Bitter 438

At first, Britta thought it was incredibly unwise of the game to let a player have access to any magic item they wanted, even if that player was her.

Presumably, everyone could come here and swap their weak and useless magic trinkets for a top quality super-duper item here.

What was the logic? Why hand out free upgrades that hadn’t been earned? Did every class have a similar shop to swap class-appropriate gear? Fighters could get shiny weapons and priests could choose a new string of beads. The whole idea seemed very bad. And a quick way to unbalance the game.

After she spent some time wandering through the gnome wizard’s inventory, she started to see things slightly differently.

There was so much stuff it made it very hard to know what you should choose. You really needed to have a clear idea of what your character needed, and probably a solid idea of what you were going to face in the future.

There weren’t many utility items that would give you an advantage in all situations. And those that there were, like skill books that gave you small boosts in attributes, weren’t really going to make that much of a difference.

Nothing seemed to be overpowered. The items that had cool effects also had quite marked downsides or restrictions. Limited charges, cooldowns, mobility penalties. Which would be fine if the magical ability you gained was what you needed, but how could you know what you would need? Especially when dungeons changed every time you completed them.

It wasn’t like a movie where the tech guy gave the hero the exact gadget he would later need to defeat the villain. Here, have a pen that fires out iron filings. Why would you need that? Oh, you’ll see.

Britta had no idea what to take. It also didn’t help that nothing was labelled.

“What does this do?” she asked the wizard. She was holding up a gold ring from a wooden pail full of almost identical but subtly different gold rings.

“Resistance to fire.” That sounded useful, if you were facing a fire-breathing something or other. But otherwise, it was just a ring.

“What about this?” She held up another ring.

“Immunity from poison.” Again, very useful, under the right circumstances. But was it worth her one gryphon feather?


“Ring of invisibility,” said the wizard.

“Oh, really?” This one actually sounded like it might be worth taking. “Can I try it?”

The wizard nodded. Britta slipped the ring on her finger. Her hand disappeared. She looked down at herself — her body was no longer visible. She took a step forward, and everything reappeared.

“What happened? Did I break it?”

“No,” said the wizard. “It is only active while you are stationary.”

Being invisible while you stood still would have its uses, but it wasn’t going to give you a huge advantage. This place was really made for people who knew what they wanted, and that wasn’t Britta. She dropped the ring back in the bucket.

Min-maxers could tweak that one attribute they’d been stacking, this place was ideal for them. Dad would love it. She realised Dad could actually come here since he was now a mage. He would also be able to give her advice on what to choose. She should really talk to him before making her choice.

“If I leave, will I automatically come back here? Do I have to do something to choose this altar instead of the other one?”

“You can’t choose,” said the wizard. “The altar decides.”

“What do you mean? It’s random?”

“No. The altar decides.”

“I have to just hope I end up here? There’s no way to come here just because I want to make a swap?”

It seemed this wasn’t a place you could just visit when you wanted. That must have made running a business quite difficult — hard to build up your clientele when no one could find the place unless the game let them.

Was that how it worked? The game chose who deserved to visit the swap shop, based on some arbitrary measurements? You did good, have a sweetie.

Maybe it was something more specific, but Britta hadn’t done anything of note as far as she could recall. Not recently, anyway.

None of that made deciding what to pick any easier. She couldn’t come back and do it later, it was now or never. She opened her screen and messaged Dad. She could at least ask him for some advice. What was a solid item you would always find useful?

After she finished typing, she noticed the Send button was greyed out. Communications were down, at least while she was here.

“What’s to stop someone just climbing down from the village?” she asked, curious to know how far the preventive measures went.

“If I am not here, the shop is not here.”

The game controlled everything, of course, so it wouldn’t be hard to only have the wizard appear if the altar was used to bring people here.

“You really aren’t the Great Gnome?”

“I assure you, I am only a slightly above average gnome.” She still wasn’t convinced. “What are these?” She held up a pair of shoes.

“Boots of speed.”


“But after using them, you will sleep for one hour.”

The boots really summed up the place. Run at super speed to get somewhere quickly, and then lie down and do nothing for an hour. It would probably be quicker to walk.

Despite all the shortcomings, Britta sensed that there was an item here that would be perfect for her. Something that suited how she played the game. That’s what this place was, a way for people to fine tune their playstyle. Once they’d figured out what it was.

“What do you think would be good for me?” It was worth a try, she figured.

The wizard tapped his pursed lips with a finger. “It’s not really for me to say, but since you ask, I would suggest this.” He went to a dusty shelf and picked up a plain-looking bracelet from a stack of near-identical ones.

“What does it do?” asked Britta.

“Bangle of Stupidity. Once a day you can ask it a question and it will tell you the answer. It has to be a yes or no question.” He turned the bracelet to show two crystals embedded in the metal. “Green for yes, red for no.”

The name was designed to annoy her, so she ignored it. The ability did sound ridiculously useful but it was never going to be as simple as that. Britta took it from him and put it on her wrist. “What do I say? Some kind of spell or a rhyme?”

“You say, ‘Bangle of Stupidity…’ and then you ask your question.”

She pointed at the wizard. “Bangle of Stupidity, is this the Great Gnome in the Sky?”

The red crystal lit up, then went out. The green one came on, then both lights lit up. Then the bracelet cracked in half and fell on the floor.

“That one must be faulty,” said the wizard.

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