Bitter 429

“Oh, you have a wizard?” There hadn’t been any mention of wizards the other times Britta had been here. A magic user could actually prove useful. Teach her some new spells, maybe. “I’d like to meet him.”

“Oh no you wouldn’t,” said the Captain, her eyes wide with trepidation at the very thought.

Britta wasn’t overly concerned. An NPC wizard at the end of a dungeon might be someone to worry about, meeting one in a remote village was unlikely to lead to a confrontation.

“What kind of wizard is he?” she asked, ignoring the attempt to scare her. “I do a bit of magic myself. Does he train people?”

“You’re a mage?” said the Feared One like she found the thought distasteful.

Britta hesitated. If she admitted she could do magic, would that put her back on the path to becoming the Chosen One?

“I’m just starting out. I’m not very good. Not yet, anyway. That’s why I’m going to the capital, to find a teacher.”

It wasn’t true, of course, but it sounded good. It gave Britta a reason to leave, it explained why she wanted to go the to the big city, and it made her seem like an amateur.

The only problem was that the whole idea behind ‘The Chosen One’ was to have someone who had no idea what they were doing prove themselves by completing various ridiculous tasks. Being a noob was one of the basic prerequisites. She would have to be careful not to paint herself too much like the naive farm boy who doesn’t realise the strength they have within. Britta knew exactly what strength she had within — her status screen updated in real time — and she wasn’t ready for any long drawn out combat missions.

“The wizard will decide,” said the Feared One. “Bring her.” She turned and walked through the gauntlet of soldiers.

They closed around Britta and marched her out of the chamber, off to see the wizard. At least she’d managed to get past the entrance. She did her best to march in step with her escort but kept bumping into them. They were tightly packed together in the narrow tunnel.

The tunnel emerged into a large cavern. Last time there had been a marketplace with lots of busy shoppers. There were plenty of gnomes this time, too, but no sign of any stalls or hawkers.

Everyone was dressed in some kind of armour or uniform. They all carried weapons, male and female alike. She couldn’t see any children.

The gnomes were no longer a quiet community going about the normal slice-of-life activities you’d expect of background characters. They had become more like a police state from some dystopian fantasy. There were probably terrible things happening beneath the surface. Corruption, injustice and love triangles. Britta shuddered. Always the love triangles.

Nobody paid any attention to the soldiers passing through with their prisoner. They were all too busy doing… stuff. Britta couldn’t really tell what. Moving boxes from one place to another and marching around in small group it looked like.

They entered another tunnel that came out in a smaller cave, but still large enough to accommodate all of them and the altar.

This was new to Britta. She wasn’t sure if it had been here before or not, she hadn’t had a chance to look around much, but it was definitely an altar. She just needed to touch it.

A robed figure stood with its back to them.

“Wizard,” said the Feared One. “I have brought you a candidate.”

Britta didn’t like being referred to as a candidate. It made her feel like she was being lined up for some kind of job. The soldiers either side of her seemed nervous. The wizard turned around.

She recognised him instantly. It was the Great Gnome. Or, that’s who he was modelled on. She had to stop assuming these gnomes were the same as before. Appearances were deceptive.

“Ah, yes, I see.” He sounded exactly like the Great Gnome. “Is she, you know, the one?”

“That’s what I want you to tell me,” said the Feared One.

The wizard walked across the chamber. The soldiers guarding Britta backed away, leaving her standing alone.

“Hello,” said Britta. “I’m—”

“Uh,” said the wizard, holding a finger to his lips. “Don’t say anything. First I need to run some basic tests. Nothing dangerous, no need to worry.”

She hadn’t been worried until he told her not to be. What kind of test was he going to do?

“Can you put your arms out like this?”

He spread his arms out on either side. Britta copied him. He touched each finger to his nose. She did likewise. He hopped on one foot. Britta had the distinct feeling she was being pranked, but she started hopping. The wizard raised one hand and produced a small light. Britta did the same.

The gnomes gasped. Muttering that sounded like “Chosen One, Chose One” circled around her. The game was trying to manoeuvre her again.

“Stop it,” she said, a little cross. “I told you I could do a bit of magic. This is nothing. It just glows a bit. Useful for finding things in the back of a closet, that’s all.”

“I’m afraid she’s right,” said the wizard. “Very common, nothing to get excited about.”

“Not the Chosen One?” asked the Feared One.

“Probably not. These things are never certain, though. All signs point to no currently is all I can tell you at the moment.”

Finally some good news. Britta decided to try her luck while things were moving in her favour. “Is it alright if I use your altar? I worship the Great Gnome in the Sky.” She said it very directly at the wizard to see if there was a reaction.

“Certainly,” he said, not reacting at all. “Please, go ahead.”

She took a few steps forward, almost expecting to be pounced on. No one attacked. She reached out and touched the altar. It lit up in bright whiteness. The gathered gnomes gasped again. Altars weren’t supposed to light up like this.

“Ooh, sorry,” said the wizard. He bent down and picked up his ball of light from behind the altar. “Must have dropped this.” He turned off the light and the altar went back to looking normal. He smiled at Britta. She did her best to smile back. The game was definitely messing with her.

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