Bitter 303

Britta turned and ran past Dad who was standing with his mouth hanging open.

“How…. how did… it isn’t possible…”

“Come on!” shouted Britta, already at the other end of the tunnel.

Dad had much longer legs and caught up quickly. He would have overtaken her, but she was the leader. The tunnel shook, letting them know the dwarf was in pursuit.

“Can’t get rid of him,” said Dad.

Britta had her map spread out in front of her and scanned for somewhere that might offer them some respite.

She wanted to get to the stairs leading to the lower level, but the dwarf had cut off every approach. Was that his intent? His goal before had very clearly been to kill her. Why would it change to keeping her away from the stairs, now? She could only guess it was following orders.

“Should we fight?” said Dad. “I could hold him off for a bit. Give you a chance to get to the next level.”

It might work, although it would mean sacrificing Dad. It wasn’t something she would consider if this was for real. Did that mean it was okay? It didn’t feel like it.

“No, keep running.” From what she’d been able to work out, the dwarf didn’t want to let them reach the stairs. The obvious way to avoid getting into a confrontation was to go somewhere else. Exactly where wasn’t clear, but at least she’d have a better chance to think if there wasn’t running for her life.

She headed for the far side of the map, as far from the stair room as possible. The pounding behind them receded into the distance. They slowed to a jog.

“I think we lost him,” said Dad.

“I don’t think he was trying to catch us,” said Britta.

“No? Then what?”

“I think he was trying to keep us away from the stairs.”

“Guardian of the Stairs? Bit of a demotion, isn’t it? He can’t be very happy.”

The dwarf’s job satisfaction-levels weren’t something Britta had considered. Maybe she should offer him a better position and try to recruit him for her team.

“If we can’t get to the stairs, we’ll have to find another way down,” said Britta. She looked over the map, but there was no obvious secondary staircase. They probably didn’t have compulsory fire escapes. They did seem to have secret passages, though. Unfortunately, they weren’t marked on her map.

There was a shimmer beside her as the shade appeared. It had snuck up unseen, which was a neat trick. It also meant Britta needed to improve her awareness of her surroundings. Next time it might not be someone friendly creeping up from behind.

“Did you find anything?” she asked.

“There is no one on this floor apart from the dwarf and a kobold.”

“Kobold?” said Britta. “Where?”

“There,” said the shade. A smoky appendage extended from its torso and pointed over Britta’s head.

She quickly turned to look, ready to dive out of the way from an attack. There was no one there. Just Dad and an empty tunnel that disappeared into dark shadows.

“Wait,” said Dad, “is that…” He pointed his bow at the tunnel roof. “Hold on.” He whipped out an arrow and had it ready to fire in a second.

“No, no, don’t, don’t,” cried out a voice. “I got my hands up. Oh, no, I’m dead.” A body tumbled from the roof and landed in a heap at Dad’s feet. A kobold.

The arrow was still attached to the bow. Dad hadn’t fired it, the kobold must have lost its grip and fallen.

Britta approached the body which was groaning pitifully. “Sidney?”

A furry brown face looked up, startled. It stared at her for a second, and then the eyes widened. “It is you.” He sounded disappointed.

“Yes. You remember me?”

“Remember?” squeaked Sidney. “Remember? You’re the prophetess. You’ve come to save us, like the prophecy says.”

This was the first she’d heard of a prophecy. “What prophecy?”

“An ancient prophecy,” said Dad confidently, “foretelling the coming of a saviour, obviously.”

“Actually,” said Sidney, “not that ancient. The High Priest only came up with it a few days ago because of everyone having the same dream. About the gnome girl who gets herself killed a lot. He said it was an omen.”

“An omen of what?” asked Britta.

“Not sure,” said Sidney, getting to his feet. “He was vague about that bit. You know what priests are like. All loud and knowledgeable until you ask for details.”

The dreams he claimed the kobolds had could have been their deleted memories of her previous visits. If everything that happened before they were reset was stored somewhere, they might get access to it in the form of dreams, either intentionally or not.

In any case, they had translated these ‘dreams’ into a prophecy. A brand spanking new one.

“Where’s Derik?” He would know more about what was going on. “Can you take us to him.”

“I don’t know… He said to keep you away from the treasure room.”

“Um,” said Dad, always ready to weigh in on any treasure talk. “What about short, dark and deadly?” He pointed back the way they’d come.

Britta turned to see the two familiar red eyes approaching. It was relentless. A face-to-face fight wouldn’t work, but maybe a change of tactics was required. They could split up. Or Sidney might know where the secret passages were. She looked at Sidney — a kobold decoy might keep the dwarf busy. It wasn’t a nice thought, but his sacrifice wouldn’t be in vain. Unless it didn’t work, in which case it would.

There were too many options. She could see the pros and cons of all of them, but nothing stood out. Dad was waiting with his bow drawn, like that would do any good. Sidney cowered behind her, even more useless. They would have to run.

“What are you doing?” said Sidney. “You’re supposed to be watching the stairs.”

The dwarf made a strange growling sound.

“It’s not my fault if it’s boring,” said Sidney. “That’s your job. Get back there, or we’ll both be in trouble.”

Or they could scold the dwarf like it was a naughty dog.

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