“The lady asked to see the manager,” said Diana. She was extremely insistent.
“Manager? What do you mean? I’m an independent trader.” The trader kicked his legs about like he was riding an invisible bicycle.
Britta gave the trader a good look. He didn’t seem the type to give up on a lucky find this easily. He definitely wasn’t going to help them for free, but he wouldn’t simply let them walk away. Did he plan to make them another offer? Or have some friends ambush in an alleyway somewhere? They’d have to get in line if that was the plan.
“Even if gave you the potion, you’d have to show it to someone else, wouldn’t you? Someone who knows more about this sort of thing than you. Tell us where to find this person and we’ll mention we were sent by you. Maybe you’ll get a finder’s fee or something.”
The trader didn’t look overly pleased by the idea, but he did seem to be considering it. Diana put him back down on his stool.
“Might be nothing,” he said. “Just some tonic for pimples or vitamins.”
Was a guy in a fantasy world supposed to know what vitamins were, Britta couldn’t help but wonder.
“But you don’t think so, do you?” said Diana. “You think it’s worth a thousand gold. We’ll find him ourselves, you know? It’ll take longer, and you won’t get any credit, but we’ll find him.”
Would they? Britta wasn’t so sure. But she liked the way Diana was playing it. “Yeah, there are plenty of other traders.” She looked around like she was checking for the nearest alternative.
“You’ll say I sent you?” said the trader.
“Yes,” said Britta. “What’s your name?”
“Sumfill. Sumfill the Potion Trader, western district, area manager.” He reached for the coin on the counter. “And I get to keep this.”
Britta looked at Diana, who nodded.
“Okay. Where do we go?”
Sumfil pocketed the coin and then gave them elaborate directions. Fortunately, the location appeared on Britta’s map, so she didn’t have to memorise the lefts and rights and names of landmarks she’d never heard of.
“Just a friendly warning, the Alchemist might be in a bad mood. Usually is.”
“Does this alchemist have a name?” asked Diana.
“Alchemist—that’s the only name I know. Don’t forget to say it was me who made the discovery.”
Britta wasn’t sure what he was claiming to have discovered, but she nodded. She had no problem giving him the credit if it got her some answers. She tapped her map and a glittering trail appeared. They had to go across town, but it wouldn’t take very long.
“What was that?” said Diana in an excited whisper as they walked away.
“What do you mean? What was what?”
“That. That! Did you see how he talked to us? It was like he was a real person.” She had to force herself to keep her voice down. “It must be some sort of ninja upgrade. There was no warning about this. You’d think they’d put out some patch notes. Maybe it’s a trial, and they’re just testing it. Amazing. Wait till the others find out. I have to tell someone.”
“Erm, actually, it’d be better if you didn’t.”
“What do you mean? Why not?”
“They won’t believe you.”
“What are you talking about? They’ll see for themselves…”
“It probably won’t work for them. And then they’ll think you were trolling them.”
“Why wouldn’t it…” Diana stopped talking for the next few seconds, deep in thought. “This has happened to you before?”
“Yes. A few times.”
“And only to you?”
Britta stopped and turned to face Diana. Well, look up at her. Of all the people she had met in New World, Diana had been the only one to treat Britta like a regular person. She had been kind and helpful, and hadn’t tried to take advantage. That didn’t mean she wouldn’t in the future, but she seemed worth taking a risk on. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a Level 15 barbarian on her side, in case things got hectic.
“I’ve reported it, but they aren’t sure why it’s happening. They said to keep going and see what happens. They’re watching everything I do, obviously. I mean, they’re watching everyone, but they’re really watching me.”
Britta half-expected Dr Reedy to chime in. Would she approve of Britta telling Diana? There was no voice from the clouds, so Britta assumed it was okay.
“And you’ve had these interactions with NPCs wherever you meet them?” asked Diana.
“Not always. It varies. Sometimes they just chat. Other times they give me special tasks to do.”
“And no one else knows about this?”
“The guy in the guardhouse knows. Stan.”
Diana nodded and then her eyes widened. “Stan from Hyperbowl?”
“Yes. He was with me when the dwarf in the mine appeared.”
“That was because of you?”
“Yes. Stan figured it out. He wanted to see more of the game’s unscripted side, so he decided to help me. One of the NPCs framed him for murder, so now he’s in jail. It’s not like the normal game.”
“Is it okay for you to be telling me all this?”
Britta shrugged. “They would have said something by now. I just thought if you’re going to help me, you should know what you’re getting yourself into.”
“Yes. Okay. Thanks. Count me in. So, why was he framed for murder?”
They kept walking as Britta explained the situation, the dwarf in the mines, how the kobolds were involved, and what the Mayor’s role was. Diana took it all in quietly. She was too stunned to ask any questions.
They reached their destination in silence. The Alchemist’s home was near the graveyard—an area Britta had avoided. In this sort of world, everything that might creep you out about a cemetery was likely to be true, and then some. Once they rounded the fencing, it was obvious which house they were headed for. It was on its own on a rise, slightly crooked with evil-eyed windows, looking like ghosts and murderers were waiting inside.