Bitter 388

As soon as the crossed the barrier, Britta felt a surge of familiarity. The smell, the humid air, the way the walls of the tunnel closed in around her, it all seemed exactly the same as before.

She brushed a wall with her fingers. It felt so solid and real, even though she knew it was neither.

She opened up her map, to see if maybe it was still there. She used to have the whole place searched and even the traps marked. The map was blank apart from where she was standing right now.

“Okay,” said Marc, holding up a torch that created a pool of flickering light. “We’ll go to the first room and get our bearings. There shouldn’t be anything to worry about at this stage. Patrols don’t bother much with this part of the mines. Keep your ears open though.”

“Why don’t they just camp this entrance?” said one of the others. His tag said his name was Dun Kirk, and he was a tall, youthful-looking man, human, with a completely bald head and very little body hair. He didn’t even look like he shaved, his skin was that smooth. “If this is the main entrance to the mines, shouldn’t they be waiting for us here?”

It was a reasonable suggestion, Britta thought. An army of kobolds could set up a base in the first room, and immediately engage any intruders.

“Wouldn’t be much of a game then, would it?” said a woman named Lady Da, dressed in a robe rather than the more practical clothing everyone else had opted for. Perhaps she was a mage, too. Or a cleric. Having a healer in the party was always useful. “You can’t expect too much realism. We’d all be dead already.”

“That’s not it,” said Mark. “They don’t know about this entrance. There’s a magic barrier over the tunnel that lasts until the first room. Once we go in, we won’t be able to go out this way, either. There’s always going to be a reason for things here, a set of rules you can rely on to be consistent. You should expect a logical answer at all times. From them and from yourself.”

“What does that mean?” said the other party member who sounded young, although it was hard to tell exactly what age. He was a small, wiry boy with a lot of leather straps around his thighs and arms which didn’t appear to serve any purpose, but they did make him look cool. His name, Fart Lord, didn’t. “How do I expect answers from myself?”

“Anything you can do in the real world you can do here,” said Mark. “Your real-life experiences are part of your character. If you can swim, so can he. Your skills will work here, some of them will just be better.”

“Does that mean if I get good at sword fighting in here, I’ll be able to use it back home?” asked the boy.

Mark chuckled amiably, clearly in his element with this sort of conversation. “Sadly not, it only works one way.” He held up the torch to see further down the tunnel. “Right, let’s go. We can decide on how to proceed once we get to the first room.”

Only Marc had a source of light so Britta produced a glowing ball, which drew some admiring noises from the others.

“Cool,” said Fart Lord.

“Thanks,” said Britta.

“Can you use it as a weapon?” He leaned down and stared into the light, which was probably not a great idea.

“No, not really.”

“Kind of useless then isn’t it? It’ll probably just attract attention and get us killed.”

“Alright, alright,” said Mark. “Don’t be rude. We need to be on the same side here.”

“I wasn’t being rude,” said Fart Lord. “Just making an observation.”

“It doesn’t matter if you meant it or not. Down here, you’re going to get into a life-threatening situation at some point, and you’ll need help. If you’ve pissed someone off with careless words, they will leave you to die. I know, I’ve been there. First time I came here I got into a group of beta testers. They knew exactly what to do, got to the next level on their first run. I could have gone all the way with them, but I was being all cocky and full of myself, said a few disparaging things, and they let me die to a kobold ambush. Just watched me get overrun, didn’t lift a finger to help me.”

“That’s a bit cold, isn’t it?” said Fart Lord.

“That’s the way it is,” said Mark, remarkably sanguine about what had happened to him.

Britta had been in a similar situation, and she still found it hard to think about without getting angry. She wondered if the beta testers who had watched him die were Lord Jim and his party.

“Did they clear the dungeon?” asked Lady Da.

“Can’t have,” said Dun Kirk. “It would have been announced in the main feed.”

“That’s right,” said Mark. “I don’t know how far they got, but they definitely didn’t beat the boss.” Britta thought she heard a little satisfaction in his voice.

“Sorry,” said Fart Lord. “I was just messing with you.”

“Don’t worry about it,” said Britta.

“Can I hold it?” he asked, reaching for the ball.

“No,” said Britta, pulling it in close. “Should we get going?”

They set off with Mark leading, and Dad and Britta at the rear.

“How come everyone’s choosing human characters?” she asked him. She had seen some non-humans in town, but she was starting to notice how rare it was. The vast majority had gone for the basic human package., including everyone in the mines with her.

“Better stat bonuses,” said Dad. “Plus, they warn you at the start about how much time it takes to get used to a different body-type.”

Britta had encountered issues like that when she had first started, but she’d got used to it. Perhaps switching to a giant or a dwarf might be a bit jarring, but there didn’t seem to be very many elves or more humanoid races, either. People were being very conservative in their choices, which surprised her.

They entered the first room.

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