Bitter 242

Britta and Diana went into the Auction House. It was moderately busy, with players standing in the kiosks, perusing the items for sale on the small screens. It was an odd mixture of technology and medieval set dressing. The giant screen on one of the walls seemed very out of place, but there were no NPCs here to notice. She wondered what would happen if she dragged one in.

Diana took control of a station and flipped through the mats on screen while Britta tried to find the cheapest pot-pot available in the booth next to her. There was one for eight coppers that looked perfect for her needs. Out of curiosity, she looked at the rares and epics which went for hundreds. They looked cool with fancy paint jobs, but definitely not within her budget.

At least the first potion you made with an actual recipe would get made instantly. She imagined it would be a pain to wait a week. She could see the point of it, though. Otherwise, people could just sit back and let their golden goose lay a never-ending supply of magic eggs.

“Oh,” said Diana. “That’s strange.”

Britta peered around the barrier between them—she was too short to look over it. “You find something?”

“Yeah. I mean, no. Looks like nobody’s selling liver flower petals. I swear I’ve seen them on here before.”

“Does that mean we can’t make any potions?”

“I’m sure we can,” said Diana. “Won’t be so easy now, that’s all. We’ll have to do it the old-fashioned way. Dig them up ourselves.”

“Do you know where they grow?”

“Not exactly. There are areas where each crafting item grows. We can ask at the guild, they have maps with, you know, the latest news. We’ll still have to hunt around to find the one we’re looking for, hope we get lucky. Damn, that’s a pain.”

It wasn’t ideal, but it still sounded reasonably easy. Assuming the plant they were looking for wasn’t too rare. It would probably help if she knew what it looked like.

“If we wait,” said Britta, “maybe someone will put one up for sale.”

“Sure. Wanna wait?” Diana sounded like she didn’t mind either way.

“Is this the only place they sell mats?” asked Britta.

“No. There’s actually some players who specialise in collecting herbs and hard-to-find ingredients. Some even grow them themselves. You can farm them, or you can farm them. Crafting is big business, but mostly in the city. You don’t have enough of a demand in a small town like this.”

“You don’t know anyone we could buy some petals from? I mean, they might have them sitting in their inventory like you did.”

“I could ask around.” She didn’t look very keen on the idea. “The truth is, I’m not sure you want to tell people you’ve got a recipe. They might try to take it off you.”

It was a little disturbing that Diana’s view of her own friends was so low, but she didn’t doubt her. People tended to treat games like normal rules didn’t apply. You could lie, steal and murder if you wanted, and it was just gamesmanship.

“What you could really use is a mats-pig.”

“What’s that?” asked Britta. She’d never heard of a mats-pig.

“It’s a little piggy who sniffs out crafting materials, you know, like those pigs they use to hunt truffles. Damn cute, too. Problem is, you can only get them in the cash shop. Real money.”

As always, APE were thinking up ways to make money. Mind you, she did have a lot of money now, thanks to APE. Perhaps she should invest some back into the game.

“How do I access the cash shop? I can’t see a button on my UI.”

“Ah,” said Diana. “No, that’s right. You have to get to Level 5 to unlock it. They consider it a perk, taking your money.”

That was that out, then. “I guess there’s not much else we can do,” said Britta.

“So cute,” said Diana, still obsessing over little piggies. “They make good scouts, too. You can send ‘em on ahead to look for traps and hidden passages.”

That sounded a lot like what her shade could do, before it went on strike. Could it also locate mats? She discreetly made the gesture to call it, but nothing materialised.

“Hey? Shade?” she whispered. “Come on, I need your help.” Still nothing. Diana was looking around to see if there was anyone she knew in the Auction House. “Whatever the problem is,” she continued to mutter under her breath, “we can sort it out together. I’ll do my best to help.”

Could the shade even hear her mumbling?

“You okay there?” asked Diana, a mild look of concern on her face.

“Me?” blurted out Britta. “Sure. Fine. Great.”

“Okay, good,” said Diana, a bit startled by the eagerness of the response. She leaned away like she didn’t want to spook Britta with any sudden movements. “Maybe we should go to the guild, find out where the most recent patch of liver flowers were seen. We need to collect some dung weed, too.”

It was something to do, and she still had several hours before her appointment with Dennis. “Okay. Thanks for helping me out like this.”

“No problemo. I’m curious to know what that recipe’s for. Maybe—” Diana suddenly jumped back, her hand reaching for the axe strapped to her back.

Britta realised from Diana’s eyeline that it was something behind her that had caused the reaction. She slowly turned around.

A misty black shape was hovering around the side of her booth, barely peering out. The shade. Only, it looked a bit different. Or a lot different. It was hard to tell, exactly. She moved closer to get a better look.

“No,” whispered the shade urgently. “Stay back.” The scratchy voice was definitely the same.

The shade had been a lot of things—aloof, secretive, annoying—but it had never been shy before. It also never wore clothes, until now.

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