Bitter 464

The first obstacle to overcome was the game’s tendency not to let Britta spawn where she wanted to. Even though she had set the altar in the Korlath Mines as her primary location, meaning it was where she should appear every time she logged in or after she died, she knew full well that she might find herself in a completely different location.

The Gnome Village, the magic shop, back in the Church of Roha, there was no way to guarantee which it would be. Which was entirely unfair and not how the game was supposed to work, but Britta was prepared for it. If you just assumed problems were going to occur and prepared accordingly, these minor inconveniences were far less frustrating — a lesson from her real life that was now informing her fake one.

Britta’s eyes opened to stare up at a rock ceiling. She sat up in a simple wooden cot with no mattress and no blankets.

“You’re awake,” said the kobold shaman standing next to the bed.

Britta looked around and realised her concerns had been unfounded. She was in the temple inside the mines, on one of the beds used for the wounded. Her cot was one among many, but hers was the only one currently occupied. It was just her and the shaman in the room romantically lit by candlelight.

“Nice to see you again.” She didn’t really know what else to say. The shaman wasn’t acting like she had just materialised out of thin air, so where did he think she had come from?

“They found you unconscious in one of the tunnels,” he said. “Good thing you had our mark on your hand, otherwise…” He drew a line across his throat with his finger.

Britta looked at the back of her hand where the kobold insignia had appeared when she signed the contract. It had faded a bit, but it was still there.

It seemed her arrival had been turned into a rescue. She had been found and brought here by persons unnamed, and she was happy to go along with the pretence.

“I don’t remember what happened,” she said, hoping that would avoid any awkward questions, “but I’m fine now. How are things?”

“War, death, the coming of the end.” The priest spoke in sombre tones.

“Yes, but apart from that?” said Britta. “Everything okay?”

“How can everything be ‘okay’ with the fire demons rising from the lower depths?” He was clearly in a grim mood.

“Oh, is it fire demons?”

“Probably,” said the shaman.

Britta was getting the impression he was being a bit dramatic for effect. “Well, there doesn’t seem to be as many injured kobolds as before. That’s good, isn’t it?”

“I suppose so,” he said begrudgingly. “You’re going to volunteer for the lower depths, I presume. You should hurry, the lottery is about to be drawn.”


“You don’t have a ticket?” The shaman shook his head. “Here.” He handed her a slip of paper with the number five on it. “He won’t need it anymore.” The shaman stepped to one side to reveal the cot behind him. There was a figure under a sheet. The shaman drew a line across his throat again.

Britta had to force herself to not smile. What was under the sheet? A spare NPC they had lying around. It was a nice touch though. Britta took the ticket from the shaman and stood up. This was obviously APE’s way of making sure she would be allowed down to the next level. Number five was going to be called, and she would be sent in.

“I should go,” she said. “Find out what’s going on.”

The shaman nodded. “There’s a terrible evil lurking below with a furious appetite for destruction. Good luck.” He turned and walked away.

Britta was tempted to have a quick peek under the sheet, but the devs might have prepared a nasty surprise for her. She opened her map and made her way towards the bridge room.

The tunnels were quiet and empty, but by the time she reached the large cavern, the noise was like being in the school cafeteria at lunchtime. There were hundreds of players gathered on both sides of the bridge. They were all armed and geared, jostling to get a better view of what was happening up near the door to lower level.

There were two large pavilion tents set up on either side of the open doorway. One tent was occupied by kobolds — she could see the king — and the other had human soldiers standing in front. They were in shiny armour, dressed like the Empire bounty hunters she had met before, but much more smartly.

There was a bit of a bottleneck on the bridge, but Britta’s size helped. No one paid her any attention as she squeezed through, occasionally pinching a leg to make room. It was too crowded for people to tell who had just goosed them.

“Wish I had a ticket,” she heard someone say.

“No, you don’t. You haven’t even finished the training programme yet.”

“Waste of time. You don’t need training to bash in some monster’s head.” The speaker was a very ugly barbarian of some semi-human race.

“You need to pass the training before they let you have a ticket.”

“Stupid. Just let us all through. Strength in numbers.”

There was some general murmuring of agreement. Most of the people were just here to watch, it seemed. Watch and complain.

“The whole thing’s a joke,” said someone else. “Did you see the way they cut the stream just when something was about to happen? So fake. They’ve probably already selected the winners. Won’t be any of us. One of those wallet warriors, I bet.”

Britta pushed her way through the forest of legs to the other end of the bridge. The Kobold King was standing on a small platform next to one of his men holding a bag. He would draw her number, she would go up with everyone watching — which would be horrible — and then she would be out of sight and could get on with it.

There was a blast from a bugle, and everyone quieted down.

“As you know,” said the King, “we have lost contact with the party sent to investigate the lower depths.” There was no sound as the King paused. “All of you holding a ticket are qualified to try and locate them, but sending everyone would attract too much attention from what lies below. The fairest method is to draw lots. If your number is picked, you will have one day to report back. If nothing is heard from you, we will try again tomorrow. Now for the draw.”

It seemed a complicated way to get her into the mines, but if she had just strolled in, there would probably be a riot. This way it would look like random chance. No one would believe Britta could get in any other way than pure luck.

The King rummaged around in the bag and pulled out a strip of paper. “And it’s number...” He turned it to face the crowd, “seventy-two.”

Britta looked at her ticket — it still said five. How had she lost a fixed lottery?

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