Bitter 243

Diana had her double-headed axe out and looked ready to charge.

“It’s okay, this is a friend.”

“A friend?” Diana moved her head from side to side to get a better look, but the shade receded into the dark corner. “Is he a player?”

“Um, not exactly. Just a minute. Can you stay there?”

Britta held up both hands to indicate Diana shouldn’t come any closer, and backed towards the shade. If it didn’t want her to see something, she would talk to it over her shoulder.

She smiled at Diana and felt very fake doing it. There wasn’t anything to be worried about, in terms of physical danger, at least, but it was going to be awkward explaining why a shadowy mist creature was hiding in the corner.

“What’s wrong?” she whispered over her left shoulder. “Where have you been?”

“It’s nothing. What do you want?” The shade sounded quite tetchy. It clearly didn’t want to be here, and something was definitely wrong, even if the shade claimed otherwise.

“Never mind what I want, why are you so upset? And where did you get that cloak?”

“I borrowed it. I didn’t think you’d mind.”

Britta turned almost all the way around to get a better look and the shade scurried even deeper into the corner.

“Is that my Cloak of the Dorf?” It was hard to see clearly with the shade’s fuzzy outlines blurring the garment it was wearing. It did look familiar, and it had a fur collar.

“I’m just borrowing it.”

“But how did you get hold of it? I put it in my special room in the bank. Nobody can take anything out of there without… Wait, can you take stuff out of people’s bank rooms?”

“Just yours. And I’ll return it after I…” The shade’s voice faltered and faded away.

“What happened?” Britta asked, trying to be delicate. “I can help you.”

“No you can’t,” said the shade bitterly. “This is your fault.”

“What did I do?” She couldn’t help but react defensively, which she instantly regretted. “I mean, I wouldn’t do anything bad on purpose. We’re on the same team.”

That was true, but she wasn’t really sure what being on the same team entailed. It sounded supportive, which was the main thing.

“Everything changed. When you upgraded your spells. My body, it… It’s not the same.”

Britta was starting to understand. When her spells went up to the next stage, the shade went through some kind of metamorphosis. Apparently, it wasn’t adjusting well to the change.

Did that mean it was going through the NPC version of puberty? Hairs growing in odd places and acne breakouts?

It was highly unlikely this had been intended by the devs, so most probably it really was her fault. And the game’s.

“I’m sure it’s not that bad.”

“It is.”

“How bad?”


She wasn’t really going to get anywhere like this. The shade was embarrassed. Bringing it up would only make things worse. What she needed to do was help the shade get past this problem. The same way all teenagers get past puberty.

Damn. She realised teenagers didn’t get past puberty very easily. And parents usually only made it worse.

“You know, everyone goes through changes with their body. It's natural.” She felt very awkward. She was giving the shade the speech Dad had tried to give her and Marisa. They were eight and ten at the time, so he was a bit early. Luckily, Mum had intervened and shooed him away before the squirming had gotten too bad. There was no need to subject the shade to that kind of torment.

“Look, you’re going to have to get used to this happening. It won’t be the last time. I’m going to level up again, and so will you.”

“Oh no.”

“Oh yes. But if you don’t like what happened to your body—which I’m sure isn’t as bad as you think it is—”

“It is.”

“—then you don’t have to worry too much. It’s going to change again. Problem solved.” This might even get the shade to help her level up faster.

“What if it gets worse?”

“What if it gets better?” She really wanted to turn around and rip the cloak away, but she’d probably regret it. The shade would get mad and not talk to her, plus whatever it was might actually be as bad as the shade was making out.

“It keeps getting bigger.”

Now she really didn’t want to see it. “Just wait until it finishes, erm, evolving.” She didn’t know what else to say. Perhaps it was going to transform like a Pokemon. “Just wait until you have a better idea of what’s going on.”

“Okay.” The shade began to shimmer and fade.

“Wait. I need your help.”

The shade rematerialised. “Oh, yes. I forgot. What is it?”

“What happened with the Mayor?” She had a number of things to ask the shade, and she didn’t know when he’d answer her call again—maybe never—so best to get as many answers as possible while she had the chance.

“I followed him to his mansion.”


“He got changed, had dinner, and went to bed.”

This wasn’t very informative at all. Not that it was the shade’s fault, but she’d been hoping for something a bit more incriminating.

“He has a secret chamber in his bedroom.”

That was more like it. “What’s in the chamber?”

“I don’t know. That’s when you forced me to upgrade.” There was a slight accusatory tone to the shade’s voice which Britta did her best to ignore. “And then I got summoned back.”

The secret room was worth knowing about, at least. Maybe she’d get a chance to search his room when she went there for dinner.

“Can I go now? People are staring.”

No one was staring. Maybe Diana, but she just seemed confused, standing too far away to be able to see the shade clearly.

“One more thing. Do you know where to find a liver flower?”

The shade stopped fidgeting “Many places.”

“Where’s the nearest?”

“There’s a small garden not far from here.”

“Really?” said Britta, getting excited at the prospect of solving a problem so easily. “Where?”

“In the guard house,” said the shade.

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