Bitter 386

Britta dismissed Donald before they reached the mine so as not draw any attention. She needn’t have bothered, though. There was hardly anyone there. No giant queue like before.

“It’s not very popular,” she said.

“Well,” said Dad, “it is only the second day. Once you find out how tough it is, and how much you stand to lose when you die, it’s not that appealing. Most people would prefer to get geared up first, so at least they have some chance of making it.”

Britta understood the logic of what Dad was saying, but in her experience (and most of that experience came from Dad), there were always people willing to throw themselves at a difficult challenge just to be able to say they did what no one else could. The tryhards didn’t mind slamming their heads against a brick wall.

But he was right, it was early. This time next week, the place would probably be rammed with people waiting to get in.

“If they don’t repeat dungeons anymore,” she said, “does that mean there are no instances?”

“Nope. Just the one dungeon for everyone,” said Dad.

“So, a hundred people could get together and go in at the same time?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Then why don’t they?” asked Britta. If it was as hard to progress as Dad had said, a flood of players would surely do the trick.

“I don’t know,” said Dad. “Maybe they will once they start joining guilds.”

“Actually,” said a voice that seemed to be coming from a bush, “they’ve taken steps to prevent that.”

Britta’s size made it hard to see who was speaking, but moving around the other side let her see a cleared area in the shrubbery, with what looked like a man behind a desk.

It wasn’t a real desk, more a bunch of logs piled up on top of each other. There were quite a lot of sheets of paper covering it, though.

“What are you doing?” said Britta, forgoing the chitchat you might engage in when meeting someone new.

“I’m Roger,” he said. The tag above his head confirmed his identity. “This is my trading post.”

He was definitely a player, but it was hard to tell which class. He wore plain clothes, no armour, and didn’t appear to have any weapons. He was human, with long dark hair and a trim beard.

“What do you trade?” asked Dad.

“Information.” He looked very pleased about it.

“What kind of information?” asked Britta.

“About the mines. I’m putting together a dossier on everything we know so far.”

“You sell maps, do you?” said Dad, looking at the papers spread out on the logs.

The man shuffled the papers into the pile, making it harder to see what was on them.

“That’s the main idea, yes. But also lots of tips and guides. I’ve only just started, so it’s not very comprehensive yet. Were you planning on going in?”

Britta looked at Dad. “We were thinking about it.”

“Great, great.” He became more animated. “Please come and see me after you get killed. I’ll pay for new information. And if you find any items you don’t want, I’ll buy them off you.”

“Have you been inside?” she asked.

“Oh no. I’m going to wait until I have a much better picture of what’s in there. I’ll only get killed, otherwise.”

It was a reasonable, if boring approach to take.

“You said they’d taken steps to prevent large groups going in,” said Britta. “How do you know that?”

“Oh, well, just an educated guess, really.” He pulled out a larger sheet of paper from down by his feet and put it on top of everything else. There were lines drawn in one small part of it. “The tunnels are quite narrow, so people would be stuck behind each other. There’s also choke points leading away from the larger areas.” He pointed them out as he chattered away. “If you went in with a huge army, you’d get picked off pretty easily. Smaller squads working together might be better, but not enough people are sufficiently proficient with their weapons yet.”

“You’re not going to charge us for showing us that, are you?” said Dad, only half-joking.

“No, no,” said Roger with a chuckle. “On the house this time. I’ve only got six rooms confirmed so far. A few more I hope to have verified soon. Once I’ve got a good chunk of it down, then I’ll try making some money. I want people to trust that I have the most up to date and accurate information available. That’ll be the secret to beating it, I think — having a clear idea of what’s in there. It’s just too risky to go in blind. Although, not everyone agrees with that philosophy.” He looked past Britta at the group by the entrance to the mine, who seemed to be in a heated discussion about something.

“I was expecting it to be busier,” said Britta.

“It will be,” said Roger. “Most people are still doing the tourist thing first. Can’t blame them for wanting to have a good look around. It is an amazing place.”

Britta wasn’t sure how he could tell from inside his bush office, but he seemed perfectly content with his approach.

“Okay,” said Britta. “Wish us luck.”

“Wait, here, take this. No charge.” He handed her one of the sheets from his stack. It was a hand-drawn copy of the map so far. “Any room you find that’s not on this map, I’ll pay you at least one silver piece. More if you have information about what’s in there.”

Britta took the piece of paper. “Thanks. We’ll let you know.” She handed the map to Dad as they walked away.

“This doesn’t help much,” he said as he took a closer look. “Doesn’t show any traps or where to find loot.”

“Interesting idea,” said Britta, “opening an information exchange so players can go in prepared. He’ll probably make a lot of money, once people turn up.”

Dad handed the map back to Britta. “Wonder how much he’ll pay us when we bring this back completely filled out.”

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