Bitter 209

The Great Gnome’s voice had changed, and he was acting like he was just another NPC.

“Britta? Are you alright?” called out Dr Reedy’s voice.

Britta looked around, even though she knew there would be no one there. “Yes, I’m fine.”

“We lost you there for a moment. All our screens blacked out.”

The Great Gnome put a finger to his lips and winked. Apparently their earlier conversation was only meant for her ears. Which was fine with Britta.

“I don’t know what happened,” said Britta. “I’m doing my class quest with the Great Gnome. Any change with Stan?”

“No. He’s stable, but still in a coma.”

If Nigel had told the truth and Stan’s condition has nothing to do with what was going on in the game, did that mean he would eventually wake up? She’d have liked to have asked him, but he’d made it clear he wouldn’t speak about it while they were being watched.

“So, everything’s fine?”

“Yes,” said Britta.

“No problems?”

“None so far.”

“Okay.” Dr Reedy sounded unsure. If she suspected Britta wasn’t being entirely honest, she didn’t make an issue of it. “Carry on, then. Good luck.”

Britta returned her attention to the Great Gnome. “Ready when you are.”

“This way.” The gnome went through the tunnel into the large cavern lit by glowing toadstools.

“Is it very difficult, this quest?”

“No, no. You shouldn’t have too much trouble. And if you do somehow manage to mess it up, you can always try again.”

“After waiting twenty-four hours?” asked Britta.

“No, you can try again straight away. As many times as you like. You just have to complete it.”

That didn’t sound too bad. The quest had only just been put into the game and basically for her. She was sure the devs had made it quite simple so she could get it over with and get back to the main storyline. At least, she hoped that’s what they’d done.

“And what was the reward again?” she asked.

The Great Gnome led to another tunnel on the other side of the cavern. “You get all your spells upgraded to more powerful versions and access to the next magic tier. A new skill gets unlocked and some items. It’s all things you’ll find very useful, I’m sure.”

It sounded great. She couldn’t wait to give it a go. Hopefully it would only take a few minutes.

They came out into a small room with six tunnel entrances in front of them.

“Here we are. The Thirty-Six Chambers.”

“Thirty-six?” That was a lot of chambers.

“Six by six,” said the Great Gnome. “You have to make your way from this side to the other. The shortest route is six chambers, but that may not be the safest.”

“There are monsters in there?”

“No. Not really. Nothing that will really hurt you. A few traps, some puzzles. The occasional creature that won’t let you past.”

“Monsters.”

“Hmm, well, technically, monsters. But you can’t use any weapons or brute force. This is a test of your magical powers.”

That wasn’t much of a restriction for Britta, she wasn’t a huge proponent of either weapons or brute force.

“So, it’s kind of a maze. I just have to find my way through it.”

“Exactly,” said the Great Gnome. “Simple, isn’t it?”

It did actually sound quite straightforward. Especially as she had the perfect spell to help her. Shadow Guardian would be able to explore all thirty-six chambers and tell her the ideal route to take.

It was only then that she remembered she’d already sent the shade to spy on the mayor. She looked at her mana gauge. She had about half left. Would that be enough?

She looked at the six openings, dark and ominous. It was a low-level quest, but then she’d thought that before and things had not gone as smoothly as they should have. The Great Gnome had said she could try as many times as she liked.

“There’s no time limit?”

“No,” said the Great Gnome. “Take as long as you wish.”

She might as well try it. If it did prove too difficult, she could recall the shade. She took a deep breath and prepared to go in.

There was a long, eerie howl.

“What was that?”

The Great Gnome shrugged. “Only one way to find out.”

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