Britta had volunteered her services without a second thought. Not because she was feeling brave and adventurous — she had changed as a person since she’d started playing the game, but not that much — but because it seemed like what the game was asking of her.
Events were coalescing in one place, so that was the place she needed to be.
She was drawn there in a way simply receiving a message instructing her where to go wouldn’t have achieved. She was both excited and apprehensive. Around her, there was only fear and trepidation. Except for Dad.
His mood was in stark contrast to everyone else’s. He seemed to think he was off to a party where presents were being handed out to all guests, and he wanted to get there good and early.
It was probably the right attitude. Fretting about what was going to happen wouldn’t help. Britta couldn’t stop herself, though. She didn’t understand what the Mayor and Gabriel Garbolum were up to.
If the Keystone could destroy large parts of New World, would they be willing to use it? Would they threaten others? If that was the plan, surely they would have done it already. What had they been waiting for?
There was something she was missing. Either Roman wasn’t telling her the whole truth, or he didn’t know it himself.
Not knowing all the facts, but ploughing ahead anyway, was not how Britta usually approached a problem. It didn’t feel like a very smart way to behave. Even if you got away with it once or twice, you would eventually fall foul of ignorance, especially if other people knew what they were doing. She clearly had the poorest grasp of what the Keystone was and what it was capable of. By all rights, she should have no chance against either the Mayor or Gabriel Garbolum, whoever emerged victorious between the two. Everything was stacked against her and it would take a miracle to come out ahead from such a unfavourable position. Good thing she knew how to do magic.
“What’s the plan?” asked Dad.
“Don’t have one,” said Britta. She didn’t know who she’d face or how best to deal with them. All she had was a time limit. Dawn.
They were outside in the street, surrounded by dwarf ninjas. It wasn’t exactly the most discreet entourage. A horse-drawn cart was waiting to take them to the mines. Everyone piled in, with Dad sticking out as the tallest.
Frau Magda stood beside the wagon, her head level with Britta’s. “Please, save my mistress. She will be in the mines… somewhere.”
“I’ll try,” said Britta, not really sure it would be worth it. Side quests rarely were.
“Magda, my love...” said Rusty who was sitting next to Britta.
Magda grabbed his head in both of hers and kissed him violently through his cowl. “If you don’t come back, Rustworth, I vill never forgive you.” She ran off sobbing.
The dwarf sighed. “She’s a soft-hearted girl, that one.”
Soft-hearted was not how Britta would have described her.
“So, we just swan in and fight our way to the Keystone, killing everything in our path?” said Dad.
“No,” said Britta. “Definitely not.”
“Right, right. Stealth. We sneak in, get past their defences, grab the Keystone, make a run for it with everyone chasing us and things blowing up in the background.”
Dad seemed to think he was in an 80s action movie. Everything would go wrong, but then he would inexplicably stumble onto a room full of RPG launchers and blow everything to kingdom come. Probably in slow motion.
“We aren’t going to kill anyone, Dad.”
“Gotcha. Pacifist run. A bit hardcore for a first try, but I like your style.”
“This isn’t a first run, this is the only run. If we mess up, we probably won’t get another chance. There may not even be a game left.”
Dad’s excitement faltered for the first time. “You don’t really think that, do you? Nigel wouldn’t actually destroy the game.”
“I don’t know. It’s a bit strange Dr Reedy hasn’t been in touch.” She looked up at the night sky. “Hello? Dr Reedy?” There was no reply.
Dad’s expression grew more serious as he finally realised the implication of what they were about to attempt. “But that doesn’t make any sense. Why risk everything?”
Britta shook her head. “That’s what I want to know. And the only way to find out is to ask the people involved and get them to tell us, which I’m pretty sure they won’t want to do.”
“And you don’t have a plan?”
She shook her head again. He was having a hard time grasping what she was suggesting, which was understandable. Don’t kill anyone, get answers to questions they don’t want to give, save the world. Oh, and watch out for the homicidal undead dwarf. Not exactly the easiest of tasks.
Perhaps the dwarf was the answer to all this. She had considered destroying the grimoire now, taking the death penalty, and then coming back. At most it would be twelve hours, possibly less. Even if it was the full twelve, would anything happen while she was gone? Not to sound too self-centred, but she was sort of key to the story, it would most likely wait for her. At least the spell on the dwarf would be removed and they’d have one less enemy to worry about.
But maybe the dwarf wasn’t an enemy. If Tibor had no allegiance to either the Mayor or Garbolum, she might be able to use him against them. There was just the small matter of him being insane to contend with.
“Perhaps we should take a moment to think about this,” said Dad. The dwarves, who had been ignoring them until now, turned to look at him in unison, their suspicious eyes the only part of them showing. “To make our attack as effective as possible,” he added. “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.”
“You have until first light,” said Rusty firmly. “If you aren’t successful, we will collapse the mine with everyone inside it, including us.”
The dwarves all made noises indicating they were ready to lay down their lives.
“Okay, okay, calm down,” said Dad. “Don’t get too trigger happy. There won’t be any need for your crack kamikaze squadron. We’ll take care of it, right?” He looked at Britta, who gave him a weak thumbs-up.
It didn’t take long for the wagon to reach the mines. Everyone got out and stood around, waiting for someone else to give the go-ahead. Britta realised that person was her.
“We’ll go in first. Don’t enter until dawn.” That way they might have a few extra minutes. “How long will it take for you to start the mine collapse?”
“It will be immediate,” said the dwarf, a certain amount of pride in his voice.
Britta walked up to the entrance. There was no one about; no players and no NPCs.
“We’ll try to get to the lower floor without being noticed, and then…” That was all she had. Planning was hard.
“Okay,” said Dad. “Lead the way.”
They entered the mine, a thrill running through her. It wasn’t every day you got the chance to save the world. At least this part would be fairly easy. Get the shade to scout the place and find out where everyone was, and take it from there.
They quietly made their way to the first chamber. The dwarf was standing there, red eyes ablaze, waiting for them.
I'll be taking a week off over the hols. Bitter will be back on 1st January.
Will restart 8th January. Going to take a week to try to get a buffer going. Writing in advance, I know, crazy.
Bitter is now available as an eBook.
Afterword from Mooderino