Bitter 431

Britta didn’t ask how the helmet got up there, or what the stain was from. She could guess both, and she was probably underestimating the level of gore and general yuck involved. More details were definitely not what she was interested in.

For the devs it was probably funny, like over the top special effects in cheesy horror movies. When you were in the same world as people who didn’t know it wasn’t real, it was an entirely different experience.

She slowly lowered her gaze to face the wizard again. She was starting to understand why the soldiers were so nervous around him. The Feared One was in charge, you expected there to be a little wariness of the boss. The wizard looked more like some old geezer who pottered around in the background. Only, he occasionally experimented with dark forces and made people’s heads explode.

Perhaps this wasn’t the right person to take magic lessons from. A quick course in levitation could leave her in the same condition as poor Private Ed Popov.

Britta shook her head to get rid of  the unpleasant image of what had happened here.

“Aaaanyway,” she said, changing the subject in the time-honoured manner, “I should be going. Could someone show me the way out, please?”

“You know,” said the wizard, “if you stayed here and became my assistant, I’m sure there are many new things I could teach you.”

On face value it didn’t sound like a bad offer. She might be able to learn new spells and skills from the wizard. He was a gnome, as well, so she could pick up race-specific bonuses.

Then again, things weren’t always how they appeared, and the game had taken to trying to get her to go off on tangents whenever it could. This particular side-mission might be a way to pick up new abilities, or… Britta’s eyes drifted up to the cavern roof again.

Would the game troll her like that?

“Actually, I think I’m fine. Thank you, though.” She could always come back this way after the city. She might have to if this was the only place to learn how to levitate.

“As you wish,” said the wizard. The gnomes around them let out what seemed like a sigh of relief. Had they been concerned for her?

“Before I go, do you have any shops where I can buy supplies?” said Britta. That’s what she would do if this was a game, and this was a game, as she had to keep reminding herself. “It’s a bit of a trek, and I don’t have any more sandwiches.” It had also occurred to her that the best place to buy stuff made for someone of her size would be a place full of people the same size as her.

“There’s a market every Tuesday,” said the wizard.

“Once a week? What do you do if you run out of milk on a Thursday?”

“I imagine you would wait for it to be delivered the next morning,” said the wizard. “Or ask a neighbour to borrow a cup.”

“Not milk then, something else. You didn’t buy enough on Tuesday, and now you’re hungry. Isn’t there somewhere to go? A general store, or something?”

That was the problem with computers, you had to be literal with everything. Sometimes it felt so natural talking to an NPC, and then other times it was like talking to an automated phone operator that kept making you repeat the last thing you said.

“What kind of fool would lose track of their food supplies?” said the Feared One.

Then again, sometimes the computer people were sarcastic jerks. You couldn’t get more lifelike than that.

Judging by the bobbing heads behind the Feared One, everyone was in agreement with her thinking. The way they nodded in perfect synchronisation was a bit creepy, though.

There was bound to be a way to get supplies here, but she would have to ask in the right way. Or ask the right person, or at the right time. That was the annoying part of any game, but there was no point getting stressed or frustrated by it. Her choices were to either keep trying or to ignore it and move on.

“Never mind. I’m sure I can make do with what I’ve got. I don’t suppose there’s a shortcut straight to the capital, is there? A tunnel that comes out near the city walls?”

“There are three exits from here,” said the Feared One. “Up, down and sideways.”

Her choice would probably affect what kind of experience she would have on the next part of her journey. One way she had to solve puzzles, another she had to fight enemies, something like that. At least, that’s what these kinds of choices usually meant. Although, without any other information it didn’t really matter. She’d be choosing blind.

“When you say ‘up’, do you mean I can fly to the city?” It would make things a lot quicker if there was an aerial route.

“Fly?” said the Feared One. “You mean…” She looked up at the stained roof. Her men copied her.

“No, I mean on a… gryphon, or something.”

Every tilted head snapped back to look at her. Britta had the distinct impression she’d said the wrong thing.

“What do you know about the gryphon?” demanded the Feared One. She sounded angry.

“Nothing,” said Britta. She’d only mentioned it because it was the first flying animal that came to mind. Of course, the reason it had come to mind was because it had been here that she had encountered the gryphon. She should have used a different example.

“You know what happened to the gryphon?” The Feared One was getting more upset. There was probably a way to calm her down. And also a way to make her more mad. Britta had no idea what she should say, so she didn’t say anything. Would hesitating make her look bad?

“Perhaps you aren’t the person to send messages through.” The Feared One grabbed Britta’s bag.

Britta didn’t resist or try to grab it back. It wasn’t like she had anything to hide, and if she lost her letter-delivery quest, not really a big deal.

“What happened to the gryphon?” Britta asked.

“I don’t know,” said the Feared One. “Perhaps you can tell me.” She took the gryphon feather out of Britta’s bag and held it up for everyone to see.

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