Bitter 472

“This is ridiculous,” said Gabba. “All I see on my map is this tunnel. How long have we been down here.”

“An hour?” said Owen.

“More like two,” said MrKappa.

“I’ve got all my detection skills turned up to max, and I can’t detect anything.” She was walking with her map open, Britta could tell by the way she had her hands hovering over nothing. “This tunnel goes on forever.”

“I was hoping we’d find some lore,” said Owen. “A cave with a couple of bookshelves. I love a bit of lore. I always read any books lying around. I bet the history of this world is really cool.”

The idea someone would build a small library down here seemed ridiculous, but it was the sort of thing you found in games like this all the time. Taking the time to read those books was something Britta would never do. Reading some made-up nonsense written by someone who had read too many books with dragons on the cover was not her idea of learning about the world. Not that they’d encountered anything like that so far, other than the threat written in blood.

Britta recalled from watching Dad’s stream that his party had been unable to see very far with their torches, so it had felt like they could have been in a maze with no idea what was up ahead. She had her light turned up to maximum, which revealed the walls on either side and quite a lot of the tunnel, which was long and straight. There were no turnings, although it did feel like they were on a bit of slope.

“I don’t see how they got lost if it stays like this,” said Owen.

“Obviously, it doesn’t,” said MrKappa. “Or they got captured or fell into a trap. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security by the banality of dull dungeon design. Giant rock slimes could drop on our heads at any moment.”

Owen looked up at the roof of the tunnel, which was well-lit and devoid of any creepy-crawlies. “Wouldn’t we see them?”

“Camouflage. Magic. Trap doors. There are a lot of ways to hide in plain sight. Above... or below.”

Owen switched his attention to the ground, lifting his feet higher to see what he might be stepping on. The tunnel was just as empty as before MrKappa started talking about rock slimes (whatever they were), but even Britta was starting to get nervous. Where were the monsters?

“Did any of you watch the livestream?” asked Britta. She was leading, so she had to talk out of the side of her mouth. She daren’t turn around all the way as that was exactly when something would jump out at her.

“I watched a bit of it,” said MrKappa. “It was all a bit too dark for me. Couldn’t hardly see anything, to be honest. The guy filming it really needed to sort out his lighting.”

“Must be hard, though,” said Owen, “carrying a camera and a weapon. Tricky if you get into a fight.”

Britta was tempted to explain that Dad didn’t need a camera to film the action, but she didn’t want to act like she knew everything. Fortunately, MrKappa was happy to step in for her.

“He isn’t holding a camera, not a real one.”

“No? Then how’s he filming it?” said Owen.

“Same way they’re recording everything we see. He just gets to make his public.”

“They can see everything we see?” Owen seemed surprised by this rather obvious revelation.

“Of course. They got everything we’ve done on tape somewhere. Can’t pick your nose without them knowing about it.”

“Not in here, though,” said Gabba. “Right, B?”

“Um, I’m not sure. I think there might be something blocking them, that’s why they need us to go have a look.” Britta really didn’t like it when people assumed she had all the answers. If you weren’t careful, they’d end up expecting you to do their homework for them. “Is the group chat working?”

Everyone stopped to open their status screens and began talking gibberish at once.

“Hello, hello?”

“Testing, one, two, one two.”

“Can you hear me?”

It was hard to make out the difference between the voices next to you and the ones in your head, but there was a very slight delay that indicated it was working.

“What about contacting General Zevan?” said Britta.

“I’ll do it,” said Gabba. “Hello, General Zevan, calling General Zevan.” There was no response. “Looks like we’ve lost contact.”

Britta wasn’t surprised. “I’ve encountered a few minor glitches before, they weren’t a big deal. It’s like any computer program, mistakes creep in, sometimes.”

She was trying to remind them it was a game, and they weren’t in any real danger. The game, though, was in control of the world, and they were in a tunnel deep underground. The idea of glitches wasn’t very reassuring.

“Yeah, of course, nothing to worry about,” said MrKappa. “The other party are probably having a lovely time with no idea we’re looking for them.”

“But there are still monsters down here,” said Owen. “There has to be. What about that message on the wall?”

“Of course, of course,” said MrKappa. “Has to be something down here. Would be a very boring dungeon if there wasn’t.”

“No,” said Owen, “I mean that message on the wall.”

Everyone turned to look where he was pointing.

You will die screaming.

“I bet I won’t,” said MrKappa.

“Me neither,” said Owen.

“I bet you will,” said MrKappa.

“How much?” said Owen without missing a beat

“Huh?” said MrKappa.

“I’ll give you half my loot if I die screaming. I get half yours if I don’t.”

MrKappa stared at him for a long few seconds. “Are you hustling me? Are you seeing this? He’s trying the old shakedown. A hustler, hiding in plain sight. And I was worried about rock slimes.” He was acting outraged but also trying not to laugh.

Owen smiled. “Hey, if you’re scared of losing, you don’t have to—arrgghh.” He screamed and jumped back, his hand raised, pointing at the wall again.

There was another line that hadn’t been there before.

I’ll take that bet.




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