Bitter 592

The keys on the table were on a large ring. The obvious way to get them would be to throw a hook on a line and reel them in. It might be a bit noisy, the keys jingling and bumping off the table and across the room, but the orcs seemed to be deeply asleep. It looked very much like a set-up, the game clearly indicating what you were supposed to do.

“Didn’t you bring any rope?” asked Kupa.

“Panda had some,” said Little Claw. She looked at the small pile of items, mainly clothes, left behind when Red Panda had deleted his character. There was a bow, some arrows, a few small pouches and a belt. No rope. “It should be here.”

“Why did he leave so quickly?” asked Britta her face pressed against the bars as she watched the team of experts go about their business.

“He isn’t very patient,” said Shop, who was rummaging through his own bag like a woman frantically searching for a purse in her handbag. “Sometimes it’s better to cut your losses than to waste time trying and trying and trying and then having to cut your losses anyway. You just have bigger losses that way.”

“But the keys are right there,” said Britta. “He could have at least tried once.”

“True,” said Little Claw. “He was a little hasty.”

“He’s usually good at spotting a lost cause. Probably the right decision,” said Shop. “Even if we get the keys, blue orcs are no joke. This is our first time here, so the best we can hope for is to collect information for the next run. It’s a big time investment for reconnaissance.”

“So he deleted his character?” said Britta. “That seems a bit extreme.”

“He didn’t want to delete his character,” said Kupa, who was going through his pockets and bags. He had a more casual air about him, like a man checking for change in front of a parking meter. “He thought he’d just log out and go do something else, but when he realised the body was soft-locked in place, he decided that rather than come back and face us he would prefer to start over.”

“He deleted his Level 30 character out of pride?” said Britta. Wasn’t that a little too ridiculous? He gave up all the hard work and time he’d put into raising his character because he’d be too embarrassed to face everyone after storming off and abandoning them to their fate.

“He was only Level 28,” said Little Claw. “He can make that back in a few days.”

Britta wanted to ask how that was possible, but she didn’t want to come across as too needy. Embarrassment was quite a strong influence on her, too.

“I’m Level 5,” said Britta, not really sure why she blurted it out.

“I’m Level 1,” said Lin. Britta couldn’t tell if she was saying it to make her feel better, or if they were now in a race to the bottom. The weakest person to win the group’s sympathy.

“Do either of you have any rope?” asked Shop, giving up on his own search.

Britta and Lin shook their heads.

“I have a long stick,” said Britta. She looked across the room at the keys. “Not that long, though.”

“Shouldn’t you have packed something as basic as rope?” asked Lin. Britta could tell she was trying to ask in a casual, inquisitive way, but it still came out sounding like an accusation of incompetence. She had one of those voices that made everything sound like it was cut from glass.

“Um, yeah,” said Britta, trying her best to deflect the cold looks away from Lin. “What would you do if you had to climb something? A rope and a grappling hook seems like…”

The looks were now directed at her. She hadn’t really thought her rescue attempt through.

“We don’t need ropes to climb,” said Little Claw.

Having seen Chinese players in action, jumping and somersaulting all over the place, Britta realised they could probably scale sheer surfaces like ninjas. Was there such a thing as Chinese ninjas? Probably something similar.

“Equipment is shared among the group,” said Shop, “so we have room to carry treasure. The bulk of the items we need right now were carried by people who died. Very unfortunate.”

The lack of rope between them was something of a problem. Like Convenient Local Shop had said, this was their first time here and they were mainly gathering intel. The first thing they had learned was that they needed a rope for next time. Or maybe a fishing rod.

“Looks like we’ve reached the end of our options,” said Kupa.

“Really?” said Britta. “You’re going to give up this easily? Are you going to delete your characters, too?”

If they really couldn’t do anything to escape, and logging out would only leave their characters imprisoned here until they returned, deletion appeared to be the only way out.

“No,” said Kupa. “We get the orcs to kill us. That way we resurrect at our last respawn point. Unless you can think of something.”

He was looking at Britta. Expectantly.

Was he exaggerating their shortcomings to get Britta to deal with it? Why ask her and not Lin? Then again, she was a whole four levels ahead of Lin.

Was he working with L-15, perhaps? Maybe he was L-15. She inspected him a little more closely. If it was L-15, he had learned to disguise himself better.

No, she was fairly sure he was a player. Something about the way he carried himself, too many little tics and twitches for an AI. Computers could calculate a lot very fast, but they couldn’t do it in several different directions at the same time.

“I have an idea,” said Lin.

The focus moved onto her. They looked more comfortable expecting a solution from the elf rather than the gnome. They were racist, Britta thought to herself.

“Can you pick up that bow,” said Lin to Little Claw.

Little Claw looked at Red Panda’s bow which had been set against the bars of the next cage. She reached across to grab it. “And the arrows?”

Lin shook her head. “No, that’s fine.”

Then she pulled her own bow from her back, placed an arrow on the string and released it, all in one fluid motion.

The arrow flew across the room and struck one of the orcs in the ear, right down the canal.

The orc roared with pain and jumped to his feet, knocking over the chair. The noise woke the other orc. Both glared at the cages.

Lin had returned the bow to her back even before the arrow had struck its target. She raised an empty hand and pointed at Little Claw, who was holding a bow.

They had said they would have to get the orcs to kill them. Lin had given them their chance.

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