Bitter 478

Five of the six dots were headed in their direction. Only the one Britta had assumed was Dad remained in place, the others were coming for them.

“Maybe they want to welcome us to the game,” said Owen.

“Maybe,” said MrKappa as he drew his sword. “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.”

“Let’s just go,” said Britta. “If we take this long tunnel running up the side, we might be able to avoid them altogether. At least until we reach the northeast corner.”

It wasn’t really a solution, they would still have to deal with whatever was closing in on them, but at least it would be five versus four. Assuming Dad would be on her side.

The other two stepped aside to let Britta go ahead of them. It wasn’t that far to where Dad was, and there were only a few places they could be intercepted. They would just have to get there first and stay ahead of their pursuers.

“If I was stuck down here and new people turned up,” said Owen, “I’d probably rush over. They could be happy to see us.”

“I’d at least be a little cautious,” said MrKappa. “Look at them, they can’t wait to get here. No hesitation. Does that seem normal?”

He had a point. Britta turned around and put a hand on MrKappa’s belly, which was as high as she could reach.

“What is it?” he said, and then his eyes bulged as his twin appeared next to him. His mouth moved open and close without any sound coming out. His doppelganger copied him.

“Try to lead the others away from here,” said Britta. The copy nodded and then ran off.

“That was amazing,” said Owen. “Looked just like him.”

MrKappa’s eyes shone as he watched his other self disappear down the tunnel. “Yeah, amazing. You really are as powerful as she said.”

Britta felt a bit embarrassed by how impressed they were. She would have liked to have taken it in her stride, acting all cool and nonchalant like you were supposed to in these situations, but she had to keep her mouth tightly shut so she wouldn’t start giggling nervously. Flattery wasn’t something she had much experience with.

She took a slow breath before speaking. “It won’t last very long, but it should buy us a little time.” She set off again, with her two followers in tow. Britta had the feeling they were talking about her but she did her best not to hear what they were saying.

Her map was open as she jogged down the tunnel towards Dad’s location. The copy she’d made of MrKappa didn’t show up on it, but the other dots had suddenly changed direction and were moving in a more chaotic manner. A soldier of the Empire suddenly appearing in their midst probably wasn’t what they’d been expecting.

They would eventually realise he wasn’t what he seemed — especially if they checked their maps — but it would be enough of a diversion to let them get to Dad.

“They’re coming back,” said MrKappa. They were all running with their maps open, so they could see how close they were to getting caught. “They must have figured it out.”

The dots had veered off to one side but were now sweeping back around to resume their pursuit.

The decoy had allowed Britta to get past the two intersecting tunnels that would have been perfect for blocking their route northeast. At least that meant she now had a clear run to Dad. They could be caught but they couldn’t be cut off.

“They’re fast buggers,” said MrKappa. “Anyone remember what classes were in their party?”

“Looked like a couple of fighters,” Owen carried on while they ran, “maybe a healer. Not sure about the others. What about your friend? What’s he?”

“Mage,” said Britta. She hadn’t really made a note of who else was on Dad’s team, apart from Master Chief. His name was on the list next to the map on her screen. She could send him a PM, ask him why they were all chasing her, but she preferred to find Dad and then just leave. She didn’t want to get dragged into this, and she didn’t want to be asked any awkward questions. Being upfront with people hadn’t worked out as intended.

“This mage, he’s not like you, is he?” There was something like awe in Owen’s voice when he referred to her. It gave her an odd feeling.

The dots on the map were moving at the same speed, and they were ignoring each other.

“If this is a battle royale sort of contest, why weren’t they fighting each other?” Britta wondered out loud.

“Might be squads,” said MrKappa. “Their team against ours.”

She hadn’t considered that. Would Dad be automatically on the other team, since that was his party? There was no way to know until she got to him.

The more she thought about it, the less inclined she was to hang around. Get the most basic explanation she could for Dr Reedy, and then teleport out, that was her plan.

They reached the end of the tunnel. Up ahead, there was a small chamber where Dad should be waiting. Britta had her ball of light showing the way, making sure there was no one waiting to jump out of a hole or down from the ceiling. So far, it had been a straightforward run with no obstacles. Their pursuers were further back in the same tunnel, all bunched up together, hopefully getting in each other's way.

The chamber was a plain-looking cave with one other exit. And in the corner was a giant tablet carved into the wall, going from floor to roof. It had writing carved into it. At the top, it said:

Rules of the Game

Beneath that were a lot more words, but they were faded and barely legible, like it was something unearthed recently by archaeologists, a monument from antiquity.

There was a figure crouched at the bottom of the tablet, wiping the dust away with part of his robe.

“Hey,” said Dad, turning as they entered, “you made it. Good job.”

There was the noise of more people approaching. They were shouting and making aggressive sounds. It sounded like they were coming for a fight.

Dad stood up and pointed at the entrance. A stone slab fell blocking it off. Dad smiled. “Don’t worry, you’re perfectly safe in here with me.”

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