Britta had imagined the gryphon feather would eventually come in useful in some cool and interesting manner. A rare ingredient for a potion. Possibly a way to gain entrance to a kingdom in the clouds. Instead, it was being used to frame her for a crime that hadn’t even been properly explained.
Was the gryphon dead? Had it been kidnapped? Had it fallen into a deep sleep and could only be woken by a kiss from a frog prince wearing glass slippers?
“I found that,” said Britta. “Quite near here, actually. It was just lying on the ground.” Which was more or less true. She had found it in the gryphon’s eyrie, which wasn’t strictly speaking on the ground, but it had been in a cave nearby. “Is it a gryphon feather? I was wondering why it was so big.”
She had decided to play it cool. They couldn’t prove she was involved in any kind of gryphon-related crime because she was genuinely innocent.
“The gryphon lived under the mountain for a hundred years,” said the Feared One, “and then one day it disappeared. Gone.”
Britta wasn’t sure how to respond. The gryphon had every right to leave, if it wanted. “Isn’t it possible she just decided to move? Maybe she flew south for the winter.”
“Her nest was destroyed,” said the Feared One, her grip tightening on the feather, crushing some of the lower vanes. “And there was blood everywhere. Something bad happened. Something very bad.”
Britta wanted to take the feather back before it got too damaged. There was still a chance it would come in useful later — it was from a gryphon’s wing, it had to have some kind of mystical properties, surely. She had affected a nonchalant air, though, so it might complicate things if she started to get possessive, even it was over her own possessions.
“That’s really terrible,” said Britta. She didn’t sound very sincere. “I hope she’s okay.”
It was hard acting like you cared when you really just wanted to leave without having to get involved. Britta wasn’t very good at showing friendly concern for others. She had never had anyone to practice it on.
“If you know anything…” The Feared One had become riled up. It seemed like the gryphon’s presence had been valued. A protector, a lucky talisman, maybe an old friend. Britta could ask, but it would also be asking to become embroiled in something she really didn’t want to get embroiled in.
“I promise, I had nothing to do with whatever happened to the gryphon.” At least she didn’t sound as unsympathetic this time. “What happened to her eggs?”
The thought had just popped into her head, the memory of eggs in a nest. One of those eggs had been hers, but it was unlikely to have survived the restart to the game. She never did find out what had been inside.
“How do you know about the eggs?” asked the Feared One, her voice again laden with suspicion.
“I don’t, honestly. I was just wondering if there were any. Maybe that’s what they were after. I mean, whoever it was. I don’t know, I wasn’t there.” It was difficult sounding innocent even when you were. Britta had a whole new appreciation for criminals who had to lie convincingly under pressure.
“The eggs were all destroyed,” said the wizard. “It’s been happening all over the kingdom — eggs smashed and gryphons vanished — no one knows why.”
Britta could smell the side quest coming. Best to get out while she could. She checked the clock in the corner of her vision. It was lunchtime back in the real world. The sandwich she’d just eaten would stop her feeling hungry, but she still needed to eat. Now that she had her checkpoint, she could log out and leave the Mystery of the Missing Gryphon for someone else to get to the bottom of.
“That’s terrible,” she said. “I hope they catch whoever’s behind it. Can I have my feather back? I keep it for good luck.”
It sounded plausible, and hopefully came across as though she had a positive view of gryphons. Although, people thought a rabbit’s foot was lucky, and that didn’t bode well for the rabbit.
The Feared One handed back the feather. She had taken the letter back, the one meant to be delivered to the head of the Institute of Magic. It might have come in useful, and also would probably have got her the XP she needed, but there were bound to have been other complications, so no great loss.
“Here,” the Feared One handed Britta the letter again.
“You trust me?”
“The wizard says you are not a spy. I trust him.”
Britta took the envelope again. That had seemed a little pointless, but sometimes games made you go round the houses to get back where you started.
A screen popped up.
You have won the trust of the gnome leader.
You have gained 1 XP.
Britta scowled. She only needed two experience points; it had given her one. The game was definitely trolling her. Whether it was N-28 or some bored devs messing with her, she had had quite enough of it. She logged out.
She was back in her room, on her bed, alone. She sat up and took a moment to check how she felt. Everything seemed fine, no sweating, no cramps.
She had logged out without saying anything. To the gnomes, it must have looked like she disappeared into thin air. How would they react when she just as suddenly reappeared? It was an interesting question, one she hadn’t really thought about before. When she logged into the Church of Roha, her usual respawn point, it was in a small room where no one could see her. But the gnome altar was an open space. She was interested in finding out the rationale they would use to explain it.
Before that, though, she wanted to speak to her parents about using her money on the game. She had been a little unsure about it, but now that it was clear the game would be toying with her, she no longer had any qualms. Time to become a wallet warrior.