Bitter 38

Britta opened the inventory and dug out the wooden coin. It offered her the quest again and she accepted. There was a ping! sound and a glittering trail appeared in front of her. When it caught the light, it looked like it was made of fairy dust. When it didn’t, it looked like dandruff falling to the ground.

It was low to the ground and led towards the door like some semi-visible, multi-coloured snake. Britta followed it out.

The temple was empty, just as the shade had said. The trail led to the exit. As she walked through the glittering trail, it faded away. She looked behind her, but there was no sign of it. She took a few steps back and it reappeared. She bent down and swiped her hand through it and showers of sparkles fell to the ground. Her fingers tingled as she did it again and again. What did it say about the game that this was the most fun she’d had since starting?

Britta stepped outside to find New Town back to its former glory. Nothing looked out of place and all the debris and rubble was gone. People walked up and down the street like nothing had happened, almost to an unnatural degree. Some of the citizens looked a bit too familiar to Britta, like she’d seen them walking the same way, surrounded by the same people.

Not really surprising. The crowd was probably on a loop, repeating the same inconsequential journey day after day until something interrupted them. They weren’t real, although there were plenty of people in the real world whose lives followed a similar pattern.

The snake slithered off to the left. It was much harder to see in bright sunlight, only the odd sparkle catching her eye. She set off after it and kept having to side step out of the way of oncoming pedestrians when her focus was too much on the rainbow trail.

She took a sharp right and stopped. The trail had taken her into an alley. An alley she knew only too well. This was a dead end, as she had discovered to her cost. Why would the trail lead her here?

There was a strong urge in her not to go any further, but the trail very definitely led to the far end. It twinkled innocently at her.

Would Big Freddy have been reset like the crowds? It would seem a waste of programming to create a character to only retire them forever after they’d been killed once.

Then again, the game did pride itself on realism. No, he was bound to be back. She slowly entered the alley. She had managed to defeat him last time, and now she was stronger and had more spells at her disposal. It was only when she was halfway down the alley that she remembered she was out of mana.

Abandoning a quest before she’d even started it seemed dumb. Britta took a breath and moved quicker.

No one jumped out and attacked her. The far end was deserted and ,other than a stone wall, there was nothing of interest. No door, no stable, nothing. The trail led all the way to the back wall, and went through it.

Britta walked right up to the wall and examined it closely. Secret door? She placed her hands on the wall and slid them over the rough surface not knowing what she was looking for. It felt like a wall.

There was a noise. Britta put her ear against the wall. She could hear movement, scuffling… neighing?

She took a step back and reached up to click on her map. It opened up in front of her. The trail could be seen as a multicoloured line weaving through the streets. It went down the alley, through the wall and out the other side, across the street and stopped outside a building. Britta tapped the building and a tag appeared above it. Honest Jasper’s Stables.

Why had the trail taken her to a dead end? Did it assume she could walk through walls? Or was it just buggy and poorly programmed? The latter seemed more likely.

There was a simple route around the block that would lead her to the street the stable was on. Britta sighed and closed the map. She turned around and froze. A large figure stood in the middle of the alley.

“Hand over your valuables, short stuff,” growled Big Freddy. As expected, he’d come back to life and now she’d have to kill him again.

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