Bitter 384

“There’s no point trying to bribe me,” said Britta. “I’m rich.”

“Not yet. It takes time for money to start flowing, as you will see, sweetheart. And then there’s the tax and other deductions. And when you do finally get that slip in your little hands, it’s never as much as you think it’s going to be. That’s when you first learn what it means to be an adult.” Dad sighed. “My little girl’s growing up.”

“I have to pay tax?”

“Of course.”

“But I’m a kid.”

Dad sighed again, less wistfully this time. “If only that was a valid excuse. Once you earn over your personal allowance, you have to fork over a nice big chunk to the government for them to waste on your behalf.”

Britta hadn’t thought about that. How much of her millions would go to the taxman? “Can’t they put in a special account for me?”

“Offshore? Maybe, but do you really want to start your working life as a tax dodger?”

“I wouldn’t mind,” said Britta. “Everyone famous does it.”

“Well, you can’t. And your Mum wouldn’t let you, anyway. She won’t let you spend it on fun things, either. That’s why you have to rely on me.”

“Are you saying you have money she doesn’t know about?”

Dad leaned forward to look down the hall again. “For the last twelve years,” he said in hushed tones, “I’ve been saving all my £2 coins.”

Twelve years was a lot of time to be squirrelling away the largest denomination of coin. “How many have you got?”

“More than enough to buy a top of the line tablet,” said Dad. “They add up fast.”

“Yeah, but you can’t pay online with coins.”

“No. It’d have to be a shop. And not too far away. They’re bloody heavy. Make your pockets completely lose their shape.”

She could just imagine him paying for some expensive electronic gadget with a bag of coins, slowly counting them out. It would take hours.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said. “I don’t really need a new tablet.”

“There’s nothing you want from your old dad?”

“Not really. Maybe some love and affection.”

“Ha, that’s funny. I’m talking about things with a tangible value. Come on. Level 4 illusionist — you’d wreck the joint.”

She hated it when he tried to sound cool. Mainly because he always ended up sounding the opposite.

“Yeah, Level 4 illusionist. And I lost all my gear in the lava. I probably won’t do any better than the other beginners.”

“That’s not true. You’ve still got that shadow spell, haven’t you? He could clear any traps and warn us of kobold patrols. You could send him in on his own, check the perimeter, scope out the defences.”

It was even worse when he went with the military lingo. She was glad they were home, and not at the supermarket. He liked to split up the shopping list and keep in touch over the phone like they were walkie-talkies. Britta avoided going with him whenever possible.

“I’ll put you in my first video,” he said. “I’ve been trying to think of how to make a splash with my first release. Us clearing the first dungeon would be epic. I’ve always wanted to go viral.”

“You can’t put me in any videos,” said Britta. “APE don’t want people to know about me.”

“Oh, yes,” said Dad. “I forgot about that. Maybe you could be in disguise.” He presented the idea with a flourish of hands, like it would be fun.

“No thank you,” she said with a serious face. “I’m not cosplaying with you again, Dad. Ever.”

“That was five years ago, Britta.”

“There’s no statute of limitations on child abuse.”

Dad had made her dress up as an obscure anime characters for non-uniform day at school. Which was fine, but he handmade the elaborate costume, without zippers or easy access points. An accident was unavoidable.

“Jeez, you hold a grudge just like your—” He stopped himself, only glancing towards the kitchen door. “Don’t you want to see what they’ve done with the mines? You were quite the regular there, before. I thought you’d be up for it. You can always bail if you don’t like it.”

He was right about that, she was curious. Obviously, the kobolds would be regular NPCs, and there wouldn’t be a psycho dwarf chasing her (she hoped), but it would be kind of interesting.

“Okay, but just a quick look.”

“Great!”  Dad jumped up. “Let’s get you set up.”

“Set up?”

“You know, make sure you get logged in without any problems. We’ve got to keep an eye on that glow bug. Then I’ll go jump in the old jalopy.” He jerked his thumb at the shed in the garden.

She felt slightly nervous about the glowing. Part of her just wanted to pretend it didn’t exist, but that would be foolish. Problems didn’t go away by closing your eyes and not looking. Better to know than not.

She stood up and went upstairs. Dad hovered around her as she sat on her bed and put the helmet on.

“I’ll meet you outside the church,” she said. He nodded enthusiastically.

This time she did wake up in the church. Everything seemed normal, at least on her end. She left the small room and walked through the chapel. Still no sign of Sister Florence. They can’t have got rid of her. Who would greet the newbies?

It was a sunny day, with people bustling up and down the street. No one paid attention to the gnome loitering outside the church.

Dad turned up a few minutes later.

“Did I glow?” she asked him.

“Oh, I don’t know. Your mum said she’d watch you.”

Mum was on the case, as usual. They headed out of town. When they reached the outskirts, Britta summoned Donald. It was the first time since she’d been back, and she was curious if the goat had changed. He looked the same. He immediately set to devouring some nettles.

“You might not want to ride him,” said Dad. “No one’s got a mount yet. Might stick out.”

They walked to the mines.

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