Bitter 441

History appeared to be repeating itself. Last time she’d flown out of the gryphon’s eyrie, the same thing had happened, at least in terms of falling from a great height. Britta resisted the urge to scream. Opening your mouth while falling let the air rush into your mouth and make you feel bloated. She would be belching for the rest of the day if that happened. Experience taught you things you wouldn’t read in any textbooks.

Behind Britta, the wings were still there, sort of. They were flickering in and out of existence like they couldn’t make up their mind whether they wanted to stay with her or not.

The air blew her hair back and made her cheeks spread across her face. There was a long way to fall before she hit the ground, which gave her plenty of time to think of a way out of this predicament. That was the positive spin she decided to put on it.

What had gone wrong with the butterfly wings? A trick or just more faulty equipment? That seemed to be the wizard’s speciality. The brooch was supposed to not work during the night, but it was definitely still daytime. Early afternoon, with a cloudless sky — there wasn’t even any shade to confuse matters.

The wings were still visible, just about, but they were fading fast and soon wouldn’t be. She could always teleport back to the Gnome Village and give the wizard a piece of her mind. Of course, it wouldn’t return her to the wizard’s altar this time, that would be too convenient.

She saw teleporting as a last resort. There had to be a way to fix this.

She hit the brooch on her chest, hoping to knock something back into place that might have come loose. It didn’t help. If it had batteries, she would have taken them out and rolled them around in her hands before putting them back in. She had seen Dad use that trick with his gadgets, and it actually worked, sometimes. For a few minutes. A few more minutes would be very welcome right now.

The idea of batteries reminded her that she had her own power source. She pushed her bag down so it was held between her knees and opened her status screen. The cause of her problem was easy to spot. She had no mana.

The brooch cost mana. Not really surprising, but it would have been nice to have been told ahead of time, maybe details of the rate of MP so she could plan her flight with a safety margin in mind.

She was so used to always having mana that it hadn’t even occurred to her the brooch would eat up so much so quickly. Another thought struck her. If she had no MP, she wouldn’t be able to teleport, either.

The ground was now a lot closer. Maybe ten seconds to go before she hit the dirt. Britta pulled up the bag between her knees and opened it. She had taken items from her inventory when she’d visited the guild. There hadn’t been much of use, but there had been one small bottle of blue liquid.

Her hand slid around the inside of the bag while the world swapped places with the sky a number of times. She felt the smooth hardness of a potion bottle and pulled it out. If she recalled correctly, it would give her back 10 MP. Not exactly a lot, but maybe enough to save her.

She fumbled the stopper out of the bottle and shoved the neck in her mouth. The liquid went down, burning like mouthwash. The wizard had said magic could go off, hopefully the mana potion was still good.

The wings reappeared in their full glory, stretching out on either side. Her fall turned into a dive with options. The ground rose up and then fell away as she soared back up.

This time she’d learned her lesson. She kept her altitude to a survivable height, clipping the top of bushes. The status screen was open, showing her a rapid countdown. 10 MP didn’t last long these days, but the ranch was within sight.

As she hit 1MP, she eased back and came down feet-first at a manageable speed. Then she stumbled, tripped and fell on her face.

It was an acceptable landing, no more harmful than tripping over a paving stone. Even less, since there was no one to watch and laugh.

In fact, there really was no one about. The ranch, which had been full of all forms of animals last time, was devoid of any signs of life. It looked empty and deserted.

Britta put her backpack on. She straightened her clothing and checked the brooch to make sure it wasn’t broken. It wouldn’t have surprised her if it turned out to be a one-use item that would fall apart in her hands. It seemed to be okay. She would make sure to be more vigilant next time, and to have a lot more bottles of mana potion.

The corral where the animals had been kept had broken fences and weeds growing in it. She couldn’t tell if it had been abandoned recently or ages ago, but it was definitely not in use now. The water troughs were dry.

The ranch house had dirty windows and the door was covered in dust. If Marj was still here, she wasn’t expecting visitors.

Somewhere around here was a save point. That was all Britta wanted to find, and then she’d be on her way. There was bound to be more to this place, an explanation for what had happened, but that was for someone else to look into. Her goal was getting to the capital.

She went up the steps to the door. The most likely place for an altar would be the main house, she assumed. Not that you would expect an altar anywhere around here. Maybe it wasn’t an altar.

There was no reason it couldn’t be something else, she was only thinking altar because that’s what she had encountered so far. Perhaps you could also save at a trading post or place of interest.

Nobody answered her knock. She hadn’t really expected anyone to, but it felt impolite not to try, just in case. She looked in through the windows. It was hard to see anything in the gloomy interior, but it appeared to be empty. No one was home.

Break a window? Kick in the door? That wouldn’t be easy. She opened her map.

“Show me the nearest save point.”

A mark appeared on the ranch, covering most of it.

“Zoom in.”

The map expanded until she could see the house from above, and herself standing in front of it. The save point was to her right. She backed away and looked down the side of the house. There was a stone well with a little roof. 

Perfect. The well was the saving point, she didn’t even have to go inside the house. Britta walked towards it, and then stopped. Something seemed off.

“Why don’t you come closer?” said a voice. It was coming from inside the well.

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