Bitter 467

Everyone looked at Britta, which she found very uncomfortable. What was she supposed to say? Deny it? How did Gabba even know what level she was?

“Can someone explain what’s going on?” said OwnedbyOwen. He took off his helmet to reveal a red sweaty face. “What level is she?”

“That isn’t important,” said Gabba. “I don’t want to go around giving away people’s personal information.”

It’s a bit late for that, thought Britta.

“Trust me, she’s the highest of all of us,” said Gabba, “I like to put points into obscure skills and abilities, one of which is Detect Level. Most people would consider it a waste, but this game seems to reward people for taking the less conventional path.”

Britta wasn’t sure what class Gabba was. Judging by the tight-fitting black leather, she would have guessed some kind of rogue or assassin, but that could be a deliberate attempt to mislead, just as Britta did.

Gabba’s outfit wasn’t the standard beginner’s clothing, but it didn’t look like it had been bought from the cash shop, either. It had a home-made quality to it. If she had to guess, Britta would have assumed Gabba had taken a needle and thread and made some adjustments. Which was also something Britta had done.

“She’s right,” said James, aka Lord Jim. “From the looks of it, our little friend here still has her character from before the launch.” His voice was a mixture of bitterness and contempt. “I have no idea how she managed it, but she most likely still has her levels from the closed beta.”

He was glaring at Britta, daring her to contradict him.

“You know her?” said Owen.

“Yes, I know her. We were in a group together, for a short time. It didn’t end well.” He turned to face the others, showing Britta his back so she was cut out of the conversation. “Look, if she’s hacking, that’s her business, but you don’t want her calling the shots. She killed off my whole party. Cut off the hands of one of them — she’s seriously messed up. She doesn’t play well with others.”

It was a smart move, Britta had to admit. Rather than allow Britta to tell them what Lord Jim’s party had tried to do to her, he had jumped to the part where they had become the victims. The only problem with his version of events, though, was that Britta hadn’t done what he claimed.

“Excuse me,” said Britta, keeping her voice as calm as she could, “what are you talking about? I never cut off anyone’s hands.”

“I was there,” said James, half-turning to address her, while keeping her isolated.

“So was I,” said Britta. “And so was Stanley’s Cameo, the guy who cut off your friend’s hands for stealing my cloak.”

“She never stole anything,” James erupted. “You gave her that cloak. And then your friend forced us to give it back.”

Britta forced herself to remain calm. She could tell what he was trying to do, and that losing her temper would only make her look like the crazy violent person he was trying to paint her as. “So you admit it was him that cut off her hands?”

“You or him, what difference does it make? You were working together.”

“It makes a lot of difference to me,” said Britta. “And we weren’t working together, I’d never met him before that day. You’re a thief and a cheat, and you got what you deserved.”

“If I’m a cheat,” said James, “what does that make you, hacker?

“Wait, wait,” said MrKappa. He still had his helmet on, probably in case war broke out. “Let’s not get too worked up about this. So what? If she’s using a hack or something, it’ll only help us get past whatever’s down here. This game is insanely hard and unforgiving, in case you forgot. We need all the help we can get. If you want to report her, can’t you do it afterwards?”

“He’s right,” said Gabba. “Hacking isn’t the problem here. What is the problem, if I’m understanding correctly, is that you tried to trick someone else out of their loot.” She was talking to James very directly. “And if there’s one thing that I won’t stand for in a party, it’s people who think taking other people’s loot is a legitimate way to play the game. Any game.”

There was a steeliness to her voice that was quite chilling.

“She’s lying,” said James. “We never stole anything.”

“Yeah, sure,” said Gabba. “She gave you this cloak because people do that sort of thing with valuable items all the time.” There was no mistaking the sarcasm in her voice.

“Whether they do or not has nothing to do with it,” said James. “We have to deal with the here and now, not what happened before. I have no issue with her leading or you leading or whoever leading. I’m just giving you a heads up that you better watch your backs around her. You can ignore my warning if you want.”

He had switched to a completely different position now. Once he realised he was coming across as the bad guy, he got on his high horse and started acting like he was the reasonable one trying to protect everyone from her. Britta found his wriggling endlessly fascinating. What kind of a person was he in real life?

“No,” said Gabba. “I’m not the kind of person who ignores warning signs. Better to deal with a problem before it becomes a bigger problem.”

She dropped to her knees and James let out a howl of pain and began hopping around. The cause of his hopping was the dagger sticking out of the top of his foot.

“What did you do—” Red numbers began flying out of his boot. They started at twos and threes but quickly increased in size and volume. James fell to the ground and then faded away, his face a mix of agony and surprise.

“Poison,” said Gabba, in response to the question hanging in the air. “I told you, I like to take the obscure skills.”

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