Bitter 312

Britta held up her hand and examined the ring. It was made of wood, or at least that’s what it had looked like. Now it was glowing orange, although it didn’t feel any different. Perhaps, she thought, this was how you recharged it.

“Identify.” She touched the square face of the ring. The tip of her finger vibrated slightly.

<Ring of Kobold>

She waited for more words to appear in front of her. None did.

Sidney’s ring hadn’t been glowing, but it had also been on the verge of running out of power. This could be completely normal. It might just mean she could now repel the dwarf the same way Sidney’s ring could. There was no reason to think it was dangerous, even though it was making a strange buzzing sound and looked like it was radioactive.

She tried to take it off, but it wouldn’t budge. She hoped it wouldn’t give her digital cancer.

“Are you okay?” said Dad’s voice. “What are you going to do, now?”

It was a good question. The Keystone had been found. Yay! Lot of good that did her.

She used her other hand and touched the Keystone again. “Identify.”

<Keystone. Insert one of the Six Great Keys.>

Well, that was something. Perhaps her strategy should be to go around spamming Identify on everything, and hope for the best.

This was the first she’d heard of the Six Great Keys. Of course, keys were an important part of a game like this. The whole point of many video games was to find a locked door, and then search everywhere to locate the key that would open it. After which you fought your way to the next locked door.

Why that had become the basic concept of most RPGs she had no idea. If the threat to your world was behind a locked door, it seemed a much smarter move to leave the door closed.

“Where are the Six Great Keys?” she said out loud. She wasn’t really expecting an answer — certainly not a comprehensive one with map locations — but it was worth a shot. Nothing appeared on screen and no emotionless voice spoke. She probably wasn’t using the right words.

“The kobold says he doesn’t know what you’re talking about,” said Dad, who had overheard her on chat and assumed she was asking him.

She wondered if Derik did know, would he admit it? Someone had to know. There should be someone whose job it was to tell her. At the very least, there should be a question mark symbol on her UI that would take her to an FAQ. A whole list of answers to every possible query other than the one she was looking for. That had always been her experience in other games.

There should at least a sage type figure who had been programmed to provide clues and quests that pointed her in the right direction.

Britta had met a number of likely candidates. The Great Gnome seemed an obvious choice. She could fast-travel to the altar in the Gnome Village and ask him, assuming he was willing to talk.

She could try asking the Wise One while she was there. Her name suggested she’d be knowledgeable about something like this.

The dwarves, the Mayor, Gabriel Garbolum… all of them could have the answers. Perhaps each would know the location of one of the keys. But it was unlikely they would want to share the information with her.

She didn’t even know what the keys were for. Would she have to try to use one before a pop-up appeared?

Press 1 if you would like to destroy the world.

Press 2 if you have a question regarding treatment for lava burns.

Press 3 if you would like to speak to one of our operators.

She could always go confront the Mayor and Garbolum. They were the villains here, and villains always loved to explain their plans to the hero. That was her, sort of.

If she allowed herself to be captured, maybe they would oblige her with a quick summary of the story so far.  First, though, she would have to get out of here. She opened her map.

Before, the maze had been laid out for her. Now, with the floor on the wall, and the room on its side, the map was just a black triangle representing her in the middle of nothing.

It was a bit like when Dad would drive through major roadworks and the satnav didn’t know where they were, turning the screen blank, with the car in no man’s land.

The exit, according to Derik, was directly above her head. How she would have loved to have that Level 5 levitation spell right now.

Running back the way she’d come wasn’t an option. It would tip the room in the other direction and allow her to use the exit, but the lava would kill her before that. Not that it was particularly painful. The sensation on her skin was like when you peel a boiled egg before it’s had a chance to cool down. Uncomfortable, but manageable as long as you were quick. But it would still chip away at her health, and she didn’t have enough left to make it. And no potions.

Her only other option appeared to be teleporting out. Go home, go to bed.

The whole experience had been fairly unsatisfactory. She wanted a reward for reaching the Keystone. A chest to open and a prize to claim.

If Nigel had created this place, he had a lot to learn about game design. He might not be as ready to strike out on his own as he thought. This was just bad. Bad design, bad implementation, bad execution. Not poor, not could be better. Bad. It just left you with a feeling of having wasted your time.

“I think I might just log out,” she said to Dad.

“Have you checked for any unusual—”

“Yes, Dad. I’ve looked everywhere.” The alcove she was in was dug out of the floor, which would have been a wall when the room was the right way up. The Keystone would be around head height (for her) and the wall to her right would be where she’d be standing. There was a square of faded stone. She hadn’t noticed that before.

She reached out her hand and touched it. Nothing happened. If the room was the other way around, her whole weight would be on the square. She leaned into it, pushing as hard as she could. There was a click. The orange paint around the Keystone started spreading outwards, filling the alcove with lines. It seemed to be creating a picture.

“Oh,” said Britta.

“What happened?” asked Dad.

“Um, some sort of drawing appeared.”

“What did you press?”

She looked at the square that had been right there the whole time while she’d been busy complaining. Well, she’d learned a valuable lesson. No need to make a big song and dance about it.

“Nothing. It happened by itself. I guess it was on a timer.”


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