Bitter 460

The laptop shut itself off as soon as Dad entered the room, so Britta had nothing to focus on other than him. Theirs was a relationship built around a child needing care and attention, she just hoped one day she would get to play the role of the child.

“Did you find the magic shop?” she asked him.

He paused long enough in his celebrating to say, “Eh?”

“The magic shop? Gnome wizard? You were going to go find him, remember?”

“Oh, that. No, haven’t had a chance, yet.”

“You didn’t go to the ranch and save at the well, then?” Her plan to lead him to the fright of his life hadn’t worked, it seemed. Dad’s inability to stay focused on anything other than a relentlessly monotonous gaming task had saved him. He could collect Pokemon for twenty-four hours straight, no problem. Try to get him to remember to pick up panty liners when he went to the supermarket, when that was the only reason he was being sent to the supermarket, and he’d come back with a giant bag of Skittles flavoured popcorn.

“Ranch? No, no, this is not the time for wandering around the wilderness. Things are afoot. We’ve got permission to go into the lower levels, and guess who’s been confirmed as official documentarian for the maiden expedition.”

He was throwing a lot of information at her, wrapped up in confusing language. “Sorry, what are you talking about?”

“The mines, Britta, my darling girl, the mines are open for business. They’re sending in an exploratory team to see what’s down there, the top players — I mean, apart from you, of course. They’re going to check it out, and I’m going to livestream it. Have you any idea how many people are going to watch?”

“Will I get an executive producer credit?” she asked him.

His excitement dipped in intensity. “Well, yes, you are the one who made it possible for me to record the game, you certainly deserve credit for that, but unfortunately they don’t want your name to be made public, so, regretfully, my hands are tied.”

He didn’t look very regretful about not having to share the spotlight. Britta didn’t really care.

“Sounds cool,” she said.

“Cool? This is more than cool, this is tremendous. People around the world will stop what they’re doing to watch. Times Square will come to a standstill as crowds stare up at the giant screen. It’s like we’ve landed on a new planet, and the aliens are about to be revealed.”

It was very hard for Britta not to roll her eyes. They were tugging on the insides of their sockets. She resisted as best she could.

“When is this monumental event that will change the course of human civilisation?” she asked him.

Dad looked at his watch — like he wasn’t internally counting down the seconds — and said, “Couple of hours. I’ll be a legend after this.”

“You’ll probably all die,” said Britta.

“Why? Do you know something?”

“No, but it’s bound to be tougher than the banshees, and at least we knew they were weak to holy water. Who knows what kind of monsters are down there? Are you taking some kobolds with you, too?”

“No, just five adventurers, and me. We’re not going to engage anything we find. Just check it out and get back in one piece. I’m starting to think filmmaking is where my true talents lie.”

“And you still only have 6 HP?”

Dad frowned. “I told you, we aren’t going to get into any fights. This is a journey of exploration. My true purpose has been revealed, my final form is about to be taken.”

He sounded like he was giving a speech to a large crowd, but only Britta had turned up.

“Okay, then,” said Britta. “Good luck. I’m kinda busy, so...”

Dad was still accepting the adulation of the crowd in his head, Britta guessed. It took him a moment to drift back to reality, or his version of it. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing. I levelled up, so I was checking spells and stuff.”

Dad’s face fell. “You’re level 5?”

“Yeah. Nothing major, though. I was expecting something big was going to happen, but it’s the same as usual — tiny increments that don’t really change anything.”

“Level 5,” said Dad, shaking his head. “If you came with us, we’d probably be able to defeat whatever’s down there.”

“I doubt it,” said Britta. “None of my spells are good at killing things, apart from Fireball, and that isn’t great in enclosed places. I’d probably end up killing half my own team.”

“You could always tell them it was an illusion, first,” said Dad.

“No, I don’t think so. I’d rather risk killing them.”

Dad smiled. “That’s my girl.”

Britta went down for dinner and then watched Dad’s stream as he and five others — led by Mark — entered the lower level of the Korlath Mine. A large crowd saw them off, applauding and cheering. She watched it with Mum on the big TV in the living room, with Mum complaining that Dad was never on camera. Britta tried to explain that Dad was the camera, but it didn’t seem to get through.

The mission into the unknown wasn’t very exciting. There were tunnels, lots of them, and the party moved cautiously through them. Britta left Mum watching and went to bed.

They would eventually encounter a giant spider or a huge mole or whatever, but Britta could watch them die in the morning. Her only interest in the game was getting to the city. After that, she would log out and come back to it when she had time, or when she was contractually obliged to.

School started again next week, and she had a full schedule of tutors most nights. Seeing how she levelled up in the real world was far more important to her right now. That, and finding a way to get Dad to go to the ranch, preferably while filming it. If ever there was a side-mission worth completing, that was it.

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