Bitter 64

Britta looked around for an alternative route. The road she was on had no turnings. It went from New Town to the ranch, and then on to wherever. She could turn around and try her luck in that direction, but she had no idea how far it would be before she reached the next destination (assuming there was one), and she didn’t have any supplies.

There was also the strong likelihood of meeting more unfriendlies the further she went. In any direction. That was the point of the game, after all. At least these bandits were designed to be manageable by a low level character.

She had wanted to visit the auction house before she logged out. See how it worked and get a rough idea how much her items might be worth. She checked the clock—still time. She decided she would try to get past these men without a fight, and if that didn’t work, she’d just call it a day. She’d got her goat, and that had been her main objective. Well, she didn’t want a goat, but at least the quest was done.

Which reminded her, shouldn’t she have received something for completing the quest? Some XP, at least. She checked her status screen. The quest was still there. Another bug?

“Okay, Donald,” she said to the goat. “We’re going to try to talk our way through this, but if things go bad, we’ll have to make a run for it.”

Donald bleated. He didn’t sound convinced.

“Those carrots are waiting for you in town.”

Donald’s head went up. Now he was invested. They started moving forward. The men waited, slouching on their large mounts. There were three of them in a line. The one on the left looked a bit like a cat, with pointy ears and red fur.

The one in the middle appeared to be human. He had a large hat with a wide brim. It was a bit like a cowboy hat, but could have been something a musketeer wore.

On the right, there was a lizardman. He had green skin and strange ridges all over the top of his head. He wore gold-rimmed glasses, giving him a studious look.

None of them had weapons drawn, although they each had a range of knives and swords about their person, the blades glinting in the sun.

“Hey, little lady,” said the one in the middle as she approached. “I’m afraid you need to pay the toll if you want to use this road.”

“How much?” said Britta. She’d rather pay than fight.

“We ain’t greedy, we’ll take your most valuable item.”

“Okay.” That didn’t seem so bad. Nothing she had was particularly valuable. She didn’t mind giving up one of them.

“Doc?” he said to the lizard.

Doc leaned forward in his saddle, peering at her. “Not much there. I’d say the goat’s the only thing worth taking.

They wanted her brand new goat? No way.

“Sure,” said the cat. “Good idea. We sure could cook it up nice. I’m getting hungry already.”

Donald stiffened under her.

If she’d met these desperados on the way to the ranch like she was supposed to, Donald wouldn’t have been with her. They would have taken something else and let her go, she assumed. Doing it this way had screwed her up. Unless there was another way out of this. Which there generally was, she had started to realise.

“You can’t have my goat. He’s like family.” Donald twisted his neck and gave her a look. She wasn’t sure what it meant, but she was too busy right now to figure it out. “But I do have something else you can have. One sec.”

She opened her inventory and took out the other hat. It was identical to the one she’d given to Marj. She’d been able to convince her it was worth something, so why not try the same thing on these men?

She held up the hat. “This belonged to my grandfather. He fought in the Battle of—”

“What are we going to do with a stinking bog cap?” said the cat.

She didn’t know what a bog cap was, but the cat didn’t seem very impressed. “No, it’s a special one from—”

“Little lady, we know what that is.” The one in the middle pulled down his bandana, revealing a handsome face. “They hand them out to all the recruits in the bog army. We should know, that’s where we deserted from.”

Damn it. This wasn’t going to work. She looked at the guy in the middle. He really was very good looking. He had a square jaw and really white teeth.

Britta shook her head. What was she doing? Leching over computer graphics? Sad, sad, sad. They’d made him look like the cool bandit, the good looking bad boy. He was just a cliché. She could feel her face get red.

“I’ve got some other stuff,” she said, avoiding looking at him. “How about some dye? Brighten up your outfits.”

“We don’t want your crap,” said the cat. “Give us the goat, and any herbs and spices that would go well with goat stew. We gonna have a feast tonight.”

Donald didn’t take this news well. He lowered his head and charged.

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