Bitter 389

Everyone hung around the entrance, making it hard for Britta to see anything. She pushed her way through the forest of legs so she was at the front with Mark. He had one arm out to the side, making everyone wait. The torch in his other hand moved from side to side, illuminating the room a bit at a time.

“Can you see the traps?” said Mark in a hushed voice. ”In the doorway? Look closely.”

It was hard to see anything in the dim glow of the torchlight. Britta increased the light intensity of her ball, and everything became much more visible.

It looked pretty much the same as before. There were three other exits, each with a tripwire across the bottom. Presumably the effect of breaking the wire would be the same as well; stone slabs would fall, blocking the exits.

Mark lowered his torch, giving Britta’s light spell an appreciative glance, and stepped further into the room. He turned around to face them. “As you can see, this room is empty. But each doorway leading away has a simple but fiendish trap mechanism.”

He seemed to be taking on the role of tourist guide. He clearly liked having an audience, especially one that had never been here before.

“Well, we’ll go this way,” said Britta as she walked towards the right exit. “Unless you want to go this way.” Dad squeezed past the crowded doorway to follow her.

“No, that’s fine,” said Mark. “You’ll find another room after about thirty or forty metres. Might be some boxes or barrels. Careful when you check them.”

“Traps?” she asked. She didn’t recall there being random barrels lying about before.

“No,” said Mark. “More likely spiders or mice hiding behind them. They’re harmless, but might give you a scare if you’re not expecting them.”

This was all new to Britta, and mildly unsettling. She was more disturbed by the idea of normal spiders than she had been about running into a kobold patrol. “Okay, thanks for the heads up.”

“I can give you some more tips before you go,” said Mark, looking a bit disappointed to have walkouts so early in his performance.

“No, no, don’t worry about us,” said Dad. “We’ll take it slow and careful. Soak in the atmosphere. It’s very well crafted, isn’t it?” He patted the wall like he was checking it wasn’t a film set that would fall over.

“Have fun,” said Britta. She stepped over the tripwire. “We’ll try to keep the kobolds busy over here.”

Mark raised a hand in farewell. The other three huddled together, their faces looking a bit anxious. Britta imagined the possibility of dying was a scary one if you’d never done it before. She had done it many times, and it didn’t bother her at all, which was an odd way to think.

“Right,” said Dad when they were far enough down the tunnel, “what’s the plan?”

Britta summoned the shade. It appeared in a column of smoke, looking the same as last time.

“Hello,” she said. No reply.

“Oh, hey,” said Dad. “You again. How’s things?”

The shade shifted slightly, like it was turning to look at Dad. “Hello, Guildford.” For some reason it said his character name with a weird emphasis. Combined with the shade’s natural whispery voice, it made it sound quite menacing. “I’ve been looking after your daughter.”

Dad’s face lit up. “Oh. He’s still the same. I am glad. Thank you very much for keeping an eye on her. It’s not an easy task, I know.”

“Agreed,” said the shade.

Britta was pleased the shade was able to converse in its regular fashion — it was the last remnant of how the game had been in the previous version — but she didn’t approve of this Britta-bashing support group it had formed with Dad.

“Can you do a sweep of this level?” she said, restraining her impulse to tell them both she was the one looking out for them. “Stealth-mode, don’t set off any traps, like last time.” She perhaps said the last part a little too emphatically.

The shade looked at her. There were no eyes and no face, but it was giving her a dirty look, she could tell.

“Perhaps you’d like to do the sweep,” said the shade, “and I’ll wait here while you do all the work.”

“Oh, I like the way he’s turned out,” said Dad. “I feel a lot better with him watching over you. Looks like he’s packed on a bit of muscle since last time, too.”

“Thank you for noticing,” said the shade. “Nice to know someone appreciates me.”

Britta sighed. “I’m sorry. Can you please check the floor for me? I would be very grateful.”

“Now you just sound sarcastic,” said Dad.

“She can’t help it,” said the shade. “She has one of those voices.”

“I know,” said Dad. “Her mother’s the same.”

“Will you both please stop,” said Britta. “I’m going to be late for school at this rate.”

“But it’s Saturday,” said Dad.

I know,” said Britta witheringly.

Dad rolled his eyes at the shade. The shade didn’t have eyes, but still somehow managed to respond in kind.

“Okay, then,” said Dad. “Shall we?”

The shade finally floated off. Dad and Britta followed at a more casual pace. She opened her map and watched as the lines appeared. There was a room ahead, fairly big. Last time it had been empty with no traps, she remembered. This time… she’d have to wait and see.

More tunnels and rooms appeared.

“How’s it going?” asked Dad.

“Fine,” said Britta. “Looks the same as before. I guess they didn’t change the layout, just the contents. Shouldn’t take long to get the whole floor mapped.”

Dad shook his head. “Feels like cheating.” He smiled. “I love it.”

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