Bitter 55

“Why even bother dragging me down here if the quest wasn’t ready?” Britta scrunched up her face, perplexed by this turn of events. “I do have other things to do, you know?”

“I’m sorry,” said Nigel, the Great Gnome in the Sky. He stood up and grew to his full height. “WE APOLOGISE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE,” he boomed at her.

Britta covered her ears. “That doesn’t help,” she shouted back. “Please come back down.”

He shrank back to her height. “I know it isn’t the best, but we’re all slave to our masters, aren’t we,” he said, which Britta thought was a strange thing for a god to say.

“Well, is there something else I could do? Don’t you have any alternative quests?”

Nigel shrugged. “Afraid not.”

“Then can you let me out of here? Is there a staircase to the surface or something?”

“The only way back is up the cliff wall.” He mimed climbing with his hands held up like cat paws.

Britta ignored the inherent cuteness. “That’s ridiculous. How am I supposed to climb all the way up there?”

“The same way you climbed down,” said Nigel.

That wouldn’t really work. Gravity and an untimely death had got her here. It was unlikely to get her back the other way.

“There has to be some other way. You don’t climb up the wall, do you?” She suspected he had a private elevator, or maybe he used magic. He could just as well use it on her.

“The quest reward actually teleports you to the surface, but since there’s no quest, there’s no reward.” Nigel looked down and circled a small mushroom growing out of the mossy floor with his foot.

This was completely out of order. She felt like complaining to the management, although she doubted it would do her any good. Game companies weren’t known for speedy fixes, not unless it involved them making more money (or not losing any). Still, it would be nice to shout at someone. She hadn’t realised until she entered this world how satisfying it was to blame other people, especially to their face.

“What are the rewards for the quest?” she asked the embarrassed god.

“Ah, pretty exciting stuff, actually. You get all your spells upgraded to more powerful versions. Plus access to the next magic tier. A new skill gets unlocked. Hmm, what else? Oh, the teleportation scroll I mentioned earlier. A full set of armour for your class—you can customise the colour…”

“Do I have to buy dyes to do that?” she asked warily.

“Oh no, you choose one of three options. All very fetching. I’m sure there’s one to suit your skin tone. Are you allergic to something, by the way? You seem very red.”

“No, I’m not allergic,” she snapped. “This is how I look.”

“Oh. Sorry. Just never seen a gnome that colour before.”

“Don’t you think you should give me the rewards, anyway?” She had decided to try her luck while she had him on the back foot. “As a way to make up for ruining my day.”

“Oh, I don’t know if I’m allowed to do that.”

“You’re the gnome god, aren’t you? Shouldn’t you be able to decide who gets rewarded?”

“Ah, yes, I suppose so. But you see, I only work here. If I was to do something unauthorised like that, I might get into trouble.”

She didn’t think she could convince him to give her the loot, unfortunately. “Then at least get me back to the surface so I can forget any of this ever happened. Somewhere near Honest Jasper’s ranch so I can collect my pony.”

“Oh, how nice. Little girls do love their ponies, don’t they?”

She glared at him. “What’s wrong with that?”

He backed away. “Nothing. I didn’t mean… Oh dear, I really wasn’t prepared for this.”

“The surface, please,” she said pointedly. “Now.”

“Fine, fine. Let me think how… Oh, I know. You could take the gryphon.”

That didn’t sound too bad. She wouldn’t mind a ride on a gryphon.

“Oh, no, no. That won’t work. You’d have to do the gryphon quest first, and that’s a level ten. You’d never be able to complete it.”

“So they’ve written the level ten quest, but they haven’t bothered doing the level three?”

“Yes, that does seem somewhat out of order.”

“Exactly what I was thinking. Can’t you help me do the quest? You must be higher than level ten.”

“Of course I am. I’m Level 999,” he said proudly.

“Great, then let’s go.”

“Um, what? I mean, I can’t…”

Britta glared at him again.

“Oh, well, I suppose if it’s just to get you back to the surface we could bend the rules a teeny tiny bit.”

Britta kept her scowl in place, but inside she was grinning.

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