Bitter 402

There was a lot of writing, and it got smaller the further down the page you went.

“Do you have—” Britta pointed at the screen, which was only visible to her.

“Yeah.” Dad was staring at nothing, the way players did when they were looking at their status screen. “They expect us to sign this?”

Britta’s natural inclination was to not read any of it. The first paragraph, which at least had reasonably large text, was written in extreme legalese. The way they wrote things when they didn’t want you to understand what you were agreeing to.

She forced herself to read it, but by the time she reached the end of the first paragraph, she couldn’t remember what the first part had said.

“I think it wants us to sign on as mercenaries,” said Dad, his eyes still staring into space, moving from side to side. “We’re under their command, and have to follow all their laws and rules.”

“Are their laws and rules any different to ours?” asked Britta. It was something of a spurious question, since she wasn’t entirely sure what rules she was supposed to be following already.

“It doesn’t say,” said Dad. He flicked his finger in the air, scrolling through the contract.

She didn’t even know if their contracts were the same. She had another glance through hers.

“Sign it,” said the elite kobold. He was being pushy, another indication that not everything here was kosher.

“No,” said Dad, “I don’t think so. We aren’t going to sign this.”

“Then you will die,” said the elite, in an unnecessarily deep voice.

“I don’t think that’s in your best interests,” said Dad. “You need us. You aren’t going to win the way you’re going.” He looked around, frowning at what he saw.

More injured kobolds had been brought in. The previously wounded were having to get out of their beds so the more seriously wounded could take them. Shaman went from patient to patient, casting spells and giving potions. The effects were limited. No one jumped up, ready to go back to the fight. It was a slow process where the healing magic started them back on the road to recovery, rather than provide a miracle cure.

And the High Priest tended to those who had died. But they didn’t come back at full health. They were weak and unsteady. What they needed, after their visit to the afterlife, was a nice long rest. But there was nowhere to put your head down.

“You can’t go on like this,” said Dad. “You aren’t strong enough. You’re just kobolds.”

Now he was trying to upset them, which didn’t seem the best way to win them over. The soldiers still guarding them — there were fewer of them now — bristled.

“Everyone knows kobolds are at the bottom of the pecking order,” Dad continued. “Kobolds, goblins, orcs, ogres, trolls. You have weak magic, poor gear, and you aren’t very strong.” Now the kobolds around them looked like they were in the final stages of deciding where to strike first. “But… what you do have is good teamwork, good training, and…” He tapped the side of his head. “You know how to make plans. What you need is a little more firepower. We can help with that. Our magic is stronger. But we won’t sign ourselves into indentured service for the rest of our lives.”

Was that what the contract said? She looked at it again, but her head hurt after reading a couple of lines. How did the kobolds even explain the invisible contracts they were asking to be signed? RIP immersion, as Dad would say.

And what if they signed, and then broke the contract? What was the penalty? And who would enforce it? The game?

What she would have liked to have done was take a screenshot, and then go over the contract later, checking it for unfair demands and loopholes. Of course, every other time she had done something like that, the document she meant to check just sat in a folder on her computer desktop, unopened.

More casualties were brought in. The room was really filling up now.

“Banshee have taken over the eastern wing,” someone called out.

The contract in front of her disappeared. She readied herself to teleport out. A new contract appeared. This one was a lot shorter.

“Okay, okay, this is better,” said Dad.

Was this some kind of negotiations mini-game? Try to get the best deal before you go into battle?

She read of the revised agreement. There were still quite a few requirements they had to agree to. The first was not to attack any kobolds, now or ever. They were also not to remove any items from the mines without express permission. Anything they found while in the mines was property of the kobolds. Basically, they were being told to keep their hands to themselves. Obey orders in combat. No going off on their own. No bringing in unvetted companions. No spellcasting without authorisation. The final requirement was to not talk about anything that happened in the mines with anyone. Even the kobolds had an NDA.

It still seemed a bit unnecessary. Shouldn’t they just join up against a common foe, fight side by side, and then divide the spoils? Britta suspected they’d had some bad experiences in the past, and now wanted all agreements on paper. Or not on paper, but written down.

“Let’s get rid of this stipulation we follow all orders from an officer or priest. We reserve the right to not act if we think the idea is stupid. We’ll be consultants. You can take our advice or not. We’ll agree, or not, on a case by case basis.”

The contract changed again. Dad was getting into it. He liked playing tedious games where you advanced a centimetre at a time.

“Yes, this is much better,” said Dad, scratching his chin as he read over the newest contract. “I’m ready to sign.”

Britta looked at her contract. She had to agree to not hurt kobolds if she could possibly help it. She could only take things that didn’t have a kobold stamp on them (she didn’t even know what a kobold stamp looked like), and she was to receive payment in silver ore at the end of each day she survived. All ore was to be returned in the event of her death.

Dad seemed to think it was okay, so she signed at the bottom by hitting the Yes button.

“They’ve broken through the defences!” screamed a kobold as he ran through the temple and out the other end. “They’ve broken through!” his voice floated back to them as he ran down the corridor. “We’re all doomed.”

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