Bitter 251

“What kind of job?” asked Britta. She had quite a lot to be getting on with already, she didn’t really need any more side quests. Then again, she could always take it and do it sometime in the future. It wasn’t like there were time limits to them.

“It requires a bit of travel,” said the Alchemist. “Do they have horses in your size?”

The Alchemist wasn’t much bigger than Britta, but big enough to look down at her with a dubious expression.

“Yes. I have a mount. Where do you want me to go?”

“Old Town. It’s on the other side of Gryphon Mountain.”

A light pulsed in the corner of Britta’s vision. She tapped it and it opened into a three-dimensional relief map. It was zoomed out more than usual. A red light glowed on the other side of the mountain she had flown out of while being held by an irate gryphon.

It wasn’t very far. She would have to go around the mountain, which looked easy enough, assuming there weren’t obstacles in the way. Although most likely there were a bunch of obstacles, many with claws and teeth.

“What do I do when I get there?”

A message appeared in front of her.

Murder Most Foul

Travel to the ruins of Old Town. Locate and kill the Old Alchemist.

If you get caught, you will fail the quest.

If you get killed, you will fail the quest.

If you fail to meet the deadline, you will fail the quest.

This quest is not repeatable

It wasn’t the sort of mission she’d been expecting. Find a magic herb or deliver a package would have been a more reasonable task for a potion-maker. Not murder.

“I’m not an assassin,” said Britta.

“Of course you are,” said the Alchemist. “Look at you.”

She spoke with real conviction, which made Britta wonder how she appeared to people. Did she have a killer’s eyes?

“Why do you want to kill another alchemist? Is it a business rivalry?”

“No, I have no competition,” said the Alchemist dismissively. “She’s my old teacher, and she’s a liar and a cheat. She deserves to die.” The Alchemist was grinding some leaves in a mortar and pestle, really getting her shoulder into it and grimacing. “Should have died years ago, but not even death wants her.”

Britta read over the message again. Not only was she expected to kill this person, there was a time limit, which wasn’t specified.

“When does it have to be done by?” she asked.

“As soon as possible,” said the Alchemist. “Do it quick and I might throw in a couple bottles of the good stuff. I have potions here that aren’t available to the general public.” She leaned towards Britta and grinned, which was more disconcerting that her scowl.

“Sorry, I don’t think—”

“I’ll do it,” said Diana. “I’ll take the quest.”

“Are you sure?” said Britta, not really sure if the quest was transferable. “Only, it’s not the same as normal quests.”

“Yep. No problem. I can give it a go, at least.”

The message box in front of Britta faded away. Judging by the way Diana was staring at the air, it had appeared in front of her. She began tapping and swiping.

“Nice to see someone here knows how to do their job,” said the Alchemist. “Well, I’ve wasted enough time, off you go. You can see yourselves out.” She turned around and began sorting through a crate of empty bottles.

“Thank you,” said Britta. The potion hadn’t been of much use, and the one bottle she had was now in Diana’s possession, as was the quest. Still, no reason not to be polite.

She went up the stairs with Diana close behind, continuing to make gestures and pressing invisible buttons. The front door was closed and too heavy for Britta to open very easily. Diana paused in her air-poking to tug it open. It creaked loudly.

“Have you been to Old Town before?” Britta asked her once they were outside.

“Never even heard of it. I’ve been all over this map, and no one’s even mentioned the place.” She was so excited she’d forgotten to be scared, even though the wind was howling and clouds had gathered.

“How long does it say you have?”

“Three days, but it isn’t like they have days here. It’s one of the great things about this place. It’s always sunny in New World.”

“You don’t think it’s getting darker?” It wasn’t really dark, but the light had a dirty yellowness to it, like the pages of an old book.

Diana took her gaze off the screen only she could see, and looked about. “That’s just the weather effect, isn’t it?” She didn’t sound very sure of herself. The light was definitely of a different quality. “Let’s go back to town.”

They walked away from the spooky house. The sky didn’t get any brighter.

“I don’t understand,” said Diana, her head tilted up. “It never gets dark. Not unless it’s for a special event.”

“Are you still going to do the quest? Kill that other Alchemist?”

“Of course. Shouldn’t be too hard. It’s just an NPC.”

Would it be a normal NPC, or would it be something else? “You should still be careful. You don’t want to end up in jail, like Stan.”

“Oh,” said Diana. “This could be a special quest, could it? That’s even more exciting. I better get started. I’ll get in touch when it’s done.”

She was still eagerly poring over her map.

Britta watched her go with mixed feelings. She didn’t mind Diana being part of her world. She was probably more reliable than Stan. But was she prepared for what she’d find?

She turned and headed for the post office. She had her own problems to deal with. It was only then that she realised she had lost her bodyguard, and she had the horrible feeling she was being watched.

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