Bitter 533

“It’s basically a list of insults,” said Stan. “He’s letting the Institute know he’s right and they’re wrong, and there’s nothing they can do to him while he’s safe among the gnome people. That’s the clean version.”

“What happened to your manservant?” said Keith. “He’s acting all different.”

“It’s a medical condition, he goes through phases,” said Britta. “He’ll get hungry in  a minute and then fall asleep.” She wasn’t sure if what she was describing was an actual medical condition, but it was what happened to her Uncle Danny every Christmas so she was confident it would sound plausible.

“Boy oh boy,” said Stan, whistling through his teeth. “This gnome wizard really isn’t happy with you lot, is he? It’s not my fault you can’t see what’s plainly right in front of your pox-riddled, fetid faces. I will not be party to your gross stupidity, nor will I associate my good name with your inane attempts to kiss the Empire’s... Pretty much goes on like that for two sides.  You can stick your key right up your...  you get the idea.” Stan turned the page over. “Actually, it gets worse on this side… weasel-faced chipmunk… I’m not sure that would still be a chipmunk.”

“Who’s the weasel-faced chipmunk?” said Britta.

The door flew open and a large woman with a face that was pinched in the middle but with puffy cheeks and a double-chin walked in.

“What’s going on here? Where is he?” she boomed.

“Dean, please, you have to rest,” said the assistant dean.

“The key, did he bring the key?”

“No, Dean.”

“But the compulsion spell…” said the dean. “How was he able to resist?”

“He sent this gnome girl to deliver a letter in his stead,” said the assistant dean glaring at Britta like it was all her fault.

“Very clever,” said the dean. “Let me see.”

“I don’t think that would be wise, Dean.”

She snatched the letter from Stan and read it, turning it over multiple times as though she was sure there were several more pages.

“Ridiculous!” she shouted and threw the paper back at Britta. “We’ve already delayed the start of term for three days, how much longer? Keith, go outside and change the sign to five days.”

“They won’t be happy,” said Keith.

“If anyone asks, you accidentally put the number in upside down.”

Currently, it said applications would be open in 2 days. If you turned the 2 upside down, it would look a bit like a 5. It was a bit of a stretch, though.

“We can’t function without books,” said the dean. “That little runt is going to give me the key whether he wants to or not. If he’s going to keep our key, then we’ll keep his gnome. Lock them up!”

Britta had caught the letter when the dean threw it back at her, slicing through the air. She had delivered it to the dean of the Institute for Magic, so her quest should have completed. There was no pop-up message congratulating her. The quest had to be bugged. Either the quest was, or she was.

“You can’t lock me up,” she said. “This has nothing to do with me, I’m just the messenger. I was passing on the letter as a favour.”

“You are now a prisoner of the Institute,” said the assistant dean.

Britta had half-expected something like this. She had entered the Institute knowing full well that the chances of her delivering the letter, receiving a reward, and then leaving again were slim. The game would try to complicate things as it always did. It was the most basic way to make a game feel like it was complex, you put five steps in where only one was really needed and made the players run back and forth between them.

“I can’t stay,” said Britta. “I have an appointment.”

“You will remain here until your master sees sense,” said the dean.

“But he’ll never see sense,” said Britta.

“Then you will stay here forever.”

Britta had her Teleport spell as a last resort. It would take her back to the Church of Stan Lee and she would be able to go about her business, her quest incomplete and not even 5 XP to show for her trouble.

She sighed and grabbed the bottom of Stan’s jacket; might as well take him with her, he’d only whine if she didn’t. She made the requisite hand gesture to cast the spell but nothing happened.

“Oh, you think you can use magic to escape?” said the dean. “You don’t use magic against us, my little messenger. We invented magic.” She looked smug and fully confident in her ability to get Britta to do what she wanted.

Britta checked her status screen. All her spells were greyed out.

“I’ll hold them off,” said Stan, stepping in front of her. “You make a break for it.”

If she couldn’t use magic, presumably neither could they. There were more of them, but Stan was bigger and fitter. The men were all waiting for someone else to attack first.

Britta made a break for the door and tugged on the handle, but it was locked.

“It won’t open. I’ve got someone coming round in a minute, is it alright if I leave you here and come back later?”

Stan looked over his shoulder and nodded.

“Dean,” said Britta, “you’re being very unreasonable and I don’t intend to put up with it. You can’t lock up people because you feel like it. I’m sorry, but it’s not my fault he thinks you’re a weasel-faced chipmunk. I’m leaving.” Britta logged out.

The game couldn’t actually keep her imprisoned. Well, it could, but it wouldn’t. Britta could log out any time she wanted. She just wasn’t sure what she’d find when she logged back in.

She could worry about that later. Her French tutor was due any moment and she had to set up the dining room. She rose from her bed and put away the Anderson cradle and went downstairs.

The lesson went well and the teacher praised Britta’s French. Her accent had improved a lot and she was much quicker with her answers. She didn’t have to think through the translation, she was starting to respond instinctively.

After the tutor left, Britta had dinner with Mum. Dad was still in-game and there was no way to know how long he’d be. Both of them were used to it.

She went back upstairs to sort out the rest of her homework, most of which she’d already done at school.

There was no reason to go back into the game for another forty-eight hours, but she was curious how the game had handled her sudden disappearance. The NPCs were usually given a reason for what had happened to the character to make them vanish.

She decided she would have a quick look and logged in.

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