Month: May 2019

Spellcraft Chapter 54: Gathering Attention

“You’ve been drawing all sorts of interesting attention, my friend,” Trelor said, shaking his head behind his desk.

“I assume you’re talking about our complaints about the way the combat logout system can be exploited?” Keia said. “Because it’s bullshit that someone can torture someone like that and have it counted as combat.”

If her words were weapons then they would’ve taken Trelor’s head off. For a wonder, though, he merely shook his head from side to side and chuckled.

“Oh don’t you worry,” he said. “Someone’s going to be taking care of that soon enough. That’s not what I’m talking about though.”

“Then what are you talking about?” I asked.

My voice was a touch testy. I figured it was deserved. Every time I thought about being tortured in that back alley it got my blood boiling. Mostly at Horizon Dawn for doing it to me, but also at Lotus for putting me in the situation in the first place.

It was also sort of how I’d started thinking about what’d happened to Diana, though I hadn’t given voice to that thought. Horizon might be the ones who sent some sort of weird feedback through her earbuds to kill her, but Lotus were the ones who created the hardware that allowed that to happen in the first place.

But I knew I had to play it nice for now. Trelor was a man on the inside, and he seemed to be on our side for the moment. I wasn’t going to risk pissing him off too much.

“You’ll see when you get to the Auction House,” he said, a twinkle coming to his eyes as he glanced at the spot on his wrist where a watch would be if this wasn’t a pseudo-medieval fantasy setting. “You should probably go check that out. You’re pretty close to the twenty-four hour bidding period coming to an end, after all.”

My eyes narrowed. He was hinting at something. I’d be willing to bet good money that he had access to the auction system and could see what was happening, but I didn’t bother asking since I knew he wouldn’t tell me anything even if I did ask.

“I still have questions,” I said.

“And I’ll have answers,” Trelor said. “Well, I might have answers depending on what you ask. I’m deeply flattered that you decided to make my shop your first stop when you logged in today, but you really need to go to the Auction House.”

“And risk getting tortured all over again,” Kristoph grumbled.

“If you don’t like the current political situation in Nilbog then it might be a good idea to take steps to fix that situation so that it’s more in your favor, don’t you think?” Trelor asked, again with that twinkle in his eyes.

I held his gaze, and he winked. I sighed.

“We’re clearly not getting anything out of him until we get back from the Auction House,” I said.

“Whatever,” Keia said, walking across the room and pressing her finger to his nose. It was slightly amusing watching him go crosseyed in the face of her fury. “You get those assholes at your work to fix that thing about logging out, or else.”

“I’m on it!” he said. “I’ll write another email now.”

“You do that,” she said.

We stepped out of his shop and I did my usual check of the surroundings. It was something I’d been doing since last night when I’d learned the harsh lesson that everyone in this town was potentially out to get us, and I needed to avoid dropping my guard under any circumstances.

Unless, of course, I was with Keia and Kristoph. If I couldn’t trust them then life wasn’t worth living.

“That was productive,” Keia said.

“We had to do something to kill time while I waited for the auctions to finish,” I said with a shrug.

“Besides, watching you laying into him again was pretty funny,” Kristoph said. “I didn’t think anything would top that screaming session last night.”

Keia blushed as she no doubt relived some of the things she’d said to Trelor about how stupid it was to have a game system that didn’t let people log out during combat in a hyperrealistic game world where unscrupulous trolls could exploit the hell out of something that was nothing more than a minor annoyance in more abstracted games.

“C’mon,” I said. “Keep an eye out for Horizon Dawn.”

“As if I’d do anything else,” Kristoph said, his hand moving behind his back to his hammer.

“Likewise,” Keia said, her bow and arrow appearing in her hands and disappearing.

We moved through the Magic District, but we didn’t start seeing much in the way of Horizon Dawn people until we got to the town proper. Once we stepped into the circle and made our way to the Auction House we had Horizon Dawn people looking at us and chatting, but for a wonder they also left a healthy bubble around us.

“That’s weird,” Kristoph said.

“Not really,” Keia said. “The last time they got too close to us they got blown the fuck up. Would you want a repeat performance if you could avoid it?”

“Something tells me getting blown up isn’t going to stop Torian and company from going for a repeat performance,” I said.

“I still can’t believe you blew them up,” Keia said, shaking her head. “Like they were torturing you and your solution wasn’t to try and run or anything. Your solution was to kill yourself and take them with you.”

“What else was I supposed to do?” I asked. “They were trying to kill me! I figure if they were trying to kill me then the least I could do is take some of them with me.”

“The man has a point,” Kristoph said. “And as much as I hate to admit it, he sort of saved our asses from getting tortured too by taking one for the team. It’s not like we were going to be able to take them all out at once or anything.”

“He does have a good point,” she said, hitting me with a glance that said she didn’t like that I had a good point. “I’m not saying they didn’t deserve it. Just that I can’t believe you did it. Who thinks of killing themselves to take out their enemies?”

“Conlan thinks about that kind of stuff,” Kristoph said. “We’re gonna have to sit down sometime and I’ll tell you some of the crazy shit he’s pulled out of his ass to save the day.”

“I’m going to hold you to that,” she said. “Though we’re doing it in this town after we’ve kicked all the Horizon assholes out.”

“Deal,” Kristoph said. “My only regret this time around is I didn’t get to see the looks on their faces when they realized how fucked they were.”

“That’s your only regret?” I said. “Not that I was tortured for your amusement?”

“Well that weighs heavily on my heart too man,” Kristoph said. “But I think you’re seriously underestimating how much I would’ve liked to see the looks on their faces.”

I tried to look pissed off. I tried to look serious. I tried to look any number of ways, but I couldn’t help but grin as I thought back to Torian scrambling away from me knowing it was too late to save his ass.”

“Yeah, the look on Torian’s face when he realized what was happening was pretty fucking amazing. He looked like he was going to piss his plate.”

“I would’ve paid good money to see that,” Keia said with a giggle and a far off look that said she was having a hell of a good time imagining it.

“Oh yeah? How much are we talking?” I asked.

“Well that depends on who’s selling,” she said. “Like if it was anyone else I’d say a few hundred gold, but if you’re the one selling then I think I can come up with something way more interesting than money to get in your good graces.”

“I guess it’s our lucky day then,” I said, blushing even as I grinned and thought of some of the interesting ways she might come up with to convince me to show her footage from the stream that was always recording. You bet your ass I’d gone back and saved that. “Because I totally have a recording.”

“So let’s see it!” Keia said.

“I don’t think it’d be a good idea to do that just yet,” I said, glancing at our surroundings and picking out at least a few Horizon Dawn tabards in the crowds around us. “Broadcasting a video of me blowing up a bunch of Horizon Dawn people is likely to draw the wrong kind of attention right now.”

“Of course,” she said. “But you’re showing me later!”

“I wouldn’t dream of doing otherwise,” I said. “The last thing I want is to take an arrow to the knee.”

“I don’t know about that,” she said. “I don’t do arrows to the knee. Just ask Torian. Though if you’re pulling off crazy shit like suicide bombings with magical gems then I’m kind of nervous about even attempting to threaten you.”

“All in a days work,” I said. “Now if only Horizon Dawn’s leadership was smart enough to be appropriately nervous around me the same as you and their lackeys.”

“Well yeah, but we’ve already established they’re fucking idiots,” Keia said. “At least the lackeys we’re running into today seem halfway smart.”

“I thought the same thing right before one of them grabbed me from behind yesterday while another one knocked me out,” I said. “I’m not making the same mistake twice. We can’t trust any asshole wearing a Horizon Dawn tabard.”

“I never did,” she said. “And if I’d been in there yesterday you might’ve avoided making that mistake.”

She blew me a kiss then disappeared as we got to the Auction House entrance. “I’ll be patrolling the circle and looking out for trouble if you need me.”

“Got it,” Kristoph said, taking station at the Auction House entrance. “I’ll be hanging out here discouraging any troublemakers.”

I looked him up and down. Sure Kristoph looked imposing enough, but I knew it was just that: looks.

“What?” he asked, probably sensing something in my look.

“I mean do you seriously think you’re gonna be able to stop them if they want to get in here?” I asked.

“I killed Gregor yesterday before he had a chance to get in here and cause trouble,” he said.

“I guess you’ve got a point,” I said. “Just try not to get yourse…”

I cut off as another voice interrupted my thought.

“Mind if we join you?” that voice asked.

I looked around trying to find that source for a little too long before I realized I had to look down to see who was talking. Two goblin guards, not the same ones who’d been there yesterday, stood there looking up at me with their hands on their swords. They looked like they were spoiling for an excuse to use those swords, and a small smile came to my face as I thought about watching Torian getting dragged off with a goblin sword embedded in his thigh.

“You guys want to join us?” I said, genuinely surprised. This was going way beyond them giving a wink and a helping hand where they could without coming out and saying they were trying to help us.

“Who said anything about joining anything?” the goblin on the left said.

“Yeah, we’re just going to stand here at the entrance with your friend,” the goblin on the right said. He tuned and gave a slight nod to the goblin working the vault desk, who gave him a nod in turn.

“But why?”

“You guys tend to be at the center of trouble with the invaders.”

“Might be some fun might come our way if we’re standing where the center of trouble for the invaders is standing,” the other goblin said, trying not to laugh and not doing a good job of covering it.

“Stop looking gift horses in the mouth Conlan,” Kristoph said, then turned to the goblins and hit them with a grin of his own. “I’m glad for the company. You guys stand wherever you want to stand. You won’t hear any complaints from me.”

Kristoph was trying to sound like it wasn’t a big deal, but he hit me with a look that was clearly saying “are you fucking seeing this?” I guess he was having as much trouble believing this as I was.

It would seem our reputation with the goblins was way better than I ever could’ve hoped for.

“Kristoph’s right. We’d be glad for the help,” I said.

“Not help,” the goblin on the right said. “Just standing where there might be trouble. Big difference.”

“Standing where we might get an excuse to stab any trouble that comes along,” the one on the left said.

“Right,” I said, winking at them. “Well I’m gonna go take care of some business. You guys have fun with the stabbing, though hopefully it won’t come to that.”

“We always have fun with the stabbing,” the guard on the left said, his tone clearly telling me that he was having trouble conceiving of a world where someone wouldn’t enjoy stabbing someone who deserved it.

“And why would you say something terrible like you hope it isn’t necessary?” the one on the right said.

I shook my head as I made my way to the auctioneer. These goblins were crazy, and I was glad they seemed to be on our side for the moment.

Like the story? Support my creative efforts at Patreon!

<<Chapter 53 – Chapter 54>>

Spellcraft Chapter 53: Corpse Run

The world reappeared around me, and boy was it a trippy experience. The gem going off had been a lights out sort of situation, but everything coming back was taking a moment.

I got flashes of the alley. I thought I might’ve been having an out of body experience or something that was induced by the trauma of dying for the first time in the game. I’d heard of people freaking out after their first in-game death because it felt so damn real.

Maybe it was a blessing that my first trip to the great beyond within the confines of virtual reality had been quick and painless. Well, the actual dying part had been quick and painless even if the circumstances leading to that quick and painless death had been anything but.

“Conlan?” Keia said, her voice clear in my head. “What the hell is going on? I heard an explosion.”

I shook my head to clear it, then looked down to see if I had my finger again, but there was nothing there. Panic seized me as I realized I was nothing, then there was another flash and the alley appeared all around me.

“I’m gonna need a minute,” I said. “Kinda sorta dealing with the death animation here.”

“Damn it,” Keia hissed. “We’re going to have a chat about this!”

I knew I probably should care that she sounded royally pissed off, but I was more interested in experiencing the moment. I was disembodied and floating in the alleyway watching a replay of my death animation.

It was pretty spectacular. That was something, at least. And I had to admit that I liked the idea of watching my torturers getting blown into tiny little bits. 

One moment I was on the ground with a blinding light appearing from behind me as Torian stood and tried to warn his asshole friends to get the hell out of there, and the next there was a spectacular explosion. It blew a hole in the sides of buildings on either side of the alley, and it did far worse against the flesh and blood people standing there looking like idiots staring at Torian as though he’d lost his mind.

They hadn’t learned the lesson about standing all bunched up. Even the assholes who’d been guarding the entrance went through the death animation as shrapnel took them out. Hell, the stealthers who’d been hiding out on the roofs were pulled out of stealth as the buildings they stood on collapsed into the alley or the explosion sent them flying.

Torian was the only one in that death animation who’d realized something was terribly wrong, and even he didn’t get farther than maybe a step before the explosion took him.

There wasn’t even any decomposing animation this time around. There wasn’t enough left of them after the close quarters explosion, it seemed to be magnified since it happened in an alley where there was nowhere for the force to go, for the decomposing animation to kick in.

No, there were just a bunch of small treasure chests on the ground or on top of piles of rubble where my torturers had met there end. I figured it was the least the fuckers deserved for what they’d done to me.

I only had that brief moment of satisfaction before I was ripped out of the death animation. It felt as though someone had taken a massive hook and pulled at me from my stomach. I wondered if this was what it felt like for a fish that suddenly found itself on the hook being dragged up out of the only world it’d ever known to its almost certain death.

If so it wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience, but then again I figured I was going back to the game world, so whatever.

I appeared at the edge of town in front of a giant black obelisk with glowing runes running up and down the thing. Runes that pulsed as I looked at them. All around me were graves, as though the designers hadn’t been able to decide if they wanted the respawn point to be a magical place or your traditional MMO graveyard.

I figured I should be glad I even got sent to this respawn point at the edge of town. After all, there was a chance I could’ve been sent back to the clearing where I’d originally started the game. There were some MMOs where you had to bind your respawn point, though it would appear that Lotus merely sent you to the nearest convenient graveyard.

The thing was still pulsing, and I realized what that meant. I’d died a few seconds before Torian and the others because I’d been the first one taken by the explosion, but they’d be appearing all around me any moment now.

They’d be disoriented, and they’d have the same equipment as me, which is to say none at all, but they’d be pissed off and they still might be able to beat the crap out of me. They’d have the numbers.

And since I’d gone on a suicide mission back there to teach them a lesson I didn’t have anything left in my inventory to save my ass if they did decide they were going to try and kick said ass all over again. My last water gem was in a little chest in the rubble I’d just created.

I was defenseless, and there was an alley full of shit that was mine for the taking if I got there ahead of my tormentors. So I turned and ran for town.

“Where are you?” Keia’s voice came into my head.

“Running from a bunch of Horizon assholes I just blew up,” I said.

A party invite appeared in front of me. I went ahead and accepted it. The danger from Horizon Dawn trying to ambush her and give her what they were giving me passed the moment all those stealthers were killed by the explosion, after all.

I didn’t doubt there’d be more Horizon Dawn people appearing around that explosion soon enough, but it wasn’t an ambush this time and I’d sure as shit need some help when I got there.

“So that explosion was you?” she asked.

“This thing has all the looks of Conlan,” Kristoph said.

“You’re by the explosion?” I asked.

“Down the street keeping an eye on things,” Kristoph said. “So far people are staying back, but I don’t know how long that’s gonna last.”

“Wanna tell me what the hell happened and why the hell you didn’t want us to know where you were?” Keia asked, the sound of her teeth grinding carrying through group chat.

“They pulled me into an alley and were beating the shit out of me,” I said. “And Torian positioned stealthers all around because he was trying to get you there too. It sounded like he was going to do some bad shit if they managed to catch you.”

“Bastards,” she said. “I could’ve done something.”

“You would’ve been caught and tortured the same as me,” I said.

“Still, I would’ve been there,” she said.

“I’m touched that you like me enough to get tortured with me, but I like you enough that I don’t want that happening to you,” I shot back.

A group of Horizon Dawn people appeared out of the crowd in front of me. Recognition dawned on their faces and their hands went to their weapons, but I ducked past them before they had a chance to do more than that.

This was going to get interesting if I got a trail of those assholes behind me. I could only hope I’d lose them in the crowd. They shouted behind me, but the frustration in their shouts would seem to indicate they’d gotten caught in the crowd.

“Why didn’t you just log out if they were torturing you?” Kristoph said. “This is just a game. You don’t have to deal with that shit.’

“Turns out I do,” I said, my breath coming in gasps. “The game sees getting the shit kicked out of you by other players as combat, and you can’t log out during combat.”

“Sounds like something you should maybe tell Trelor about,” Kristoph said.

“No shit.”

“Where are you going now?” Keia asked. “Should we head to the forest and lay low for awhile?”

“Not a chance. I’m doing a good old-fashioned corpse run,” I said.

“Were you carrying anything valuable?” she asked. 

“Not really, but it’s not about my stuff,” I said. “It’s about taking their stuff and making this really hurt.”

“You sneaky bastard,” she said. “Where did they hit you?”

“The alley across the way from Jonhurtz Wands near the entrance to the Magic District,” Kristoph said. “You’ve still got time. People are staring, but no one wants to go near an unexplained explosion.”

“Probably worried another unexplained explosion might happen,” I said.

“I’ll be there in a few,” Keia said.

I skidded around a corner and the arrow pointing me to my corpse became a dot on the minimap to go along with Kristoph’s. I walked up to him and patted him on the shoulder, then nodded towards the massive cloud of dust.

Kristoph had been right on. Players and NPCs alike were hanging back from the carnage. Which was just fine with me. I didn’t want anyone stepping in and trying to bogart the loot I’d gotten fair and square with my suicide attack.

“We doing this?” Kristoph asked.

“It’s the only way we’re getting their stuff,” I said, purposefully striding towards the alley.

“How far behind you are they?” he asked.

“Probably not far,” I said. “And there are Horizon Dawn people all over town. We need to assume any one of them could be the enemy even if they aren’t the head assholes.”

“So a Matrix sort of situation where anyone can turn into Elrond,” Kristoph said.

I missed a step trying to work through that, and smiled as my brain followed the same convoluted paths as the logic train that’d just pulled out of the station in Kristoph’s brain.

“Something like that.”

When I got back to the alley I was pleased to see that not only had I beaten Torian and company to their corpses, but there also weren’t any other Horizon people there running interference. Yet.

I figured it was only a matter of time before some of them showed up to help their buddies. And I planned on being out of here before they got here to render any of that assistance.

Treasure chests were scattered around the dark alley, so I did the same thing I did the last time I blew up a bunch of Horizon assholes.

“Tap as many chests as you can,” I said.

“On it,” Kristoph replied.

We didn’t have long. Me and Kristoph approaching the damage seemed to be enough to get other players to peer a little closer, but none of them were entering the alley yet.

I knew that was only a matter of time. Players were curious about the big explosion, but most people were staying back. It seemed that a lot of players were of the mind that if there was something obviously magical exploding and blowing people up then they weren’t going to go near it, but it also wouldn’t be long before the braver and stupider among them threw caution to the wind when they realized there were dozens of treasure chests dotting the alley floor.

For the moment, though, they were holding back which was fine by me. It gave me more time to gather chests and rob Horizon Dawn blind.

I tapped chests and took their contents. I’d discovered an option to take everything in someone’s inventory when a chest was tapped since the last time I was in this situation. Usually that was a combo button press in older MMOs, but all it took was a thought in Lotus. I took full advantage of that feature this time around. 

One of the advantages of having been blown up and relieved of what few things I still had in my inventory after my Auction House run was I didn’t have to worry about encumbrance this time around.

Just another moment and…

“Hey! What are you doing?”

I whirled around. Saw a goblin guard standing at the alley entrance eyeing the destruction. The guard finished by locking eyes with me.

“Uh-oh,” Kristoph said.

“What’s wrong?” Keia said. “I’m almost there.”

“Might be some trouble with the goblins, is all,” Kristoph said. “I don’t know that there’s much you can do there.”

“I can try, damn it,” she said.

I didn’t think Keia would be able to do much against the guards either. I’d seen what they did to people who crossed them. They were a powerful force in Nilbog that so far refused to exercise that power to throw out their tormentors for some reason.

Though that didn’t mean they liked Horizon Dawn. I decided I was going to take a chance. After all, so far the goblins had been pretty friendly to me, and I still had the feeling there was a reputation grind going on here even if I hadn’t been presented with any reputation bar that showed me, say, how close I was to an exalted reputation with the local goblins.

“These were a bunch of Horizon Dawn assholes who were torturing me,” I said. “Those assholes are going to be back here pretty soon. I intend to steal all their stuff before they can get back here and finish what they started.”

The goblin smiled and shook his head. He stared around the alley in obvious wonder. “How did you do this?”

I grinned. “Trade secret, but I might be able to share that secret with some local enterprising friends if they were willing to, say, keep their mouths shut about certain things.”

It was a shot in the dark. Sure I was relying on the general reputation goblins had for acquisitiveness in games, but I figured it was a safe bet. And I figured it was a good way to figure out exactly how good my reputation was getting with these guys.

The goblin guard put a finger to his nose. That grin never left his face, but it did seem a lot more rapacious now than it’d been a moment ago.

“There might be something to that,” he said. “I’ll try to hold them off. You should be able to go through that hole you made in the building behind you. There’s an exit in the building on the other side nobody’s watching for the moment. Saw it on my way over here.”

“Thanks,” I said, going back to the business of grabbing as many chests as I could. I figured that’d been a pretty good test of my reputation with the goblins.

“New plan,” I said. “Everything’s under control here. Meet me at the edge of town.”

“You sure about that?” Keia asked. “What if they find you while you’re trying to escape?”

“I’m going to stick to the main thoroughfares for a little bit,” I said. “Something tells me as long as I’m within sight of the guards I’m going to be safe. Besides. I have Kristoph here to protect me if things go bad again.”

Kristoph grinned. I’d meant it as a sarcastic comment, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him as much with him standing there puffing up with pride.

“Your funeral if you’re wrong,” Keia said.

I turned and looked to the alley entrance. Towards where I could already hear a goblin guard shouting at someone and a ruckus starting. Clearly that little guy had been serious about keeping me safe from Horizon Dawn. 

The more I learned about the goblins the more I thought there was definitely something I could exploit there. Something that would be even more exploitable than what I was doing with the Spellcrafting system.

“Time to go,” Kristoph said.

He disappeared through the hole into what looked like an abandoned shop, and I followed.

Like the story? Support my creative efforts at Patreon!

<<Chapter 52Chapter 54>>

Spellcraft Chapter 52: Consequences

“You’re not so tough now, are you smartass?”

The punch landed against my face and he fell back. Unluckily Gregor was back there, newly resurrected after taking that shot to the chin from Kristoph, to hold me in place. Which was a damn shame. With the way I felt I would’ve much rather slumped down and taken a nice nap.

“Fuck you,” I said, spitting blood out onto the ground.

That was a nice touch. I looked down at my in game blood with fascination. A horrified sort of fascination, to be sure, but still fascination. It was the first time I’d ever been involved in a real fight, after all, even if it was a real fight taking place in a virtual reality world.

“Fuck me?” Torian said, then laughed. He slammed a gauntleted hand across my face, and pain bloomed as something in my cheek cracked. “Fuck you, asshole!”

This was the kind of thing I never actually thought would happen to me. Sure there were people who got into fights in school. Sure I’d come close to getting into a fight with Trent earlier.

It’s just that something had always come along to save my ass at the last moment. My plan to kill the Horizon GM actually worked. I figured out a way to exploit the crafting system to blow people up. Mr. Thompson came out of nowhere to save my ass at the last moment.

There was always something, so it was a huge surprise to be in a back alley, hidden from prying guard eyes by a wall of Horizon Dawn pricks at the alley entrance, getting the shit kicked out of me by my least favorite people in the virtual and real world.

“Fuck. You. With. A. Jagged. Barbed. Rusted. Dildo!” 

I wanted to admire his creative use of language, but it was difficult considering he was punctuating every word with a punch to some part of my body that he hadn’t worked over yet.

The pain felt real enough, but whatever. It might’ve felt real, but I knew it wasn’t the real thing and somehow that helped me go into a sort of zen state where it didn’t hurt as much because I knew it wasn’t real.

Which was a good thing. It’s not like the pain slider was doing me a damn bit of good considering every punch, kick, and jab was a new bit of pain that flared with full force. It’s also not like I could log out, because apparently the game thought I was in combat.

There was no escape.

Talk about a flaw that could be exploited by assholes who wanted to fuck someone over via VR torture. I was getting a firsthand lesson in the unintended consequences of not letting people log out in the middle of combat right now.

“I told you to watch who you fucked with,” Torian said, slapping me across the face again. He slapped the other side this time, and again something cracked inside my head as pain flared. It was nice to know I’d have matching bruises. “And I don’t like you moving in on Keia. She’s mine, you understand?”

“Doesn’t seem like she thinks she’s yours, asshole,” I said.

“She doesn’t know what she wants!” he bellowed, spittle flying from his mouth as he said it.

“You’d love this,” I said in a private message to Keia. “He’s going on about how the two of you belong together now.”

“I told you no talking in private chat or party chat!” Torian said, bringing a plate armored knee up between my legs.

Again the only thing that kept me from slumping down was Gregor holding me firmly in place. I did let out a sound that seemed pretty close to the sound of ultimate suffering from The Princess Bride. At least it sounded like the sound of ultimate suffering inside my head, though it came out as more of a whimper.

“Tell me where the fuck you are now,” Keia said. “I’m going to kill those assholes!”

“No dice,” I said. “There’s too many of’em.”

“I don’t care!” she said. “I’ll do something!”

“You’ll get yourself killed, is what you’ll do,” I said. “I can handle this.”

“This is not the time for you to act all tough! You’re not impressing me!”

More pain bloomed from my gut. I looked down and saw a gauntleted fist lodged there. How ‘bout that.

“I told you no talking in private chat!” Torian growled. “I can see your fucking lips moving asshole.”

I glanced up to the rooftops around the alley. I saw a sort of weird shimmering up there that was somewhere in between what the Predator looked like in those old movies from the twentieth and what the Klingon cloaking special effect looked like in ancient Star Trek movies of the same vintage.

The fact that I could even see some of the stealthers up there meant they weren’t all that skilled, but I knew there were more up there waiting to kill anyone who tried to rescue me. Kill, or capture.

“So where is your girlfriend?” Torian asked, suddenly sounding so nonchalant that I knew that’s what he really cared about.

They wanted Keia. Or rather he wanted Keia. I shuddered to think what he might do once he had her, so I’d dropped the party so she couldn’t track me and do something ill advised.

“Nowhere near here,” I said, spitting some of that mix of blood and saliva into Torian’s face. Which earned me another couple of hits.

I eyed my inventory as a distraction from the pain that bloomed through my body when Torian landed another hit on my chin. There were just the blue water stones I’d held back just in case something exactly like this happened. 

I considered my options. It looked like I was going to reach an unfortunate end here no matter what. Which was bad enough, but the way Torian was talking made it sound like they were also hoping if they did this long enough then Keia might come along and join in the fun.

I wanted to avoid that at all costs. They’d only been working me over for a couple of minutes, and already those were a couple of the worst minutes of my life.

“Listen to me you little shit,” Torian said. “We can do this all night long. I can make you suffer. We learned that from your girlfriend Keia, didn’t we?”

“Sure did,” Sereh said. “It’s kind of fun doing the things she threatened me with on you. Sort of poetic, or ironic, isn’t it?”

I made my decision. Keia was trying to find me now. There was a steady stream of cursing and yelling coming at me via private message that I’d turned down with a thought so it didn’t distract me from my beating.

If this kept up long enough then she would find us, and then those stealthers up there on the rooftops would do their thing.

I lifted my finger on the hand they hadn’t broken and flipped them the bird. I lifted that finger on my left hand, which distracted them from what I was doing with the other hand back between me and Gregor. 

Torian reached out and grabbed that finger. He folded it back on itself until it snapped and bent in a way fingers were never meant to bend. I gritted my teeth against the pain, but it helped knowing that with a little luck the pain wasn’t going to last much longer.

Because Gregor might think I was trying to feel him up with the way he kept doing a little dance to pull his unmentionables away from the hand I was hiding between us, but I was actually busy infusing that water stone with a fire infusion. 

Not that I needed to worry all that much about hiding what I was doing since the cruel assholes were high fiving and gloating about the pain they’d caused my offered middle finger.

I wasn’t sure how many times I’d be able to pull this trick off before they realized exactly how I was doing it, but as long as these idiots were stupid enough to keep bunching up in groups that could be taken out by a crafting fail state then I was going to keep cheesing that crafting fail state and using it in a way I was pretty sure the designers had never intended.

“He’s laughing,” Sereh said.

“He’s also trying to feel me up!” Gregor grunted, trying to move again as my hand brushed against something I really would’ve rather not touched.

That was almost more unpleasant than the beating I was enduring.

“Believe me Gregor,” I said. “You can add my name to the long list of people who wouldn’t voluntarily touch that part of you if my life depended on it.”

That got a snort from Sereh, though she dropped the smile pretty damn quick at a glare from Torian. He turned and sneered at me.

“You’re awful brave for someone who’s going to test the limits of the game’s pain mechanic before this is all over,” Torian said, pulling a sword out and whipping it through the air in front of me.

I stared in astonishment at the spot where a couple of my fingers, including the one Torian had just bent backwards, had been. It really wasn’t fair that the game had this level of detail, this level of realism, when it came to injuries.

I’d never had a finger cut off in the real world, but I had experienced pain so severe that my body took a little while to catch up to the pain that came along with the injury that’d been visited on me. And it would appear that the same thing was happening to him now. 

I stared at the bleeding stumps that until so recently had been my fingers, and a moment later the pain came. 

It was blinding. It was the worst pain I’d ever experienced, and it was only by gritting my teeth that I managed to avoid screaming at the top of his lungs and giving Torian and these assholes what they’d so obviously been wanting.

And also, incidentally, maybe alerting Keia to where we were with those screams.

Torian leaned in close.

“Hurts, doesn’t it?” he said. “I hope it hurts as much as what the goblins did to me when they carted me off to their little dungeon.”

I continued staring defiance at him. It was the only thing I could do. It helped that I could feel the steady pulsing of the gem in my still unmolested hand. A gem that was very pissed off that it had just been filled with a spell that wasn’t the proper kind of spell infusion for that type of gem.

The heat was unbearable, to the point of being painful, but I welcomed that pain. I knew that heat was going to be an exit to sweet oblivion soon enough.

Or the closest thing there was to oblivion in this game. There sure as hell wasn’t a giant glowing red gate in front of me leading to a cookie-cutter hellscape with boring samey monsters leading to a tower with a boring climb to the top.

“I know you think something’s going to come along and save you,” Torian said. “You think you’re so clever, but you’re not half as clever as you think. I’m going to torture you and your friends and make you learn why Horizon Dawn is the law around here.”

“Did you come up with that yourself, asshole?” I asked. “Sounds like the kind of stupid pseudo-clever bullshit you’d spew.”

“Fuck you,” Torian said.

“I like to think I’m a lot more clever than you, at least,” I said. “Always have been, Trent.”

Some might say it was a bad idea to keep antagonizing the guy beating the shit out of me, but it’s not like there was some magical combination of words or actions that would suddenly make things better between the two of us.

I didn’t want a magical combination of words that would make everything better between us. I hated this prick. Loathed him. The last thing I was going to do was try to make peace and sing kumbaya with him.

“Um, Trent?”

That earned Gregor a sharp glare from Trent.

“Sorry. Torian?”

“What?”

“I think something’s wrong here,” he said.

He was squirming again, but this time it was from the heat and not because me infusing a gem with the wrong spell infusion felt an awful lot like I was trying to get a feel of his junk.

“What the…”

I grinned for the first time since the beatings started a few minutes ago as a peaceful clarity settled over me, for all that I was about to bite it.

Sometimes there were assholes in the world. Pricks who wanted to make the world around them miserable. And I was firmly of the opinion that if I met one of those assholes who wanted to make the world miserable, whether they were a soulless multinational conglomerate that killed my family or a bully working for that soulless multinational conglomerate, then I was well within my rights to do everything I could to shut them down.

“Hey Torian,” I said. My voice was barely above a whisper. I wanted this prick to have to lean in to hear me. That would move him nice and close to the center of the impending explosion.

“Seriously Torian,” Gregor said, letting me go which caused me to fall to my knees.

I felt Gregor trying to move away from me. The one problem with that plan being that he’d been holding me against the back of the alley where they couldn’t disturb me, which meant he had nowhere to retreat to now.

“What?” Torian growled.

“Got any good gear on you?”

“What are you…”

Torian’s eyes went wide as he trailed off. As he finally seemed to realize there was something to Gregor’s warning as a blinding light filled the alley all around us. 

He was too late, of course. I might’ve been stupid enough to let myself get caught in this beating, but I wasn’t stupid enough to tip them off to what I was doing until it was too late.

For them.

“Nice knowing you,” I said, trying to wink. It didn’t really work since one of my eyes was swollen shut.

“Get out! Get out of here!” Torian shouted, but of course it was too late.

I closed my eyes as the light became so bright and blinding that I could see it through my eyelids, and the heat seared through my hand and then my body as the magic broke free.

Oddly enough I didn’t feel anything as the gem destroyed me. Well, I felt the pain in my throbbing stump of a finger disappear, presumably along with my body, but that was it.

Which made blowing myself up along with my enemies an overall pleasant experience on balance.

Still, that lack of pain was a damn shame. If I didn’t feel anything as the gem overloaded and ripped me apart then it meant the assholes I’d blown up with my improvised explosive gem, both yesterday at the mines and today in this alley, hadn’t felt anything either.

I was in a mood where I wanted them to feel it as they got blown to smithereens, but oh well. You couldn’t have everything.

Like the story? Support my creative efforts at Patreon!

<<Chapter 51Chapter 53>>

Spellcraft Chapter 51: Selling Out

“Any way you can hurry this up?” Keia muttered under her breath.

“I have to get a feel for the interface before I can use the thing,” I muttered back, splitting my attention between said interface and Keia.

Her eyes darted through the Auction House like she was waiting for an execution squad to come in and kill us. Which was fair considering we were deep in enemy territory right now where someone could come along without warning and try to kill them.

I really wanted to avoid that if I could. It’d be awkward if I was cut down in the middle of my auctioneering. I was also in a bit of an exposed position considering they could get all the stuff I had on me, and I didn’t want to lose all my potions on top of all the Horizon Dawn gear we’d stolen fair and square. Not to mention all the ore I was carrying.

Come to think of it, I probably should’ve looked into vaults before I started lifting shit.

“Well hurry up,” Keia said. “We’ll be in serious trouble if they catch us here. That entrance is a perfect chokepoint and there aren’t any other exits.”

“I’m on it,” I said. “It’d help if I didn’t have people trying to distract me.”

Keia hit me with a withering glare, but I ignored it. I was already back to the AH interface. I had work to do, and the more time I spent chit chatting the more likely it was someone in a Horizon Dawn tabard who recognized us would come along.

It was possible one of those assholes had already recognized us and they were waiting for reinforcements. A small smile played across my face as I thought of them quietly talking in their guild chat because they were afraid of confronting me directly and getting blown the fuck up.

Whatever. Auction House interface. I needed to sell shit.

The first thing I did was search for the Nhewb’s Blessing Potion. I figured there’d be a lot of them up on the Auction House considering the flowers were the first thing I’d seen when I entered the game. There were probably plenty of noobs who looked at those flowers and…

I brought up a big fat zero. I frowned. I checked that I’d spelled it correctly. 

I’d heard stories of the ancient days on eBay when you could get insane deals by searching for misspellings of rare items that no one was bidding on, back before they came up with an algorithm to fix that. Maybe something like that was going on here too, so I searched a couple of misspellings.

Bupkis.

Then I saw something in the bottom corner that looked like it could be helpful. It was a small item slot with the word “search” beneath it. The meaning there was clear enough. If I wanted to search for an identical item then I could put that item in the slot rather than going to the trouble of spelling it out.

Convenient, that.

I pulled one of the potions out of my inventory and dragged it over that slot. Hit the search button. I figured that would pull up something, but again I was met with zilch.

What the ever loving fuck was going on here?

Either the interface was completely broken and the Auction House wasn’t working correctly, something I seriously doubted from the number of people in the room using the Auction House without complaint, or I’d just stepped into something far more interesting than I could’ve imagined. 

It boggled the mind to think that I was the only one who’d gone through the starter area picking those flowers, but then I thought about how those flowers had been presented within the game world.

Lotus wasn’t like other MMOs, but so far just about everyone I’d run into, my friends included, was treating it like a traditional MMO with more impressive graphics. Only it was far from that.

Lotus was weird. Everything that’d been abstracted over years of videogame development had suddenly gone back to the real world equivalent of that abstraction because for the first time ever players were in a game that could generate that real world equivalent perfectly. 

The game was so realistic that it didn’t need to bother with abstraction any longer, but gamers were still looking for that shorthand. They expected things like a plant that had a sparkling animation overlay to let them know this plant was different from the others, and something that would be worth gathering.

The gamers coming into Lotus Online had cut their teeth on games that held their hands every step of the way. They didn’t have the old school exploratory instinct of gamers from a time when they had to reach out and touch everything in the game world to see if they could do something with it.

I couldn’t believe it even as it totally made sense. Was it really possible that everyone else who’d played the early access, everyone who’d been in the launch, seriously hadn’t decided to pick the flowers and see if they could be used as a reagent?

Then again I thought about Trelor grousing about how people hadn’t taken advantage of the crafting system he’d built. As though it was a personal affront that nobody seemed to care about his system.

And, not for the first time since starting this game, I felt that familiar tingling along my scalp. Though this time it ran down through my entire body as well.

I was onto something here. Something potentially huge. Something that might allow me to get a head start over anyone else who tried the crafting thing. Sure other people would probably figure out what I’d done as soon as I started listing these items on the Auction House, but he’d have the advantage of being the first mover.

Because as impossible as it seemed that gamers had ignored Trelor’s crafting system so thoroughly in the interest of killing monsters, there was the evidence, or rather the lack of evidence, here on the Auction House in front of me.

So I took one of the potions and listed it. There was no suggested pricing based on what the potion had gone for because nobody else had tried to sell a potion like this. 

Again that tingle hit me. 

With every new discovery I was backed up in my assumption that I was the first person to find this, and every time I thought that it felt more and more ridiculous. Yet here was the evidence in front of my eyes.

The Auction House had all the usual options. I could set up a straight up auction, or I had the option of allowing a Buy It Now price. Considering I had no idea what these potions should even go for, I decided I was going to do a straight auction and let the market dictate what it thought something that gave a person a ten percent bonus to abilities was worth.

I figured there was a good chance that whatever I set a Buy It Now for wasn’t going to be nearly close enough to what people would be willing to pay, and my instincts were screaming at me not to leave any money on the table.

I briefly considered unloading everything I had onto the market. After all, if there wasn’t anything up there then I could corner the market. I did a quick search for other enhancement potions and found some, but they were all Horizon branded. They offered all sorts of nifty bonuses, but nothing close to what I had.

I decided a little bit of scarcity might help. Horizon was flooding the market with their potions, but I was going to do it a little differently. I’d see what a couple of them went for, give potential buyers the impression that there was some scarcity involved, and then adjust the price from there.

“Potions are up,” I said, looking up from the Auction House interface.

Keia and Kristoph were still scanning the place looking for trouble, but everything else in the Auction House seemed like business as usual.

“Good, so we can go?” Keia asked.

“Not quite,” I said. “I’ve still got all that Horizon gear, and I need to get a vault while we’re here.”

Keia sighed and hit me with a look that told me I needed to hurry the fuck up. A sentiment I could totally get behind, but honestly I was having too much fun with this to be too worried about Horizon.

The next part was easier. There were a bunch of Horizon weapons that were the same as the ones I couldn’t disenchant. Even better, they all had a firm Buy It Now price. No auction for those. So I listed the weapons I “found” at a ten percent discount below what Horizon listed their stuff at.

I figured that’d be good enough to get their attention, piss them off, and also make me a tidy profit at the same time. After all, I hadn’t had to spend any money to get them, aside from the gem I had to use to kill them. That hadn’t cost me anything either since I found it in the wild.

Basically selling Horizon stuff was nothing but profit. It was a nice low overhead business with huge profit margins.

Finally I pulled out my last listing for today. A plain sword I’d bought at a merchant for a trial run selling a Spellcrafted item. 

It took me a couple of minutes to figure out how to narrow my search to certain spell infusions, but the Auction House search was obligingly granular once I knew how to use it.

I looked up items that had similar spell infusions, and didn’t find much in the way of comparable gear. Just like with the potions, it would appear that no one was selling Spellcrafted items yet. I’d be the first to go live with this discovery.

Which was a hell of an advantage, but I had no idea what to list my weapon for since there was nothing comparable on the market.

The sword was better than the Horizon stuff at the same level, so I figured screw it. I tossed it up for an auction price and set the lowest bid at ten percent lower than what a comparable piece of Horizon gear would go for.

When I’d finished I turned and looked at Keia. Grinned and gave her a thumbs up.

“I think we’re good to go for now,” I said.

“Good,” she said. “Let’s get you a vault and get the hell out of here.”

“Might want to hurry,” Kristoph said. “Our friends at the entrance are looking worried about something.”

I looked to the goblins I’d made nice with at the entrance. Sure enough they were alternating between glancing outside and turning to make little waving motions at us.

“Come on,” Keia said. “We need to get the hell out of here.”

“No way,” I said.

“No way?” she said, staring at me like I’d grown a second head or something.

“If we go out there then there’s a good chance we run into Horizon Dawn people and I lose my shit,” I said. “If I get a vault and toss my stuff in there then there’s a one hundred percent chance I keep my shit.”

Keia opened her mouth like she was going to protest, but for a surprise Kristoph chimed in.

“He’s got a point,” he said.

“What if I lose my stuff?” Keia said. “I’ve worked hard to get this shit!”

“And I’ll buy you new stuff with what I make on the Auction House or make you something better with the goblinsteel we’re about to lose,” I said.

She stared at me for a moment, then sighed and disappeared.

“I’m going to go scout outside. Hurry up,” she said.

“On it,” I said.

“I’m going to stand here and look menacing with my hammer,” Kristoph said.

I patted him on the shoulder. “You look menacing buddy.”

I turned to the other side of the Auction House where there was a massive vault that looked like something out of an old school bank from back in the days when money was a physical thing and not a bunch of numbers on a screen. A goblin stood behind a counter leaning against it and looking bored.

The goblin perked up as I approached.

“I need a vault,” I said, glancing over my shoulder to the entrance. “And I need it fast.”

“But of course,” the goblin said, smiling and showing rows of pointed teeth. “I can provide it for you at a slight discount considering your business relationship with us.”

“Business relationship?” I asked.

The goblin’s grin grew even more predatory. “I heard you were going to do everything in your power to rid our town of the Horizon Dawn? I believe that was how you phrased it to my associate? So tell me, was that mere idle boasting?”

I glanced over my shoulder. The goblin who’d been helping me list my items grinned a similarly rapacious grin and gave us a little wave. I’d have to keep in mind that these goblins had scary good hearing.

I turned back to the vault vendor and my face hardened. “No boast. I’m going to run those assholes out of here if it kills me.”

It probably was going to kill me several times before this was all said and done. My quest against Horizon Dawn was going to kill me in very unpleasant ways I wasn’t going to care for considering how realistic things were in this game, but thems were the breaks.

“Well then it’s a simple business arrangement,” the vault vendor said. “You’re the first person I’ve seen actually making promises like that, and I think you’re the kind of person our organization want to make a business arrangement with.”

I grinned. “Fine. What’s the cost for a vault?”

There was some haggling, but in the end I was the proud owner of enough vault space to hold everything I’d need for a good long while. It was certainly enough to hold all the extra potions I had as well as all the ore I’d gathered with Keia and the leftover gems I had sitting in my inventory.

I almost handed all the gems over, then hesitated. I decided to keep a couple of water gems in my inventory. Those things had been a useful defense, after all, and I figured I wanted to have at least one around in case things went pear-shaped and I needed to to create an improvised explosive magic device. 

“A pleasure doing business with you, sir,” the goblin said. “And best of luck to you in your quest.”

“You too,” I said.

I turned to see Kristoph running for the door with his axe out. The goblin guards also looked like they were on edge, and not at all happy about what they saw going on out there.

“Company coming!” Keia said. “I hope to fuck you’ve dropped off your stuff!”

None other than Gregor stepped through the door, his eyes searching. He didn’t get a chance to do much but scan the room before Kristoph’s hammer came up and hit him under the chin with one hell of an uppercut.

Gregor’s head flew up, his neck making an unfortunate cracking noise, and then he flew back out of the room.

Oddly the goblins didn’t do anything even though Kristoph had just made an unprovoked attack. At least it should’ve been unprovoked to a game system that didn’t understand the nuance of attacking a group of people coming to kill our asses before they could attack us.

Only from the way those goblins gave each other a high five they totally understood the nuance.

I grinned. We might actually make it through this. We might…

Something struck my head hard enough that the world bloomed with stars and pain. I fell to my knees and turned just in time to see one of the Horizon Dawn people I’d been ignoring on the assumption they didn’t recognize me swinging something heavy and blunt down on my head.

Like the story? Support my creative efforts at Patreon!

<<Chapter 50Chapter 52>>

Spellcraft Chapter 50: The Auction House

Five minutes later we stood in front of a massive auction house.

“This thing is huge,” Kristoph said. “At least compared to the other buildings in town.”

“Makes sense,” I said. “The palace where money changes hands would be something special in a goblin town.”

“Oh this place is special all right,” Keia said.

The facade out front was white marble with gold inlaid at various spots showing symbols of a scale and goblin faces. Statues of goblins ran around the second level staring down, though I got the feeling I was looking at statues depicting notable goblins and not grotesques that would make an appearance on a human structure.

A steady stream of players moved in and out of the place as well. I knew from my research that the auction house connected to auctions all around the game world, so anything sold here could be bought and sold to anyone anywhere in the game world in a bit of game design that put mechanics ahead of realism.

I’d read all about it while I was doing my research.

“It’s fitting, you know,” I said.

“What’s fitting?” Keia asked.

“This monument to capitalism here,” I said. “It’s fitting this is the place where we start our journey.”

“Slow your roll there Mr. Keynes,” Kristoph said with a snort. “You’re just a dude with a bunch of ore and a bunch of pissed off competition right now.”

I stuck my tongue out at him. He responded by reaching out like he was going to grab it, but I ducked and stepped through the front entrance.

I half expected someone from Horizon Dawn to try and stop us when we stepped through the doors, but there were only goblin guards here. One of them looked up at me, and then elbowed the one next to him. They both looked at me and then started whispering back and forth.

For a terrified moment I thought that maybe Horizon Dawn had figured out the whole Writ of Nobility thing and I was about to be bent over and taken to Pound Town, population me, vis a vis those sharp pointy swords that could’ve doubled as kitchen knives for a human.

Only they didn’t make a move to attack me, and I figured it was time I had a conversation with one of the goblins who’d saved my ass a few times, even if I had no way of knowing whether or not these particular goblins had saved my ass.

“What are you doing?” Keia hissed as I detoured towards the goblins guarding the place.

“Winning hearts and minds,” I muttered under my breath.

I got down on my knees in front of the goblin guards. They both eyed me critically, but they weren’t trying to gut me or looking at me like they’d like to try and gut me, which was a big improvement over how they looked at Horizon Dawn.

“Yes this is the auction house,” the goblin on the right said with a long suffering sigh that said he did this sort of thing a lot. “Walk up to the…”

“Thanks, but that’s not what I need,” I said.

The goblin blinked. “It’s not?”

“Nope.”

“Then what could you possibly want?” the goblin asked, its voice telling me that I was probably the first human since the game launched who’d ever bothered to talk to him for anything that didn’t involve obvious directions or instructions.

“I wanted to thank you guys,” I said. “You’ve saved my ass a couple of times, and I appreciate it.”

“You… I… Well… Um… Thanks?”

The goblin’s ears wiggled. I didn’t know a whole hell of a lot about goblin body language, but from the way the little guy stood just a little taller he was pleased.

“No need to thank me,” I said, patting him on the shoulder. For a wonder he smiled instead of trying to ram his sword into my hand. “You’re the guys saving my butt whenever Horizon Dawn tries to cause trouble. Pass my regards on to your coworkers and captain.”

“I will,” the goblin said. “Thank you.”

On a whim I pulled the coin Rezzik had given me on my first day in the game. The coin he said marked me as a friend of the goblins. I figured it was possible he’d been yanking my chain, but I also figured it couldn’t help to flash a little bling.

So I flipped the coin through the air. The goblins’ eyes went even wider when they realized what I had. I held it up at them and then disappeared it back into my inventory.

“Good talking to you gents,” I said with a nod.

A notification popped up letting me know my reputation with the Goblinsteel Syndicate had gone up again. It didn’t go up to the point that there was a status change, but it was still nice to know that was working.

“Good idea there,” Keia said. “Get on their good side and we might be able to use that.”

“Well that and I really am thankful for what they’ve done for me,” I said. “I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have an ulterior motive kissing up to them, but they also deserve kudos for saving our asses.”

“They’re NPCs in a game,” Keia said. “I might not like what Horizon Dawn was doing to them, but at the end of the day they’re ones and zeroes that sound awfully close to reality when they’re being slaughtered. Doesn’t make them real.”

I looked at the goblins grinning and chatting with each other and casting the occasional glances at me. They seemed a hell of a lot happier than they’d been before I chatted with them.

I thought to Rezzik. To how real his terror had been on that first day when he was so convinced he was about to die.

“I don’t know about that,” I said. 

Keia shrugged as though to say she didn’t think it was worth arguing the point. I felt the same way considering some asshole from Horizon Dawn could come wandering in here at any moment, see us, and make life more difficult.

A steady drone of voices surrounded us even though it wasn’t all that crowded in here. Maybe they added the sound of a crowd to make the place feel busier than it was. A little hyperreality in the middle of virtual reality.

A small smattering of players chatted with goblin auctioneers who stood on a raised platform that ran around the auction house interior.

“So how does this work?” I asked. “Same as any other game with an auction house?”

“Would you believe I have no clue?” Keia asked.

“I do have trouble believing that, actually,” I said.

“What can I say?” she said. “Torian didn’t let other people handle putting the gear up when he got it, and I never found anything in my adventures that was worth taking to the auction house.”

“Wait, so how was he getting that gear from Horizon?” I asked. “They aren’t creating the stuff for themselves in the game somewhere?”

“No idea,” she said. “All I know is the gear would appear in Torian’s mail and from there it was up to him to put it up on the auction house and then send the profits he got back.”

“You’re sure he only put it up on the auction house for Horizon?” I asked, wanting to be absolutely sure.

“I’m pretty sure someone has to physically list something on the auction house,” she said. “At least Torian was always going on in guild chat about how he was the only one trusted to do it. He was also always going on about how much he was making from Horizon for being their errand bitch.”

“Wait, they’re paying him to play the damn game above and beyond giving him money so he could get into the early access?” I asked.

“Pretty much,” she said. “Good work if you can get it, right?”

“I guess so,” I said.

“I’m pretty sure that’s how I was able to get into the game early as well,” Keia said.

“But how did he pull that off?” I asked. “How the hell did he get in contact with Horizon to get in early in the first place?”

“I don’t know?” she said. “He was always going on about how he had an uncle who worked at Horizon. I always thought he was full of it, but maybe that’s how. Either way, he became their point of contact in this town, and he’s totally let it go to his head.”

“Sounds like something Trent would do,” I said.

“Look, sitting and chatting about our mortal enemy is all well and good, but maybe we should get a move on before those mortal enemies make an appearance?” Kristoph asked, glancing at the door.

I shrugged and walked up to one of the goblin auctioneers. They were a study in contrasts from the goblin guards or Rezzik.

The guards and Rezzik had an undercurrent of fear and desperation. Like they knew Horizon Dawn might decide at any moment to end them. Rezzik had literally been running from that fate, after all.

These auctioneer goblins had an air about them. As if they were the supreme beings at the center of their world, and they knew it. They also didn’t have that undercurrent of fear. Maybe they knew on some level that Horizon Dawn needed them to ply their wares. Maybe they were simply too full of themselves to ever conceive of a world where they might be in danger from an external attack.

The auctioneer regarded me with a look that wasn’t entirely pleasant. The corner of the goblin’s mouth turned down as it took me in. As though it wasn’t particularly pleased with my relatively noobish attire.

And here I’d hoped I was getting a good thing going with the goblins. Oh well. I got the feeling the ones running the auction house were probably cut from slightly different cloth than the ones who were wielding cudgels and swords and keeping the peace in town.

“I don’t know what you think you’ll find here with me, but if you’re looking for trinkets and lower-level starter equipment you would be better off checking the central bazaar around the town circle,” the goblin said, his voice sounding a hell of a lot more cultured than the goblins who wielded the cudgels and swords and kept the peace in town.

“Are you sure about that?” I asked, bristling at this treatment. “Because I have some items I needed to list.”

The goblin sniffed. Apparently that was the universal signal for getting rid of the riff-raff whether we were in some fancy place in the real world or dealing with some snooty goblin auctioneer who thought he was too good for my money.

“Again, I don’t think you’ll find much of a market for your low-level trinkets here in the auction house. Everyone can go out and slay wolves for a little spare coin. Which means there’s something of a glut of wolf pelts on the market at the moment. You’re not the first one to think of something like that, though they never stop to think through that you need to have a market for the things you’re selling.”

“What about these?” I asked. I pulled up my inventory and selected one of the Nhewb’s Blessing potions. The thing still glowed with a faint yellow light. I guess that hadn’t been a trick of the light back in Trelor’s Oddments.

The goblin’s eyes went wide as he regarded the potion. He reached out to grab at it with a clawed hand, but I held it back just out of the goblin’s reach.

“Oh no,” I said, my voice dripping with mock severity. “I wouldn’t dream of sullying your precious auction house with my swill,” I said. “A special potion, to be sure. I’d dare say it’s worth more than a wolf pelt, but I understand if it isn’t good enough for your fine establishment.”

The goblin sighed and rolled his eyes. “More of that strange enchanted stuff from beyond? I have to give you credit for stealing it from our new overlords, but we don’t take kindly to theft around here. If this was stolen I will have to report you to the guards and they will notify the parties it was stolen from.”

I bristled even more at that. Here I’d gone to the trouble of learning how to craft potions after gathering all these petals fair and square, and this goblin with a quarterstaff up his ass was threatening to turn me in for selling my own shit?

“If you’re talking about those assholes from Horizon Dawn then no. I only touch their stuff when I’ve killed them fair and square. There’s no Thief Mark on these,” I hissed, referencing a little red border around stolen items in the inventory that meant they could only be sold to less than reputable dealers. “I made these potions myself, thank you very much.”

The goblin gave me a considering look. As though he was looking at me with fresh eyes.

“You don’t like them?” the goblin asked, his eyes darting around the room as his voice went low.

A new notification window popped up telling me that my reputation with the Sword and Scale Syndicate had just gone from Neutral to Friendly. Fascinating.

There also seemed to be a warning there. I’d gained reputation with auctioneers. The scales they used to balance money seemed obvious enough, but the implication that they also found enough use for the sword that they included it in their name was ominous.

I looked around the room as well. A few Horizon Dawn people had come in while I was chatting, but none of them were players I’d seen before. At least I was pretty sure they weren’t players I’d seen before. It was entirely possible I’d blown them up recently and simply hadn’t realized it because they all looked the same when they were bunching together and obligingly providing a nice target for me to blow to hell and back.

I was also facing away from them, and so I turned back towards the goblin. I’d bet good money Torian had screenshots he’d been distributing of me. At least that’s what I’d do if I were in his shoes.

They were far enough away that I figured it was safe enough to carry on a conversation. It’s not like the big three assholes were in there.

“I hate their guts,” I said. “And with a little luck I’m going to screw them all over and kick them out of this town. Out of this world, if I have anything to say about it. Out of my world too, if I’m really good.”

The goblin sniffed and stood straight again. Though even when it held itself to its full height with the added boost from the platform it still barely came to my shoulders. There was a twinkle in its eye now. Apparently what I said had tickled the goblin’s fancy.

“I’d like to see you do that,” the goblin said, and the crazy thing was he sounded sincere for the first time since we’d started our little chat.

“Right,” I said. “So could I go ahead and see the auction interface? I have some stuff I need to sell.”

“But of course,” the goblin said, sketching a little bow that might’ve been an actual bow, or it might’ve been mocking. It was difficult to tell for sure since this goblin appeared to speak English, Goblin, and Sarcasm.

An interface popped up. It was nice to know I wouldn’t have to actually stand here and talk with the goblin to list my items. He’d worried that might be the case judging by the people standing around talking to the other goblins.

I took a deep breath and let it out. This was it. This would either set in motion a series of events that fucked over Horizon in a big way, or it’d be a massive failure and I’d have to go back to the drawing board.

Either way, it was time to list some shit and see how much it was worth.

Like the story? Support my creative efforts at Patreon!

<<Chapter 49Chapter 51>>

Spellcraft Chapter 49: One Word: Potions

I watched with no small sense of satisfaction as the last bit of Horizon armor disappeared in a puff of magic. I glanced over to Trelor who was leaning against his desk and staring with the same childish glee he’d been showing since I started disenchanting this stuff.

“Sorry,” he said. “For me this is like seeing my baby take their first steps. I haven’t ever seen players do this for realsies.”

“Glad to oblige,” I said.

“Got any more?” Kristoph asked, also staring at the disenchanting magical light show with rapt attention.

“I think that’s it,” I said, glancing at my inventory to be sure. “That’s the last of the gear that has a spell infusion I can learn. Lots of duplicates left over though.”

“So what do we do with this giant pile of weapons?” Kristoph asked, looking at a pile of discards sitting against one of the walls in Trelor’s Oddments gathering dust.

“We could destroy them,” Keia said. “That’s about all they’re good for.”

“Can I melt them down if I take them to a forge?” I asked. “Melting down a bunch of their weapons while they watch sounds like a good time.”

“Also a good way to get killed,” Keia muttered. “There were more of them than us the last time they tried to cut us off.”

“It’s a good idea, but I’m afraid not,” Trelor said with a shake of his head. “Something that’s been spell infused can’t be melted down. Not without explosive results.”

I frowned. I was quite familiar with the explosive results I could get from misusing this new crafting ability by infusing the wrong gems, but I filed away this new form of magical combustion on the off chance I might be able to make use of it later.

“Can I sell them to you?” I asked Trelor.

“I’m not really a fan of taking their stuff,” Trelor said. “But I suppose if I had to and you couldn’t think of another thing to do with them…”

He trailed off. I got the feeling there was more to Trelor’s trailing off than a simple distaste for gear that’d been created by Horizon. Like there was an alternative we weren’t thinking of. Something like…

“What about the auction house?” Keia asked.

“I… Yeah,” I said. “What about the auction house? That was my next stop after I tried doing some armor and weapon crafting.”

“Now you’re thinking,” Trelor said, putting a finger to his temple and grinning.

“It’s perfect. They’ll be so pissed off if they see you selling their gear,” Keia said. “No one in Horizon Dawn is allowed to sell their gear, and they get really pissy and threaten to cut off anyone they catch reselling their stuff.”

“That sounds like a plan that’s going to have us running from more of their player killer squad,” Kristoph said.

“Maybe, but they have no way of knowing we’re selling their stuff until it’s listed. We’d get the first listing for free,” Keia said.

“They aren’t big fans of the secondhand market,” Trelor muttered. “The pricks.”

“Which totally doesn’t matter for me since I don’t want to buy their shit anyway and I’m already numero uno on their shit list,” I said.

“Exactly,” Keia said.

“Assuming they don’t bar us from the AH the same as they barred us from the forge just because they don’t like us,” Kristoph helpfully pointed out.

“You’ve got a point,” Keia said, her shoulders slumping slightly.

“Still. It’d be a good way to get them to pitch a fit,” Trelor said. “I wish I could see the looks on their middle managers’ faces when they realize someone is reselling their stuff. The means to do it is there in the game if someone wanted to do it, but…”

“But no one’s been ballsy enough to do it so far,” I said. “Well now’s the time.” 

The thought that no one else had the guts to try this strengthened my resolve more than anything else. Besides, I figured if I was going to get serious about leveling crafting then I was going to need some cash. Crafting wasn’t cheap in these games, and even undercutting their AH prices I figured I could clean up nicely on this stuff.

“What about all those flowers you were picking out in the forest?” Kristoph asked. “You said you were going to do something with those.”

“Duh,” I said, smacking my virtual head.

“Flowers you were picking?” Keia asked.

“Come on,” Kristoph said. “You can’t tell me he wasn’t picking flowers while you were out hunting Horizon assholes.”

“He did a few, but not many,” she said.

“I got a little carried away when we first got into the game,” I said. “The things are still sitting in my inventory, but I was so focused on Spellcrafting that I ignored’em.”

“Might be worth turning them into a potion,” Trelor said, his voice and face so carefully neutral that I knew he was all but screaming at me to do it.

“Do you know anything about creating potions in this game?” I asked.

From the grin that split Trelor’s face he was more than happy I had asked that question.

“Do I?” he asked. “Look at all this glassware! I’m even willing to sell you your supplies at a discount. A slight discount, mind. I wouldn’t want anyone to be able to say I was playing favorites or anything if any records of this get subpoenaed by the wrong people, you know.”

A moment later I was the proud new owner of the Crafting:Potions skill. Which included a nice little tooltip telling me I could bottle fame, brew glory and all that good stuff that came from a certain dark-haired potions master who’d gone on about that sort of thing once upon a time.

I struck out trying to create something from the Nhewb’s Blessing petals at first, but it didn’t take long before I was creating potions left and right. Hardly surprising for some flower petals whose sole purpose seemed to be giving noob potion makers something to work on.

I got into a groove, and it wasn’t long before all the flowers had been converted into potions that glowed a faint yellow as I held it up and inspected it.

“That’s the last one,” I said, leaning against the potions table and taking a deep breath as I looked at my handiwork. I felt really tired, for all that I’d just been crafting.

“It’s about time,” Kristoph muttered.

“What?” I asked.

“The only thing more boring than watching you pick all those flower petals is watching you turning them into potions,” he said.

“But I wasn’t even at it for that long,” I said. “Sure there were a few failures at the beginning, but…”

“Look at your clock,” Keia said.

I did. I was surprised to realize that I’d been standing over Trelor’s potions table for the past hour creating these Nhewb’s Blessing potions. Damn.

“I guess I got a little too into the zone making these,” I said.

“That’s okay,” Keia said, leaning in to kiss me on the cheek. “It’s cute when you get all distracted with work like that.”

“Yeah, well now it’s time to see what the potion does,” I said.

“Wait, you can’t tell what the potion you just made did?”

I inspected the potion and a tooltip came up.

Refined Nhewb’s Blessing.

Bonuses:????

Give it a sip and hope you don’t die!

“Looks like the game wants me to test it out to figure out what the fuck it does,” I said. “There’s also a cryptic note about the thing maybe killing me.”

The three of us turned to look at Trelor. He held his hands up.

“I said I was gonna help you out with suggestions, but I’m not giving away what stuff does,” he said. “You have to learn this one on your own.”

“I was afraid you were going to say something like that,” I said as I pulled a stopper off the glowing yellow potion and downed it.

“Conlan!” Keia shouted, sounding like she was seriously worried for me.

It probably didn’t help that I immediately dropped the potion bottle which obligingly shattered on the floor. I put a hand to my neck as though I was choking and started making gurgling noises. I didn’t fall to my knees. It would’ve really sold what I was doing, but I didn’t want any of those glass shards to get embedded in me.

Even with the pain slider turned down that seemed like the kind of thing that’d hurt like a motherfucker.

“Conlan!” Keia shouted again. “What did you do to him?”

She hit Trelor with a glare, and then her bow and arrow materialized in her hands and she pointed it at him.

“Save him,” she said.

Only Trelor was laughing. “He doesn’t need saving!”

“Do something other than saving him and you’re dead,” Keia said, her voice flat.

“No, he seriously doesn’t need saving,” Kristoph said, putting a hand on Keia’s arm and lowering the bow and arrow. Which had the effect of startling her to the point that she let the arrow fly. Right at Trelor’s heart.

The arrow disappeared before it could reach him though. He didn’t even bother to wave his hand to make it go away. One moment it was there, and the next moment it wasn’t.

“I’m going to ignore that since it was a half accident,” Trelor said.

Keia looked around in confusion. I stopped choking since this joke had clearly gone far enough.

“You asshole,” she said.

“Sorry,” I replied. “I couldn’t resist.”

“Join the club,” she said.

“What are you…”

Another arrow materialized and the arrow was lodged in my thigh a moment later. I stared at it for a moment, and then pain bloomed.

“Son of a…”

This time I did fall to my knees, and shards of broken glass crunched up into those knees as I landed them with the full force of gravity and my weight combining their powers.

“Son of a!”

“Oh stop being a baby,” Keia said, pulling me up to my feet and hitting me with a small heal that made the pain go away. “And don’t ever do something like that again!”

“Is it weird that I’m kinda turned on right now?” Kristoph asked with a goofy grin.

“Yes!” Keia and I both shouted at the same time.

“Okay, so the fun is over,” I said.

“What kind of bonuses is the potion giving you?” Keia asked.

I looked at my current bonuses and let out a low whistle. The potion gave even more of a bonus to all stats than simply chewing the flower had. As I looked at all the bonuses I couldn’t help but feel another one of those tingles of anticipation that I got whenever I’d found something interesting. 

This could potentially be big. Huge, even. People would kill for any kind of edge in the game, and something like this that gave a blanket bonus to all stats…

Well it was certainly going to be interesting to see how interested players were. That was for sure.

“This potion seriously gives a ten percent bonus to all combat, magic, and healing at any level?” I asked.

“Looks that way,” Trelor said with a frown. “I can’t imagine that was what the intern I foisted potion recipes on intended, but…”

He shrugged. “If they didn’t intend to do that then I’m sure the babysitters will start getting reports soon enough and freak out.”

I nodded. “So you’re saying if I want to get this out there to the world and make any profit I need to do it before other people figure out what they can do with it and it gets nerfed?”

“I can’t say anything about internal deliberations one way or another,” Trelor said with a wink. “But yeah. You might get that out on the auction house sooner rather than later.

“Thanks for the help,” I said, genuinely meaning it. 

It’d been a big enough surprise finding someone working for Lotus lurking within the game. Though that was the kind of thing I’d probably do if I was a senior designer on a game like this, but it was even cooler that Trelor had been so cool about everything.

“Not a problem,” Trelor said, sketching a salute. “Now I think we’ve done everything we can do here. Why don’t you go out there and cause some headaches for Horizon.”

I looked at the goblinsteel in my inventory. “I don’t suppose you’re hiding a forge around here somewhere?”

“Afraid not,” he said. “This place is strictly magic themed.”

“It was worth a shot,” I muttered. “It’d be nice to unload some of this stuff though.”

“Might I suggest a vault near the auction house?” Trelor suggested. “The goblins are supposed to have some of the best in the game world.”

“You really want me to go to the auction house,” I said.

“Go forth and conquer a corporation the only way you can. With money,” he said.

“Point taken,” I said.

“So you know where the auction house is?” I asked, turning to Keia.

“Sure do,” she said. “Let’s get a move on!”

Like the story? Support my creative efforts at Patreon!

<<Chapter 48Chapter 50>>

Spellcraft Chapter 48: The IOI Gambit

Trelor slammed a meaty palm down on his desk again. “You want to know why the fuck they’re running around in our game? Because we made a deal with them and apparently the middle management pukes and legal idiots never thought to put in a clause that prevented them from invading the game!”

“I mean that was pretty fucking stupid not anticipating that they’d pull the IOIGambit,” I said. “But why the hell would they make any deal with Horizon in the first place?”

Trelor’s face screwed up in something that looked like genuine pain. When he spoke his voice was quiet, but full of cold fury.

“Those fuckers threatened to slow down our fucking game on their infrastructure if we didn’t give them a new way to make money now that we were killing the cash cow they’d been milking for the past couple of years with those shitty modules they rushed to market.”

“But they own like all the infrastructure,” I said.

“Exactly. Word is the executives figured it wasn’t a big deal. Let Horizon sell items in the game. People would go to raid dungeons to get most of their loot anyway,” Trelor said. “They didn’t anticipate the IOI Gambit, which goes to show how little the assholes in management know about the culture they’re regularly fleecing for those huge bonuses.”

I sat back. Trelor waved a hand and something appeared behind me, which was a good thing for my tailbone since I’d been headed on a one way trip to the floor before.

“They come to you and threaten to throttle the game if you don’t give them something. Lotus offers them in-game item sales because you don’t think it’ll be a big deal with raiding. Then they invade and shut down raiding so players will buy their stuff. Those motherfuckers!”

“Agreed,” Trelor said. “Motherfuckers of the highest order.”

“What about the forums?” I said. “I couldn’t find anything on the official Lotus forums about Horizon taking over.”

Trelor’s mouth turned down at the corners. “Yeah, my understanding is the community managers are basically working insane hours keeping those posts off the forums. They don’t want to embarrass the company while the lawyers wrangle with Horizon.”

“I’m guessing the lawyers wrangling isn’t doing much good since they’re still here even after having a month to do their work in early access,” I said.

“As a duly designated representative of Lotus I cannot comment on ongoing legal matters,” Trelor said while making a jerking off motion.

“What about crafting?” I asked.

“What about it?” Trelor asked.

“Horizon is focused on selling items in game and they’re shutting down raiding, but what about crafting? Couldn’t players make stuff that’s as good as or better than the shit Horizon is selling?”

Trelor leaned forward again. All the glowing implements came to life at the same moment, and it gave him and his smile a slightly unhinged feel.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone came along and did something like that using the wonderful system I put together for a person who loves crafting more than PVP, PVE, and raiding combined?”

I was already sitting, so there was no need for me to do another stunned sit down. The enormity of what he was implying without coming out and saying it was sinking in. This was big. Way bigger than anything I’d done before.

A chance to grab Horizon by the danglies and repeatedly punch a multinational corporate monstrosity exactly where it would hurt them: their bottom line.

“So you really don’t like Horizon, do you?” he asked.

“I don’t,” I said.

“Any particular reason why?” Todd asked. “Like did they stiff you on a module refund or something when you realized it was shit and tried to get your money back?”

“The bastards killed my sister,” I said. “They turned her into a vegetable with some bad mental feedback or something. I don’t know the technicalities of it, but they fucked up the direct connection into her brain and they killed her. I can’t prove it, but I think they did it deliberately. I had to watch as we disconnected her from life support and hold her hand as she breathed her last breath, but she was long gone at that point.”

A long awkward pause filled the room.

“Is that so?” he finally asked. “I’d heard some of the stories.”

“Oh?” I asked, suddenly interested. “So do you have any insider knowledge on what happened? I know Lotus is a party to some of the lawsuits, but there hasn’t been much in the news about it.”

“None of that is my department. Sure some people got fired when the higher ups realized it was possible for Horizon to do something like that, but even that’s just rumor. They’re being tight-lipped while legal does their thing,” he said.

“So Lotus is trying to cover it up?” I asked, feeling a spike of anger.

“As far as I know they’re doing everything they can to make sure nothing like that can ever happen again while also waiting for everything to go through the courts since Horizon is being less than forthcoming about what happened to everyone. Us included,” he said.

“You swear there’s no coverup?” I said.

“I swear I don’t know anything about a coverup if there is one,” he said. “I’m trying to tell you. I know as much as you when it comes to Horizon killing people with the Lotus hardware. If there’s some conspiracy out there they didn’t invite me into it.”

I sighed. That was about what I’d expected. For a wonderful moment I’d thought maybe I’d get more information about what had killed Diana. So much for that hope.

“So are you still going to work with me?” he asked.

I thought that over. I guess I’d always known there was the possibility that Lotus might somehow be involved in everything that happened with Diana, even if that involvement was something as simple as not telling the world about the flaw that Horizon was able to exploit to kill her.

Still, there was something about Trelor that made me believe him. Maybe Lotus did have something to do with those deaths. Maybe not. Either way, I believed him when he said he didn’t have anything to do with it.

“So what do you say, kid?” he asked. “Are we going to work together on this or what?”

Who was I kidding? This was the opportunity of a lifetime. Someone from Lotus appearing and telling me he wanted my help fucking over Horizon. This went well beyond exploiting the game.

“Fine. We have a deal,” I said.

“I’m glad you…”

“On the condition you bring my friends in on it too.”

Trelor paused. He looked at me with the sort of wary eyes that said he didn’t like what was going on here.

“Your friends?” he asked.

“Their names are Keia and Kristoph. I’ve been gaming with Kristoph since we were both kids, and I know Keia in the real world and the game. She’s a badass who’s helped me fighting Horizon.”

“And does your desire to have her helping you have anything to do with how she looks in whatever tight armor she parades around in?” Trelor asked, his tone quite dry.

“Does it matter?” I asked.

“You know I could have you banned from the game permanently,” he said.

“You could try something like that,” I said. “But then you’d have to go looking for someone else. And I can assure you you’re never going to find someone who hates Horizon as much as I do while also possessing my unique resume.”

“Your unique resume?” he asked, sounding like a man who needed to be convinced of something.

Luckily I had just the thing to prove to him just how much he needed me and no one else. So I pulled up the first person video of me taking out the Horizon gamemaster and played it for the second time since that fateful day.

“The Horizon GM job?” he asked. “Big deal. I’ve seen videos of that a…”

“Look at the point of view,” I said. “You’ve never seen a video like this.”

Trelor watched, and his eyes grew wider and wider. His mouth fell open in astonishment. By the time the video was done he was staring at me, and then he did something unexpected. He started bowing over his desk over and over again.

“I’m not worthy! I’m not worthy!”

“Um…”

He paused. Cocked an eyebrow. “Wayne’s World? A classic of late twentieth century cinema? Don’t tell me you’ve never seen it.”

“Sorry?” I said. “I’m mostly into video games. Not movies.”

“Kids these days,” he said with an eye roll to let me know just what he thought of my lack of sophistication when it came to classic cinema.

“So what do you think?” I said. “Do we have a deal?”

He sighed. “Bring them into a party with you.”

“They already are,” I said.

“Good. Makes this easier,” he said. 

He stroked a crystal ball filled with pink glowing mist, and a moment later a very surprised Keia and Kristoph appeared in the middle of the magic shop. Keia had her bow raised and was snarling at something, and Kristoph was covered in blood with his hammer held up in a defensive posture as he leaned back.

Keia let loose with the arrow she’d been holding, and it slammed into a crystal ball that exploded in a puff of magic when the arrow hit. Both of them looked around, then locked on me.

“What the hell just happened?” Keia asked.

“Whatever it is, thank goodness it did happen,” Kristoph said. “I didn’t think I was going to last much longer against those assholes.”

“Having problems?” I asked.

“Yeah,” Keia said. “You weren’t where you were supposed to be luring those Horizon Dawn pricks, and so we ended up having to fight off a bigger group than I was anticipating.”

“Sorry,” I muttered. “But I was a little busy talking to Trelor the Magnificent here.”

“Trelor the What?” Keia asked, turning and looking at the wizard.

“Trelor the Magnificent, at your service my lady,” he said, finally standing from his desk and doing a little bow.

“And who the fuck is Trelor the Magnificent?” Kristoph asked.

“Works for Lotus,” I said, enjoying the delicious looks of disbelief that crossed their faces as I said it. “He wants our help kicking Horizon out of their game for good.”

Naturally it took a bit of convincing after that. We ran over everything Trelor just covered with me, and by the end Keia and Kristoph both looked as stunned as I’d felt when first introduced to the wizard.

“I just don’t understand,” Keia said.

“Ask any questions you want,” Trelor said. “I’ll answer them as best I can, but as Conlan here has already learned there’s plenty of stuff outside my area that I’m not privy to.”

“Why not shut them down?” Keia asked. “Surely what they’re doing invading the game world is violating a term of service or a clause or something?”

Todd shrugged. “Going into raid dungeons isn’t against the rules. PvP isn’t against the rules. Every player who got access to early access paid their money fair and square from their accounts. They’re doing something that goes against the spirit of the game, and it’s frustrating everyone in the company, but the moment we start banning players with legit accounts they’ll cry foul and Horizon will make hay out of the headlines. ‘Lotus bans users who prefer the products we allowed them to sell in our game!’ Yeah, the gaming press will have a field day with that, and you know how reasonable gamers as a population are when it comes to this sort of thing.”

“So what the hell are we supposed to do to stop them if they’re using the system against us?” Kristoph asked.

Trelor paused. A thin smile played across his face. “What they weren’t counting on was my loophole.”

“A loophole?” Keia asked.

“The in-game crafting system I created and put into the game. A crafting system that includes things like the Spellcraft ability Conlan unlocked.”

“And you’re going to help him use that to fuck over Horizon?” Kristoph asked.

Trelor held up a hand. “I’m here to guide you, but I have to be careful how much involvement I have. If certain elements in the company found out what I was doing… Well let’s just say there are certain people in this company who want plausible deniability if I’m caught, so I’m going to do everything I can to avoid that. I hate Horizon, but I like my job, if you catch my drift.”

“I don’t care what your motivations are,” I said. “You want a little bit of revenge on Horizon, and I want to do anything I can to hurt them. So I guess we’re in this together.”

“Yeah,” Keia said with a sigh. “I guess we’re in this together.”

“I go where you go, man,” Kristoph said. “Besides. What’s Horizon going to do? Sue us? Can’t get jack shit out of someone who has nothing to begin with.”

I held a hand out. Trelor regarded that hand for a moment where I thought he might be having second thoughts about relying on a group of teenagers to enact his grand plan to bring the fight to Horizon by fighting unfair with unfair, then he reached out and took my offered hand.

“I’m already one of the senior designers for one of the greatest videogames that’s ever been created,” he muttered as he shook Conlan’s hand. “The worst that could happen to me is I get fired and go to another company where I’ll get a shitload more money for a quarter of the workload.”

“Seriously?” I asked.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “Lotus people can write their own ticket in the industry right now. Lots of companies are scrambling to nab people with experience developing for the earbuds. But I’m not going down without a fight here.”

“So,” I said, regarding him as we shook hands. “What exactly can you tell me about Spellcrafting? Is it going to be as easy to break the game with this crafting system as I think it is?”

“You’re a gamer after my own heart,” Trelor said. “I can already tell I’m going to enjoy this even if I don’t get fired and get to go off to another cushy job where I can coast for the rest of my career.”

I grinned right back at him. “Opportunities to fuck over Horizon are something money can’t buy.”

Like the story? Support my creative efforts at Patreon!

<<Chapter 47Chapter 49>>

Spellcraft Chapter 47: Trelor’s Oddments

Trelor the Magnificent leaned back and eyed me. Like he was eyeing me long enough that the moment started to get a little uncomfortable. Finally he spoke.

“Y’know it’s frightfully convenient that you came to me rather than making me go out into the world to try and find you,” he said.

I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of a mysterious figure from within a video game going out into the world to find me. That sounded like the kind of thing a Horizon representative might say.

Two days ago the thought of someone representing Horizon showing up in Lotus Online of all places would’ve seemed ridiculous, but I’d learned a lot since then.

So I wasn’t going to give anything away until I knew more about this guy and what he wanted from me.

“Oh yeah?” I responded. “It would’ve helped if I had some idea you were looking for me in the first place, y’know.”

Trelor smiled. “Yeah, well I figure anyone clever enough to fulfill the requirements to access the Spellcrafting system would be the kind of person to eventually head to one of my shops in one of the many magic districts that populate the towns and cities of the Lotus world.”

“One of your shops?” I asked.

There was a lot to unpack there, but I figured I’d focus on the most obvious thing first. Especially when I didn’t know who or what this guy was. He sure as hell wasn’t a player. There was another option that was the obvious answer, but that seemed impossible.

I glanced around the shop. It was a one room deal, with bubbling and glowing potions and magical reagents, and a small bookshelf that seemed dedicated to magical tomes. Though it didn’t seem like much of a shop because of the massive wood desk that dominated the center. A desk with various crystal balls glowing.

Most of them glowed with various colored mists that made them look like props from The Wizard of Oz or the original Star Trek, but there was at least one crystal ball that looked like it held some sort of code in green text on a black backdrop.

“Yeah, my shop is the same no matter what town you’re in,” he said, then frowned. “Some of the people in the game design department got pissy with me that I was copying and pasting into areas where this look didn’t fit, but they shut up when I pulled seniority on them.”

I shivered. Yeah, that impossible answer was seeming more and more likely. This guy wasn’t NPC, player character, or a Horizon representative.

“Pulled seniority?” I asked, happy to let this guy keep right on talking as long as he wanted to.

“Yeah, well it helped that I was just as relentless at ignoring the city planning people as the city planning people were about bitching in emails,” he said. “Seniority didn’t hurt.”

“Right,” I said. I figured it was time to ask the obvious question. “So I’m assuming that means you work for Lotus?”

“Of course I work for Lotus!” he said, slamming his hand down on a desk and causing a crystal ball filled with a glowing green mist to go tumbling off the edge of his desk where it landed with a small mushroom cloud of that same green mist.

“Um, that’s not going to hurt me, is it?” I asked.

“Shouldn’t,” Trelor said, then waved a hand and the thing disappeared. “Better safe than sorry, though. I put some stuff in here because it looked pretty. Didn’t bother to check whether or not it could hurt someone without immunity.”

“Right,” I said. “So you work for Lotus and you’re telling me you work for Lotus. Are you a gamemaster?”

“Gamemasters,” he said with a snort. “Minimum wage keyboard jockeys who spend all their time doing low-level tech support for idiot gamers who can’t figure out how to play the game properly, chasing after bugs the developers haven’t bothered to stamp out because they’re putting out real fires, or babysitting players who can’t get along with each other without someone official laying the smack down.”

“So that’s a no?” I asked.

“I’m so beyond any of those tasks,” he said.

“If you’re beyond those tasks then what are you doing here? Have I done something wrong?”

It wouldn’t be the first time I’d had an up close and personal meeting with someone a little higher on the org chart than a gamemaster lately, after all. The encounter with that Horizon prick was still fresh in my mind. Plus there was that incident with blowing some people up with a gem.

“I don’t know,” Trelor said, leaning over his desk and winking. “Have you done something lately that might grab the attention of those knuckle draggers down in the babysitting department?”

It took me a moment to realize that when he referred to the “babysitting department” he was talking about the gamemasters. The people who were tasked with keeping an eye on things in the game and making sure people didn’t step out of line.

“You really aren’t a GM, are you?” I asked.

“What would make you think that, Conlan?” he asked, his eyes twinkling. “Aside from the fact that I just all but told you I’m not with my obvious disdain for the trained monkeys reciting from scripts because it’s cheaper to have humans do that than to develop an AI to replace them?”

I was liking this guy more and more. He was a smartass after my own heart, so I decided to respond in kind. “Well you don’t have a stick perpetually shoved up your ass like most gamemasters do.”

Trelor barked a laugh at that. “I think I’m gonna like you kid. And no, I’m not a gamemaster. Dealing with that shit is well below my paygrade, though some of’em might be getting close to what I make in a week this month with all the overtime they’re putting in trying to keep up with gamers exploiting this new world we’ve made for them.”

He stared at me as he mentioned exploiting the new world.

“So have you done anything lately to exploit the world we’ve made for you, Conlan?”

There was something about his tone that said this wasn’t a good time to lie. That he already knew everything I’d done, and was testing me to see if I’d tell him the truth.

“Um, well maybe I blew some people up,” I said. “But it was an accident the first time, and they had it coming the second time! Fucking Horizon pricks.”

I was letting my anger get the best of me. That wasn’t good. At least not in front of someone who worked for Lotus who could probably ban me if he really wanted to.

“And your little discovery in those mines is exactly why you’re here,” Trelor said.

My shoulders slumped and I looked down as a pit of ice formed in my stomach. Fuck. I was in trouble for blowing up those Horizon assholes, and it was so bad that they’d sent someone more powerful than a GM to swat me down. It probably wasn’t helping things that I’d also talked about how the fuckers deserved it.

They did deserve it, but in my experience official representatives of a game company usually didn’t care about the specifics of rules being broken so much as they cared about banning anyone who was breaking those rules.

“And I agree those assholes had it coming,” Trelor said, a grin splitting his face. “Fuck Horizon!”

I stared at him. Blinked a couple of times as my brain caught up to what he’d just said. I even rubbed my eyes to make sure I was seeing what I thought I saw. An official representative of Lotus who was about to ban me for exploiting their systems shouldn’t be sitting there leaning over his desk grinning. He should be glowering at me, royally pissed off that I was breaking the rules in his game, but there was none of that with Trelor.

It didn’t make sense. And I got that tingling along my scalp that told me there was something interesting going on here, because I figured things not making sense meant there was an opportunity here.

Especially when he was talking smack about fucking Horizon.

“So you don’t like Horizon either?” I asked.

“No one who built this game likes those assholes,” he said. “Sure it was nice that they gave us those licensing fees for their modules while we were working on Lotus Online. They provided a stopgap that had people wanting to buy the earbuds while we were working on this.”

He gestured all around him, and the meaning was clear enough. Most everyone had figured Lotus was doing something like that, but it was weird to hear someone from the company laying it out like that.

“But you still don’t like them even though they kept Lotus afloat?” I asked.

“Of course not!” he growled. “What self-respecting gamer likes those fuckers? Almost everyone who built Lotus are gamers, even if we haven’t had much time for games outside of Lotus since crunch time started to get this launched.”

My eyes narrowed. On the one hand it was interesting getting all this insider information, but on the other hand…

“Why are you telling me any of this?” I asked.

“Why not?” he asked with a shrug.

“I mean aren’t you worried about getting fired? What if I go out and show the world the playback from this?”

Trelor grinned and made an expansive gesture. “Go ahead. Show me the recording.”

I figured I knew where the hell this was going before I got there, but I thought about accessing my personal recordings anyway. Sure enough when I looked at my personal stream, something that saved the last twenty-four hours unless I went in and selected something to save more permanently, there was a big black screen with the glowing outline of a hand flipping the bird that started right around the time I went into Trelor’s Oddments.

“Okay, so you’ve got my attention,” I said. “Why did you bring me here? Is it because of the gem I used to blow up those Horizon fucks?”

“The gem you used to blow up Horizon fucks?” he asked, arching an eyebrow and showing something other than amusement for the first time since he’d introduced himself.

“You don’t know about that?” I asked, suddenly getting the feeling of a perp who’d given up too much to a cop who had no idea what the fuck was going on.

“Humor me and assume I don’t,” he said, still arching that eyebrow.

“If you don’t know then there’s no way I’m going to give anything away,” I said.

Trelor sighed. “Would you be willing to tell me something if I told you I had no interest in getting you in trouble?”

“Sounds like the kind of thing a cop would say to someone to convince them they aren’t about to get thrown in the slammer,” I said. “So no thanks.”

Trelor frowned for another long moment. He muttered to himself for a bit, then muttered something at one of those glowing orbs. It pulsed for a moment, and then everything around us went dead. All the glowing and the special effects that made the place look magical.

“I need your help, kid,” he said.

“My help?”

“You’re the first fruits of my labor. The first person capable of Spellcrafting who also fits some very specific requirements I’m looking for.”

My chest felt tight. He’d given a hell of a lot away there. There were other people out there who could Spellcraft. At least that bit about me being the first who also fit his requirements would seem to indicate there were others out there who could Spellcraft.

I wasn’t alone, but the others were keeping their mouths shut if what I’d read, or rather what I hadn’t read, on the official forums was anything to go by.

“Care to go into exactly what sort of ‘specific requirements’ you’re looking for?” I asked.

Trelor’s grin was positively rapacious. Like we’re talking it took the looks Keia gave when she was at her most bloodthirsty and turned them up to eleven. It helped that the smile was plastered on the face of a dude with a villainous Van Dyke, and not a hot elf chick.

I definitely didn’t want to make out with him as he grinned rapaciously, that was for sure.

“That’s simple enough,” he said. “I’m looking for someone capable of unlocking several crafting and gathering skills in rapid succession which showed the appropriate interest in crafting over killing.”

“That’s it?” I said. “But I’ve mostly been gathering. I haven’t actually crafted anything yet.”

“But you were pursuing it,” he replied. “Besides, that’s not the most important thing I’m looking for.”

“And that most important thing is?”

“I need someone with no allegiance to Horizon,” he said. “In fact, you might say I want someone who hates Horizon with such a deep and abiding passion that nothing will stop them from trying to get a little revenge on those bastards.”

I licked my lips. I was liking what this guy said more and more. Sure it was a little creepy that the game had somehow been rummaging around in my head to discover motivations like that, but I guess it’s the least I should’ve expected from a system that had direct access to my brain.

“Can Horizon access my thoughts to the degree you seem to be able to?” I asked.

“Fuck no!” Trelor said, and hearing that kind of potty mouth from a badass wizard was a touch disconcerting. “I’m not even supposed to be able to do that, no one in Lotus is, but I’ve had some help from Al.”

“Al?” I asked.

“We can talk about that later. If you decide to work with me,” he said.

“So you’re a wizard,” I said.

“Sort of,” Trelor said. “And you’re a crafter?”

“Is it that obvious?” I asked. “Crafting is way better than whacking monsters. Especially if you’re talking a crafting system that can break a game.”

“A man after my own heart,” Trelor said. “Hell. Some of my best memories from playing games are from crafting.”

“Mine too,” I said, then my eyes narrowed as I looked around the room.

“So you work for Lotus,” I said.

“Guilty as charged.”

“And you need my help for some reason.”

“More than you could imagine.”

“I suppose I have one question before I give you a yes or a no.”

“Shoot.”

“Why the fuck are you assholes letting Horizon take over the game and ruin it? The whole world was looking forward to a game where Horizon wasn’t calling the shots, and you let them send in an invading army? What the ever loving fuck are you thinking?”

Like the story? Support my creative efforts at Patreon!

<<Chapter 46Chapter 48>>

Spellcraft Chapter 46: To the Magic District

“That went well,” Keia said.

She was staring at the still receding form of Torian, alternately screaming abuse and in pain, with a predatory gleam in her eyes that reminded me it would be a terrible idea to ever get on her bad side.

“Tell me about it,” I said, glancing to the forge down the street and the Horizon Dawn wall still around it even though we’d left. “I guess we need to find a different forge.”

The real bitch was they were all standing together which meant it’d be easy and fun to take them out, but that wasn’t something I dared do considering all the trouble it would cause.

“I think that’s the only forge in this town,” Keia said.

“That can’t possibly be the only forge in town,” I said. “This place is way too big for that.”

“Is it?” Kristoph asked. “I think you got spoiled by the Elder Scrolls games where there are always redundant crafting locations.”

Keia and I both turned to stare at him with just a touch of surprise. He shrugged.

“Hang around this guy long enough and you pick up a few things,” he said.

“There has to be more than one,” I said. “Is there a way to pull up a city map or something and…”

I cut off. Because of course the moment I started thinking about pulling up a city map the game obliged me by pulling up a map with key locations marked. With glowing runes rather than in English, which wasn’t helpful at all. I stared at the thing and thought about getting a translation, but instead text along the bottom was highlighted.

A key.

“Seriously?” I growled.

“What’s up?” Keia asked.

I gestured to the city map. She came around beside me, moving in close which helped temper my frustration.

“The map is labeled in some weird runes. I have to look at the key at the bottom like this is some theme park or something,” I growled.

“Oh yeah, that’s totally in goblin,” she said. “The little guys can speak English, at least the ones in Nilbog, but the devs made some weird artistic choice on maps and other stuff written in whatever their language is.”

I muttered as I scanned the key down at the bottom. 

“Find anything?” Kristoph asked.

“There are a couple of crafting hubs, but they’re all in semi-public areas,” I said.

“That’s not ideal,” Keia said.

“Why not? If there’s another forge let’s go there and get to it,” Kristoph said.

I double checked to make sure we were in party chat. The last thing I wanted was for loose lips to sink this ship before it even got a chance to set sail, but Keia beat me to it.

“We want to keep this whole Spellcrafting thing on the down low,” she said. “Using a new ability no one in the game knows about in a public area isn’t the best way to keep things nice and inconspicuous.”

“Spellcrafting?” Kristoph asked. “What the hell is that?”

Again I double checked that we were in party chat, and breathed a sigh of relief. Even knowing the name might be enough for some enterprising asshole to figure out a way to unlock the skill for themselves.

“Wanna fill him in on the short version?” I asked.

I was about to despair of finding what I was looking for when my eyes fell across something interesting.

“Trelor’s Oddments?” I asked. “What the heck is that?”

“Trelor’s Oddments?” Keia said. “Never heard of it.”

“It’s down in the Magic District,” I said. “That sounds promising.”

“This town has a Magic District?” Kristoph asked. “And are either of you going to tell me what the hell Spellcrafting is?”

“You think you’re going to find a forge in the Magic District?” Keia asked. “What are you smoking? That’s a bunch of wizards and mages and magic types running around in their robes blowing stuff up with powers beyond the understanding of man.”

“It says there’s a crafting hub there,” I said. “Maybe they’ll…”

“Trouble,” Kristoph growled.

I looked up from the map to see a bunch of Horizon Dawn tabards standing close enough to be threatening while far enough away that they wouldn’t raise any goblin guard ire. Though a glance around showed goblins also hanging back a little from the Horizon people with hands on their short swords.

It occurred to me that maybe it wasn’t the greatest idea to be talking about anything to do with my crafting endeavors where they could listen in. Sure we were talking in party chat, but it only took one slip of the mind, literally, to push our conversation into general chat which would seriously fuck things up.

“Let’s get a move on,” I said. “I don’t like the company around here.”

Keia looked up and seemed to realize we were surrounded by Horizon Dawn. Her mouth turned down in distaste.

“Good call,” she said. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

“Aww, are you sure I can’t smash one of their heads in?” Kristoph asked.

A few of the Horizon Dawn people frowned at that. Meanwhile Kristoph grinned. He’d sent that one out in general chat intentionally. Which was yet another illustration of why it was a bad idea to be standing here having this conversation. What if he forgot to switch back?

“Come on,” I said. “Act casual. Like we’re out for a stroll and don’t see them.”

“Pretty hard to act like that after what Kristoph just said,” Keia muttered.

So we turned and walked. Which wasn’t a great escape plan, but I figured they wouldn’t try anything with the guards obviously watching. Then again I’d underestimated Horizon Dawn’s stupidity a few times before and been unpleasantly surprised.

And it looked like they didn’t care that their were goblins out looking for an excuse to turn them into pincushions, because they followed right along behind us. They didn’t even bother to look like they were sneaking around.

“Looks like we still have company,” Kristoph said.

“Fucking great,” Keia said. “They’re probably hoping to catch us unawares off in some back alley  where they can fuck us up.”

“Wholesome bunch, these Horizon Dawn assholes,” Kristoph said.

“Idiots, too, with all those goblins watching,” I said.

“You don’t know the half of it,” she said.

“So what do we do?” I asked. “I’m not worried they’ll be able to catch us, but I also don’t want them following us to see my crafting.”

“You keep walking,” Keia said. “Make yourself look like a nice juicy target and walk into a side alley. Me and Kristoph will take care of the rest.”

“Are you out of your elven mind?” I asked.

Kristoph grinned. “How does it feel being the bait for a change?”

“You’re going to be the bait too,” she said. “Keep walking when he ducks into his side alley. I want to split them up. The better to shoot their asses.”

Kristophs face fell.

Then she was gone. I wanted to protest, but it wasn’t like I could stand and argue with nothing.

“For the record,” I said into party chat where I knew she could hear me. “I didn’t agree to a single bit of this, and I’m not happy about it!”

“The more you stand around talking to nothing the more chance you give away that we’re doing something even if they can’t hear what you’re saying,” Keia said. “So you might want to shut up and start looking like a big juicy newbie who’s easy to kill sooner rather than later.”

I said a few choice words about her not giving me much of a choice in being the “big juicy target,” but I also knew I didn’t have much choice. I’d pulled this with Kristoph often enough that I knew the drill. From the way he was grinning ear to ear and waggling his eyebrows at me he was enjoying the ever loving fuck out of me being put in this situation.

I could only hope she was just as crafty as I was when it came to making up a plan on the fly. Otherwise we were going to be in some serious trouble. 

“Remind me to never do this to you again,” I growled at Kristoph.

“I remind you every time you do it to me,” he said. “I don’t think this time is going to be any diffrent though.”

“Probably not,” I said as I walked along with him trying to find an obvious alley to duck into as we got closer to the Magic District.

Besides, he was right. There wasn’t a chance I wasn’t going to do something like this to Kristoph ever again just because I was in the boiling pot right now.

Putting Kristoph in awkward and potentially life-threatening situations in the name of pulling off a good plan was one of the things I enjoyed the most about playing games with Kristoph. Even Kristoph tended to agree, eventually, if the way he continued to allow himself to be put up as the sacrificial offering was anything to go by.

“Okay. I need to look like a nice juicy noob who’s waiting to get the crap kicked out of me in a dark alley,” I said. “That shouldn’t be too hard. Especially since I am a complete noob and they could easily kick the crap out of me if they wanted to.”

The crowd seemed to be thinning out as we got closer to the Magic District. That seemed about right. In my experience there weren’t all that many people who were interested in a nice squishy magic glass cannon when they could get out there and smack stuff around with sharp pointy weapons or thick blunt weapons.

Or maybe the lack of people was simply the fates aligning and creating the perfect opportunity for me and Kristoph to get ganked.

Whatever the reason, I wasn’t sure if I should be happy or upset that I’d suddenly found myself in a much thinner crowd.

“I think I see my exit up ahead,” I said, looking at an alley that, oddly enough, ran right behind this Trelor’s Oddments place and the crafting hub for the Magic District. Not that there was any way to get to that crafting hub from here. The alley was a dead end.

I really hoped Keia knew what she was doing.

“Good luck man,” Kristoph said.

“You too,” I said.

“No worries for me,” he said. “I’m used to it. Try to dodge when they shove their daggers at your kidneys, by the way, that seems to be one of the premade combat moves the stealth types use.”

“Thanks,” I said, feeling sick to my stomach as I imagined a dagger sinking into my kidneys. Virtual or otherwise, pain slider aside, that sounded like it’d hurt like a motherfucker. 

I turned into a surprisingly well-maintained alley. Not the dank and dark alley good for some surreptitious roughing up I’d been hoping for. Though on second thought I wasn’t sure why I should be hoping for a place that was conducive to having a bunch of people roughing me up.

Intricate stonework fit together on either wall. The one nearest me was carved in the shape of a wizard calling down fire from the sky. We’re talking the kind of thing that wouldn’t have been out of place airbrushed on the side of an ancient conversion van back when internal combustion vehicles were still a thing.

“Okay then,” I said. “I’m here. What are you doing Keia?”

“So you are here,” a mysterious voice said from behind me. 

A mysterious voice that din’t belong to Keia or any of the Horizon Dawn assholes I’d run into so far, though that didn’t mean this wasn’t a new Horizon Dawn asshole. I turned towards the shadows gathering in the back of the alley, though that seemed like an odd place for shadows to be gathering considering the sun was almost overhead and more than capable of beaming its nuclear fire down into the alley. 

“Though my name isn’t Keia,” the voice said from behind me and towards the alley entrance. “It is nice to finally meet you though, Conlan.”

I jumped and turned from my inspection of the shadowy back wall. And found myself facing a man who looked an awful lot like the wizard depicted in the alley wall.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Nice to meet you too,” the wizard said. “It’s good to see manners are still alive and well in the younger generation.”

I looked the man up and down. He wore long robes and a hat that was just a touch too short to have the classic Merlin vibe to it. Also his beard wasn’t long, flowing, and white. Rather it was close cropped. More of a bright orange Van Dyke than a traditional wizard beard. 

Which had me wondering if this guy was a good wizard, or a bad wizard. That sort of facial hair was usually associated with asshole mages who preferred using their powers to mess with heroic transplanted football players trying to interrupt their plans for universal domination and not the friendly good sort of wizard who did nice things for their friends like handing out oddly flavored jellybeans or singlehandedly taking on a balrog.

“Well you already know who I am,” I said.

I tried to project a confidence I didn’t feel. Especially when Horizon Dawn was at my back and Keia would be appearing any time now to take out anyone potentially attacking me. The problem being I wasn’t sure if this guy was attacking me or not, and I had the strange certain feeling that attacking him would be a bad idea.

“I do know quite a bit about you, Colin” the wizard said.

I jumped. This guy knew my real name. I mean sure Torian and company also knew who I was, but I knew who they were. I didn’t like some random asshole knowing who I was.

“So it seems only fair that you tell me who you are?” I asked. “Maybe in and out of the game?”

This guy had “player character” written all over him, though oddly enough when I tried to inspect him nothing came up. Which had me wondering what the hell he was, but I figured we could start with a name.

“I am Trelor,” the wizard said. “And I was hoping you would make your way to my little neck of the woods here. Or my little corner of the town. Whatever. My part of the game.”

Okay. He knew this was a game. Which meant there had to be a human behind the wizard, right? Unless the machines had risen while I was in here, which seemed unlikely since I was still alive. Unless they wanted to trap us in a game in a Matrix style apocalypse instead of the kind of apocalypse that featured Schwarzenegger killing shit well past his prime.

“Right,” I said, suddenly figuring it might be a better idea to take my chances with Horizon Dawn than to stay around this enigma who knew who I was. “Well I’ve kind of got some people who are after me and some friends who are trying to kill them, and I know they’re not going to like it if they see me chatting with strange wizards, so…”

“You mean those friends?” Trelor said, gesturing towards the end of the alley.

I wheeled around just in time to see the assholes from Horizon Dawn who’d been tailing me looking down at the alleyway. Right at me. Us.

They should’ve seen us. Only they stared right through us. Obviously something was cloaking us from those assholes.

I wheeled around and faced the youngish wizard again. Looked at him with a newfound respect, and a healthy touch of fear. This time when I spoke, my voice was almost reverent. I got the feeling I definitely wasn’t looking at a mere NPC, and I didn’t know what to make of it.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“A friend,” Trelor said. “Now come. Join me in my shop. I can assure you no one will bother you while we have a chat about some of the new abilities you’ve discovered.”

Like the story? Support my creative efforts at Patreon!

<<Chapter 45Chapter 47>>

Spellcraft Chapter 45: Stabby Little Pointy-Eared Murder Machines

Well that was certainly a plan. Attack the captain of the goblin guard and rely on his buddies to back him up.

It wasn’t a very good plan. Most plans forged in the moment and fueled by rage and a desire for revenge weren’t all that great, I knew from experience in my early days fucking with Horizon, but it was certainly a plan.

The major flaw with that plan was none of Torian’s buddies seemed inclined to provide any backup. He turned and stared at them. Glared, is more like it.

All those Horizon Dawn guild tabards that’d looked so intimidating melting out of the crowd moments ago looked a hell of a lot less intimidating now as they stood their scratching their asses and staring at Torian while not making use of all the weapons they’d been so lovingly feeling up moments ago to add to the intimidation factor.

Heck, some of them were in the process of melting back into the crowd where they wouldn’t have to worry about the goblins coming for them.

“What are you doing?” he growled. “I said attack and that means you need to…”

That was the only thing he managed to get out before he was tackled to the ground by a group of goblins. Like you wouldn’t think a goblin could be big enough to take down a full sized human, but with the way they dogpiled on him they had no problem felling him like a massive gleaming plate tree.

They all raised their swords and it looked like they were about to end Torian when a sharp bark held them back.

“Wait!”

The goblin officer walked over. Yeah, I was pretty sure this was the same guy who’d saved our ass the first day we were in the game. Which made sense if his patrol area was the immediate vicinity of the Nilbog town circle.

The goblin shook his head the entire way. Like he was disappointed in Torian for doing this, though the rapacious grin he wore showed he was anything but disappointed at the opportunity to mess with Horizon Dawn’s numero uno. 

The whole look would’ve been comical with the way the goblin’s ears twitched this way and that if it wasn’t so damn serious with all those goblins poised over Torian with their swords ready to end his digital life the moment that goblin officer gave the word.

“I wonder if we can take his stuff if the goblins kill him,” Kristoph muttered.

I glanced around in a slight panic to make sure no one had heard that, then realized he was talking in party chat which meant his words were for us only. Though to be fair that was exactly the kind of idiot thing he’d say out loud to piss someone off because he knew it’d piss them off, and damn the consequences.

“That’s a good question,” Keia said. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone killed by the guards to know whether or not that’s possible.”

“I didn’t see anything about it in any of the research I did either,” I said. “Though I was more interested in crafting stuff and some of the political structures in the game.”

“Political structures in the game?” Kristoph said with a snort. “Fucking nerd.”

“Quiet,” Keia said. “This shit is getting good.”

“Do you want some popcorn?” I asked.

“If I could get some then yeah, I’d totally go for it right now,” Keia said. “Now hush and listen to the nice goblin officer.”

“You’re about to make a serious mistake,” Torian growled at the goblin.

His weapon hand twitched and his massive sword clanged against the cobblestones, but otherwise he wasn’t able to move said weapon hand since there were currently three goblin guards piled on his arm holding it down.

“I’m afraid I’m going to have to take you in on charges of disturbing the peace,” the goblin officer said, leaning down on his knees which brought him level with Torian now that the idiot was vertically challenged with a group of angry goblins on top of him. “And I’m afraid that since you not only attacked citizens, but also a captain of the guard, we’re not going to be able to accept a fee this time to make all of this go away.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Torian said. “There’s always a fee you’ll take. You’re goblins.”

I wasn’t one hundred percent sure about what constituted a nasty racial slur in Lotus. All I knew was there were a lot of game writers who liked to take real world situations and use them as shorthand in game situations like this.

It was a storytelling crutch as old as video games with a plot more complicated than “jump on things that get in your way.” Take a little bit of racial tension in the real world, slap a fantastical or science fiction veneer over the whole thing using whatever race is the underdog in said setting, and suddenly you had cruise control for the appearance of depth in a narrative even if it was less impressive if someone knew what they were looking at.

Which is to say the cultural and racial subtext was there, bright and clear for anyone who had an interest in postcolonial criticism of society’s slow and grinding descent into technological ennui, but most people in the game were too busy killing monsters and gathering loot to notice or care about the hack writing.

I got the feeling that saying someone was “just a goblin” in reference to accepting money to make a problem go away was a pretty nasty racial slur against those goblins. Not because of any inherent nastiness in what was being said so much as because Torian was the one saying it and he sounded pretty pleased with himself. 

He was totally the type who’d toss nasty terms like that around without much thought for how those terms might get the shit kicked out of him when the underclass being insulted by those slurs was currently piled on top of him with a whole lot of cutlery aimed at bits of his anatomy critical for the maintenance of life.

From the way the goblins’ eyes narrowed, not to mention how several of them moved their swords down just a little, just enough that the captain had to bark at them to cool their jets again as the points on their blades scraped against his pretty armor, Torian was closer to death than he could possibly imagine.

It seemed a touch incongruous to me that the guard captain would tell his guards to cool their jets considering we were in a fantasy world where, as far as I knew, fixed wing aircraft hadn’t been invented, let alone jet propulsion. Though what was a bit of anachronism between friends in a world like this?

Not to mention that had me looking towards the airships moving over the town and wondering, not for the first time, whether or not it might be possible to make something like jet engines a little less anachronistic to the setting.

“I’m afraid in this case there are some things that go beyond money,” the goblin captain said, a rapacious grin spreading across his face even as he spread his arms and shrugged in an apologetic gesture that was anything but.

“Bake him away, toys,” the guard captain said, grinning as he made an ancient reference that pulled me out of the immersion just a bit. Someone in the writing department was clearly a fan of late twentieth and early twenty-first century prime time animation.

“You assholes,” Torian shouted at his guildies. “Aren’t you going to do anything?”

Gregor looked around as though he was expecting someone else to take the heat. Then when he realized they were all looking to him he sighed. Stepped forward and hit the still sputtering Torian with an apologetic shrug.

“Sorry man,” he said. “You’re the one who told us not to attack guards where other guards could see us.”

Torian’s eyes narrowed and Gregor seemed to realize, too late, that he might’ve given something away. Then his eyes went wide and he bellowed in pain as one of the goblin guards slammed a sword into Torian’s thigh.

“I told you not to attack him!” the officer barked, though there was something to his tone that said they also weren’t supposed to attack him where anyone could see, and Torian was going to be in deep shit if they managed to cart him off.

“Sorry. I sneezed,” the goblin said.

The officer glared. “I didn’t hear a sneeze.”

The goblin let out a couple of half-assed coughs as he twisted the blade this way and that causing Torian to bellow in pain all over again. He glared at the few remaining Horizon Dawn people, and it was clear that all reason and control had left him.

“You assholes fight off higher level goblins like this in the raid dungeon all the time!” Torian shouted as the goblins started dragging him away to what I imagined was going to be a pretty unpleasant fate. The mention of killing goblins in the raid dungeon didn’t seem to endear him to his tiny captives who suddenly got a bit more rough as they dragged him away. 

The one who still had a sword embedded in Torian’s thigh was riding him like a bucking bronco and using that sword to maintain his position, laughing gleefully every time Torian cried out in pain.

“That’s rough,” Kristoph said, and this time he didn’t bother saying it in party chat. A few other non-Horizon Dawn players around us nodded in agreement.

“They’re like stabby little pointy-eared murder machines,” Keia said.

“I don’t want to be on their bad side,” I agreed.

Torian’s eyes locked on me and Keia and Kristoph, and there was a moment of clarity through the pain.

“Don’t let them use any of the crafting stuff in this town. This is our town!”

“Um, how do we do that?” Gregor shouted at Torian, seeming genuinely confused as the forge looked like it was open to all and, I suspected, without that writ of nobility there was no way they could prevent someone from accessing the thing.

“Form a human chain around the thing and don’t let them touch it! I don’t care how you do it, just get it done!”

I sighed and rolled my eyes. I’d really been hoping I could get in some quality time at the forge. My mind was awash with all the wonderful things I could do with a combination of weapons and Spellcrafting supplies. Sure I’d have to start small, but still. There were possibilities opening up in my mind now that I had access to the forge and a little research about how they worked, and Torian had just slammed the door on those possibilities.

The Horizon Dawn people left behind, the ones who’d been so ineffective in saving their guildmaster, formed a circle around the forge. I sighed. Though I had to admit that it probably wasn’t an ideal location for my plans to begin with.

The forge was in the middle of town, after all. There were people all around us. People who’d see what I was doing and maybe ask questions or get ideas. The whole point of having a secret ability that no one else knew about that gave me an unfair advantage was lost the moment I let anyone else know about that secret ability.

It wouldn’t do for me to start advertising Spellcrafting, though I wasn’t even sure about the rules for this branch of crafting. I’d been able to destroy weapons to discover their spell infusions and infuse gems away from a Spellcrafting table, but there had to be a reason for those Spellcrafting tables to exist.

The problem was there wasn’t anything out there about Spellcrafting on the web because it was either super rare or anyone who had discovered it was keeping their mouths shut, so I was grasping in the dark and figuring out the rules as I went along. I didn’t want to figure out those rules in public where someone might see what I was doing and decide they were going to try and figure it out for themselves.

I also didn’t stand a chance of fighting off all the assholes who’d formed up around the forge. So I satisfied myself with flipping Gregor and Kravos the bird. I figured getting their guild leader dragged off to be tortured by the goblin guards was good enough for one day, and I didn’t want to press my luck. Even if there were more guards around the place fingering their swords and looking like they were waiting for someone in Horizon Dawn to give them an excuse.

“I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere here,” I said.

“I don’t think so either,” Keia said with a sigh as she looked longingly at a blacksmith working the forge who I assumed was the guy she needed to turn in her quest. Unfortunately he was behind the Horizon human wall that’d just formed. “I suppose we should just move on.”

“That’s right,” Gregor said. “You assholes get a move on. If you know what’s good for you, you won’t come back here either. You’d be better off if you left town for good.”

“We’d be happy to show you the way,” Kravos said, holding a hand out and allowing a flame to dance above his fingers.

I rolled my eyes. It took every ounce of my self-control not to pull out one of my gems, infuse it with the wrong kind of spell, and toss it on the forge to see how many more Horizon people I could kill.

The only thing that stopped me was we were in the middle of a crowded area where the same problem applied as when I thought about using the forge and trying out my Spellcrafting abilities in front of everyone. 

Back at that mine I’d had no one behind me to see me surreptitiously infusing a gem with the wrong spell. Here I was dealing with a crowd, and there was always a chance a player would see what I was doing and ask questions. Questions I didn’t want to answer.

Not to mention Torian had been right on the money about risking an AoE attack in a crowded spot. I didn’t want to hit non-Horizon players, or risk lowering my reputation with the goblins by accidentally taking one of them out.

So I turned and walked away from the confrontation Gregor and Kravos were clearly hoping for. Yesterday I might’ve let myself get goaded into that fight, but I wasn’t playing that game today, tomorrow, or ever again.

Like the story? Support my creative efforts at Patreon!

<<Chapter 44Chapter 46>>