Bitter 599

Britta ported-in facing Roddy. The orc shaman was standing in a large room with columns majestically rising behind her with an open balcony looking down on a vast landscape. Forests and fields spread out in every direction. This was the other side of the Legendary World. Not with smokestacks and industrious people hustling to make something of themselves, but the infinite variety of the natural world unconstrained by human activity.

Britta let go of Lin’s hand and took a step towards the view to be able to see the full panorama without the columns framing in on either side. They were definitely high up in a mountain (dead volcano).

Roddy coughed lightly and looked over Britta’s head. Britta turned around. The other part of the room was no less impressive, not like the roughly hewn caverns below. She was in a grand throne room, as was made clear by the large throne that took up most of the space in the middle.

Sitting on the throne was an orc. Not a giant orc with demonic qualities like she was expecting. This was a rather short, normal-looking orc. He was neatly dressed in a jacket with a high collar and baggy silk trousers.

He stood up while making a sucking sound with tongue and teeth. “Chik, chik, chik. From the way my dear Rodren spoke about you, I expected you to be taller.”

Britta considered saying the same thing back at him — he was only a little taller than Lin — but that might have been taken as confrontational, which might start things off on the wrong foot. Shorter men didn’t always appreciate being reminded of the fact. At least she wouldn’t have to crick her neck trying to talk to him.

“Did she not mention I’m a gnome?” said Britta.

“She did, she did. I just thought you’d be a bigger gnome.” He walked towards her, moving lightly and with an elegance that was surprising. He looked like an orc, the wide, flat features and the tusk-like teeth protruding from the corners of his mouth, but he seemed far better groomed and dressed, as you would expect of the guy in charge.

There was no one else here, no guards, no monsters to soften up his opponents. He probably didn’t need any help, certainly not in the current situation.

As he came closer, Britta felt a pressure being exerted on her, like she was underwater and was being pressed from all sides so her movements were slowed. She realised she had stopped breathing and had to force herself to start again. So this was what it was like to face a boss monster. She was glad she wasn’t actually fighting him.

Britta wasn’t sure of the etiquette. No one had ever told her how you were supposed to act when you met an insanely powerful orc overlord in a dungeon.

“Hello, I’m B. This is Lin. Nice to meet you.”

“Charmed, I’m sure. You may address me as ‘Your Grandness’. Tell me,” he said, polite and courteous, “is this all part of some elaborate ruse to bypass all the obstacles we’ve worked so hard to put in place? Avoid the sweat and toil of having to struggle through countless opponents and jump straight to the end?”

“Um, no, Your Grandness,” said Britta. “I don’t think that would do much good.”

“It’s been tried before, you know. There was one team of innovative adventurers who disguised themselves as orcs and thought they could simply stroll through the levels, acting like they belonged here. Used some fancy magic to appear like one of us. It was a good attempt but sadly, it didn’t work.”

“No?” said Britta. The idea did seem like a good one, if you were actually planning to come here to steal treasure or whatever. “What gave them away?”

“Their odour,” said the Grand Orc Demon. “They smelled disgusting. Nothing like the rich, musky scent a healthy orc would give off. Magic, it can be quite limiting if you start relying on it too much. Stunts your personal growth.”

Was that a dig about her size again? Britta decided she would have to be careful not to let him get under her skin. He was probably trying to provoke her on purpose.

“I never thought about the smell,” said Britta. “It’s the small details that make all the difference, isn’t it?” She turned around and took a couple of steps towards the shaman, who had remained standing at the back.

Britta went right up to her and then touched her hand. The shaman’s eyes narrowed and then widened as an exact copy appeared right next to her.

“What about this?” said Britta. “Can you tell by the smell?” She was actually curious if her spell had the same drawback.

The shaman leaned towards her doppelganger and sniffed. “Doesn’t smell of anything.”

The doppelganger sniffed her back, which made her lean away.

“Exactly,” said His Grandness. “You should really try to work in a scent or two. Use all five senses for the full effect. It really will be worth it.”

The copy vanished. “Thanks, I’ll work on it.”

“So, you didn’t come here to fight me for my Legendary Mace?”

“No,” said Britta. “I really didn’t.” There was no sign of a mace, or any weapon. He was completely unarmed. She wondered if this was his final form or if he transformed into something else when things turned violent. Boss fights tended to be multi-stage affairs, with the boss monster taking on various appearances and using a variety of attacks.

“You really came to discuss a new business model? Well, well. I should warn you, there are a lot of traditionalists in my organisation. They don’t like change.”

There was a small grunt from behind Britta.

“I mean, there are some who would support looking at new options,” said His Grandness, “but slowly, maybe a pilot project in one of our subsidiary dungeons first. If I understand correctly, you’re suggesting we reach out to the murderers and thieves who routinely attempt to plunder our home and ask them if they’d be interested in taking a certified training course or picking up a few items for us as part of a quest. Is that right?”

“Actually,” said Britta, “it worked quite well in the Korlath Mines. The kobolds—”

“Yes, yes, I did hear about that. Korlath is a rather small dungeon, though. Really, if you want to show what’s possible, you’d need to have a positive result in a much bigger concern.”

“You’re the second most difficult dungeon in Legendary World, aren’t you?” said Britta. “Surely if you—”

“Number two isn’t enough, I feel. You really need to convince the number one. Then, the others would take you seriously.”

He was rejecting her proposal, but his suggestion wasn’t a bad one.

“What is the number one dungeon?” she asked.

“Heaven’s Gate,” he said.

“Oh, the one in Shangri-La?”

“You’ve been there?” asked His Grandness, mildly surprised.

“No. I mean, L-15 showed me the door. I didn’t realise it was an actual dungeon. He said it was quite difficult to get in there. If I remember, I think he said no one had ever managed to enter.”

“Yes, it is a bit... tricky. The basic requirement is to be at least Level 100. What level are you, might I inquire?”

“Um, five.”

“Yes. You have some way to go, then.”

“Is there a boss of the dungeon?” asked Britta.

“Indeed. He’s the strongest monster there is. A dragon.”

“Oh,” said Britta. “I knew a dragon once. His name was Nigel”

The Grand Orc Demon looked shocked. “You know him?”

“Are you saying Nigel’s the final boss? I had no idea he was still here. Yes, I do know him. And I can teleport to anyone I know.”

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