Bitter 398

When Dad was, like this, Britta would normally vacate the area and leave him to it. You didn’t want to distract him, and get blamed for his next mistake. And you certainly didn’t want to be dragged into two-player co-op, and get blamed for every mistake ever.

This was different, though. This was her game, and she was the senior member of the party. If he wanted to make decisions without her, then he would have no one to blame but himself.

Not that she thought he was going to mess things up. He had a confidence to his actions that made her want to see what he was up to.

They walked down the last few steps, turning the final bend, and were faced with a small room filled with kobolds.

One stood out from the rest. He was bigger, and had better equipment. An elite kobold. The rest had gear similar to the ones Britta had dealt with using her fireball spell, but the elite had a proper sword, although it did look a bit rusty.

Most of the kobolds were in between her and Dad’s heights, while the elite was about the same height as Dad, but much stockier. She wondered what level he was. Would he fall for her illusions as easily as the others? Probably not.

The room was actually a cave, with rough walls and only one exit that Britta could see. You’d have to go through the kobolds to get to it. The walls weren’t painted, and there were no furnishings here.

Dad mumbled something to himself. It sounded like he said, “Killing floor.”

So many opponents in one place was a daunting sight. A fireball might take out half, but the rest would be on you straight away.

“Where is the rest of your party?” asked the elite kobold. He looked ready to order his men to attack.

“Easy,” said Dad. “It’s just the two of us.”

Britta waved hello. She didn’t know why she thought that would help.

The kobolds relaxed a little, but their leader still seemed wary and kept a hand on the pommel of his sword.

“Right,” said Dad in a business-like manner. “Let’s talk mushrooms.” He handed over the second sandwich. The elite took it with hungry eyes. The other kobolds leaned in, and sniffed. Just the smell of it was enough to make their eyes roll back in their heads. She wondered what kind of sandwich this one was.

“Mushrooms,” said the elite, putting the sandwich into a pouch on his belt. “There are four kinds that grow in the mines. Common fungus, deep rock, spotted helmet and tiger bulb.”

“Does the tiger bulb have orange and black stripes?” asked Dad.

“Yes,” said the elite kobold.

“Good. For every tiger bulb you can bring me, I can get you a meal similar to the one I just gave you. I can bring a selection next time, and you can tell me which ones you prefer.”

Some of the kobolds looked like they were going to swoon, like a Victorian lady who had become too aroused.

“For one tiger bulb, one meal,”  said the elite like he couldn’t quite believe it. Even with their stricter programming, Britta couldn’t help but feel there was something more to them than just NPC with big dialogue libraries.

“Yes. Those mushrooms are in demand, and I can get a decent price for them. They’re supposed to be quite rare. If I barter them for meals, I should be able to get even better value. How many do you think you can get me?”

Dad had mentioned some quests available in town, she assumed this was one of them. If he could get the kobolds to provide him with a quest item, he’d be able to complete the quest and get the reward. She wasn’t sure how bartering came into it.

“We can give you a hundred and fifty now. More later.”

“No, no, no,” said Dad. “That’s no good. You’ll flood the market and tank the price. We have to be more subtle. Just ten for now. That shouldn’t destabilise the economy. I think there may be other things here that are considered valuable topside. We should discuss it in more depth later.”

“Agreed,” said the kobold.

“I’ll also need a list of basic foods you want. I can get them in larger numbers, but you’ll have to cook them yourselves.”

She was sure some of the kobolds had started drooling. It was still within the realms of programmed NPCs, but it was pushing it. Were these some kind of hybrid between what N-27 had done, and the more standard NPCs?

“The only problem is getting them in and out of here,” said Dad. “The town guard won’t like it. Is there a less conspicuous entrance?”

He was doing well. Not only had he won their trust, he was about to get them to reveal their secret entrance to the mines. What they really needed, though, was a way to get to the altar, so they could save it as a spawn point. Then they could easily transport any items directly here.

“Only the king can give permission for that,” said the elite kobold.

“Can we meet the king?” asked Dad.

The elite took out the sandwich and looked at it. “I will ask for an audience.” He handed the sandwich to a kobold, and sent him off with it.

“In the meantime,” said Britta, feeling it was now or never, “do you have a temple we could use? I like to say a prayer before meeting royalty. I like to ask the Great Gnome to not let me get killed by an irritated monarch.”

“I understand. We have a temple.”

“Does it have a working altar?” she asked. “One without a big crack in it.”

“It is a brand new altar,” said the elite. “Come with me.”

“If the king refuses to see us,” said Dad, “you’ll let us go, right?”

“No,” said the kobold. “Then we will kill you. Guards!”

Kobolds lined up on either side of them as they were marched out of the cave.

“This is going well,” said Dad. “Win pending.”

He was right, they were more or less through the second-level entrance exam. And they weren’t dead, which was always a good sign. The win was pending. She kept her hands free in case she had to teleport quickly.

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