Bitter 588

Rick didn’t bother Britta for the rest of the week. Whether he had finally seen sense or if he was holed up somewhere planning his next move, Britta didn’t really care. As long as he left her alone, she was fine with it.

She was careful not to get carried away. Even if her more aggressive approach had done the trick, she had no doubt the effectiveness would fade over time. And it was just as likely to provoke him to greater levels of stupidity. The thing about standing up to bullies was that they sooner of later realised you had made them look bad, and other people looking down on them was why they started bullying in the first place.

Rick wasn’t exactly a bully, but he had similar tendencies. He wasn’t going to leave Britta alone if he truly believed her gnome wizard was the key to whatever it was he wanted from the game.

She should have just reported him and been done with it, but she was reluctant to go that far. Why did she care what happened to him? She hoped she wouldn’t end up in trouble if APE found out she had admitted she worked for them, but it wasn’t like she’d told him anything he didn’t already know.

“Why can’t everyone just leave me alone?” she ended up saying out loud without realising it.

“You are alone,” said Rashida, looking at Britta with mild concern. “I’m the only one here.” They were sitting at a table in the cafeteria, surrounded by other tables crowded with kids. “Do you want me to leave?”

“No, no, no. Sorry. Problems at home.” She stuffed her mouth full of food so she wouldn’t blurt out anything else.

The weekend finally arrived and levelling up seemed even more important now. If Rick, or anyone else, was going to try to impose themselves on Britta, her only two options were either to hide (which would quickly become tedious and restrictive) or to be an existence others couldn’t match. She was already on her way there, she just needed a push to get over the top. It wouldn’t be too hard with Lin’s help, and perhaps a small amount of assistance from L-15.

Britta stood outside the temple in Shangri-La, taking in the sights. She tended to log in at evening or night, so it was nice to see the world in full daylight. The city was full of life and bustle, and also smoke and relentless yelling. She was sure there was a volume setting somewhere, but she couldn’t seem to find it as she looked over her status screen.

“Good morning,” said Lin, appearing behind her as she exited the church. She looked different. Her clothes still looked basic and ordinary, but they seemed to hang in a totally different way to before.

“Good morning,” said Britta as she tried not to make it too obvious she was appraising Lin’s gear. “Is that a new outfit?”

“No, same as before, I just made some adjustment. I thought, if I’m going to be wearing these garments for a while, I might as tailor them to fit better.” She put her hands on her hips and twisted from side to side. “What do you think? Good?”

“Great. Did you level up your sewing skill?”

Lin smiled. “Yes. I’m all fingers and thumbs in the real world, but here I’m a bit of an expert.”

“Me too,” said Britta. “Does it make you any better at sewing in the real world? I tried but I couldn’t really see any difference.”

Lin laughed. “I tried, too. Still terrible. It would be nice if skills transferred like that.”

“Maybe they will, one day,” said L-15.

It took all Britta’s self-control not to jump when he suddenly appeared next to her. He was in the guise of a wise old man in colourful robes. He stroked his long white beard in a way that fit the stereotype.

“Maybe,” said Lin. She hadn’t shown the slightest reaction to his materialisation. “So, what is the plan for today?”

Britta had only told Lin that she intended to level-up her character in the Legendary World. She hadn’t said how she meant to go about it because she wasn’t sure herself. First, she had to contact L-15, and she had no obvious way to do that, but he had solved that problem without having to be asked. His interest in her had some advantages.

“I wanted to ask you a favour,” said Britta.

“Oh?” said L-15. “If I can be of service.” He bowed his head so that his beard nearly touched the ground.

Britta was counting on the AI thinking he could use this to his advantage. Maybe he could.

“I’m sure you can. I was hoping you would let us go in one of your dungeons, with one of your teams.”

“You are free to enter any dungeon you wish,” said L-15. “They are open to all. No level restrictions apply, here. Only your bravery limits you.”

“Yes, but I wanted to try it with one of your high-level teams. Level 30 plus. I’m curious how they operate in action.” 

A single, ornately long eyebrow rose on L-15’s elderly yet somehow youthful face. “You wish to join a party of elite players? At your level?”

“Uh-huh,” said Britta. She had expected some resistance. Lin also looked doubtful. “Just as observers is fine. Lin, I mean, Loreli can protect me from most things, and she’s more or less invulnerable, right?”

Lin shrugged. “I have no objection.”

L-15 put his hands together in prayer and breathed in through his nose. “And what is your true purpose? You wish to observe the strength of the players here?”

“Actually, I want to see how tough your dungeons are, and I doubt I can do that on my own. I’m willing to try if there’s no other option. I’ve seen what N-28 has to offer. I’d like to see your approach.”

Britta waited while L-15 thought it over. He was probably working out what benefit this might be to him. If there weren’t any, he would most likely reject her request. And if he agreed, that meant he had come up with some hidden purpose she needed to be wary of.

“There is a party embarking on a hazardous mission shortly, I could find a way to include you. The daughter of a powerful businessman and her friend seeking thrills for the day would not be considered so unusual. Such things happen occasionally.”

“Is it a high-level dungeon?” asked Britta.

“It is the second-hardest type we have,” said L-15.

“Sounds perfect,” said Britta.

“Very well. If you wait here, I will make the necessary arrangement.” He disappeared.

“Do you really want to just watch others fight?” asked Lin.

Britta smiled. “It isn’t the fighting I’m interested in.”

Britta wanted to level-up, but she didn’t want to have to kill to do it. But high-level monsters and NPCs were the only ones who could provide her with the XP she needed, and they didn’t dwell in the city. She had to go to them.

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