Bitter 41

The route out of town took Bitta past the post office. She had a parcel waiting there, probably more junk mail, but since she was passing she decided to pop in and pick it up. There might actually be something useful this time.

Even if it was just another reward box, she wouldn’t mind getting another hat, one that she could wear. It was a sunny day and the walk to the ranch would be nicer with her head covered. She could feel the heat of the sun beating down on her even now and tried to keep to the shadier parts of the street.

She reached the post office in a few minutes. The sparkling trail carried on down the street. Britta took a right and walked up the steps.

Inside, there were lines of people everywhere. They all appeared to be NPCs so served no purpose other than to delay her. As she queued up, she thought about why they would bother to inconvenience players like this. It did add a touch of realism, but a bit too much.

It had to be a money thing. There was bound to be a way to pay for express service or some kind of privileged status that meant you could avoid queues. For real money, of course.

By the time she reached the counter, she'd convinced herself APE. were only out to fleece their customers. They already charged thousands for the pod, but they wanted more. They might be good at building games, but they were even better at being scummy businessmen.

“Well, hello again,” said the grinning buffoon behind the counter.

Behind her the line had vanished. No surprise there. She climbed onto the step that allowed her to see over the counter.

“Just shut up and give me my parcel,” snapped Britta.

The boy’s smile dropped for a millisecond, but bounced right back. “Of course.” He disappeared into the back and returned with a large parcel almost identical to the first gift box she’d received, only this time the big bow was blue instead of red.

He placed the box on the counter and waggled his eyebrows at her. “What could it be? Some—”

“Thanks, I’ll pass on the sales pitch. I’m not expected to pay for this one, am I?”

“No, no. Free. Gratis. Yours to keep. It’s a reward for reaching Level 3. A major turning point for all adventurers.” He mouthed ‘wow’ at her.

Britta ignored him and pulled off the ribbon careful not to rip anything. She didn’t care about the wrapping but she did want to keep the box afterwards to add to her inventory.

She peered inside. There was a hat in there. The same hat as last time. She tried to put it on in case this one was suitable for her class, but it slid off. She suspected these hats were very common and would be worthless at the auction house. Which reminded her she should go there once she collected her mount.

There were three more bottles: red, blue and green. The green was more temporary dye and the red and blue were HP and MP potions. Those would actually come in useful. She really needed to find out where to buy those from. Once she had some money.

The only other thing in the box was a large, golden key.

“Ooh,” said the boy. “A mystery key!”

Britta turned it over in her hands. It was like a novelty key, far too large to serve any normal purpose like opening a lock.

“Identify.”

The tag over the key said ‘Mystery Key’. When she tapped it, a screen opened up.

[?]

Very useful. “What’s it for?”

The boy shrugged. “It’s a mystery.”

She found him very irritating. Someone had programmed him to be that way, of course, so it wasn’t really his fault. But still. Irritating.

“Are you happy working here?” she asked him, expecting another pre-programmed glib answer, followed by an attempt to sell her something.

The smile left his face and his eyes seemed to grow darker. “Not really, but it pays the bills. I have to take care of me and Ma ,somehow. If I lost this job I don’t know what I’d do, especially with the Mayor deciding—” suddenly the fake smile jumped back onto his face. “Thank you for your custom. Have a good day.” The smile broadened to the point it looked painful.

Britta was confused by the sudden change. It was odd enough when he started giving her his sob story, but even weirder when he switched back. She also got the feeling she was being watched.

Britta slowly turned her head to look over her shoulder. Behind her stood a large man wearing a voluminous black cloak with fur trimming and a tricorn hat. He had an impossibly wide face. No one’s face should be so wide.

Around his neck he wore a gold chain with a large medallion hanging from it.

“Are you the Mayor?” she asked him.

“That’s right,” he said in a booming voice. “Have you finished? I need to post a letter.” He smiled; the corners of his lips took about five seconds to reach his cheeks.

Why would the Mayor suddenly appear in the post office just as she was about to hear some gossip about him? Seemed a bit convenient. She must have triggered some narrative—this week’s episode: ‘The Seedy Underbelly of New Town’. Corruption and bribery at the highest levels; hookers and drug dealers bringing in the dough. It was like a cheesy TV drama. Britta liked cheesy dramas, maybe this was the part of the game she would excel at.

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