Bitter 258

Britta had the horrible feeling she had walked into a trap.

She walked back to the door. There was a big keyhole under the handle. She bent down and looked through it, but all she saw was part of the hall and the bottom of the staircase by the far wall. She stood up and placed her ear against the door. There was no sound. In fact, it was eerily quiet. She reached for the handle and turned it.

The door opened.

It wasn’t locked. She pulled it wider. Standing in front of her was Frau Magda. “Can I help you?”

“Wah!” yelled Britta, startled by the inexplicable appearance of the woman when the keyhole had revealed nothing. She calmed herself. “Ah, sorry, no, I mean, it was just… I need to use the bathroom.”

It was a bit feeble, but it was the first thing that popped into her head.

“Of course. Please, follow.” She turned and marched across the hall. Britta followed, and then came to an abrupt halt as Frau Magda stopped by the staircase and opened a small door under it. She stood aside to let Britta through.

It was a tiny washroom with a fairly modern-looking toilet bowl. It was only after she closed the door that she remembered she didn’t have any of the necessary plumbing below the waist to make use of the facilities.

She washed her hands in the basin and tried to take her time. She rearranged the soap and jug of water to make it look neat and tidy. There wasn’t a flush, as far as she could see, but it wasn’t really needed.

Britta opened the door and looked out. There was no one in sight. If she was very quiet, she might have a chance to look around. She exited the little room, turned around to gently close the door, and then turned back.

“Everything fine?” said Frau Magda.

“Wah!” yelled Britta. She definitely hadn’t been there a second ago. “I washed my hands,” she blurted out unnecessarily.

“Good. Vith me, please.” Frau Magda escorted her back to the library.

Britta went in, and the door was closed again, making the same locking sound. Perhaps doors here just made extra sounds for no reason.

It was a nice room. Cosy, with large chairs, and every available space on the walls lined with shelves. There were hundreds of books, from floor to ceiling. There was even a ladder to reach the ones at the top.

In a game, this sort of place would have all sorts of hidden treasures. Books of spells, books that told you the history of the world (that nobody ever read), books that gave you bonuses.

Actually, in a game, every room was like that. Players always ransacked everywhere they visited, whether it was an enemy dungeon or some nobleman’s bedroom. There were always items and loose coins to be found. They even took the paintings off the wall and sold them if they could.

Britta didn’t feel comfortable doing that in this game. But it was still a game, and there was a reasonable chance there’d be a useful item here, somewhere. Or perhaps a secret door operated by lifting the right book.

If the game was inclined to put things in her path that were relevant to the storyline, here was as good a place as any. One of these books could hold a vital clue.

She looked from one side of the library to the other. It would take days to go through all of them. What was she even looking for?

Something on the mines? A map or a blueprint of a building? She walked around the room reading the spines. There was definitely a theme. They had titles like One Hundred Years of Ants and All Ants, Great and Small and The Wizard of Ants.

When she opened them up, she found they were novels. Adventures written about life in a world with giant ants. One was about a man called Brett who hated ants with a passion (the bigger they were, the more he hated them). Another was about two runaway children who were taken in by a colony of ants.

No great secrets, nothing to help if you were attacked by actual giant ants.

They couldn’t all be ant-based fiction, could they? She moved the ladder, which was easy because it was on wheels, and climbed up to check the books higher up.

Lord of the Ants.

One Flew Over the Ant’s Nest.

The Ant-man Cometh.

It had to be some kind of joke by the devs. But why ants? She didn’t get it.

Or was it a hint that she was missing. The game could be sending her a message she would only understand when the time came (hopefully before it was too late).

“Anything interesting?”

Britta nearly fell off the ladder, grabbed the sides and slid down, bouncing off the rungs as she went. The mayor was standing in the doorway. She hadn’t even heard the door open. What was the point of these big flappy ears if they didn’t hear well? “Yes. I mean, I like books, so I was just... I thought maybe you forgot you asked me to dinner.”

“Of course not, I was just delayed at work. One of those days. Now, we were going to discuss…” He tapped his big chin thoughtfully. He had clearly forgotten. How did a computer forget things?

“Stan. The innocent person you accused of murder.”

“Yes, yes, of course. Although it will be up to the court to decide if he’s guilty or not. He’ll get a fair trial, I’ll make sure of that.”

“How?” said Britta.

The Mayor smiled. “Easily. I’m the judge.”

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