Bitter 154

It was shady behind the mountain. The sun was in a clear blue sky but there was a chill in the air. Other than the path that led to the front, there wasn’t much apart from some trees and bushes. It was just somewhere for players to exit the dungeon.

Britta walked back to the cave mouth. She didn’t really know what she was going to do. Once Dr Reddy turned off the cloak’s effects, it would be a regular item of clothing with no special abilities. Lord Jim and his party would have gained nothing and lost valuable inventory space. Her best recourse was to leave them to it. Let them have the cloak.

But she didn’t want to do that.

They wouldn’t give the cloak back just because she asked, she knew that. They’d probably laugh in her face. For some perverse reason, she wanted to see them do it. Confirm for herself that they really went so far out of their way to screw her over. And then watch their faces when she forced them to return the cloak.

There was only one problem. She had no way to force them to do anything.

But she didn’t want to give up. She wanted to find a way to beat them. To reclaim the cloak and leave them in a sticky situation. Or dead. She knew it wasn’t healthy to have those kinds of morbid thoughts, even if it was only in a game, but she couldn’t help it. They had done a horrible thing to her and she wanted them to suffer for it.

She found a rock opposite the cave and sat on it, quietly fuming.

Of course, it wouldn’t be easy. They had all the advantages, knew the game better than her and it was more than possible her attempt at getting payback would only make things worse for herself. Fortunately, she didn’t have anything else worth stealing and dying wasn’t the end of the world.

What she did have, though, was a unique connection to the game. There had to be a way to use that against them.

As she sat there, pondering, waiting for them to come out, she heard a noise. It sounded like something moving around in the bushes.

It was important to remember where she was. This was still a fantasy world where trolls and ogres could jump out and kill you if you didn’t pay attention. Sometimes even if you did. She stood up. She had the kobold sword at least. She raised it in front of her and looked around.

Twigs snapped, branches parted and Stan walked out. He didn’t look very happy.

“What do you want?” said Britta, in no mood for pleasantries.

“What are you doing here?” he said, surprised.

Britta started to get annoyed. “I asked first.”

Stan seemed a bit jumpy, shoulders tensed and eyes darting around like he expected to be attacked. “You’re on your own?”

His refusal to answer her questions while demanding answers to his own was irritating. “Go away, Stan. Don’t you have a castle to rebuild?”

Stan scowled. “Did you have something to do with that?”

“Sure. Look at me.” She waved the rusty sword at him. “Taking on whole guilds by myself is no big deal for a level three gnome.”

“No, I didn’t think it was you.” Stan stared at the ground with his face screwed up like he might start crying. “They were all just waiting for a chance to gang up against me. Cowards.”

He was one to talk, the bully upset about being bullied. She had no sympathy.

“Good. I’m glad you got what you deserved. I hope they kick you out of the guild.”

He looked up at her, enraged. “They can’t kick me out. They’re too scared of what I could do to them.”

“Don’t you mean what your father could do?”

“Same thing.”

“No, Stan, it isn’t. People like you just got lucky, got born in the right family so they don’t have to be good at anything, they get a free ride because Daddy has money.”

“Yes, that’s right,” Stan shot back, no less indignant. “And people like you are just jealous. You complain about life not being fair and how we should all have the same opportunities, but as soon as you get something that goes your way, you’re just as desperate to hold onto any advantage. You’re just a hypocrite who’s never had a chance to show how mean and nasty you can be to people less fortunate than you, because there is no one less fortunate than you. So you just hide here where no one can see you and sulk.”

What he was saying was outrageous. He had no right to take the moral high ground. He was the one in the wrong, not her. “I’m not hiding. I’m waiting for the rest of my party.”

“What do you mean, waiting?” He took a second to process what she had said. “Did you leave them to fight the dwarf?”

“No. There’s no dwarf in there. Look, Stan, just leave me alone. Didn’t APE warn you to stay away from me? You’ll only get yourself banned if you keep harassing me.”

“You don’t have to worry about me, Britta,” he sneered, “no one’s going to ban me from anything.”

Britta felt a cold chill run down her back. She stood up and looked Stan in the eyes as best she could considering their height difference. “How did you know my name?”

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