Bitter 311

If Britta had tried to navigate the maze as she’d been supposed to, the whole room rotating would be an added twist. Phase two you weren’t expecting, which you’d be ready for on your next attempt.

In Britta’s case, she was already waist-high in lava, so there wasn’t much added danger. But she did now have the benefit of gravity to help her get to her destination.

Lava spilled over the ledge. She hoped it wouldn’t damage the Keystone. She jumped, switching from the horizontal as it turned vertical, landing on the vertical that was now horizontal.

She managed to stay on her feet. The extra agility kicking in, or just luck?

The ground under her kept moving until it was level, and then stopped. The wall she’d been using as a floor until very recently, had lava pouring down it. Most of it was being drained away, but the overflow surrounded her. Fortunately it was only ankle deep, if that. She still had 20 HP to play with.

The alcove, now a ditch, was ahead of her. She realised from its positioning it would have been fairly high on the wall, making it tough for her to reach. Having it on the floor made it much easier to get to. It had a lip around it so the lava flowed on either side, like water hitting a rock midstream. She jumped in.

Her clothes were ruined. Her boots were gone. It was back to wearing scraps for her. There wasn’t much she could do about that now. She looked around for the  Keystone.

There didn’t seem to be anything here. It was supposed to be orange. The only orange thing was a hole circled with what looked like orange paint.

“Have you got it?” asked Dad on chat.

“No. There’s only a hole. Did someone take it?”

There was a pause before Dad spoke. “The shaman says that’s the Keystone. The hole. It’s where the key goes.”

Britta was sure that wasn’t what ‘keystone’ meant. That sounded more like a keyhole.

“Where’s the key?” she asked.

Another pause followed as Dad passed on the question. “He says there isn’t one.”

This is what she got for not preparing adequately. She crouched down and put her finger in the hole, and wiggled it around. It didn’t feel like anything special, just a hole in the rock.

If it required a key to work, then finding the key was probably more important than being here with her finger in a hole. If no one had the key, then the whole quest had been pointless. And if either side already had the key, then there wasn’t much she could do about it.

“Does he really have no idea where the key is? Is he lying?”

“I don’t know,” said Dad. “Do you want me to beat it out of him?”

There was a squeak in the background. He was bluffing, she hoped, but she didn’t have a better plan. Go home? Not many adventure tales ended after the hero went to the wrong place and then decided to call it a day.

“Where are you?” asked Dad. “Anything I can do to help?”

She explained what had happened.

“Ah, sounds like a potion sink.”

“What’s that?”

“Whenever the devs are worried there’s too much of something in a game, usually gold, they create artificial ways to get rid of it. They’re probably worried health potions make it too easy to beat the game — instead of fighting clever, you just walk into danger, downing pots as fast as you can. But if they give you puzzles like this one where you have to drink lots of potions to survive, they can force you to use up your supply. Glad I didn’t go with you, now.”

He seemed pleased with himself for having dodged a bullet. Britta didn’t even have any health potions, she’d given her last one to Frau Magda, but she could imagine players hoarding them to make the dangers here redundant.

Then again, Dad’s could be completely wrong. There were plenty of other ways to stop players abusing potions. They could just put a cooldown on usage, or have it so you could only carry a certain amount. They had already made it a slow process to buy them, so was there really a need to create a specific sink in-game?

It didn’t matter. She had other things to deal with. “How do I get out of here?”

“He says there’s an exit. Look up.”

She looked up, squinting to see properly. On the ceiling was an opening. It would be a doorway in a wall if the room was back to how it started.

Did she have to go back and tip the room the other way, lava chasing her? She had 16 HP now. Thankfully it wasn’t going down any further, but she wouldn’t survive another swim in lava.

She could just teleport out, but she couldn’t see herself coming back after that. Would the game wait for her to return before carrying on? It didn’t seem like that was how things worked anymore.

“Does Derik know how to get across without being burned alive?” If anyone knew a shortcut, it would be him, thought Britta.

Dad took a moment to consult. “No. He says he never goes down there. Too dangerous.”

Of course. Who in their right mind would run around down here if they didn’t have to?

She stood up, frustrated. Buy some potions, buy some new clothes, find the key that fit into the Keystone. She still hadn’t figured out what the Mayor and Garbolum were doing here. And she was also supposed to save the Mayor’s wife.

Her hand was tingling. She looked down. The ring on her finger was glowing.

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