Bitter 43

Britta left the nervous, sweating Dennis to his fate. He did look genuinely scared, even shooting her desperate looks that seemed to be asking for help, but Dennis wasn’t real. She could take up the quest later, his problems would remain clinging to him like a cloak tied too tight around his neck, waiting for someone to come along and unknot it for him.

Outside, the warmth of the sun was nicely balanced by a cool breeze. Well done, devs, Britta offered as a mental compliment. Maybe they could read her mind.

She followed the twinkling trail down the street and into a far less well maintained part of town. The buildings were in poor condition; broken windows and shutters, roofs with bits missing and weeds growing out from between cracks.

There were fewer people too, and the ones there were, stood around looking menacing. They stopped what they were doing and watched Britta walk by.

Was this meant to be the rough part of town? Crime and danger around every corner? It did have a classic downtown vibe to it. To a clichéd extent.

Britta had her new, bigger knife with her. It didn’t make her feel much safer.

“Identify.” She hadn’t bothered to check this one. A tag appeared over it which simply said. ‘Knife’. So, that was clear, then. She tapped it and another screen opened.

[Basic weapon. 1-3 damage.]

She put it away. She didn’t have a scabbard for it so it stuck out of her belt for everyone to see. Either that would come across as intimidating or as a challenge. She moved her jacket to hide the hilt as best she could but it insisted on poking out.

The people were mostly human, as far as she could tell, and looked poor. Dirty with torn clothes, as all poor people were, if you happened to be a game designer who thought Game of Thrones was a documentary.

The buildings turned into shacks and then there was only the dusty road, which was a relief. It was better to be on her own and be ambushed, then have to see her would-be attackers slowly close in on her as she waited for the inevitable.

An hour later, she wasn’t so sure. The land was fairly flat, undulating gently. The road continued all the way to the horizon. She regularly checked her map but didn’t bother to keep it out. It was too depressing to see how little distance she’d covered. The sun was hot and unpleasant on her head and the breeze had died down. Stupid devs.

She felt thirsty and tired. She didn’t know if her mind was being tricked into feeling that way or if she should exit the game and go get a drink. It might not have any effect on her in-game, and it would also probably put her back in the temple when she logged back in. That would be unbearable.

No, there was nothing for it but to keep walking towards the horizon until she got to the ranch or dropped dead. She had expected to encounter some wild animals or bandits, but apparently the challenge was to avoid dehydration. How was she supposed to know she should have brought food and water with her? Stupid, stupid devs.

A sound off to her right caught her attention. It sounded like running water. She rushed off the road and quickly found a stream hidden by the tall grass. She splashed into it and fell to her knees, cupping handfuls of cold, refreshing water into her mouth.

Once she’d cured the parchness in her throat, she took a moment to be amazed at how she genuinely didn’t feel thirsty anymore. Could they really convince her mind it wasn’t thirsty or hungry? What else could they fake? Emotions? Beliefs?

If she stayed in here and ate and drank, would her brain ignore what was happening to her real body? Could she starve to death while thinking she was living a perfectly happy life in New World?

It was quite a disturbing thought. She had no way of knowing what her real body was telling her while the game took control of what she saw and felt. She started to breathe faster, her heart palpitating and sweat forming on her brow. Maybe she should log out. What if she couldn’t? She was alone in the house, Mum and Dad wouldn’t be back until tomorrow.

She stood up and wildly opened the status screen as she stumbled out of the stream. She stopped and took a few deep breaths. She was panicking for no reason. The Exit button was there as usual. It was a game, that was all.

She closed the screen and shook her head at her own stupidity. Then she froze. Someone was sitting on the opposite side of the stream watching her. It wasn’t human, although it did look familiar. It was ugly and hairy and about the same size as her. Another gnome.

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