Bitter 306

Sidney agreed to take them to the High Priest. He was reluctant, but he didn’t have much choice. If Britta had been on her own, her threats might not have been as effective, but with Dad there to back her up, she could leave the suggestion of imminent violence to him.

“He won’t be happy,” muttered Sidney.

“Bruce,” said Britta with as much menace as she could fake. She didn’t want to go over the top and make it hammy, but there was a slight enjoyment from acting like you were going to do something terrible. Which was mildly concerning.

Dad aimed an arrow at the unhappy kobold and that got them moving.

Sidney believed he would be shot if he didn’t do as he was told. It wasn’t how Britta would have wished to conduct herself, ideally, but there was nothing ideal about this situation, or this world. You had to make the best of it, using whatever means you had your disposal.

Still, Britta didn’t like the way she so readily accepted the kind of behaviour she normally abhorred. Just because it was pragmatic didn’t make it okay. Just like it wouldn’t be okay to take the ring off Sidney’s finger, even though it was clearly a useful item to have.

She sent the shade on ahead to scout out the lower level. Her MP was still quite high and it would be useful to know where everyone was down there. Dad was even more upset when he found out the shade had a stealth mode option.

“How is that remotely fair?” he said, shaking his head. “You can bypass every trap and ambush anyone in your way.”

It hadn’t seemed like that big a deal to her, but now that he was pointing out all the things she could use the shade for, it did seem like a pretty useful spell to have in a dungeon. It was just that she hadn’t actually played the game parts of the game very much, so she hadn’t had the opportunity to find out. And then there was the issue of the shade’s temperament.

“You’re going to take us to the temple,” Britta reminded Sidney, in case he was getting any ideas. She’d been through this with him before. “Shortest route possible. No traps, no detours.”

“Fine, yes, okay,” said Sidney, his ringed-hand held out in front of him to keep the dwarf backing away. It was impressive how easily he could guide the dwarf. And it wasn’t like the dwarf could move towards them and push them back. It was against the laws of physics, but that was magic for you.

They made strange party members, the dwarf who wanted to kill them all and the kobold who would gladly guide them into a pit full of spikes, but they were what she had to work with.

The dwarf walked backwards ahead of them, repulsed by the ring, forced to keep a minimum distance like he was very precisely observing a restraining order.

“Tibor,” said Britta. “Do you remember what happened to you?”

She was trying to get through to the dwarf being controlled by the banshee, even though she didn’t know what the banshee was or how it controlled the dwarf. She just hoped there was a more reasonable version of the dwarf locked inside who might be more sympathetic towards her than this one.

The dwarf ignored her for the most part. He growled and made other guttural sounds, but that was it. At least he wasn’t howling.

They made it to the stairs leading to the next level without problem. They encountered no one else on the way, and Sidney didn’t try to lead them down any dark tunnels with poison darts firing out of the walls.

“This is so strange,” he muttered to himself. “I feel sure I’ve been here before.”

“You live here, don’t you?” said Dad.

“I think he’s getting deja vu,” said Britta. “Like he’s been in this exact same situation.”

“That’s because he has, hasn’t he?”

She gave Dad a look. Revealing it was a game to the NPCs always felt wrong to her. She wasn’t sure why that was. What difference would it make? They would continue to function. Or they could be made to forget, again. She shuddered at the thought of someone else controlling you so completely. It was a completely indefensible thing to do to a person. She looked at the dwarf stumbling backwards down the stairs.

When they reached the lower level, they paused to wait for the shade to return. It would have plenty to tell her, she was sure. There was no sign of it. She checked her map but it wasn’t on there. She tried desummoning it, and then resummoning it. That didn’t work, either. For all its OPness, the shade had its weaknesses, and the people down here probably had ways of protecting themselves. She hoped nothing bad had happened to it.

“There’s no point waiting,” said Britta. “I think they must have done something to it.”

“Will it be okay? Should we go after it?” said Dad, reacting like he would if a real person had gone missing. It made her feel a bit better that he was willing to mount a rescue mission for a spell.

“No. We’ll sort it out later. We should get to the temple first and see what Derik’s up to.”

“Okay. Lead on.” He also treated her like she was the party leader. Which she was, but it was still gratifying to be treated appropriately.

Sidney led them, although Britta knew the way. Technically, it was the dwarf who was in the lead, even though he wasn’t looking where he was going.

They finally reached the temple door and banged on it.

There was no answer, which wasn’t surprising. Derik had never been keen on letting her in.

“Derik!” she shouted. “I know you’re in there. Let me in before I kick the door down.” She had no idea if she could, but it seemed like the right thing to say.

The door opened a crack, just enough for Derik’s beady eye to appear. There was a chain across the gap. She was sure that hadn’t been there before

“No, you won’t,” said Derik. “I’ve had it reinforced. You aren’t coming in, none of you. And YOU!” he said to Sidney. “I told you specifically not to bring her here.”

Sidney mumbled a series of apologies, intermingled with excuses.

“You can’t stop the prophecy,” said Britta.

“What prophecy? There is no prophecy,” said Derik. “I made it up. I just wanted to keep you away from me. I remember what happened last time. You’re going to get me killed. Again.”

“You remember?”

“Of course I remember!” he seemed quite upset. “You’re a jinx, a curse, a liability. You aren’t coming in, and you can’t make me.” The door slammed shut.

“That was a bit rude,” said Dad.

“He’s wasn’t always like that,” said Sidney. “Very fragile these days.”

If Derik could remember what had happened before, it would explain why he was so upset. Maybe this was what happened when NPCs knew they were in a game.

She didn’t really have time to worry about it right now. She grabbed Sidney’s wrist and pointed his hand at the dwarf, walking him around in a semi-circle so the dwarf was forced to move in tandem. When the dwarf had it’s back to the door, she moved forward. The dwarf slammed through the door.


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