Bitter 135

Once Donald had eaten the carrots, Britta got on and they rode out of town. Donald seemed to walk a little taller, with more purpose, although that may have only been in her imagination. She could see the coding boys putting in a routine to make pets and mounts happier if you fed them treats. Her goat had already demonstrated a willingness to go into battle on her behalf, what would a happy Donald do for her?

She patted his neck and enjoyed the feeling of comradery. She’d never had a pet at home because of Dad’s allergies, which was a shame. Animals were much nicer than people, apart from the ones that tried to kill you.

The journey to the mines was pleasant and without incident. There was still the dwarf to deal with but she was actually looking forward to trying again. It would be fun.

When she got nearer, it became clear her second attempt would take longer than hoped. There was a massive line outside the entrance to the mine, even longer than the one outside the epic version.

Britta slid off Donald and he wandered off to strip leaves off a bush. There were at least fifty people waiting to go in, chatting and making jokes, shuffling forward a little when a team at the front entered.

A group of people came jogging around the side and everyone turned to look at them.

“Nope, same as usual,” said one, a heavily armoured fighter.

The crowd moaned in disappointment and the party joined the back of the queue.

There really wasn’t much Britta could do but wait her turn. She moved to stand behind the party who had recently exited, trying to not make it obvious she was listening in on their conversation.

“I don’t know how much more I can take of this,” said a man in grey robes. He had a staff that was taller than him and a golden circlet holding back his long, wavy golden hair. A circlet would have been a lot better than a fur cloak.

“Just give it a little longer,” said the fighter who looked to be the party leader. “If it’s a super rare spawn, someone here’s bound to trigger it.”

“Yeah,” said a female archer with a very male sounding voice, “but we must have run it over five hundred times between all of us here. Maybe it was just a glitch.”

“Maybe,” said the fighter, “but I know Stan. Him and Hyperbowl wouldn’t have so many of their members here if they didn’t think there was a good possibility of it being a real thing. There could be some god-level unique items in there. That’s worth wasting a couple of days on, isn’t it?”

“In a level one dungeon?” said the one in the grey robes. “All signs point to unlikely.”

“Even if we do find something,” grumbled the archer, “do you really think they’ll let us just take it?”

“That’s why we have to play it cool no matter what we find. Just shrug and look disappointed and join the line again. Got it?”

The others nodded.

Britta noticed that at the front of the queue there were some people standing to one side, not in the queue itself but organising things. They were players, she could tell by the name tags over their heads and also from their impressive gear. They wore full armour and had huge weapons strapped to their backs. They seemed to be in charge of letting people into the dungeon.

“Excuse me,” said Britta, “who are those guys?”

The girl at the back of the group, who was nearly as short as Britta with an assortment of daggers hanging from numerous belts, turned around.

“First time?”

“Second,” said Britta. “I died last time.”

“You went in alone?” the girl asked.

“No, I was with another guy but he left.”

“Bummer. Happens sometimes. You heard about the dwarf?”

Britta nodded. “I just want to do the dungeon. It wasn’t this busy yesterday.”

The girl laughed. “I bet. Those guys are from Hyperbowl. They’re too high-levelled to go in but they’re making sure their guildies can get in. They won’t let anyone in alone, you have to have at least five in a party.”

“What? Who put them in charge?”

“They put themselves in charge,” said the archer. She was clearly a guy playing a female character. The deep voice was very disconcerting coming from the dainty elfin face.

“I was enjoying doing it solo,” said Britta. “I don’t really want to join a party.” The last thing Britta wanted was to go in with other people.

“If people went in one at a time,” said the short  girl, “it would take a lot longer for everyone.”

The fighter turned to join the conversation. “We wouldn’t have this issue if they sorted out the servers. Only being able to run five instances at once is ridiculous.”

Every time a group entered, the game created a version of the dungeon for them. Most games could create hundreds of these instances at the same time. Only five was far too small a number considering how many people wanted to run the dungeon. And that was with a small beta playerbase. Once the game was open to the public, they would need to increase that number a hundred-fold.

Perhaps Britta would have to wait after all. She didn’t want to go in with a bunch of people she didn’t know who would probably treat her the same way Stan had. She could come back when people had given up and the fuss had died down. It was the practical thing to do but it would be incredibly frustrating having to suffer through another delay. It was annoying already, and it had only been a few minutes.

“What’s that guy doing?” said the archer. “Is he cutting in?”

“Shh, that’s Stan,” said the fighter. “That’s his alt. Don’t say anything, they’ll burn down our guildhouse if you piss them off.”

Britta peered down the line. Stan was talking to one of the overgeared players. Even more reason to come back later. He was the last person she wanted to see.

He glanced in her direction and Britta ducked behind the guy in the grey robe. Definitely time to make a swift exit.

“Hey!” called out Stan. “You!”

Britta summoned Donald. Time to go.

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