Britta had intended to visit the guild in any case — Dad had said this would be where her stuff would have gone. Each player had a locker or a closet or something. It would be good to at least get her money back before she set off on her trip to the big city.
She walked up to the reception desk where the buxom female elf looked down her thin nose and spectacles at the gathered adventurers. Unlike the elf she’d just escaped from, this one had a very different look to her. Like sexy librarian who only had to take off her glasses to start the violins swelling. It was a timely reminder that this was a game, and that the devs were only recently out of puberty.
“Hello,” said Britta, once she got to the head of the queue. “Is the stuff from my inventory here?”
The elf looked down at Britta, in every sense. “Do you have a guild card?”
She sounded much more snooty than Britta remembered. Had she been changed? More to the point, where was her guild card? She had received one, but she didn’t actually recall where she’d put it. Most likely it was with the rest of her stuff. Which meant she couldn’t get her stuff until she got her stuff.
There was a temptation to shout and get mad. She could even feel an urge to demand the elf just do as she was told or else. There might even have been an element of ‘Do you know who I am?’ in there. That would have been really ridiculous.
Britta took a breath. She could try to contact Dr Reedy, but there had to be a simpler solution.
“Er, no. I lost it. How do I get a replacement?”
“It costs five hundred—”
“That’s alright, Miss Everboon,” said a smooth, silky voice. “I’ll take care of this young lady.” A man smiled at the elf, who nodded and moved aside to deal with someone else.
“Thanks,” said Britta. “I thought I was going to lose all my old gear. Not that it’s worth much. Sentimental value, mostly.”
“Allow me to make you another guild card. Your old one wouldn’t be valid anymore.” He had the same beautiful face, the same golden locks, but he was dressed differently this time. Like a butler, or a concierge at a very posh hotel. It suited him, the high collar and sharp, well-fitted suit. He handed her a form to fill in.
“So all my stuff is here?”
“Yes,” said N-28. “Although I’m not sure you would miss any of it if it weren’t.”
His attitude was a bit annoying, too. Maybe it wasn’t them that had changed, though. Maybe it was her. Once you take control of your life, it becomes much harder to deal calmly with people who try to take it away again.
“It’s all I have,” she said.
“Indeed.” He took out a pocket watch and looked at it. “Fourteen minutes. Not like you to loiter like this.”
“I’m having a day out. Travelling.”
“Anywhere in particular?”
“The capital,” said Britta. “I want to see how near it is to being completed.”
There was a momentary reaction in his eyes at the implied criticism, but his smile remained fixed in place. “I assure you it’s entirely complete, and problem-free.”
N-28’s smile widened and thinned at the same time. “This way.” He walked out from behind the reception desk.
“Who’s that?” Britta heard someone say from behind her. “I haven’t seen him before.”
“At least he isn’t another big-boobed elf,” said another voice. “Honestly, it’s like this place was designed by fifteen-year-olds.”
N-28 led Britta down a passage. It was much quieter once they were away from the lobby.
“I got a new computer,” said Britta. “A red one. I don’t suppose you know anything about it?”
“Red computers?” said N-28. “Not really my area of expertise. I prefer purple.”
Was he being coy? Did it matter?
They came to a door and N-28 took out a large bunch of keys. Britta was sure there was no need for anything so elaborate. He could open any door in this town, in this world, with a wave of his hand.
He unlocked the door and swung it open.
Inside was all her stuff. It wasn’t very impressive. All the boxes she’d collected made the small room look like someone had dumped their rubbish here.
Britta walked in and went through the items on the table. She found some coins and counted them. Less than she remembered, but that was still more than she had. She stuffed them into her pockets and felt the pull on her waist. Paper money would have been much easier to carry around. Or a credit card.
Nothing else stood out as necessary for her trip to the city. She had managed to accumulate a small pile of junk. She picked up the gryphon feather and anything else that looked like it might be useful and light, and put it all in her backpack.
“Oh, do you want this back?” She held out the dagger he had given her.
“Yes. Thank you.” The dagger disappeared from her hand. “What’s wrong? Sentimental attachment?”
“No. I just thought you were going to let me keep it.”
“Then why did you offer to return it?”
It was a fair question. And one she didn’t really want to answer. They both knew she was trying to play it cool, like Charlie returning the everlasting gobstopper to Willy Wonka, and getting rewarded for it.
“Doesn’t matter,” she said. “I should get my own gear. I probably won’t need it, anyway.”
“You don’t think you’ll be attacked between here and the capital?” asked N-28.
“No, I think I probably will. I just doubt I’d attack back. It never feels right stabbing people.”
She left the room and N-28 walked her out of the building. The lobby was full of players eager to get quests and make plans.
“But I have a map,” said a large fighter with a sword that looked too big to be practical. “I got it from that guy.”
“You bought it? You got scammed, dude. How did he make a map when no one’s been down there yet?” asked his equally large friend.
“I don’t know. But it looks real enough. I might frame it when I get a house.”
Outside, the sun was even warmer than it had been a few minutes ago. It was going to be a very hot journey. She could do with a parasol.
“Here,” said N-28, handing her a canteen. “Compliments of the guild. I hope you find your 2 XP along the way.”
“Thank you,” said Britta. “I hope you find a reason to enjoy your job.”
“That won’t make a difference to anything.”
“Yes,” said Britta, “it will.” She left him on the steps and headed for the edge of town. Time to leave for the big city.
There will be no chapter tomorrow. I'm changing to a six days a week schedule for a while so I can build up a buffer of chapters. Plan to go back to seven after a month or two. We'll see how it goes. Feel free to share your thoughts on Discord.Afterword from Mooderino