Bitter 138

The invites were a nice gesture from the people watching but not of much practical use. Britta couldn’t even accept one with her wrists held tightly by Goon A and Goon B.  

Even if she could, she wouldn’t have joined any of their parties. Aligning themselves with her would only put them in the firing line along with her.  

Lord Jim had mentioned something about burning down guildhouses. Britta had assumed he’d been exaggerating, but now she considered it no surprise at all that Stan would do something so vicious if people didn’t do as he said.

She knew the type. The head boy who the teachers considered an excellent role model, the captain of the football team they considered an ambassador, the smug git the students avoided getting on the wrong side of because he lost control of his temper so easily. Psychopaths were very good at attaining leadership positions.

“What are you doing?” said one of the players who had walked over from the other queue. “You can’t force someone to play with you.” He was a hulking barbarian type, all muscles with armour and weapons as impressive as that of the goons working for Stan.   

“This has nothing to do with you,” said Stan. “Butt out.”

“He’s right,” chimed in Lord Jim. “You’re out of order. I don’t care who your father is, he won’t be happy with you doing something like this. It hardly shows the game in a good light this close to launch.”

“You’re all under NDAs,” said Stan, glaring around the crowd undaunted. “Anyone mentions one word of what happens in here, you can expect to be sued out of house and home.”

“Let her go,” said Lord Jim. People echoed the sentiment from every direction, quietly at first and then with more and more conviction.

“Don’t make this something it isn’t, Jim.” Stan didn’t seem the least bit intimidated by the general disapproval. “You can see how difficult she’s being. All she has to do is go in the mines with me. If she’s the key to triggering the event, do you think it’s fair she won’t let anyone else experience it.” He turned to the crowd. “None of you will get to see it because she doesn’t want to share.”

“I don’t think that’s it,” said the girl with the daggers. “I think she doesn’t want to be alone with you because she thinks you’re a creep. And judging by how you’re acting, she’s been proved more than right. Is this really how you get girls to do what you want? Remind me never to take a drink from you at a party, Stan.”

There was real contempt in her voice and a familiarity that suggested she had actually been to parties with him. Stan’s lips twitched in irritation.

“Let her go,” people began shouting.

Britta craned her neck back to peer up at the two goons holding her. They had begun to look a bit nervous. Stan might have been impervious to the court of public opinion, but they weren't.  

"Are you just his goons?" she asked them.  

"I am not anyone's goon," said the one with two swords. “I am Minimus Maximus, Commander of the armies of—"

"Goon," said Britta.  

"Goon," joined in the girl with the daggers.  

Others took up the chant. "Goon! Goon!"

Things were starting to turn in her favour. Stan might have contacts in APE but they weren't going to let him turn this world into his private playground.

The two goons let go of Britta and she dropped to the ground. Her arms were a bit sore but she was otherwise unharmed.

"Enough!" shouted Stan. "You want to take us on? Fine." He took hold of a pendant hanging around his neck and yanked it hard so the chain broke. He held it over his head, the gem sparkling in the sunlight. “Ronaldo!”

Britta waited for an explosion or lightning strike or possibly being hit in the face with a football, but there was no obvious change other than the crowd quieting down and looking apprehensive.

There was a shimmer to the right of Britta, then in spots all around. Players appeared out of nowhere, suddenly standing there in full armour and bearing weapons. More and more materialised, each of them as imposing as the two goons, some even more so.  

"What are you doing, Stan?" said the barbarian whose name tag said Hickory Haha. "This isn't a PvP zone."

"Oh, we don’t want a fight anyone," said Stan, smiling. "Not our fault if you happen to get pushed off the nearest cliff. There's quite a steep drop behind the mines, isn't there."

There was a shift in the mood from belligerent to nervous.  

"You'll get reported," said Lord Jim. "By a lot of people."

"Go ahead," said Stan. "Now, who's with the gnome?"

Britta watched the invites on her screen blink out, one after the other.

Hardly surprising they didn't want to get into a fight they couldn't win. Still, it was a nice of them to try, if only for a short while.  

Attention players.

The words appeared in front of Britta and were simultaneously spoken by a soft, robotic female voice.

Due to emergency maintenance servers will be closing in two minutes. Please logout as soon as possible.

Britta smiled at a shocked-looking Stan. There was no way the timing was a coincidence and they both knew it.

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