Bitter 80

Britta had summoned Donald in order to ride him away from trouble. Donald had other ideas. Not that Britta minded. If he wanted to take on the goblin, he was welcome to do so.

She had seen what he could do when he got the huff with people. Especially people who wanted to put him on the menu. A rusty old sword wouldn’t be of much help when Donald was in this mood.

The goblin didn’t seem to care that there was a goat charging at it. It charged right back, running at Donald with sword aloft. The two met in the middle and the number eight pinged up into the air as the goblin went flying. It didn’t just get knocked down, it was launched into the air, sailing away with a diminishing scream.

Donald skidded to a stop and watched his handiwork, head poised like he was admiring a job well done.

The goblin hit the ground with a thud. The number two floated up from where it landed.

Britta walked up to Donald and patted him on the back. For a creature that didn’t actually exist, she was growing very fond of her temperamental ride.

“Did you know he would do that?” said Dad’s voice.

“No,” said Britta. “He doesn’t like it when people call him dinner.”

“It isn’t possible for the goat to understand what’s said to it,” said Dr Reedy. “It doesn’t work like that.”

“It might not be supposed to work like that,” said Britta. “But it does. Maybe the person in charge of programming your game has been putting in stuff without telling you.”

There was a pause. “There isn’t anyone who could do that,” said Dr Reedy. “There are dozens of people coding the different areas of the game. No one person has access to everything, and even if they did, they wouldn’t have the time to rewrite so much of it. Or a reason to do it.”

Britta got onto Donald’s back and rode towards the goblin. She assumed he had to be dead, so she was surprised when he suddenly stood up.

Donald lowered his head, preparing to charge again. The goblin looked unsteady on its feet, looking around dazed. Then it saw Donald coming towards it and let out another scream as it ran away.

Goblins, it turned out, were very fast runners. It quickly disappeared. It may have jumped down a hole or hidden somewhere, but there was no sign of it and Donald stopped. Even from the goat’s back, Britta couldn’t see well enough over the tall grass and scrub to see where it had gone.

“Can you see the goblin on your screens?” She assumed they knew where everything was even if it was hidden from her.

“It...disappeared,” said Dr Reedy.

“Can’t your computer tell where it’s hiding?” Now that she had the upper hand, she was sure she could get the goblin to talk. There was bound to be more strange stuff it would be able to tell her. Stuff that wasn’t supposed to be in the game. Proving Dr Reedy wrong was almost more entertaining than the game itself.

“It didn’t just disappear from view, it isn’t on the system anymore. We didn’t create it.”

“Then who did?” asked Britta.

“I think we should bring you out,” said Dr Reedy, not answering Britta’s question.

“Don’t you want to see more? I think the Great Gnome will really surprise you. Shame we aren’t closer.”

“Yes, I’m sorry about the... glitch. There’s something else we’d like you to try, if you don’t mind. These abnormalities seem to only affect you, or your character. We’d like you to create a new character, and see if the same thing happens.”

“Okay.” Britta didn’t mind, in fact she was quite curious how it would feel not to be a completely useless illusionist. Perhaps a fighter with huge muscles and a big weapon. Or an archer who could fight from far away. “Can I keep my goat?”

“No, it will be an entirely fresh start. Don’t worry, the goat will still be here when you get back.”

That was encouraging. They were willing to let her keep the character. Did that mean they would let her keep playing? She tried not to get too hopeful.

“Oh, that’s strange,” said Dr Reedy. “It says you’re still in combat. Can you see anyone close by?”

Britta had stopped at a shrub which Donald was methodically demolishing one bite at a time. She looked around. “No, I can’t see any—”

There was a shout and the goblin came running out of the brush, followed by dozens more.

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