Bitter 302

Britta charged towards the left exit. She had her map open and her aim was to get to the next level down. She’d been through this before. She could keep ahead of the dwarf and get to the lower floor, and then… then she’d see.

The dwarf was slow to get moving. She would definitely make it to the opening. Dad would too, if he moved it.

“Tripwire,” she called out as she jumped over the string stretched across the bottom of the doorway.

“Gotcha,” called out Dad, jumping over it also.

That hadn’t been what she meant. She had wanted him to trip it so the dwarf would be stuck behind them and have to go around the long way to catch up. That was the mechanic that had worked the other times. That was the mechanic she hadn’t told Dad about.

There was a howl right behind them, followed by the sound of pounding feet. The tunnel shook — the dwarf wasn’t messing around this time. For the first time it didn’t have a wall slam down in the way, and it was using the freedom to get up a head of steam.

“I think he’s coming,” said Dad, his voice shaking along with the walls.

“I know,” said Britta, doing her best to stay on her feet. “I’ll try to lose him.”

There was a fairly direct route to the middle room, where the stairs were. But Britta would be taking the scenic route. Her map showed where all the traps were, all she had to do was lead the dwarf into one of them. If she could buy herself a little time, she’d be able to get to the temple on the floor below.

It was going to be touch and go, though. Finding a suitable trap, avoiding getting killed by it, hoping the dwarf didn’t see it coming — there were a lot of moving parts, and none of them planned for.

She should have sent the shade in first to scout the place out. Had her mirror image with her to act as a decoy. Maybe broken Stan out of prison, and brought him along.

Now that she was in the middle of panic stations, all the ideas were coming to her in a flood. Typical.

“Wait,” said Dad. “Stop, stop.”

Britta slowed down and turned around, jogging backwards. “What?”

“I don’t think he’s still following us.”

Britta stopped. She’d been so wrapped up in her thoughts and keeping an eye on the map that she hadn’t noticed the walls had stopped shaking and the heavy footsteps no longer echoed down the tunnel towards them.

She looked at Dad. “Maybe he’s being sneaky.”

Dad shrugged. “He could have ninja training.”

Unlikely as it seemed, it was possible. The Dwarf Nation did have a ninja division.

She didn’t like it. The dwarf had always been very direct before. Why the change in tactics?

“We should keep going. I’ll send my shade ahead to look for the Mayor and Garbolum. They’re probably in the vault room.”

She summoned the shade which appeared in a puff of smoke, and then remained inside the puff.

“Can you do a quick sweep of this floor? Find out who’s here, and what they’re up to.”

The shade looked around, like it was getting its bearings. Then it nodded, or at least gave the impression it was nodding, and zipped off.

“So broken,” said Dad.

“I should have called it when we first entered. I’ve screwed it up already.” She began walking in the same direction as the shade.

“No, no. It’s fine,” said Dad. “This is what you have to do first time on a raid. You can’t plan for the unknown, you have to go in blind and see what’s what, where everything is. Then you can plan for the next attempt.”

“Yes,” said Britta. “Only, there won’t be a second attempt. This is it.”

“Same thing applies. You just have to think on your feet. We don’t have to go charging in, we can test their defences and look for a weakness. If it goes poorly, we can retreat and come at it from a different angle. Standard operating procedure.”

He was making it sound like any other game. No big deal, nothing to worry about. If only.

They kept moving towards the stairs down. Britta took care not to get lazy and made sure they didn’t walk into any traps. Even though she had a much higher HP pool this time, she didn’t fancy getting hit with poison darts or falling into a pit of spikes.

“Almost there,” said Britta as they turned into a long straight tunnel. “Should be right down here.”

They began moving quicker. There were no turnings, nowhere for the dwarf to jump out from.

There was a howl. It came from in front of them.

“That’s him, isn’t it?” said Dad.

“Yes.” How did the dwarf get ahead of them? She checked the map. There was no shorter route that would have put the dwarf between them and the stairs. The tunnel shook as the familiar pounding approached. “Back, back.”

They did a swift about face and ran back the way they came. All was not lost, there were numerous other ways. She chose one and began running. At least they knew where the dwarf was now.

There was a howl from in front of her. She came to a stop with Dad just behind her.

“How did he get there?” he asked, slightly out of breath.

“I don’t know. There’s no tunnel he could have taken.”

“Must be a secret one. He’s a dwarf. They used to own this place. Stands to reason he’d know.”

It was a reasonable explanation, only the dwarf hadn’t used any secret shortcuts last time.

Was it because the Mayor and Gabriel Garbolum were here? Did they have some influence over the dwarf’s behaviour?

It didn’t seem right to her. Something was different, for sure.

She checked the map. “Okay, let’s go this way.”

She ran back and took a right. They went around the top of the map so they’d come out the other side. Even if the dwarf knew all the shortcuts, it still wouldn’t know where they were going. They just had to be quick.

Two red lights appeared ahead of them. Eyes. The dwarf was running at them.



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Afterword from Mooderino
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