Bitter 304

The dwarf stopped advancing on them.

“Are you two working together?” asked Britta, confused about the sudden change in kobold-dwarf relationships.

“What? Me and him? No, no, no. Not at all. Actually, I have to be somewhere. Appointment I can’t get out of. I’ll be leaving, if that’s alright.” He pressed his back against the tunnel wall and began shuffling away.

“Don’t you move,” said Britta. She was trying to sound as threatening as possible, but her only weapon was a pointed finger.

“No, no, I won’t. I won’t move,” said Sidney, still very clearly backing away despite his statement to the contrary.

“Dad, I mean, Bruce, shoot him.”

Dad wrenched his eyes away from the stationary dwarf. He aimed his bow at the kobold. “You heard the lady. Don’t move.”

Sidney stopped for real this time and held up his hands.  “You don’t have to worry about me, I won’t be no trouble.” His eyes flitted towards the dwarf standing further down the passage and waggled his eyebrows.

“Hey,” said Britta, “cut that out. How are you friendly with him now?”

“Hmm? Friendly with who?”

Britta had had just about all she was willing to take from Sidney. Something had happened to turn the dwarf into an ally of the kobolds. Not that she had a problem with it, she just wanted to know how they’d done it. It might be the break she’d been looking for.

“Start talking, Sidney. How are you controlling him?”

“I’m not. Honest. If I could control him, don’t you think I’d tell him to kill, er, I mean, disarm you?”

He was right. If he was actually controlling the dwarf, he wouldn’t have hesitated in commanding it to kill her and Dad.

“Then why isn’t he attacking us?” she asked. “Bruce.”

Dad scowled menacingly and stretched his bowstring like he was preparing to fire, playing up to his role.

Sidney’s cowering intensified. “Wait, wait. It’s got nothing to do with me. The High Priest, he’s the one you want to talk to. Gave me this ring.” He pushed one hand towards her, showing off the ring on his finger. She recognised it. She had one just like it.

Britta quickly opened her inventory and took out the ring the kobold shaman had given her on their first meeting. It was supposed to have identified her as a friend to other kobolds, but hadn’t worked very well. She had taken it off when she’d got her new armour and hadn’t put it back on, hoping to sell it when she got the chance.

She put it on and held up her hand. “See? Same as yours.”

Sidney leaned his head forward a few inches, as though that would make things clearer. He nodded. “He said you would have one. That’s how we would know it was you. The gnome from the prophecy.”

“Yep, that’s me,” said Britta. “So you’ll want to help me, right?”

“Help you? I’m supposed to keep you out of the way. You might make the prophecy come true.”

“What is the prophecy?” she asked. “Am I going to save the world?”

“Save the world? What are you going on about? Look, I don’t mean to be rude. I ain’t got anything personal against you, you understand, but you’re a huge klutz who always screws things up. We’ve all had the dreams. So real they felt like memories. And it’s always the same — you panic, make a goblin’s dinner of everything, and then get yourself killed. That’s why the High Priest wants you as far away from the negotiations as possible.”

Britta was mildly annoyed. The person in a prophecy was meant to be the chosen one who was destined to learn kung fu and become the champion who saves everyone. Why was her prophecy that she was going to be a bumbling idiot who got in everyone’s way?

“How did Derik manage to get control of the dwarf? Last time I was here, you were hiding in the temple.”

Sidney looked confused. “Last time?”

It was going to be tough navigating through whatever rationale the game had put into the kobolds’ heads as to who she was and why she was here. From what Sidney had said, they considered her previous visits some kind of dream foretelling her arrival.

Britta looked over at the dwarf, who was standing completely still. His eyes glowed red, but otherwise he could have been a statue.

“What about him? Derik?”

Sidney nodded. “He did his shaman mumbo jumbo. Waved his hands about and shama-lama-ding-dong.” He waved his own hands around in what Britta imagined was meant to indicate spellcasting, although it looked more like he was having trouble with a wasp. “Told me to keep you away from the treasure room. I get all the best jobs.” He shook his head.

“What’s happening in the treasure room?”

“The King’s meeting with the big men from New Town,” said Sidney, brightening up. “They’re sorting out the deal for selling the mines.” He seemed excited and happy to be telling her the good news.

“You don’t mind losing your home?” she asked.

“Home? This hell hole? Good riddance. It’s been a curse since we first moved in. Supposed to be a paradise, it was,” he said bitterly. “Haven’t had a moment’s peace since day one. Everyone keeps trying to kill us. Non-stop, it is. Sooner we sell up and go back home, the better.”

There was no doubting the sincerity of his feelings. He couldn’t wait to leave.

“Congratulations,” said Britta. “What about the Keystone?”

“The what-now?”

If she could find a way to get to the Keystone while the other interested parties were arguing amongst themselves, she could just grab it and leave. That would be the best solution. Only Sidney didn’t seem to have the faintest idea what she was talking about.

“A magic stone? Down below the mine somewhere?”

Sidney looked confused, then a light bulb went on somewhere in his head. “Oh, you must mean the Hot Rock. Derik uses it to boil water for his feet. Likes soaking his feet, he does. Important, is it?”

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