Bitter 308

“You.” Derik pointed at Sidney. “Give me the ring.”

Sidney took a step away from his High Priest. “You said it was mine.”

“I said no such thing. You had it while you needed it, and now I need it, so hand it over.” He flipped his hand into an upturned palm.

Sidney seemed no more inclined to give up his one defence against the dwarf. NPCs were like players in that respect, loath to give up any of their magic items.

“It may protect you against him, Sidney, but it won’t protect you against me, will it?” He was impressively calm in the face of insubordination, Britta thought. Perhaps he was used to it, and this was normal behaviour for them. She really had no idea how kobold society functioned.

The threat from Derik had been quite mild, with no specifics mentioned, but it was enough to get Sidney to reluctantly take off the ring and place it on Derik’s palm.

“Good,” said Derik. Then he struck Sidney on the head with a large wooden spoon he pulled out from under his robes. It made a dull thud as it bounced off Sidney’s furry brown head.

“Ow!” said Sidney, stumbling back, clutching his head.

“And next time, do what you’re told. That includes not bringing enemy combatants into our most sacred chambers. Understand?”

Sidney nodded, rubbing the top of his head. Derik put the ring on and turned to face what was left of the altar. The dwarf was still on his back, stuck in it.

Derik crouched down and moved forwards, his ringed-hand held low, but tilted up. He was, Britta guessed, going to try to push the dwarf out of the way. If it worked like it had for Britta, the dwarf would probably end up on the other side of the room.

Derik approached, getting closer and closer until he was standing next to the dwarf. There seemed to be no effect.

“Blast,” said Derik. “You’ve used up the charge.” He looked at the ring, shook his hand vigorously for a couple of seconds, and then pointed it at the dwarf again. “No, definitely empty. What have you been using it for?” He said it as though there were numerous improper uses the ring could be put to. Britta wondered what they were.

“Nothing,” said Sidney. “It was her.” They both turned to look at Britta.

She knew she hadn’t done anything wrong, but it was still hard not to feel guilty when being accused. “Can’t you recharge it?” she said.

“Yes, I can. I can use what you call the ‘Keystone’ to return it to full power. Unfortunately the way to do that would be to use the altar. The altar you so casually destroyed on entry.”

Britta didn’t feel that was very fair. “The altar that was already broken?”

“It was a multi-purpose altar,” said Derik. “What did you think? That we only did ritual sacrifices here? We’re not living in the dark ages, you know? They ended several months ago. This was a top of the line modern altar, with a docking station for recharging relics and icons, even when it wasn’t turned on. A marvellous example of technology, now nothing more than rubble.” He sighed. “I guess we’ll have to do this the old-fashioned way. You.” This time he pointed at Dad. “Help me push this dwarf.”

Dad raised his eyebrows at Britta, but did as he was asked. He slung his bow over his shoulder and stood next to Derik as they both pushed the dwarf from the side. The dwarf groaned loudly. There was some movement, but not enough to roll the dwarf out of the small crater he had made for himself.

“He’s heavier than he looks,” said Dad. “You two could help.”

Britta and Sidney had been watching from the sidelines. The dwarf wasn’t very big, so there wasn’t much room alongside Dad and Derik. The two of them squeezed in where they could and then they all pushed together.

The dwarf slowly tipped onto one side, and then rolled off, landing face-down on the floor. Once he was on his front, the dwarf’s stubby arms and legs were able to help him get to his feet. He stood there, eyes still glowing red, looking straight past everyone. It reminded Britta of someone who had just tripped in the street and was pretending nothing had happened.

“Now what?” she asked Derik. He was supposed to be showing her how to get to the Keystone, not force them to help with tidy-up. Even if she was partially responsible for the mess.

Derik cleared away some of the smaller pieces of broken altar to reveal a hole under the altar. It went straight down, and it was much too dark to see anything.

“It looks like a chimney,” said Dad. “Is the Keystone down there?”

“Yes,” said Derik. “This is the shortest route. Just jump in. You can’t miss it.”

The hole was big enough for Britta to fit in, just. Dad wouldn’t be able to use it, though. “How far is it?” asked Britta. “Won’t it kill me if I jump?”

“I should be so lucky,” said Derik. He put his arm out so his hand was over the hole. “Feel that?”

Britta put her own hand out. She could feel warm air pushing through her fingers.

“The updraft will slow your descent. You’ll be fine.”

It could quite easily have been a trick, but the gnomes did have a similar system in place, so it wasn’t that farfetched

“And how do I get out?”

“There’s an exit. The long way.”

It seemed to be fairly straightforward. And she had Teleport to get her out of there if it wasn’t.

“Okay, then.” She looked into the black hole. It didn’t look very inviting. “You stay here,” she said to Dad, like he had any other choice.

Dad nodded. “Good luck. Stay in touch on group chat.”

Britta nodded back. “So I just jump in?” She dangled a foot over the darkness. There could be anything down there. 

“Yes,” said Derik.

“It’ll be fine,” said Dad.

“Jump in the hole?”

“Yes,” said Dad, Derik and Sidney together.

“I don’t need to—”

Dad pushed her down the hole.

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