Bitter 16

Britta eventually managed to cross the street. She was bumped into many times, but generally ignored by the throng who were all on urgent business, it seemed, and had places to go. No time to stop and let a small gnome get past.

Luckily, she didn’t fall over as that would have been a nightmare to clean up. Did they even have showers here? Probably not.

One sucky step at a time she navigated her way in between the small gaps that occasionally opened up until she finally got to the other side. If it was this hard doing simple tasks, doing an actual quest would be completely impossible.

She placed her muddy feet on the boardwalk outside the Adventurer’s Guild and tried to wipe them off, which didn’t really work. Gnome feet were small, as you’d expect, but quite tough and leathery. Maybe you were meant to go around with no shoes. The idea was quickly dismissed as she got a splinter in the sole of her left foot and had to hop up the steps into the Guild.

Inside, it was cooler and the floor was polished and splinter-free. She was in a large room that reminded her of the post office, with people behind counters and others lined up waiting to be served. The ones queuing had blue tags floating over their heads with a name.

Were these other players? There were about six of them in the room and they were all human-looking; no gnomes. They were dressed in armour and had swords and bows and other weapons. One even had a giant hammer strapped to his back.

Britta hopped over to a bench against a wall and sat down. She put her foot on her knee and attempted to get the splinter out, which was tricky when she couldn’t see anything but the mud-coating. She sat there, transfixed by how realistic the dirt felt under her fingers, how it smelled, how it moved around as she poked it.

“Hey, there. You’re new, are you?” said an American voice.

Britta looked up. Standing in front of her, taking up the whole view, was a huge woman with the name Diana on the tag hovering above her. She was built like a female bodybuilder, but with enormous boobs in what could only be described as an armoured bikini.

Was she really a woman? It was more than likely she was some thirty year old dude who got his kicks pretending to be a musclebound Amazon warrior while his wife and kids did normal things downstairs.

She sounded female, and Britta’s voice sounded like her actual voice which suggested this really was a woman, but there were probably ways to adjust things like that. You couldn’t judge anyone by their appearance here. Which was the best thing about this place.

“Er, yes,” said Britta. “I just started. And then I died, so I don’t have any equipment or clothes.”

“Oh, bad luck,” said Diana.  "That’s a bug. You’re not supposed to lose your clothes when you get killed, just whatever you’re holding. Devs are working on it, so they say, anyway. They shouldn’t really let you get attacked straight after the tutorial, either. Supposed to be a grace period to let a person get their bearings before the shit really hits the fan. Sounds like you ran into all the bugs. Really unlucky.”

Britta was finding hard not to stare. The body standing in front of her not only looked like a real body, it also looked completely unreal. The arms and legs were heavily muscled, but the breast and narrow hips made her look surprisingly feminine. The hair was long and golden, like something out of a shampoo commercial. And the face was easily good enough to be a model’s. Diana had clearly spent a lot of time in the character creation menu to make herself look this way.

Was that sad? Was she a fat, middle-aged housewife who comforted herself by pretending to be an Amazonian goddess?

Then again, would a housewife be playing in the closed beta of this game? Or any game?

Britta stopped herself. She was being judgmental. She knew nothing about this person—her wild guesses were meaningless.

“Yeah. I guess I was unlucky. I’m not really sure what I’m supposed to do now.”

“Ah, yeah, I’m the same. I always zone out during any kind of tutorial. Blah, blah, blah.” She smiled encouragingly. Clearly, she was trying to be friendly although why, Britta had no idea. Judgmental or not, Britta was a bit suspicious about Diana’s intentions.

“Is there any way I can get some clothes or weapons or anything?”

“Well, your old gear will be where you died, assuming no one comes along and grabs it.”

Her old gear comprised of rags and a dagger. It would be nice to have the dagger back, but hardly worth trekking out into the middle of nowhere to find it, even if she knew where to go.

“I don’t really know where I died, exactly.”

“Oh, it’ll be marked on your map. You can find it using the last known location button.”

Britta had seen no such button, but didn’t want to come across as a complete noob. Even though she was one.

“Right. Of course. Thanks.”

“In the meantime, you could always ask behind the desk. They have a charity box full of bits and pieces. Nothing amazing, but it’s free and it’ll keep you from catching a cold. Not really sure if you can catch a cold here, but you get what I mean. By the way, what class are you, if you don’t mind me asking?”

It wasn’t an unreasonable question, but Britta felt awkward answering it. She didn’t want to make it sound like she could do things she couldn’t, and so far her career as an illusionist hadn’t been very impressive.

“I do a bit of magic,” she said.

“Oh!” Diana’s eyes widened with surprise. “You don’t see many magic users, on account of how weak they are in the beginning. Of course, they’re supposed to be super overpowered by the time they get to the higher levels, but staying alive long enough is the tricky part. Say, you want to team up? I could show you the ropes and whatnot.”

“Erm, no thanks. Not right now. I want to have a look round first, make up my own mind about stuff.”

“Sure, sure. No problem. Just look me up if you change your mind. Diana Cross-Heart.” She lifted a hand and crossed her fingers. A glowing card appeared between them which she flicked over to Britta. It glided across the air and disappeared.

Do you wish to accept a friend invitation from Diana Cross-heart?

The words appeared in front of Britta. She pressed the Yes button underneath them. How had she done that? Could anyone do it?

“Message me anytime. I’m usually in-game.” Diana turned and wandered off towards a small group across the room.

Why had she said no? Teaming up with someone who had been here a while, who knew how the game worked and how to not die on your first day, would have been incredibly useful. Things would be much easier.

Perhaps that was why. She didn’t want to have to rely on someone else. Didn’t want to be part of a group and be grateful for what other people were willing to do for. She didn’t want to be looked down on, even though her height made it kind of unavoidable. But mostly, she wanted to show herself she didn’t need anyone’s help. She was capable of surviving on her own just fine.

She got up and walked over to the counter Diana had indicated earlier. “Er, hello. Could I have a look in the charity box?”

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