HTADDB returns later today.

 

Preface from Mooderino

Bitter 371

Outside the church, the street was busy. It was usually busy, but with NPCs passing by in a regular rotation. If you waited long enough, the same characters would go past again, and again.

This evening — and it was a cold, crisp night, with tumultuous stars crammed into the firmaments — the people wandering up and down the main street were actually people. Players. Hundreds of them.

There were some NPCs, but the vast majority had name tags over their heads. It was also pretty clear they were players from the way they wandered aimlessly, pointing and making excited noises.

Britta made her way to Sonny’s to meet with Stan. She was curious to see how he was getting on, and had been planning on trying to get in touch with him. He had saved her the trouble, which was nice of him.

Her size made it a little tricky to navigate the crowds, but mostly people were stood still, chatting animatedly, or looking in windows. From what she overheard, they were planning what to buy for their characters once they made some money. Window shopping in a fantasy world.

The game had been live for eight hours or so, and they would have spent most of that time doing tutorials and beginner quests. This was probably the first time they had had a chance to look around the town.

Sonny’s was packed. All players. Groups were huddled around tables, trying different foods with full running commentaries. Soup as spectator sport.

There were also some groups who were getting down to business. They had maps and notes and various other adventuring items spread out, planning their next move. Those groups were all guys, all very serious.

“Hey! Over here!”

There was a hand waving at her from the corner. She followed the arm down to a face she didn’t recognise. A long, pointed chin, twirly moustache, ears full of earrings.

She checked behind her, but there was no one there. He was definitely waving at her.

“Stan?”

“Rastan the Bard, at your service. Stan for short.” He stood up, his long legs making him look like a frog, and bowed.

The voice did sound familiar. She sat down. It was a very small table tucked away in the corner, away from everyone else. She still felt the need to keep her voice down.

“Is this your new character? Do you sing?”

“Well, I could certainly use my voice as a weapon. Minus three on all saving throws against earache. This is a disguise. After I appeared in the broadcast, everyone knows what I look like.”

Britta peered closer. It didn’t look like a mask or makeup. It looked like he was a new person entirely.

“So you’re still using Stanley’s Cameo? Same level and everything?”

“Yes, thank God. Couldn’t bear having to go through all that again. I’ve already lost my main, didn’t want to have to start from the beginning again.”

Britta had never seen Stan’s main character. He has used an alt to enter the Mines of Korlath, which only allowed lower level characters. She imagined it was some completely overpowered, decked out warrior with everything maxed out. And now it was digital dust.

“So you’re working for…” —she looked around to make sure no one was eavesdropping on them, then looked up, realising there was always someone watching— “for them?”

“Seemed like a better way to pass the time. You know how it is, can’t keep running the same old routine every day, not now that it’s under new management.” He raised his eyebrows suggestively. They were braided, Britta noticed. “How about you? Special dispensation?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re using the same character. Same level, right? You must have made a deal with them.”

“Yes, they need me to sync the game every forty-eight hours. Something Nigel did.”

“So they can have the day and night cycle,” said Stan.

“I guess so. It stops people getting too sweaty, as well.” He looked confused. “When they log out.”

“Not really something I had a problem with.” Stan had been in hospital when he started using the game. Excessive perspiration probably hadn’t been a big concern.

“There are a lot more people now,” said Britta. “How are they all going to fit in one town?”

“It isn’t just here. There are a bunch of beginner towns all over the place.”

Britta nodded. It made sense. With four million players, even if they didn’t all log in at the same time, it would get very crowded in a town this size.

“Is it still called New Town?”

“No. It’s Quosada.”

“What does that mean?”

“No idea. Ask a nerd.”

A waiter appeared and placed a hot drink in front of Britta. “I didn’t…”

“I ordered for you. It’s that hot, brown stuff you almost like, but not really.”

“Thanks.” She took a sip. He was right. “What about your rebellion? What’s that about?”

Stan shrugged. “Something to do. I let the team deal with most of it. I’m just the figurehead.”

“You don’t make the decisions?”

“Oh, if I feel like it. Depends on how things pan out. It’ll probably follow the familiar story, heroic attempt to save the kingdom, and all that crap.”

“It isn’t going to be about restoring the rightful king to the throne is it?”

“Might be.”

“Oh, please. I hate all that ‘born to rule’ rubbish. Who the hell cares if the right baby ends up on the throne? The whole monarchy thing is so dated.”

“Medieval?” asked Stan.

“You know what I mean. I don’t mind the fairies and dragons and all the usual fantasy stuff, but they could at least come up with a less hokey form of government. I mean, Aragorn can kiss my small hairy bum. Who cares if he’s the rightful heir? If this is all just to help the true prince get to the throne, I might just side with the bad guys to stop the entitled git. I don’t even know which side is the bad one? Do you know?”

Stan was looking at her with a small smirk on his lips. She noticed it had gone very quiet. She turned around to find everyone in the crowded bistro staring at her.

 

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Afterword from Mooderino
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