Bitter 405

Britta found herself alone. Everyone else was so keen to press their unexpected advantage that they’d gone storming across the bridge, leaving her behind.

She didn’t mind. She wasn’t really in the mood to stab anyone. Dad had picked up an unbroken bottle of holy water and was dousing his dagger with the contents as he ran. He was in the mood.

“Did I miss anything?” asked the shade.

Britta didn’t even jump. “Where have you been?”

“Mapping the floor, like you ordered me to.”

They both knew she couldn’t order the shade to do anything. She opened her map. The entire floor was now shown, apart from whatever was beyond the door on the other side of the bridge.

“What about over there?” she pointed across the bridge.

“Can’t go through there,” said the shade.

“Because it’s blocked off?” Maybe they needed to unlock that area by defeating the banshees.

“No,” said the shade. “Because I’m scared.”

“Very wise,” said N-28, appearing next to the shade.

This time Britta did jump. “Why are you here?”

He looked the same as the last time she’d seen him. Tall and blond, and wearing the same shirt (unbuttoned to the navel)  and trousers she’d suggested. He looked like he’d just come from shooting an advert for Hugo Boss cologne.

“It’s very exciting,” he said, not sounding excited at all. “A possible world’s first victory. No one’s got this close before.”

Britta peeked out again. Dad and the kobolds were herding the banshees towards the door. At close range, the bottles of holy water were more effective. You didn’t even have to throw them, just take out the stopper and pour the liquid on the banshees.

Every time one of the banshees tried to turn around from their huddle to let rip one of their screams, they got a faceful of holy water, sending them back into the pack.

It was hard to get the banshees moving in the right direction, though. And little screams would make it out, blowing a kobold off his feet and slam him into the wall.

Dad was poking and prodding where he could, but there were no dead banshees yet. Then he stood still with a bottle of holy water in his hands, mumbling something.

“Of course, you can’t be here for this.”

“What do you mean?” said Britta.

“World’s firsts get announced server-wide,” said N-28. “Your name would be known to everyone. We’d rather that not happen.”

He had a point. She as supposed to be keeping a low profile. “You want me to log out?”

“It’s a bit late for that,” said N-28. “You already have partial credit for whatever happens here.”

“Can’t you just remove my name from the record?”

“That’s not how we do things,” said N-28, in the most pompous manner possible.

“Then what are you suggesting?” she said, starting to get annoyed with this super-smooth ass.

“I’m not here to tell you what to do,” he said, doubling down on the pompous. “What you do outside of your obligated twelve minutes is up to you. But the banshees are going to be very hard for you to defeat. Very hard.”

What he meant, Britta presumed, was that he would make sure the banshees would not lose here, meaning there’d be no world’s first, and no announcement with her name on it.

“Everyone back,” said Dad. He rolled the bottle he’d been holding, which was now blinking red, into the banshee scrimmage. And then he ran.

The kobolds saw the blinking light, and the man who made it running away, and decided it would be best to do likewise.

The bottle exploded. A proper explosion, like a bomb. Dad had used his Bomb spell, which normally took too long to prime to be useful in a fight, but with the enemy too busy to notice him, he’d managed to set it up.

Rags floated down from above. There appeared to be nothing else of the banshees left.

“Yes!” shouted Dad. “Level 2! Woo hoo!”

Dad had killed them all, and he’d levelled up.

There was a pause, and then the kobolds all cheered. Followed by screams as more banshees came streaming out of the door.

The kobolds charged back across the bridge, along with Dad.

“What if it’s just him?” asked Britta. “He can get his name on the scoreboard, right?”

“It would be better if he wasn’t alone. A solo player finishing first looks a bit… suspect. We don’t want him attracting the wrong kind of attention. Perhaps if he was in a party? It isn’t like there aren’t other players here he could team up with.” N28 smiled, his teeth brilliant-white, and then he vanished like the Cheshire Cat.

Dad came lunging back to hide behind the boulder. “Ho-ho, that was close. Now I’m Level 2, this shouldn’t be so hard. Let’s see what spells I can choose from.”

“I can’t be here,” said Britta.

“Mm, okay.” He didn’t seem upset about losing her, but it wasn’t like she was a big asset in this fight. “We’ve got the strat down, now. Shouldn’t be hard.”

“You won’t win.”

“That’s a bit pessimistic,” said Dad, looking a bit hurt at her lack of faith in him.

“They don’t want me mentioned when they announce a world’s first, and they don’t want you to do it solo. You have to find a party.”

“Oh, right, I see. But where am I going to find a… Oh, you mean the other guys. Okay, that can work. No problem.” He straightened up and looked at the king. “Your majesty, we need reinforcements. Hold the fort, I’ll be back in a bit.”

The kobolds looked at him like he was crazy — they weren’t in a fort, for a start — but he had led them to a near-victory, so their faith in him had gone up, slightly.

“Take two men with you,” said the king.

“No, it’ll be quicker if I go on my own. Don’t worry, I’ll be back.” For some reason he said it in a German accent. Britta didn’t ask why.

They scurried back to the tunnels, dodging between falling rocks.

“I’m logging out,” said Britta.

“Okay, see you later.” He went running off down the tunnel.

Britta woke up on her bed. Mum was sitting there, on her phone.

“Anything happen?” asked Britta. “Any glowing?”

“No,” said Mum. “Feeling okay?”

“Fine.” That was a relief. Maybe the whole glowing business was over. She sat up and wondered how Dad would do with the others. She didn’t have to wonder long. Once she’d left, he was able to start recording. The video went viral.

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