Bitter 530

“Hey, that’s not fair,” said Britta. “Where’s my five experience points?” She checked her own screen to make sure she hadn’t received any new XP. It was exactly the same.

“I guess you didn’t put in the performance required,” said Stan. “Now, what’s this do?” He poked something off to the right of his screen. “What the—” He stumbled back a couple of steps.

“What? What?” It was frustrating not being able to see whatever had appeared on his screen. “Is it more experience points?” She would be writing a strongly worded letter to APE if it was. Just because she was a special case didn’t mean they should stop her getting the XP she deserved, not when everyone else was getting some. It was probably a bug.

“It’s beautiful,” said Stan, looking around and up and behind.

“What is? Hey? Snap out of it.” She grabbed him by the bottom of his shirt, which was as high as she could reach, and shook him.

“Hmm? Sorry.” He grabbed her by the arm and guided her towards an alley where there weren’t so many people. “It’s like the skill tree, only much, much bigger. It shows your relationship to different NPCs. Most of its greyed out, but there are hundreds of them, thousands… too many to count. I don’t fully understand what it all means, but it’s clearly a whole new level of engagement with the game we need to participate in. This is why the game forced everyone to slow down and struggle against monsters. We’re supposed to integrate ourselves into the world first. It’s so lucky I stumbled onto this… this changes everything.”

“Congratulations,” said Britta. “Stumbling onto it all by yourself, quite an accomplishment. However did you manage to do it?”

“Alright, alright, you stumbled onto it. Is there any reason to point out that you hold the key to this world? I think we can take it for granted that you’re special.”

“Not sure where you get that idea from. If I’m so special shouldn’t I be the one getting the bonus XP?”

“Yes. Sorry. Thank you.” He looked around again. “It’s amazing. Are you sure you don’t have something like this?”

“No, I don’t think so.” If anyone should have access to a secret user interface showing relationships with NPCs, it should be her. If she had received 5 XP every time she’d had a conversation with an NPC, she’d be Level 100 by now.

“It makes so much sense now,” said Stan. “We were never supposed to go running into dungeons to play the hero. You have to become part of the world first.”

“I’m surprised they didn’t tell you that,” said Britta. “You are the rebel leader, after all. Aren’t you supposed to be guiding the players under your command?”

“Ah, yes, well that might be my own fault. I asked them not to tell me too much about how I was supposed to meet my objectives. Thought it would make for more of a challenge. Didn’t really expect it to be quite so hardcore. But we’ve cracked it now. I mean, it still won’t be easy, obviously, but at least I can give my people something to aim for. Might even be quite fun.”

His excitement was bubbling over. After spending days and weeks trying to find a way to level up his rebels without getting them killed and constantly de-levelled, he had a new approach, all thanks to Britta. Special, unrewarded Britta.

“I can’t wait to get started. If no one else knows about it, we could get a huge head start on everyone.”

“Not the Chinese,” said Britta.

“No, but they aren’t part of the Empire, so I’m not that worried. If they want to go on a killing spree in the depths of the most dangerous dungeons, good luck to them. Me and my thousands of NPC friends will be more than a match for them.”

“Thousands of NPC friends?” said Britta. “Isn’t it more like one?”

“We all have to start from somewhere,” said Stan. “The important thing is now I know what to do. And I even have a map to show me where I need to get to.” He looked around again. The awe and wonder on his face was starting to irritate her.

“Great. Well, have fun.” She walked out of the alley. The line outside the Magic Institute hadn’t moved, the same people were in the same places.

She had the letter she was supposed to deliver. It was a quest, so it should net her some XP, unless she really was bugged.

She walked to the head of the queue with everyone watching her. They didn’t seem to mind. Actually, they looked amused. As she neared the front, there was giggling and excited whispering. What did they think was going to happen?

The door to the Institute was huge, at least it was compared to Britta. She couldn’t even reach the knocker.

“Let me,” said Stan. He pulled the iron ring back and smashed it against the plate underneath it twice. “I assume you know what you’re doing.” His words didn’t match the look on his face.

The queue went silent. A flap opened next to the knocker.

“What do you—” a voice began to shout.

“Not me,” said Stan. “Her.” He pointed down at Britta.

The man behind the door peered down from the opening. Britta took a step back so she was in his line of sight.

“Hello. I have a—”

“Can’t you read? It clearly says applications aren’t open for another two days.”

“Yes, but—”

“You know what you’ve done, don’t you? You’ve only gone and got yourself disqualified from applying. How do you like that?”

There was much tittering in the queue.

“I don’t mind,” said Britta.

Everyone went quiet.

“You don’t mind? You don’t mind? You think I’m joking, do you?”

“No,” said Britta. “I’m not here to apply for anything. I’ve got a letter for the Dean.” She waved the letter over her head.

“Give it here, I’ll give it to him.”

“I’m supposed to deliver to him personally,” said Britta. There was bound to be some kind of reward for delivering the letter. It was a classic RPG quest. She had no intention of missing out again.

“Who’s if from,” said the gatekeeper.

“Oh, it’s from a wizard.” She realised she didn’t have a name to give him, which was a bit awkward.

“That it? A wizard?”

“A gnome wizard,” said Britta.

There was a gasp from behind the door. “You’re sure? A gnome. A gnome wizard?”

“Yes. I think I know what a gnome looks like.”

“It’s arrived,” the voice shouted to someone else behind the door. “The letter, it came. Yes! It’s really from him.”

The door began to open. The queue watched dumbfounded. Britta did her best not to gloat. She was more interested in why the mention of a gnome wizard had got the reaction it had. Technically, she was a gnome wizard. No one ever got this excited when she turned up anywhere.

“You better come in,” said the man once the door was ajar.

Well, it wasn’t her they wanted to see, but she was looking forward to completing the quest and getting something in return. She headed inside.

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