Bitter 234

“You want to stay in here?” asked Britta. “Isn’t it boring?”

Stan puffed out his cheeks, and then blew out the air. “No. Not boring. I mean, sure, there’s a lot of downtime, but they’ve put together a lot of content to keep you occupied, too.”

“Who has?” said Britta.

“The devs.” Stan paused as he realised what Britta was getting at. “I assume. I don’t know. I’m not sure it matters. The point is, there’s plenty to do. And I think I might actually be able to find out something about the Garbolum family.”

“From in here?”

“Yeah.” Stan leaned closer across the table and lowered his voice. “They’re criminals, there’s quite a lot of them in here.”

Britta lowered her voice to match. “But they won’t talk to you, will they? Not when you’ve been accused of killing Freddy.”

“Oh, that doesn’t matter. He wasn’t really part of the family. Not really.”

Britta knew Freddy had been pushed out of the family business, but she felt a bit disloyal admitting it. “What have you found out so far?”

Stan shook his head. “Not a lot. I’m still working my way up the rankings. They have their own system in here. I’m quite low-level, but I’m climbing quite quickly. There’s an economy, specialised roles, skills you can learn. It’s like an alternative game running parallel to the actual game.”

He sounded into it in a big way. It was good, in a way. If he was happy to stay here, the problem of his body in the real world wasn’t quite so desperate. It was a bit odd, though. The urgency to save someone from drowning was kind of undercut when they kept telling you about the amazing fish they could see every time they went under.

"What about you?” said Stan. “Did you get any information on the Mayor from your friend.”

It took her a second to work out who her friend was. “Oh, you mean the shade? No. I haven’t been able to summon him since I levelled up.” She’d been trying to cast the new upgraded version of Shadow Guardian which was now called Shadow Agent, but it hadn’t worked so far.

“Oh, you finally got to Level 4, did you?” There was a mild mocking tone in Stan’s voice.

“Yes,” said Britta, not rising to the bait. “I got this new armour.” She raised her arms to show off her robe.

“Very nice. You actually look like a magic user, now.”

Britta realised he was right. People would know what her class was. Well, they wouldn’t know for sure, but they’d expect her to do spells. Although only if she grouped up with them, which she had no real reason to do.

“What reward did you get when you did your class request?” She was curious what other rewards were available, and if hers really was the worst.

“Just a quiver of infinite arrows. It’s not that great, very basic. I chucked it.”

He was the same class as Dad, so he’d received the same reward. “You didn’t sell it?”

“No, would only have got some gold for it. Not worth the effort.”

She shook her head. His approach was completely different to hers. He had all the money in the world, he didn’t need to worry over scraps.

They sat looking at each other.

“Here. I brought you some grapes.” She put the grapes on the table.”

“Oh, thanks.” He picked them up with real pleasure on his face. She could tell he really liked her gift, which made her feel good. “I should be able to get something really good for this.”

“You’re going to sell them?”

“Yeah, of course. Fresh fruit is at a premium at the moment. The latest shipment they received was all rotten. I should be able to parlay this into some quality items. And it’ll help raise my bartering skill, too.”

It wasn’t the grapes he was happy about, just what they would get him in the prison economy. But he was still genuinely pleased, so the end result was the same. It was a good gift.

She hadn’t told him her theory the game was keeping him in here for his own good. Perhaps he already knew. He would know about his medical condition better than her. Maybe he was keeping things from her. It wasn’t really her business.

“I feel better,” she said. “Like I can handle myself better.”

“That’s good,” said Stan. “So we keep going? Try to get to the next stage of whatever this is—me in here, you out there.”

“Yes,” said Britta. “I think we’re ready to push.”

Stan nodded, smiling. “Okay. Be careful.”

Britta stood up. “Don’t worry. I can take care of myself.” She raised her hand and teleported out of the prison.

She stumbled as she landed in the temple. There had been no reason to use the spell. She was only going to log out anyway, but she liked the idea of Stan sitting there, mouth hanging open, not knowing how she’d disappeared like that. It was nice to show off. Pointless, but nice.

Her time was up. She logged out.

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