Bitter 507

The soldiers’ hut was long and thin, with big empty windows revealing the dark interior. There didn’t seem to be much inside, she could just about make out table and chairs.

They were dressed like the soldiers she’d encountered earlier. Their armour looked scuffed and worn, their apathetic faces not changing as Britta walked towards them.

“Hello, I’d like to go into the city, please.” She tried to sound clear and confident. She’d been practising in her head as she approached.

“Class and level,” said one of the soldiers like he couldn’t care less.

Britta noticed Lavazza had come along with her, hanging back but close enough to observe her application being rejected.

“Um, I’d rather keep that private.”

The soldier gave her an irritated look. “Do you have a guild card?”

“Oh, yes. Here.” She gave him her card for the Adventurers’ Guild.

He took it, read it, then handed it back. “Fine. What business do you have in the city?”

“I have a letter to deliver to Mendel Jenkins. He’s the dean of the Institute for Magic Studies.”

“I know who he is,” said the guard, even more irritated. “Let me see the letter.” Some of the other guards came over, curious to see a player with papers to show them.

Britta went through her bag until she found the letter the gnome wizard had given her. She was hesitant about giving it to the soldier, but what was he going to do? Run off and deliver it for her?

The soldier inspected the envelope. It wasn’t stuck down, but he didn’t bother to open it. He handed it back.


“I can go across the bridge?” she asked him, just to be sure. He nodded. That was easy, thought Britta. She turned to enter the city.

“Wait!” shouted Lavazza, running up. “I’m with her. We’re in the same party.”

She looked at him, not sure what to say.

“Is he in your party?” asked the soldier.

Lavazza’s eager face nodded at her, like that would convince her to say yes.

The soldier waited for a response.

“I can take anyone I want in with me, can I?” Britta asked him.

“If they’re in your party,” said the soldier. “You’ll be responsible for them, and for their actions.”

Britta didn’t like the sound of that. If she vouched for someone and they turned out to be an idiot — and chances were always high for that to be the case — then she would be held accountable. Britta had no idea what that entailed, but consequences were rarely a positive thing to have to face.

“Send me a party invite,” said Lavazza under his breath. “I will totally owe you one.”

On the other hand, if she refused, she would be making an enemy. It would be an unfair and unjustified reaction, but a more than likely one. This player would act like she had betrayed him and do everything he could to make her life a misery, assuming he got the chance. Would he get the chance? It was hard to say. Even if he wasn’t able to, the possibility was enough to unsettle Britta’s stomach. She really should have ignored the camp and snuck into the city unseen by any other players.

Speaking of which, Britta’s successful dealings with the soldiers had continued attracted the attention of more players. They had noticed she hadn’t been rejected out of hand like they had, and were now wandering over to take a closer look.

“Actually, I wasn’t planning on grouping up with any—”

“Just one minute,” Lavazza said to the soldiers. “I need to confer with my party leader.” He pulled Britta to the side. “Look, this won’t cost you anything and you’ll be doing me a real favour. I don’t want to get dragged into this empire versus rebel nonsense, I just want to do my own thing, same as you. Let me go in with you, I’ll leave as soon as we’re inside. You’ll never hear from me again.”

It sounded reasonable, but then unreasonable people always did. “You heard what he said. I’m responsible for whoever I take in. I don’t know you. I don’t know what you’re going to do.”

“I won’t do anything.” His voice had gone all high-pitched. “What do you take me for? I don’t want to cause any trouble. I’m a player, just like you. We should help each other when we can, right? Co-op, not PvP. I’d do the same for you.”

Britta was familiar with this approach to ‘friendship.’ Everything went one way with promises of favours being returned at some undisclosed point in the future.

Thinking about it in purely practical terms, there was definitely a risk of things going wrong, and not much of an upside. The basic question of What’s in it for me? was answered with a resounding Nothing!

The other players had gathered around them now and were discussing what was going on. There were a lot of requests for a summary of events so far. Apparently, the gnome was over Level 3 and had a quest that allowed her to enter the city. And she could take whoever she liked with her.

A debate raged about what class Britta was, based on her clothing. Rogue was the popular call.  And they were also curious about her quest A letter, someone said. A delivery, the easiest of all quests. There were groans of regret as people cursed their poor luck. Why couldn’t they have stumbled onto this quest instead of her?

The gossiping grew intense, and Britta didn’t want to end up at the centre of it. The idea of having dependents relying on her for safe passage was not an appealing one. Not only would anyone she chose be a potential liability, but everyone she didn’t choose would be a potential enemy. It was a lose-lose situation.

“Can I come?” said a girl. “I won’t cause you any trouble.”

“And me,” said a wiry man with long black hair. “I was here first.”

“Hey, hey, hey,” said Lavazza. “Everyone chill. This is B’s party, she gets to decide. It’s up to her, right? A full party is ten people, remember. Now, everyone line up so we can choose who to take with us.”

This was quickly getting out of hand.

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