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“Um, I don’t know what we’re going to do,” I said.

“Excuse me?” Kristoph asked.

“What?” I asked right back at him.

He made a production of putting his big old two-handed hammer back on his back and then twirling his big old fighter fingers first in one ear, and then in the other. When he was done he shook his head as though he was trying to get some water out after he’d been in the pool or something.

Though in this case, and considering the fall he just took, it’d be more like he was trying to get more dirt and worms out of his head.

“What are you doing?” I asked, my voice flat and hopefully communicating just how unamused I was with his antics.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I just thought I heard you say you didn’t have a plan for what we’re going to do next here, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t have anything stuck in my ear that might have me hearing things wrong.”

“Very funny asshole,” I said, flipping him a one fingered salute to let him know what I thought of his antics.

“But seriously,” he said. “What the fuck is wrong with you man? You always have a plan for what we’re going to do next in a game!”

“Yeah, well I’ve been avoiding spoilers on this one so I have no idea what’s been going on in the game in the past month,” I said. “Not to mention we don’t have Horizon in here to fuck with, and that kind of has me off my groove.”

“I never thought I’d live to see the day,” Kristoph said.

“Shut up,” I shot back.

“No, seriously,” he said. “This is freaking me out just a little. You’ve had a plan for every game we’ve ever played all the way back to the first time we played Super Mario Bros and you had a detailed map of every warp zone you were going to hit along with a detour to that turtle that gives you infinite lives in World 3-1.”

I grinned. “That was pretty fun.”

“Yeah, those were good times,” Kristoph said.

I clapped my hands together and rubbed them back and forth a bit. It’s not like I needed to warm them up or anything, but it gave me something to do while I thought about what we were going to do.

“I guess if we don’t have a plan we should just get out there and explore,” I said. “It might be a good idea to find the nearest town and get a quest hub. Hopefully we won’t run into any more glitches like that nasty one you discovered.”

Kristoph grunted, but his eyes got a thousand yard stare that told me he was reliving the terror of going from character creation to the stratosphere. I clapped him on the back, and he jumped out of his little terrified reverie.

“I’m glad you’re okay, at least. You also might want to report that fall. That’s a doozy of a bug you found, and something tells me you’re not the only one who’s gonna experience it.”

“You’re telling me,” Kristoph said. “It’s a good thing these leather starter pants are brown, if you catch my drift. That fall was too fucking realistic.”

I tried not to laugh, but it was difficult. Instead I turned away and eyed the tree line until I had my smile under control. “Enough about your soiled virtual pants. Let’s have a look around.”

Idly I wondered if there was a map or something I could consult to figure out where the hell we were. And of course thinking about it was enough to make a map of the nearby area appear in my field of vision.

It was going to take some time to get used to the idea of having an interface that was wired directly into my brain that could read my mind and give me what I wanted. Horizon’s interfaces had been a lot more varied, kludgey, and inelegant than what Lotus had put together, but I could get used to this.

The good news was I’d figured out how to access my map. The bad news was when I looked at the map there wasn’t anything on it.

“Is this thing broken or something?” I asked.

I reached out and waved my hand at the window. It turned to mist as my hand went through it and then reformed around it. Which was a nifty special effect, but it didn’t bring me any closer to figuring out why the hell it wasn’t showing me anything.

“What do you mean?” Kristoph asked.

“Pull up your map and have a look,” I said, pointing to my own map.

“Couldn’t I just look at the one in front of you?” Kristoph asked. “It just appeared when you pointed at it.”

I stared between the map and my friend. Odd that Kristoph could see it, but I wasn’t going to knock it. Maybe pointing to the thing was the invitation the game needed for sharing.

I was really going to have to have a look at all the mental controls available in this game, and soon. I got the feeling I was missing out on a hell of a lot by stumbling through the game’s UI blindfolded without a fucking clue what I was even looking for until the game helpfully read my mind and provided it.

“I must’ve shared it with you when I pointed at it or something,” I muttered. “Well have a look since you can see it. The thing is empty. A lot of fucking use there, giving us an empty fucking map!”

“Duh,” Kristoph said.

“Duh?” I asked.

Kristoph stared at me and his eyebrows shot up. Then they wiggled ever so slightly in a move he pulled when he was pulling one over on me.

“You seriously don’t know what’s going on here?” he asked.

“No?” I said. “The thing is busted. I guess this is another bug or something.”

“But it’s not a bug,” Kristoph said, barely avoiding letting out a gleeful little giggle.

I put my hands on my hips and turned to face him. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

“Maybe just a little,” he said. “I mean usually I’m on the other end of this. Might as well take my fun where I can get it.”

“So are you going to tell me what the hell is going on here?” I asked.

Kristoph tapped a finger against his temple. “The fog of war has been a thing since the original Warcraft back in the mid ‘90s. What makes you think it’d be any different here?”

“Oh,” I said, feeling a touch embarrassed at my idiocy. Of course they weren’t going to throw the whole game world map at me without forcing me to go out there and discover it first. “I guess that means we really do need to do some exploring.”

I looked around the small clearing we’d landed in. Well, Kristoph had landed in it. I’d stepped through a portal into the place. No other players appeared around us, which was a little odd. Your starter area was assigned by region. I’m not sure why they did it that way, but that’s how they did it. I would’ve figured there’d be a lot of people getting their start.

Only there was no one. Weird. Maybe the game distributed people to different starting areas or something to avoid crowding. After all, this would feel like just another lame MMO if everyone starting out was fighting over the same ten rabbit corpses, or whatever the fuck starting quests they’d put together that claimed to be revolutionary but ended up being variations on the same old boring MMO quest themes.

At least they’d be the same old boring MMO quest themes in a world that looked fucking amazing. I wondered if the rest of the game world would be as visually sumptuous as what was on display in front of us now.

It wouldn’t be the first time a developer had focused all their resources on making the very beginning of a game look impressive, only to offload a bunch of shit on the backend where they knew it didn’t matter because the players would already be hooked.

I thought back to some of the stuff I’d read in History of Video Gaming class last year about games like World of Warcraft that’d focused so much on making a good leveling experience when the game launched that there wasn’t much for players to do when they inevitably hit the level cap way faster than any of the game designers had anticipated.

Sure Lotus had history to learn from, but they were also under the same crunch time that other AAA developers had been under since game companies first discovered they could chew up and spit out idealistic young coders who were willing to kill themselves, literally sometimes, for the chance to work in the gaming industry. Even if that chance was working eighty hour weeks to make sure the cell shading on an obscure bit of background art no one would ever look at was on point.

“Yeah, exploring sounds good,” Kristoph said. “There are bound to be some noob quests around here somewhere to get us started and…”

Kristoph cut off as screams filled the small clearing. I looked around in confusion and tried to figure out where the hell that sound was coming from, but there was nothing in the clearing. The trees muffled the screams and echoed them in strange ways that made it difficult to figure out where the hell it was coming from.

“What the hell is that?” Kristoph asked.

“Adding some more brown to your pants there?” I asked with a wink.

“Shut the fuck up,” he said. “But seriously. What the fuck is that?”

“I was asking myself the same thing a minute ago when I heard you screaming like a little bitch as you did your best impression of Superman minus the power of flight,” I said.

“Do you think it’s someone else running into the same bug that tossed me into the world at a few thousand feet?” Kristoph asked.

I looked up and shook my head. There was no dot up there getting larger as it approached us vertically. “Screams are coming from the wrong direction. Whatever the fuck that is, it sounds like it’s coming from inside the forest.”

“Spooky,” Kristoph said, waving his arms and doing what was probably supposed to pass for a spooky voice. “And fucking weird.”

“Yeah, whatever it is, it doesn’t sound like anything good for us,” I said.

“Maybe it’s part of the intro to the game or something?” Kristoph said. “Like the cutscene was delayed or something?”

I rolled my eyes. “I was really hoping they wouldn’t have cutscenes in this game.”

“Yeah, well it sounds like one is coming right for us,” Kristoph said.

He pulled his hammer out from its spot on his back and held it at the ready again. I thought about pulling out my own weapon, I hadn’t even looked in my inventory to see what they’d started me with, but decided not to.

“I’m not too worried,” I said. “It’s not like the people who made this game are going to toss us into a scenario where we’re in any real danger. Not when we’re just starting out.”

“You sure about that?” Kristoph asked. “Because their buggy code just tossed me into this game world with one hell of a fall.”

“Good point,” I said. “But you survived that fall. Of course that might be that their code for falling damage is just as wonky as the code for depositing people into the game world.”

“Not comforting,” Kristoph growled, his eyes scanning the trees for whatever the fuck was coming at us. Assuming it was coming for us, and not a completely unrelated thing screaming through the forest that just happened to be passing through at the exact moment we were.

Kristoph looked like he was about to say something else when a goblin burst out of the trees on the other side of the clearing. At least I was pretty sure it was a goblin, though it was hard to tell considering how damn fast the thing was moving. Whatever the thing was, it was small and green and moving fast enough that it was a motion blur.

The thing looked surprisingly real and surprisingly sapient, with real terror in its eyes as it fled something in those trees. It was also moving fast enough that I worried we might be running into another bug that was putting us up against something we weren’t ready for.

“What the fuck?” Kristoph shouted.

The goblin took one look at Kristoph with his armor and the massive two-handed hammer out and ready for business and ran right past him. Its eyes were wide with terror. I briefly wondered if the thing was terrified of us considering how it’d reacted to Kristoph, but then it jumped with surprising accuracy and landed in my arms.

“Help me! Please! You can’t let them take me!”

Okay then. The thing spoke English. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. The game would’ve been annoying if everyone had to learn a made up foreign language to converse with the creatures living in it, but there was still a part of me that was just a little shocked to hear English coming from a nonhuman creature.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” I asked.

If this was the game’s idea of a cutscene to introduce us to the game world then it was one hell of a weird introduction. Weren’t we supposed to kill goblins in this sort of game?

Yet the little green creature was holding onto me for dear life. As though I was quite literally the only thing that was standing between life and death. The thing’s breath came in ragged gasps, and it looked and sounded truly terrified.

Whatever was going on here, it couldn’t be anything good. No sooner had that thought run through my mind than the arrows started flying all around us.

Son of a bitch!

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About the author

Daecrist

Bio: Hi! I'm a working writer who's been doing this full time since early 2015. I got my start in the Kindle romance boom, and I'm finally getting around to publishing stories under my own name!

I live in the Midwest with my wife, kids, and cats. Most days find me sitting in front of my computer typing out stories for your enjoyment!

I'm currently releasing Spellcraft. The tale of Conlan, a gamer who loves finding ways to exploit game systems, and how he uses those unique skills to battle a soulless multinational entertainment conglomerate who killed his sister and is trying to take over the gaming world!

Spellcraft is currently released on a chapter a day schedule.

I hope you enjoy my work. Thanks for reading!

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