Bitter 456

Britta’s first reaction was to freeze, a chill flashing down her spine. Her second reaction was to remember this was a game and that she was far more powerful here than back home. She found herself smiling.

“You better pay the man,” said one of the farmers who had stood up to block the exit. Four of them loomed over her. They were thickset like men who worked in fields; not so much muscle, but plenty of heft.

“I don’t have the money,” said Britta. “And even if I did, I wouldn’t pay that much for a drink. He’s clearly trying to cheat me, you all know it. Especially him.” She pointed at the man on the next stool.

He looked up surprised. “What? I’m just here for a quiet drink.”

“How much did you pay for yours?” Britta asked him.

“Never you mind what he paid,” said the barman. “He didn’t order the minkberry spritzer, you did. Very rare, it is. Ingredients are hard to come by, hence the premium price tag.” He looked very pleased with himself.

“I only ordered it because you said that was all you had,” said Britta.

“Didn’t have to order it, though, did you? Should’ve asked how much it was if you were short on funds.”

He sort of had a point. Britta could easily see the same sort of problem arising in any seedy drinking establishment where they considered fleecing strangers to be a normal form of business.

“Well, I haven’t touched it, you can pour it back in the bottle.”

“Can’t do that,” said the barman. “Once it’s out in the air, that’s that. It’ll go off if someone doesn’t drink it soon.”

“I want to see the manager,” said Britta.

“I am the manager,” said the barman.

“Then I want to see the owner. I’m staying right here until you go get your boss.” She climbed back up the stool and sat down like it was her idea not to leave.

“She’ll tell you exactly what I told you,” said the barman. “This isn’t worth bothering her with. If you don’t have enough money, you can hand over that lovely brooch you’ve got there.”

That was certainly not going to happen. Britta gave the room a hard glare. “You must be really proud of yourselves, treating a visitor to your village like this. I’m going to tell all my friends about this place.”

“Friends?” said one of the men. “What friends? You’re on your own.”

“Adventurer’s guild.” Britta held up her membership card. “I’m going to write a report. Zero out of five stars. It’ll go in the guild newsletter for all the other adventurers to see.”

She had no idea if there was a guild newsletter, but she was quite enjoying painting a picture for these yokels.

“The other adventurers aren’t reasonable like me. They react to bad service by kicking in doors and knocking over tables. Make a huge mess, they do. People sometimes die when they make a strong complaint, but it’s all part of the guild charter.” She waved the card around. “Can’t be blamed for collateral damage in the pursuit of a quest.”

“That’s a grade F card,” said one of the men. “You must be brand new.”

Britta looked at the card. She couldn’t see an F anywhere. “How do you know that?”

“She doesn’t even know what level she is.” There was some relaxing of tension as the men gave each other smug looks. “It’s the colour. That’s a green card. Green for greenhorn.”

Britta had another look. It was only faintly green. “I haven’t had a chance to get it updated. I’ve been busy, doing quests and stuff.”

None of the men looked like they believed her. Britta was finding the whole thing quite amusing. It helped that she could teleport away if she had to, but she didn’t think it would come to that. These were quite simple people trying their luck, not desperate bandits or hardened criminals. She was quite interested to see how far they’d take their threats.

“Look,” she said, “I’m trying to be nice. I don’t want to hurt any of you, I’m sure you have enough problems with your cabbages going missing. I’d be upset, too, but that’s no reason to make things difficult for a complete stranger.”

“What do you know about my prize cabbage?” asked a deeply suspicious man.

“You know where it went?” asked another.

“I had it with me this morning when I came in for a quick pint,” said the first man, “and now it’s gone. Lovely cabbage, it was.” He sounded quite upset.

“You lost it in here?” said Britta. “In the tavern?” He nodded. “You didn’t go anywhere else with it?” He shook his head. It didn’t sound like a very quick pint to her.

Britta glanced around the room. It wasn’t that big a place. “What will you give me if I find it?”

“Not twenty silver pieces, that’s for sure,” said the barman.

“What do you want?” asked the man.

What Britta wanted was one experience point, just the one, but she couldn’t really ask for that.

“Your friendship,” said Britta, mainly because she couldn’t think of anything else. “Friends who don’t threaten each other.”

“Alright,” said the man, sensing a good deal.

A screen appeared in front of Britta.

Find the missing cabbage, win the friendship of a local peasant.

It didn’t mention a reward but it was worth taking a risk, Britta decided. She pressed the Yes button and then summoned the shade.

A pillar of black smoke formed in the tavern.

“Demon!” screamed the barman. Everyone in the room joined in the screaming and ran around in a mass panic.

“We should probably leave,” the shade said to Britta. “Apparently there’s a demon around here somewhere.”

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