Bitter 194

Britta approached the alley cautiously. At first, she thought it was the dwarf Freddy had followed yesterday, the one who had given him the black eye. It wouldn’t be that much of a surprise if the player had wondered why an NPC would try to make friends and followed Freddy back to Sonny’s.

If Britta saw an NPC hanging out with players, she would wonder what was going on, too. She’d have to come up with some kind of plausible excuse.

But it wasn’t the dwarf from yesterday. It was dark and shadowy in the alley so it was hard to tell, but as she got closer, she could see this was a smaller dwarf with none of the cool gear the player had. And he didn’t have a name tag above his head, either.

“Over here,” said the dwarf, backing into the alley, away from prying eyes.

There were people all around her, but they were too busy to pay attention to a gnome being tempted into an alley by a dwarf.

This could be a trap or a trick of some kind, but Britta was hardly going to walk away. If she died, she died. Even though she wanted to treat her game life like it was as precious as her real one, there was no point playing it too safe. She wanted to be able to experience things a normal person would run a mile from, which meant taking risks a normal person who would never take.

She entered the alley slowly. Once she crossed the threshold, the sound from the street became muted and her vision was drastically reduced in the dim light. She paused to allow her eyes to adjust.

“Who are you?” she said. “What do you want?”

“I’m a friend. I have information for you. But I can’t let anyone see me. We mustn’t be seen together.”

If this was the game making a move, it was a new twist. Up until now, Britta had been the one who had to instigate everything. She had to trigger NPCs to act outside of their normal pattern. This was the first time an NPC had approached her.

Of course, just because the game was being proactive didn’t mean it was on her side. There were a number of interested parties that she knew of, and probably a few others she didn’t, and they all had their own agenda. An agenda she might be getting in the way of.

For all she knew, this dwarf could have been sent to kill her. A dwarf assassin. You didn’t hear that term very often. Usually, it was a human or dark elf or some other lithe shadowy type of killer who jumped out of the shadows to stab the target in the back with a poison blade. It was a fantasy stereotype, but clichés were rarely avoided in video games. Nerds loved clichés. It was comforting to have things the way you were used to them, over and over again. They just called them ‘classic archetypes.’

Britta didn’t think that was why she was being asked to step into a dark alleyway, though. And not just because dwarves didn’t fit the profile of the typical hitman. If she was killed it would hardly get rid of her. She’d just respawn in twenty-four hours and keep going.

The game obviously knew that. It couldn’t use death as a way to remove a problem. It could kill her, or any character, to prevent something in the short term, but overall it would need a different strategy. Which meant it couldn’t simply ape what humans had done in the real world for thousands of years.

In the real world, people claimed to abhor violence and considered it uncivilised, at least in public. But there were still wars and inconvenient people were still occasionally killed to shut them up. Here, threats wouldn’t really work. Not in the long run. So how did the NPCs expect to beat the players?

Britta stopped. They were far enough into the alley to be hidden from anyone in the street outside. “Alright. What did you want to tell me?”

There was a sound behind her and then everything went dark. Something had been placed over her head. It felt like a sack. From the smell of it, one that had been recently full of onions.

Hands grabbed her and forced her further into the alley. She stumbled and found it hard to keep her balance while blind, but the hands that held her on either side kept her upright.

She’d never been kidnapped before. She was sure if it had happened in the real world, she’d be panicking and scared out of her mind, but here it didn’t feel so bad. It was quite exciting.

She was pushed through a doorway. Her feet caught on the bottom of the frame and she nearly fell. The sound changed once they were inside. They were rushing her through passages, left and right.

At one point she was leaned back and someone grabbed her feet. She was carried down some stairs and then put down again. Even though she couldn’t see, she felt like the passages were getting smaller and smaller. She was carried down more steps and then she heard a door open.

They entered a room. There was light she could vaguely sense through the sack. She was pushed down and thought she would hit the ground, but her backside landed in a chair. The sack was yanked off her head.

The room was small and without windows, lit by torches flickering on the walls. There was a table in front of her with three dwarves sat behind it. They had long beards and grim expressions. The classic archetype. The one in the middle looked vaguely familiar.

“Um, hello,” said Britta. They didn’t reply. She turned to look around the room. There were two more, particularly beefy dwarves behind her.

“Do you know who killed Roman?” she asked, hoping to get the conversation started. She was a hostage and there was no way she could fight her way out of this situation, but she didn’t feel worried. She felt like she could handle it.

“I’m Roman,” said the dwarf sitting in the middle. “As you can see, nobody killed me.”

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