Bitter 387

As they approached the entrance to the mines, the conversation being held by the other group became audible. There were four of them, but  only one of them was talking, and he was giving the rest of the party very direct instructions. Mainly to not go off on their own, not to rush into any fights, and to generally do what he told them.

The talker was a fighter, with a chainmail shirt, a helmet with a visor that was currently propped open, and a sword strapped to his back. None of it matched.

The tag over his head said his name was Master Chief. Britta recognised it from some old game she couldn’t remember the name of, but she was sure it must have been the kind of game idiot boys played while insulting each other over their headsets.

“Do you think we should go in ahead of them?” she said to Dad. “They look they’ll be a while.”

Dad nodded and they started to edge past the group.

“Hey, hey,” said Master Chief. “Where are you going?”

Britta pointed at the entrance, which was shimmering with a blue light.

“You’re just going to get yourself killed if you walk in without a plan,” he said. Behind him, the other three players looked on nervously.

“You should speak to Roger,” said Dad. “He has maps.”

Britta held up the map Roger had given them.

Master Chief took the map form her, looked at it, shook his head slowly, and gave it back. “You can’t trust that thing. The guy’s never even been inside. I’ve been on twelve runs so far. I know the place from personal experience. You should join up with us.” He indicated the rest of his party who smiled and waved. Master Chief scowled at their lack of professionalism. Perhaps he had expected them to salute.

“We’re mages,” said Dad, like it was a challenge.

“Oh,” said Master Chief, clearly disappointed by this news. “Well, that’s okay.” He turned to look at the rest of his crew. “It’s not like we’d last long in a fight. It’ll still make searches quicker.”

“Did you call yourself Master Chief so people would have to call you ‘Master’ for short?” Dad seemed to be trying his best to get the invite rescinded, which was fine with Britta.

“You can call me Chief.”

Dad winced. “Don’t think so.”

“Fine. Call me Mark.”

“You’ve died twelve times, Mark?” asked Britta. That meant there was no longer a twenty-four-hour lockout caused by death, which was great. With all the other penalties, it made sense not to prevent people from playing if it was avoidable. Thanks to Britta, it was.

“Twelve times in a good cause. I’ve cleared nine rooms, looted all this gear.” He pointed at himself. Then he looked at Britta. “I’ve never seen that outfit before.”

“It’s standard clothing,” said Britta. “You have to scroll through the, uh. Look at his get up.” She pointed at Dad, who immediately struck a pose.

“Yeah, seen it quite a lot.” He didn’t sound very impressed. “Look, I know where the patrols are, I know where the traps are. I can get you further in one run than you can get in twenty on your own.”

He sounded very confident, but Britta wasn’t buying it. Something about his tone didn’t sit right with her.

“If you died twelve times already, doesn’t that mean you lost all your experience points?”

“You can’t go negative experience,” said Mark.

“So, you’re on zero XP?” said Britta.

“Hey, we’re all first level here, doesn’t make a difference how far you are from Level 2. This is the best time to sacrifice some XP — you can’t lose rank.”

It did make sense. He could keep dying and never be any worse off. But he couldn’t get any stronger, either, so he wouldn’t be able to fight any strong mobs. Which was why he needed a party.

Britta looked at the other three again. They had no armour, no helmets or gloves, and basic weapons. They looked quite keen, but they didn’t have the same zeal in their eyes.

Master Chief saw her appraising the team. “At this point, no one has the strength to go in there all guns blazing. You have to box clever. Teamwork, that’s how we beat them. Why don’t you sit in on my briefing? It’ll give you an idea how we roll.”

Britta glanced at Dad, who was smirking. She had no idea why, the guy was like his twin. Well, maybe Dad wasn’t quite so overbearing, but the gap wasn’t huge.

“Um, no thanks,” said Britta. “We’ll just go in and have a look.” She smiled and started to sidle past.

“Hey, hey,” said Mark, arms raised to stop her getting by. “If you go in first, you’re going to put them on alert. Our stealth tactics will be useless.”

“Oh,” said Britta. “You can go first, then.”

Mark lowered his arms. “Okay, good. Thank you. Give us about an hour, and then you can come in.”

“An hour?” said Britta. “Why do you need an hour?”

“There’s a lot to check. You have to sweep every room.”

“I thought you knew where the traps were,” said Dad.

“Roughly roughly. Every time you go through and deactivate them, they move them around and reset them. It’s a game of Tom and Jerry.”

“Well, we can’t wait an hour,” said Dad. “So we’ll go in first, and you can wait an hour. Things should have calmed back down by then. I doubt we’ll last very long.”

“Hmm,” said Mark. “Maybe we should just all go in together. That would be fairest for everyone concerned. Let me just give you a brief rundown of how we’ll be operating.”

Dad began pushing Britta towards the entrance. “Or we can split up. We can act like a decoy. Draw them away from you.”

“Really? That would be great. Hey guys, new plan. Go, go, go.” The four of them went jogging into the mines with Mark hurrying them from behind.

“This guy…” said Dad. “Thinks he knows everything. What a dweeb.”

“Yeah,” said Britta, giving him a hard stare. “Good thing you’re here to set him straight.”

“I know, right?” They went in.

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