Bitter 477

“Are you alright?” asked MrKappa.

“You look a bit pale,” said Owen. “I mean, where you aren’t covered in hair.”

“I’m fine,” said Britta. She put her suspicions about Dad’s motives to one side. He was a gamer but he was still able to distinguish between what was important and what would get him in trouble with Mum. “I just got a message from one of the people we’re looking for.”

The other two registered mild surprised.

“You know one of them?” asked Owen. “A friend?” he added hopefully.

“How did they contact you?” said MrKappa. “I thought they couldn’t communicate with anyone.”

“He PM’d me. We can contact each other in here, can’t we? It’s just people on the outside.”

MrKappa shrugged. “I thought that was because we’re in the same party, so group chat still works. But it didn’t let us contact General Zevan, so maybe you’re right and it’s a localised thing. Something must be blocking our signal getting out.”

Owen nodded thoughtfully like he agreed. “Maybe we have to break a jamming device to get rid of the dampening field.”

“This isn’t a sci-fi game,” said MrKappa.

“Hmm,” said Owen, still nodding. “Maybe we need to break a magic crystal to get rid of the dampening spell.”

“That’s better,” said MrKappa. He turned to Britta. “So, who’s your contact? Can we trust them?”

Britta found herself hesitating, even though she didn’t mean to. “Ah, um, yes. I mean, it’s someone I know. He’s fine.”

“So a friend?” asked Owen again.

“Yes. We’re friendly. He won’t be a problem, I don’t think. We should probably still be careful, though. People sometimes act different when there’s loot up for grabs.”

MrKappa’s shoulders relaxed. He seemed to find her wariness reassuring. She was being a bit unfair to Dad, and now they would treat him a bit coldly when they met, but that was alright. Better than them walking into an ambush. Especially after what had happened with Gabba. Actually, cautiously was the best way to approach Dad if loot really was involved.

“Aren’t we here to rescue them?” said Owen.

“No. We’re here to find out what happened and report back,” said MrKappa. “And collect our reward.”

“Reward?” said Britta. “You know what we get if we complete the quest?”

It hadn’t been made clear what the prize was for finding the others, at least, not to her.

“Not exactly,” said MrKappa. “As Empire soldiers we get… commendations for completing a mission successfully.”

“He means medals,” said Owen. “They give us medals when we do something good. There’s over two hundred to collect. I’ve only got three so far, and they’re the ones everyone gets. Participation medals. He’s got eighteen already.”

“Thirteen,” corrected MrKapppa, but with a slight smug undercurrent of pride.

“Double figures, whatever it is.”

Now Britta understood the way the Empire worked. They appealed to the basest desire in people. They offered collectables. If Dad found out about this, he’d probably defect to their side immediately.

“I’ll send him a message back and ask him what’s going on. If we can find out what happened to them, we might not even have to meet up. We can go back and hand in the quest.” Britta looked up from her screen when there was no response. Neither of her recently acquired cohorts looked very keen on her suggestion. “What?”

“This BR thing we’ve got ourselves involved with,” said MrKappa, “there’s probably a prize.”

“Yes,” said Britta. “I’ll ask what it is. You can stay and fight for it, if you want.”

The two of them exchanged a look. They didn’t want to miss out on something good but they didn’t want to risk dying over nothing. Britta understood the dilemma. When you got to this sort of position in life, you stood to gain a lot from putting everything on the line. In real life, few people would take that kind of risk. Gamblers who bet everything rarely came out on top, and only ended up being cautionary tales for everyone else. But everyone wanted to be the person who threw caution to the wind and come away victorious.

Here, you could try it. Failure wasn’t so bad when your life was respawnable. Even if you lost all your money and XP, you could try again. The only problem was that this place was a bit too real. There was no point being reckless, you would only be making it harder for yourself next time. People wanted to win, and were willing to take risks, but they were still taking sensible precautions.

Britta smiled to herself. Sensible precautions in a world of dragons and demon dwarfs. She wrote Dad a PM. It said:

What’s going on? Why are you stuck down here? Is there a monster?

That seemed to cover her most immediate concerns. Then she rearranged it into bullet points.

1. What's going on?

2. What are you stuck down here?

3. Is there a monster?

That would be more likely to get her the answers she wanted without Dad going off on a tangent.

A reply arrived in a couple of seconds.

Can’t talk. The walls have ears. I’ll explain when I see you. Hurry.

She read out the message.

“Sounds like a trap,” said Owen.

“I don’t think so,” said Britta. Even in text form, she could tell Dad was being excited more than duplicitous.

“If you say so,” said MrKappa. “We’ll follow your lead.”

“Right,” said Owen.

She didn’t really know how to respond to a vote of confidence. She checked the map. The dots representing players weren’t labelled, there was just a list of names down the side, but there was only one person in the northeast corner.

“If we go round the side,” said Britta, “we should avoid bumping into anyone.”

“But if we can see them,” said MrKappa, looking at his own map, “they can see us.”

“I think they just saw us,” said Owen.

The dots that had been spread out around the map were now converging. On them.

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