Bitter 137

The invite was from Lord Jim. The name didn’t ring a bell.

Britta looked around, scanning the name tags over people’s heads.

“Don’t be unreasonable, B,” said Stan. “I’ll give you five hundred gold. You’re just starting out, that’s a lot of money. Think of all the gear you could buy.”

Britta had no idea if five hundred was a lot or not. Obviously it was vastly more than what she had, but how much did a really good sword or set of armour cost? Collecting in-game currency was quite easy in most games, so it might not get her very much.

“Is that a lot of money?” she asked the girl standing next to her.

The girl opened her eyes wide and nodded. Behind, her everyone else was nodding along. She noticed the tag over the fighter beside the girl: Lord Jim. He’d sent her an invite to join his party, but why? He must have known it would annoy Stan and he’d already expressed concern about what Stan might do if anyone upset him.

“Come on, B. Five hundred for five seconds work.” Stan was all puppy dog eyes, which didn’t make Britta feel like agreeing to his offer in the slightest. He just wanted to get his way.

The problem, though, was if she resisted too hard when the deal was so clearly to her benefit she’d  look like she was hiding something. Which she was.

“You’re freaking me out,” she said. “I didn’t start playing this game to get pushed around and told what I could do. I don’t care about the money. What’s the point of doing everything in easy mode? Take a bunch of money and twink yourself out in BiS gear and win. What kind of sad sack does that?”

She was channelling Dad, using his words to justify why she wouldn’t play ball. It seemed like a good way to explain her desire to do things on her own, she was hardcore.

Of course, she wasn’t hardcore at all and she had no issue playing the game on easy. It was her preferred mode. She even had a completely game-breaking item in her inventory which would help her bypass the killer dwarf.

It was only after she gave her little Dad-inspired rant that she noticed the dark looks pointed in her direction. A lot of the people here were playing alts, secondary characters they’d made just to be able to enter the standard dungeon they hadn’t entered since they’d been beginners. And they’d kitted themselves out in twink gear, as anyone with the resources to do so would. Not least of all, Stan.

It was too late to take back what she’d said and phrase it more tactfully.

“This is my first attempt,” said Britta, trying to salvage what she could. “I just want to be left alone to find my own way.”

“I’ll give you a thousand gold,” said Stan. The crowd gasped.

He wasn’t listening, or he was and didn’t care. He believed he would eventually offer enough pretend money. And if not, he’d probably start offering the real thing.

“I’m leaving.” Britta opened her status screen. She would have to logout and come back later.

Before she could hit the button, her hands were grabbed from either side. The two fighters held her up so her feet dangled off the ground.

“Hey! Get off me.”

Donald’s eyes flashed red but the two cats got up and snapped their jaws at him, driving him back.

“It’s okay, Donald,” said Britta. “I’m fine.” Donald bleated pitifully.

“You’re being very unreasonable,” said Stan, his pleading tone replaced by a more insistent one. “It’s great you have these ideals, but I don’t have time for this. Either do this or you can forget about the game. You won’t have access to any dungeons, you’ll be kicked out of every town and no one will party with you.”

“You can’t do that,” said Britta, outraged by the threat more than the actual loss of access. She didn’t really care about any of things he wanted to deny her.

“I can and I will. I’ll make sure everyone knows helping you in any way will be considered going against Hyperbowl. No one wants us as an enemy.”

Hot tears filled Britta’s eyes. It was happening again. She was being pushed out and ignored by the popular kids.

“I’ll report you. They’ll ban you.” She was sure Dr Reedy would have something to say about this.

Stan burst out laughing. He looked at his guildmates who were holding Britta up. “She thinks they’ll swing the ban hammer.”

Britta shook as they joined in laughing.

“Not going to happen,” said Stan. He seemed very confident. Did he have some connection to APE? Was it higher up than Dr Reedy? “Now, think carefully. Do you want to continue playing the game or not?”

“Go to hell,” she said. If she was going to be alone, so be it. She was used to it.

“Don’t be hasty,” warned Stan. “No one’s going to come to your rescue. These people won’t dare get involved.”

Britta looked around. No one was jumping to her defence and she didn’t blame them. Why would they?

Her screen flashed. A new party invite. Then another, and another. Her screen quickly filled up with offers from people for her to join their party.

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