“No,” said Britta. The excited chitter-chatter came to an abrupt halt. “Don’t line up. I haven’t got time for this, so let’s make it simple. According to my screen, I can make a party of ten people. That means I can only take nine of you. If you want to be one of the nine, it will cost you two silver coins each.”
This seemed like a decent compromise. If the local tolls cost two silver, then she was asking for the standard amount. Entirely reasonable.
It was probably more than most players had, especially those who had ignored all quests and levelling to get here as quickly as possible. And if they had managed to get that much money together, they were probably smart enough not to cause her any trouble in the future.
“You mean eight people,” said Lavazza, hopefully.
“No, you have to pay just like anyone else, it’s only fair. I’m not a charity. I’m not interested in people owing me favours or being grateful. That won’t help. You can always go level up or find quests in the forest.” She pointed back the way she’d come. “It’s dangerous, but that’s what I did. This is just business.”
There was a mixture of disappointment in her price, and mild interest in setting off for the forest. Britta hadn’t actually found much of a challenge in the forest, dealing with the sprites hadn’t even given her any XP, but it sounded like a plausible strategy, which was the main thing. It might even be true.
It made things less personal, too. No point getting mad at her because she was making the most of her advantage, that was what you were supposed to do. It wasn’t like she was marking anyone out for special treatment. People respected a good businessman. Occasionally, they even respected a good businesswoman.
“I’ve got the money,” said tall, skinny man wearing a brown robe. He didn’t look rich but he was holding out two coins.
Of course, there was also the possibility she would find nine people to give her two silver each and she would have a nice fat purse. There were bound to be expenses in the big city.
In the end, five people had the necessary funds. She sent them invites and formed a party. The rest of the crowd, including a crestfallen Lavazza, looked on enviously as they set off across the bridge. Britta disbanded the party as soon as they reached the other side.
The players thanked her, but not overly enthusiastically. They were happy enough, taking in the surrounding with awe and delight, but they had paid for a service and the transaction was complete. With any luck, they would never cross paths again.
Britta had ten silver coins in her pocket and she was in a brand new city full of untold wonders to show her. There were roads leading in all directions. The buildings all looked pretty much the same and there were no signs pointing the way. There were plenty of NPCs wandering around, and probably something to look at whatever way Britta chose to go, but she wasn’t in the mood for sightseeing right now. She wanted to find a church and log out.
Towers rose over the rooftops, somewhere in the city centre. One of them was bound to be the Institute for Magic Studies where she was meant to deliver her letter. It wouldn’t be too hard to find, the devs would have spent a lot of time making it as Hogwarts as possible. There was no rush, though. Having an open quest had been pretty useful so far, and she didn’t want to cash it in right away.
None of the towers looked church-like. No steeple or church bells. Britta opened her map to see if it showed places of interest. Most of the time she had to explore an area before it showed up on her map screen, but towns and cities tended to be the exception. Since they were generally safe areas with no treasure to find or monsters to fight, you got to see the full layout. That’s what had happened with Quosada, at least.
Here, the map was much more convoluted and it was difficult to tell what she was looking at. It was too big for all of it to fit on her screen, but if she shrank it down it was too tiny to tell what anything was. She had to slide the map around to see the different parts. It was a big city.
She expected the church to be marked clearly. They were one of the most basic symbols on a map, a cross of some kind, usually. There were lots of symbols on this map, but she didn’t recognise any of them. Churches here probably wouldn’t be identified by a crucifix, for obvious reasons, but there should have been a legend on the side to tell you what the symbols meant. She couldn’t see anything.
“Find church,” she said. Nothing happened. “Where is the nearest church?” She tried a dozen variations, but none of them worked.
Britta looked around. Her temporary party had already gone off to do their own thing. There were plenty of NPCs, though. She tried to catch the attention of one.
“Excuse me. Sorry, could I…”
They ignored her. City folk didn’t have time to answer questions. They had too much to do and helping visitors wasn’t going to be of any benefit to them, so why bother? There was a feeling that people here would be harder to interact with.
Having grown up in a big city herself, Britta was familiar with the attitude. It was her attitude, most of the time. She would have to play this a little more circumspect.
Britta looked for someone stationary and spotted a woman sweeping up outside a store. It wasn’t clear what the store was selling. Baskets? Plants in baskets? Britta approached and began browsing.
The woman stopped sweeping and watched Britta with a doubtful expression. Britta weighed her options. She didn’t want to come across like a noob, some green beginner who didn’t have a clue. People in the city were sharp and quick to take advantage when they could. Dog eat dog. She would have to be sharper, beat them at their own game.
“How much?” said Britta. She put her hand in her pocket and jangled some coins, letting the woman know she was a prospective customer. People were nicer when they thought you had money. Happier to chat, give up information.
“How much for what?” said the woman. She was middle-aged and a bit on the plump side. Did that mean her business was doing well? She had enough money to eat well, but then people who lived on junk food were also fat and it didn’t mean they were affluent.
“How much for the basket… “ The woman was shaking her head. “...of flowers?”
“They aren’t for sale. This is a cheese shop.”
Britta realised the flowers were for decoration, and also for disguising the smell. There weren’t any windows, so she couldn’t see inside, but as she moved nearer the door, the scent of mouldy socks hit her. Cheese here was a form of biological weapon, it seemed.
Sometimes it was better to cut your losses. The problem with beating someone at their own game was that it was their game. They were good at it.
“I’m new to the city, could you give me directions?”
“Sure,” said the woman. “The flower shop's down that way.” She started sweeping again.
Don't forget to VOTE for Bitter on TopWebFiction. Your support is greatly appreciated.
Afterword from Mooderino