Bitter 58

Britta watched the gryphon fly back up to its nest. Her wings spread like a canopy, blocking the light coming in from the hole at the top of the chamber and leaving Britta standing in shadow.

The gryphon swept upwards in circles around the pillar and then disappeared. Britta waited. And waited.

“She’s taking her time, isn’t she?” she said to Nigel.

“You can’t hurry a gryphon,” Nigel answered, as though it was a popular saying.

Britta checked the clock in the corner of her screen. She’d been in game for an hour and so far had managed to travel a few metres. At this rate, by the time she managed to get back to the surface she would have to log out. She was tempted to log out now and call it a day. Standing around waiting for a lift wasn’t fun.

There was a squawk and the snap of wings being extended. It sounded like someone flapping a wet brolly to get the water off. Britta was once again in shadow as the gryphon descended.

Finally! thought Britta.

The gryphon landed softly and twitched her head. “You are not the appropriate level for this quest.”

Britta was confused. “I’m not here to do the quest. You’re going to give me a ride to the surface, remember?”

The gryphon twitched again. “This is a Level 10 quest. You shouldn’t be here.”

Was this some kind of glitch? Britta turned to Nigel. “What happened? Is she broken?”

The Great Gnome smiled awkwardly. “Ah, we seem to be in some kind of grey area, here. My dear,” he said to the Gryphon, “as I explained, our young friend is a victim of poor timing and only wishes to leave, but can’t.”

“I gave you my egg,” added Britta.

The gryphon’s expression remained stern and unbending. “The egg quest is incomplete. Return when you are the appropriate level and try again.”

This was starting to get annoying. “I would return when I hit the appropriate level but to return I have to leave first, don’t I? Why can’t you get it into your bird brain that this isn’t my fault? The game designers messed up and now I’m stuck here.”

It was pointless arguing with a computer program. If the AI rejected her request for help, then that was that. Appealing to the gryphon’s decency and kindness wouldn’t do much good.

“Not my problem,” said the gryphon, which didn’t sound very much like a standard line. It sounded more like the gryphon was being an arse.

“If you’re not going to help me, then give me back my egg,” Britta demanded.

“You have not completed the egg quest. Return when you are the appropriate level.”

First, the stupid devs had forgotten to put in the Level 3 quest and stranded her inside a mountain, and now their creation had stolen her egg. It wasn’t a particularly useful item, and even if it contained a magical goose that laid golden eggs, Britta probably wouldn’t play the game long enough for it to become relevant, but still, it was annoying.

“Give me my egg.” The gryphon stared at her impassively. “You’re going to be a mother. Is this what you’re going to teach your children? How to lie and go back on your word?”

“I’m going to teach them to hunt and eat what they kill.” When she put it like that, Britta could see she wasn’t going to get far trying to guilt trip this mother the way she did her own.

The gryphon rotated its head to face towards the back of its body and stuck its beak under a golden wing, scratching and preening. Now it was ignoring her.

Britta turned to Nigel. “Aren’t you going to say something, oh Great Gnome in the Sky?”

Nigel shrugged and smiled apologetically.

“Fine. I’ll get it myself.” Britta walked over to the pillar and placed her small hands on it. She looked up its craggy surface to the crown of branches sticking out at the top. Light shone down making it hard to see, but it was clear the climb would be almost impossible. The rock had been worn smooth and there were few if any handholds. She turned back to Nigel.

“Wait, gnomes can levitate?”

“It’s a Level 5 ability,” said Nigel.

“So, you can levitate?”

“I’m Level 999,” he said proudly.

“Then why don’t you just levitate me out through that hole?” She pointed at the source of the light.

“It’s a Level 5 quest. You aren’t Level 5.”

“I’m not asking you to give me the quest, I’m asking you to carry me.”

The gnome thought about it. Would the AI let her have this?

“I suppose I could...”

“Okay, great. Let’s go.” She didn’t want to risk him changing his mind.

Nigel sighed. “This really is very irregular. I’m not sure—”

“This whole game is very irregular,” said Britta, quickly cutting him off. “I wouldn’t be asking if the quest had worked like it was supposed to.”

The Great Gnome stood there looking unsure of himself. Or possibly his decision was going through various algorithms and he was just buffering.

“I will use levitation to help you,” he said, snapping out of standby mode. “But I don’t think I should carry you. I don’t think it’s right for me to interfere directly.”

Britta wasn’t sure what he meant, so she waited, still hopeful he would help her. He hadn’t categorically said he wouldn’t.

“As a Level 999 illusionist—that’s the highest level—my levitation spell can levitate objects, including other people.”

“You can give me the spell?”

“No, no, I can’t do that,” Nigel protested, waving his hands at her. “That wouldn’t be right. But I can make you lighter than air. Temporarily.”

“Long enough for me to get up there?” She pointed upwards. Nigel nodded. “Let’s do it.”

The gryphon pulled her head out from beneath her wing and gave Nigel a disapproving look.

“You owe me an egg,” shouted Britta.

The gryphon flapped its wings, rising into the air. “You shouldn’t give away things you wish to keep,” she said, somewhat smugly. Then she shot upwards, past her nest and out of the hole.

“Beautiful plumage,” said Nigel.

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