Bitter 26

Now that Britta had stuff, and even a place to put it, she felt rather pleased with herself. Progress was being made, and that was the point of these sorts of games, to make progress.

The whole idea of the gift box left a slightly nasty taste in her mouth but it wasn’t like she was going to buy any. APE was basically playing the role of drug dealer, giving away the first one for free. And then you pay. Could they even be called gift boxes? It isn’t a gift if it costs you money.

There was no point dwelling on it. APE was in business to make money, and if people were dumb enough to fall for it—and they probably were—that was their look out.

She had also discovered a new ability to identify objects. It was probably a basic skill everyone had, but it would certainly come in useful. How many other abilities did she have that she knew nothing about? She began to regret not taking the tutorial seriously. There really should have been a way to go over the tutorial again. She knew it was her own fault for skipping it, but would it have been so hard to put in a list of basic instructions somewhere?

There probably was, and she’d know where if she’d done the tutorial. If the game wasn’t in beta and hidden behind strict NDAs, there’d also be guides and simple tips on the internet. Gamers loved to play games that were incredibly hard, and they also loved to cheat.

Britta took the dagger from her belt. It looked more like a short sword in her hands.

“Identify.”

The dagger intensified in colour and shape, like it was the only real thing in a painted background. A tag appeared over it that said ‘Cursed Dagger.’

That didn’t sound good. She reached up to tap the tag but hesitated. Would she unleash some terrible curse on herself by opening the next screen? The dagger had belonged to a low-level thug. It was unlikely to be some doomsday device.

She clicked on the button and a second screen opened.

Unable to identify at your level.

She breathed a sigh of relief. Her low level had come to her rescue. Whatever was wrong with the dagger would have to wait to ruin her gaming experience. Not that she had much choice but to use it. It was the only weapon she had.

She stood up and put the dagger back in her makeshift belt. What to do now? With an open world and no instructions, there wasn’t an obvious next step. At least, not one that she could see.

Around her, people were scurrying about. She spotted a couple with tags over their heads—other players. She could try asking them how they started. The idea didn’t sit well with her. She really didn’t want to rely on other people or ask for favours. Here, she would prove she didn’t need anyone’s help. It would be good practice for the real world.

There was a distant rumble and the sky looked grey and unfriendly. Clouds were rolling towards the town. They weren’t just fluffy, off-white balls of cotton, these looked purple and angry, and they were moving very fast.

A wind picked up and knocked things over. People struggled to stay on their feet and looked for things to hold onto.

Britta grabbed onto the railing at the side of the steps. The wind was strong enough to push full-sized people over; it would probably blow her away altogether.

It lasted a few seconds, and then there was a lull. The wind died down and everyone looked around, relieved. And then they began running.

Britta couldn’t understand it at first. Where were they going? All of them, as one, were running down the street in the same direction. It was hard for her to see clearly because of her height. She climbed on top of the railing she’d been clinging to so she could get a better view.

“Run! Run!” people screamed. “They’re coming!”

Then the crowds were gone. The street was empty as everyone fled down the other end, and Britta could finally see what they had been running from.

Moving slowly towards her, in a huge, shuffling mass, were hundreds of decaying, rotting corpses. They weren't very hard to identify if you'd ever seen a horror movie. Zombies.

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