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Preface from Mooderino

Bitter 531

No one said anything as Britta walked into the Magic Institute. They were all too shocked and watched her go in with their mouths hanging open. It was hard for Britta to not smile, but it was the sort of thing Dad would do, which was enough to stop her.

As she entered the gap in the doorway, through which she couldn’t really see anything, a voice called out from behind her.

“Mathter! Mathter! Wait for me.”

She turned in the doorway as Stan came running up. He was bent over and his face was dirty, like he’d smeared mud all over himself. “Mathter, mathter, don’t be forgetting poor, faithful Thtan.” It was hard to understand him because he was speaking with a ridiculous lisp.

“What’s with the voice?” said Britta.

“I’m playing the idiot servant,” Stan muttered under his breath as he reached her.

“You could have used your normal voice for that,” said Britta.

Stan almost broke out of character, but managed to stay hunched over in grovelling mode.

“Who’s that?” said a voice from beyond the door.

Britta gave Stan another look and shook her head. She would probably regret it, but he had put quite a lot of effort into his character.

“My manservant,” she said with a sigh. “He’s useless, but I promised his mother I wouldn’t let him starve to death. I have to take him everywhere or he starts wetting himself and crying.”

There was a pause and then the door opened a little bit wider so they could both come in. The watching players had started muttering now and would probably all try to wangle an invite. Britta hurried inside with Stan on her heels.

The door closed behind them, and it took a moment for Britta’s eyes to adjust to the gloom. Just as they did, a ball of light appeared making her wince and squint.

It was a magic light, that much was obvious, shaped into a ball and floating over a short man. He was dressed in a brown robe with a leather belt which had a buckle that seemed unnecessarily large. It was big and square and had an emblem on it shaped like a wolf’s head howling.

“Let me see the letter,” said the man. There were no introductions, no welcome of any kind. His manner was brusque and officious, like someone working in the post office who couldn’t believe you were wasting his time with your nonsense.

Britta held up the letter.

“Give it here,” he said. “I’ll have to show it to the Dean’s secretary. They don’t like it if you bother them over nothing.”

Britta hesitated. “I’m supposed to deliver it personally,” she reiterated. This could still be a trick.

They were in a small room with only a couple of chairs in it and a battered desk in the corner, and a door presumably leading into the actual Institute.

The other door had a similar hole in it with a face watching them. “Hurry up, then,” said the face in the hole.” How many of these doors were there?

“I can’t just give it to you,” said Britta. “There might be a curse or something on it. The gnome wizard was very clear, I don’t want to get into any trouble.”

“We’re just following normal protocol,” said the man in front of her, the ball of light bobbing around over him. He looked like a low-level staffer, but he was presumably a mage of some sort.

Britta didn’t want to waste time arguing over who got to deliver the letter. If the game was going to insist she hand it over, there wasn’t much she could do about it.

“I’ll give it to you, but I’ll need a receipt,” she said. “So I can prove I did my part.”

Just because this was a medieval fantasy world didn’t mean they couldn’t provide basic services.

The man frowned. “I suppose…” He turned around and went to the desk. He got out a piece of paper and a pencil and wrote quickly. He handed her the paper when he’d finished.

It was complete gibberish, squiggles and scratches — presumably the local language, designed by devs too lazy to actually come up with something readable. She showed it to Stan who was watching with interest and also drooling slightly. He was committing to his role to an unnecessary degree. He reached to take it from her, but Britta snatched it out of his grasp. He would probably try to eat it to prove how method he was.

“Can you sign it?” she said to the man.

The man rolled his eyes and took the paper back. He signed it with what looked like a drawing of a mountain range, and then he handed it back. “Satisfied?”

“This is your name?”

“Keith the Door Mage, that’s me. That’s on official Institute notepaper.” There was a wolf’s head in the top corner. “Letter?”

“Okay.” She gave him the letter.

He held the envelope up to the light and shook it. He didn’t look satisfied with whatever this told him. “You two wait here,” he said. “I’ll be back in a minute.”

The other door opened and he left. Britta sat down on one of the chairs.

“That went well,” said Stan. “Thanks for letting me come with you. I was just curious to see what it was like in here.” 

The room they were in didn’t really tell them anything about the magic school. Hogwarts it was not.

Stan sat down next to her and took out a notebook from a small pouch on his belt. The book looked far too big too fit in there.

“Is that a magic bag?” Britta asked him.

“Yep. They don’t make them this small anymore. Got it from a quest back in closed beta.” He was writing as he spoke.

“What are you writing?”

“Just taking notes, jotting down ideas. If you’re right about this whole NPC getting-to-know-you business — and I’m pretty sure you are — it means the new player experience is a lot better than I’d assumed. Anyone starting out later than the rest of us could easily catch up if they’re good at interacting with the locals. That’s going to be a big selling point.”

He was right. The biggest complaint from people who didn’t have the game was that by the time they were allowed in, the current players would be too far ahead and make it unfair in any competitive areas. This system made it much harder for anyone to get too far ahead, and gave newbies a chance to catch up without competing for kills.

“How many players do you have in your rebellion?”

Stan gave her a sharp look and put a finger to his lips. “Keep it down, I’m incognito.”

“The game already knows who you are,” said Britta.

“Doesn’t work like that. These people don’t know. And we’re about a thousand strong; growing every day.”

A thousand people out of four million players wasn’t a lot.

“What about the Empire? How many do they have?”

“I don’t know, a few hundred thousand? Most people are undecided, though. It’s the independents who are in the majority. We’re going to have them rushing through our doors once they find out we have the inside track.”

Britta was unconvinced. It made a lot more sense to stay independent and make your own way.

The door opened again and the man returned, this time with two other similarly dressed men.

“Where’s it gone? Where’s the letter?” He was very upset.

“What do you mean?” said Britta.

“The letter. I went all the way to the office and it wasn’t there. I looked a right fool. What did you do with it?”


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Afterword from Mooderino
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