Britta stared up at her ceiling. She was starting to memorise the lines and markings. At first glance it was plain and unremarkable, painted pure white, but closer inspection, especially regular closer inspection, revealed a panoply of imperfections.
She had died. She had been killed. The kobolds had killed her.
She knew they hadn’t really trusted her and under normal circumstances they would have been her enemies, but these were not normal circumstances. They had needed to work together to survive. Or so she’d thought.
Clearly, she had been mistaken.
She had shown them how to defeat the dwarf. Once she’d revealed that, her usefulness was severely diminished. They didn’t need her to curse the dwarf, that was down to the kobold priest. Did they still need Stan to act as a decoy? It would be galling if they had killed her but kept Stan alive. Would the dwarf storyline continue without her in it? She knew it wouldn’t activate without her, but she didn’t know what would happen once she died while another player was still present.
This was assuming Stan was alive. They could have just as easily decided they didn’t need him, either.
She scrunched up the duvet in her fists. It was so frustrating. She could go back and try again, something real life didn’t allow, but she had to wait a whole day.
Britta rose from the bed. She had been lying there so long she was no longer wet with perspiration. She didn’t smell good, though. She showered and changed, went downstairs and had dinner with her parents. She felt oddly relaxed. She had failed but she was content in a way she rarely was. It was a fixable failure.
“Marisa says she hasn’t spoken to you in weeks,” said Mum. “You should call her.”
“She can call me,” said Britta. They chatted about things of no great importance while Dad stirred pots on the stove, getting his famous carbonara sauce just right. It wasn’t famous outside the family (or even inside it) but he insisted on calling it that.
Britta went to bed without dwelling too much on the events in the game. She read a book in bed and then turned off the light a little after eleven. She fell asleep right away.
It was back to school the next day. Her self-imposed schedule meant each class was more of a checklist, ticking off the things she’d already done. Reading assignments, preparations for upcoming tests, handing in coursework. She was ahead in all areas.
When she looked around the class, she saw kids chatting and laughing, phones out, computers open. They were half in this world, half somewhere else. Half measures. She smiled.
“What are you smiling about?” said Rashida. “You look insane.”
“Nothing. Can’t I smile?”
“Not like that. It’s creepy.”
The game was waiting for her. Everything at school was a prelude to getting back into New World and this time not making such silly mistakes. She had to be more careful with the kobolds. Tell them only enough to get them to cooperate, keep enough back to make herself indispensable. She couldn’t assume they would take her at her word just because she was being honest. They didn’t know that. She had to see it from their perspective. She was an alien in their midst, learning all their secrets and attaining access to their treasures. After taking care of the dwarf, her next step would obviously be to take what belonged to them. That’s how everyone else acted, so it only followed the same would be expected of her.
If she wanted to further her relationships with the citizens of New World, she didn’t just have to consider her own actions, she had to take into account the reactions of those she was dealing with. The game gave her the opportunity to relive scenarios so she could adjust her approach, but that was… cheap. Almost cheating. She should be able to foresee such obvious things as other people’s concerns without needing a second chance. Second chances were for noobs.
She caught herself grinning on the bus home and sucked her lips into her mouth before the other passengers thought she was demented. She knew she was a noob. Her attempts at the game had been quite hamfisted so far but there was room for improvement. Most people meant that phrase disparagingly, to suggest someone wasn’t good enough. She saw it as a positive. Especially since her room for improvement was an actual room that showed the improvements on a status screen.
She walked up her road, quietly excited about what she would find once she logged back in. Perhaps Stan and the kobolds had already killed the dwarf and moved onto the next thing—no, no way. The dwarf would have killed them all.
Outside her house was a large limousine. It was tan and brown, two very mundane colours somehow worked up into a high gloss so luxurious it made every other car in the street look like a rusty bucket. There was a chauffeur sitting in the front seat with black cap and gloves. He was sliding his fingers across a small tablet and was too engrossed to notice Britta walk passed. Her eyes went from the mindlessly repetitive game on the tablet to watching her reflection float by in the spotless window.
It was only half four so Mum wasn’t home. Dad was in the living room with a man Britta had never seen before. He had a square face with heavy jowls and greying sideburns but hardly any hair on his head. Britta didn’t know much about men’s suits, but she was sure the one he was wearing was incredibly expensive. It shimmered.
“Britta, this is Sir Kenneth,” said Dad.
“Hello, Britta,” said Sir Kenneth, his voice as rich and luxurious as his suit and his car.
He was Stan’s father, she had worked that much out. She had no idea why he was here, though. To deliver the multi-million pound car? “Is this about Stan?”
“Yes, I’m afraid it is.”
There was a look on his face that made Britta’s throat go dry. She had never seen a grown man look so sad.