Bitter 589

“What is this? Are we babysitters now?” The masked player was sitting on top of a pillar outside a cave entrance. The name on his tag was written in Chinese characters so Britta had no idea what it said. He was squatting like a frog up there, perfectly balanced.

“Be respectful and shut up,” said the tall man with the oversized sword. “Think of it as a quest. You’ll get a bonus reward if you don’t mess up like you usually do.”

Froggy moved the mask from the top of half of his face to the bottom so that his eyes were uncovered but now his mouth was hidden. It seemed an odd way to disguise yourself, but maybe that wasn’t the point of it. He did look pretty cool.

“Extra quest in this hell hole will get us wiped,” said Froggy.

“Speak for yourself,” said the girl on the pillar on the other side of the entrance. She was small but elegant, standing on one foot while the other was on top of her bent knee so she looked like she was sitting on an invisible chair. “If you don’t want the bonus reward I’ll happily take your share.”

At least Britta could understand what they were saying even though they weren’t speaking in English. Most of it was complaints about her and Lin being there, but that was okay. It was to be expected.

“Can we get started?” said Lin.

“As soon as the others arrive,” said Big Sword with forced civility. He was polite, but only just.

“So, who’s your father?” said a weaselly player with beady eyes that suited him. He was right up close to Lin’s shoulder, leaning in like they were having a very intimate conversation. “Someone important? Does he need reliable employees who are willing to go the full distance? In the shadows, under the table. The dirty work.” He looked at Lin with leering eyes.

“If he does,” said the girl on the pillar, “he won’t be needing a struggling nobody like you.”

“Ha!” said the weasel. “You know nothing, Little Claw. You are a child who is still innocent. I could change that for you, just give me your home address and I’ll be there tonight.” He leaned back towards Lin. “Maybe give me your number, too, eh? I could give you a few pointers.”

Lin frowned. “Do you want to die before we go into the dungeon?” She sounded genuinely curious, which made Britta smile.

“Oh, very funny,” said Weasel. “Look, your little rat friend is amused. Giggle, giggle, eh?” A long thin dagger appeared in his hand, which he used to pick his nose.

“Isn’t that a bit risky?” asked Britta. “A shove on the hilt would send the point into your brain.”

“Don’t worry,” said Little Claw from the top of the pillar. “You’d need exceptional aim considering the size of his brain.”

Weasel took out the blade and flicked what was on the end towards Britta. The big guy’s big sword slammed into the ground in front of Britta, shaking the ground and also preventing her being splattered by digitally produced snot.

“Watch yourself, Kupa. They’re not as simple as they look. This one has infinite health. You won’t harm her, and she will get you eventually.”

Kupa looked at the bow on Lin’s back. He seemed to be deciding if it was just for show. “What about the rat?”

“If you do anything to me, my father will speak to your father,” said Britta, trying to speak their language. “Your father wouldn’t enjoy that.” Technically, Britta felt what she said was true.

Kupa scowled. “Damn tourists.”

“Don’t call her a rat again,” said Lin. “My father and her father will join together to make your father cry tears of shame.”

“Maybe I don’t like my father,” said Kupa defiantly, although his voice wavered a little. He clearly didn’t like to be the one being mocked. “Just don’t get in our way.”

“Forgive my friend, Miss Loreli,” said Big Sword. “He gets a little nervous before battle. He doesn’t mean anything by it. But please, do remain away from the fighting and enjoy the show. Infinite health will keep you safe, but if you interrupt our teamwork, we could suffer serious injury.” He smiled politely.

Britta got the feeling he was far more dangerous than the weaselly Kupa. The type to kill those who got in his way and apologise very sincerely afterwards.

“Interesting bunch,” said Britta from the side of her mouth.

Lin nodded.

The rest of the party arrived a few minutes later. They had been getting their weapons and armour repaired in the nearby village. Gear maintenance wasn’t something Britta had to worry about. She never used any of her gear enough for it to need fixing.

“All here?” said Big Sword. “Good, then I shall make the introductions.”

He pointed at each party member, nine in all, and rattled off their names. She knew Kupa and Little Claw, and the froggy guy on the pillar was Carwash, although she may have misheard. The rest was a bit of a blur, but there were some animal names in there — tiger and butterfly — and some geographical terms — Blue Hill? Wet Cloud Mountain? It wasn’t easy to follow, so Britta didn’t bother. She could always ask Lin.

“And I am Convenient Local Shop,” said the big guy. Was the game trying to translate their names into English and just doing a bad job of it? “You may call me Shop.”

“Loreli,” said Lin with a short bow. “B.” She pointed at Britta. “Thank you for indulging us.”

The others bowed back. Britta wasn’t sure what to do, so she just stood back and did nothing. They didn’t seem to mind.

“Let’s go, then,” said Shop.

The party began to whoop and holler as they entered the cave, the two on the pillars jumping down with balletic grace.

Britta and Lin took up positions at the rear, with only Kupa behind them. Britta maybe should have been concerned about that, but she wasn’t. She was excited.

“This should be fun,” said Britta.

“Yes,” said Lin. “I wonder what the plan is.” She wasn’t looking at the rest of the party though, she was looking at Britta.

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