Bitter 393

It bothered Britta, the way the kobolds had disappeared. She was sure they were dead, at least in game terms. They hadn’t made their saving throws, had believed a giant fireball had exploded in their faces. Even though their bodies showed no signs of damage, they had been consumed by the flames.

“You don’t just crawl off after a hit like that,” she said. “All eight of you. Leaving nothing behind.”

“Maybe it’s a new mechanic,” said Dad, walking in front of her. “Keep the place a bit more tidy.”

“Just make the bodies disappear after a while? I don’t think they would do that. What if you wanted to come back and grab the loot on your way out? I think someone took the bodies.”

“Did you see anyone?”

“No. But we’ve seen secret tunnels down below. Maybe they have some up here, too.”

“If they take back their dead, that’s nothing to get too concerned about. It’s not like they’ll turn them into the living dead.” Dad stopped. “Will they?”

“I don’t know.” She really didn’t want to have to go through all that again. The undead dwarf had been a real nightmare to deal with. Undead kobolds who could climb the walls would be just as bad, if not worse.

“Hey,” said Dad, “do you hear that?”

They stood in the passage, listening. In the distance, Britta heard the sound of marching feet.

She checked her map. Up ahead was a junction. A passage intersected with theirs, going north and south. Britta wanted to take the north tunnel, which would lead to the middle room with the stairs leading down to the next level. That would be hard to do if there was a patrol coming the other way. Maybe it wasn’t a patrol.

“It’s definitely a patrol,” said Dad. “No mistaking it. What do we do? Go back and find another way?”

They could, but it would mean having to go all the way around to get to the other end of the tunnel, and then come south. It would take quite a bit of time, and they might bump into the other group, which she would rather not have to do.

“They’re getting closer,” said Dad. A glow appeared up ahead.

Britta placed her hand on Dad’s stomach and pushed him back. “Stay against the wall, and don’t make any sound.”

Suddenly, there were three of them in the tunnel. Her and two dads. They stared at each other for a moment.

“Can you lead them away?” said Britta. It was an order, but she felt awkward giving the mirror image of dad such direct instructions. She turned off her ball of light.

The copy turned and ran to the end of the passage. His outline was dark in the oncoming light.

“Hey!” someone cried out. “Get him!”

The copy did a funny dance, arms flailing, feet running without moving, like a cartoon character caught unawares and too surprised to run away. Then he ran down the south tunnel.

Britta held her breath and pressed her back against the wall. Kobold after kobold came streaking past, each only visible for a split-second. The footsteps receded.

“That was pretty cool,” said Dad. “Nice spell.”

“Thanks. Let’s go before they come back.” She led the way, even though he was supposed to be providing cover for her. It seemed to be a lot easier to stop worrying about yourself when you had stuff to do.

They encountered another patrol a little later, and used the same trick. She used a copy of Dad, rather than herself, because being bigger made him easier to spot. A decoy needed to be seen, and a copy of her might go unnoticed, or deemed to be not much of a threat.

It was a very effective strategy, but it didn’t earn her any experience. Still two XP to go before she got to Level 5.

She checked her MP. More than half.

“Just around this corner,” said Britta.

“Do you think it’ll be guarded? Should we send the shade in first, just to check it out?”

The shade had already been in the room, that’s why it was on her map. She cast the spell and the shade reappeared.

“Already?” it said, without making it clear if it was complaining about being brought back so soon, or complimenting their speedy advancement to the next floor.

“How many guards in the next room?” asked Britta.

“None,” said the shade.

That was obviously the best answer, but the one she’d least expected. “Are you sure?” She felt the air prickle around her. “Okay, okay. I was just checking.” She started to move forward, and then stopped. “When you say no guards, is there anyone inside who isn’t a guard?”

“No,” said the shade in a long, drawn out manner that suggested she was asking the dumbest question ever.

Britta didn’t care. She wasn’t going to get ambushed on a technicality. “No one living at all?”


“Any monsters in the immediate area?”

“Apart from you? No.”

“Okay,” said Britta, not appreciating the attitude she was getting. “You can go.”

The shade remained hovering in front of her, making a point of taking its time.

The middle room was the same in almost every way to how she remembered it. The same columns, the same weird statues. The only difference was the staircase leading down. There wasn’t one.

Instead, there was a box. A big one. With a door, which was open.

“Looks a bit like a Tardis,” said Dad.

“I think it’s a lift,” said Britta.

“Yeah, I suppose it looks a bit like that, too.”

There were no guards. No one was here to stop them. No one to ask for the secret password.

“Where do we use the password?” she said. There was no obvious place.

“Maybe inside,” said Dad. They stepped into the box.

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