Bitter 491

Britta took a step back, out of Gabba’s reach.

“Sorry,” said Britta, “I made a mistake. I didn’t mean to use this totem.” She didn’t hold any grudges against Gabba but she didn’t want to get involved with whatever it was Gabba was doing.

The bag in Gabba’s hand moved, like there was something alive inside it. Gabba had come to the mines in search of some special ingredient. Britta assumed whatever it was, she had it in the bag.

“Listen,” said Gabba, “I really need your help. I’ll totally make it worth your while. Name your price.”

“I’m not interested,” said Britta. “I have to go.” She brought up her screen. This time, she would make sure she changed the respawn point to her own totem.

“Wait, wait,” said Gabba, sounding less sure of herself now. In fact, she seemed a bit jumpy. “I can’t leave here, I just need you to get me out. You have a teleport ability, right? Take me to the surface, or anywhere outside of the mines. Whatever you want in return, I can get it. Seriously, anything.”

How did she know about Britta’s Teleport spell? She claimed to only take obscure and unusual abilities, but what skill could see all your abilities so clearly? It was almost like she could see Britta’s status screen.

“My dad always says if someone offers to make you rich, ask yourself why haven’t they done it for themselves already.”

“You want money?” said Gabba. “Because I can give you money.”

“No,” said Britta. “I’m saying, if you can give me whatever I want, why can’t you do the same for yourself?”

“Oh, I see,” said Gabba. “Well, it doesn’t always work that way. I just need a little help leaving. It’s a very specific problem I have, with a very narrow solution set that can fix it. You happen to have such a solution set. Not useful for everything but perfect for this. I, on the other hand, have a very broad solution set. I can guarantee I can make your dreams come true. If not me, then someone I know.”

Gabba had the backing of an AI, so she felt confident in being able to magically grant Britta’s most fervent wish. Unfortunately for her, Britta had no such wish, other than maybe for people to stop bothering her.

“I can make my own dreams come true,” said Britta. “I don’t need your help. Thanks.”

She tapped the screen to select her own totem.

The bag Gabba was holding started squirming. Gabba almost dropped it but managed to hold onto the sides. The contents nearly fell out. A small head peered out from the top and blinked.

“Is that a baby guardvark?” said Britta.

“You’ve seen one before?” said Gabba, surprised. She tried to push the head back into the bag and got snapped at.

The baby guardvark turned and saw Britta. Its eyes widened and then it sprang out of the bag. It landed in Britta’s stomach, knocking her back a few steps, and she instinctively put her arms around it.

“Hey, give it back,” said Gabba.

The guardvark was trying to burrow into the crook of Britta’s elbow. Could it be the same one she’d held before? It looked the same, but then all guardvarks did.

“What are you going to do with it?” said Britta.

“Nothing. We need it for a potion.”

Britta felt a cold streak go through her. “You’re going to kill it?”

“No, no. Don’t say things like that, it makes me look like a bad person. I’m just borrowing it. A few scales, that’s all we need. But they have to be fresh. Still warm. I’ll bring it back straight after, but I can’t log out while I’m carrying it. I’m not sure why.”

Britta looked down at the guardvark curled up in her arms. She hadn’t wanted to take this quest last time, and she still had no interest in being a guardvark guardian. And yet, how do you just let someone take away a baby for experimentation. The idea of it was unacceptable.

“It isn’t a real animal,” said Gabba. “You know that, right?”

“I don’t think you understand how this place works,” said Britta.

Gabba looked around the tunnel. “You could be right. Why the hell can’t I leave?”

“No, not just this place, I mean this whole place. You can’t do something that would be horrible in the real world and think it won’t have the same consequences here.”

“Come on,” said Gabba. “That makes no sense. This isn’t the real world. You can do what you want, nobody gets hurt.”

It was hard for Britta to put into words. Of course it wasn’t real, she knew that, but whatever you chose to do still reflected the kind of person you were, and would affect the kind of person you would become. It wasn’t about the environment, it was about you.

“You can’t have this one. Where did you find it? I have to return it to its mother.” She hoped the guardvark had decided to rear the babies herself, and hadn’t just abandoned them. “Were there two more in the nest?”

Gabba looked even more surprised. “You a friend of the family or something?”

“Kind of. You don’t want to do this.”

Gabba shrugged. “I can see it means a lot to you. Means a lot to me, too.” She stabbed Britta.

It was so quick, Britta didn’t even see the blade until it was pulled out and moving away from her.

She expected to die immediately. She remembered what had happened to James when gabba had stabbed him. It had been quick and painful, and killed him on the spot. Britta only had a few HP after getting accidentally hit by the AI, she wouldn’t be able to take the damage.

There was no pain, though. She lost 1 HP, she saw it float away. Had she made a saving throw and mitigated the effects?”

“I didn’t have any more of the poison,” said Gabba.  “This one is more of a status effect.”

What did that mean? Britta looked at her screen. It looked normal, apart from… her mana was all gone. Zero MP. Without mana, her magic was useless. Her only option was to fight the old-fashioned way or give the baby back.

“Sorry,” said Gabba. “Can’t give up a quest item.”

The quest item’s tiny claws dug into Britta shirt and big eyes looked up at her expecting protection. She knew it wasn’t real, just a bunch of code, but the emotional blackmail felt pretty real. Without magic, though, she was no match for Gabba.

The baby guardvark put its head on her chest like it had complete faith in her, but there wasn’t much she could do. She checked her screen in case she had some ability she’d forgotten about but everything cost MP and she had none. She looked at the mana gauge and blinked to make sure she wasn’t seeing things — somehow it was full.

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Afterword from Mooderino
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