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Preface from Mooderino

Bitter 301

Britta stood very still. The dwarf hadn’t moved, hadn’t attacked. It just stood there with its eyes ablaze, threatening to do all the horrible things she knew it was capable of, but not doing them.

“Should we attack?” whispered Dad.

“No,” Britta whispered back.

“We could get the first hit in,” said Dad.

“I don’t think that would help,” said Britta.

They were talking very quietly and making no sudden moves, like they were facing a stray dog they weren’t sure of. Britta wondered if there was something in her inventory she could offer the dwarf. What exactly would a dwarf treat consist of?

She looked down at the floor. They hadn’t actually entered the room, their feet were in the doorway without crossing it. Was that why the dwarf hadn’t attacked them? Did they have to cross an invisible line to activate it?

Despite their proximity to the undead dwarf psychopath, it was still a video game. There were lines of code that controlled the dwarf’s actions. If entering the room was the trigger, they could stay out here and never have to fight.

“What do we do?” asked Dad. He was at least willing to let her take the lead.

“I think it won’t start coming after us until we walk through this doorway.”

“And then it’ll try to kill us?” said Dad.

“Yes. It’ll... try.” It would try, and then it would succeed.

“He’s a big hairy fella, isn’t he? They’ve really got the follicle physics down.”

“Not now, Dad.”

The dwarf wasn’t very tall and not very fast, but it was wide, and very strong. It was doing a good job of filling the room so that getting past it wasn’t going to be an easy task.

There were three exits from the room. If they split up and went in opposite directions the dwarf wouldn’t be able to grab both of them. Not immediately.

Knowing her luck, she’d be the one to get grabbed, though. And even if she weren’t, it would only be a temporary measure.

Everyone remained rooted to their positions.

“This isn’t very exciting,” said Dad.

“I’m thinking,” said Britta. “Give me a minute.”

She raised the ball of light in her hand, careful not to let it cross the doorway. She looked around the room, hoping for some kind of inspiration. The problem with being in charge was that you were expected to know what you were doing. It was a lot of pressure. Especially when you had a demon dwarf giving you dirty looks backlit in red.

Britta opened her status screen and checked it over in case there was something there that she could use.

Everything was at full power. Health, mana, spells. They were all available. None of it very helpful.

Run away or try to fool the dwarf into thinking she could set it on fire. Neither option appealed. She noticed Shadow Agent wasn’t greyed out anymore, so that was good. What could she get the shade to do?

“Why don’t you try talking to him?” said Dad. “He looks like he might be friendly.”

“No he doesn’t,” said Britta. “He looks like he’s going to rip our heads off.”

“That’s a bit judgemental, sweetheart. Talking to them is what you’re good at, isn’t it?”

Britta closed the status screen. Maybe he was right. Maybe all she needed to do was open a dialogue.

“Erm… Hello.”

The dwarf didn’t react. Its presence was like a bowling ball in the middle of a stretched sheet, shifting everything in its direction just by being there.

“My name’s B. This is Bruce.” She felt ridiculous, like she was introducing herself to a wall. “You’re Tibor, right?”

The dwarf twitched. It was only the slightest of movements, but it had definitely reacted to its name.

“Tibor… Your father sent us.”

Something inside Tibor seemed to engage. Gears or pulleys or whatever it was that connected the limbs to the brain. The dwarf still hadn’t made any movement towards them, but it seemed like it was about to.

“He sent us to help you. Your dad. Roman.”

There was a rumbling growl from somewhere inside Tibor. Using the father to get through to the son was having an effect, but it was also fraught with risks. Not all sons got along with their fathers. She and her sister had no issues with either parent, but she’d seen what it could be like. Dad and Granddad had never got on.

He didn’t approve of playing games for a living, had always looked down on Dad, even when he turned his ‘waste of a time’ hobby into a career. They were always arguing whenever they were in the same room. Dad had once tried to convince Granddad that eSports were the same as football or cricket. Even showed him videos of a huge crowd in an arena watching Koreans sitting at their PCs. Grandad hadn’t been impressed.

“We want to help you,” said Britta. “We want to—”

The dwarf’s body seemed to change shape. It looked the same, but the configuration had become more… aggressive. The red eyes more intense. Smoke rose from its skin. It began shuffling forward, almost like it was moving against its will.

“This doesn’t look good,” said Dad.

“No,” said Britta.

“What should we do?”

“Run?” suggested Britta.

The dwarf howled.

“Okay,” said Dad. They ran.

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