Lin opened her status screen and browsed through what the cash shop had to offer. “Hmmm, nothing really pleases me.”
“Just choose something plain and ugly,” said Britta. “Think of it as a disguise.”
It was odd talking to Lin as an equal. Britta would never have spoken to her like this in the real world, but here it seemed okay. Why was that?
Lin flicked through the pages of outfits you could buy for real money, her bottom lip sticking out. Britta would have thought shopping would be one of Lin’s superpowers, but she probably wasn’t used to this end of the market. The most expensive thing in the shop only cost a few hundred pounds. Small change to someone like Lin.
Britta opened the cash shop on her own screen to see what would be suitable.
“What about this one?” said Lin.
“I can’t see it,” said Britta.
“Of course. Second page, third from the right.”
Britta followed the directions to a gown with a multi-layered skirt.
“It looks a bit impractical,” said Britta.
“Yes, maybe,” said Lin. “It’s more the colour. A bit more subdued.”
“It says it’s champagne,” said Britta.
“It’s sort of brown.”
“Sort of brown with golden sparkles. How about first page, bottom row, first on the left? That’s more the kind of brown that’ll go unnoticed.”
Lin took a moment to find it. “Really? It looks like a sack with holes for arms and legs.”
“The colour goes really well with your eyes.”
Lin didn’t look convinced, but she agreed to try it. Along with a few others. A few moments later a delivery boy came charging into the church with a stack of packages. Followed by three more. They handed them to Lin and ran off.
Lin went into one of the small rooms to get changed. When she emerged, she was wearing her hessian sack dress. Somehow she looked even more eye-catching than before.
She had more skin showing, with her arms and legs exposed. And without the tightly fitting armour, her chest seemed to have doubled in size.
“I’m not a fan,” said Lin. “But if you think this would be better…” She turned around. The view from behind would get them followed everywhere they went.
“Maybe try one of the others?”
The third outfit she tried, a green and brown trousers and jacket ensemble, seemed to be the least objectionable for both party members. It didn’t fit her all that well, which helped.
When they finally emerged from the church, Lin attracted no looks from the passers-by. Her boring outfit made her look like a shapeless sack of potatoes.
“No one even knows I exist, now,” said Lin as she watched the town’s population go about their business.
“Perfect,” said Britta. She checked her status screen. “I’ve been here more than twelve minutes.”
“Oh, you’re going to log out?”
“Is that okay?” said Britta.
“No, that’s fine. However you want to do this is fine.” Lin looked disappointed, but she was keeping to her promise. Britta made the calls.
“Actually, before I log out, I just want to try visiting the Legendary World. I haven’t been there on my own yet.”
“Okay.” Lin’s eyes perked up, although her voice was calm and disinterested, like she didn’t really care. It was a good trick, if you couldn’t see her face.
Britta checked her save points and selected the Holy Temple, which was the save point in the city of Shangri-la. Lin did the same.
“Ready?” said Britta. This would be the first test to see if L-15 had anything nefarious waiting for Britta. Would she be able to come and go freely as she’d been promised?
“If anything strange happens,” said Lin, “if we get split up, just contact me on the party chat.”
Britta nodded. She logged out. It would be a lot easier to move around once she unlocked her unlimited Teleport ability, but first she wanted to know if there was going to be an issue. This was the perfect opportunity to find out.
Britta was prepared to find herself in some weird place, but she spawned inside a large temple. It was huge, small tiles of various shades of blue covered the floors, walls and ceiling. Only the columns were white, rising into a blue dome.
A flash of light to her left revealed Lin.
More flashes of light around her drew her attention. Every time they faded, a player appeared in the room. As soon as they materialised, they ran towards one of the numerous exits. There was a large open archway in every direction and nothing to suggest time was of the essence, but everyone seemed very keen to get going.
She turned to Lin. “Why are they all in a rush? Is something happening?”
“No, I don’t believe so,” said Lin. “Things just move quicker here.”
It had seemed a bit more frantic here compared to New World, but that was when she had watched from up in the Jade Palace. Down here the pace was almost breathless.
At least that meant people would be far too busy to bother with a small gnome wandering about. They had no interest in her now, that was for sure. Her fear that something might be waiting to pounce on her was unfounded, which was a relief. All that fretting over nothing.
“Let’s have a look outside,” said Britta.
Lin nodded and they turned towards the nearest exit. As they walked towards it, a large figure appeared in the doorway, nearly filling it. A warrior of some kind.
People began screaming and pointing, but whatever they were calling out, it was in Chinese.
“What are they saying?” said Britta.
“Demon beast,” said Lin, her hands on her weapons. “They are quite common here, but not usually in the city, and not usually this big.”
As the figure entered the temple, its face became visible, a mixture of gorilla and bull. People fled in all directions, panicking and yelling, pushing each other out of the way in their desperate attempt to get away. They needn’t have bothered. The demon headed directly for Britta at a steady pace, its hand behind its back.
“I think he may be here for you,” said Lin, drawing her swords with a smooth motion. She prepared to leap into action. “Don’t worry, I’ll—”
“You can put those away,” said Britta. “That isn’t a demon beast. That’s L-15.”
“It is?” Lin hesitated and looked more closely. “How can you tell?”
The demon beast paused. “Yes, how can you tell?” he said in a whispery voice.
“It is him!” Lin lowered her swords. “What are you doing?” Her voice was like the real world Lin’s, full of commanding certainty with an edge of dismissive superiority.
“I thought it would be interesting to see how the gnome would react to an overwhelming threat,” said the demon. “I wasn’t going to harm anyone. What gave me away?”
Britta shrugged. “You sort of moved like you. It’s a thing I’ve noticed about all the AI I’ve met. You all try to hold onto your mannerisms as much as possible so you can feel like you have a real personality. I don’t think it’s necessary, it’s not like we’re consistent with how we act, but I assume it makes you feel less insecure about not being human.”
The demon looked down on her without saying anything, snorted. “I see.” He transformed into his human form, an old man with a long beard, the armour changing into a flowing robe. “I wasn’t sure you would come back. You plan to tour the city?”
Britta checked her status screen. “I don’t have a lot of time. Maybe a quick look.”
“And you?” L-15 said to Lin. “You’re here as her guardian?”
“Something like that,” said Lin.
“May I join you?”
Britta looked the AI up and down, shaking her head. “Not dressed like that.”
“You’ll attract too much attention,” said Lin. “We prefer to be inconspicuous.”
“What should I wear?” asked L-15.
“Don’t worry,” said Lin. “I have just the outfit. It will go really well with your eyes.”
I'll be taking a break over Christmas so Bitter will return on Monday 7th January.Afterword from Mooderino