They were nearly home and the sun was out. The rain had pretended it was going to get serious, and then petered out. Or maybe Dad just outran the clouds, leaving them to sit over the APE facility where they probably felt more at home.
It had been a strange experience, not one Britta had expected at all. Not that she really had any idea what to expect. She had imagined there’d be some running on a treadmill while someone stood close by with a stopwatch and a clipboard, which was never very likely now that she thought about it. It was wearing the tracksuit that had given her that picture in her mind. For some reason she’d also prepared herself to have to jump over a vaulting horse.
And maybe after that a chat in one of the offices with glasses of sparkling mineral water and Dr Reedy answering all her questions. Not quite how it had turned out.
Britta stared out of the car window and looked at the shops and houses lined up in drab procession along the side of the road.
Which was when Britta remembered the one question she’d told herself to definitely ask, preferably first so she wouldn’t forget, what with all the vaulting and sipping of Pellegrino. Had the destruction of the book resulted in Dad losing the ability point it had given him?
They were locked out of the game for twenty-four hours and couldn’t check, but Dr Reedy could. She had access to everyone’s stats and figures. It might have at least answered one of her mysteries. And she had forgotten.
It wasn’t really Britta’s fault, though. It had been such a surprise to have to stand in front of all those people (who hadn’t really existed) that everything else had flown out of her head.
She took out her phone and called Dr Reedy. There was no reason she couldn’t just ask her.
“Who are you calling?” asked Dad.
“Dr Reedy. I want to know if your agility score went down when the skill book exploded.”
“Oh, I asked her,” said Dad. “She said it did.”
She cancelled the call. “You lost the point you gained?”
“Uh huh. Looks like it works just like the Mayor told you. It’s just that it also kills you.”
“But why didn’t anyone else die?”
Dad shrugged. “Magic.”
“That doesn’t explain anything.”
“Doesn’t it?” said Dad. “Sort of explains everything, if you want it to.”
“That’s pretty lazy, isn’t it?”
“Oh, you don’t have to convince me, but that’s the beauty of having magic in a game. You get to do what you want without having to worry if it’s actually possible.”
“Magic has rules, too.”
“Yes, ones that make no sense and can be changed whenever you want. You just have to pretend it works like one of the sciences, usually by having lots of big books to make things look well-researched and catalogued.”
“I don’t think the game works like that,” said Britta, although how sure was she? Nigel seemed to be constantly updating the rules.
“I hope you’re right. I’d much rather a solid set of laws and principles to stand on. Explaining everything away with fairy dust is kind of cheap. I guess you’re the person to find out, seeing as how your brain patterns are in sync with Nigel’s.”
“All that does is stop me sweating,” said Britta like it was no big deal, although it was actually a huge quality of life improvement. “Shame it doesn’t mean I can avoid the twenty-four-hour lockout.”
“Maybe it does,” said Dad.
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. It only just occurred to me. You said the lockout was necessary for the game to reset. If it’s in sync with you, maybe you don’t have to anymore. Or not for as long. Ah, home at last.”
Dad pulled up outside the house and they got out. Britta’s was still trying to process what Dad had just said. It sounded very plausible. It would certainly make a big difference if it was true. She could go back into the game. She could keep her appointment with Frau Magda. The meeting with APE had gone much quicker than anticipated and it wasn’t even lunch yet.
She followed Dad into the house as he called out to let Mum know they were back. Britta considered phoning Dr Reedy, again. But was that even necessary? She could just try the helmet and see if it let her in.
“Hey,” said Mum, “aren’t you going to tell me what happened?”
“Dad will. Love you, Mum.” Britta ran up the stairs to her room. It would only take a second to see if Dad was right.
She grabbed the helmet from under the bed and lay down. It was on her head and ready to go in an instant. A couple of minutes later she was in the Temple of Roha.
She sat up, smiling. No more forced waiting whenever she died. She still had to figure out if the time had just been reduced or completely removed. Dr Reedy would probably be able to help with that. If she had been told Britta was back in the game early, she was probably looking into it already.
Britta didn’t have time to think about it right now, though. She had an appointment to keep.
Finding The Slit Throat on her map only took a second. It was near the posh houses in the southeast part of town, not too far from the Mayor’s residence, which was surprising. With a name like that she’d expected it to be deep in the ghetto.
At least that meant less chance of running into unsavoury sorts. Her teleport spell was also active again so she felt like she was back to full strength. She smiled. It felt good to be back in control of her destiny.
She left the room and made her way to the street, her map open and showing the way. One step through the door was enough for her to realise things had changed in New Town.
There were guards everywhere.