Bitter 445

Britta went to the bathroom, took care of her necessities and decided to brush her teeth and wash her face for good measure. Even though her body didn’t do anything while she was in the game, it still felt like it to her brain. No harm in pushing the message in the opposite direction — a refreshed body helping to clear her mind.

She lay down on her bed and put the helmet back on, and hoped she wouldn’t respawn somewhere weird this time. If the totem didn’t work properly, she wouldn’t even be able to ask for a refund. That was one of the problems with free stuff, you weren’t in a position to demand your money’s worth.

When she opened her eyes, she was on the plateau with the totem looming over her. There were a couple of fluffy white clouds in the sky now, but it was still a baking hot afternoon.

The totem was supposed to be reusable. She could apparently shrink it back to its original size and take it to the next place she wanted to save her progress. A quick examination failed to reveal a control panel or handy big/small switch.

It was things like this that were most frustrating about the game. Some instructions were repeated incessantly when they didn’t need to be mentioned even once, while others were assumed to be obvious when they very definitely weren’t.

Having been through this problem a number of times, though, it had become apparent that most of the time it ended up being a matter of just speaking up.

“Totem shrink.” Nothing happened to the totem. “Totem deactivate. Totem unplug.” It felt like there was a word for returning the totem to its more convenient size, but she couldn’t quite remember it. “Totem minimise.”

A thesaurus would have been handy. She considered checking the cash shop to see if they sold them. The idea of selling books — the kind with stories, not magic spells — actually wasn’t a bad one. Music, movies, any kind of digital content could be made available here, they’d just have to find a way to make it work with the lore of this world. And a world with magic could have any lore you wanted.

She tried numerous other commands to get the totem to revert and was slowly coming to the decision that she would have to leave it here. It wasn’t like she couldn’t order another one when she needed it. The thought of just getting a new totem every time she wanted to make a save felt wrong and wasteful, but Britta assumed she would eventually get used to behaving in such a decadent manner.

“Totem return.” The totem flashed with a red light and then fell on the ground in its original form. Britta was both relieved and annoyed. She’d literally thought about how to return the totem to its original size but never said the word.

She put the totem in her backpack, and at the same time realised she should have ordered a magic bag when she got the totem. Next time.

Having wasted half an hour faffing about, she summoned Donald with extra determination to get things done and accomplish her goals. First, the village and a quick look to see what kind of place it was. Hopefully the permanent save point there wouldn’t have any issues, or occupants.

Donald, however, was in no hurry to get anywhere, and they ambled down the slope on the other side of the ridge. She tried to get him to hurry up, but that only encouraged him to take his time even more. He kept stopping to sample the vegetation.

Britta had to take a deep breath and remind herself she wasn’t here to prove anything, she could just enjoy a nice day out. Getting frustrated and annoyed over trivial matters had always been an issue for her. She needed to take a chill pill. Cash shop?

By the time they reached the grassy plain, Britta had managed to change her attitude enough to no longer feel quite so tense over nothing. Rather than discovering a new world, she was discovering a new Britta. One who didn’t breathe heavily through her nose whenever things didn’t go according to plan.

The village was an hour or so away, and Donald was in no mood to run if he didn’t have something horrible chasing him. Britta let herself get in sync with the game, rather than the other way around. She was feeling relaxed and at ease when she heard the voices drifting towards her.

The grass was a bit too tall and the ground a little to uneven to let her see what was up ahead, but it sounded like people rather than monsters. They were calling out to each other.

“Over here.”

“I found another one.”

Britta remembered that a mount would be considered very unusual by other players, and she didn’t want to attract too much attention, so she dismissed Donald. Or rather she got off and left him devouring a patch of something green and prickly.

She could have just avoided the direction the voices were coming from, but that would mean making her journey even longer, and she was actually curious to see what they were doing in the middle of a field.

From the top of the next rise, she saw maybe five or six figures running around carrying twigs, branches and armfuls of grass. She had no idea what they were up to.


Britta looked down at the source of the voice. A young woman with braided hair the colour of straw and wearing a green outfit that blended into the grass verge she was sitting on. She was weaving what looked like a net. “Don’t fall in the hole.”

“What ho—” Britta fell in a hole.

It was big enough to swallow her, but she put out her arms and only fell to her waist. Her legs kicked at empty air.

“Hold on,” said the woman as she grabbed Britta by the back of her collar and dragged her out.

“Thanks,” said Britta. She looked up at her saviour, who was tall and slender, with pointed ears. A name tag hovered over her head. “Thank you, Redwall.”

“Call me Red. And you’re welcome, B.” She pulled out a sword and pointed the sharp end at Britta. “Now, what are you doing here, and what do you know about the guardvark?”

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