Bitter 446

Britta would have expected to feel nervous with the pointy end of a sword pointed at her face, but she didn’t particularly feel anything. Not nervous, not scared, not even angry.

It was odd. She understood that this was a perilous situation for her, had a very good idea of what it was like poked by a sword, but there was no heart racing, no blood pounding.

She had faced this kind of situation before, so maybe she was just used to it. What she wondered was what would happen if something of this nature happened in the real world? Not with a sword, and certainly not one held by an elf, but if a mugger pulled a knife on her, would she panic like a normal human being or be as calms she was now?

It seemed very unlikely she could transfer her experience from this world to the real one. On a very deep level, her brain knew this wasn’t real. If she was killed here, it meant nothing. The same could not be said if she’d been in a dark alley round the back of a cinema. Fake death she could take in her stride, a real life stabbing made her shudder just thinking about it.

“What’s a guardvark?” said Britta.

“You really don’t know?” said Red. The end of her sword dipped.

“No. Is it, like, an aardvark that guards treasure?”

“Yes!” said Red, raising the sword so it was level with Britta’s nose once more.

She shouldn’t have tried so hard to guess correctly. It was all the revising she’d been doing lately, her mind had been trained to find answers.

“That was a guess, from the name. I didn’t think the devs would be that obvious.”

Red lowered the sword again. “I believe you. Sorry, we’ve had some problems with other groups trying to take our quests away from us.”

“Yeah, I had some people pretend they wanted to be my friends, but they just wanted an item I’d found. It makes you a bit sad when that sort of thing happens, doesn’t it?”

Britta was also finding it easier to talk to people. She didn’t want this person to like her or include her in any plans for fun and adventure. She had her own plans, assuming she could avoid falling down any more holes.

Red sat down again, picking up the net she’d dropped when she helped Britta. She pulled it up to her waist and began fiddling with it again.

“This is a quest, is it?” asked Britta. The people out in the field were running around for no obvious purpose.

“It was a hidden quest we found in Gumberlee. Once you find a hidden quest, it isn’t available to anyone else. That’s why people try to take it away from you. Or they wait until you get the reward and try to steal it.”

Britta wasn’t surprised by what Red was saying. Not even a little bit.

“How do you find a hidden quest? Just by luck, or do you have to get it by asking the right person the right question?” Her own experience with getting NPCs to tell her things made her think maybe the game had incorporated the idea of hard to trigger dialogue trees to give rare and unusual quests.

“Grismane found it in a book. That’s him there.” She pointed at a large bearded man with an axe strapped to his back. It was nearly as big as he was. In his arms, he carried logs. He ran to where another man was pointing, and dropped some of them. Then he ran toward where a woman was pointing.

“What are they doing?” asked Britta.

“Filling in the holes,” said Red. “They’re all over this meadow. We’re going to block them apart from two, and start a fire near one and use the smoke to drive the guardvark out of this one.” She pointed at the hole Britta had fallen into. “Then we catch it with this.” She held up the net like it was a dress.

“I see,” said Britta. It was quite a complicated plan, but if it worked, they would avoid bloodshed. Unless they planned to hack the guardvark to pieces once they’d caught it. “But I don’t get how that helps you find the treasure. It’s buried underground?”

“Yes, but we have… I can’t really say, but we have something prepared.”

“Oh, right. The hidden quest tells you how.”

“Yes. Sorry, I can’t say anything else.”

“No, I understand,” said Britta. “Good luck.” They seemed to have their adventure nicely planned. Hopefully, the reward would be worth it. “I’ll leave you to it then. The people at the village, they’re nice?”

“Yes, very. You should go to the tavern, well, they only have one so you don’t have much choice.  It’s called the Gentle Radish. The owner’s Fadway. He gives out some good information and tips, especially if you get him drunk.”

Britta wasn’t sure she wanted to get into a drinking contest with the man. “And is there a post office?”

“Yes. Enoreen runs it. She might give you a quest if you’re lucky.”

It sounded more and more like the ideal place for a short visit. “And there’s a church, with an altar?”

Red nodded. “The priest’s called Father Father. A glitch, I think. You can ignore him and use the altar.”

Britta stood up. “Is it alright if I just go around the edge? I don’t want to get in anyone’s way.”

Red pulled a face. “Hmm, might be safer if you go down the middle. We’ve checked it for holes already, so you won’t have to worry about falling in. I’ll just tell the others. Wait here a sec.”

Britta was happy to lie back down and stare up at the clouds passing overhead. It was very peaceful, and the clouds were shaped like fantasy creatures without making it too obvious. The unicorn above her changed into a narwhal and then a mermaid in just the few seconds she was watching.

She sat up and watched Red talking to her friends. There was always the chance they would try something unpleasant. Attack her for no reason, or prevent her going to the village. But they looked too busy.

Britta glanced at the hole near her. She leaned across and peered into it. The poor little guardvark was about to get a very rude surprise. She made a light to see how deep the hole went, careful to keep it out of sight.

Something moved down there. A white disc with a black centre appeared. She realised it was an eye, filling the entire hole.

The ground under her rumbled. She jumped to her feet and started running. It wasn’t a choice, it was pure instinct.

The others saw her, and looked confused.

“Run,” shouted Britta. “Guardvark’s coming. You’re going to need a bigger net.” She ran past them as the Guardvark burst out of the ground.

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