Bitter 407

Dad led the way, so all Britta could see were the steps leading down, slowly curling. It made her feel a bit dizzy.

“Couldn’t you have cut this bit out?” she said.

“What do you mean?” said Dad. “This is dramatic use of a moving camera. Can’t you feel the tension?”

What she was feeling was mildly nauseous. The step spiralled down to the bottom, and then they were in a room full of kobolds.

The camera panned around to catch the rest of the party enter. They stiffened when they saw how many kobolds were in front of them. They most definitely felt the tension. They came into the cavern, but stayed near the wall, moving to either side of the exit.

The camera swung back to the kobolds, who looked a bit nervous themselves. The same elite kobold was in charge.

“I’m back,” said Dad’s voice. “I brought some friends.”

The elite kobold nodded. Then he looked to the side where his second-in-command was standing. The second-in-command returned the sideways glance. For a moment Britta was sure they were going to launch an attack.

“You should introduce yourselves,” said Dad, looking back at the party. Their faces had noticeably paled. “I’ll start. I’m Guildford Underpass, Level 2 Mage.”

“Level 2?” said Mark, his surprise overwhelming his caution.

“Yes,” said Dad. “I levelled up when I fought the banshees earlier. You will, too, probably.”

The thought of levelling up seemed to break the ice.

“I’m Master Chief,” said Mark, stepping forward. “Level 1 man-at-arms. That’s a fighter.”

The elite kobold nodded, but he scowled just a tiny bit. Britta thought maybe he resented being told what a man-at-arms was. She didn’t think Mark had meant to be condescending, he was probably just used to breaking everything down into the simplest explanations for his party.

“Lady Da, Level 1 cleric.”

“Dun Kirk, Level 1 monk.”

“Fart Lord. Lord of farts.” Fart Lord had his hands on his hips and seemed very pleased with himself.

“This isn’t the time for jokes,” said Mark. “You need to read the room a bit better.”

Britta’s reading of the room was that it was armed to the teeth. Literally, since kobolds weren’t shy about biting their opponent.

“Alright, alright. I’m an assassin. I strike from the shadows.”

“He’s a Level 1 footpad,” said Mark.

“I’ll be an assassin once I level up,” insisted Fart Lord.

“Can we give him a different name?” asked Lady Da. “I don’t really want to be calling out Fart Lord in the middle of a battle. Especially if, you know...” She pointed into the camera, which felt like she was pointing directly at Britta.

“No,” said Fart Lord. “That’s my name. You have to use it.”

“How about F Lord?” said Dad.

“How about Flawed,” said Dun Kirk. “There’s definitely something wrong with him.”

They all immediately agreed; even some of the kobolds were nodding. Flawed protested, but Mark overruled him. “It’s just for this expedition. Once we leave, you can go back to whatever name you want.”

Flawed wasn’t happy about it, but he didn’t have much choice, other than to sulk, which he did.

“Okay,” said Dad, returning his attention to the elite kobold. “Where do they sign?”

The elite kobold had a sour look on his face. “They’re going to be of help?”

“Of course,” said Dad. “They’re all seasoned pros.” He didn’t sound a hundred percent confident in this claim. Britta couldn’t see his face, but she imagined he was smiling while sweating profusely. He was a terrible liar.

“They’re all Level 1,” said the elite.

“So was I,” said Dad. “I did alright, didn’t I?”

Dad had killed quite a few banshees, so his logic was sound.

“Would you like one of these?” asked Lady Da. She was holding out a sandwich.

The elite kobold cocked an eyebrow and sniffed.

Just as he was about to reach for the sandwich — at least that’s what Britta thought he was about to do — the picture faded to black. When it faded up, it was a shot of the altar in the temple. Mark, Da, Kirk and Flawed were being blessed by the High Priest.

“What happened?” said Britta.

“Got to keep things moving along,” said Dad. “Nice fade, though, huh? Took me ages to get it right.”

Dad had taken on the mantle of movie director very easily. He’d soon be making everyone stop so he could adjust the lighting.

“But I wanted to see them negotiate their contract,” said Britta.

“APE didn’t want me to show the contracts. They felt it would give people too much information and unbalance negotiations. You didn’t miss anything. It was pretty dull — lots of legal mumbo-jumbo. The Chief got them good, though. The kobolds ended up having to pay them a bonus for every banshee killed. Swimming in silver ore by the end, they were.”

Kirk and Da were very taken with the temple and all the injured kobolds. Their faces showed both wonder and dismay, alternating between the two.

Flawed hopped about impatiently, ready to go.

And Mark had his chest puffed up. He was taking it all in and savouring the moment. He had been kicked from the first group he joined, not deemed worthy. Now he was down here, proving he was up to the job.

He looked directly into the camera, which meant he was looking directly at Britta watching.

“Okay, let’s do this,” he said. “But first, we need a team name. How about ‘The Holy Avengers’?”

“I like it!” said Dad’s voice in the video.

Britta groaned. “He’s like your long lost brother, isn’t he? Isn’t that name already taken?”

Holy Avengers,” said Dad. “Completely unrelated.”

Mark raised his sword. “Holy Avengers assemble!”

Britta looked up at Dad. He shrugged. “Fair use?”

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