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Preface from Mooderino

Bitter 546

“Good timing,” said Stan.

Britta blinked and looked around. She had logged into the Church of Stan Lee, ready to put in her contractually obligated twelve minutes. Log in, chill, log out — that was the idea. She was in the middle of homework and was using this as a short break. She hadn’t expected the church to be quite so busy. There were dozens of people milling around, chatting and laughing.

“What’s going on?” Britta slid off the altar. “Why are you all dressed like that?”

Most of them were dressed alike in beige robes. They looked like monks, but without the tonsure haircuts. Even Stan had the same outfit on, without any stripes or gold tassels to mark him out as a leader.

“We’re just back from our first day of school.” Stan held up the book he was holding. It wasn’t one of the books they’d stolen, it was a notebook. “Never thought I’d go back to being a student.”

“What are you studying?” said Britta. “Where are you studying?”

“Magic. At the Institute.”

Britta was confused. “The Institute for Magic?” Stan nodded. “The place we… you robbed?”

A few heads turned their way and Stan moved to take her aside.

“That’s right. Keep your voice down, we don’t want to make our methods too public. We’re the good guys, remember?”

There were many reasons why what he was saying made no sense. Not only had they recently fled from the Institute under something of a cloud, they had taken most of their teaching resources with them. The Institute hadn’t been open before their raid, it seemed less likely it would be open now. And even if it was, why would they allow Stan to enrol?

“A lot’s happened since you were last here,” said Stan. “I returned the books we took. I had a good long think about what you said, and it seemed to me the best way to ingratiate ourselves with the NPC community would be a show of good faith.”

“You gave them back their books? And they forgave you?”

“Well, it’s not really a matter of forgiveness. More of an understanding we came to. I returned the books and, as a finders fee, I and my friends here were given priority admission into the school.”

“You blackmailed them?” said Britta.

“That’s a very ugly word,” said Stan, “but yes. Not everyone qualified, of course, so, in addition, I provided them with some new employees, working in the kitchens, cleaning and maintenance. They were horribly understaffed, it turned out, and were only too happy to take on new workers at a very reasonable rate.” He grinned at her as his eyebrows waggled like windscreen wipers.

“How many people did you install at the Institute?” asked Britta.

“Twenty students, about the same number of casual labourers. The Institute is pretty much a rebel stronghold now.”

If you were going to take over one institution in Shona, the place where they taught magic seemed like a good choice. If you were looking to improve your magic, that is.

“So, you’re a student there now?” asked Britta.

“That’s right. First year student.”

“But you aren’t a magic class.”

“True, but they teach a foundation course for everyone, as long as your attributes are high enough. You can pick up basic skills like starting a fire or making a light. Makes things a lot easier when you’re out in the world adventuring. Here, let me show you what we learned today.”

Stan put his book down on the altar and pulled up his sleeves. He took a deep breath and closed his eyes and pushed his hands out like he was doing Tai Chi. Some of the other players around him did likewise. Then they all chanted in a low drawl.

“Let the light be true. Let the light be bright.” The repeated it over and over.

After about thirty seconds, a glow appeared in the palm of Stan’s hand. It wasn’t very big and didn’t give off much light, but it was clearly the result of magic. Other lights appeared around Britta, of varying brightness. If non-magic users could use simple magic, that would make a lot of difference to their life in New World.

“That’s impressive,” said Britta. “I’d like to see what they teach the more advanced students.” She made a gesture with her hand and produced a ball of light that was blinding in comparison to the tiny flickers around her.

“There’s no need to show off,” said Stan, looking at the rather paltry light in his hand with some disappointment. It winked out. “It’s not an easy process.”

“What do you have to do?” asked Britta, turning off her own light. “Do you sit in a class with a teacher?”

“Yes,” said Stan. “There’s a lot of talking about theory and diagrams on a blackboard. I’m not sure if it’s all completely necessary, but it seems to work. And it’s got everybody excited to play again. Once we max out our magic skills, we’re going to start racking up those experience points.”

“But it’s just basic magic.”

“Yes,” said Stan, “but it’s like you said, the game wants us to reach a certain standard before we’re ready to face the scary stuff. We have to have the appropriate expertise, including skills we don’t normally have access to. I’m seeing how it works now. You have to think laterally.”

Britta shrugged and checked her status screen. Only five more minutes to wait. “I guess.”

“Imagine what they could teach someone who already has the basics down. Someone who’s a proper mage. I could put in a word for you.”

Was that something she would want to do? It might make her spells stronger, but it would require a fair amount of effort. “I don’t know…”

“No need to make your mind now. Let’s go get something to eat, my treat.”

“Oh, I wasn’t planning on staying. I’ve got a lot of—”

“Come on, come on, it’ll only take a minute. Hot food on a stick, how can you resist? Zero calories. Plus there’s something I want you to see. A brand new building I’d like to get your view on.”

She did have a few more minutes, no reason she couldn’t check out this new building. Nothing could happen if she just took a look.

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Afterword from Mooderino
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