I ran as fast as I could, which apparently wasn’t very fast since I could hear the Horizon bitch catching up to me. Something whooshed through the air behind me and I dove for the ground.
I imagined myself diving for the ground and doing an acrobatic roll that saved my ass while also preventing that ass from getting a sword stuck in it, but the actual result was I slammed against the grimy cobblestones and slid a couple of feet, getting an introduction to how realistic the feeling of slamming into cobblestones was in this game.
I scrambled around to my backside and pulled away from the girl. Meanwhile she did the opposite and advanced on me with her swords out.
“You’re only prolonging this,” she said.
I needed to stall. That’d been close. If her swords hit me she would’ve realized I was still immune to PvP. If she realized I was still immune she’d go back to kill Kristoph’s non-immune ass.
I settled on her tabard and blurted out the first thing that came to mind when I saw it.
“Why are you wearing the Horizon logo?” I asked.
“Oh, does the little baby not know who really runs this game?” the girl asked. “Well you’re about to find out. Dealing with little pricks like you is why I wear this tabard. Proudly.”
I held my hands up as though that might be enough to ward her off. I wanted to seem like I was a cornered lowbie noob, though the term “lowbie” didn’t feel like it was all that accurate in a game where a person’s ability wasn’t determined by an outright level so much as by the skills they’d leveled up.
Either way I figured the lowbie noob was more of a platonic ideal in this situation even if it wasn’t something that could truly exist in this game. So I did what I figured a lowbie noob in my situation would do when the person attacking them had paused to monologue long enough to let me put some distance between us.
I scrambled to my feet and ran. Again.
The woman who’d been ready to have a little fun at my expense cursed and ran after me, her feet slapping against the pavement as she gave up all pretense of stealth.
Why should she even bother with stealth when she had me so thoroughly outmatched?
I rounded a corner and sprinted towards the edge of town. It was a damn good thing the whole PVP immunity thing was something that had to do with time played rather than location. I’d played some games where I would’ve been toast the moment I left a town safe zone.
I needed to draw her somewhere that would give Kristoph enough time to take care of business on his end. Assuming he could take care of business on his end.
It was entirely possible I was going to all this trouble leading this woman away and Kristoph was still going to have his ass handed to him. That lower skilled chick could’ve been running a deception or something wearing that lower level gear.
Hell, even with that less impressive gear she might be able to kick Kristoph’s ass even if she was just as new to the game as we were.
“How are you doing?” I asked in party chat, breathing heavily. The stitch forming in my side was way too realistic.
“A little busy right now,” Kristoph said, the clang of weapons echoing in the background. “But it looks like this chick is a noob in slightly less than noob clothing.”
“Good to hear,” I said with a grin.
To quote an ancient bit of entertainment: I loved it when a plan came together. Especially when it was something I’d put together on the fly without much hope of it actually working.
“I’m going to get you, you little shit!” my pursuer cried out after me. “And when I get ahold of you I’m going to flay you alive and bring back your skin for Gregor and Torian to make into a new piece of leather armor!”
Great. Not only was she trying to kill me, but she was also an unhinged nutjob.
I figured that was going to create a hell of an ethics debate the first time someone tried to go all creepy serial killer on someone else in this game given the realism. Or the first time someone tried to rape someone or do any of a myriad of things that fucked up people could do in a realistic game like this.
I really didn’t want to be the first subject of someone doing something ethically questionable enough that it created that debate about whether or not torture was something the game would allow. I had to hope my plan would hold together.
“Have to catch me first!” I shouted over my shoulder.
I rounded another corner and dashed down an alley without thinking about what I was doing, and that proved to be a mistake. I quickly found myself at the end of said grimy and disgusting alley where there was literally no escape. I looked up and around to see if there was a way to climb out of the place, but there was nothing obvious.
“I’ve got you now, you little shit,” the woman growled. “Torian is going to be very happy with me.”
I whirled around and eyed the swords this woman was raising at me. She smiled as she brought her swords down on me. I heard a whoosh and felt the air moving ahead of the things as her triumphant expression turned to confusion when her swords didn’t make contact. No, they jerked to the side in a rubbery motion instead of neatly lobbing my head off. As though there was an invisible shield around me.
Which, of course, there totally was. I’d never been so happy to discover that my assumptions about a game’s mechanics were still correct.
I grinned as the girl looked at me with slowly dawning realization.
“Oops,” I said. “Did you think I’d be stupid enough to flag myself for PVP when I don’t have a chance of taking you in a fair fight?”
“But why would you…”
Her eyes went wide. She’d realized, too late, what was going on. Her lips moved but no noise reached me as she talked in her own party chat. Not that it mattered. I could tell from the way her expression darkened that she wasn’t learning anything she cared for.
“You little piece of shit,” she said. “I’m going to get you for that.”
“You keep saying that,” I said. “But I’m not afraid of you and whatever threats you want to toss my way. If your bossman and his minions in leather and robes couldn’t scare me then you’re not doing jack shit.”
I turned my attention to Kristoph. I did look off to the side to make it clear I wasn’t talking to the crazy lady in front of me. I also wondered if there was a setting that allowed my party chat conversation to be broadcast in local chat around me, and a little option glowed at the bottom of my heads up display letting me know the game interface had made it so.
I grinned. Good. I wanted her to hear my conversation with Kristoph.
“You doing okay buddy?”
“Taking care of business,” Kristoph said, his voice echoing out across the dark alley because apparently I’d allowed group chat to broadcast. There was a thunk followed by a splorch, and then another thunk. Then Kristoph came back on the line, breathing hard. “We’ve got one newbie working for the forces of darkness who’s had her head bashed in.”
There was a pause.
“By the way. PVP combat in this game is really disgusting.”
“I can imagine,” I said after imagining some very unpleasant ways Kristoph’s fight could’ve ended even if he was the victor.
I turned back to my would-be attacker. I also noticed movement at the alley entrance. At first I worried it was Horizon Dawn reinforcements, for all that they couldn’t hurt me right now, but then I grinned as I realized those shadows were a little too low to the ground to be human player characters.
“So… Looks like this is done. You want to go pick up the remains of your friend? I can assure you my buddy isn’t going to be there by the time I get there, but you might be able to safe her stuff.”
I really hoped Kristoph picked up on the unspoken order there. He needed to get the fuck out of there.
“Fuck you,” she hissed. “We’re going to follow you and we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that… What?”
Oh good. She noticed I’d been looking over her shoulder. Because several goblin guards had appeared to darken the alleyway, no doubt summoned by someone trying to attack a protected noob, and from their predatory grins they looked like they were happy to see they’d been called to deal with someone wearing the Horizon Dawn tabard.
I knew they were all NPCs in a game that was designed to have NPCs that were strikingly realistic, but I could swear they were showing some emotion there. Satisfaction, maybe even some glee.
I’d been hazarding a hell of a guess, but after that attack in the town circle I figured the game must have some sort of tracking system in place that summoned the guards whenever someone made an attack on a player who wasn’t flagged for PVP.
I figured the game didn’t care for that. At least the game didn’t care for it here in town. I’d probably be fucked if I was out in the forest all by my lonesome where there were no guards to summon, but it worked out for me in this case.
“Nice talking to you,” I said, wiggling my fingers at her in a little goodbye wave. “But I don’t think you’re going to do any more tracking in the immediate future.”
“We’re going to find you and make you regret the day you ever crossed us,” she hissed.
“That’s funny,” I said. “Because Horizon pukes keep telling me that and so far it hasn’t come true. And we’re talking far higher up the corporate ladder than some idiot willing to trade their soul for some glowing loot.”
She flipped me the bird, but it was interrupted by the guards moving in around her. They were grinning and none to gentle about pulling her away.
She didn’t bother to fight them. Obviously she didn’t have the same pull with the guards that the asshole Torian had.
Whatever. I waited for them to cart her off, it wasn’t nearly as dramatic this time around as it’d been in the main circle when the guards went after Gregor, then stepped out of the narrow alley and looked both ways to make sure I didn’t have anyone else hanging around following me.
I didn’t think they would. Whoever ordered these two to follow us, one guess as to who gave that order, probably thought me and Kristoph would be easy targets considering we were new to the game. They probably thought two of their minions would be more than enough to take us out, and by the time they got more people out here to track me I planned on being gone. It wouldn’t be the first time someone had underestimated me and I’d taken advantage of that underestimation.
Still, it never hurt to be careful. Careful was a big part of the reason why I was so good at what I did.
“Where are you now?” I asked in party chat, but not before making sure I’d muted myself in local so no one who might or might not be hanging around would hear me.
“Heading your way,” Kristoph replied.
“Are you being followed?” I asked.
“Pretty sure I’m not being followed. That girl who was chasing you just went by surrounded by a bunch of guards though. She must be really clumsy because she kept falling over and looked really beaten and bruised,” he said.
I smiled. Yeah. The local NPC population didn’t seem happy about being taken over by a bunch of Horizon pukes and they were having their revenge in whatever small way they could. I wasn’t sure what I could do with that, but I was pretty sure I could use it.
I looked at the town in one direction and then turned to the forest not far beyond the town’s borders in the other direction.
“I’m going to go ahead and leave town,” I finally said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to spend more time in this place than we have to. At least not until we get some more skills and a better feel for local politics. Sticking around is inviting them to have more “fun” with us.”
“I agree,” Kristoph said. “We landed in a hell of a place to get started.”
“You’ve got that right,” I said.
Though I got a sneaking suspicion that if there was a guild cosplaying a bunch of Horizon sycophants in this town then we were likely to find the same thing in other towns as well. Horizon was the kind of company to hedge their bets by throwing around enough money that they were betting on everything at once.
Unfortunately I had no way of checking that theory short of hopping on one of those airships and going for a little trip I didn’t have time for right now. Or maybe logging out and checking the official forums which I also totally didn’t have time for.
Besides, there were Horizon wannabes, or maybe Horizon agents, here in this town right now. I figured that made it as good a place as any to fight the pricks. I’d take care of this little part of the game world first, and worry about the rest of the world later.
“Meet me out there in the woods,” I said. “I figure we can find some stuff to bash in and get some experience, at least. Maybe the next time we go up against those assholes we won’t be as easy for them to pick on.”
Though I couldn’t shake the feeling that it wasn’t going to matter how many skills we gathered. Those pricks had a head start on us, after all. Sure things would probably level out at the higher levels where abilities tended to even out in any game and gear started to matter more, but that wasn’t going to help us for awhile.
Especially when Horizon Dawn had that custom gear. I didn’t know how Horizon was pumping that custom gear into the game, but it was giving their lackeys a clear advantage over other players and I didn’t like that.
“Got it,” Kristoph said. “I’ll be right behind you.”
Of course I kept quiet about the main reason I was interested in going out to that forest. It didn’t have anything to do with bashing monsters and forest critters to gain some combat skills, though I figured that was a good ruse to get Kristoph out there. He probably would gain some of those skills, even while he was covering my ass.
Because I figured there were going to be lots more reagents waiting out there, and I couldn’t wait to see what there was to gather as we explored and Kristoph ran defense for my flower picking.
I’d even stopped off at a shop while Kristoph was playing cat and mouse with Horizon Dawn. I’d grabbed a pickaxe that was the in-game representation of the mining skill, and a trowel that was supposed to allow me to gather certain herbs that couldn’t just be plucked out of the ground, and a skinning knife whose purpose was asked and answered right there in the name.
I double checked that those items were still safe and sound in my inventory, then headed off for the forest.
Despite everything that’d happened I whistled a happy tune thinking about all the fun I was about to have gathering things while Kristoph did the head bashing. And I probably wouldn’t even have to listen to Kristoph bitching since I’d just saved his life.
Not too much, at least.
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