Bitter 399

The tunnels in the second level were as Britta remembered them. Roughly hewn and poorly lit. She had spent quite some time running around down here, but this time she wasn’t being chased by the dwarf, so that was a clear improvement.

She was, however, surrounded by kobolds. Three on her left, three on Dad’s right, and a bunch more behind. The elite kobold led the way. It seemed a bit like overkill. She could barely see where she was going.

The corner kobolds had torches, but they didn’t give off much light. She considered making some light of her own, but it would probably be taken as an act of aggression, and then all hell would break loose. She concentrated on not stepping on the back of the elite kobold’s feet. That would probably be taken as a sign of aggression, too.

“Is it alright to leave the entrance unguarded?” asked Dad “We seem to have half your army here.”

“We will be notified if there are more intruders,” said the elite. “Reinforcements are always ready.”

Britta took that to mean there were a lot more kobolds down here. She hadn’t seen very many when she had been here before, but that had been a different game. Mainly hide and seek. Now the kobolds were organised and prepared for war. Against low-level players? Something wasn’t adding up.

“Why are you down here?” Britta asked like she was making conversation to pass the time.

“This is our mission. A soldier does not leave his post.”

“Not even to go get a sandwich?”


He sounded much more militaristic than the kobolds she had encountered before. This had been the kobolds’ home, which they were trying to protect. Now, they had a mission.

“What mission?” asked Dad. “Maybe we can help.”

There was no response.

“I’m getting the feeling,” Dad said under his breath, “that we aren’t the only intruders they’re geared up for. I don’t think they’re all that worried about players.”

They did seem to have the problem of adventurers coming to plunder the mines under control. To the point that most players weren’t even bothering to try. And if any did, like her and Dad, then they got met with an overwhelming response.

It suggested that the large numbers were here for something else. At least if the dwarf did show up in this version, it would be taken care of a lot quicker.

They continued marching. The tunnels felt familiar, but the direction didn’t. She opened her map as surreptitiously as she could, but it only showed the tunnels they had taken so far. No sign of the shade mapping out the floor.

She had asked it to, after checking for any opposition, but maybe it required new orders once it had located the waiting kobold army. Would have been nice if it had said. She wasn’t even sure if it had desummoned itself or was hanging around in stealth mode.

She opened her status screen and checked her MP usage. The number went down as she looked at it. So the shade was active. There wasn’t really anything she urgently needed from it, but it was good to know it was around. As long as her MP lasted.

“Who is it you’re expecting?” asked Dad. “You seem to be prepared for something major. Not a dwarf, is it?”

The elite glanced over his shoulder. “The dwarves are not our enemy.”

At least it was a clear answer. If they methodically went down the list of races and creatures, they would be bound to get it right eventually, but that was hardly feasible.

“Is it a single enemy, or are there lots of them?” Trust Dad to turn it into a game of twenty question.

“No more questions,” said the kobold. Apparently Dad had already maxed out the quota.

They entered a bigger tunnel. This definitely felt familiar. There was a door. It was the same as the door to the temple, but that wasn’t necessarily conclusive proof. Video games often recycled models and textures.

The kobold banged on the door. Someone on the other side banged back. The kobold banged again. Some kind of code, perhaps, but Britta couldn’t spot a pattern. Not unless it was just banging as hard as you could back and forth.

The door opened. Inside was a very different room to the one Britta had been in during her last visit.

The altar was there, same as before, but the rest of the room was much bigger. It was like the secret area they had used to leave when the dwarf had been camping them had been knocked through to create a more spacious living area, like when people join the dining room and living room together.

The other big change were the cots. Very basic army beds lining the walls, each with an injured kobold lying in it. A hospital.

Kobold shaman went from bed to bed, chanting over their patients. The air was filled with incense and the lighting was from candles. It gave the place a sombre atmosphere.

“Out of the way,” said a small, tetchy kobold, pushing the elite kobold, easily twice his size, out of the way with a shove. Two more kobolds carried a third between them. The patient, judging by his open but lifeless eyes, appeared to be dead.

They carried the body over to the altar and placed it on top. A fancier shaman with a bigger hat approached.

For a moment Britta thought it was Derik. That probably wouldn’t be a good thing, not if he remembered her. But when she saw his face, she realised it wasn’t him. How she was able to tell the difference between the hairy kobold faces, she had no idea.

The shaman began chanting. Everyone else stopped what they were doing to kneel, as did the elite kobold and their escort.

A light appeared over the dead kobold’s body. A few seconds later, the kobold began coughing.

“Resurrection,” said Dad.

They could bring their dead back to life. Which meant the inequality with players was a lot less than previously. Both sides could die, both could come back.

The revived kobold sat up and looked around with a dazed expression. Then he locked eyes with Britta. His weakened and frail body shook as he pointed. “That’s her. She’s the one who fireballed us.”

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