Bitter 430

Britta checked her status screen to make sure the altar was now available as a respawn location. Now that she knew she could buy herself a saving totem, it was less important to find the freely-available checkpoints, but it made sense to grab them when she could.

Once she hit Level 5 — assuming she found a way to get those elusive two experience points — she would need to come back here to learn the Levitation spell.

No, wait, that was the old system. Who would teach her the spell now that the Great Gnome was no longer here? The wizard? She looked over at him. He was smiling genially with a slightly out of focus look in his eyes, just like the Great Gnome used to do.

They looked identical, sounded identical, and acted more or less the same. If anyone was going to teach her, it would probably be him.

The Feared One and her men waited patiently for Britta to finish her business with the altar. They were very reverential around the wizard, even though he hadn’t come across as threatening or aggressive. He was quite gentle and softly spoken, but every move was met with a flinch. They weren’t so much scared of him as nervous in his presence.

“Thank you,” said Britta. “I’ve finished.”

The Feared One approached and examined the altar. Without the backlighting, it looked like a big block of stone with engraved designs all over it.

“Are you sure she isn’t the Chosen One?” asked the Feared One. “We don’t have much time left.”

“There’s plenty of time,” the wizard said with a dismissive wave of his hand. The soldiers in that direction all ducked reflexively. “If she is meant to play a part in what is to come, she will return to us at the appropriate time. Fate has a way of sorting these things out.”

Fate and manipulative game devs, thought Britta. It wasn’t that she was against progressing through what was evidently the main storyline, she just wasn’t in the mood for it now. And she didn’t appreciate being press-ganged into service.

“Is it alright if I go now?” Britta fully expected an attempt to keep her from leaving. Might as well deal with it head-on, was her attitude.

The Feared one and the wizard exchanged a look.

“Yes,” said the Feared One, “but we’ll have to blindfold you on the way out. For security.”

Britta wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea, but she could see the sense in it on a practical level. You didn’t want people knowing about the secret entrances to your secret base.

“No, no,” said the wizard, “no need for that. Now that she has the blessing of the Great Gnome she can come and go as she pleases.”

“Can we really trust her?” said the Feared One, sounding doubtful.

“You mean, can we really trust the Great Gnome,” said the wizard. “Do not assume you understand the ways of a god. He may have left, but he will have had a reason. He hasn’t abandoned us.”

There was some murmuring among the men.

“I don’t think he’s abandoned you, either,” said Britta. “I think he’s still here, in many ways.” She gave the wizard a look which he received with a slight nod.

The Feared One touched Britta on the arm. “You intend going to the capital? Will you do me a favour?”

Here it was, the next attempt to steer her into the storm. “Um, favour?”

“A letter I need delivering. Nothing more.”

A screen popped up in front of Britta.

Deliver a letter to Mendel Jenkins.

“Where do I find him?” she asked.

“He is the Dean of the Institute of Magic. If you wish to train in magic, that is the place to go. The letter will actually make it easier. Give you an excuse to see him.”

Britta had said she was going to the capital to find a magic tutor, now the game was providing her with help in that direction. She wouldn’t mind going to magic school and learning how to be good at mixing potions and waving around a wand.

“Oh, okay.” Delivering a letter sounded like a low-level effort quest and it would probably net her the XP she’d been looking for. She reached out her hand to press the Yes button, and hesitated. There could be added complications the game wasn’t telling her about. It was fairly likely, but that was always going to be the case. She accepted the quest.

“Thank you,” said the Feared One. She handed over a small envelope she hadn’t been holding earlier.

“I’ll stop off on my way back with any reply,” said Britta, putting the letter in her pocket.

“Excellent,” said the Feared One. They were all getting on like old friends now. “Our young gnome is going to the city to learn magic at the feet of the masters.”

The wizard smiled, eyebrows raised. “How delightful. I did the same, a long time ago. Who is it you hope to study with?”

“Um, I’m not really sure. Is there anyone you would recommend? What spells did you learn while you were there? Levitation?” She was being a little pushy, but now was the time to ask, she felt.

“Oh, I dabbled in a bit of everything. I like to get my hands dirty. Try out new things. This is my latest project.” He pointed at the gnome standing behind him.

Britta had thought it was another soldier, but now that she had a proper look, she could see it was a statue of a gnome soldier. It was extremely lifelike.

“Did you turn one of your men into stone?”

“No, no, hahaha, no. I carved this likeness myself.”

There was some nervous shuffling around them.

“What does it do?” asked Britta.

The wizard’s eyes lit up. “Ah, I’m glad you asked. The gnome its based on can control it with his mind. Can see what it sees, make it move as he would move. The potential is vast. Send it into battle while the gnome is safe at home.”

Like a drone pilot, thought Britta. It sounded like an excellent idea. The soldiers around her didn’t seem so enthusiastic.

“Where’s the gnome who controls this one?” she asked. She wouldn’t mind seeing a demonstration.

“Ah, slight feedback problem.” The wizard’s eyes drifted upwards. Britta’s followed. There was a dark stain on the cavern roof. It had a helmet sticking out of it. “I’m close to perfecting it, but it’s very hard finding volunteers.”

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