Bitter 426

Britta backed away from the gnomes. “I’m here to see the Wise One,” she blurted out.

The gnomes stopped advancing. The men looked nervously over at their leader. Their leader looked confused. “Who?”

“The Wise One?” said Britta, starting to doubt herself. That was the right name, she was sure. At least, she was sure when she said it. Now she was having second thoughts. “Or maybe it was the Old One. The Old Wise One?”

The gnome in charge lowered her sword. “There’s no Old One and there is no Wise One.”

“You have a leader don’t you?” asked Britta.

“Yes,” said the gnome.

“Then take me to your leader.”

“She’s very busy,” said the gnome.

At least she’d managed to put the attack on hold. Britta had the feeling as long as she kept talking, they wouldn’t rush her.

“This leader, is she quite old and quite wise?” asked Britta.

The gnome had a think, or went through the facial expressions to suggest that was what she was doing. “I suppose…”

Her answers were sounding less rehearsed. That was good. It meant Britta was taking her into an area she didn’t have quick responses for. She had a better chance of finding a way through where there were fewer defences. Britta was learning that the path less travelled was the path that would often let her off the path altogether.

“Couldn’t this leader be called the Wise One?”

“No. She is the Feared One. She is known by no other name.”

The Feared One, the Wise One, it was all much of a muchness as far as Britta was concerned. They must have changed her name to suit the more militaristic aesthetic they were going for. First the kobolds, now the gnomes. There was definitely a wartime atmosphere in New World 2.0.

Most likely they were setting up for a big confrontation later on. A clash of all the different factions on some giant battlefield somewhere. It would make for interesting endgame content. That was what Dad was always going on about — endgame this and endgame that. He was happy levelling up in a game, but once you reached the level cap, then what? Grinding for cosmetics?

Most games tried to extend the life of a game by adding expansions and increasing the level cap slowly, doing their best to stretch things out as much as possible. Meanwhile, the players did their best to finish everything in record time, so they had plenty of time left over to complain about… everything.

Dad loved to moan about the grind, the poor rewards, the power creep, the bugs and exploits that still hadn’t been fixed. It didn’t matter if it was some AAA title that had been years in development or a mobile game that tried to steal your mum’s credit card details. Content, content, content. He could go on for hours if you let him.

If there was going to be all-out war at some point, that would keep the high-level players busy for a bit. Especially if it was as brutal as real war. No gamer worth his salt would dare complain the game was too hard for them. Well, they would only do it slyly. You didn’t want risk looking a fool when the thing you claimed was impossible was completed by someone else.

“Then take me to see the Feared One. I’m on a special mission.”

“Mission from who?” Now the gnome was interested again, sword raised.

“The Great Gnome in the Sky,” said Britta.

The gnome glared intently at Britta and then burst out laughing. The other gnomes joined in.

“What’s so funny?” asked Britta.

The lead gnome stopped laughing and spat on the floor. Every other gnome copied her. It was disgusting.

“The Great Gnome in the Sky abandoned us in our time of need. You know what I think of the Great Gnome?” She spat again. Her men followed suit.

“Can you stop doing that?” said Britta, unable to stop herself. She often saw the boys playing football at school doing the same, copying the professionals they’d seen on television. It was some sort of signal to others that you were tough or something. “You shouldn’t do that indoors. It spreads disease.”

They raised their batons and took another step closer. It would only take a couple more for them to be within beating range.

“Tell us why you’re here,” said the gnome, baring her teeth to make herself more threatening.

“I told you, I need to see the Wi—Feared One. And I need to pray at the altar.”

They began laughing again.

“What’s wrong with that?” said Britta. “I just want to pay my respects.” That, and she wanted to save her progress. The game was really making it hard to reach any checkpoints. Players were going to want to travel around. How were they going to do it if every altar was this hard to find?

The gnome stopped laughing, her men cut off their own laughter as soon as she did. It was funny and menacing at the same time.

“The altar’s been boarded up for months. You won’t find much joy if you’re looking for enlightenment here.” She turned her head to spit, but thought better of it and swallowed.

At least they were willing to change their behaviour.

“Can you send someone to ask the Feared One if she’ll see me? It won’t hurt to ask, right? I could be someone she wants to talk to.”

The gnome frowned. Then she turned to one of her men. “Go tell the Feared One we have caught an intruder and she’s requesting an audience. She might have useful information about the enemy if we torture her.”

Britta ignored the threat. These guys didn’t strike her as the type to torture anyone.

“The Feared One?” said the soldier meekly. “On my own? Do I have to, Captain?”

“Yes, you have to,” the captain snapped angrily. Then she took a breath and leaned forward, lowering her voice. “Just do it. You’re making me look bad in front of the intruder.”

“Yes, sir,” said the frightened gnome. He saluted in a very grandiose manner.

The captain saluted back. “And be quick.”

The soldier saluted again. “On my way.”

“Good man.” She saluted again.

One minute it was saliva flying all over the place, now it was excessive saluting. She wasn’t sure if this was the devs’ way of making the gnomes look clueless, or if they’d done a botch job on the new routines.

Britta sat down and took out her free sandwich. At least they had added some value to the game in between all these weird changes. She unwrapped the paper packaging, and a fresh, sweet smell made her nose twitch.

There was a message on the underside of the wrapping.

Saving Totems now available in The Player’s Store!

Subscribe to this content and receive updates directly in your inbox.