Bitter 598

“Do you really believe you have anything to say to the Grand Demon?” asked the shaman, towering over Britta like a monument to doubt. Her attitude towards Britta wasn’t aggressive, though. It was more inquisitive, like she wasn’t really sure what to make of her. “You think he will listen to you?”

“I won’t know until I speak to him,” said Britta, her confidence already buoyed by not having her suggestion immediately rejected out of hand. “He can only say no.”

“Normally, I would consider you to be insane and have you killed as an act of mercy,” said the shaman. She tapped her large bottom lip with a long fingernail. “That may still be the best course of action.”

“You can always do that after I speak to the Grand Demon. He might like my idea.”

“He’s not a very reasonable demon.” The shaman grimaced like she couldn’t quite believe she was having to explain something so obvious. “He will most likely eat you.”

That didn’t sound reasonable, but Britta had found NPCs to be capable of more than a single mode of behaviour. The shaman in front of her was a case in point.

“So, will you ask him if he’ll see me?”

“That depends,” said the shaman. She bent down to get a closer look at Britta’s gnome face. “What is it that you’re going to tell him?”

The direct question plus the large porcine face bearing down on her added a level of pressure. Good practice, Britta told herself. The Grand Orc Demon would probably be even more intimidating. “Oh, well, you know, I just think the way this whole thing’s been set up isn’t particularly fair. It’s very biased towards the players.”

The shaman straightened up. “And you think that’s a bad thing?”

“I think fake realism isn’t realism at all,” said Britta. “You have to give everyone a chance to do better.”

“You want to give up your advantage?” A player who thought the Grand Orc Demon could be talked to and who didn’t value the benefit of being in a favourable position, it wasn’t what she had come to expect. “Peace and understanding?”

“I don’t think that it will ever come to that,” said Britta. “People enjoy fighting. They like getting stronger and facing harder challenges. It’s why they come here. You should be able to become stronger, too.”

The shaman snorted and shook her head like it was a crazy notion.

Britta sensed she was getting somewhere. “I think it would make more sense if you could choose who you fought with and who you fought against. You don’t have to kill every adventurer that comes here. You could train them or hire them or even team up with them.”

“And what difference would that make?” said the shaman. “Same business, different personnel, more overheads.”

“Instead of spending money to send fighters out to defend your dungeon, I mean, your home, you could charge the adventurers for specialised coaching or you could even send them out on quests on your behalf. You don’t have to always be the target. Think of it like… like alternative revenue streams.”

The shaman paused to consider. Britta was doing her best to put it in terms she would understand, she just hadn’t expected those terms to be economics. Good thing she’d been getting lessons from Mum on finance and business.

“I will… suggest it to the Grand Orc Demon,” said the shaman.

“You will?” said Britta, opening her status screen. “I mean, great. I just need to send you that invite.”

“But how?” asked Lin. She had been watching quietly but intently all this time. “They don’t appear on our lists.”

The system kept NPCs separate from players and treated each differently, but Britta knew it was possible to party with them because it had happened when she was sent into the Korlath mines. The NPC in charge had joined their party and even spoken to them over chat.

The problem was that the NPCs didn’t appear on player screens as clickable names so you could send them an invite like you could with players. Not usually.

“That’s true,” said Britta, “normally. But I noticed I have a list of people I can teleport to. Including NPCs I’ve spoken to. What’s your name, by the way?”

“Rodren, Shaman First Class of the Mighty Orc Legion.”

Britta scanned her screen. “Hmm. I can’t see it on the list.”

“It might be under Roddy.”

“Oh yes, here it is.” Britta tapped on the name and a small drop-down appeared. She sent an invite.

“I don’t think it’s supposed to work like that,” said Lin, but she was talking to herself more than anything.

“Okay,” said Britta. “That should be working now. Can you hear me on group chat?”

The shaman nodded. “Yes. Well, this should be interesting. I will ask the Grand Demon and get back to you. I don’t think it will work, you understand, but I am curious to see how he reacts. If you don’t hear from me again, I will have been eviscerated. I’m sure you’ll be able to see yourselves out. Wait here while I indulge this madness.” She looked at the two orcs standing by the door. “I will leave them here, for... appearances’ sake.”

Britta nodded. “Good luck.”

“Thank you.” The shaman walked to the exit, stopped, turned around looking mildly confused, and then regained her composure and left.

The two orcs relaxed a little when she left, leaning against the wall and blowing air out like they didn’t really want to be there.

“Sorry,” said Britta.

“S’okay,” said the orc nearest her. “We get time and a half for prisoner supervision.”

“You convinced her to help you,” said Lin. “I’m not sure how.”

“I just asked. She could have said no.”

“No, I think it’s more than that. She wanted to find another way. They aren’t happy with the way things are.”

“It is very unfair,” said Britta. “We get to win, and they get to delay us winning. I wouldn’t be very happy with things like that.”

“Yes, but they’re…” Lin looked over at the two large orcs standing guard over them. “They aren’t…”

“Real?” said Britta. “I don’t think they know that.”

“You know they’re watching us,” said Lin.

Britta looked at the orcs, who seemed a bit bored and not really paying attention.

“I mean them.” Lin tilted her head upwards. She was referring to the devs, and possibly others.

“Yes. But they must be wondering what will happen, too.”

They waited. There wasn’t much else to do.

“Hello?” said a voice over the group chat a few minutes later. “It’s me.”

“Hi,” said Britta. “Did he agree to see you?”

“I’ve already spoken to him. He wants to see you.”

“Great,” said Britta. “We’ll be there in a second.” She grabbed Lin’s hand and teleported.

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