Bitter 390

The first room they came to wasn’t completely empty. The mines were a series of small caves linked by tunnels, and the last time she had been here, the kobolds hadn’t bothered decorating most of them. Unless you called fitting them with lethal traps ‘decorating’.

As far as Britta could recall, this room didn’t have traps in it the last time, it was just a junction between passages.

This time, some effort had been made to make the place feel lived in. There was a box in the corner with a candlestick sitting on it. The light from the candle was enough to illuminate the walls, which had been painted. Britta held up the glowing ball in her hand so it was easier to tell what colour the walls were. Avocado?

“Looks pretty safe,” said Dad. “Not sure I would have gone with the yellow skirting board, though”

The bottom of the walls had a strip of lemon to contrast with the green.

“It’s not that bad,” said Britta. “I think it looks quite nice. Fresh.” For some reason she felt she should try to be supportive of the kobolds. If the reason they had ended up living in the mines was the same as before — they had been swindled by the dwarves and humans — then they deserved credit for trying to make the best of it. Avocado and lemon were probably the only pigments they had access to.

“Your room could do with a new lick of paint,” said Dad. “I could use this colour scheme, if you like.” He grinned wickedly at her like he’d made some terrible threat.

“You aren’t allowed to choose the paint anymore,” Britta reminded him. He had a tendency to get excited by design concepts without considering what it would be like to live with those choices, day after day. Redoing the bathroom as a homage to the TV show Knightrider, with a talking toilet, had removed all of his decision-making privileges, permanently.

Dad picked up the candlestick. “It’s okay, it’s not booby trapped.”

“I don’t think you’re meant to find the trap by trying to trigger it,” said Britta.

“Sweetheart, I’m being very careful. I’ve got eagle-eyes when it comes to spotting anything suspicious.” He lifted the candlestick up so he could see the base and dripped wax on his own face. “Ah, damn it. I just lost one HP.” He continued to examine the candlestick, as though it was worth the 25% loss to his health. “Doesn’t say where it was made. I wonder if it’s worth anything.”

Had he expected it to say ‘Made in China’? Although, technically, that would be accurate. It didn’t look like an expensive item. It was metal, and sort of silvery, but it looked quite crude. Like someone had taken a railing from an iron fence and stuck a candle on top of it. “You can’t take their light source, Dad. They need to see where they’re going.”

“Do they? I seem to recall kobolds having sensitive eyes, and prefer it to be quite dark.”

That was true, Britta remembered using Glamor against the kobolds to blind them. So why were they adding lights? A kindness for their guests? Or was it not just kobolds down here?

“Let’s keep moving,” said Britta.

“Hold on,” said Dad. He moved his arm to the side so the candlestick wasn’t in his way, and then he stamped on the box it had been standing on.

The box, which was a poorly made wooden crate, splintered into pieces. He leaned down to look inside the remains.

“Why did you do that?” asked Britta, somewhat startled by the sudden vandalism.

“They often have random items inside things like this,” he said. “In RPGs, I mean. Like a potion or a few coins.”

“Why would they leave something valuable inside an old crate?” asked Britta.

Dad shrugged “Dunno. It’s just convention.”

There was nothing inside the box. Britta felt a bit bad about leaving the room in a mess, but they didn’t have time to tidy up.

There were two exits to the room, but only one had been marked on the map by the shade. They decided to follow the same path.

The next room had a trap in it. You could tell by the way there was no floor, and the pit below was full of spikes.

“This is new,” said Dad. “Not very well hidden.”

“I think the shade must have tripped it.” She leaned into the room, holding out her ball of light. There was no one impaled down there, just the remnants of the floor that had fallen in, and a couple more candlesticks. The candles were still burning, giving the deadly spikes a rosy glow.

“The shade would just float over this, right?” said Dad. “Maybe he set it off deliberately, so we wouldn’t get caught out.”

“Maybe.” According to her map, the shade had explored about a third of the floor already. If the layout was the same, there’d be stairs leading down to the next floor right at the centre. “Let’s take the first exit.”

There were two more exits, one straight ahead on the other side of the pit, and one to the left. A ledge ran around the room, wide enough to shimmy along.

“I see their taste hasn’t improved,” said Dad. The walls here were orange and turquoise. Which meant it wasn’t just a limited palette that was the source of their choices. Sensitive to light and colour blind.

The passage they were in now was long and straight. “I think this leads all the way to the middle room. That’s where the stairs are. Or should be.”

“Okay, sounds good. What do we do if we run into a patrol?”

“Oh.” She hadn’t put much thought into how to deal with kobolds. “Hide?”

“Where?” They were in a long corridor with few hiding spots. “You know, you’ll have to get over your reluctance to fighting at some point. This is a game. They’ll just come back to life later.”

He was right, but it wasn’t the dying that was so off-putting, it was the killing part.

“Everyone dies when they fight the kobolds, don’t they?” said Britta.

“Everyone isn’t Level 4,” said Dad.

“We’ll just see how it goes. Maybe they won’t want to fight us. Maybe they just want to talk.” That was how she got around fighting before, but she doubted it would be like that now.

“Okay,” said Dad. “Not like I’m going to be of much help in a brawl. You run, I run. You fight, I fight.”

They set off down the passage. It was a big place, they might not even encounter any kobolds.

“Did you hear something?” said Dad.

“You mean the screaming?” said Britta.

“Mm hm,” said Dad.

“Yes, I hear it,” said Britta. How could she not? It was coming straight towards them.


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