The first arrow that whizzed past my head didn’t register in the parts of my brain that knew we were in danger and it was time to hit the fucking deck lest the next arrow land in my soft noob armor wearing flesh. Mostly because I'd never lived in a world where I had to worry about people firing arrows at me.
As far as I could tell no human had lived in a world like that for hundreds of years. Unless they took an ill-advised trip to some of the more unexplored areas of the world back when there were still indigenous tribes hiding out in those spots willing to kill idiots from the modern world who came knocking on their doors trying to spread the good news about capitalism or Jesus or whatever the fuck else they thought gave them special armor right up to the point they started doing their best impression of a human pincushion.
“Someone’s shooting at us!” Kristoph shouted.
I rolled my eyes. My brain caught up with the danger of the moment and my legs went all rubbery. “Any other astute observations there Captain Obvious?”
Another arrow landed in the ground next to me. I stared at it dumbly, though to my credit it was difficult to think of much of anything with a goblin trying its best to climb me.
Which didn’t seem like the best survival strategy with arrows flying through the air. It seemed like moving closer to the ground would be better than moving higher.
I figured it was better to be on the ground if someone was firing at us even if our goblin friend was hellbent on using me as a climbing wall. So I hit the ground and rolled, but again it was difficult because the goblin clung to me in desperation even after I hit the deck.
“You’re going to get us both killed!” I shouted.
“Save me!” the goblin shouted right back at me.
Hoo boy. That yell was up close and personal, and let me tell you the goblin’s breath felt almost as threatening as the arrows flying through the air all around us.
I did take a moment amidst all the panicked terror to appreciate the way the developers had gone all out in putting together the goblin. I was still in that stage of trying out a new game on new hardware where I was so impressed by everything happening around me that it almost didn’t register that I was in potentially mortal danger.
Almost, but not quite.
I noticed things other than the goblin’s unpleasant breath. Like the jewels attached to the thing’s large teeth. The way its skin felt leathery but warm to the touch. How real its claws felt digging into my skin, or how realistic the pain was as its knees slammed into my ribs.
That felt unpleasantly like some of the times I hadn’t been fast enough to get away from some junkie in the narrow streets on the way to school and got a couple of punches for wasting their time when they realized I wasn’t carrying anything worth stealing and fencing.
Welp. That proved pain was definitely a feature in this game, and I figured that wasn’t a good thing considering there was some asshole out there shooting at me. The goblins claws and knees hurt, but I didn’t want to know what it would feel like if one of those arrows managed to hit.
“We need to get the fuck out of here!” I said.
“But this has to be a starter cutscene!” Kristoph said. “You said it yourself. The game wouldn’t throw anything at us we can’t handle!”
I had a sinking feeling that was wishful thinking on Kristoph’s part. Something very bad was going down here, and it didn’t have anything to do with introducing new players to the game with something exciting to mix shit up and hook them before sending us off on the same old boring fetch and kill quests that’d been the bread and butter of MMO starter zones since Richard Garriott popularized the genre.
There was a loud screech in the trees and a thump. A moment later something flew into the clearing. A wolf that looked pretty fearsome, but when I inspected it a stat sheet came up that showed it was pretty standard stuff for a starter area.
Still, wolves weren’t supposed to fly like that regardless of their stats. They also weren’t supposed to arrive dead and filled with a bunch of bloody holes that’d obviously caused that deceased state. Which meant there was something out there doing the throwing and poking, and I really didn’t want to meet whatever the hell that was.
“What the fuck is that supposed to be?” Kristoph asked.
I had even more of a sinking feeling as I looked at the creature.
“I have a feeling that’s the animal we were supposed to meet as part of the starter event,” I said. “And I think there’s something even nastier in that forest that just killed it and tossed it at us.”
The trees rustled. I got the sense there was something massive lurking in there. Something massive lurking in there wasn’t good. That meant something massive was about to come out and make our day worse than it already was.
I’d heard stories from old MMOs back when they were brand new and not the on-rails linear streamlined digital theme parks most MMOs had become these days. More specifically I recalled tales of asshole higher level players pulling dangerous monsters into starter areas to fuck with newbies.
I wondered if we were about to be the victims of one of those pranks brought kicking and screaming into the modern VRMMO gaming era. We were in the early days of a new MMO, after all. The first new MMO with a major population to come along in decades and the first MMO in a good long while that hadn’t had all the good exploitable bugs hammered down and wiped out decades before I was born.
Which meant there’d be plenty of griefers out there looking to make a name for themselves. Asshole player killer griefers, that is. Not the good kind of griefer that I filed my anti-Horizon behavior under.
“We’re not going to like what comes out of those trees, are we?” Kristoph asked.
“I don’t think so,” I said.
“We’re about to die, aren’t we?” Kristoph asked.
“Do you think it’ll hurt much?”
I thought to the pain I felt as the goblin, still in my arms, tried to use me as a climbing tree. Then decided to lie. Kristoph would find out about the game’s realistic pain simulation soon enough. There was no point in making him worry too much in the time between now and when he found out how well the game’s pain simulation worked.
“I don’t think it’ll hurt at all man,” I said.
“That’s a relief,” Kristoph said.
The trees swayed, and then the things making them sway stepped out into the clearing. My mouth fell open.
So much for seeing a bunch of giant monsters that’d been kited to the starting zone by some asshole players. Those were players stepping out of the trees, all right, but as far as I could tell they weren’t dragging any oversized monsters along with. They certainly weren’t big enough to make the trees sway like that, but then I saw a glow around one of them that, coupled with the robes he wore, made it clear he was a mage of some sort.
Sure enough the mage made a little motion with his hands and the whole tree swaying thing stopped like he’d flipped a switch. The prick was using magic to make it seem like there was something pants-shittingly terrifying moving through the forest.
“That’s a neat trick,” Kristoph said.
“I guess,” I said, more annoyed at the trick than anything.
I wondered what the fuck these assholes were doing in a starter area. I looked them up and down. They definitely seemed like the type who’d been playing this game for awhile. Which meant they were the kind of assholes who’d paid their way into early access.
The one on the right wore leather armor that screamed he was a stealth character of some sort. He had flowing brown hair that went down to his shoulders and looked like something that belonged on a male model and not someone in a digital fantasy recreation of the middle ages. His face was almost too handsome, if you were into that sort of thing which I definitely wasn’t, and he wore the disdainful look of someone who thought he owned the world around him.
That disdain extended to me and Kristoph when he realized there was more than the goblin in the clearing. He seemed surprised, at least he started and blinked when he got a good look at us, but he recovered quickly and that smug asshole look was back.
I concentrated on the guy and his character summary popped up. His name was Gregor. The game helpfully informed me that Gregor’s skill specialties were Thief and Ranger, which meant the guy had spent a lot of time skulking around since the game assigned classes based on skills pursued rather than defining skill trees by class choice.
I looked at Gregor’s equipment and noticed some oddities that seemed out of place for a character who was presumably still on the lower end of the game’s skill progression for all that he’d had a month’s head start.
At least he was ahead as far as leveling progression was defined in this game where there were no levels in the classical sense. The game was all skill based, and a person leveled skills from one skill point to whatever limit Lotus had set.
They hadn’t disclosed those limits. I'd read all about the game systems they were willing to divulge, devouring everything I could about the game’s mechanics without going to the official forums where I might have something about the actual gameplay or story spoiled by one of the early access people.
The beauty of the game was the math underlying the game had been built so it was as close to the real world as possible. So while in some games it’d be impossible for someone with a a skill of 1 in daggers to take on someone with, say, a 100 in daggers, in this game it was conceivable for a noob to get the drop on a “more skilled” player and come out on top because that sort of thing was possible in the real world.
Highly unlikely, but possible if the lower skilled player worked at it. Lotus was a blend of RPG mechanics, real world rules, and twitch mechanics that made it unlike any MMO that’d come before. And that was before you got into the realistic VR immersion achieved with the earbuds.
I turned my attention to the other guy. The mage, whose name was Kravos according to his character sheet. This asshole was in your typical mage robes coupled with a van dyke on his face that made him look like an off brand Doctor Strange or Ming the Merciless, and there was the same problem with his equipment that I noticed with the other asshole.
It seemed way too good for the single month they’d had in the game. I'd been poring over loot tables in Lotus Online databases to get an idea of the kind of gear I could expect at lower levels. The stuff these guys wore had all sorts of fancy percentage bonuses to spellcasting and archery. Gregor’s boots had Move Silent on them, and Kravos was sporting a robe that gave him a ridiculous amount of magic regen that didn’t belong on a player at high levels, let alone what I assumed were the couple of mid-tier assholes standing before us.
Basically they were decked out like a couple of twinks. The problem with that was no one was even close to the maximum skill level in anything at this point in the game’s short life. At least I hadn’t heard of anyone, though I guess it was possible that’d happened and I’d missed it since I was doing a dangerous spoiler avoidance dance every time I tried to learn something about the game.
There certainly hadn’t been time for someone to sit on their high skill combo of choice throne long enough that they got bored with their skill build and decided to deck out a lower skilled character for shits and giggles.
There was one final thing that had my suspicions pinging. The items they wore that seemed slightly overpowered were all labeled as Horizon Dawn Syndicate items.
I told myself the name similarity was just a coincidence. It had to be. There was no way those assholes could be here in a Lotus game.
Still, that name had my stomach twisting, and my unease wasn’t helped when Gregor the Stealth Asshole opened his mouth and confirmed my suspicions that he was a raging asshole with a big throbbing hemorrhoid cherry on top.
“Oh look,” Gregor said. “More noob rabble come to ruin our sport.”
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!