Bitter 205

Britta opened her map and checked the location of the gnome village. The entrance—a hole in the ground—wasn’t very far away. About halfway to the ranch where she had collected Donald.

She was in the eastern part of New Town. Rather than cut back through the streets and alleys, she decided to make her way to the town’s nearest border, call Donald, and ride around the outside until she reached the road. It was a longer route, but quicker on her goat.

There was no one paying any attention to her. She checked the map and quickly walked across the small park and down a side street to the nearest point where she could leave the town and summon her mount.

What the map didn’t show her was the wall. It was high, made of stone, and had spikes on top. There wasn’t a wall on the map, and she hadn’t seen one anywhere else, but this was the rich part of New Town, so it made sense the inhabitants wouldn’t want any old riffraff coming and going as they pleased. It was inconvenient, though.

The wall stretched in either direction for as far as she could see. It had to end before it crossed any of the roads that led out of town, but there were only a few of those and none close by. The nearest was the one she wanted, and it was a fair distance away.

If she had the gnome levitation spell, she’d have been able to just float over. Even a ladder would do. It looked like she’d have to walk through town after all.

She turned around and set off on the long walk. It was frustrating not being able to overcome such a basic obstruction. Another reason to level up quickly and upgrade her abilities.

There was a strange feeling she had as she walked, as though someone was following her. She kept looking back, but didn’t see anyone. There was an excellent chance she wasn’t being paranoid and there really was someone there, perhaps even some kind of magical creature similar to her shade. It gave her a creepy feeling, whatever it was.

There were quite a few people who might want to keep tabs on her. She knew the dwarves would still want to have words with her. And the mayor might have thought it prudent to keep an eye on her, too.

Twenty minutes later she was in the poor part of town. There was no town wall here. She reached the outskirts and summoned Donald. She opened the map as she rode and tried to figure out the quickest route. The last time she’d been taken there across the wilderness by a gnome escort, but it would be quicker to simply go as far down the road as possible, and then take a right when she was level with the entrance. It would save having to steer Donald through the bushes, which he would no doubt keep stopping to devour.

It was certainly much less tiring to let Donald do the walking. They made quick progress. Britta had the map open to make sure they didn’t go too far before going off-road, so she didn’t notice she wasn’t alone until she was almost on top of the three bandits blocking the road.

She recognised them at once—the same three she had encountered before. The catman Donald had killed was back to life, as she would expect. She assumed they wouldn’t remember their last meeting. She stopped before she reached them and considered heading into the brush. Would they follow her?

Donald shifted around under her. Did he remember? He shouldn’t, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. He had taken great umbrage at the bandits wanting to turn him into their dinner, which would traumatise anyone. He pawed at the ground.

Something else occurred to her. If one of them ended up getting killed, would the game prevent her from logging out so they wouldn’t resurrect?

It wasn’t clear if the need to keep dead characters dead extended to NPCs not connected to the main storyline she was on. On top of which, she had no way of knowing if they were unconnected. Maybe the bandits were involved in some way, too.

And what if it was Donald who did the killing? She didn’t receive any XP for his kills, so would she be held responsible? Perhaps just witnessing a death was enough to link a player to the event. If the game used a player’s mind to create events, their involvement in a death could be triggered just by seeing it happen. That could be a possible reason for why Stan would be trapped even if he didn’t do the killing himself.

There was a lot she didn’t know, and she’d rather not find out by being put into a coma by the game. She needed to not kill anyone, or even see anyone get killed. At least until she understood how it worked.

She turned Donald to avoid the bandits, and saw a small cart approaching from town. It was pulled by a glossy horse high-stepping towards her. There were at least three men in the back, maybe more. They looked like members of the Garbolum family. They looked like thugs.

Were they the ones who had been following her? They might blame her for Freddy’s death and want some sort of retribution. Or compensation.

If the two groups met, there would most likely be an altercation. Maybe even some deaths. She had to make sure that didn’t happen. Or, that she was nowhere near when it did. If she didn’t see it, it had nothing to do with her.

“Let’s go, Donald,” she said, and they sprang into bushes.

She looked back. Behind her, the bandits paused for a second and then charged after her. She looked over her other shoulder. The cart driver snapped the reins and the horse veered off the road. The men in the back held on as the cart rocked from side to side.

She held on tight and urged Donald to speed up.

There was a cry behind her, followed by more. Britta looked back. The two groups had spotted each other and were shouting back and forth while they pursued her. Probably each telling the other to back off.

How could she stop them from attacking each other? One death and she might be stuck in the game forever.

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