“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.

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