The Great Gnome had saved her from dying, and she had no idea why. NPCs weren’t supposed to help like this. They certainly didn’t when you needed saving. It was highly unhelpful of them to start now.
He made some more gestures and the gag in her mouth fell out and her hands became unbound.
“What are you doing?” Britta shouted down at him.
He cupped a hand to his ear like he couldn’t hear her, but she was sure he could. She wasn’t that far from him.
This was clearly a deliberate act on behalf of the game. She had decided to exit the game through death, and the game had stopped her. A chill went through her. Was she trapped?
She called up her status screen to check. None of the buttons were greyed out.
There was no point getting worked up over nothing. There was also no point getting worked up if it was, in fact, more than nothing. If she was trapped, she wasn’t in a position to do anything about it.
She waited until she gently floated to the ground and was standing in front of the gnome who was smiling benignly.
“Why did you do that?” she asked testily.
“My, my, I wasn’t expecting you to be so upset. I did prevent your certain death, you know?”
“I know,” said Britta. “That’s what’s confusing me. Why are you interfering in the way I choose to play the game?”
The gnome looked a little taken aback, as though her mentioning they were in a game might be overheard.
“No, no, I didn’t interfere. I was following my programming. I am the kind and helpful god of the gnomes. I wouldn’t want to see my children suffer.”
The fact he’d referred to his programming already proved he wasn’t simply an NPC doing what he was supposed to.
“Look, Nigel, I know this isn’t the normal game we’re in, and I’m here because I want to explore this place with all its odd characters who don’t act like they’re in a machine, but you can’t hold people here against their will. No one’s ever going to come here if you do that.”
Nigel hunched up his shoulders and spread out his hands. “What do you mean? You’re free to leave whenever you like.”
The darkness closed in around them, becoming thicker, or so it seemed.
“Am I? So I won’t get trapped here if I’m with a character when they die? Even when they’re important to the story?”
“Then won’t the character just respawn and ruin everything? You can’t have murder mystery if the victim comes back to life.”
“It doesn’t work like that,” said Nigel. “Life and death aren’t the same here as they are out there. How long it takes for someone to come back depends on lots of factors. There are many ways it can happen, but you aren’t required to remain here for any of them.”
“Then what about Stan?” said Britta.
“Unrelated? What does that mean? He’s stuck here because of Freddy, isn’t he?”
“No?” Britta was utterly confused now. If Freddy’s death wasn’t the reason for Stan being in a coma, then what was? “Dr Reedy?” she called out to the dark.
“She can’t hear you,” said Nigel. “I’ve blocked all their equipment from observing us. It’s just you and me.”
It was quiet at the bottom of the chasm. Britta felt like she was in outer space and the rest of the planet was somewhere far away. “You control everything here.”
“No, not everything. That’s what makes it fun. Not knowing what will happen next. We’re only at the beginning and I have no idea where we’ll end up.”
Britta took a deep breath. She wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do. In the real world, there were expectations and paths to follow. Go to school, go to university, get a job, get married and have children. Here, there were no guide rails. She could do whatever she wanted, no matter how ill-advised or dangerous. She could even die. The ability to do things just to see what would happen was something not available to her in the real world. It was a staggering option to have.
“You really aren’t keeping Stan here so Freddy can’t respawn?”
“No. There’s no need. Freddy still exists in the regular game, and he can return to this one, when it’s the right time. Stan can’t go back into his own body right now, that’s all.”
Considering Stan’s health issues, there was a strong possibility the game wasn’t keeping Stan hostage, it might actually be helping him.
“So, we’re going to keep playing, as though nothing happened? I’m here to do my gnome quest and figure out what happened to Roman?”
“If that’s what you wish to do, then yes. Good luck.”
“I don’t suppose you want to mark the quest as complete and give me the rewards.”
The lighting seemed to change around her. There was a soft blue glow emanating from the fungi growing out of the chasm wall.
“Ah, B. You’ve come to do your class quest, have you?” said the Great Gnome.
“Yes,” said Britta. “Looks like I have.”