Bitter 443

Britta waited until she was out on the road and a good distance from the ranch before looking back. There was no one in pursuit, as far as she could tell. She let out a sigh of relief and patted Donald on the neck.

“Good work, Donny.” The goat slowed to a slightly less frantic pace but didn’t pause to taste the roadside culinary delights as he normally would.

Britta had failed to make the checkpoint, so she was still unable to logout. Mum had said half an hour before lunch was ready, and it had already been forty minutes, but Britta didn’t want to have to log back into the Gnome Village.

The next available save point was in a village called Gumberlee. It wasn’t too far, but she could have flown directly towards it and bypassed the ranch altogether. She would have still run out of mana and have to land, but at least she would have been a bit closer.

It wasn’t really that much of a loss, and she had picked up some useful information: don’t go to the ranch. Even if she had been able to touch the well, she doubted she would have used it to respawn. She would be within easy reach of whatever was inside it.

The thought made her shudder. And then it made her think about the ideal way to find out what was in the well — send Dad. An excellent idea, she decided. So excellent, she couldn’t stop grinning. No, she had to play it straight. If he suspected she was sending him somewhere dangerous he would never go.

That was for later, though. Right now, she had to think of a way to get to Gumberlee as quickly as possible. Or, she had to get hold of a saving totem.

Donald slowed to his regular ambling pace. They were out in the wilderness and it felt much safer here than back there. Britta opened up the cash shop screen and made sure she hadn’t missed anything.

If they wanted people to buy stuff, they’d want to make it as easy as possible. She was getting a feel for how they operated, and denying players immediate gratification wasn’t their style. She couldn’t see expedited delivery prices anywhere, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there.

“Show delivery options.”

A screen appeared she hadn’t seen before. There were, it turned out, three ways to get your goods. You could collect from your local post office. You could have them delivered for a small fee of five silver if you were within one kilometre of a post office, which just felt lazy. Or you could have them airdropped to your location, for cash.

It wasn’t very much, 1000 Rubies, which worked out to £1, but it would mount up quickly. It didn’t say what form the air-drop would take. And what if you were in the middle of a fight? What if you were in a dungeon? What if someone got to your drop before you did, could they steal your items?

There was only one way to find out, of course. First, she purchased a saving totem. The most expensive one, because why not. It would last a week, and could be used a total of three times. She had to read the description carefully to understand what that meant.

As far as she could tell, you stuck it in the ground and you would respawn at that point. But, you could pull it out and use it again somewhere else, two more times. She wasn’t sure if that meant it would last seven days every time she planted it, or if it was seven days in total. It seemed unlikely to be available for a total of twenty-one days, but they were charging 100,000 rubies. That was £100. For that price, she was expecting it to come gold-plated and with a built-in back rub feature.

Britta chose the air-drop for delivery of her deluxe totem. Her request was accepted without need for payment, just as Lin had promised. Britta closed her screen and looked up at the empty sky. How long before she received her package? She was actually quite curious to see how it would be dropped from the air.

They could just make it suddenly appear, of course, but she hoped they would put more effort into it. She scanned the air. Nothing.

Something flashed in the corner of her visions, but it wasn’t a dragon with a parcel, it was her map icon flashing.

She opened the map and saw a new symbol, a picture of a box with a ribbon on it. The icon flashed a little to the left of her position. Britta guided Donald off the road and towards a ridge. It wasn’t a very steep incline, but when they reached the top, she was able to see the village. It was still a fair distance away, in the middle of a flat plain.

The parcel icon was indicating a plateau just before the ridge dropped down to the plain. There was no sign of any boxes. Donald was munching on some thorny leaves, so she had to wait a moment before he would move. They headed for the plateau, which was flat and empty. A landing pad?

There was an extremely loud screech. Britta looked up as a large crate fell towards her. Fortunately, Donald wasn’t as transfixed by the sight as she was. He leapt out of the way.

The crate hit the ground in a cloud of dust. High above, a winged creature flew off. Britta couldn’t tell what it was. A giant eagle? With human legs? It was too high and moving too fast to be sure.

The dust settled. The crate was taller than her, with no obvious way to open it. Was she meant to break it open? She would need an axe.

There was a rumble, then one side of the crate fell open. A figure jumped out, a smartly-dressed boy with a big smile holding a small package.

“Here you go, miss.” He thrust the package into Britta’s hands and then ran off. It wasn’t clear where he was going, but he seemed to know the way. Britta watched him as he disappeared into the tall grass.

Britta tore open the plain brown wrapping. Inside was a hollow wooden tube covered in ornate carvings. There were no instructions.

She stuck it into the ground. It trembled slightly and then extended suddenly like it was a magic beanstalk. It didn’t reach up to the clouds but it did grow to a formidable size, the small tube now more like the trunk of an old oak tree.

The carvings were now much easier to see. They had looked like random designs, lines and swirls, but now they looked like stars and galaxies carved in wood. She put out her hand and brushed her fingers over the grooves and ridges. It was like feeling the night sky.It also gave her a new save point in her logging-in page with a countdown next to it.

She had been a little concerned someone might come along and take it while she was logged out, but no one was going to sneak off with something this big. Even chopping it down would take a fair while assuming it was possible. Could anyone use it as a save point? How was she meant to turn it back into its portable state? Did it have any other functions? All questions someone would one day answer in a wiki. Britta logged out for lunch.

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