Bitter 418

“So you can see everyone’s stats?” asked Dad.

“Yes,” said Britta. She looked at the red laptop sitting on her desk. It had the ‘unauthorised presence detected’ message on the screen, as it always did when Dad was in her room. “I mean, I think so. I’ve only tried a few. I guess there might be some people who are restricted, or something.”

“But you can see mine?” This seemed to be Dad’s main concern.

“Yes.”

“Even what’s in my backpack?”

“Yep. Er… One sandwich one stolen book, four pairs of socks — I don’t know why you have so many socks.”

“They were a reward for a quest.”

“Really? Are they magical?”

“No. They keep your feet warm. It’s the XP you get that matters.”

There seemed to be a lot of silly little quests like that. Britta would have to do one to get the 2 XP she needed to level up.

“And no, you can’t do the quest,” said Dad. “It’s not available anymore.”

“Because they ran out of socks to give out?”

“Never mind that. How is it fair to let you see what everyone else has?”

“It’s not supposed to be fair,” said Britta. “I’m not going to be playing with everyone else, am I? I can’t do the dungeons or the regular quests the way you do them.”

“True,” said Dad. “It wouldn’t be right to have you compete against a normal player like me. But that doesn’t mean you couldn’t play with me.”

“Would it really be with you? Or would it be for you?”

“It wouldn’t be like that. The game is super hard right now. It’s so hard to level up, it isn’t even funny.”

It did seem strange how difficult they were making progression in the game. If Britta hadn’t found a way to make a deal with the kobolds, no one would have been able to complete that, either. And they weren’t doing very well with Stage 2 without her.

“The Imperial Army are making it impossible to get anything done in the mines,” said Dad. “They keep marching in their squads and insisting they be allowed to go into the lower levels. The kobolds have blocked it off.”

“Why don’t they just let them?” asked Britta. “I’m sure they wouldn’t last long down there.”

“The kobolds say they own the mines, and they have the paperwork to prove it. They’ve sent a petition to the king.”

What was the point of dragging it out so long? Was the game going to turn into a courtroom simulator?

“It probably means there’s something you have to do to force the game to the next stage, whatever that is.”

“And how do you think we should do that?” Dad asked eagerly.

“I have no idea,” said Britta. “I have a tutor arriving in a minute.” She looked up at him, hinting heavily it was time for him to leave. He was hovering around her bedroom door, as he had been for the last twenty minutes.

“How’s that going? All the learning and studying.”

“Good. My brain feels a bit stuffed up sometimes, but I think I’ll get used to it. It’s like any muscle, the more—”

“Great, great. Sounds like you’re going to kill in the exams. Your fellow students are going to be pretty upset when you wipe the floor with them, huh?”

“No. I wipe the floor with most of them anyway. I’m not cheating, Dad. Studying hard isn’t an exploit.”

Dad didn’t look like he entirely agreed. “Money hack.”

“What does that mean? If you have money, you can hack the system?”

“Of course. That’s the best kind of hack. Totally legal. I should try to use the same kind of thinking in the game. That’s what they’re going for, isn’t it, more like the real world? Do you think the Imperial army can be bribed? Worked on the kobolds.”

“Sure,” said Britta. “Offer them a sandwich. Maybe a toastie.”

Dad sneered. “Must be nice wandering around with god mode on.”

“I don’t have god mode,” said Britta. “And I don’t wander around. Last two times I logged in, I had a nap in my room in the church. Didn’t even go outside.”

“Why not?”

“My mind was buzzing too much from my physics tutorial. I needed a quiet place to let it wear off.”

The game had become her special twelve-minute retreat from her tutoring. And did so very well. Once she was in there, she could cut herself off from everything in the real world.

“I still want to go see the capital city, though,” she said. “How long does it take to get there?”

“By goat?” said Dad. “I’m not sure. About three days by horse. There’s various villages you can stop off at along the way. They usually have a small church with an altar. And some quests.”

“Easy quests?” asked Britta.

“Killing bandits, mostly,” said Dad.

Britta’s interest faded. “Oh.”

“So, you’ll be leaving Quosada?” said Dad.

“Where?”

“New Town. It’s called Quosada now.”

“Right. I forgot. Yes, when I get the chance. Maybe this weekend before school starts. What about you? Going to try sneaking into the lower levels with your new party?”

“Haven’t seen much of them recently. They’re all famous now because of my video. Everyone wants to team up with them.” Dad sounded a bit despondent. He wasn’t as famous as the others because he hadn’t appeared in the video, so no one knew what he looked like.

“You could always ask the kobolds to help you train up some new people. They looked pretty organised.”

“Huh?” said Dad, a sudden gleam in his eyes. “That’s it. That’s it!” He ran out of her room.

Britta didn’t know what he was so excited about, but at least he wasn’t bothering her anymore. She had her French tutor coming in ten minutes.

“Hmm… à quelle distance de la ville?” she muttered to herself.

The red laptop came on. “Quelle ville aimeriez-vous visiter?” it said with a perfect French accent.

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