“I’m not a weirdo stalker,” Mitchell told the bartender at the Bouncing Octopus. The tavern was about twenty-minutes from Krim’s gate. That was about how long it had taken to walk to the bachelor party on Saturday. Wasn’t it?
All of Krim’s streets looked alike.
Maybe if he hadn’t been drinking, or traumatized down the fall down the deepest trash dumpster in the universe, he’d remember the bar’s name and how to get there.
Or if Charlie or Harmon were still answering his calls.
“I don’t care whether you’re a weirdo or not. Look around. It’s all weirdos.” The bartender waved a rag around the nearly-empty room.
Mitchell wiped a drop of stale ale off his face.
“She was blonde. Curly hair. Very pretty. Wore a white dress with an apron over it. She was nice to me.”
“First of all, waitresses are paid to be nice to you. Don’t take it personally. Second, no waitress would wear a white dress. Do you know what would take to keep that clean?” The bartender shook his head.
“She told me she’s into crystals.”
“Still doesn’t ring a bell.”
“Well, just in case I do find her, where can I buy a crystal?”
“No clue. “But we are hiring. Need a job?”
“I already have a job, a real job.”
The bartender scowled. “Are you trying to tell me that making people happy by serving them food and beverages is not a real job?” His voice had become low and menacing and Mitchell noticed a collection of bladed weapons hanging behind the bar next to a baseball bat studded with sharp metal spikes.
“Or maybe you’re saying something defamatory about the people who choose to make Krim their home?” the bartender continued in the same ominous tone.
The lone patron at the far end of the bar looked up, a giant of a warrior with a shaved head and a skull tattoo on his forehead. “That noob bothering you?” the giant asked.
“I’m just trying to find someone,” Mitchell said.
Runty stood up and took a step towards him.
For a second, Mitchell was paralized with fear. Then he backed up a step then turned to flee.
Runty grabbed him by the back of his collar and lifted him up.
Mitchell peed a little bit.
As he kicked his legs and tried to wriggle free, the bartender walked out from behind the bar and over to the door, opened it, and watched as Rusty threw Mitchell out into the street.
“And don’t come back,” Rusty growled as the bartender slammed the door shut.
Michell landed half on the sidewalk and half in the gutter, his hands in a fresh and steaming pile of manure, knees screaming in pain from the impact with the cobblestones.
He pushed himself onto the sidewalk and rolled to his side, moaning slightly. The pain was excruciating. He took a deep breath and gagged at the smell, then someone kicked him in the side and he threw up a little in his mouth.
People stepped over him, swearing that he was in the way. Finally, someone stopped, reached a hand down, and helped Mitchell to his feet.
“Norbert Hawking, at your service,” his savior said, slightly tipping the brim of his top hat. “I see that you an abecedarian in our fine world and I bid you welcome. It is the year 1500, a time of adventure and excitement, royalty, and passion. Perhaps I may interest you in some of my wares?”
“Unfortunately, the default kit lacks quite a bit when it comes to the necessities of life,” Norbert continued and opened up the right side of his duster as if he were about to flash him. Instead, Mithcell saw an assortment of small objects in tiny pockets sewn into the lining of Norbert’s coat.
“I’ve got flint lighters, I’ve got reading glasses, I’ve got soap, and I’ve got an honest-to-goodness flea repellent,” Norbert said, pointing out each item. “You can’t live on Krim without it. I’ve even got nail clippers.”
“I don’t live here,” said Mitchell. “I’m just looking for someone.” He brushed the manure off his hands then wiped them on his pants. “Do you know her? Blonde, curly hair, white dress, works as a waitress.”
“That descriptions sounds tolerably recognizable. But the woman I’m thinking of works as a seamstress, I believe. On Leadenhall Street.”
“What about crystals?” asked Mitchell. “I want to get her a present.”
Norbert rubbed his pointy beard. “Those are even rarer than your waitress, I’m afraid. You have to go on dangerous quests to find them. I myself have only been able to collect one, though I’ve resided here on Krim for nigh a decade.”
“Can I buy it from you?”
“I’m sure it would cost you more money than you have,” said Norbert. “Crystals are exceedingly out of the common on Krim. The mining industry just doesn’t exist here, I’m afraid.”
Mitchell unbuttoned his coat, reached under his shirt, and pulled out a small pouch. It had some with the outfit. He opened it and poured the coins in his palm. “I’ve got… ten gold coins and a bunch of silvers.”
Norbert chuckled and shook his head.
“Thanks anyway.” Mitchell bent slightly and rubbed his knee, then looked up at Norbert. “Why does everything hurt so much here? It’s worse than real life.” Mitchell caught himself. “I mean, regular life. You know what I mean.”
“Ah yes, I believe you are referring to the physical world, to meatspace, if you will.” Norbert stepped back and looked Mitchell up and down. “Well, the most obvious problem I see is that you have chosen an avatar that is very old. Let me guess… forty?”
Mitchell thought back to when he entered the Krim welcome area, when the greeter bot offered him a choice of avatars. Was age one of the options?
“You see, back in the 1500s, bodies age rapidly,” Norbert explained. “Skin wrinkles and sags. Hair falls out. Joints and bones ache in unceasing misery. Wounds heal slowly, if at all.I suggest, my good man, that when you next choose your avatar you opt for an apparent age of no more than 30 years.” Norbert bowed. “Until then, if you do not wish to avail yourself of any of my fine vendibles, I shall be off.”
Norbert turned and walked two steps away, then paused and glanced back. “And when you return home, be thankful for the conveniences of modern medicine!”
Mitchell leaned against the tavern wall and waited for the pain in his knees to subside. He’d seen old movies where people had been thrown out of bars, but they were able to get back up again. Maybe people used to be hardier? How could anyone live like this?
None of the pedestrians around him looked like they were in any pain.
Maybe there was a trick that only the locals knew about.
He should have asked Norbert. Mitchell pushed himself away from the wall. Norbert and his top hat were nowhere in sight.
But there was another tavern across the street, the Dirty Apple.