Bitter 457

The locals ran around, crashing into each other and yelling various incoherent cries for help. Britta imagined that was what they were saying but she was mostly going off of their faces, which were wide-eyes and panic-stricken.

There was much shoving and pushing as they tried to get away from the shade while simultaneously attempting to tempt the ‘demon’ with one of their friends.

They would have headed for the exit, but that would mean having to go past the shade, which none of them were keen to try. The windows became the obvious way out, but no one could open them. Either they had been sealed shut by age (which would be a nice little detail) or the devs hadn’t got around to coding that part (which would be a more likely reason).

The only customer not running around like a loon was the man sitting at the bar, who was doing his best to finish his pint as quickly as possible. He had his tankard upended and the beer was pouring straight down his gullet.

“They think you’re a demon,” Britta told the shade.

“Me?” said the shade. “I look nothing like a demon.”

Did that mean demons existed in this world? If they did, they were probably designed in the classic horns-on-head and forked tail style. The shade had no real form, so it was understandable that the villagers were erring on the side of hysteria.

“They’re just simple country folk,” said Britta, “they aren’t used to seeing someone like you. People are scared of what they aren’t used to.”

“That’s ridiculous,” said the shade. “They could just ask. ‘Excuse me, are you a demon?’ How does any of this help?”

One man tried breaking the window by throwing a chair at it. The chair bounced off. Reinforced glass in a local tavern? It didn’t seem like that was intentional.

“Shouldn’t you tell them there’s nothing to worry about?” said the shade.

“Not my job,” said Britta. She was finding the whole thing rather entertaining. The men had tried to bully and intimidate her, and now they were afraid someone was going to do the same to them.

A group of men picked up a table and charged at the window. Britta winced in anticipation of what would happen when an immovable object met a table-carrying group of idiots.

“Hey!” called out the barman, his head peeking over the top of the bar. “Stop. That isn’t a window.”

It was enough to bring the men up short. They turned to look at the barman, faces shot through with varying levels of confusion.

“What do you mean?” asked one of them.

“It’s a painting of a window. For the ambience.”

The men looked even more confused, probably because they didn’t know what ambience meant. One of them let go of the table and grabbed the handle to open the window. The handle seemed real enough. Then he touched the glass, which had a lead lattice crisscrossed over it. He stroked it with his flat palm.

“He’s right.”

“But how can you see outside?” asked another.

The man by the window peered at the scene in the window-painting.

“Didn’t the weathercock on the church fall off during that storm the other day?” he asked.

“Yeah,” replied one of the others.

“Still on there if you look from here.”

They all strained to look as though they were staring at something far in the distance.

The painting was very realistic, it even let in light. It was as real as the real thing, it just wasn’t actually there. For some reason, whoever built this place had decided there was no reason to put in a fully functioning window. Maybe windows were hard for him to do, the way some painters couldn’t do hands and fingers. Maybe he was short on time and this was quicker. Maybe he just forgot to finish.

“Well ain’t that weird,” said the man stroking the window.

Would this break their AI? Would they suddenly realise they were living in an artificial construct, that they weren’t real and nothing was as they thought it was?

“What about that window?” said one of the men, pointing at the next window along which looked more or less identical.

“No, that one’s real,” said the barman, his face now visible down to the chin.

Without missing a beat, the men lifted up the table again and charged at the next window.

It burst into a shower of wood and glass. They probably could have just opened it the traditional way but they were committed to their table-ramming plan.

They dropped the table and scrambled over each other and out of the hole in the wall. All except one. The one who had misplaced his prize vegetable. He was behind a chair, shaking with fear, muttering, “Not without my cabbage. Not without my cabbage.”

“Anything else I can do for you?” asked the shade.

“I wanted you to find his lost cabbage,” said Britta.

There was no movement from the shade, but Britta distinctly sensed the rolling of eyes.

“So this is my life now. They think I’m a demon, you think I’m a cabbage-hunter.”

“It’s in this room somewhere, I think.”

“Is that it?” The shade extended a smoky appendage to point across the room.

The man stopped shaking and looked where the shade was pointing. There was a large chair facing away from the room. The man got up and went over to it. When he turned the chair around, there was a large cabbage on the seat.

“Oh, yes,” said the man. “I was sitting over here this morning, and then the lads came in and I moved over there.” He grinned, flushing from embarrassment. “Silly me.”

Britta waited for the quest to complete. Would she get her one experience point?

Subscribe to this content and receive updates directly in your inbox.