Bitter 465

“And the next number is… one hundred and three.”

He was drawing a team. Britta had assumed it would be one person, and that person would be her. It made sense that if they were sending in a search party, they would choose a whole party, but Britta wasn’t used to thinking in terms of working with others. She did everything she could to not think about it.

“Fifty-nine,” said the Kobold King, holding up the ticket he’d just drawn from the bag.

A loud murmuring echoed around the cavern after each number was called, followed by a ripple through the crowd as players made their way to the front. People were disappointed and curious at the same time, frowning and stretching their necks to see who had won and how they could claim it was unfair.

Britta was too short to see very much. She would have to wait for them to stand next to the King to get a look at her prospective comrades. She was still assuming she would get called.

The idea of having to be part of a team did not please Britta. She still hadn’t chosen her new spell or assigned her points, she wanted to wait and see what would be most useful, but if invisibility had been one of her options, she would definitely have taken it and snuck past them all. If she had invisibility, this whole thing could be taken care of in a few minutes.

She had had the chance to take an invisibility ring from the gnome wizard, but that had only made her invisible while she was standing still. Not very useful. Perhaps there was something in her skill tree that would help her go off on her own. Even if she was placed in a group, that didn’t mean she had to stay with them.

The King held up the next ticket. “Three hundred nineteen.”

“How many people are getting picked?” Britta said to one of the men surrounding her.

“Five,” he said. He was neatly dressed, with a  pencil moustache that made him look like a smooth criminal with a number of gold watches he’d like to sell you. The tag over his head said his name was Spiv. “I wouldn’t get too excited, there’s more than a thousand people up for it, and this is the last one.”

“And finally… number five.”

Britta checked her ticket to be sure — yep, it was her number, as expected — and took a breath. She made a noise in her throat to get people to moves aside and let her through, but they ignored her.

“He isn’t here,” shouted someone.

“Draw again,” called out someone else. Many people agreed.

“Hey, I’m here,” said Britta, but the words caught in her throat and were drowned out by everyone demanding the King redraw.

Britta tried to push her way through the throng, but the throng just pushed back.

The whole thing was very poorly organised, in Britta’s estimation. APE had seriously abdicated all responsibility to N-28, and he had decided to keep things true to the medieval theme of this world, i.e. as chaotic as possible.

Which was fine, as far as realism went, but hard to stop getting out of control if N-28 then decided to disappear.

At some point, Britta would sit down with Lin and Dr Reedy and get them to explain exactly how much freedom N-28 had, and where the limits were, assuming they had any in place.

There was another bugle blast, this one more shrill and insistent than the first one. The crowd quieted down.

“Stop, please,” said the King. “I don’t want to have to use the troops.”

A dozen elite kobolds stepped up alongside the King, spears at the ready. There was some bridling in the crowd at the threat. A lot of people here would have liked to get into a fight, Britta was sure.

The kobolds were joined by an equal number of Empire soldiers carrying halberds, and that helped everyone calm down.

“How come there are three Empire players up there,” someone shouted. “That’s got to be a fix.”

Britta was having a hard time being able to see. She assumed he was talking about the players who were waiting up front. Waiting for her. She squeezed through more legs as best she could.

“The draw was completely fair and legitimate, I assure you.” This was a different voice. Britta could see a suit of armour, but not a face. He was wrong, whoever he was.

“All the numbers were under four hundred,” said someone else. “What about the rest?”

“That’s actually statistically quite possible,” said someone else in the crowd. A discussion on probabilities broke out. Britta shook her head and mumbled, “Nerds,” to herself.

“I cannot control the draw,” said the King, “the numbers are what they are. Now, where is the holder of number five?”

The crowd went dead silent.

“Here,” said Britta as loud as she could. This might be her only chance to be heard.

The crowd parted as people tried to get a look at the source of the voice, and Britta was finally able to see a path to the front. She had her ticket facing out as she made her way towards the King.

“Her?” said someone. “She can’t even find her way through a small crowd.”

“Probably can’t fight her way out of a paper bag.”

There were numerous unpleasant words that jostled for selection in Britta’s mind, but she kept her mouth shut. She didn’t want people to have any reason to remember her or have cause to talk about her. Say nothing, do nothing. Once she was through the doorway, she was going to dump the rest of her so-called team and find Dad as quickly as possible. The sooner she got this over with the better.

Four people waited for her. Three of them were dressed in flashy Empire armour, and the other one was all in black with a chain wrapped around her waist and up over her shoulder. A weapon of some kind, presumably.

“At least send someone who’s allowed on the big rides.” There was laughter all around her.

“Oh, for god’s sake, what has size got to do with anything? This is a world with magic in it, you morons. How do you know I can’t kill everyone in this room with a snap of my fingers?” She regretted her outburst immediately. Everyone stared at her, probably thinking she was not just useless but also a big fat liar.

“You can’t, can you?” said the man who had just made a joke at her expense.

The crowd parted even more to let her through, their amused expressions much more wary. Britta tried to keep a straight face. Turned out she was such a big fat liar, they actually believed her.

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