Bitter 397

“They take bribes,” said Dad.

“Yeah,” said Britta. “Do you have any money?”

“No, I only just started playing. Haven’t had time to save up. You must have some left over.”

He was right. Not a fortune, but maybe enough to impress the kobolds. She went to open her inventory, but realised she no longer had one. They had removed them from the game. You only had what you could carry... but then what had happened to her stuff? Was it gone for good?

“It was in my inventory,” she said. “I think it’s been deleted.”

“Maybe not,” said Dad. “It might be in your guild locker.”

“My what?”

“Back in the—”

“Are you going to make an offer?” asked the kobold. He sounded a little impatient, but that meant the money thing was clearly a way forward without having to fight.

“We’re just working out how much we have between us,” Britta called down. She turned back to Dad. “Back in the what?”

“Back in the Adventurer’s Guild you have a locker where you can keep stuff you aren’t using. It’s probably all in there.”

She hadn’t been told about this, but then she had jumped in with her old character. There were probably a bunch of other things she also wasn’t aware of.

“We’ll have to go and come back?”

Dad shrugged. “Not that big a deal. At least we know what they want now.”

They could teleport back to town and collect whatever cash she had, but they would have to walk here again. It would be quicker the second time around, and they had a clear objective, but it was still a bit of a chore.

The other thing she was wondering was why the kobolds wanted money. Where exactly would they go shopping?

Normally in this sort of situation you would do the task, and then see what happened next. But Britta wasn’t in the mood to wait.

“Excuse me,” Britta called down. “What do you want the money for?”

There was a slight pause, and then the kobold said. “Food.”

“You don’t have food?”

“We have mushrooms. Lots of them. Breakfast, lunch and dinner.” There was the sound of grumbling. If she had to guess, she’d say about twenty-three other voices sounding dissatisfied with mushrooms.

“You don’t like mushrooms?”

“Fried mushrooms, boiled mushrooms, grilled mushrooms,” said a voice.

“Mushroom soup, mushroom stew, mushroom cake,” said another.

“Roast mushroom, stuffed mushroom—”

“Stuffed with mushrooms.”

“Mushroom salad.”

She heard a shudder of revulsion after that one.

It felt like they could have gone on an on. Which did suggest that mushrooms were actually quite versatile, but she could see how a mushroom-only diet would get old very quickly.

“We just need to get them some food,” said Britta to Dad. “I don’t think they care what it is.”

Dad took off his backpack and rummaged around until he took out something wrapped in brown paper. He unfolded it and inside was a sandwich.

It was a very ordinary-looking, non-fantasy sandwich, as far as she could tell. It smelled vaguely fishy. Tuna, maybe.

“Where did you get that?” Even if he made it himself, presumably he would need money to buy the ingredients.

“You get one free every day from the guild. It’s a log-in reward.”

“They give you a packed lunch?” How was this information not sent out in a newsletter or something?

“It’s supposed to give you some health back, but I haven’t tried it myself.” He took out another one. “I’ve been saving them.”

They had two sandwiches. Probably not enough for twenty-four kobolds sick of fungal recipes. Perhaps enough to bribe the commander. That was usually the way these things worked — you grease the palm of the guy in charge.

“Wait a minute,” said Dad. “If we need to give them food, we could just go into town and buy it from McDonald’s or Subway.”

“They have a Subway, too?” She had only seen the McDonald’s in the town square.

“Yes, it’s new. But that’s not what I mean. You can buy the food with real money. You don’t have to earn it.”

Britta had jokingly thought of bribing the kobolds as pay-to-win, but this was the real thing. You could use a credit card to bypass the effort of farming.

“Maybe they didn’t realise,” said Britta.

“Oh, come on,” said Dad. “They knew.” He looked upwards and wagged his finger at the people presumably watching. “That’s bang out of order. When people realise, you’re going to hear about it. It’s not on. It’s just not on.”

“So, are we going to buy them a Happy Meal?” asked Britta.

“Of course not. There are some lines you don’t cross, Britta. Ever.”

“I don’t really see how it’s that different,” said Britta. “I pay for the food with money I earned in the game, or money I earned outside.”

Dad shook his head. “It’s very different. But you’re right, we need to be smarter.” He threw his sandwich down the stairs. “Hey, you down there. Try that and tell me what you think.”

Britta moved to the side. She knew not to get in Dad’s way when he was in tryhard mode.

They waited a bit, and then the main kobold said, “Yes. This is good. More like this.”

“Okay,” said Dad, “we can get you more, but first we need to know more about what kinds of mushrooms grow here. If we come down, will you agree to no fighting?”

“Agreed,” said the kobold.

Dad had sorted a ceasefire and arranged for negotiations in under thirty seconds. Nothing sharpened a gamer’s senses like the thought of the devs messing with his game.

Dad opened his status screen. “Check if you can log out,” he said.

Britta checked. “Yes, I think so.”

“Good, that means we aren’t in combat. If they meant to attack us, we wouldn’t be able to log out without quitting the game. We can trust them, for now. Let’s do this.” Dad marched down the steps.

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