Bitter 140

“What are you going to do?” asked Britta.

“It won’t take long,” said Dad. “Just give me ten minutes, okay?”

“Okay,” said Britta, dragging the word out, not really feeling very okay about it. He clearly had something in mind and ten minutes wasn’t so long, but how was he going to deal with Stan? “You could just tell me what you’re up to.”

“I could, but where’s the fun in that. I’ll be back in a mo.”

He left the kitchen and went into the living room where his pod was. She heard it open and begin humming.

“I’m sure he knows what he’s doing,” said Mum, her tone suggesting she thought he had no idea what he was doing.

Britta waited. It ended up taking more than ten minutes. Half an hour later, he came back into the kitchen, his hair wet and stuck to his scalp, a grin on his face. Britta looked at him expectantly.

“Right, you can go back in now.”

She waited for an explanation but there wasn’t one.

“Quick, before you miss your chance.”

“Chance to do what?” she asked, completely lost. What had he done?

“Just go to the mine and slip in while everyone’s busy. I’ve arranged a diversion. It’s ongoing but it won’t last long. I only came back to give you the all clear, I better get back myself. Remember, straight to the mine and don’t dilly dally on the way.” He turned to leave again.

“Dad!” wailed Britta. “Stop being so annoying. What did you do?”

“Now, Britta, don’t be impatient. We don’t have time for explanations and discussions, we can talk about it later.”

He was enjoying being awkward and getting worked up about it would only amuse him more. He was unbearable when he was this smug. Britta had enough experience with his teasing to know the best way to draw the truth out of him was to pretend she didn’t care, but it was hard to do that when she was dying from curiosity.

She took a breath and stomped out. It would be quicker to work out what had happened from inside the game.

Helmet on and lying on the bed, Britta re-entered the game. She had thought the best plan would be to avoid the mines and go do something else entirely. She still wanted to explore the town and revisit the gnome city. And there were any number of other places she hadn’t seen yet. But Dad had cleared her way into the mine, apparently.

She doubted it would be as simple as walking up to the entrance with no one there to stop her, even if Dr Reedy had spoken to Stan’s father. She could always logout if he was waiting for her, she just had to make sure she didn’t get grabbed this time.

She woke in the Temple of Roha. It was an added pain to always return so far from where she’d logged out, but there wasn’t much she could do about that.

The temple was quiet, not even Sister Florence was about. Everyone who had wanted to get back in the game had probably done so as soon as the servers restarted and she fully expected the mine to be packed with people. Even if Stan wasn’t there, she still had the massive queues to get past.

Outside, the town looked the same as always: fake busy. She walked to the outskirts and summoned Donald. He looked to have got over his encounter with those big cats and seemed his usual, slightly moody self. They headed for the mine.

It quickly became apparent things had changed as she approached. Even from quite far away, the lack of people was noticeable. There were no lines for either dungeon, no one hanging around to go in. The place was deserted. She slid off Donald and looked around.

There were no players, no one guarding the entrances, no Stan. Whatever Dad had done, clearly it had been effective. No point wasting time, it may only have been a temporary measure. She made for the entrance.

She took a moment to get her Cloak of the Dorf out of her inventory and put it on. She’d spent so much time faffing about with the problem of getting in the dungeon, it was quite a mental wrench to get her head back into game mode. She still had to deal with a very unpleasant dwarf. Almost as unpleasant as Stan.

“Hey. Where is everyone?”

Britta turned around. There was a girl on a pony. She was the one in Lord Jim’s group, the one with all the daggers. The tag over her head said her name was ‘bruTAL’.

“I don’t know,” said Britta. “I only just got here.”

“Nice cloak.” She looked around like she might see people hiding.

“Thanks. No one said anything to you?” Britta knew she should just go in while she had the chance, but she was really curious to know how Dad had pulled it off.

“No, I was busy. IRL stuff. Seems a bit odd, doesn’t it? Oh, hold on.” She raised her hand and tapped her palm. Then her eyes scanned something in the air Britta couldn’t see. “Oh, shit. Oh my god.” She began laughing.

“What?”

“They took down Hyperbowl’s fortress. Their whole army was here, waiting for you, so the other guilds launched an attack. Damn, I can’t believe I missed it.”

Britta smiled. Stan had obviously ignored whatever he’d been told and Dad had guessed he would and taken advantage. Nice one, Dad. She entered the dungeon.

It was dark. Britta raised her hand to create some light when the tunnel lit up with an orange glow. Britta spun around. The girl she’d left outside was standing there holding a torch.

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