Bitter 207

The bandits were low-level characters, designed to be beatable by beginner players. They were meant to run away if you got into a fight with them, even though she had ended up killing one (or Donald had). So why were they running into danger so recklessly?

The thugs around her had their weapons drawn; mostly short swords and daggers. The one who had tied her up grabbed her by the back of her jacket and yanked her to her feet. She would have had a few choice things to say if there wasn’t a rather unpleasant tasting rag stuffed into her mouth. Her hands were tied behind her back but her legs were free to move—once the fighting started, she might be able to make a break for it. But it could already be too late by then.

The Garbolum thugs formed a ring around the bandits as they touched down. There was the human, the lizard with glasses and the cat, just as she remembered them. The catman had come back to life, so the respawning system had been working until recently. She held out a faint hope that minor characters might not need to stay dead, which in turn might mean she might not have to stay perpetually in the game.

But the Garbolum NPCs were very definitely connected to Freddy and also to whatever involvement Gabriel Garbolum had with the mines. If any of them died, it would certainly impact the main storyline. Did that mean she should root for them to kill the bandits?

“It seems you gentlemen have something that belongs to us,” said the human bandit.

“Seems you’ve made a mistake, my lad,” said the thug who had Britta by the collar.

“That gnome belongs to me,” said the catman. “She owes me dinner.”

Did he remember her? He looked directly at Britta and licked the blade of his knife. Britta winced; that didn’t look safe, or hygienic.

“You can have her after we finish with her,” said the thug. The other thugs were preparing to attack, Britta could sense it in their movements.

“Now, now, there’s no need for violence,” said the lizardman. “I’m sure we can all share the gold.”

“We don’t care about the gold,” said the thug. There was some muttering in response to that. Some of the thugs weren’t entirely uninterested in the gold Britta had claimed to be after.

The three bandits, back to back to back, pointed their weapons at their opponents.

The thugs, outnumbering the bandits and having no need to negotiate over their already secured prize, began closing in.

There was a scream. It sounded shrill and sort of human, but not really. Everyone looked up. Donald was descending, his eyes glowing red.

Unlike the bandits, he had waited until the last possible moment before announcing his presence. It was too late for the bandits to move, but enough time for everyone to panic.

“No! Not again,” shouted the catman.

Donald landed on the catman, flattening him, then kicked out his hind legs at the lizard while butting the other bandit in the backside, sending both sprawling.

The thugs were next. They tried to strike the enraged goat, but he was too fast, ramming into anyone who was too slow to dive out of the way.

It was a timely rescue, but it was also one that was going to lead to fatalities. If Donald killed anyone here, she would definitely be linked to it (even though she wouldn’t get any XP). She didn’t want Donald to cause any deaths, but how was she supposed to get him to stop with her hands tied behind her back and a gag in her mouth?

The thug holding onto her had let go, too concerned with his own safety. She turned and ran.

It wasn’t easy running in her condition, but she managed to stay on her feet. She ran down the tunnel and into the large cave where gnomes were going about their daily business.

There were shouts behind her. They had noticed her absence and were in pursuit. Some of them might already be dead, but she had no way of knowing. She had to exit the game and hope it would allow her out.

She ran wildly, bumping into people. The crowds parted as gnomes got out of her way. She saw the Wise One sitting on a rock, a look of surprise on her face. There was no time to stop and explain. There was only one destination in her mind.

She ran through the main cavern to the other tunnel she had been taken through last time she was here. It had been a terrible idea to enter the game after what happened to Stan. Stupid and dangerous. If it could happen to him, it could happen to her.

What she should have done was wait until they found the bug and fixed it.

The problem was they didn’t know where to even look. She was the only one who could get to the bottom of what was happening. So, if she stayed out until the game was fixed, she’d be out forever. It had still been a dumb risk to take.

She ran out of the other end of the tunnel. She was on the ledge that looked over the chasm she had fallen down. The Great Gnome was down there. She knew falling off this cliff was lethal. It was her way out, assuming no one had died yet. She ran to the edge and threw herself off.

She turned as she fell. Peering down at her were the Garbolum thugs. She did a quick head count—they all seemed to be alive. She’d done it. She would die and exit the game. The twenty-four hour lockout didn’t matter, she didn’t plan on returning. It was a shame she couldn’t help Stan, but that was no reason to put herself in such a risky position. It was only a game. It wasn’t worth ruining your whole life over.

All she had to do was wait for the ground to smash into her and it would be over.

It was taking longer than expected.

Britta felt herself slow down. She wasn’t falling, she was floating. She managed to roll over. Below here, in the gloom, was a figure making gestures. The Great Gnome in the Sky was waving at her.

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