Bitter 395

“This seems a lot further than last time,” said Britta. The step curled down in a gentle, endless spiral. She had one hand on the walls to steady herself, a ball of light in the other.

“Yes,” said Dad. They had been walking down for a couple of minutes, with no sign of the bottom. “They must have changed it. Not exactly difficult to dig a little deeper. Just change an integer or two, boom, you’re on a journey to the centre of the earth.”

“I hope not,” said Britta. “I wasn’t planning on being here all day.”

“Wait, I think I see something. Kill the light.”

Britta stopped and turned off the light. Dad was right in front of her, she could hear him breathing, but it was too dark to see anything else. Hopefully that meant no one could see them.

“What was it?” asked Britta in a whisper.

“I’m not sure. Something moved.”

“Why are we standing around in the dark?” asked the shade.

Britta let out a sigh. “It was you, wasn’t it?” She turned the light back on.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said the shade.

“Yeah,” said Dad, letting out his breath. “It was only him. Phew, had me worried for a moment. Thought it was some shadow monster come to get me.”

“Do I look like a monster?” asked the shade, sounding a little hurt.

“Everyone looks like a monster in the dark if you don’t know who it is,” said Britta.

“That’s a negative way to look at life,” said the shade.

“Yes,” said Dad. “But it’s better to be scared first and then relieved, rather than be relaxed about everything, and then find out you should have been scared after it’s too late. You need to protect yourself. The world can be a dangerous place if you don’t pay attention.”

“I don’t think it’s that bad,” said the shade. “Although there are twenty-four kobolds waiting to kill you at the bottom of these stairs.”

There was a long pause while Britta took in this information.

“Twenty-four?” she said. “That’s quite a lot. I suppose they’re armed.”

“They’re all carrying weapons, yes,” said the shade. “They seem to be expecting us.”

“Using the password probably set off an alarm of some kind,” said Dad.

“But it’s their password,” said Britta. “Wouldn’t it mean one of their people was coming down?”

“Maybe. We might have entered the password wrong. Or it could be a trap from the start. That’s what I would do if I had adventurers coming and going all the time. Give them a small entrance to go through, make them think they’d found a way to get around my defences, and wait for them. I guess we know what happened to that team of beta players. You’re not going to beat twenty-four kobolds with a bunch of Level 1 characters.”

“So, what do we do?” asked Britta. “Go home?”

“We could.” Dad turned to the shade. “What do you think? Will they be willing to talk to us?”

“They look like they’re ready for a fight,” said the shade. “Maybe if you allowed them to kill one of you, it would help reduce some of the tension.”

“You think that would work?” said Dad.

“It was a joke, Dad,” said Britta.

“Was it? I mean, I know. I was joking, too.”

“Doesn’t this seem a bit excessive for a basic dungeon? A party of twenty-four to deal with a small bunch of low-level characters… how is that fair? Won’t it just put people off from playing?”

“Well,” said Dad, “people do like a challenge. Maybe they only want committed players to try going the adventurer route. You’ve never even left this area. There’s a lot more you can do apart from going dungeon-diving.”

That was true. She had spent her time in New World in this one tiny corner. She should have at least done a bit of sightseeing. There could be all sorts of other ways for her to amuse herself.

Still, it seemed unnecessarily difficult to get your levels up in this latest version. There had to be a reason.

“Do you think,” said Britta, “they want to slow down everyone’s progress so they don’t overload the system?”

“Possibly,” said Dad. “With everyone on the same server, it might get tricky if too many people came here at the same time.”

“I thought they’d go the other way,” said Britta. “Make it really easy so everyone felt like a winner.”

“That’s certainly the popular way to do it. Attract the casuals. But maybe they don’t feel the need to do that. If they think people will come anyway, they can do what they think is going to keep people engaged the longest. There are plenty of games that are popular because they’re so hard. Games where you die and lose everything, and have to start all over again.”

Britta had thought of this as a simple money-making business. The reward boxes and cash shop had been clear indicators of just another MMO trying to get money while people were impressed by the novelty. But maybe that wasn’t the plan.

“Maybe the money isn’t what this is about,” she said.

“An MMO that isn’t about squeezing the players for as much money as possible?” said Dad. “That’ll be the day.”

“I want to try something.” She slid past Dad, heading down. “Stay close, I might need to teleport out of here.”

“There are twenty-four of them,” the shade reminded her.

“Mm hmm,” said Britta.

“Shouldn’t you try to stop her?” asked the shade.

“Stop her?” Dad smiled. “It’s not my job to stop her. Mage is a support class. Come on.”

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