on about. “This isn’t about taking sides. We just need to know what we’re going up against.”

Magda nodded. “It started vith the mines. My people had lived there… forever. Ve worked hard for metals and minerals. Occasionally some precious stones. Prosperous times. Vhen one vein vas depleted, ve would dig deeper, and another vould be discovered.” She paused, a look of concern passing over her face.

“Go on,” said Britta, trying to keep the momentum going. “You dug deeper…”

“Yes, deeper. Too deep. There was something down there. Something that ve shouldn’t have disturbed.”

“And that’s why the dwarves sold the mines?” said Dad.

“No. Most vere unavare of the discovery.”

“What was it?” asked Britta. “What did they find.”

“I don’t know,” said Magda. “I only know many have died because of it.”

“But the Mayor and Mr Garbolum found out?” said Britta. “They wanted it for themselves?”

“Yes. If the Dwarf Council had known… they vould have destroyed the mines, collapsed the tunnels. I can only tell you vhat I overheard. Much of it makes little sense. But I believe vhatever it is, it has a dark and malevolent power.”

“But why sell it to the kobolds?” said Dad.

“They needed to vait. They needed someone to guard it, unknowingly.”

“Aren’t the kobolds kind of weak for something like that?” said Britta. “Hundreds of adventurers go in there every day and take all their treasure.”

“Don’t you see?” said Dad. “That’s what makes them so perfect. People go in, follow the route conveniently set up for them to claim the trash in a chest. Then they leave, never realising there’s something far more powerful just a little further down.”

“So, the whole dungeon is a decoy? All the traps and monsters are to make it feel convincing?”

“Sure, why not? If you find a few coins in a chest, you’re going to assume you reached the treasure room, right?”

It did make a kind of sense. The question, though, was what was the real treasure?

Subscribe to this content and receive updates directly in your inbox.