Bitter 249

As they walked up the path towards the foreboding house, the clouds seemed to get darker and the wind swirled dead leaves around. Britta had never seen dead leaves anywhere else. New World was in the middle of summer, except for here.

She would have assumed it was the devs adding little touches to their haunted house theme, but she wasn’t sure they had anything to do with this place.

“I don’t like this very much,” said Diana. “It’s a bit spooky.”

“I’m sure you’ll be able to handle anything in there,” said Britta.

“Hmm,” said Diana, not sounding convinced. “I’m not real good with scary movies.”

That wasn’t what Britta wanted to hear. Having a muscle-bound pro with her should have made this easier. Monsters, they could have handled. The creaky rope swing hanging from a dead tree was a different proposition altogether.

It’s a game, it’s not real, ghosts don’t exist, Britta told herself. It didn’t make the prickling sensation running up and down her spine go away.

“Oh-no-please!” shouted Britta as a hand grabbed her from behind.

“Sorry,” said Diana. She let go of Britta. “I’m a bit nervous.”

Britta calmed herself. The house sat waiting for them. The windows were dark and covered in dust. They reached the door and a wolf howled. A wolf? In the middle of town? The devs had to be responsible for that.

There was a small brass knocker on the door.

“You should knock,” said Diana, nervously looking around.

The knocker was quite high up, but Diana was staying resolutely behind Britta. Some bodyguard she was turning out to be. Britta sighed and stretched up on tiptoe. She just about managed to flick the knocker. Somehow, that slight movement was enough to create a booming sound that echoed inside the house.

Both of them jumped back and held onto each other. Well, Britta held onto Diana’s leg, and Diana grabbed the top of Britta’s head.

The door began to open, making the loudest creaking sound any door had ever made. It was ridiculous, and it went on and on. Eventually the door opening was wide enough for a head to poke out.

Britta and Diana held onto each other even tighter. A hideous face loomed out of the dark interior, with two bulging eyes peering through unruly white hair.

“What do you want?” said the old woman.

“Is this… erm, are you the Alchemist?” Britta managed to ask through Diana’s fingers. There was a good chance if Diana got anymore worked up she would pop Britta’s head.

The old woman’s gaze intensified. She appeared to be looking over Britta’s head, and then over Diana’s.

“Yes, what of it? Your kind shouldn’t be here. What do you want?”

“I… I think she just looked at our name tags,” said Diana in a whisper. Players could see each other’s tags, but NPCs couldn’t. Not normally.

Britta fought her way out of Diana’s grip. “Sumfill sent us.”

“Who?” screeched the woman.

“Area manager,” said Diana. “Western District.”

“That lazy good for nothing...” She held up a long pointy finger. “I’m very busy. You better have a good reason for disturbing me.”

Britta held up the potion. “We want to know what this is.”

The Alchemists scowled. “Where did you get that?”

“I made it,” said Britta. “From a recipe.”

“And where did someone like you get one of my old recipes?”

“So you know what it is?” asked Britta excitedly.

“Answer the question,” screamed the Alchemist, making Britta and Diana jump.

“Marj gave it to me.”

“Oh.” The woman seemed to shrink to a more manageable size. “You better come in then.” She turned around and walked away, quickly disappearing into the gloom.

“You go first,” said Diana. Britta was about to suggest a bigger person up front might be the better idea when a shove sent her stumbling into the house.

It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dark. There was nothing particularly unusual about the interior. Rugs on the wooden floors, pictures on the wall. A small staircase led up. No sign of the old lady.

“Hello?” Britta said quietly.

“Down here,” called out a voice.

A hand grabbed Britta and she nearly wet herself.

“I think she’s in the basement,” said Diana.

“Please stop grabbing me like that.”

“Sorry. I think there’s a door under the stairs.”

They crept forward over creaking floorboards. Everything that could make a noise did so, in full Halloween-mode.

The door under the stairs was open. A green glow flickered from below. They tentatively made their way down.

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